By Tim Lambert
Women Rulers in the Ancient World
Kubaba is the first recorded female ruler in history. She was queen of Sumer, in what is now Iraq about 2,400 BC.
Sobekneferu was ruler of Egypt around 1800 BC
Hatshepsut was ruler of Egypt. She was born about 1508 BC and she ruled Egypt from 1479 BC. Under her rule Egypt was prosperous and it traded with northwest Africa. Hatshepsut also built many great buildings in Egypt. She died about 1458 BC.
Teuta was queen regent of the Ardiaean kingdom in the west of the Balkan Peninsula from 231 to 227 BC. She fought the Romans.
Twosret was female ruler of Egypt. She reigned around 1191-1189 BC
Shanakhdakheto was queen of Kush in what is now Sudan around 170-150 BC
Cleopatra was another female ruler of Egypt. She was born in about 69 BC. From 51 BC she ruled Egypt with her brother but from 48 BC she ruled alone. Then in 41 BC she became allied to a Roman, Mark Anthony who was involved in a long struggle with another Roman called Octavian. Finally, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were defeated at the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC. Afterward, in 30 BC Cleopatra committed suicide.
Queen Chuldu jointly ruled the kingdom of Nabatea (modern day Jordan and northwest Saudi Arabia) with her husband.
Boudicca, the Celtic queen
Boudicca was a queen who led a rebellion against the Romans in Britain. In the 1st century AD, a people called the Celts lived in what is now England. A Celtic tribe called the Iceni lived in what is now Eastern England. The Romans invaded Southeast England in 43 AD. At first, they let the Iceni keep their kings and allowed them some autonomy. However, when the king of the Iceni died he left his kingdom partly to his wife, Boudicca and partly to Emperor Nero Soon, however, Nero wanted the kingdom all for himself. His men treated the Iceni very badly and they provoked rebellion. This time a large part of the Roman army was fighting in Wales and the rebellion was, at first, successful. Led by Boudicca the Celts burned Colchester, St Albans, and London. However, the Romans rushed forces to deal with the rebellion. Although the Romans were outnumbered their superior discipline and tactics secured total victory.
The Trung Sisters
In 39 AD two Vietnamese sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi led a rebellion against the Chinese overlords and proclaimed themselves queens of an independent state. However, they were eventually defeated by the Chinese and they both committed suicide in 43.
Zenobia was the queen of Palmyra in what is now Syria from about 268 AD to 272 AD. She fought the Romans and conquered Egypt. However, Zenobia was eventually defeated and captured.
Women Rulers in the Middle Ages
Amalasuntha c 495-535
She was the queen of the Ostrogoths
Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia 543-613
Queen Brunhilda, also called Brunhilde was born in Toledo in Spain about 543. In 567 she became queen of Austrasia, a kingdom in northwest Europe. She was a powerful woman.
Wu Zetian, Empress of China
Empress Wu Zetian reigned in China 690-705. She was a strong and capable woman.
Matilda of Tuscany
Matilda of Tuscany c 1046-1115 was a powerful female ruler in northern Italy in the 11th century. She was also a formidable warrior.
Irene of Athens
Irene ruled the Byzantine Empire from 797-802. She married the emperor and after his death ruled as regent for her son but in 1797 she had her own son blinded. He died shortly afterward and she ruled in her own right. Irene was deposed in 802. She died in 803.
Matilda Queen of England
Matilda claimed to be queen of England but she never ruled the whole country.
Matilda was born in 1102. Her father was King Henry I. Her brother William drowned in 1120 when his ship, the white ship, sank. Henry was left without an heir. Before he died in 1135 Henry made the barons promise to accept his daughter Matilda as queen.
However when Henry died in 1135 his nephew Stephen also claimed the throne and many barons supported him. Matilda was abroad when her father died and Stephen was crowned king of England. Yet Matilda would not give up her claim to the throne and she had many supporters too. As a result, a long civil war began which went on till 1154. These years were called the ‘nineteen long winters’. Fighting only ended when, shortly before his death, Stephen agreed to recognize Matilda’s son Henry as his heir. Matilda then lived in Normandy until her death in 1167.
Jadwiga, Queen of Poland
Jadwiga was born about 1373. Her father was king of both Hungary and Poland but after his death, the two kingdoms split. The Poles agreed to accept Jadwiga as their queen. However, on 16 October 1384, she was crowned king of Poland to make it clear that she ruled Poland in her own right and she was not just a queen through marriage. In 1386 she married Jogaila Grand Duke of Lithuania and the two countries became allies. However, Jadwiga died in 1399.
Isabel, Queen of Spain
Isabel was born in 1451. In she married 1469 Ferdinand, heir of Aragon. Isabel became Queen of Castile in 1474 and Ferdinand became king of Aragon in 1479. In 1482 they began a war against Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Granada surrendered in 1492. Then in 1512, Navarre was absorbed and Spain became a united country In 1492 the king and queen ordered all Jews to convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Many chose to leave. Ferdinand and Isabel decided to finance an expedition by Christopher Columbus. He believed he could reach Asia by sailing across the Atlantic. However, Columbus underestimated the size of the earth and landed in the West Indies.
Women Rulers 1500-1800
Mary, Queen of England
Mary Tudor was Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s daughter. Mary was born on 18 February 1516. As a child she was well educated.
Henry VIII died in 1547 and he was replaced by his 9 year old son Edward.However Edward died in 1553. Henry’s daughter Mary, was a Catholic. Mary was determined to undo he religious changes of the previous reigns. them. In 1555 Queen Mary began burning Protestants. Altogether between 1555 and 1558 nearly 300 Protestants were executed. Many more Protestants fled abroad. Queen Mary died on 17 November 1558.
Amina was queen of Zazzau in what is now Nigeria. She was born c. 1553 and died around 1610.
Elizabeth, Queen of England
Elizabeth Tudor was born on 7 September 1533 in Greenwich Palace. She became queen of England in November 1558 and she lived until 1603. During her reign England grew in prosperity.
Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603. She was 69. Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Queen Anne of Great Britain
Anne became queen of England and Scotland in 1702. At first they were separate kingdoms but in 1707 they joined together. Anne reigned over Great Britain until her death in 1714.
Catherine was the first woman to rule Russia. She reigned from 1725 to 1727.
Anna was Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740.
Empress Elizabeth of Russia
Empress Elizabeth ruled Russia from 1741 until her death in 1762. During her reign, Russia fought a successful war with the Turks in the years 1736-39. As a result, the Russians regained Azov. Meanwhile, Russia’s first university was founded in Moscow in 1755.
Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia
Catherine the Great was born in 1729 in Prussia. In 1745 she married Peter the heir to the Russian throne. Peter became Tsar in 1762 but he reigned for only a few months. Supporters of his wife Catherine assassinated him in 1762. She became known as Catherine the Great.
Although she liked to be seen as an enlightened despot and she corresponded with Voltaire and Diderot many of Catherine’s subjects were poor and oppressed. In 1773 man named Yemelyan Pugachev led a rebellion. The rebellion had considerable success but it was finally crushed in 1774. Pugachev was brought to Moscow in an iron cage. He was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters.
Meanwhile Russia continued to expand in the 18th century. Russia fought a war with the Turks and took territory from them. Russia also took parts of Poland.
During the 18th century Russian territory and population greatly increased. Russia’s new territory in the south was called New Russia and many people migrated there. Meanwhile, Russians settled in the east. Russian industry also grew at this time and foreign trade expanded rapidly. By the time Catherine died in 1796 Russia was very powerful.
Maria Theresa of Austria
Maria Theresa ruled Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia (Czech Republic) from 1740 to 1780. Maria Theresa was a very capable woman. She turned Austria into a strong and prosperous power. During her reign architecture, art and music flourished.
Women Rulers in The Modern Era
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
She was the first female prime minister in the world. She became prime minister of Sri Lanka in 1960.
Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India
Indira Gandhi was born in 1917. She became prime minister of India in 1966. She was prime minister until 1976 and again from 1980 till she was assassinated in 1984.
Isabel Peron, President of Argentina
Isabel Peron was the first female president in the world. However she was not elected president. She became president of Argentina in 1974 because the president was dying. She was removed by an army coup in 1976.
Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain
Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925. She became the leader of the Conservative Party in Britain. In May 1979 the Conservatives won a general election. Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first woman prime minister. She won two more elections, in 1983 and 1987. However, Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990.
Vigdis Finnbogadottir, President of Iceland
Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first woman elected president in the world. She was elected president of Iceland in 1980.
Last Revised 2021