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Sunday, November 4, 2012

History's Greatest Female Rulers

I was walking down the hallway behind one of my former students the other day, listening as he talked to his friend about Queen Elizabeth. 

(Never mind how excited I was to hear students discussing history in the halls when they could be talking about the Avengers, whether to have McDonald's or Carls Jr. for lunch, or their friend's latest Facebook status).

"Queen Elizabeth was important," he said, "because she was the first great female ruler in history."

I literally had to bite my tongue. 

I almost lambasted this young man with a tirade on history's amazing female leaders, but decided to save the poor soul what promised to be a very long lecture.  (Never say I wouldn't make a benevolent dictator). Instead, I let him continue on his merry way while expounding on Elizabeth's many virtues.

However, not launching into a speech then means that you all have to endure it now. (Cue the evil laugh). I'll make it easy--here's my top ten list! 

(Note: This is my very own non-scientific list, and yes, some of these ladies moved up just because I like them more. So sue me.)

1. Hatshepsut (Ancient Egypt)
2. Theodora (Byzantine Empire)

I'll be honest--Hatshepsut and Theodora are really a tie, but I've loved Hatshepsut since 7th grade so she gets to be #1.

3. Elizabeth I (England)
4. Catherine the Great (Russia)
5. Isabella of Castile (Spain)
6. Sorkhokhtani (Mongolia)
7. Boudicca (England)
8. Wu Zetian (China)
9. Maria Theresa (Austria)
10. Eleanor of Aquitaine (France)

There you have it! And yes, I'm well aware Queen Victoria isn't on the list, but honestly, she lost points because I already had two Britons on the list. Not to mention she's only been dead 111 years--I'm an ancient history kind of gal. 

Is there anyone I've missed? Or anyone you'd move around the ranks? And on a side note, if anyone has any book recommendations (fiction or non) on these women, feel free to leave them in the comments!

13 comments:

Amalia T. Dillin said...

I think Queen Gorgo of Sparta should get an honorable mention! The fact that we even know her name is pretty impressive, never mind having a few anecdotes, all things considered.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Amalia--Good catch! I tried to come up with a Greek or Roman, but the best I could do was Boudicca. Darn Greeks and Romans, locking their women away.

L.G.Smith said...

Another Brit, but Matilda (Eleanor's mother in law?) was probably the first English queen in her own right, if only for a very brief time.

And I don't know how Cleopatra ranks with you, but she was a ruler too, right?

So many awesome women have been overlooked by history's male writers. I've got a good one coming up next Monday for my badass women series. :)

Taryn Tyler said...

I would move Eleanore up a tad bit. Probably because I'm medieval obsessed.

Too bad he was a former student rather than a current one. You could have ceased the opportunity to lecture about strong women rulers in your next class.

Also, if you have the time for babbling about your current writing project I tagged in my last post :)

Stephanie Thornton said...

L.G.- I actually kind of loathe Cleopatra. I love her, but also hate that she's the #1 ancient Egyptian woman people think of (even though she wasn't really Egyptian). After all, she lost Egypt to the Romans!

Taryn--I definitely cover strong women rulers in my class. Catherine the Great and Maria Theresa are on the agenda over the next couple weeks!

L.G.Smith said...

I had a feeling you weren't a Cleopatra fan. :))

Gary Corby said...

Depends a bit on your definition of greatest ruler. Some other options:

Maud of England. Got her son on the throne after a protracted civil war.

Aspasia was a major power in Athens, and almost certainly wrote the Oration for the Fallen that Pericles delivered. Which 2,400 years later morphed into the Gettysburg Address.

Hypatia was an intellectual leader rather than a political one, but very powerful in her day.

Eva Peron seems an obvious option.

Joan of Arc?

Agrippina, the mother of Nero.

Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar. Probably not a great role model since she slaughtered about half her subjects and was insane; but she was also unbelievably good at staying in power. Like a female Stalin.

The Queen of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bhai, who died leading her troops against the British.

Queen Artemisia of Karia. The best line commander on the Persian side when they invaded Greece. Her actions at the Battle of Salamis are legendary, and caused Xerxes to declare, "My men are turned to women, and my women to men." Only she and the General Mardonius dared tell Xerxes to his face that he was a loser.

Renee said...

Definitely Cleopatra. If you want to read an amazing biography of Cleopatra that reads like fiction - check out "Cleopatra: A Life" by Stacy Schiff. Amazing. I think you would change your mind about Cleo if you read this book. It took Ms. Schiff 5 years to write and it's tops down the best I have ever read on Cleopatra.

I also thought of Aspasia. She was a Greek. And come to think of it, so was Cleopatra! There you go - 2 Greeks.

And what about Esther? She stood up to Xerxes for her people, the Jews, against great opposition.

vbtremper said...

A part of me wishes you'd set him straight. Boys can't go through life thinking there are so few great female rulers.

I love all the suggestions the commenters have added!

-Vicki

Lydia Kang said...

Great list, Stephanie. I totally learned something today!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Gary--I knew you'd have good names to chime in with. I did think about Queen Maud, but decided there had to be more that just getting a son on a throne to count; there have been a number of women focused solely on that goal, especially when harems were involved.

Renee--I kind of love Esther. I just discovered her earlier this year and now she's on my list to do some heavy reading about.

Vicki-- I was torn, but I didn't think the young many would appreciate it!

Lydia--Glad I could return the favor! I always learn something new medical-wise when I visit your blog!

bookewyrme said...

Hatshepsut and Elizabeth I are my two favorite queens of all time. I actually see a lot of similarities between them (long prosperous rule, ruling in a "Man's" job as a woman, never married but rumoured lovers, rather roundabout ascension to throne, etc).

I would also list Nefertiti up there too. She was a co-ruler (unless you subscribe to the theory she took a man's name and ruled alone after her husband died), but she was still a pretty amazing woman who achieved a lot of status in her society.

Someone mentioned Hypatia too. I adore her, though I wouldn't list her as a ruler. And I loathe Cleopatra too. Then again, I have a bit of an aversion to Ptolemaic Egypt in general.

~Lia

Stephanie Thornton said...

Lia- One of these days I plan to write a post about the similarities between Hatshepsut and Elizabeth I. There are a number of similarities between Robert Dudley and Senenmut too!