Thu 6 Nov, 2003 09:27 am
Elizabeth I of England was one of the most powerful and popular rulers of the country and she continues to fascinate. People wore brooches with her image painted on them. Her popularity was like that of a rock star.
That she never married is no surprise: look what happened to her mother and step-mothers. We remember the wives of Henry VIII with the rhyme: Divorced-Beheaded-Died; Divorced-Beheaded-Survived. Liz came from the ultimate dysfunctional family.
She was not the first woman to sit on the throne. Poland circa late 15th C (I believe) had a female heir to the throne who was crowned king because the Poles could not suffer a ruling woman. She sat for about two years, then was married off to a nobleman and a man was put on the throne.
Liz was part of group of powerful women in Western Europe at the end of the Renaissance. Isabella of Spain. Her grand-daughter Mary of England. Mary Queen of Scots. The non-royal Maria de Medici who became the real power in France as well as two or three French Margarets better known to history as Marguerite and Queen Margo.
After the death of Liz I, the whole idea of women and power seemed to evaporate. Why? What happened to draw women off the world stage for the next 300 years?
No more women in power after Elizabeth I?
She wasn't even the last English female monarch. Queen Anne ruled in her own right. Queen Mary II ruled alongside her husband, William III.
On the continent, Maria Theresa was an enormously powerful and influential (and popular) ruler of Austria. There were a number of ruling Tsarinas in Russia: Catherine I, Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine II (the Great).
And there were always plenty of women behind the thrones. Napoleon called Queen Luisa, the wife of Prussia's weak monarch, "the only man in Prussia."
Also, the last regnant queen in Poland was Hedwiga. She reigned from 1384 to 1399.
There were isolated examples of women leading public life in the Early Modern period, but more frequently these occured in Italy in the 15th and 16th century. There was a German woman, whose name escapes me, and I will look this up later when I have time, who corresponded with Erasmus and Luther, but she remained firmly under hser husband's control.
Marie Adelaide reigned as Grand Duchess of Luxembourg from 1912 until her abdication in 1919.