Monday, March 31, 2008


Li-Ch'ing-Chao (or Li Qingzhao), 1084-c. 1151 -

Writer and Art Collector. Li-Ch'ing was a scholarly writer, painter, and art collector of great note, specializing in bronze and stone inscriptions. As a woman who was forced by war to become a refugee, her poetry and writings range from the political upheavals of China during the early years of the Sung Dynasty to musings about her personal feelings.
Li Ch'ing-Chao came from a family of well-known scholars and administrators. She led a protected, intellectual life, competing with her father's friends in writing poems. For women, the opportunity for education in this period depended mainly on one's family background. When she was eighteen Li Ch'ing-Chao married Chao Ming-ch'eng. Their marriage was one of equals who shared the same passion for the arts and for a desire to preserve China's rare works. Their collection of calligraphy and paintings became one of the finest and largest in the nation.
Li-Ch'ing lived in a time of social and political upheaval. Her family followed the Sung court when nomadic peoples forced it to flee South from its capital on the north China plain. After the death of her husband, Li-Ch'ing was constantly in flight, following the route of the fleeing court. She questioned the corruptness and military weakness of the Sung regime. At one time she wrote, "I would follow Mulan- a brave girl they say? But youth and ambition are over."
She married again in a brief marriage during which her husband abused her both verbally and physically. She appealed for a divorce, and also charged him with misappropriating military funds. She won her suit, but since, according to Sung law, a wife who brought a lawsuit against her husband must be confined, Ch'ing had to spend some time in prison. She lived out her last years, isolated and lonely.
"A friend sends her perfumed carriage/And high-bred horses to fetch me.I decline the invitation of/My old poetry and wine companion.I remember the happy days in the lost capital.We took our ease in the woman's quarters.The Feast of Lanterns was elaborately celebrated -Folded pendants, emerald hairpins, brocaded girdles,New sashes - we competed/ To see who was most smartly dressed.Now I am withering away,/ Wind-blown hair, frost temples.I prefer to stay beyond the curtains, /And listen to talk and laughterI can no longer share."

Zoe, (1045-1055) -

Empress. Zoe more than once took upon herself the role of emperor maker. She was accused of murdering her first husband, Romanus III, in order to marry Michael, a leading political figure, so she could place him upon the throne. Then she replaced Michael with her third and last husband, Constantine IX Monomachus. After his death in 1055, she ruled jointly with her sister Theodora for a year. Theodora, the last of the Macedonian dynasty, ruled independently for twenty months.
For obvious reasons, Zoe was seen by her contemporaries as ruthless and pleasure loving. She was called unnatural by those who thought it shameful that a woman should rule the empire. In truth, Zoe's rule weakened the empire. She did little to lessen the enormous government civil service, and permitted the civilian aristocracy to gain control of the governmental machine. When not at her ritual laden court, she apparently spent much time in her bedroom, making perfume of various blends. That she was strong willed there is little doubt. She caught the attention of a contemporary Michael Psellus who described her ascension to the throne after the death of her first husband: "Empress Zoe, immediately took control of affairs just as if she were, by divine will, the next inheritor of the throne. But actually she was more concerned to take over power briefly so that she might turn over authority to Michael (her next husband). She summoned Michael and dressed him in robes interwoven with gold thread. Then, placing the imperial crown on his head, she sat him down on the sumptuous throne with herself dressed in similar garb seated next to him. She ordered everyone who was living in the palace at this time to...acclaim them both together. And they did so."


Theophano (965 - 997) -
Byzantine Princess and Saxon Empress. Theophano was a Byzantine princess who at the age of seventeen was given to the young Saxon emperor Otto II. Though elegant and a delicate beauty, she was high-spirited and a superb politician who brought with her an intimate knowledge of the intricacies of court life. When her husband died, leaving her with a three year old son, she took the title "Imperator Augustus" and defended the child's title for seven years from those who challenged him. She was called by a contemporary "a woman of discreet and firm character...with truly masculine strength." At her death in her early thirties, her mother-in-law Adelaide took over her duties


Asma (?-1074 or 1087) -

Queen. Asma, wife of Ali al-Sulayhi, the founder of Fatimid rule in Yemen, was a powerful woman in her time. The Fatimids were leaders of the Ismaili Shiite movement devoted to the regeneration of the entire Muslim world. Since they in general believed in the equal education of boys and girls and in the active involvement of women in political life, Ali entrusted much of the management of his realm to his queen. Asma attended councils with her face uncovered (unveiled), and had her name as well as her husband's proclaimed from the pulpits of the mosques. Commentaries about her mentioned her intelligence and literary knowledge and her acts of patronage toward poets.Queen Asma made sure that both her son and Arwa, her future daughter-in-law who was raised in her court, learned the skills necessary to rule. This was one reason why Arwa became celebrated as a wise and strong leader when it was her turn to become queen. In 1066, Ali was killed during their pilgrimage to Mecca. Asma was kidnapped and spent a year in prison before her son managed to rescue her. When he fell ill, she took over management of Yemen until her death, after which his wife, Queen Arwa, assumed the role of queen. (the rule of Queen Arwa is featured in Women in the Muslim World).p


Walladah Bint Mustakfi (c. 1001-1080) -

Poet. Walladah was a poet and the free spirited daughter of a Caliph. She lived in Cordoba, Spain, during its most sophisticated and tolerant period. In contrast to Christian Europe, Cordoba under the Moors housed one of the great libraries of the world. At one time it included scholarly women on its staff. In this relaxed atmosphere where women went about unveiled, Walladah was free to give mixed sex parties where she read her quite bold poetry. Economically independent and beholding to no one, Walladah had lovers but never married, which illustrates the nature of the tolerant society into which she was born. Only a few lines of Wallada's poetry remain. Yet she is considered one of the three most important female poets of the era. "My lover I offer the curve of my cheek/ And my kiss to whoever desires it."(Walladah is one of the personalities featured in Women in the Muslim World.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Trotula, (d. 1097) - Physician. In 1000 C.E. the famous medical school at Salerno, in Southern Italy, was founded. It's faculty and student body included both men and women. A most distinguished teacher at this medical university was Trotula. Her husband and sons were also physicians in Salerno. Trotula was interested in managing the diseases and health problems of women. She was a skilled diagnostician who wrote on a wide variety of issues, including caesarean sections, beauty prescriptions, and what a girl who loses her virginity, "by the follies of passion, secret love, and promises," should do. Her work on gynecology was so practical that it was used for hundreds of years. In the fables and stories of Northern Europe she became the fictional character called "Dame Trot."


Sigrid "the Haughty" -

Viking rebel. On the eve of the first millennium, King Olaf of Norway decided to convert to Christianity. With this act he insisted that all his people join him, or face death. Many were reluctant to stop worshiping their ancient gods and goddesses. The roots of Christianity were not all that firm in much of Christian Europe anyway; people still turned in times of trouble to their pre-Christian deities such as the earth goddesses of health. In 998, when it was proposed that Sigrid, daughter of the Swedish king, marry Olaf, she rebelled. To his face she told him, "I will not part from the faith which my forefathers have kept before me." In a rage, Olaf hit her. It is said that Sigrid then calmly told him, "This may some day be thy death." She proceeded to avoid the marriage, and created instead a coalition of his enemies to bring about his downfall. Olaf was defeated in an epic Viking battle some years later. It should be noted that Viking women had a certain measure of protection through their family, which was likely to avenge any serious wrong done them.


Hroswitha (or Hrotsvit) of Gandersheim (c.930-c.990) -

Nun, playwright, and the first women historian of the Germans. When she was young, she joined Saxony's most important nunnery, the Benedictine nunnery at Gandersheim. It was one of many founded in the 10th century under the encouragement of the Saxon (German) dukes. Gandersheim was recognized as a center of intellectual and religious activity. It had close ties to the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, who gave its abbess her own court, knights, and the right to coin money and attend the meetings of his Diet.
In the nunnery, Hroswitha developed her intellectual skills and eventually became a canoness. A canoness could leave the convent for outside visits, thus giving Hroswitha the chance to view the world beyond the abbey, and the knowledge to create her long epic poem detailing the rule of Otto I, "the Great." She also wrote plays and poems. Not all have survived, but those that do deal with the battle between Christianity and paganism, the lives of saints, and of heroic "frail" women who victoriously defend their virtue against "strong" men. Hroswitha gave herself the title "the strong voice of Gandersheim." She said, "Sometimes I compose with great effort, again I destroyed what I had poorly written...[so that] the slight talent...given me by Heaven should not lie idle in the dark recesses of the mind and thus be destroyed by the rush of neglect."


Anna Comnena
Byzantine Historian of the First Crusade(1083-1153)

Anna Comnena is considered the world's first female historian and a major source of information about the reign of her father, Alexius I. Her works are full of details about daily life at court, the deeds of her family, and the exchanges between the Byzantines and western crusaders during the first crusades.
When Anna was a child both her mother and father made sure she received an excellent education. When young, she was given a crown and had expected that at her father's death she would take his place as head of an empire which stretched from Italy to Armenia. But the birth of her brother dashed all her hopes.
Anna married an historian in 1097, and, with her mother's encouragement, tried to seize the imperial throne for him. The attempt failed, and she was forced to retire from court life. After her husband's death, she entered a monastery, one devoted to learning. Anna was 55 years old when she began serious work on Alexiad, a 15 volume history of her family, the Comneni.
In her works, Anna directed most of her contempt toward the crusaders from the West. Her father had sent the first envoys to the West, to Pope Urban I, asking for help in halting the Turkish raids which had left the southern and eastern borders of the Byzantine empire virtually defenseless. Urban II's response was positive. But when the First Crusade arrived to defend the magnificent city of Constantinople, Alexius found that they did not want to take instructions and advice from him. To Anna, they appeared as uneducated barbarians, with manners far beneath those of the wealthy and cosmopolitan Byzantines. Worse, rather than enter Byzantium as saviors against the Muslim threat to Constantinople, they increasingly came as looters and destroyers. Many Normans and Franks, stirred by the sight of Byzantine brocades, jewels, and magnificent works in gold or enamel, began to follow leaders whose intention was to rule the eastern empire for themselves. Looting and raiding for supplies became the norm. The most horrific event occurred after Anna's death, the 1204 sack of Constantinople. Fire swept through the noble city three times, destroying much of its arts and treasures, and soldiers and clerics alike drank, raped, killed and carted off furs, gold and silver.
Anna lived in an era when women chiefly were expected to remain secluded in their quarters (called gyneceum) attending solely to family matters. They covered their faces with veils in public and were not even allowed to appear in processions. Yet Anna offered high praise for the accomplishments of some women, including her influential grandmother, Anna Dalassena. In her work, Anna also reveals herself as a female who was given notable license to write what she thought. To read what she says about her amazing grandmother, click on
Anna Dalassena.


Melisende was the daughter of the king of the Frankish kingdom of Jerusalem and his Armenian wife. Christian crusaders had wrested Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099.
Melisende began her reign with her father at the end of his life. In 1129 she married Fulk V of Anjou (France). In 1131, they became joint rulers of Jerusalem, although Fulk outshone Melisende and effectively ignored her. In the mid 1130s this changed. Rumors flew, accusing Melisende of having an affair with Fulk's biggest rival, the rebel Hugh II. Fulk chose to believe the rumors and provoked a war against Melisende and her supporters. But her forces prevailed, and her fortunes changed. She insisted on strong peace-terms, which included her admission to the inner councils of the kingdom. She was given great leeway in promoting the arts and in founding a huge abbey. Thereafter, wrote the historian William of Tyre, Fulk "never tried to initiate anything, even in trivial matters, with her foreknowledge."
After Fulk's death Melisende became regent for her 13 year old son, Baldwin.
But by now, however, she had had a taste of real power and she became determined to hold unto it. 1145 was the year Baldwin was to celebrate the attainment of his majority. Melisende ignored the date, easing him out of every place of influence, omitting his name from public acts.
Baldwin put up with this mother's actions until 1152. Complaining to the high court of the kingdom that his mother would not let him rule, he demanded that the realm be divided between mother and son. This is what happened. Melisende ruled Judaea and Samaria and Baldwin the north.
The division didn't last for long. While Melisende's supporters urged the Franks to take account of her efficient administration and ability to rule, it was Baldwin who held the right to rule. This alone was enough to gain greater support for his cause. After a brief military campaign against her, he overwhelmed his mother's army. Her last stronghold was the cramped confines of the Tower of David in Jerusalem.
In spite of their past disagreements, mother and son were reconciled, and she remained one of his closest advisers until her death.
But these rivalries greatly damaged the future of the crusader's Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Muslims took great tracts of territories from the crusaders during the period of Melisende's troubled reign. As a result, Jerusalem never again let a woman rule. When in 1186 a woman actually inherited the crown, her husband was effectively elevated to rule in her place.Of course, the rivalries between Melisende and her husband and son were not the only reasons Christians had trouble holding on the Jerusalem.


Shagrat al-Durr
Sultan of Eqypt (died, 1259)

Women who were "powers behind the throne" are always fascinating. But those who move out of the shadows to sit on the throne itself can be even more so. Shagrat al-Durr took upon herself the title of Sultan and regrouped the Egyptian army to take Damietta back from the Frankish Crusaders.
Why She Is An Historic Hero?
Her life links the last victories of the Crusaders to the transition to a new period and dynasty, the Mamluks (the powerful army made up of Turkish slaves and who eventually supplanted their masters).
Want to find out why slaves could become so powerful?
During this new period, that of the Mamluks, Cairo was to become the center of power. The Mamluks kept their power for more than two centuries in Egypt and Syria.
It was the Egyptian
Mamluk army who were the only institution that eventually stopped the Mongol drive, in their ambitions to conquer the entire Middle East.
Shagrat al-Durr is one of the very few women in Islamic history to ascend to the throne. Her melodramatic life illustrates the fact that an ambitious woman had to depend on the good will of men to be able to lead.
Shagrat's dismissal as Sultan by the Caliph of Baghdad reaffirmed the Islamic concept that the spiritual head and political head of a country must be one, and that such a position cannot properly belong to a woman.
Her Story
The time is 1250 A.D. The sultan of Egypt,
Salih Ayyub has just died at the moment when the crusading armies of France are threatening Egypt. Salih Ayyub's wife is Shagrat al-Durr, who had been a slave of Turkoman origin.
In 1249, the French army under
Louis IX, King of France landed at Damietta, at the mouth of the Nile River. Shagrat, acting as Salih's regent while he was away in Damascus, organized the defense of the realm.
Soon after Salih Ayyub returns, he dies. Shagrat, conceals the fact of his death by saying he is "sick" and having a servant be seen taking food to his tent. She thus is able to continue to lead in his name.
Turan, his son and her stepson, appears and Shagrat hands the reins of power over to him, finally announcing her husband's death. Still, Shagrat retains control, and a crushing defeat is rendered on the Crusaders at Damietta. The leaders of the army don't respect Turan; they want Shagrat, seeing her as a Turk, like themselves. They plot against Turan and have him murdered. On May 2, 1250, they put Shagrat al-Durr on the throne, thus beginning the Mamluk dynasty.
As sultan, Shagrat al-Durr has coins struck in name, and she is mentioned in weekly prayers in mosques. These two acts only can be done for the person who carries the title of sultan.
Peace is made with the Franks. Louis IX is ransomed and allowed to return home.
Egypt at this time is under the authority of the Caliphate at Baghdad. Baghdad does not approve of Shagrat. She is a woman, and women must not hold the title of ruler. The Caliph of Baghdad sends a message to the Egyptian amirs: "Since no man among you is worthy of being Sultan, I will bring you one." Shagrat is deeply humiliated, but she steps down after being Egypt's sultan for only two months.
A successful Mamluk soldier, Aibak, is appointed in her place. Shagrat al-Durr's moment of power, however, is not over. Either for love or political ambition, she manages to seduce Aibak. He marries her to legitimize Mamluk rule. Reports tell of their great love for one another.
With her experience at administration and leadership, for seven years Shagrat rather than Aibak really rules. An historian who lived at the time comments: "She dominated him, and he had nothing to say." Shagrat continues to sign the sultan's decrees, has coins struck in both their names, and dares to be addressed as Sultana.
Shagrat al-Durr is a jealous woman, and one who does not want to share power. When she married Aibak, she had him divorce his wife, with whom he had a son. In 1257, Aibak proposes to take another wife. In Shagrat's eyes this act is unthinkable. In a fit of jealousy, she plots his murder and carries it out when he is having a bath after a game of polo.
In desperation, Shagrat al-Durr tries to conceal the crime. But her past deeds come back to haunt her in the person of Aibak's former wife and his son, who now seek revenge. The army divides over those continuing to support Shagrat and those opposing her. Rioting breaks out, and Shagrat is cornered. Spurred on by Aibak's former wife, Shagrat is beaten to death by the slaves of the harem with their wooden clogs. Her half-naked body is thrown into the moat of the citadel.
Eventually, Shagrat al-Durr's bones are taken and placed in the mosque known today as the mosque of Shagrat al-Durr.


Forugh Farrokhzad

Farrokhzad is a major voice whose work and life have influenced films, art exhibits, songs, and styles in twentieth century Persian literature. She came of age during the autocratic Shah Pahlavi regime. Educated in girls schools, she never received a high school diploma but at age thirteen or fourteen began composing poetry. In those years many Iranians were challenging traditional roles for women, who were expected to be modest in public, obedient, and, above all, not draw attention to themselves. In spite of more modern views, most women continued to be controlled by rules set by Iran’s traditional patriarchal society. Forugh herself suffered an arranged marriage at age sixteen, was divorced after three years, and then lost custody of her only child. According to Iranian law. she was never allowed to see her son again.
By living by herself, and in 1958 forming an on-going relationship with Ibrahim Gulistan, a married man, she gained a reputation as being “scandalous” and “immoral.” During her years with Gulistan, Forugh studied film production and filmed documentaries, sometimes acting, sometimes producing, sometimes editing. As a result of one made about a leper colony in Tabriz, she adopted a boy from his leper parents. She also made trips to Europe, learning to speak and read Italian, German and English.
Considered equally scandalous were Forughs’ secular views and promotion of the concept of female independence and right of women to assert their individuality. She rejected traditional Islamic dress in favor of tight western styles, and wrote often deeply personal poetry expressing female needs and sexuality. Some were clear protestations against Islamic law and Iranian social attitudes.
“God smiles on us,However many paths to the shore of his favor We haven’t taken.Because, unlike the evil-doing, robe-wearing fanatics,We haven’t drunk wine hidden from the eyes of God....”- from “Pasokh” (Answer)
Forugh spoke out against the destruction of individuality when communal roles led one to cling without question to tradition, even though at the same time she opposed the wholesale westernization of Iran. Some poems criticize women who sacrifice their individual potential and self awareness by taking refuge in the security that men offer, and who refuse to actively engage in the world around them. To Forugh, their inability to see past their immediate comfort makes them indifferent to the truly needy in Iranian society.
“...And my sister...In her artificial home,with her artificial goldfish,and in the security of her artificial husband’s love,and under the branches of artificial apple trees,she sings artificial songs and produces real babies....”- from “I Feel Sorry for the Garden”
As she became well-known in literary circles, Forugh’s unorthodox life fascinated some and repelled others. Some of her poems reveal her loneliness and doubts about doing the right thing.
“....and a girl who rougedher cheeks with geranium leaves...ah! now she is a lonely womannow she is a lonely woman.”- from “Those Days,” translated by David Martin
Certainly it took enormous courage for Forugh Farrokhzad to continue to write and live a life that suited her, not society. For this she is an inspiration today for women who follow her path. Forugh died, tragically, in an automobile accident at the age of 32.
“Poetry for me is like a friend to whom I can freelyunburden my heart. It’s a mate who completes me,satisfies me
...I don’t search for anything in my poems; ratherin my own poems I discover myself.”- in “Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak”


Tahirih(or Qurratu’l-Ayn, “Solace of my Eyes”)

Tahirih was a disciple in the Babi religion, a predecessor to the Baha'i Faith, which originated in Persia in the early 1800's. Baha'i has roots in Islam and is related in some ways to Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, although it is a separate religion.
Tahirih was educated by her father, who was a mullah. Upon reading the writings of Shykh Ahmad-i-Ahs’i, or the Bab (a forerunner of the Babi religion), she became a devotee and later was appointed one of His closest disciples. The religion’s positive views regarding the equality of men and women, and its drive to reform existing Muslim laws appealed to her. Tahirih was the only woman in the movement who became a disciple. Over the opposition of her father, she taught the faith publicly, claiming that the Bab was the fulfillment of the prophesies which pointed to the return of the Twelfth Imam. Using traditional rhyming forms, she wrote eloquent, ecstatic poems of love for God, as well as those deeply critical of the traditional clergy, whom she debated in public.
Persecution inevitably followed. In 1848, during a conference at Badasht which was to proclaim the Bab’s elevation to Twelfth Imam, and during which leaders advocated reforms, Tahirih was supposed to have proclaimed it as the day “on which the fetters of the past are burst asunder.” She also appeared in public without her veil, a provocative act seen by the clergy as defiling both God and themselves. Some of her followers denounced this action as well. Shortly after she was arrested. Imprisoned under house arrest, she continued to preach. In 1852, she was sentenced to death as a heretic. It was then she proclaimed her most famous cry: “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women!” She later was strangled to death.
Tahirih’s life and poems have been been retold throughout the years, most recently in public readings, a theatrical music drama, and a CD. In 1997 the Tahirih Justice Center was founded to address the acute need for legal service for immigrant and refugee women who have fled to the U.S. to seek protection from human rights abuses.
Selections from two Poems
The Morn of Guidance:“Truly, the Morn of Guidance commands the breeze to beginAll the world has been illuminated; every horizon, every peopleNo more sits the shaykh in the seat of hypocrisyNo more becomes the mosque a shop dispensing holiness....The world will be free from superstitions and vain imaginingsThe people free from deception and temptation...The carpet of justice will be outspread everywhereAnd the seeds of friendship and unity will be spread throughoutThe false commands eradicated from the earthThe principle of opposition changed to that of unity.”
Tahirih’s imaginary meeting with the Bab:“If I met you face to face, Iwould retrace - erase! - my heartbreak,pain by pain,ache by ache,word by word,point by point....
While I grieve, with love-your love!-Iwill reweave the fabric of my soul,stitch by stitch,thread by thread,warp by warp,woof by woof.
Last, I-Tahirih-searched my heart, Ilooked line by line. What did I find?You and you,you and you,you and you.”


Padishah Khatun (Safwat al-Din Khatun)
13th Century

The poet Padishah was a member of the Mongol Kutlugh-Khanid dynasty, who ruled in Persia and reigned over Kirman (in south-west Persia) in the 13th century. This dynasty was part of the Ilkhanate, one of the four divisions within the Mongol Empire. In the Ilkhanid period (1256-1353), both religious and secular arts flourished. Women of the elite class were accorded great respect, had a public presence, and were educated.
Padishah’s mother, Kutlugh Turkan, after the death of her husband ruled Kirman for 16 years, until 1282. She married Padishah to Abaka Khan, great grandson of Genghis Khan and son of Hulagu. Abaka did not live long, dying in 1282. Padishah, considered a prize for her beauty and ability as a poet, married again, this time to Gaykhatu, the fifth ruler of the Ilkhan dynasty and one of Padishah’s former husband’s sons. The marriage shocked the Muslims, although it was a relatively common practice among the Mongols.
Upon her marriage to Gaykhatu, Padishah moved quickly to insist that her husband, known for his dissolute and extravagant ways, give her mother’s old throne of Kirman to her as proof of his love. This he did, and Padishah became sixth sovereign of the Kutlugh-Khanid dynasty. Hulagu added to her power by granting her the powerful privilege of khutba (prayer for the sovereign) proclaimed in the mosques, the ultimate sign of legitimate reign. She also had gold and silver coins made in her name.
One of Padishah’s first acts as queen was to imprison her half-brother, Suyurghatamish, who had coveted the Kirman throne and meddled in its affairs. When he tried to escape, she had him strangled, an act that led to her own downfall. Gaykhatu was assassinated in 1295 and his successor, Baydu, influenced by Suyurghatamish’s widow, had Padishah Khatun put to death. Her violent demise was noted by Marco Polo who wrote that a lady known as the Padishah Khatun was “an ambitious, clever, and masterful woman, who put her own brother Suyurghatmish to death as a rival, and was herself ...put to death by her brother's widow and daughter.”
Sovereign Queenby Padishah Khutan
“I am that woman whose works are good.Under my veil is kingly power.The curtain of chastity is my strengthwhere the idle westwind travelers cannot pass.I withhold the beauty of my shadow from the sun that gads about in the marketplace.I hold lordship over all the worldyet before the Lord my business is to serve.
Two yards of veil won’t make any woman a ladynor a hat make any head worth of command.For whom should I remove my veilwhen in its place would be a priceless crown?I am a ruler from the dynasty of Ologh Soltan.If there is sovereignty in this world, it takes after us.”- Deirder Lashgari, translator


Nur Jahan
(1577-1645 C.E.)

Nur Jahan was one of the most influential women of her day. As favorite wife of the powerful Mughal emperor Jahangir, she found herself uniquely positioned to brilliantly utilize her skills in administration, politics, economics, and culture.
Nur Jahan was born into an aristocratic Persian family who had immigrated to India. She was married at age seventeen to a Persian soldier who had a much admired military career. Upon later siding with the emperor's enemies, he was executed, leaving Nur a widow with a young daughter called Ladli. In 1607 Nur Jahan was brought to court to serve as a lady-in-waiting to one of Jahangir's court women. It was here, maybe at the spring festival of Nauroz in 1611, where Jahangir first set eyes upon her. All reports say that she was a remarkable beauty and it perhaps is not surprising that Jahangir married her within two months. He first gave her the title Nur Mahal which he changed in 1616 to Nur Jahan, or "Light of the World."
At the time of her marriage Nur Jahan was considered middle aged. She was a widow of a man who had lost favor with the emperor, and was only one of many other wives and concubines of the emperor, with whom he had children.Yet within nine years Nur Jahan acquired all the rights of sovereignty and government normally due the emperor, becoming virtually in charge of the whole empire until the emperor died in 1627. The key to her success was Jahangir's addiction to both drugs and alcohol and his adoration of Nur Jahan above everyone else in his vast zanana (women's quarters within the court). Jahangir needed Nur to help maintain his health and help him rule.
Since women were not suppose to appear face to face with men in court, Nur Jahan ruled through trusted males. But it was she who approved all orders and grants of appointment in Jahangir's name, and controlled all promotions and demotions within the royal government. She took special interest in the affairs of women, giving them land and dowries for orphan girls. She had coins struck in her name, collected duties on goods from merchants who passed though the empire's lands, and traded with Europeans who brought luxury goods from the continent. Given her ability to obstruct or facilitate the opening up of both foreign and domestic trade, her patronage was eagerly sought, and paid for. She herself owned ships which took pilgrims as well as cargo to Mecca. Her business connections and wealth grew. Her officers were everywhere. The cosmopolitan city of Agra, the Mughal capital, grew as a crossroad of commerce.
Nur Jahan also ruled the emperor's vast zanana which housed hundreds of people including Jahangir's wives, ladies -in-waiting, concubines, servants, slaves, female guards, spies, entertainers, crafts people, visiting relatives. eunuchs, and all the children belonging to the women. Nur greatly influenced the zanana's tastes in cosmetics, fashions, food, and artistic expression. She spent money lavishly, experimenting with new perfumes, hair ointments, jewelry, silks, brocades, porcelain, and cuisine from other lands. Fashions at court, highly influenced by Persian culture, began to blend into local styles. Women's clothing was modified to take account of the hot weather. Since Nur came from a line of poets, she naturally wrote too and encouraged this among the court women. Poetry contests were held, and favorite female poets from beyond the court were sometimes sponsored by the queen, such as the Persian poet Mehri.
Both Jahangir and Nur Jahan were devotees of the elegant and sophisticated Mughal artistic style, the Taj Mughal being one example. The emperor owned an admirable collection of exquisite miniature paintings, and together with Nur constructed beautiful gardens, notably in the court's summer retreat in Kashmir. Nur used some gardens for official functions; others were opened up for the populous in general to use. Architecture, too, was an important imperial activity; some of the mosques, caravasaries and tombs Nur Jahan had built are visible today.
Nur Jahal enjoyed the height of her power when she was surrounded by loyal men which included members of her own family. Struggles between Jahangir's sons for power, however, slowly chipped away at her reign. The ultimate winner was Jahangir's third son, Shah Jahan, who later built the beautiful Taj Mahal for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. By this time Nur Jahan's influence was weak. Shah Jahan had been allied with Nur Jahan through most of his father's reign, but when she swung her support to others he rebelled. An old and trusted general, Mahabat Khan, disgusted with the direction of court politics, and particularly the role of a Nur Jahan, joined the rebellion. "Never," he said," has there been a king so subject to the will of his wife."
Nur's cleverness could not save her, and upon Shah Jahan's succession to the crown, he had her confined. Her imprisonment ended her influence at court, and she spent the last years of her life in exile in Lahore. Here she spent a quiet time living with her daughter until her own death in 1645. Her tomb lies in Lahore next to Jahangir's. Both she had erected along with the gardens that surround them.


(1498?-1546 C.E.)

Perhaps the most remembered and quoted woman in India history is a sixteenth century poet, singer and saint called Mirabai, or Meera. Versions of her songs are sung today all over India, and she appears as a subject in films, books, dances, plays and paintings. Even Mohandas Gandhi promoted her, seeing Mira as a symbol of a woman who has the right to chose her own path, forsake a life of luxury, and in nonviolent resistance find liberation.
Mirabai belonged to the Rajput aristocracy. From an early age, she worshiped the image of Krishna. Her form of worship was influenced by a number of her male relatives who were devotees of a mystical form of Hinduism called Bhakti. In the Bhakti tradition, one approached one's god through pure love, without any restrictions of caste, color, or gender. Many Bhakti followers gave up their worldly life and left their families to became wandering teachers or live together in like-minded communities. Their message usually was spread through deeply personal poems through which they conversed with their chosen God. Female devotees who aspired to live this life also had to give up their husbands and family. They had to live among people from a variety of castes, including those considered forbidden to them. In spite of what many felt were acts of subversive, some who overcame obstacles to follow their spiritual quests in time became respected and even revered.
In 1516 Mirabai was married to Prince Bhoj Raj of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar, the most powerful Rajput state in the early 16th century. It's capital was Chittor. From the start Mira was a problem. She refused to worship her husband's family's goddess (devi), claiming that she already had offered herself to Lord Krishna and considered herself married to him. She refused the family's gifts of silks and jewels. She insisting on associating with the community of bhaktas. And when her husband died after only three short years, Mirabai refused to join him on his funeral pyre, a practice at the time expected of high caste Rajput widows. Instead she claimed that now she was free to devote herself completely to the worship of Krishna.
Mira's devotional practices became increasingly intense. She often sang and danced herself into ecstasies, even in public places like temples. News about her spread all over India and she soon attracted a following of devotees from all social groups and castes.
Mira lived in a time and place when the sexual virtue of women was fiercely guarded. Her husband's family was shocked by her actions and finally locked her inside the house. In her songs Mira says that on two occasions they tried to kill her, but she was miraculously saved both times. At some point she left the palace and city of Chittor and returned to her birth family. They too disapproved of her actions. Sometime around 1527 she set off as a wanderer, traveling to places of pilgrimage associated with the life of Krishna. Her popularity grew. Before she even arrived at the site, people gathered singing her songs. Mirabai returned once briefly to her home, but in the face of further family harassment decided to leave the kingdom of Chittor for good. She passed her last days in Dwarka on the coast of the Arabian sea, the site believed to be that of Krishna's youth.
Mira's life resonates in the hearts of many in India today for many reasons. First there are her words, which with beauty and joy express a kind of female liberation. In them, her rejection and even disdain of the wealthy and their life of riches also appeals to the poor. Then there is her rebellion, which is seen as being against injustice within the family and within kinships groups in general. While valuing women as mothers above all, India also reveres the self-expression of Mira, a childless woman who is identified as having rebelled against her husband and in-laws.


Sorghaghtani Beki
Mother of Great Khans

In 1227 A.D. Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan), the "lord of the ocean encircled lands" died. But who was to take his place? Chinggis had left four sons by his principal wife, Borte, and there was no orderly system of succession. Since it was known that Chinggis had favored his son Ogodei, it was he who became the first Khanhan, the first to take the title of Great Khan.
With Ogodie's death in 1241, the real succession struggle began. Into the fray stepped royal wives, widows and mothers, each with their own candidates. It was not unusual for such women to play leading roles. The wife of each clan head, usually the first, enjoyed high status and frequently took part in clan affairs.
First Ogodei's wife, the widow Toregene, schemed to win the throne for her son, Guyuk. In 1246, Guyuk was crowned, but died after ruling for only two years. His widow, Oghul Qamish, became acting regent for her three young sons - in effect, then, regent for the whole empire. Her sons being too young to rule, her candidate for Great Khan was a nephew, Shiramon. With this decision the Ogodei line faltered and fell, because waiting her turn at khan making was a female more astute than Oghul Qamish. This was Sorghaghtani Beki, widow of Tolui, another of Chinggis' sons.
Sorghaghtani held great authority. She was a daughter-in-law of Chinggis Khan and mother of his grown grandsons. Moreover she was a consummate politician who pointed out that future khans ought to be Chinggis' direct descendants, which nephew Shiramon was not. The powerful nobles quickly sided with Sorghaghtani against Oghul, and Sorghaghtani's eldest son Mongke emerged as victor. He was enthroned in 1251, setting in place the accession of the future rulers of the Mongolian Empire through the Tolui line. For this, Sorghaghtani has been called the "directing spirit of the house of Tolui."
Mongke was the last Great Khan to have complete control over the vast Mongol Empire. Upon his death, only eight years later, another of Sorghaghtani's sons - Khubilai (Kubla) Khan- became Great Khan. It was he who launched assaults against China and eventually ruled all of that empire, establishing the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1272-1368). Another influential son, Hulagu, was sent west to capture Persia, Baghdad and the Middle East. In 1253 he established the Mongol Ilkhanate, which governed Persia and parts of the middle east.
Throughout the years of her son's rule, the influence and teaching of Sorghaghtani was felt. She had ensured that her sons received proper training and the skills in combat and administration necessary to rule empires. Although she herself was illiterate, she gave them an education. She set an example for them in showing the good results that can come from supporting rather than exploiting the non-Mongol peasants in the lands she controlled. Understanding what Khubilai Khan would need to rule China, she introduced him to the concepts of Confucian thought.
It was because of Sorghaghtani that her sons all became known for their religious tolerance. Sorghaghtani was a Nestorian Christian who patronized a variety of foreign religions. For example, she supported Islam with alms. Buddhists and Confucainists were also supported. When Khubilai Khan was in China, it was his mother's Christian faith that prompted him to assist the small Nestorian community there. He also recruited numerous Muslims for his government, and through the influence of his wife Chabi courted even the Song imperial family rather than destroy and discredit them.

Hulagu married Doquez-khatum, a Nestorian princess like his mother. When Hulagu sacked Baghdad, Doquez-khatum interceded to save the lives of all the Christians. Hulagu's brother Mongke was impressed. "You would do well to consult her in all his affairs," he told Hulagu. To please his wife, Hulagu favored the Christians, and all over his realm new churches sprung up.
In future generations in Persia under the Mongol Ilkhanate, a number of royal women surfaced who not only played active roles in decision-making, but who sometimes ruled. Here too, the name of Sorghaghtani Beki, mother of the Great Khans, was known; she was described by one Persian historian as "extremely intelligent and able," and as "towering above all the women in the world."


The Trung Sisters
Vietnam, ca. 40 C. E.

In Vietnam women have always been in the forefront in resisting foreign domination. Two of the most popular
heroines are the Trung sisters who led the first national uprising against the Chinese, who had conquered them, in the year 40 A.D. The Vietnamese had been suffering under the harsh rule of a Chinese governor called To Dinh. Some feel that if the sisters had not resisted the Chinese when they did, there would be no Vietnamese nation today.
The sisters were daughters of a powerful lord. Trung Trac was the elder; Trung Nhi, her constant companion, the younger. They lived in a time when Vietnamese women enjoyed freedoms forbidden them in later centuries. For example, women could inherit property through their mother's line and become political leaders, judges, traders, and warriors.
Trung Trac was married to Thi Sach, another powerful lord. Chinese records note that Trac had a "brave and fearless disposition." It was she who mobilized the Vietnamese lords to rebel against the Chinese. Legend says that to gain the confidence of the people, the Trung sisters committed acts of bravery, such as killing a fearful people-eating tiger - and used the tiger's skin as paper to write a proclamation urging the people to follow them against the Chinese.
The Trungs gathered an army of 80,000 people to help drive the Chinese from their lands. From among those who came forward to fight the Chinese, the Trung sisters chose thirty-six women, including their mother. They trained them to be generals. Many names of leaders of the uprising recorded in temples dedicated to Trung Trac are women. These women led a people's army of 80,000 which drove the Chinese out of Viet Nam in 40 A.D. The Trung sisters, of whom Nhi proved to be the better warrior, liberated six-five fortresses.
After their victory, the people proclaimed Trung Trac to be their ruler. They renamed her "Trung Vuong" or "She-king Trung." She established her royal court in Me-linh, an ancient political center in the Hong River plain. As queen she abolished the hated tribute taxes which had been imposed by the Chinese. She also attempted to restore a simpler form of government more in line with traditional Vietnamese values.
For the next three years the Trung sisters engaged in constant battles with the Chinese government in Vietnam. Out armed, their troops were badly defeated in 43 A.D. Rather than accept defeat, popular lore says that both Trung sisters chose the traditional Vietnamese way of maintaining honor - they committed suicide. Some stories say they drowned themselves in a river; others claim they disappeared into the clouds.
Over time the Trungs became the stuff of legends and poems and a source of pride for women who lived more restricted lives. Today, stories, poems,plays, postage stamps, posters and monuments still glorify the heroism of the Trung sisters.
"All the male heroes bowed their heads in submission;Only the two sisters proudly stood up to avenge the country."15th century Poem


Murasaki Shikibu
(Lady Murasaki: 973-1025? C.E.)
Shikibu is the best known writer to emerge from Japan's glorious Heian period.

Her novel, The Tale of Genji (Genji-monogatari) is considered to be one of the world's finest and earliest novels. Some argue that Murasaki is the world's first modern novelist.
Shikibu was born into the Fujiwara family, daughter of the governor of a province, who also was a well known scholar. Always very intelligent, as a child she learned more quickly than her brother, causing her father to lament, "If only you were a boy, how happy I should be!" He did, however, allow Shikibu to study with her brother, even letting her learn some Chinese classics, which was considered improper for females at the time.
When she was in her early twenties, Lady Murasaki was married to a distant relative. Her only daughter was born in 999. After the death of her husband in 1001 A.D, knowing of her writing talent and her brilliant mind, the imperial family brought Lady Murasaki to court.
At court, Lady Murasaki began a
diary she kept up for two years. While giving a vivid account of court life, it also gives us insights into what Lady Murasaki thought. For example, she didn't like the frivolous nature of court life. Once she described a picture competition there as a "moment in the history of our country when the whole energy of the nation seemed to be concentrated upon the search for the prettiest method of mounting paper scrolls!" She also went to great pains to hide her knowledge of Chinese, fearing the criticism of those who felt it to be unladylike to be happy reading this obscure language.
Shikibu may have begun The Tale of the Genji before she came to court. Yet much of it was written there, loosely based on her years as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko. It is a very long novel about complications in the life of a fictitious prince called Genji. Like many of the court ladies, Shikibu was a master at observing the daily activities and attitudes of upper class society.
The tales of Prince Genji, known as "the Shining Prince," became popular from the moment of its release. It was meant to be read aloud, and the earliest Genji manuscript was lost. Luckily early 12th century Genji manuscript scrolls survived, and through the ages, the novel has been translated into many languages and been studied and discussed by many scholars.
Little is know about Lady Murasaki's later life. She may have retired from court to seek seclusion in a convent at about the age of fifty. Her writings suggest that at the end she sensed the violent changes that were coming to her rather decadent upper class life. In the distance, the sounds of provincial warriors rumbled - the samurai who in 1192 overthrew the power of the emperor and created a feudal military government headed by a shogun.


Queen Sondok (or Sonduk)
Silla Dynasty

Her father was the king of the Silla kingdom, which had emerged in the south about 250 and 350 AD, and by the end of the 7th century would manage to unify the whole peninsula. Having no sons, he chose as his heir his daughter Sondok, which was no great surprise for a number of reasons. One was that women in this period had a certain degree of influence already as advisers, queen dowagers, and regents. Throughout the kingdom, women were heads of families since matrilineal lines of descent existed alongside patrilineal lines. The Confucian model, which placed women in a subordinate position within the family, was not to have a major impact in Korea until the fifteenth century. During the Silla kingdom, women's status remained relatively high.
There were other reasons, too, that led the king to favor Sondok. Early in her life she had displayed an unusually quick mind. One anecdote tells of the time the king received a box of peony seeds from China accompanied by a painting of what the flowers looked like. Looking at the picture, seven year old Sondok remarked that while the flower was pretty it was too bad that it did not smell. "If it did, there would be butterflies and bees around the flower in the painting." Her observation about the peonies lack of smell proved correct, one illustration among many of her intelligence, and thus ability to rule.
In 634, Sondok became the sole ruler of Silla, and ruled until 647. She was the first of three females rulers of the kingdom, and was immediately secceeded by her cousin Chindok, who ruled until 654.
Sondok's reign was a violent one; rebellions and fighting in the neighboring kingdom of Paekche filled her days. Yet, in her fourteen years as queen of Korea, her wit was to her advantage. She kept the kingdom together and extended its ties to China, sending scholars to learn from that august kingdom. Like China's Empress
Wu Zetian, she was drawn to Buddhism and presided over the completion of Buddhist temples. She built the "Tower of the Moon and Stars," considered the first observatory in the Far East. The tower still stands in the old Silla capital city of Kyongju, South Korea.
Sondok's respect as a ruler may have been reinforced by the ancient tradition of female shamanism, which was prominent in Korea, and among some peoples still is. Up until Sondok's time, the word shaman was assumed to apply to women. Shamans had great power as recognized intermediaries between gods and humans. Some presided over national ceremonies, but most were a kind of family priestess, whose role usually was inherited. Through spirit possession, shamans performed healings and exorcisms, revealed causes of family strife and advised on their resolution, picked auspicious days for weddings or burials, conducted rituals to guarantee continual prosperity, and healed those who were broken in body or soul. As foretellers of the future, shamans had enormous power. Histories tell us that Sondok was revered for her ability to anticipate advents. Might it have been this more than any other attribute that led to her popularity as a ruler? If so, it is a prime example of a way time honored female tasks have helped women assume leadership roles.


Empress Wu Zetian
Tang Dynasty China (625-705 AD)

Even though according to the Confucian beliefs having a woman rule would be as unnatural as having a "hen crow like a rooster at daybreak," during the most glorious years of the Tang dynasty a woman did rule, and ruled successfully. She was Wu Zetian, the only female in Chinese history to rule as emperor. To some she was an autocrat, ruthless in her desire to gain and keep power. To others she, as a woman doing a "man's job," merely did what she had to do, and acted no differently than most male emperors of her day. They also note that she managed to effectively rule China during one of its more peaceful and culturally diverse periods.
The Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) was a time of relative freedom for women. They did not bind their feet nor lead submissive lives. It was a time in which a number of exceptional women contributed in the areas of culture and politics. So it is no surprise that Wu, born into a rich and noble family, was taught to play music, write, and read the Chinese classics. By thirteen years of age she was known for her wit, intelligence, and beauty, and was recruited to the court of Emperor Tai Tsung. She soon became his favorite concubine. But she also had eyes for his son, Kao Tsung.
When the emperor died and Kao Tsung took over, Wu was now twenty seven years old. In time she became a favorite concubine of the new emperor, giving birth to the sons he wanted. As mother of the future emperor of China, she grew in power. She managed to eliminate Kao Tsung's wife, Empress Wang, by accusing her of killing Wu's newborn daughter. Kao Tsung believed Wu, and replaced Empress Wang to marry the up and coming Wu Zetian.
Within five years of their marriage, Emperor Kao Tsung suffered a crippling stroke. The Empress Wu took over the administrative duties of the court, a position equal to the emperor. She created a secret police force to spy on her opposition, and cruelly jailed or killed anyone who stood in her way, including the unfortunate Empress Wang. With the death of Emperor Kao Tsung, Wu managed to outflank her eldest sons and moved her youngest, and much weaker son, into power. She in effect ruled, telling him what to do.
In order to challenge Confucian beliefs against rule by women, Wu began a campaign to elevate the position of women. She had scholars write biographies of famous women, and raised the position of her mother's clan by giving her relatives high political posts. She moved her court away from the seat of traditional male power and tried to establish a new dynasty. She said that the ideal ruler was one who ruled like a mother does over her children.
In 690, Wu's youngest son removed himself from office, and Wu Zetian was declared emperor of China. In spite of her ruthless climb to power, her rule proved to be benign. She found the best people she could to run the government, and treated those she trusted fairly. She reduced the army's size and stopped the influence of aristocratic military men on government by replacing them with scholars. Everyone had to compete for government positions by taking exams, thus setting the practice of government run by scholars. Wu also was fair to peasants, lowering oppressive taxes, raising agricultural production, and strengthening public works.
During her reign, Empress Wu placed Buddhism over Daoism as the favored state religion. She invited the most gifted scholars to China and built Buddhist temples and cave sculptures. Chinese Buddhism achieved its highest development under the reign of Wu Zetian.
As she grew older, Empress Wu lessened the power of her secret police. But she become increasingly superstitious and fearful. Sorcerers and corrupt court favorites flattered her. Finally, in 705, she was pressured to give up the throne in favor of her third son, who was waiting all these years in the wings. Wu Zetian died peacefully at age eighty the same year.


Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister of England, b. 1925
Margaret Thatcher was Britain's first female prime minister, and first British prime minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive terms. A lawyer, Margaret first entered Parliament in 1959, eventually serving in a variety of ministerial posts. In 1974 she was elected leader of the Conservative Party, and brought her party to victory in 1979. Espousing conservative ideals of based on free enterprise, she advocated public spending cuts, limited money supply, and raised interest rates. Her privatization programs led to union opposition, labor unrest, and high unemployment rates. She earned the nickname "The Iron Lady" because of her hard line against the USSR over their invasion of Afghanistan, and because when Argentina challenged Britain's right to the Falkland Islands, she went to war. In 1990 she resigned as prime minister, although she stayed in Parliament until 1992.


Indira Gandhi Prime Minister of India, 1917-1984
As daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, politics was always a part of Indira Gandhi's world. She joined her father's Congress Party in 1938 and was jailed for awhile by the British for her support of India's independence from Great Britain. After her father's death, she was elected to Parliament in his place, becoming Prime Minister herself in 1966. She continued many of her father's policies, such as pressing for land reform and the nationalization of banks. But India endured great economic troubles during her watch. There were riots after which she declared Emergency Rule. Political opponents were jailed and the press censored. In 1977 she lost her an election and even faced charges of corruption. Expelled from Parliament, briefly jailed, she reorganized her party and won re-election as Prime Minister in 1980. In 1984 she met a brutal death at the hands of Sikh assassins in retaliation for her forceful actions to halt disturbances in a sacred Sikh temple.


Golda Meir Prime Minister of Israel, 1898-1978
Golda Meir was born in the Ukraine and lived for awhile in the United States. She emigrated to Israel in 1921. Her work within the Labor movement led her to achieve high political positions, including diplomatic missions abroad. When Israel became a state, she was elected to the Knesset (parliament), and, in turn, became Minister of Labor and Minister of Foreign Affairs - the only woman in the Labor administration. In 1969, she was elected Prime Minister, a political feat for an Israeli woman at that time. She was a powerful, tough leader, but her defense policy was criticized after Israel seemed unprepared in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Golda retired from active political life when the Labor Party fell from power as a consequence of that war.


Liliuokalani Last Monarch of Hawaii, 1838-1917
Queen Liliuokalani's reign was short and stormy. Upon inheriting the throne, she had to deal with an economically depressed economy and a constitution forced on the Hawaiians by the United States, which left the monarchy of Hawaii powerless. Liliuokalani was determined to free Hawaii from overseas control. Her push for a new constitution, led to a confrontation between the Queen and the Americans. Liliuokalani was deposed and a provisional government set up. The Queen was made a prisoner on charges that she encouraged an uprising, one that never really took place.

Tzu-hsi Empress of China, 1835-1908
Although only a low-ranking concubine of the Emperor Hs'en Feng, Tzu-hsi rose in status when she bore his only son. At his death, and her son's succession, every decree had to be approved by her. Called the Dowager Empress, she exerted herself into state affairs and refused to give up her regency even when her son came of age. In effect she had the power of a ruler. Tzu-hsi's rule was imperious. She used state funds to build herself a palace and sold posts and promotions. Such acts were resented by some, particularly after the Chinese were defeated by the Japanese in the 1890s. Under Tzu-hsi's reign, the Western powers forcefully increased their presence in China. After the suppression of the anti-West Boxer Rebellion, Tzu-hsi began a policy of appeasement, allowing reforms and the modernization of the government.


Victoria Queen of England, 1819-1901
Queen Victoria's reign was the longest in English history. Called the Victorian age, it was a time when Britain was at the height of its colonial power. Victoria became a symbol of British expansionist foreign policy. She insisted on taking an active part in the decisions of the government, and forcefully backed those ministers she liked. She herself was most proud of her role as wife and mother - she had nine children.

After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, she went into a period of deep depression, dropping out of public view for three years. Her popularity increased in her late years, particularly during time of national celebrations, like the Jubilees of 1887 and 1897.


Catherine the GreatEmpress of Russia. 1729-1796
Ambitious and intelligent, Catherine arrived in Russia from Germany in 1744 to marry the 16 year old Grand Duke Peter. His unpopularity allowed her to depose him, orchestrate his death, and proclaim herself sole ruler of Russia. Considering herself a ruler in line with enlightenment ideas, she supported progressive ideas, such as reforms in law, education, and provincial and municipal administration. But she ruled as an autocrat and suppressed Polish nationalists, which led to Poland's partition, and took the Crimea and parts of the Black Sea coast from Turkey.


Mbande NzingaAngolan Queen, 1582-1663
Nzinga (or Jinga) was the colorful queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms. She is honored for her resistance against the Portuguese who were increasingly occupying all of what is now known as Angola. Constantly driven east by the Portuguese, Nzinga organized a powerful guerrilla army, conquered the Matamba, and developed alliances to control the slave routes. She even allied with the Dutch, who helped her stop the Portuguese advancement. After a series of decisive setbacks, Nzinga negotiated a peace treaty with the Portuguese, but still refused to pay tribute to the Portuguese king. (Nzinga is featured in our resource


Amina Nigerian Queen, 1560-1610
Queen Amina headed the northern Nigerian Hausa city-state of Zaria. It is thought that perhaps the Hausa were matrilineal people at that time since having a woman as queen was not all that rare. A great military leader, Amina brought most of the other Hausaland city-states into her orbit, and is credited with encouraging them to surround themselves with huge defensive mud walls. She also opened up trade routes to the south, enriching Zaria's economy with gold, slaves and cola nuts.


Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1587
Mary led an eventful and troubling life. She became Queen of Scotland when she was just six days old. At age five she was sent to France to be brought up in the French court, and eventually married King Francis II, who died the next year. A widow, Mary returned to Scotland where a series of politically unwise love affairs and her continued adherence to Catholicism in a Protestant country led to trouble and a revolt against her. Forced to flee to England for refuge, she now faced the fears of Queen Elizabeth I who saw her as a rival to her throne. Elizabeth kept Mary under a form of imprisonment for the next 19 years. Watched closely, she was implicated in a series of conspiracies against Queen Elizabeth, and was executed


Elizabeth IQueen of England, 1533-1603
With a childhood full of political intrigue, it was assumed that Elizabeth would never become queen. But she did, and as queen managed for a time to quiet her Catholic population with acts of tolerance, promote government reforms, strengthen the currency, and forward the growth of a capitalist economy. Highly educated, she also turned her court into a great center of learning. Elizabeth's foreign relations were uneasy. Always pressured to marry to form political alliances, she diplomatically seemed to consider it, but in the end always refused. Her greatest success was the defeat of the invading Spanish Armada in 1588 in the waters off England's west coast. Her greatest failures were the suppression of uprisings in Ireland and her long wars. During Elizabeth's colorful 45 year reign, England became a strong European power, a vibrant commercial force, and an place of intellectual accomplishment. The "Elizabethan age" rightly was one of England's most fascinating eras.


Eleanor of AquitaineQueen of England and of France, 1122-1202
Eleanor was one of the most influential figures of the 12th century. Married at age fifteen to Louis VII of France, she later divorced him to marry Henry II, the future King of England. She bore Henry eight children, two of them future kings of England. Throughout her life she maintained control over her extensive lands in Southern France, and cleverly managed the lives of her children and grandchildren


Queen Consort of Scotland (married to Malcolm III -- Malcolm Canmore -- of Scotland), Patroness of Scotland, reforming the Church of Scotland

Born about 1045 (widely varying dates are given), probably in Hungary* Married Malcolm III King of Scotland about 1070* Died November 16, 1093, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland* Canonized: 1250 (1251?)* Feast Day: June 10* Traditional Feast Day in Scotland: November 16

Margaret of Scotland's Contributions to History: Margaret of Scotland is known to history for her work to reform the Scottish church by bringing it into line with Roman practices and replacing Celtic practices. Margaret brought many English priests to Scotland as one method of achieving this goal. She was a supporter of Archbishop Anselm.
Margaret of Scotland's Children: Of the eight children of Margaret of Scotland, one, Edith, renamed Matilda or Maud, married Henry I of England, uniting the Anglo-Saxon royal line with the Norman royal line. Three of her sons -- Edgar, Alexander I, and David I -- ruled as kings of Scotland. David, the youngest, reigned for almost 30 years. Her other daughter, Mary, married the Count of Boulogne and Mary's daughter Matilda became Queen of England as wife of King Stephen.
After Her Death: A biography of St. Margaret appeared soon after her death. It is usually credited to Turgot, Archbishop of St. Andrews, but is sometimes said to have been written by Theodoric, a monk. Of her relics, Mary, Queen of Scots, later had possession of Saint Margaret's head.
Descendants of Margaret of Scotland: Descendents of Margaret of Scotland and Duncan reigned in Scotland, except for a brief reign after Duncan's death by his brother, until 1290, with the death of another Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway.


About Blanche of Castile:
Dates: March 4, 1188 - November 12, 1252
Queen of France, 1223-1226; Queen Mother 1226-1252
regent of France 1226-1234 and 1248-1252
queen consort of King Louis VIII of France
mother of King Louis IX of France (St. Louis)

In 1200, the French and English kings, Philip Augustus and John, signed a treaty which gave a daughter of John's sister, Eleanor of England, as bride to Philip's heir, Louis.
John's mother,
Eleanor of Aquitaine, traveled to Spain to look over her two granddaughters, daughters of Eleanor of England and King Alfonso VIII. She decided that the younger, Blanche, was more suited for the marriage than the year-older Urraca. Eleanor of Aquitaine returned with the 12-year-old Blanche, who was married to the 13-year-old Louis.
Accounts of the time indicate that Blanche loved her husband. She delivered twelve children, five of whom lived to adulthood.
More About Blanche of Castile:
In 1223, Philip died, and Louis and Blanche were crowned. Louis went to southern France as part of the first Albigensian crusade, to suppress the
Cathari, a heretical sect that had become popular in that area. Louis died of dysentery which he contracted on the trip back. His last order was to appoint Blanche of Castile as the guardian of Louis IX, their remaining children, and "the kingdom."
Blanche had her oldest surviving son crowned as Louis IX on November 29, 1226. She put down a revolt, reconciling (in a story with chivalric tones) with Count Thibault, one of the rebels. Henry III supported the rebelling barons, and Blanche's leadership, with the help of Count Thibault, put down that revolt as well. She also took action against ecclesiastical authorities and a group of rioting university students.
Blanche of Castile continued in a strong role even after Louis' 1234 marriage, taking an active role in selecting his bride, Marguerite of Provence. Granted
dower lands in Artois as part of the original treaty that brought her to her marriage, Blanche was able to trade those lands for ones closer to Louis' court in Paris. Blanche used some of her dower income to pay dowries for poor girls, and to fund religious houses.
When Louis and his three brothers all went on crusade to the Holy Land, Louis selected his mother, at age 60, to be regent. The crusade went badly: Robert of Artois was killed, King Louis captured, and his very pregnant Queen Marguerite and, then, her child, had to seek safety in Damietta and Acre. Louis raised his own ransom, and decided to send his surviving two brothers home while remaining in the Holy Land.
Blanche, during her regency, backed an ill-fated shepherd's crusade, and had to order the destruction of the resulting movement.
Blanche of Castile died in November, 1252, with Louis and Marguerite still in the Holy Land, not to return until 1254. Louis never accepted Marguerite as the strong advisor his mother had been, despite Marguerite's efforts in that direction.
Blanche's daughter, Isabel (1225-1270) was later recognized as Saint Isabel of France. She founded the Abbey of Longchamp, connected with the Franciscans and
Poor Clares.


"Indian princess" who was key to the survival of the early English settlements in Tidewater, Virginia; saving of Captain John Smith from execution by her father (according to a story told by Smith)
Dates: about 1595 - March, 1617 (buried March 21, 1617)
Also Known As: Mataoka. Pocahontas was a nickname or byname meaning "playful" or "willful" one.

Perhaps also known as Amoniote: a colonist wrote of "Pocahuntas ... rightly called Amonate" who married a "captain" of Powhatan named Kocoum, but this might refer to a sister who was also nicknamed Pocahontas.

About Pocahontas:
Pocahontas' father was Powhatan, the chief king of the Powhatan confederacy of Algonquin tribes in the Tidewater region of what became Virginia.
When the English colonists landed in Virginia in May, 1607, Pocahontas is described as being of age 11 or 12. One colonist describes her turning cartwheels with the boys of the settlement, through the marketplace of the fort -- while naked.
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Pocahontas Saves the Settlers:
In December of 1607, Captain John Smith was on an exploration and trading mission when he was captured by Powhatan, the chief of the confederacy of tribes in the area. According to a later story
told by Smith, he was saved by Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas.
Whatever the truth of that story, Pocahontas began to help the settlers, bringing them much-needed food that saved them from starvation, and even tipping them off about an ambush.
In 1608, Pocahontas served as her father's representative in negotiations with Smith for the release of some natives captured by the English.
Smith credited Pocahontas with preserving "this Colonie from death, famine and utter confusion" for "two or three yeeres."
Pocahontas Leaves the Settlement:
By 1609, relations between the settlers and the Indians had cooled. Smith returned to England after an injury, and Pocahontas was told by the English that he had died. She stopped her visits to the colony, and only returned as a captive.
According to one colonist's account, Pocahontas (or perhaps one of her sisters) married an Indian "captain" Kocoum.
Pocahontas Returns - But Not Voluntarily:
In 1613, angry at Powhatan for seizing some English captives and also seizing weapons and tools, Captain Samuel Argall worked out a plan to capture Pocahontas. He succeeded, and the captives were released but not the arms and tools, so Pocahontas was not released.
She was taken from Jamestown to Henricus, another settlement. She was treated with respect, stayed with the governor, Sir Thomas Dale, and was given instruction in Christianity. Pocahontas converted, taking the name of Rebecca.
Pocahontas Marries:
A successful tobacco planter in Jamestown, John Rolfe, had developed a particularly sweet-tasting strain of tobacco. John Rolfe fell in love with Pocahontas. He asked permision of both Powhatan and Governor Dale to marry Pocahontas. Rolfe wrote that he was "in love" with Pocahontas, though he also describe her as "one whose education hath bin rude, her manners barbarous, her generation accursed, and so discrepant in all nutritive from myself."
Both Powhatan and Dale agreed, apparently hoping that this marriage would help relations between the two groups. Powhatan sent an uncle of Pocahontas and two of her brothers to the April 1614 wedding. The wedding began eight years of relative peace between the colonists and Indians known as the Peace of Pocahontas.
Pocahantas, now known as Rebecca Rolfe, and John Rolfe had one son, Thomas, possibly named for the governor, Thomas Dale.
Pocahontas Visits England:
In 1616, Pocahontas set sail for England with her husband and several Indians: a brother-in-law and some young women, on what was a trip to promote the Virginia Company and its success in the New World and to recruit new settlers. (The brother-in-law was apparently charged by Powhatan with counting the English population by marking a stick, which he shortly discovered was a hopeless task.)
In England, Pocahontas was treated as a princess. She visited with Queen Anne and was formally presented to King James I. She also met with John Smith, a great shock to her since she thought he was dead.
While the Rolfes were preparing to leave in 1617, Pocahontas fell ill. She died at Gravesend. The cause of death has been variously described as smallpox, pneumonia, tuberculosis, or lung disease.
Heritage of Pocahontas:
The death of Pocahontas and the subsequent death of her father led to deteriorating relations between the colonists and the natives.
Thomas, son of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, stayed in England when his father returned to Virginia, first in the care of Sir Lewis Stuckley and then John's younger brother Henry. John Rolfe died in 1622 (we don't know under what conditions) and Thomas returned to Virginia in 1635 at twenty. He was left the plantation of his father, and also thousands of acres left him by his grandfather, Powhatan. Thomas Rolfe apparently met once in 1641 with his uncle Opechancanough, upon petition to the Virginia governor. Thomas Rolfe married a Virginia wife, Jane Poythress, and became a tobacco planter, living as an Englishman.
Pocahontas' many well-connected descendents through Thomas include Edith Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, and Thomas Mann Randolph, jr., husband of Martha Washington Jefferson who was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson


About Marie Antoinette: Marie Antoinette was born in Austria, a daughter of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. She was born on the same day as the famous earthquake of Lisbon.

As with most royal daughters, Marie Antoinette was promised in marriage in order build a diplomatic alliance between her birth family and the family of her husband. Marie Antoinette married the French dauphin, Louis, grandson of Louis XV of France, in 1770. He ascended the throne in 1774 as Louis XVI.
Marie Antoinette was welcomed in France at first. Her frivolity contrasted with the withdrawn personality of her husband. After her mother died in 1780, she became more extravagant and this led to growing resentment. The French were suspicious of her ties to Austria and her influence on the King in attempting to foster policies friendly to Austria.
Marie Antoinette, formerly welcomed, now was vilified for her spending habits and opposition to reforms. The 1785-86 Affair of the Diamond Necklace, a scandal in which she was accused of having an affair with a cardinal in order to obtain a costly diamond necklace, further discredited her and reflected on the monarchy.
After an initial slow start at the expected role of childbearer -- her husband apparently had to be coached in his role in this -- Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first child, a daughter, in 1778, and sons in 1781 and 1785. By most accounts she was a devoted mother.
Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution:
After the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789, the queen urged the king to resist the Assembly's reforms, making her even more unpopular, and leading to the attribution to her of the remark, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" -- "Let them eat cake!" In October, 1789, the royal couple were forced to move to Paris.
Reportedly planned by Marie Antoinette, the escape of the royal couple from Paris was stopped at Varennes on October 21, 1791. Imprisoned with the king, Marie Antoinette continued to plot. She hoped for foreign intervention to end the revolution and free the royal family. She urged her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, to intervene, and supported a declaration of war against Austria in April, 1792, which she hoped would result in the defeat of France.
Her unpopularity helped lead to the overthrow of the monarchy when Parisiennes stormed the Tuileries palace on Aug. 10, 1792, followed by the establishment of the First French Republic in September. The family was imprisoned in the Temple on August 13, 1792, and moved to the Conciergie on Autust 1, 1793. There were several attempts to escape, but all failed.
Louis XVI was executed in January 1793, and Marie Antoinette was executed by the guillotine on October 16 of that year. She was charged with aiding the enemy and inciting civil war.