Myths and legend are full 0f powerful and influential women, including Eleanor of Acquitaine, Europa, Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and Pandora, the woman who cracked open a jar and let loose a world of pain and suffering.
But you don’t need to delve into fiction or history to find great women. History is full of significant females, from queens and criminals to artists and scientists, who have drastically changed this world. They’ve been rated, compared and inventoried by top lists all across the world. Lists often contain many of the same names: Cleopatra, Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, Hilary Clinton to name a few. These women are truly remarkable, but there are others just as worthy and deserve to be mentioned.
In compiling a new list, how do we decide who merits inclusion? How should women’s relative levels of influence be ascertained? This is a subjective process, but criteria must be established and acknowledged. So without further ado, here are top 10 unforgettable and influential women of all time.
1. Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor was a part of the wealthiest family in Europe thousands of years back. She received a massive inheritance which came along with a title after her father passed away. This is when she became an autonomous ruler. She played a major part in developing Aquitaine and transformed it into a major cultural centre. Eleanor went on to become Queen in 1137.
Her legacy? Eleanor’s “contribution to England goes beyond her own lifetime. After the loss of Normandy (1204), it was her own ancestral lands and not the old Norman territories that remained loyal to England. The nuns of Fontevrault wrote that she was a queen who surpassed almost all the queens of the world. True queen she was indeed.
Hatshepsut will go down in history as the most influential woman as far as Egyptian history is concerned. According to records, she was the most admirable and tolerant at the time and ruled independently till she died.
Her legacy? Hatshepsut was considered one of the greatest rulers: male or female of her time. Born during Egypt’s 18th dynasty, she was rose from princess to queen to pharaoh. Her rise to the throne, though against ideals of the time, might have inspired other rulers, such as Cleopatra. During this time she was able to expand trade, watch the Egyptian economy grow and improve, and build and restore temples of Egypt. Hatshepsut did this by claiming right of male and being in the image of the Sphinx.
3. Maria Theresa of Austria
Maria Theresa of Austria was born in 1717 and she became an empress in 1740. This powerful woman modified her empire in many ways and recruited soldiers to the existing army. She also changed the face of the Government and her efforts bore fruit when the economy flourished in front of her eyes. She abolished many evil practices and spread awareness about various subjects.
Her legacy? Maria Theresa left a revitalized empire that had a big influence on the rest of Europe in the 19th century. Her descendants followed her example she set and continued to reform the empire. The acquisition of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria gave the empire an even more multinational character that would ultimately lead it to its destruction. Her insisting of compulsory schooling, as a means of Germanization, eventually triggered the rebirth of Czech culture.
4. Empress Theodora
Empress Theodora was an actress before she married Emperor Justinian I. She and her husband looked over the functioning of the empire but mostly all the decisions were made with Theodora’s blessing. She also supported her husband and helped the country win many battles. Not only that, but she also created awareness about the importance of women’s rights.
Her legacy? Theodora is now considered the greatest woman in the history of the Roman Empire and the true founder of feminism. As a result of her efforts, the status of women in the Byzantine Empire was elevated far above that of women in the Middle East and the rest of Europe.
Theodora died of an unknown type of cancer at the age of 48. It was a remarkable life and a remarkable legacy that she left behind. Sadly, her reforms are as badly needed in much of the world even today.
5. Empress Wu Zetian
Empress Wu Zetian was very firm and made all the decisions when her husband was on his death-bed. She soon became the Emperor of China and put an end to the Tang Dynasty and gave rise to the Zhou Dynasty. She was ruthless in many ways and managed to spread Buddhism as a religion.
6. Isabella I of Castile
This Spanish Queen gave rise to the Spanish Inquisition, unified various kingdoms and paid for Christopher Columbus’s famous journey. Isabella raised Spain’s status and made it a World Power.
7. Elizabeth I of England
She was the first Queen who was able to rule the country with absolute and control power. This woman could speak a variety of languages and was on personal terms with the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare. She transformed the country and even though she was religious, she did not ignore any other faiths.
Legacy? Elizabeth was loved by many of her subjects, but others were thankful at her death. Expectations of King James started high but then declined, so by the 1620s there was a nostalgic revival of the cult of Elizabeth. Elizabeth was praised as a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age. James, her successor, was seen as a Catholic sympathiser, presiding over a corrupt court. The triumphalist image that Elizabeth had cultivated towards the end of her reign, against a background of factionalism and military and economic difficulties, was taken at face value and her reputation inflated.
8. Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi was ambitious and was against the influence of foreign countries. She ruled over China from 1861 till 1908 and was powerful enough to make every decision related to state affairs. She also introduced economical, political and cultural reform in the country.
9. Catherine II of Russia
She was fondly referred to as Catherine the Great and ruled over the largest country, Russia from 1762 till 1796. She realized that her husband was immature which is why she wanted to overthrow him. She went on to change the face of politics, bring in cultural reforms and formulate a strong foreign policy.
10. Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria is definitely the most influential woman in history. Her empire stretches across 6 continents and 14.2 million square miles. The era she ruled in was called the Victorian Era and her reign lasted for over 60 years.
Her legacy? The shadows of the Queen Victoria’s legacy are still evident today, including street names, buildings, sites, and the name of the capital city of British Columbia. Her statue remains on the grounds of the legislative buildings, however many have forgotten her significance. Queen Victoria’s birthday was declared momentous enough to warrant a national holiday in Canada and Great Britain. However, the significance of this day has been lost. Victoria Day is now just another long weekend…