Five Most Notorious Queens In History
In honor of the birthday of the famous French Queen Marie Antoinette, I have channelled my inner history buff to celebrate this infamous queen’s birthday (which was on November 2nd). Here is a rundown of five of the most notorious queens in history.
Queen Boudica of Iceni
It seems that most of history has forgotten about Queen Boudica of Iceni, a Celtic tribe during the early years of the first millenium. She and her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the region of Norfolk, England which was at the time called Iceni. In an attempt to save themselves from being conquered by the Romans, Prasutagus allied himself with them, and they allowed them to remain independent. However, according to Roman law, this only lasted during the reign of the current king and inheritance was only allowed through the male line, so when Prasutagus died, Iceni was declared Roman property. To add insult to injury the Romans then flogged Boudica and her daughters were raped.
In 60 AD the Iceni began to plan a revolt against the Romans with the neighboring country of Trinovantes, which Boudica was chosen to lead the army which has been reported to have consisted of 230,000 men. She first led her army to Camulodunum (now Colchester) where the entire city was completely destroyed as they worked their way across the city tearing down and burning every building in their path. Next, the army targeted Londinium (now London) and Verulamium (St. Albans) where they were instructed to kill everyone and everything in their path. In those three cities it is believe Boudica and her army killed over 70,000 people before she, and her army, met defeat at the hands of the Roman army.
Queen Anne Boleyn of England
History has painted Anne Boleyn as a wicked figure whose ambition and thirst for power ultimately lead to her demise. The reality is that Anne had very little to do with the events that occurred during her relationship with King Henry VIII, as he was an incredibly stubborn and driven individual. However, the story of her relationship with Henry VIII, and of her death, have secured her a place as one of history’s most notorious queens.
Born around the beginning of the 16th century, Anne matured into what has been described as an incredibly beautiful woman whose slender figure and dark complexion set her apart from the more traditional fair women in England. It was those good looks, combined with her charm and wit, that caught the eye of King Henry VIII in 1526. Henry made clear his desire to marry her, however he was already married and England was part of the Holy Roman Empire, meaning Henry answered to the Catholic Church, which didn’t allow divorces. Henry did the unthinkable act of severing ties with the Catholic Church to start the official Church of England. He did this to make himself head of the church, meaning he could grant himself a divorce, and thus marry and make Anne queen.
Henry and Anne married in January of 1533, she was crowned queen in June of that year, and then in September she gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth I. However, Henry would not be pleased until he had a male heir, and Anne couldn’t manage to give it to him. By 1536 Anne had miscarried three times and Henry was already seeing another woman. It was in April of this year Henry had Anne charged with treason, adultery, incest (with her brother George), and witchcraft, none of which are considered to be true. The validity of the charges didn’t matter, however, since the King had control over the courts, and Boleyn was found guilty on May 15, 1536 and was beheaded under orders of King Henry VIII on May 19th.
Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt
In March 51 BC Cleopatra ascended to the throne in Egypt at the tender age of 18, along with her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII. Ambitious from the start, she immediately began to try to force her brother out as a co-ruler so she could become the sole ruler of Egypt. However, her plans backfired and she was chased out of the country to Rome in 48 BC. However, that same year Caesar seized the Egyptian capital due to his anger at Ptolemy for having his late daughters widower killed.
Upon hearing that Caesar was in control of Egypt, Cleopatra had herself smuggled into the royal palace wrapped in a rug. The two began an affair almost immediately after meeting and Cleopatra gave birth to his son, Caesarion, in 47 BC. This same year, Ptolemy died during a battle with Caesar’s army and Cleopatra was restored to the throne with her younger brother as her co-ruler.
Her relationship with Caesar was quite a scandal in Rome, as Caesar was already married, however Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. It was in 41 BC that she began her second famous relationship with Marc Antony. She gave birth to twins by Antony in 40 BC and the couple married in 36 BC with Cleopatra giving birth to another child with him that same year. However, Rome declared war on Egypt in 33 BC and proceeded to invade Egypt in 31 BC.
Antony’s armies betrayed him during a battle in 30 BC and joined the opposing forces, which lead him to declare that Cleopatra had betrayed him. Hearing this, she went into hiding and had word spread to him she was dead. Antony then stabbed himself in the stomach with a sword and died. Octavian, the leader of Rome, then captured Cleopatra and intended to present her as a mark of his triumph. She was able to sneak in an asp, which she coaxed into biting her, thus killing her.
Queen Mary I of England
History knows Queen Mary I as Bloody Mary, and it was a title she rightfully earned. As the daughter of the scorned Queen Catherine (the woman King Henry VIII divorced to marry Anne Boleyn) she had a powerful hatred of the Church of England and protestants. Her reign began after her brother Edward changed his will before his death, declaring his protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey to be queen, in order to maintain the church of England. Following Edward’s death and Jane’s coronation as queen, Mary lead an uprising and seized the throne in 1553. After Jane’s arrest, Mary had her cousin beheaded to mark the beginning of what would be one of the bloodiest reigns in history.
She promptly married Prince Philip of Spain in a bid to strengthen England’s ties to the Catholic Church and to conceive an heir, thus eliminating her Protestant sister, Elizabeth, from ever becoming queen. In the meantime she had Elizabeth locked away in the Tower of London where she was threatened with charges of treason (the punishment for which was death).To further the acceptance of Catholicism in England she reinstated laws that prevented anyone from speaking ill of the Catholic Church, and punished those found guilty of doing so with death.
The announcement of this led hundreds of wealthy and prominent Protestants to flee the country. Mary began the executions of those found guilty of violating these new laws in 1555 when she began to burn those found guilty at stake in public arenas. By the time of her death in 1557 she had ordered the burning of nearly 300 people and had earned the nickname Bloody Mary.
Queen Marie Antoinette of France
Perhaps the most infamous queen to ever live, Marie Antoinette stands as a symbol of excess and frivolity. Through the time since her death she has been labeled as vapid, reckless, controlling, materialistic, cold and promiscuous. Born an Austrian princess, she was married to Louis XVI, Dauphin of France in 1770 at the age of 15. She was immediately disliked by the court due to her Austrian heritage and misunderstanding of French customs. Almost immediately she was nicknamed “l’Autrichienne”, which was a pun based on the French words for an Austrian woman and female dog. Her marriage to Louis was a cold and distant one, and was not believed to have been consummated for a number of years after their marriage. To fill this void she began to spend her time shopping for elaborate dresses, jewels, and shoes.
She was crowned Queen of France in 1774 and the pressure to give birth to an heir intensified. Her new place in the public eye lead to widespread mockery of her relationship with the King and her inability to give France an heir. To distract herself from this, spending on clothes and gambling increased and she threw herself into the court scene. These habits intensified the public’s dislike of her. Rumors spread through Paris about her spending, one even claimed she had the walls of her private chateau at Versailles, Petit Trianon, covered in gold and diamonds.
Luckily for her, the couple was able to consummate the marriage in 1777 and she gave birth December of 1778. Following this, she began to exercise her influence on the court by getting rid of segregated dining for members of the court and forgoing the customary court fashions for more contemporary styles. The following years saw her begin her famed affair with the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen and the growing unrest of the poor citizens in France who resented her rumored wild spending.
During the early and mid 1780’s she gave birth to two sons and a daughter. However, after the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” in 1785, the public’s dislike of the queen reached fever pitch. In the meantime the financial state of France was in near ruin thanks to expensive wars and the excessive spending of the extended royal family. Despite these facts, the public, and many at the court, placed the blame on the Queen for the nations dire financial situation.
All of this resentment against the royal family came to ahead when the public stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789. After the storming of Versailles that October the royal family moved to the Tuileries Palace where they lived under the watchful eye of the public. However, on August 13, 1792 the royal family was arrested. Louis was executed on January 21, 1793 after being found guilty of undermining the First French Republic. That October, Marie was charged with sexually abusing her son, hosting orgies, sending treasury money to Austria, and treason to name a few. She was found guilty and was executed on October 16, 1793.
About the Author: Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger for www.satellitestarinternet.com. As a lifelong history buff, he often finds himself gravitating towards histories most scandalous and misunderstood characters (i.e. Marie Antoinette and Anne Boleyn). He lives and works in Chicago where he can often been found with his nose in another history book by the likes of Antonia Fraser or Philippa Gregory.