It is said that well-behaved women seldom make history. Throughout the ages, there have been queens, rulers, and empresses who defied traditional roles and behaviors to wield power, influence, and authority that forever changed the course of history.
10 Queen Ranavalona I – Madagascar
Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar wasn’t known by the abominable moniker “mad monarch” for nothing. Suspected of poisoning her husband to succeed him, she initiated a brutal campaign against those who refused to abandon Christianity during her harrowing 33-year reign. Those who didn’t acquiesce were tossed over cliffs, dismembered, or scalded viciously.
Determined to keep Madagascar free from European colonialism, she summoned foreigners to join the Malagasy, after which she had them killed in a grisly fashion.
However, in the wake of Ranavalona’s death, her weak-willed successors could do little but watch as Christian missionaries returned with renewed vigor. Three decades later, the last monarch was unceremoniously exiled, and Madagascar became a French colony.
During the time of Africa’s gradual colonialism, the sacrilegious but formidable Ranavalona was able to keep foreign rule at bay and is regarded as a symbol of patriotism in Madagascar today.
9 Irene Of Athens – Byzantine Empire
Irene of Athens didn’t simply love power, she went to great lengths to keep it all for herself. During the great theological schism of the eighth century, Queen Regent Irene occupied the Byzantine throne, entirely reversing the “no icons” belief of her husband Leo IV and sparking total outrage. She also improved relations between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox Church.
Despite having engineered such sweeping doctrines, Irene’s heart was ultimately set on the throne. After a turbulent decade of reigning with her son, Constantine VI, Irene finally bared her ruthless ambitions by having her son’s eyes gouged out.
She adopted the title of “emperor” and had coins minted in her name. However, Irene was overthrown five years later in 802 by those who couldn’t accept a woman on the Byzantium throne. Ultimately, she died in exile.
Irene is remembered for being instrumental in restoring the use of icons in the Eastern Roman Empire and is revered as a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church.
8 Queen Nefertiti – Egypt
Ancient Egypt’s illustrious Queen Nefertiti is legendary for having caused tremendous cultural upheaval when she and her husband, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, completely altered the empire’s religious structure.
The shrewd Nefertiti held equal status with the king when they substituted all Egyptian gods, including the chief deity, Amen, with Aten (“Sun god”) and converted Egypt’s religion to monotheism.
The powerful and influential Nefertiti, who is believed to have been more eager than Akhenaten to introduce Sun worship, almost acquired the status of a goddess throughout the kingdom.
Although religious tides turned back in favor of the old gods after her reign, Nefertiti will be forever known as the pioneer of one of the most noteworthy religious revolutions in ancient Egyptian history.