A Brief History
On May 16, 1770, the 14 year old Marie Antoinette, future Queen of France, married 15 year old Louis, the future King Louis XVI of France. Although the marriage and the reign were failures, Marie is remembered today as one of the most famous queens in history, but (unjustly perhaps) not in a good way. Here we list 10 famous queens that come to mind when one thinks of the word queen. Who would you add to this list? (No Steve McQueen, please!)
10. Queen Latifah, present day.
Rapper and actress, frequently seen on television shows, producer of records and television and even a comedienne, although not royalty in the ruling a country sense, she is probably second in fame only to the current Queen Elizabeth II of the UK as far as today’s “queens” go. Her birth name was Dana Elaine Owens, born in 1970. She has won and been nominated for numerous entertainment awards.
9. Helen of Troy (unknown birth and death, perhaps 500+ BC).
Said to be the daughter of Zeus, king of the Greek Gods, Helen was Queen of Sparta, wife of King Menelaus. Said to be the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen was abducted by Paris of Troy, triggering the Trojan War, and earning her the sobriquet, The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships. Although historians are not sure if Helen’s story is based on a real person, her fame is such that many movies and other cultural references have been made to her.
8. Elizabeth II, 1926-present.
Becoming Queen in 1952, Elizabeth is now close to becoming the longest reigning queen in history, her 62 year reign second only to Victoria’s 64 years on the throne. One of Elizabeth’s milestones was to be the first British monarch to ever address the US Congress in 1991. Elizabeth has been a popular and well behaved monarch, while her children and grandchildren, not so much.
7. Farrokh Bulsara, 1946-1991.
Better known as Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen, and one of rock and rolls greatest voices ever. The name of the band is partly derived from Freddie’s gayness, but has other meanings to the band’s founders as well. Also writing some of Queen’s greatest hits, Mercury is a revered rock idol not soon forgotten. He died of AIDS in 1991 before effective treatment was available. If you are wondering, he was born in Zanzibar.
6. Empress Josephine Bonaparte, 1763-1814.
Her failure to bear Napoleon an heir led to their divorce in 1810, even though she was the love of Napoleon’s life. Born in Martinique (a Caribbean Island), her first husband was beheaded on the guillotine during the French Revolution. Despite not giving Napoleon his longed for heir, her descendants sit on the thrones of much of modern Europe, more than any other of the queens listed here. Josephine died of pneumonia caught after a walk with Czar Alexander. Napoleon was heartbroken, and on his death bed his last word was Josephine.
5. Catherine the Great, 1729-1796.
The longest reigning Russian monarch, Czarina Yekaterina was actually born in Pomerania (modern Poland) of German ethnicity. Her long reign started when she led a coup against her husband, Czar Peter III, whom she had strangled. The Catherine Age is known as The Golden Age of Russia as Russia became larger and more powerful than ever. Her birth name was Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, changed upon her marriage to Peter to the Russian form of Catherine.
4. Cleopatra, 69-30 BC.
Actually Greek, a leftover from the Greek (Alexander the Great) conquest of Egypt 300 years earlier, Cleopatra did not even speak Egyptian. With the title of Pharaoh Cleopatra called herself an incarnation of the goddess Isis. Her unions with her brothers (incest was the regular practice in Egyptian royalty) did not produce children, but she did bear a son of Julius Caesar. When Caesar was assassinated, Cleopatra allied with Marc Antony and became his lover, bearing him 2 daughters and a son. When the forces of Cleopatra and Antony were defeated by Octavian (Caesar Augustus) Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide rather than be executed. Cleopatra had used the bite of a poisonous snake (Asp) for this purpose. Depicted in countless movies, books, pieces of jewelry and pictures of all sorts, her image lives on as perhaps the most famous of this group.
3. Elizabeth I, 1533-1603.
The first Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (who got her head cut off by her husband’s order), the last Tudor queen of England. Elizabeth’s reign was marked by the exploits of Francis Drake at sea, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the works of Shakespeare, and the first North American British colonies. Her reign was a time of stability and prosperity, unlike the immediate few years prior to her ascending the throne when intrigue and fighting among the royal family resulted in the beheading of fellow queens Lady Jane Grey and Mary Queen of Scots. She was also known as Good Queen Bess and The Virgin Queen. She never married or had children. The state of Virginia is named for her.
2. Marie Antoinette, 1756-1793.
Married at age 14 to a boy she never met, Marie was stuck in a loveless marriage with virtually no political influence. She was much more down to earth than her popular reputation would indicate and she was savaged by the tabloid press of her day, called L’Austichienne (Austrian Bitch) and Madame Deficit, wrongly blamed for the financial woes of France. Imprisoned during the French Revolution, Marie was tried and executed (beheaded on the guillotine) 8 months after her husband suffered a similar fate. She is remembered today (wrongly) as the epitome of spoiled rotten royalty with no regard for the masses.
1. Queen Victoria, 1819-1901.
Becoming queen in 1837 Victoria reigned a record 64 years, the longest of any queen of any country. She was born of ethnic German heritage and her daughter became Empress of Germany, while her grandson became Kaiser Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany and leader during World War I. (Note: because of the war with Germany, Victoria’s grandson, King George V changed the family name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor.) The Victorian Age as her reign is called, was a time marked by morality and prudishness after the Queen’s delicate sensibilities. Numerous geographical places bear her name even today.
For more information, please see…
Waldherr, Kris. Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Di. Three Rivers Press, 2008.