While it is common to bemoan the fate of women in the late medieval /early renaissance period I would suggest that it was in fact a time when women shaped Europe’s history and made changes that are still felt in our modern world.In this first of a series of posts I will give a very brief introduction to the Queens ,duchesses ,ladies and princesses who helped shape our modern world.Many were not particularly likable but all played a role in shaping Europe.
The period between 1480 and 1600 was a time when either officially or unofficially women ruled much of Europe for most of the time ,either in their own names or by controlling husbands or sons who ruled .It is true that many of these women were in some respects powerless victims,Margret Beaufort was married as a child and had her first and last child Henry Tudor at the age of 13 ,Katherine of Aragon was discarded by her husband and died in poverty ,Anne Boleyn was executed once Henry VIII tired of her ,Mary Tudor was wife to a younger husband who though she was devoted to him had little love for her ,Mary Stuart through unwise marriages ended her days as a prisoner of Elizabeth I (who perhaps learning from the mistakes of both Marys remained unmarried).Yet despite the overwhelming odds stacked against women in the 15th and 16th centuries these women overcame the odds and made a huge impact on their world and ours for either good or ill
In upcoming posts I will cover ,,
Isabella of Castile
Isabella drove the “Moors” from Spain ,she spent much of her adult life on military campaigns . By her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon she helped to create modern Spain. Despite being married her husband Ferdinand did not control her lands she remained ruler of them herself.If Isabella and Ferdinand had not removed the moors from spain its possible Spain would have remained Muslim up until the present day .Had Isabella not acted as sponsor to Christopher Columbus Spain would not have had any input to the USA nor would the conquistadors have troubled the latin American countries for better or worse the Aztecs reign would have continued .She also expelled the Jews from Spain and sadly increased persecution of non Christians but she thus facilitated the advance of science in other countries as Jewish doctors and scholars feld .She was succeeded by her daughter Juana ,,though only briefly as Juana became increasingly mentally unbalanced .
Mother of Henry Tudor later to be Henry VII .She began her life tragically ,married very young (she was probably between 11 and 12 ).Her husband who was twice her age .She gave birth at 13 to her only child Henry by which time she was already a widow .Yet Margret overcame all the odds to become the mother of the first Tudor King.Without Margret it is extremely unlikely Henry Tudor would have become Henry VII as it was primarily by her plotting and support Henry managed to invade England and win at Bosworth .Without Margaret there would be no Tudor dynasty.
Katherine of Aragon
While often seen as Henry VIII boring first wife ,it was Katherine who shaped much of Henry’s early policy and it was under Katherine’s command that England won the battle of Flodden against the Scots ,the battle saw the death of not just the king but also much of the nobility of Scotland.By refusing to comply to Henrys demand for an end to their marriage she created a situation were the reformists gained power and England became more isolated from Europe.
The determination of Henry VIII to cast off Katherine for Anne and the way both women dealt with the situation shaped Tudor society and culture and a widespread and lasting effect on our lives It is unlikely that the protestant reformers would have had the success in England which they did without Anns protection .Anne was a determined supporter of the reformers and her copy of Tyndale’s New testament still survives.
Queen Mary 1
Always in the shadow of her half-sister Elizabeth Mary Tudor is yet an interesting figure in her own right ,sadly responsible for the creating of an anti catholic bias in the English mind which lasted for many centuries ,she was also the first woman ever to rule England in her own right and by popular consent.
The influence of Elizabeth’s reign impacted on almost every aspect of modern life in the UK ,our culture ,our trade ,our prejudices and our belief in what it is to be English .
Catherine de Medici
Not an independent monarch in her own right,she ruled through her sons and played a key role in the politics of Europe,The years during which her sons reigned is often called the age of Catherine de Medici .She made real changed in Frances policy while unfortunate events such as the St Bartholomew’s day massacre created such a powerful full memory that it had lasting repercussions for Roman Catholics .The Massacre is now largely forgotten but at the time it stunned Europe ,Its effect can probably best be summed up as correlating to the effect of 9/11.
Mary Stuart the Queen of Scots
While Mary was rather a tragic and ineffective ruler ,she ruled as queen in Scotland briefly and provided a son James who was to unite mainland Britain under one monarch.The rule of Mary and Elizabeth made mainland Britain for a while at least a place entirely under the governance of queens.
whether directly as queens Regnant or regents or indirectly as queens consort for much of the 16 th Century much of Europe’s history was being shaped by women.
Margaret of Austria
Governor of the Netherlands
Navarre is interesting as it had several queens throughout its history and five between the mid 15th and late 16thc century .Navarre had two queens during the 16th c who played roles in European politics Catherine and Joan III it was also home to the the influential queen consort Marguerite.
While these are likely to be the only queens covered in depth there are many other interesting ladies worthy of note
Between 1533 and 1538 Elena Glinskaya ruled as regent .
Eleanore of Toledo
Elizabeth of York