From the brides of King Henry VIII to historical figures that changed the world, here’s a tribute to some of the most badass women of all time …
I. The Queens of King Henry VIII
It’s a shame that the TV wasn’t around in the 1500s as King Henry VIII and his wives could have starred in their own reality show (The Real Ex-Housewives of England or Keeping up With The Kweens) considering the amount of ruckus they caused. It featured beheadings, divorces, and the excommunication from the Church (safe to say King Henry was quite the drama queen). However, the story mostly revolves around Henry with his wives being the background subjects of his brutality and infidelity. In fact, a whole burlesque musical — Six — was produced to reveal the secrets, lies, and regrets behind the unfortunate lives of these six iconic queens.
- Catherine of Aragon, the Original
The one who set the ball rolling, being the first of the six wives. Henry VIII was her second marriage at the ripe old age of 23. Oddly enough, her first marriage was to Henry VIII’s late older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales (they took “sibling’s hand-me-downs” to a whole new level). Unfortunately for her, she never bore Henry VIII a son (most of her babies were stillborn) which led Henry VIII to believe he was cursed because he married his brother’s wife. It wasn’t long before he started to fancy Anne Boleyn, Catherine’s maid of honour, and her exotic charms and exquisite fashion trends which swooned the heart of the king. Poor Catherine was subsequently banished from the castle.
- Anne Boleyn, the Girl with the Green Sleeves
Henry was enchanted by her posh manners and fancy French background (oui oui baguette and everything). Due to the objections regarding a second marriage and the Pope’s disagreements, Henry began to separate the Church of England from the Church of Rome and was excommunicated from the latter church. Subsequently, Henry became the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Unfortunately, Anne was too outspoken, clever and polished at that time which were unbecoming traits of a wife. Furthermore, she refused to play the submissive role that was expected of her which annoyed Henry.
Furthermore, she was quite the extravagant one, luxuriously spending on gowns, ostrich feathers and jewels (in other words, she was the Kim Kardashian of the 1500s). After Anne failed to produce a male heir multiple times, Henry began taking a fancy to the Other Woman, Jane Seymour. Well, fine! Anne responded by flaunting her assets around (as she should) and picked up several lovers including — surprise, surprise! — her brother. Henry was so angry he lost his head and poor Anne, quite literally, lost hers. Ever the fashion icon, she dressed in red (a bold choice) for her execution, complete with fur and an ermine shawl. Safe to say she went out on a bang (with a severed head to boot).
- Jane Seymour, the One He Loved
Henry does turnover quicker than a hiccup considering he became betrothed to Jane the day following Anne’s execution. Jane’s era was much more subdued compared to the extravagance of Anne’s. She even put a stop to the exotic French fashions introduced by Anne — ugh. A significant contribution of hers was producing a male heir to the throne. Unfortunately, she died not long after due to complications from giving birth. Henry soon ballooned in weight.
- Anne of Cleves, the Catfish
Anne came from Germany and Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, pressed him for this match. Hans Holbein, a German painter, was commissioned by Henry to paint a portrait of Anne. Henry was pleased with her apparent appearance and agreed to marry her. And then they met up in real life.
Henry was startled by her appearance, which he considered plain and unflattering (that was rich coming from an obese, diabetic man). Oh! He had been misled by Hans Holbein. Poor Thomas Cromwell, he was charged and beheaded. Anne’s marriage was annulled and she went back to her castle.
- Catherine Howard, the Promiscuous One
Oddly enough, this queen was the cousin to two of Henry’s previous wives; Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. After her mother died, Catherine lived with the Dowager Duchess, her father’s stepmother. Here, she began her music lessons with Henry Mannox and a “relationship” was formed; a relationship in the sense that she was a teenager and he was much, much older. This was highly inappropriate and it was referenced in the song “All You Wanna Do” from “Six” the musical; “he plucked my strings all the way to G (indicating knickers) // Went from major to minor (indicating their vast age gap), C to D (a heavy emphasis was placed on “D”)”. It wasn’t long before their relationship fell apart.
Then came Francis Dereham, Catherine’s second groomer when she was just 15. He worked as the Dowager Duchess’ secretary. The same song from Six is rife with sexual innuendos regarding their relationship. “He even let me use his favourite quill // Spilt ink all over the parchment, my wrist was so tired” indicates … well, you will have to use your imagination. That relationship soon followed the pathway of the previous one, and crumbled.
Catherine’s uncle brought her to Court where her charm and beauty beguiled Henry. Before long, he was showering her with gifts — making Catherine his fifth pursuit. They then… got married. Mind you, she was still a teenager and he was almost reaching 50.
During her marriage, Catherine became enamored with Henry’s courtier, Thomas Culpeper, and they were meeting in secret. Catherine’s love affairs were soon brought to light and she lost her head too. She was clearly taken advantage of by men a great deal older than her who used her as their plaything. Afterwards, they discarded her like a ragdoll.
- Catherine Parr, the Final One
This Catherine had a flair for learning and languages, being well-versed in French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. In fact, during her life, she had written several books which had gone on to become (New York Times?) bestsellers. Her marriage to Henry was her third one and she stayed with him until his very last breath. After Henry’s death, she married once more and only ever gave birth to one child.
So these are the true, dramatic tales of Henry’s six wives. Except … they’re not just six wives, lumped together. They are not his list of conquests. They are not a product of his fickle desires. They are beautiful individuals; each with their own complicated, unique stories. These Queens were lost for far too long in history, and also in His story.
II. Badass Historical Figures
Now, it’s time for a trip around the globe and across time. These 5 badass women come from all walks of life, and though their roles in history differ, all of them have one thing in common — nothing could stand in their way.
- Wu Zetian, The Only Empress of China
Wu Zhao, better known as Empress Wu Zetian, was a badass in her own right. Deemed a controversial figure in Chinese history, her unpopularity amongst male Confucian officials earned her the reputation of being one of China’s most cruel rulers. However, one might argue that these claims are exaggerated.
While some accounts of Wu’s terrors may be true, the demonisation of the empress was promoted by a rather misogynistic agenda. Men, huh? In fact, contrary to popular belief, Empress Wu was credited with some of China’s greatest accomplishments, especially in elevating the status of women in society. From ordering biographies of famous women to be written to the increased involvement of women in the political system, Empress Wu was a feminist long before it became a thing.
Her other notable accomplishments include reforms in agriculture, such as the construction of irrigation systems, a compilation of farming textbooks, and the reduction of taxes amongst many other efforts. She even offered the entire empire a tax-free year! We love a generous queen.
- Kittur Chennamma, Warrior Queen of Karnataka
Up next is the Indian Princess Leia, but instead of leading a rebellion to end the tyranny of the Empire, Rani Chennamma of Kittur led an armed rebellion against the British East India Company. The warrior queen was born out of necessity as the British East India Company defied the Doctrine of Lapse in an effort to safeguard their control over the region.
For context, the Doctrine of Lapse allowed British colonists to annex independent states in the event that the ruler of said state were to die childless. However, this could not be said for the state of Kittur as they possessed a male heir. Hence, Rani Chennamma took it upon herself to revolt against the British East India Company.
Armed with a sword, she rode into battle to defeat British forces. The queen’s compassionate nature prompted negotiations, which were treacherously defied yet again, and ultimately led to her demise during the second assault. Her valiant efforts are still celebrated to this day, and Rani Chennamma remains a symbol of the independence movement in India. Moral of the story? Don’t mess with Indian women.
- Hatshepsut, The Woman Who Was King
Hatshepsut was among the first women to become a pharaoh, earning the Queen of the Nile a spot on this list. History depicts Hatshepsut as a force to be reckoned with; from her commitment to the throne to her notable accomplishments, she was the embodiment of badass.
In a time where women would usually serve as co-regents, Hatshepsut took it up a notch. Similar to the likes of Mulan and Viola Hastings, Hatshepsut donned garments traditionally worn by male pharaohs — she even went to the extent of wearing a fake beard in an effort to be accepted as a pharaoh (talk about dedication!).
Wardrobe choices aside, Hatshepsut was responsible for some of the most major accomplishments in early Egyptian civilisation, such as the expedition to the Land of Punt, which would then become the traditional trade partner of ancient Egypt. Apart from that, Hatshepsut was responsible for the construction of the most ambitious buildings of her era during her reign and thus, making her one of history’s most prolific builders. I guess she can add Hatshepsut the Builder to her long list of titles.
- Raden Adjeng Kartini, An Indonesian Feminist
Raden Adjeng Kartini walked so that modern feminists could run. Kartini was born to an aristocratic family at a time where polygamy was cool and women were not allowed to pursue a higher education. However, Kartini was considered lucky in comparison to many other Javanese women, as she was able to attend school until she was 12, where she became fluent in Dutch.
Frustrated by the restrictive nature of Javanese traditions, Kartini self-educated and adopted a feminist mindset which fuelled her desire to change the fate of indigenous Indonesian women who did not have a place in Javanese society. Kartini’s letters, which included detailed accounts of her struggles as a woman within her society, were later published in Holland and an English version followed shortly after. Her letters and commitment towards the emancipation of women set the course for more progressive changes in her country, which included the construction of a women’s school. Her impact was so great that she is still celebrated till this very day, and rightfully so.
- Catherine the Great, the Russian Ruler
Catherine II, often declared Catherine the Great, has held the title of Russia’s longest-ruling female leader since 1796… that should be in the Guinness Book of World Records, right? Under her reign, Russia earned its place among the great powers of Europe, alongside its expansion and the revitalisation of the nation’s culture.
Catherine ruled as the Russian Empire expanded like the spread of wildfire, contesting land through conquest and diplomatic excellence. She reformed the administration of Russian governorates, and founded countless cities and townships. Her period of rule, the Catherinian Era, is considered a Golden Age of Russia… and we thought Putin was fierce.
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That’s the rundown on some of the many women that made history. It’s never too late to celebrate historical figures, even if their time has passed. It’s about time we acknowledge and celebrate their achievements; after all, the varied achievements by these historical female figures are just as significant, if not more, compared to their male counterparts.
By Asareel and Karran