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Women Rulers of England and Great Britain

Rulers in Their Own Right


England and Great Britain have had a few reigning queens when the crown had no male heirs (Great Britain has had primogeniture through its history -- inheritance by the oldest son took precedence over any daughters). These women rulers include some of the best-known, longest-reigning and culturally most successful rulers in British history.

Empress Matilda, Lady of the English (1141, never crowned)

Empress Matilda
Culture Club / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
(August 5, 1102 - September 10, 1167)
Widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, Matilda was named by her father, Henry I of England, as his successor. She fought a long war of succession with her cousin, Stephen, who seized the throne before Matilda could be crowned.

Lady Jane Grey (1553, 9 days)

Lady Jane Grey
Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
(October 1537 - February 12, 1554)
The reluctant nine-day queen of England, Lady Jane Grey was supported by the Protestant party to follow Edward VI, to try to prevent the Roman Catholic Mary from taking the throne.

Mary I (1553 - 1558)

Mary I
Archive Photos / Getty Images
(February 18, 1516 - November 17, 1558)
Daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Mary attempted to restore Roman Catholicism in England during her reign. The execution of Protestants as heretics earned her the sobriquet "Bloody Mary."

Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603)

Elizabeth I - Painting by Nicholas Hilliard
© Clipart.com, modifications © Jone Johnson Lewis
(September 9, 1533 - March 24, 1603)
Known as Queen Bess or the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I ruled at a key time in England's history, and is one of the most-remembered British rulers, male or female.

Mary II (1689 - 1694)

Queen Mary II of Great Britain and Ireland
Culture Club / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Mary II assumed the throne as co-ruler with her husband when it was feared that her father would restore Roman Catholicism. Mary II died childless in 1694 of smallpox, only 32 years old. Her husband William ruled after her death, passing the crown to Mary's sister Anne when he died.

Anne (1702 - 1714)

Queen Anne
Stock Montage / Archive Photos / Getty Images
Sister of Mary II, she ruled when her brother-in-law William III died in 1702. She was married to Prince George of Denmark, and though she was pregnant 18 times, she had only one child who survived infancy. That son died in 1700, and in 1701, she agreed to designate as her successors the Protestant descendants of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, known as the Hanoverians. As queen, she's known for the influence over her of her friend, Sarah Churchill, and for getting the British involved in the War of the Spanish Succession. She was associated in British politics with the Tories rather than their opponents, the Whigs, and her reign saw the power of the Crown significantly reduced.

Victoria (1837 - 1901)

Queen Victoria
Public domain illustration from "Great Britain and Her Queen" by Anne E. Keeling
Queen Victoria of Great Britain was the longest-ruling monarch of Great Britain. She ruled during a time of economic and imperial expansion, and gave her name to the Victorian Era. She married a cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, when they were both seventeen years old, and had seven children before his death in 1861 sent her into a long mourning period.

Elizabeth II (1952 - )

Queen Elizabeth Delivers Annual Speech
Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was born in 1926, eldest child of Prince Albert, who became King George VI when his brother abdicated the crown. She married Philip, a Greek and Danish prince, in 1947, and they had four children. She succeeded to the crown in 1952, with a formal and much-viewed televised coronation. Elizabeth's reign has been marked by the British Empire becoming the British Commonwealth, and a gradual further diminishment of the official role and power of the royal family amid scandal and divorce in her children's families.

The Future

Although the next three generations in line for the UK crown -- Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George -- are all males, the United Kingdom is changing its laws, and a firstborn female heir will, in the future, be ahead of her later-born brothers.
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