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Medieval Queens, Empresses, and Women Rulers

Women of Power in the Middle Ages



In the Middle Ages, men ruled -- except when women did. Here are a few of the medieval women who ruled -- in their own right in a few cases, as regents for male relatives in other cases, and sometimes by wielding power and influence through their husbands, sons, brothers, and grandsons. (Listed alphabetically below.)

Saint Adelaide

(931-999; Saxony, Italy)
Second wife of Emperor Otto I, who rescued her from captivity, she ruled as a regent for her grandson Otto III with her daughter-in-law Theophano.


(about 985 - 10002; England)
The first wife of Ethelred the Unready, she was the mother of Edmund II Ironside who briefly ruled England in a transitional time.


(945 - 1000)
Aelfthryth was married to King Edgar the Peaceable and mother of Edward the Martyr and King Aethelred (Ethelred) II the Unready.


(872-879? - 918; Mercia, England)
Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great, won battles with the Danes and even invaded Wales.


(498-535; Ostrogoths)
Regent Queen of the Ostrogoths, her murder became the rationale for Justinian's invasion of Italy and defeat of the Goths. Unfortunately, we have only a few very biased sources for her life, but this profile attempts to read between the lines and come as close as we can to an objective telling of her story.

Amina, Queen of Zazzua

(bout 1533 - about 1600; now Zaria province in Nigeria)
Amina, Queen of Zazzua, extended the territory of her people while she was queen.


(March 13, 963 - 1011; Kiev, Russia)
Daughter of Theophano and the Byzantine Emperor Romanus II, and thus sister of the Theophano who married western Emperor Otto II, Anna was married to Vladimir I of Kiev -- and her marriage was the occasion of his conversion, beginning the official conversion of Russia to Christianity.

Anna Comnena

(1083 - 1148; Byzantium)
Anna Comnena, a daughter of a Byzantine emperor, was the first woman to write a history. She was also involved in history, attempting to substitute her husband for her brother in the succession.

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves portrait, by Hans Holbein
Print Collector / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
(September 22, 1515 (?) - July 16, 1557; England)
Fourth wife of Henry VIII, she was not what he expected when he negotiated for her hand in marriage. Her willingness to agree to a divorce and separation led to her peaceful retirement in England.

Berengaria of Navarre

(1163?/1165? - 1230; Queen of England)
Daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre and Blanche of Castile, Berengaria was queen consort of Richard I of England -- Richard the Lionhearted -- Berengaria is the only Queen of England never to set foot on the soil of England. She died childless.

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