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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.

This list includes women born before 1600, and are shown in order of their known or estimated birth date. Note that this is a multipage list.


Empress Theodora
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(about 497-510 - June 28, 548; Byzantium)
Theodora was probably the most influential woman in Byzantine history.


(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.


(about 545 - 613; Austrasia - France, Germany)
A Visigoth princess, she married a Frankish king, then revenged her murdered sister by starting a 40-year war with a rival kingdom. She fought for her son, grandsons and great-grandson, but was finally defeated and the kingdom lost to the rival family.


(about 550 - 597; Neustria - France)
She worked her way up from servant to mistress to queen consort, and then ruled as her son's regent. She talked her husband into murdering his second wife, but that wife's sister, Brunhilde, wanted revenge. Fredegund is chiefly remembered for her assassinations and other cruelties.

Empress Suiko

(554 - 628)
Although the legendary rulers of Japan, before written history, were said to be empresses, Suiko is the first empress in recorded history to rule Japan. During her reign, Buddhism was promoted official0y, Chinese and Korean influence increased, and, according to tradition, a 17-article constitution was adopted.

Irene of Athens

(752 - 803; Byzantium)
Empress consort to Leo IV, regent and co-ruler with their son, Constantine VI. After he came of age, she deposed him, ordered him to be blinded and ruled as Empress herself.  Because of a woman's ruling the eastern empire, the Pope recognized Charlemagne as Roman Emperor. Irene was also a figure in the controversy over veneration of images and took a position against the iconoclasts.



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

Olga of Russia

(about 890 (?) - July 11, 969 (?); Kiev, Russia)
A cruel and revengeful ruler as regent for her son, Olga was the first Russian saint in the Orthodox Church, for her efforts in converting the nation to Christianity.

Edith (Eadgyth) of England

(about 910 - 946; England)
Daughter of King Edward the Elder of England, she was married off to the Emperor Otto I as his first wife.

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.
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