Female Rulers of England and Great Britain & Their Years on the Throne
God Save the Queen!
England has had 61 Monarchs over a period of 1000 plus years; and of those staggering number of monarchs, only 6 of those were women. For centuries the image of England’s monarch was a handsome yet striking looking man sitting on a horse. This was because the crown was usually passed on to the male heirs. It is important to note that none of these six queens were heir apparent at the time of their birth. The first real female ruler of England was Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary” and the sixth, hopefully not the last, was Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Mary I of England, also known as “Bloody Mary” (reign: July 1553–November 17, 1558)
Mary Tudor is the first queen regnant of England. She was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary was baptized into the Catholic faith and was a fierce upholder of the Catholic faith despite her father’s English Reformation.
Following the death of her half-brother Edward VI, Mary was crowned queen on October 1, 1553 and her reign was overshadowed with her attempt to reverse Henry VIII’s religious reforms and restore England back to the Catholic faith. During her five years reign, she sentenced several hundreds of Protestants to death by burning. As a result of her ruthlessness and tough-handed approach to dealing with religious issues, she came to be known as “Bloody Reign”.
Unbeknownst to some, Mary Tudor was also Queen consort of Spain and Naples by marriage to her second cousin Philip of Spain. Queen Mary I died childless on 17 November 1558, aged 42. She was succeeded to the throne by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth).
Queen Elizabeth I, “The Virgin Queen” (reign: November 1558–March 1603)
Born to King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth was the last monarch from the House of Tudor. She became the first supreme governor of the Church of England. Her reign was largely prosperous and she is celebrated for taking England through the Golden age which produced some of the greatest literary scholars such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Elizabeth opened up England to trade relations with North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. The “Virgin Queen” was credited for the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Compared to predecessors – her father, King Henry VIII, and brother, Edward VI, Elizabeth was more politically modern. For this and many other things, Queen Elizabeth came to be revered as one of the greatest monarchs in English history.
Elizabeth refused to marry despite her long term relationship with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. The Elizabethan era lasted 44 years, which was quite long compared to the other monarchs from the House of Tudor. Queen Elizabeth died in March 1603 and was succeeded by her cousin James VI of Scotland.
Queen Mary II of the House of Stuart (reign: February 13, 1689 to December 28, 1694)
Queen Mary II happens to be the only queen of England to share sovereignty with a king. Mary was born the eldest daughter of James, Duke of York, and his first wife Anne Hyde. She and her sister, Anne were raised protestants by their uncle King Charles II. She and her husband William of Orange were proclaimed Queen and King regnant by Parliament after the Glorious Revolution.
Queen Mary II mostly stayed away from politics but when her husband was away she governed with the guidance of a nine-member Cabinet Council. She was looked down on as an unfaithful daughter who sided with the “usurper” her husband. However, some people praised her modesty and devotion to God. Mary II was the submissive wife who helped her husband claim the throne. Queen Mary II died in 1694 of small pox at the age of thirty two. Her husband, King William III ruled alone after her death.
Queen Anne (reign: March 8, 1702 to August 1, 1714)
Anne was the last monarch from the House of Stuart and the younger sister of Queen Mary ll. She was heir to King William III and II who died childless and was crowned on April 23, 1702.
Queen Anne is praised for signing the Acts of Union in 1707, unifying England, Scotland, and Wales into a single kingdom, thus making her the first Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.
Her reign marked the beginning of a two-party system, the Tories, who supported the Anglican Church, and the Whigs, who were more of Protestant Dissenters. And as a staunch protestant, the Queen favored the Tories. There are different opinions of Queen Anne. Some scholars of her era stated she was a weak and stubborn queen who made the crown less significant while others claimed the queen was not given the credit she deserved for making Great Britain a powerful kingdom. Queen Anne died in August 1714.
Queen Victoria (reign: June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901)
Born Alexandrina Victoria to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Queen Victoria was actually fifth in line to the throne at birth. She was proclaimed Queen in 1837 at the age of eighteen when her Uncle, King William IV died childless.
Victoria is the second-longest reigning British monarch with 63 years and 216 days reign. Her era is known as the Victorian era, which was very prosperous. This era saw the British Empire rise to its zenith, as Queen Victoria became the first Empress of India.
Queen Victoria had a loving marriage with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg which has inspired numerous romance novels and movies. The royal couple had nine children and 40 grandchildren, many of who were scattered across Europe, earning Queen Victoria the nickname “Grandmother of Europe”.
Queen Victoria was mostly popular and believed to have restored honor to the crown after years of sexual and financial scandals from the previous monarchs. She also repaired relations with France and maintained a good relationship with their monarch. Queen Victoria died at the age of 81 in 1901.
Queen Elizabeth II, “The Jubilee Queen” (reign: February 6, 1952 to September 9, 2022)
Elizabeth was an unlikely queen because she was third in the line of succession at the time of her birth. Her father was Prince Albert, Duke of York and second son of King George V. Her father became king when her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 and Elizabeth was thrust with the responsibility of becoming heir presumptive since she did not have a brother.
Upon the death of her father, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary became Queen in 1952 at the age of twenty five and was faced with the challenge of economic and social distress following the end of the Second World War. She took up the challenge and ushered Great Britain into the modern-era. During her record-breaking reign of 70 years, she served as the head of Commonwealth.
In 1947, Elizabeth married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and they had four children and eight grandchildren. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 on September 9, 2022. Having reigned for 70 years and 214 days, she is the longest reigning monarch of Britain. And by the looks of it, she might just be the last queen of England in our lifetime.
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