For my second post, I planned and started and completely different post about my favourite television shows of 2015, a post I do intend to finish. However last week I watched She Wolves: Englands Early Queens, a documentary that highlighted the early Queens in England that struggled but achieved power and explored their reputations as ‘She Wolves’ in history. The incredible and interesting lives of these women, and the lack of popularity some of them have received in popular culture led me to think of all of the incredible historical women throughout history that deserve greater attention.
Numerous television shows have explored the reigns of monarchs and those who held great power in history over the past 20 years or so, successfully drawing in audiences and truly showing the complex figures of history. Shows such as Rome, The Tudors, The Borgias and Vikings have done this well, even with historical inaccuracies. More have been made in other countries, the reigns of famous Queens Isabella of Castile and Catherine the Great being shown in Spain and Russia. A French series Versailles about Louis XIV has just finished its first series, and will be aired sometime this year on BBC2.
Yet there are still many incredible women that deserve more attention, different and complex figures that would make great subjects for television.
Cleopatra Queen of Egypt 69 BC-30 BC
Arguably the most famous woman in Egyptian history, Cleopatra was the Pharaoh of Egypt from 51-30 BC. Beautiful and intelligent, Cleopatra unlike some of the other women of my list has appeared numerous times in films and literature, and is a well recognised figure in history. It surprises me that considering she is incredibly famous, there hasn’t been a recent television show about her life. Most famous for her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, she also ruled as co regent with her brother, until she was exiled and her brother became the sole ruler of Egypt. After meeting Julius Caesar, he helped restore her to the throne. She eventually had a son by Caesar. Her relationship with Mark Antony bore her further children but the tensions between Mark Antony and the Roman leader Octavian eventually led to their defeat in battle and both of them eventually committed suicide. She would be a great subject for a television series, as a woman who successfully gained and maintained rule in her own right. A recent portrayal was by Lyndsey Marshal in HBO’s Rome, despite being a great portrayal she only appeared in 5 episodes, and it would be great to have a show solely focused on Cleopatra to fully explore her life.
Catherine De Medici Queen of France 1519-1589
A series focusing on Catherine herself would full of fascinating material that could last more than one series. Marrying Henry II of France when she was 14, she was sidelined from politics in the beginning of her marriage, due to her husband’s long running affair with Diane de Poitiers. However after 10 years she finally gave birth to a son, which improved her position greatly, eventually giving birth to seven surviving children. After her husband’s death in 1559, her eldest son Francis was king but died a year later. Catherine’s power increased dramatically as her next son and the king was only 10 years old. Catherine became regent of France, and was involved in the civil war that broke out with French Protestants the conflicts eventually turning into the French Wars of Religion. Recently portrayed by Megan Follows in Reign that centers around the teenage years of Mary Queen of Scots, a series of Catherine’s life has great potential due to the personal and political conflicts in her life, as well as her strength in governing France.
Isabella of France Queen of England 1295-1358
Isabella of France was a Queen I had not heard of until yesterday, something that surprised me considering the reputation she gained as a ‘she wolf’ and the power she managed to achieve. Isabella’s life would be ideal for a miniseries, married to Edward II when she was 12, the early years of her marriage were plagued with conflict due to her husband’s focus on his close favourite, Gaveston which led to civil war. Giving birth to four children, her husband’s relationship with Hugh Despenser and the weak relationship she had with her husband’s favorite caused rising tensions and led to Isabella having her children, members of her household and land all taken from her by the Despenser family. When sent to France with her son Edward to negotiate peace between her husband and her brother, King Charles IV, Isabella refused to return to England and stayed with her son in France and began a relationship with the Englishman Roger Mortimer. After her daughter married, she used the dowry to raise an army and invaded England. She executed Despenser and had her husband imprisoned, though he eventually died. Ruling as regent for her son for four years along with Mortimer, they became unpopular and her son eventually had Mortimer killed, and Isabella kept her life and lived a wealthy lifestyle outside of court and politics. She would be a fascinating subject for a miniseries, as a woman who successfully managed to depose a king and claim power for herself.
Mary I Queen of England 1516-1558
A controversial figure in history, Mary Tudor may seem a surprising choice due to unpopularity of her reign as well as her reign being overshadowed throughout history by her sister Elizabeth I. Nicknamed ‘Bloody Mary’, Mary has unfairly been written off as cruel and sometimes even as one of the worst women in history. A miniseries about her life and reign would be a chance to shed light on Englands first Queen. The only living child to come out of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII’s marriage, Mary’s life was incredibly unhappy due to the divorce her father desperately seeked from her mother due to his obsession with getting a male heir. After 6 years, Henry finally had his divorce and married Anne Boleyn. Mary was declared a bastard, forbidden from seeing or communicating with her mother and forced to serve in her new half sister’s household. Mary refused to acknowledge any Queen but her mother, or accept the ruling that her parents marriage was invalid. Her devout Catholicism also put her in danger during the beginning of the reformation in England. After Anne Boleyn was executed when Mary was 20 in 1536, Mary was bullied into signing a document that acknowledged that she was a bastard and her parents marriage was invalid. Her father’s new wife Jane Seymour encouraged the reparation of the relationship between Mary and her father, and Mary was accepted back at court. In 1542 Mary was restored to the succession, to be Queen in her own right if her brother Edward died without an heir. When her brother ascended to the throne, England shifted into a fully protestant country, making relations between him and the devout Catholic Mary weaken. Desperate for England to remain Protestant, Edward made his successor Lady Jane Grey, his cousin and also a protestant. Jane Grey was only Queen for nine days before Mary got her rightful throne, rallying lords and nobles to her side and riding into london triumphantly with the people fully supporting her. However Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain in 1554 proved unpopular, leading to a rebellion to place Elizabeth on the throne. Mary maintained her throne and turned England into a Catholic nation once again. Those who recanted their protestant faith were allowed to live, but those who didn’t were burned at the stake, with 300 burnings taking place over the 5 years of her reign. Mary’s reign was plagued with poor harvest, a flu epidemic, a loveless marriage, and two phantom pregnancies as well as the loss of Calais. Mary’s reign while unpopular and unlucky is an important one to reflect on, and a miniseries would hopefully develop her complex character rather than just labelling her as ‘Bloody Mary’