Matilda Empress of England 1102-1167
It greatly surprises me that Matilda hasn’t been a main subject in historical films or television, last appearing in the adaptation of Ken Follett The Pillars of the Earth. Matilda has yet however, to have her story fully told in film or television. Daughter of the King of England Henry I, Matilda married Henry V who became the Holy Roman Emperor when she was twelve. She ruled as regent of Italy for two years of their marriage, returning to England after his death in 1125. However England and Henry I were dealing with a political crisis after the death of Matilda’s brother on the White Ship which sank in 1120. The succession was now thrown into doubt, but unless Henry I gained no more male heirs, he selected Matilda as his preferred choice to be Queen, demanding the nobles swear to accept her as his rightful successor in 1127. Twenty five year old Matilda was then married to Geoffrey of Anjou, who was only aged thirteen. However in 1135, England was thrown into turmoil after Henry I’s death. Despite the nobles having previously pledged to support Matilda, a woman ruling in her own right was greatly unpopular. Matilda’s cousin, Stephen of Blois made himself King, with the support of nobles and the church. Matilda, along with her half brother Robert of Gloucester and uncle David I of Scotland continued to fight for Matilda’s claim in what became the civil war known as the Anarchy. After years of fighting and battles, Stephen was captured in 1141, and Matilda became Lady of England and Normandy. Matilda was unable to consolidate her position and maintain control, and eventually retired to France, her son Henry still fighting in England in 1148. When her son reinvaded England, the two sides eventually sought peace in the Treaty of Winchester, with Henry becoming Stephen’s heir. Though she did not succeed, Matilda’s fight put her son on the throne and showed a woman could garner support and strength as well as having the ability to rule. Her life and the Civil War is an ideal story for a historical drama, her story impacting England in the years ahead, the Civil War being a prime example to Henry VIII over his desperation to gain a male heir rather than naming his daughters.
Marie Antoinette Queen of France 1755-1793
The doomed queen has become a cultural icon, and is not forgotten at all in history compared to some of the other women on my list. Yet her tragic life and reign have yet to be fully explored in detail, and a series could truly show how this young Austrian teenager became a catalyst in the French revolution that brought an end to the French monarchy. Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film based on the brilliant book by historian Antonia Fraser successfully captured the struggles this woman faced, being a stranger in a foreign court when she was sent to France at aged 14 to wed its next King Louis XVII. While being historically accurate in parts, the film decided to omit the majority of the politics at the time, not showing the brutal and tragic end Marie Antoinette faced as well the political factors that led to her unpopularity. This Queen had a truly tragic life, and yet remained brave under the most perilous circumstances. Faced with embarrassment and humiliation after the non consummation of her marriage for 5 years, Marie Antoinette eventually had four children. An incredibly stylish figure, events such as the Diamond Necklace Affair and the lack of reform left the desperate and starving French people to blame her spending for their starvation, becoming a symbols for the greed of the French monarchy. Those involved in the revolution printed many pamphlets spreading rumours of her having affairs, being horrid to the poor and of course uttering the famous phrase ‘let them eat cake’ a quote that has been proven to be inaccurate. The King and Queen accepted a new constitution, the revolutionaries eventually abolished the monarchy in 1792, and Marie Antoinette and the royal family were eventually arrested and imprisoned, with Louis being executed in 1793. Marie Antoinette was then put on trial for treason, as well as shocking falsified claims of sexual abuse towards her own son. She was then executed, nine months after the execution of the King. The political turmoil of the time as well as the personal life of Marie Antoinette and the lasting legacy she has means she would be the perfect subject for a television show, to fully develop her complex character, rather than simple painting of her as a villain or a victim she has received in history.
Eleanor of Aquitaine 1124-1204
When she simply 15 years old after the death of her father and brother, Eleanor was left with a vast inheritance and became the most eligible heiress in Europe. She quickly married the man who became Louis VII of France. However their relationship turned sour on the Second Crusade as well as Eleanor only providing Louis with two daughters meant the couple divorced in 1152. The ending of this marriage gave Eleanor her territories back and again made her an incredibly appealing marriage prospect. Eleanor then married Henry of Anjou, the King of England who also ruled over territories in France. Eleanor played a large role in the ruling of these countries, as well as having five sons and three daughters. Their marriage strained, Eleanor returned to Aquitaine. Eleanor’s son Henry, annoyed at his lack of power and the little amount of wealth and land he received from the King along with his brother got Eleanor involved in a revolt against her husband. This revolt against her own husband was an incredibly bold move for a woman of her time, which led to her imprisonment in 1173. After sixteen years of imprisonment, her husband died in 1189 and her son Richard became King and secured her release. Now in her sixties, Eleanor still played a large role in her son’s government, even ruling as regent when he went away on the Third Crusade.After Richard was captured, she even managed to secure his release. After Richard’s death her son John became King and Eleanor still played an important role in government. Though later her role in England lessened and she remained involved in the affairs of Aquitaine. Eleanor’s long life and the political power she held throughout, and the successful rule she had over her own lands make her an incredibly interesting and admirable woman in history and someone that deserves a series of her own.
Margaret of Anjou 1430- 1482
Most prominently featured in Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and
Richard III, Margaret of Anjou was one of the key players in the Wars of the Roses, a conflict which spanned from 1455-1487.Daughter of the Duke of Anjou and the Duchess of Lorraine, Margaret married the King of England, Henry VI in 1445. The marriage negotiated that the territory of Anjou was to go to French, ending the Hundred Years War between France and England. Having a significant role in her husband’s reign, Margaret also founded Queen’s College in Oxford. In 1453, Henry became ill and had a mental breakdown, leaving the Duke of York to become protector of England. By this time, Margaret had also given birth to a son, Edward. Despite attempting to become regent of England, Margaret was rejected, but showing the confidence she had in her capabilities to rule England and protect her and her family’s interests. By 1455 Henry had recovered, but civil war had now erupted between the York and Lancastrian factions. The Duke of York was the key figure on the Yorkist side, but Margaret was the key figure on the Lancaster side, defending her husband’s rule and her son’s title as the rightful heir to the throne. The Duke of York’s rival, the Duke of Somerset, was supported by Margaret until the Battle of St Albans which saw him and other key members of the Lancaster side defeated and killed. York was back in power, but Margaret still attempted to raise support for the Lancaster side. More battles occurred, with Margaret’s army winning the Battle of Wakefield which resulted in the Duke of York being beheaded. Despite her rival being defeated, the Duke of York’s son Edward soon took charge in leading the York side. He soon deposed Henry and claimed himself King Edward IV. Fleeing with her family to Scotland as well as France, Margaret soon planned her way back to England. Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had angered the Earl of Warwick who instead pursued an alliance with Margaret. He roasted Henry VI to the throne, and the Earl of Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville was married to Margaret’s son Edward. However, Henry’s restoration to the crown was short lived when the Earl of Warwick was killed in battle, just as Margaret landed in England. The Battle of Tewksbury left Margaret’s son Edward dead, and Henry VI, imprisoned soon died. Margaret was captured and eventually moved to France and lived as a poor relation of the King until her death in 1482. Her strong will and devotion to fighting for her family makes Margaret a great subject for a television show, especially considering the storytelling possibilities with the conflict of the War of the Roses.