Though in many ways the Renaissance, like many other periods of history, was dominated by men–Henry VIII looms particularly large in the public imagination–it was also notable for the many women who were able to wield significant political influence. In Europe and elsewhere, these formidable individuals forged their own destinies, taking advantage of the unique opportunities opened up by the age.
Some Renaissance women ruled as queens in their own right, while others preferred to wield their substantial influence behind the scenes, sometimes even in the bedroom. Regardless of how they exerted their influence, however, these powerful Renaissance women demonstrate the extent to which even those who are viewed as part of the subaltern can still manage to attain power.
The 15th century was a particularly unsettled time in France, particularly since King Francis I was very often at war with the various other powers of Europe (most notably the Holy Roman Emperor). Fortunately for him, he had been raised by a very powerful and determined woman, Louise of Savoy. Throughout her son’s reign, she proved just as skilled as he was in the treacherous and dangerous world of politics.
During her lifetime, Louise was widely lauded by many for her perspicacity; no less a person than Charles Brandon, best friend of England’s Henry VIII, had many good things to say about her. For his part, Francois repeatedly demonstrated his faith in his mother’s abilities, leaving the realm in her hands on several notable occasions, including when he was captured and held prisoner. While regent, Louise not only managed to negotiate his release but also ably defended the entire realm and her own position, demonstrating his wisdom in leaving the realm in her capable hands.
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Like the other members of her family–she was the sister of Henry VIII and the daughter of Henry VII, both of whom led very eventful lives–Margaret Tudor was someone who didn’t want to obey the rules. When her husband, James IV, died, she moved quickly to take up the regency of the Kingdom of Scotland. This came to an end when she married Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus, but Margaret wasn't deterred from trying to exercise power in her own right.
For the rest of her life, Margaret was determined to live life on her own terms. She managed to secure a divorce from her second husband and married yet again. Her third husband was Henry Stewart, the 1st Lord of Methven.
Margaret also worked tirelessly to forge stronger bonds between her native England and her adopted Scotland, despite the long-standing animosity between the two nations. These efforts, and her desire to wield power, often put her at odds with both her brother and with the lords of Scotland.
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Amina, Queen Of Zazzau Expanded The Borders Of Her Kingdom
Though some historians question her existence, it seems likely Anima, the Queen of the Kingdom of Zazzau (located in modern-day Nigeria) ruled during the 16th century. Like her European counterparts–such as, most notably, Isabella of Castile, Amina was a formidable warrior. In the records which have come down to the present, she is presented as a powerful woman determined to extend the boundaries of her kingdom.
She is particularly noted for her cavalry skills. As a result of her efforts, she not only expanded her domains but also came to dominate several notable trade routes. To this day, she is regarded as a historical hero and several statues of her still exist.
Christina of Denmark was born into a nexus of important family relations, being both the niece of the Holy Roman Emperor and the daughter of the King of Denmark (though the latter was overthrown shortly after her birth, and she would never return to her homeland). Given her exalted status, she played a key role in her marriages. She first became a duchess when she was married to Francesco II Sforza, Duke of Milan. After his death, and several aborted alliances, she remarried, this time to Francis, Duke of Bar. After the latter’s death, she served for some time as the regent of Lorraine.
Christina would also earn a place in the history books for a remark she made regarding Henry VIII. By the late 1530s, the English king’s marital troubles were the talk of Europe (Anne Boleyn had been executed in 1536). When a marriage between Henry and Catherine was proposed–her portrait was even painted by the noted portraitist Hans Holbein–Christina is supposed to have said: “If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England’s disposal.”