Warrior queens in history
Alexander the Great was one of the most successful military commanders of all time, securing an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Himalayan Mountains. He seems to have inherited much of his moxiefrom mom.
Alexanders mother, Olympias, was the fourth wife of Alexanders father. Even in ancient times, Olympias got a bad rap: The historian Plutarch accused her of sleeping with snakes as part of her religious rites.
When Alexanders dad took another wife, a Macedonian named Cleopatra, Olympias went into voluntary exile, only to return after her husband was assassinated an event that some historians suspect Olympias had a hand in. She then had Cleopatra murdered, along with Cleopatras infant child, helping secure her own sons succession to the throne. Olympias has also been accused of poisoning another child of Philip II, Philip III, who would survive with brain damage.
Exactly how ruthless Olympias really was is hard to say, said Brian Pavlac, a historian at Kings College in Pennsylvania. Historical women often get painted as especially cruel and vicious.
Cruel or not, Olympias political mechanizations put her at odds with Macedonias regent Antipater and his son Cassander while Alexander was off conquering the globe. Cassanders army eventually captured Olympias, and she was put to death in 316 B.C., outliving her famous son by seven years.
Isabella I, unifier of Spain
Known in U.S. history for funding Christopher Columbus journeys, Isabella was a driving force in unifying Spain. She straightened up her inherited kingdom of Castile, instituting criminal reform and bringing down the debt left to her by her brother, the previous ruler.
She is remembered with affection today, but Isabella was a bit ruthles. Part of her strategy to unite the kingdom involved compulsory Catholicism. Muslims and Jews had to convert or flee the country. In 1480, Isabella and her husband launched the Spanish Inquisition to enforce these edicts. All that, and she had six children to boot.
Wu Zetian, Chinas only empress
Wu then clawed her way up to the position of Empress, by having two sons and accusing the Emperors current (childless) wife of killing her daughter -though some historians have wondered if Wu didnt kill the baby herself.
As the Emperors health began to fail, Wus influence grew. She became empress dowager and regent after he died. In 690, she broke the rules again, claiming the throne as her own, the only woman to rule China as an independent sovereign.
Unlike many of the other tradition-busting moms on this list, Wu Zetian didnt get punished for her ambition (or her tendency to murder rivals). She ruled until the age of 82, when, seriously ill and facing challenges for the throne, she relinquished power to her third son. She died soon after.
Catherine de Medici, mother of three kings
The mother of three French kings, Catherine de Medici didnt get off to a great start. An Italian married off to a French prince in love with another woman, de Medici was at first this very marginalized person who could have been removed at any moment.
But 10 years after her marriage began, she started producing heirs. When de Medicis husband, King Henry II, died, one of their sons became king at the age of 15, only to die a year later. That brought de Medicis 10-year-old son Charles IX to the throne and promoted de Medici to regent.
Catherine de Medici ruled over a France divided by civil and religious warfare. She was no political genius, Pavlac said, but she did what she could to hold things together for her and her children.
In 1572, the Catholic Charles IX took a genocidal step, ordering Paris city gates closed and thousands of visiting Protestants killed. Blame for the St. Bartholomews Day Massacre, as it became known, fell into the queen mothers lap, cementing her reputation as treacherous and scheming. Nonetheless, she remained a powerful advisor to the next king, her third son Henry III.