Badass Royal Women You Need to Know
By Isabelle Lee
Prince Harry and Prince William have reunited today to unveil a statue of their mother, Princess Diana, in London on what would have been her 60th birthday. Of course, as with any royal event, gossip is once again on everyone’s lips. The very public feud between the two brothers has made the unveiling a must-see. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, skipped the festivities, reigniting rumors of a rift between her and Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle. All of which got me thinking: The intriguing world of royals extends far beyond England — to Africa, the Middle East and deep into history. In today’s Daily Dose, we dive into the most notorious royal feuds, uncover game-changing, badass royal ladies and highlight the best of OZY’s coverage of stately rebels and warrior women.
I, challenge thee
Elizabeth I Versus Mary I
The relationship between the children of the womanizing Henry VIII was complicated to say the least. For a start, Mary’s mom was Catherine of Aragon, who had previously been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur. Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn, whose storied life helped spark the English Reformation. Mary, as a devout Catholic queen, maintained close control over a country in the throes of burgeoning Protestant fervor. When a rebellion against her rule took hold in 1554, she presumed Elizabeth, a Protestant, was behind it. Mary promptly locked Elizabeth in the Tower of London, the same quarters in which her ill-fated mother was held before being put to death. Mary eventually pardoned Elizabeth due to a lack of evidence, but the relationship between them never recovered. After Mary died during an influenza epidemic in 1558, Elizabeth assumed the throne at long last.
In Cleopatra’s Shadow
Who knew Cleopatra had a treacherous sister lurking in the shadows? Well, half-sister. When Cleopatra’s father died around 51 B.C., she married her brother, Ptolemy XIII. Their equally ambitious little sister, Arsinoe, teamed up with Ptolemy and together they waged war against Cleopatra, who was unseated. Arsinoe declared herself the queen of Egypt, and at just 15, challenged the mighty army of Julius Caesar. Defeated, she was captured and taken back to Rome, where she was sentenced to live out the rest of her days in the Temple of Artemis. But Cleopatra wasn’t done with her and eventually caught wind that the teenage queen was gaining popularity throughout the Mediterranean due to the tragic nature of her story. She had her new beau, Mark Anthony, kill the 21-year-old Arsinoe with her stabbing on the temple’s steps shocking and appalling the Romans. Rightfully so.
Princess Latifa Versus Dad
The daughter of billionaire Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice president of the United Arab Emirates, has allegedly been under house arrest since attempting a daring escape in 2018. Once “returned home,” she recorded videos on her phone that describe her mistreatment by the captors hired by her father. But that wasn’t her first bid for freedom: At just 16, she tried to flee but was thwarted by her father. Following the 2018 attempt, the United Nations demanded that the UAE release the princess, citing concerns over her safety. She was recently photographed in Madrid, but just how “free” she is remains unclear.
Zulu Royal Rumble
Ever since the deaths of King Zwelithini last March and his wife, Queen Mantfombi MaDlamini-Zulu, the following month, the Zulu royal family in South Africa has been embroiled in a bitter fight. With his death, his queen became regent. But after she unexpectedly passed away, her will dictated that their eldest son, Prince Misuzulu should be named king, a move that angered some Zulu nation members. Zwelithini’s first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini, and her two daughters have challenged the validity of the deceased king’s will and his five other marriages. That’s not all: People from various branches of the family have come forth to contest the legitimacy of the prince’s claim. Whoever ends up on the throne will rule more than 5 million people. The showdown between the family lines is set to play out in court and beyond.
Queen Noor of Jordan
American Lisa Halaby married the king of Jordan when she was just 27, having graduated from Princeton with degrees in architecture and urban planning as a member of the school’s first class of women. When she married, she took the name Noor al-Hussein, which translates to the “light of Hussein.” When he died in 1999 after 20 years of marriage, she remained a beloved regent and has been celebrated for her philanthropic work, including running a foundation under her late husband’s name. She is also known for her advocacy on behalf of women in the Middle East and has tweeted her support for the aforementioned Princess Latifa. She’s been compared to Jackie Kennedy for her grace and composure.
Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden
Until January 1980, the Swedish crown had for centuries been passed to male heirs. Princess Victoria may be the eldest child of King Carl XVI Gustaf, but her younger brother, Prince Carl Phillip, became heir apparent upon his birth in 1979. But a constitutional amendment that decreed that the crown be passed down in order of succession, not gender, changed history. Victoria married her personal trainer and after her future reign as queen, her title will pass to their daughter, Princess Estelle. Victoria is remarkably outspoken and has garnered attention for publicly acknowledging her battle with an eating disorder and struggle with dyslexia. It’s no wonder she was voted the most popular Swedish royal.
Princess Mako of Ashinko
Japan still follows the rule of male succession, which has left the royal family in a tight spot. The controversy over succession has been sparked by Princess Mako of Ashinko, the niece of Emperor Naruhito. Since 2017, she has been engaged to marry her college sweetheart, but concerns over his mother’s debt led the royal family to force a postponement. The princess says she wishes to marry for love, challenging the will of the dwindling Japanese royal family and of the public. Women who marry outside the imperial family are forced to relinquish their titles, but as the number of Japanese royals shrinks, eligible bachelors are few and far between. With Princess Mako pushing to leave, the pool of possible successors to the throne gets even smaller, especially if Japan refuses to rethink its succession policy.
Queen Jetsun Pema
When in 2011 King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan married his wife, Queen Jetsun Pema, he swore never to take another, breaking with hundreds of years of tradition. The queen of the ‘happiest’ country in Asia became a monarch at just 21 and was the youngest in the world at the time. Queen Jetsun Pema is president of the Bhutan Red Cross Society and is involved in environmental causes and serves as the United Nations’ Environment Program Ozone Ambassador. She and her husband have been dubbed the “Will and Kate of Asia.”
Thai Princess for Prime Minister
Seventy-year-old Thai princess Ubolratana Mahidol stirred controversy by attempting to run for prime minister in 2019. She had relinquished her royal title to marry an American in 1972, but after they divorced she moved back to Thailand. In the decades that followed, she remained a treasured member of the Thai royal family — until she decided to run for prime minister. Her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, effectively blocked her rise to power and prevented her from contesting the election. He declared her unprecedented candidacy unconstitutional, even though she wasn’t technically part of the royal family and said her popularity and influence as a former royal gave her an unfair advantage.
The sixth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt was a woman, the first to claim the throne in her own right, not just as acting regent. Her name was Hatshepsut, and she boldly declared herself pharaoh even though her stepson, Thutmose III, was the rightful heir. The move made her the victim of a vicious smear campaign by Thutmose, but her legacy is both more complicated and more interesting than a simple power play. She undertook ambitious building projects that rivaled any male pharaoh’s, including hundred-foot obelisks at Karnak, an immense memorial temple and a network of roads. What’s more, she ruled for more than 20 years over relative prosperity.
Student to a Queen
Hope Cooke met her future husband in a hotel lobby in Darjeeling, India. At the time she was a 19-year-old student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York; he was the 36-year-old crown prince of Sikkim, an independent monarchy under the protection of India. When they married in 1963, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and the couple were crowned king and queen two years later. In the decade that followed, she had an affair and her marriage faltered. Cooke eventually left her husband in 1973, emigrating to New York with her two children and a stepdaughter. Soon after she left, Sikkim became part of India and the couple divorced, ending a cross-continental love affair that some compared to the romance between American Grace Kelly and Monaco’s Prince Rainier III.
Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar was known as “the cruel” — and for good reason. She was notorious for using any means necessary — poison, torture, murder — to stamp out Christianity in her kingdom during the 19th century. One gruesome test involved feeding suspected traitors poisoned chicken; if they threw up, she figured they were innocent, and if they died, well, I guess we’ll never know. While her methods may have been savage, she managed to protect her kingdom from colonial intruders and live to the ripe old age of 83.
Dihya, the warrior queen of the Berbers, laid waste to her homeland rather than let marauding Arabs take control during her reign in the seventh century. She set fire to large swathes of land, razed villages and towns, and melted precious metals. Just five years into her rule, however, she was killed by Arab invaders; still, her legacy as a woman who held off hostile forces lives on in the lore of modern-day Algeria.
Hell hath no fury like a woman bent on avenging her husband’s murder. Princess Olga of Kiev retaliated against the Drevilans who orchestrated Prince Igor of Kiev’s death in order to secure her as a bride for their own king. First, she killed the men who murdered her husband by burying them alive in a pit. Next, she torched an envoy from her would-be future husband. Finally, she destroyed the entire Drevilan city, taking down 5,000 men along with it. After Princess Olga, a descendant of the Vikings, was done with her bloodthirsty revenge campaign, she converted to Christianity. Six hundred years later, in 1547, she was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church for her role in convincing her son not to persecute Christians in the kingdom, which would later become Russia.
- Isabelle Lee, OZY Author Contact Isabelle Lee