Women and power is a mix that makes patriarchy uncomfortable at many levels. For centuries world’s most powerful queens have gained attention and ire of those who couldn’t agree with their style of functioning, leading and governing. In this article, we look at five queens who have been misinterpreted and painted in different shades of the wrong colours for being women in power.
Both during and after her lifetime, Marie Antoinette has been a subject of many rumours. She suffered from the reputation of being a hollow queen who ignorantly said, “Let them eat cake!” when the masses were suffering.
To be clear, she was no saint. But not all of the criticisms of the Queen were warranted, or even true. Such as the fact that she did not say “Let them eat cake”.
Many of the attacks that she faced during her reign are often glossed over. Married at the age of 14 to a 15-year-old French prince, the Austrian-born princess’ name was changed from Marie Antoine to Marie Antoinette. Her appearances were also changed in order to fit into the French standard of beauty.
After her marriage, she was the main target of pornography of the time. Drawings and sketches of the queen indulging in sexual acts with both men and women in the court were spread in public. Through these false propagandas, they easily painted her as a corrupt and immoral woman, and the public fed on it.
Attributing phrases like “Let them eat cake!” to her and attacking her through pornography was a way for the revolutionaries to show that the monarchy was corrupt. It was easier for them to attack and blame the foreign-born queen instead of the inefficient King Louis XVI.
So while there were a number of problems that contributed to France’s economic woes and the revolution, Marie Antoinette wasn’t the main cause. She was just an easy scapegoat.
Cleopatra VII is one of the most powerful queens who have been misinterpreted in history. She has inspired many poets, writers, and filmmakers that we continue to see art and descriptions of her till today.
Cleopatra was also a great ruler. Her reign brought Egypt nearly 22 years of stability and prosperity. She stabilised the economy, curbed corruption, and was known to deeply care for her people. Her job was to rule Egypt and she did it very well.
Popularly known as the last Egyptian Queen who used men for her personal purposes, she is often seen as a seductress who brought an end to Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, two great men of Rome.
While her name is considered synonymous with beauty, sex, and seduction, new sources have said that she did not have much of the beauty that history claimed her to have. Therefore, it was more likely that people fell for her charisma, leadership, and her wit than her body.
Her relationships with both Caesar and Antony were also mutually beneficial. The men benefited from her as much as she did from them. Her story survived on accounts of the Roman historians and it has been written in many versions.
It is debatable why these two men have been put on a pedestal in the Queen’s life while countless affairs of both men besides the one they had with Cleopatra have not been mentioned at all. It is the Romans’ fear of a woman in power that showed her in a light like this.
Why is it always assumed that she was the one who started these relationships? Why is she only defined by her sexuality? Nothing new. Just patriarchy trying to bring down another strong woman.
Chand Bibi of the Deccan
Chand Bibi was born to the Sultan of Ahmednagar and was married to the Sultan of Bijapur. Murdered because of a mere misunderstanding, Chand Bibi of the Deccan is one of the Indian Queens who have been misinterpreted.
We have often read about menfolk surrendering their powers. We have often read about men negotiating with their enemies. But what happens when a woman does the same? She gets murdered.
Akbar then decided to attack her kingdom with his Mughal troops. To avoid the attack of Akbar and his forces, Chand Bibi wanted to negotiate with them. This decision made by her was wise and born out of diplomacy.
But this action was largely misunderstood by her troops who believed that she was betraying them. This led to them murdering her in her quarters.
Her courage and diplomacy are admiring. From her life, we remember all the women who had to suffer at the hands of egoistic men who think they know it all.
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I. King Henry made a tremendous effort to marry Anne despite her resistance. And after three years, Queen Anne was sentenced to death by the same man who wanted to marry her so badly.
Queen Anne was largely controversial both in her time and today. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later beheaded after being accused of infidelity. Although she denied all accusations, she still had to meet her untimely death in 1536.
In reality, Queen Anne Boleyn was beheaded just because she was unable to give birth to a male heir.
The King as well as the people painted her as the woman who bewitched the King. King Henry claimed that his wife was guilty of adultery, incest, and high treason. She was accused of seducing him to marry her so that she could become Queen.
A document was found towards the end of October 2020 that showed how King Henry had planned the Queen’s execution meticulously. The King also married four more times and his queens were either dead, divorced, or beheaded. Only one of his wives was lucky enough to survive from the mad man.
Queen Anne Boleyn was accused of many things. But all of these accusations were to cover up the true reason for her death– her failure to produce a male heir, which honestly speaking, is quite a bizarre reason to be beheaded for.
Often called ‘The Witch Queen’ or ‘The Catherine of Kashmir’, Queen Didda is part of the many queens who have been misinterpreted and misrepresented.
Didda was the ruler of Kashmir from 980 CE to 1003 CE. Already caught up in controversy just because she was physically deformed, the Queen has been called many names and has been subjected to many insults.
Queen Didda faced many oppositions from her own ministers. She was termed as a great ruler who administered a strong kingdom from all accounts but was still discredited and largely reduced.
Many historians have used words like ‘immoral’, ‘ruthless’, ‘wicked’, and ‘licentious’ to describe her. One of the most common strategies to discredit powerful women in a patriarchal society is to reduce them through labels.
Surely Queen Didda was also a victim of this since her efficiencies have almost been all covered by these labels. And it’s quite sad to see that history still repeats itself till today.