For so long believed to be bit-players in histories dominated by men, some queens wielded extraordinary power, and ruled in ways that far surpassed their male counterparts.
In this series we discover what drove these women, how they asserted their authority, and reveal the times when, sometimes, being a woman had its advantages.
Combining archive, location shooting, talking heads and stylised recreations, we trace the rise to power of each queen and investigate their reign. With analysis from historians, academics and psychologists, we will pick apart the challenges they faced and discover each monarch’s unique approach to power while understanding wider themes such as women’s changing position in society and what it meant to be the ‘fairer sex.’
THE VIRGIN QUEEN: ELIZABETH I
Elizabeth took the throne of a deeply divided nation after her siblings Edward and Mary died. The Protestant queen allowed Catholics to continue with their faith so long as they were discrete and remained loyal. Peace and prosperity followed and English culture flourished.
Under Elizabeth the seeds of Empire were sown with Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, but despite the successes the Virgin Queen had to be on her guard against numerous plots including from the Spanish King Philip II and, of course, his Armada.
THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN: ANNE
Coming to the throne in 1702 Anne modelled herself on Elizabeth I. She was the last monarch of the Stuart dynasty and one of the hardest working monarchs that Britain had ever seen.
She was the first queen of Great Britain, bringing Scotland and England together under one ruler and reigned through a period where Britain became a major player on the world stage.
THE QUEEN OF EMPIRE: VICTORIA
Crowned queen shortly after her 18th birthday, Victoria presided over an extraordinary period of British history which saw huge industrial, social and territorial expansion. She also managed to shift the public perception of the royal family from one that saw them as wasteful and anachronistic to a valued part of British society.
She started the fashion of becoming patron to dozens of charities and supporting the arts and in doing so, became a celebrated public figure, influencing popular culture.
THE QUEEN WHO WOULD BE KING: HATSHEPSUT
Today seen as one of Egypt's most powerful and successful rulers, for centuries Hatshepsut was known as a king rather than a queen as she demanded she was represented as male complete with beard in contemporary depictions.
As pharaoh she oversaw immense engineering works, such as the building of the Temple of Deir el-Bahri and she developed important trade routes across the region. She led expeditions and brought wealth and artistry to the region.
THE REBEL QUEEN: ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE
As a young teenager, Eleanor’s father, the Duke of Aquitaine, passed away, leaving her with the title and huge wealth. She married Louis, son of the French king and became Queen of France, whilst still a teenager.
She was known for her tenacity and strongly influenced Louis’ decision-making. She even accompanied him on his Second Crusade to the Holy Land in 1147.
After their marriage was annulled she married Henry Plantagenet, heir to the English throne. Once Queen of England, she looked after Henry’s interests whilst he was away. However, after another split she ended up the king’s prisoner for 10 years until his death when her son Richard the Lionheart became king.
THE WARRIOR QUEEN: BOUDICA
Boudica turned on her masters, Roman invaders to Britain, when, after the death of her husband Prasutagus chief of the Iceni, they beat her in public and had her daughters raped by slaves. Boudica set about planning her revenge, building an army and uniting warring tribes by focusing on a common enemy.
Boudica and her army of Britons rode to Colchester, Roman Britain’s capital, and razed it to the ground. London and St Albans followed. In all some 80,000 Romans were slaughtered, but her resistance finally came to an end at the Battle of Wattling Street, where 200,000 Britons died.