Top 10 HERstorical Figures

History is littered with great men doing great things, but sometimes (well more often than not) the women of history are overshadowed by the men in their stories.

To counter this the internet has become full of ‘Herstory’ posts, and I love it – but now I want to add my two pence… So, here are my top 10 HERstorical figures (see what I did there??)

1. Anne Boleyn (1501 – 1536)

Queen of England from 1533 – 1536, second wife to King Henry VIII.

Anne is on this list because she is arguably my favourite person in English royal history. I find her intriguing, endearing, and ultimately rather sad. Anne was famously beheaded by her husband for alleged incest and adultery, setting precedence across Europe as she was the first queen to be executed (at least he got her a decent swordsman from France, ey?).

From what I have read and understood Anne was brave, clever, and outspoken (aka everything men of the time loved until it suited them), and I ultimately think this was her downfall. She got the crown, and she had the love – she (more likely he) just couldn’t produce a son and Henry was on a downward spiral and very impressionable.

She sparked a reformation and changed the English landscape forever and she has poems written about her – we know all this because her character was so strong and although they tried, they couldn’t erase her from history.

She did that.

2. Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)

Queen of England and Ireland from 1558 – 1603, The Virgin Queen.

 

Who else but my dear Anne Boleyn’s daughter – Elizabeth Tudor, the Virgin Queen, the ‘illegitimate’ daughter of an adulterer and his executed wife.

Elizabeth is on this list not just because she is the daughter of Anne, but because she is her own strong woman who overcame unimaginable odds and became one of the most famed (and portrayed) monarchs in English history. From smashing the Spanish Armada to donning armour and talking to her army herself acknowledging her sex and her heart throughout – Elizabeth ruled with an iron fist and a bright smile.

She famously refused suitor after suitor even though she was told that she could not rule on her own, but she stayed strong and declared herself the Virgin Queen, married to England. A talented creator from music to musings, she was a lover of the arts (as was her mother and father). I sometimes think that if Henry and Anne could have worked in harmony they could have been the rulers that their daughter became.

Her reign was described as the golden age.

She did that.

3. Amelia Earhart (1897 – 1937 ??)

First female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Amelia is on this list because not only because was she the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean but she also broke several aviation records, and her life is shrouded in mystery due to her disappearance – can anyone say conspiracy theory??

Disappearing in 1937 aged only 39 she was flying across the pacific island on her way to Howland Island. Amelia’s disappearance has been speculated for many years and to this day we are not 100% what happened to her.

Not only was Amelia a pilot, she was also a writer and wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences – along with this she was the cornerstone in the creation of The Ninety-Nines, a standout organisation for female pilots in a industry that was arguably very cock-heavy.

She did that.

4. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)

Countess of Lovelace, English mathematician, and writer.

Maths is a subject that many of us struggle with, but it is a lesson that Ada took to like a duck in water – described as a gifted mathematician, Ada is widely known to have written one of the first computer programmes way back in the mid 1800’s.  Daughter of a famous poet (Lord George Gordon Byron), Ada inherited a lot of his characteristics and was forced to lay still for many hours of the day to practice self control (I mean… what?).

Ada met Charles Babbage an inventor and translated one of his articles from French to English along with adding her own notes throughout – these notes were later published under the name A.A.L in 1843. This article gained little traction until the 1950’s when they were republished in Faster than Thought: a Symposium of Digital Computing Machines.

Since the second publication Ada has received posthumous honours and the U.S. Department of Defence has named a computer language ‘Ada’ in her honour.

She did that.

5. Nancy Astor (1879 -1964)

Second female MP but first to take her seat (1919-1945), Viscountess Astor.

Females in British politics have always had a bad reputation from Maggie to Theresa, the country has never been happy and they have never been supported (although they try!).

Described as witty, beautiful, generous, clever and fashionable – American born Nancy was a shoe in for English high society and was married to the son (Waldorf Astor) of the owner of The Independent newspaper Viscount Astor (an establishment that is still being printed to this day).

Upon the death of his father, Waldorf became a member of the House of Lords which meant that his seat at Plymouth Sutton was free and Nancy naturally put herself forward and her charm and knowledge won her the seat. Nancy quickly became known for making her voice heard in regards to women’s rights and restrictions on alcohol, along with supporting other female MP’s no matter their party.

A rose amongst over 500 thorns, Nancy made English history.

She did that.

6. Madame De Pompadour (1721 – 1764) 

Chief mistress of Louis XV of France from 1745 – 1751.

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson was born in Paris, and after seeing a  fortune teller became known as Rinette aka Little Queen as it was told she would rule over the heart of a king – and that is exactly what she did.

Jeanne was married to Charles Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles, and because of her status as a married women she was able to attend the salons of Paris and later opened her own where she learnt her wicked wit that she would soon become famed for.

Jeanne purposely put herself in the path of the king… literally, she blocked his path with her horse during a hunting trip, and was soon invited to court and quickly elevated through the ranks becoming the Queens lady in waiting, but to be presented she needed a title… so the king purchased the marquisate of Pompadour and gifted this to Jeanne.

While at court, Jeanne basically became the Prime Minister and was responsible for advancements, favours and domestic and foreign policy along with becoming patron to architecture, and philosophies at Voltaire.

She did that.

7. Diana Spencer (1961 – 1997)

Diana, Princes of Wales, first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, and mother of Prince William and Prince Harry.

It feels odd to call Diana, Princess of Wales an HERstorical figure as everyone on this list is older, but her impact on the UK (and the world) has had a domino effect, and I would say she is a figure to be admired and remembered in history. So, she makes the list.

An international icon, Diana married into the British royal family but soon found that the fairy tale wasn’t all that is seemed and after her sons were born she got a divorce from her husband, the future king of England, Prince Charles in 1996. After the divorce Diana took on a lot of charity work and is noted for her involvement with Aids patients and the campaign for removing landmines.

Constantly under media scrutiny, this would ultimately cause Diana’s devastating death.

Her actions in the 1990’s have given her son, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan the confidence to break from traditions (which is a very British thing) and go their own way. I don’t believe they would have been brave enough or well equipped enough to argue their way if his mother hadn’t attempted the same thing over 20 years ago.

She did that.

8. Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 – 1928)

Organiser of the British Suffragette movement.

Emmeline is on this list because she is, if not the main reason, that I am able to vote.

In 1879 Emmeline married Richard Pankhurst, who was a massive supporter of the women’s suffrage movement and wrote acts that allowed women to keep property and earnings. Emmeline was the founder of the Women’s Franchise League and later the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) aka the notorious suffragettes which we know from history class with hunger strikes and the devastating death of Emily Davison by the kings horse.

But Emmeline wasn’t just a suffragette, when WW1 was announced in 1914 all the energy she poured into her movements, she poured into the war effort. Shortly after her death in 1928 women were granted equal voting rights – she is the reason I get a polling card and I have a voice.

She did that.

9. Alice Perrers  (1348 – 1400)

Mistress to King Edward III, land owner and millionaire.

You won’t see Alice on many top 10’s (unless it is the top 10 of notorious mistresses) and you won’t find her story painted in a good light – but I believe there is more to her story and there are key moments where you can see the men (and perhaps some women lead by jealousy) in history have purposely re-written her story in a bad light.

Because of the time period we do not know much about Alice, but we do know she potentially came from a middle class merchant family with royal connections through trade. At some point we know that Alice became lady in waiting to the Queen and while in this position she caught the eye of the king (age 18, the king was around 55!!).

The Queen died and the King engulfed himself in all things Alice and dressed her in gold from head to foot (Lady of the Sun) and she soon amassed a fortune of over £6,000,000 in modern money.  Jealous and bitter people said that she ruled the country through Edward – something that was unheard of and potentially thought up to slander and belittle her name and influence.

After the King died, Alice was ‘banished’ and tried for corruption and her lands became forfeit – she was even accused of stealing the rings from his corpse?!?!?! . She came back and fought for her land and her children by the king. She was so powerful and successful, jealous men worked tirelessly to discredit her.

She did that.

10. Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958)  

Opened the first family planning clinic in the country and was a campaigner for birth control.

Marie Stopes was a fiercely intelligent women and was the first female member of faculty at Manchester university in the Science department. Marie’s first marriage was annulled in 1914 due to her husband being impotent and this lead her to write her first book Married Love and was followed by Wise Parenthood – making Marie a celebrity overnight.

In 1921 Marie opened a family planning clinic in Holloway and offered a free service to married women, after this the concept engulfed the UK like a wildfire and inspired Marie to form the National Birth Control Council, opposed by the Catholic Church, obviously.

Marie campaigned for women to have better access to birth control and she is the reason I (and millions of other women) have access to our birth control of choice, she is the reason I can decide on my future.

She did that.

Now, my list of HERstorical figures is NOT definitive.

You are a HERstorical figure along with the woman sat next to and opposite you – we can all contribute to history and we will all leave our mark. From a kings mistress to a humble scholar – no matter your skills it is your passion that will drive you, and it is you who will make history.

Make them say ‘she did that’.

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