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Women have shaped Europe’s history just as much as men, some might argue even more so, with some going it alone when it was not even thought about.

Here we look at five women who are very different, from different times but who have left their mark:

Joan of Arc (1412-31)

From humble beginnings as a French peasant girl, Joan of Arc (1412-31) led the French army to victory over the English in a crucial battle during the Hundred Years War, and all during her teenage years.

  • Born to deeply religious parents, Joan too was influenced by religion and claimed at a young age that saintly visions were leading her towards helping her homeland’s army defeat the English.
  • She said she was instructed by St Michael, St Catherine and St Margaret to drive out the English and put the French Dauphin on the throne.
  • Known as the Maid of Orleans, she was burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431 and instructed two clergymen to stand in front of her holding a crucifix.


Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

The daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth year son the throne of England, all 44 of them, gave the country stability after much shorter reigns of her half siblings, Edward VI and Mary I.

  • She reigned over England’s Golden Age and was known as the Virgin Queen, married to her country and was the last Tudor monarch as she did not marry and produce an heir to continue the Tudor line.
  • Her mother was executed when Elizabeth was just a toddler
  • She oversaw the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and ruled at a time when discovery of new worlds was happening.
  • It was also a time of flourishing culture thanks to the likes of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.
  • Elizabeth died in 1603 and her tomb is in Westminster Abbey. She has gone down in history as one of England’s most famous monarchs, giving a name to an exciting era, the Elizabethan Age.


Catherine The Great (1729-96)

Born in Poland as a German Princess and also known as Catherine II, she worked to modernise Russia, bringing it more in line with the West.

  • Catherine was Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796, coming to power after her husband, Peter III was overthrown in a coup.
  • She remains the country’s longest serving female leader.
  • She defeated the mighty Ottoman Empire in two wars and expanded Russia’s empire over three continents, including the colonisation of Alaska.
  • Her rule is regarded as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire.


Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

The second longest reigning British monarch, Victoria, like Elizabeth I before her, gave her name to a period of huge significance in history.

  • The Victorian era saw her ruling over the vast British Empire which stretched across continents and which saw an age of invention.
  • She oversaw the abolition of slavery across the British colonies and reforms to labour conditions and the era also saw voting rights for most British men.



Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

A name synonymous with change, Pankhurst was born in Manchester and became the leader of the British suffragette movement which helped women win the right to vote.

  • She was at the forefront of the movement for change, getting arrested many times, including at Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to George V.
  • She was imprisoned several times alongside others and it was not uncommon for them to be force fed, let out of prison to recover and gain their health, before being arrested and imprisoned again.
  • Pankhurst described Holloway prison as “A place of horror and torment” but never gave up her fight.
  • This year we celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote, thanks to her and those who stood with her.


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