Possibly one of the most famous female monarchs in the history of the world, Elizabeth I ascended to the throne on 17th November, 1558. She has been argued by historians to have been among the best, if not the best monarchs the country ever had. Despite her relatively low standing at the time of birth (she was the youngest of three women in line for the throne), she exceeded the expectations of her entire court when she emerged as a powerful ruler. During her reign alone, Elizabeth consolidated the Protestant hold over England, which her half-sister Mary had previously tried to reverse, and fended off the mighty armada of the Kingdom of Spain. In her inspiring speech at Tilbury in preparation for the battle against the Spanish Armada, she famously declared, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too!” She defied the expectations of a highly misogynistic England, proving that a woman could rule as well as any man.
Florence Nightingale was a nurse who rose to prominence during the Crimean War and is remembered today for her efforts to reform the profession of nursing as well as the conditions in which medical care is delivered. She is responsible for huge improvements made to the sanitary conditions in military field hospitals specifically, but also for hospitals in general, which had previously been a seedbed for germs, disease and infection. Today, the Florence Nightingale Medal, named after her, is the highest possible distinction that a nurse can earn. It is rewarded for “exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick or disabled or to civilian victims of a conflict or disaster”, or “exemplary services or a creative and pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education.”
Unlike Elizabeth, Victoria rose to the throne by default. However, despite her more favourable circumstances, she nonetheless proved to be just as formidable a ruler. While, during Victoria’s time, the role of a monarch was concerned more with ceremonial duties than actually ruling, Victoria nonetheless had many responsibilities to see to. She took the throne amidst powerful calls for the replacement of the monarchy with a republic, in a time when the status of monarchs across Europe was in question with the French Revolution in recent memory, and completely remade its image. She oversaw a massive expansion of the territories of the British Empire and numerous political reforms, in a time which later would become known as the Victorian Age.
The first woman prime minister and certainly one to remember, Margaret Hilda Thatcher was also the longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century. She was sworn into office on the 4th of May, 1979 and continued to serve a lengthy term throughout the 80s until she stepped down on the 28th of November, 1990. While her policies tended to be often polarising and controversial, her legacy as an inspiring, legendary figure in British politics is undebatable. In an environment dominated by men, she rose to prominence as the leadership candidate of the Conservative Party during the 1979 General Election, and exceeded all expectations of the Press and the public that a female prime minister would never be accepted. Following her retirement from politics, she was made Baroness Thatcher and rewarded a permanent seat on the House of Lords. She died on the 8th of April, 2013.
Agatha Christie was a mystery novelist known for several outstanding works of fiction often centered around her famous protagonist, the French detective Hercule Poirot. One of the best-selling authors of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible, Christie was made a Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1971 (DBE), for her achievements in the field of literature. Her most famous novel is perhaps And Then There Were None, which was voted as the most popular book of hers in a vote endorsed by her estate.
Jane Austen was a novelist known chiefly for her influential works of literature, such as Pride and Prejudice. With her face featured on the front of the £10 cash note since 2017, Austen holds a legacy as a highly celebrated and distinguished author. Her books often centered around the upper class social culture of late 18th/19th century Britain, specifically the role of women and their dependency on wealthy men for economic security and generally stable lives. She died at the age of 41 on the 18th of July, 1817.
The current reigning monarch of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth’s list of accomplishments is endless. She oversaw the post-war recovery during the 50s, decolonisation, the shift of Britain into a freer, fairer society, and is credited with modernising many aspects of the monarchy. She participates in numerous charity events every year, and the revenue brought in by the Royal Family to the country far exceeds the cost of maintaining them. Perhaps the most famous woman in the entire world, Queen Elizabeth is still going strong, and absolutely deserving of a place on this list for her many accomplishments.