Who was the most Successful Powerful Woman of the 16th Century?

Results of our Survey

During March, ‘Women’s History Month’ we ran a survey on Facebook, asking ‘Who was the most successful powerful woman of the sixteenth century?

Some 360 people responded, and the results were very clear-cut.

Most Successful Woman Survey Result

Whilst Isabella of Castile was first out of the gate, Elizabeth I of England soon caught up and shot to the front where she has stayed for two weeks. Catherine de Medici is in third place, and each of the others received one or more votes, with the exception of Jeanne III, Queen of Navarre. It may be that few people have heard of some of these women, but in their own time, they lived remarkable lives. To find out more about some of them, check out Sarah Gristwood’s book, Game of Queens, and the article she wrote for Tudor Times here.

Here are some of the reasons for your choices.

Elizabeth I

‘She took England from a land of poverty to a land of prosperity. Built up the army and navy, and prevailed against England's enemies.’

‘As she managed to tread a careful path between two warring religious factions while still being able to be a strong leader for the country at all times.’

‘Devoted herself to the task in a very male world.’

‘Because she girded her loins, stepped up to the plate and bashed hell out of anyone who even thought of hurting her people as she guarded them like a lioness guarding her cubs and eliminated any danger.’

‘She successfully guided England through several crises; minimized foreign interference, successfully neutralizing Spain in several ways (with the exception of the disappointing Netherlands expedition); and, by and large, avoided the excesses of her sister when it came to religious intolerance. At the end, she handed her successor an intact country in fairly good economic shape. Marguerite of Austria was no slouch, either.’

‘Strong, powerful, determined, intelligent, thoughtful. She was able to rule in England without a man beside her, something Mary I didn't do. She successfully defended against the Armada, and was pivotal in restructuring the Church - The church she created is in many ways the CofE we attend today. She had lasting impressions on a country 100s of years following her death. She was a woman ruling in a man's world and she did an amazing job.’

‘Elizabeth I was the greatest Monarch in history ruled like a man and a survivor. A great example for all young woman of today.’

‘Exploration, culture, longevity, ruling the waves. How many of these rulers had an "Age" named for her?’

‘Elizabeth I of England and Ireland. Mainly because of the length of time she was able to hold the throne, 44 years. That she was able to hold it through wars, political and religious unrest. To also overcome the legacy of her mother. Elizabeth was a truly amazing woman... But so are all the other women mentioned in this survey.’

Isabella of Castile

‘She led the way as a European Queen Regnant. Her reign saw the conquest of Granada and the consolidation of Christian rule over the whole peninsula. She had the foresight to back Columbus in his expedition and laid the foundations of Spain's empire. While there were actions that can be criticised ( expulsion of the Jews), this has to be viewed in the context if the time. Elizabeth I for example brutally repressed Catholics and presided over a regime that supported state sanctioned piracy and could fairly be described as a rogue state. In other words one can admire political achievements but not necessarily condone the individual ruler. On that test Isabella in my view is head and shoulders above Elizabeth.’

‘Given the tenor of her times, she was amazing. Leading her soldiers, moving her family along during the campaigns, executing policy.....as well as any man ever did. Her strong will was an example to her daughter Katherine of Aragon, who never gave up her fight to assert her rights, and the rights of her daughter, Mary.’

‘First she fought for the throne. Made her own marriage which united most of Spain. Was in the field with her troops, financed the exploration of Columbus opening up the beginnings of the true Spanish empire. While the expulsion of the Jews & the Moors is controversial I give her credit for preserving the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra.’

‘Motherly, fierce, courageous, queenly.’

Catherine de Medici

‘She was the mother of kings, deaths and intrigues, the most powerful woman not only in France. Left a remarkable trace in history as a historic personality.’

‘Because she had a lot of difficult scenarios to deal with to keep the crown of France safe/in her family. I love the idea that she had a group of women that used their feminine charms to find out things and manipulate men to her best advantage.’

‘Married a king and then successfully guided and raised 3 kings of France as well as carefully places alliances through marriages of other children. Held her place for a long time with a lot of effort and descendant from the Medici family, success and ruling was in her blood.’

Mary, Queen of Scots

‘She tried to bring peace to Scotland.’

Marguerite of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands

‘She mentored a lot of other successful women and did a good job of looking after her nephews’ interests. She also took part in the Ladies’ Peace which was successful.’

Mary I

‘Mary was the first queen of England to rule in her own right. Matilda wasn't quite there. Largely overlooked with the whole bloody Mary notoriety, this was quite an astonishing thing to do in England.’