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10 Most Powerful Women in History of the World

The most powerful women in history is a fascinating topic that uncovers the lives of extraordinary individuals. These women defied societal norms and expectations and shaped the world with their intelligence, strength, and passion. Their stories span centuries and continents. Let’s explore the lives, contributions, achievements, and legacies of these powerful women. 

10 Most Influential Women in History

  • Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
  • Empress Wu Zetian (624-705)
  • Catherine the Great (1729-1796)
  • Hatshepsut (1508 BC – 1458 BC) 
  • Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780)
  • Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908)
  • Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
  • Theodora (500-548)
  • Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984)
  • Elizabeth II (1926-2022)

1- Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

Elizabeth I was one of the most influential and powerful women in history. Her reign from 1558 to 1603 saw England emerge as a world power and her presence helped unify the country against foreign enemies.

Elizabeth’s father was Henry VIII, who separated England from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to marry Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth’s birth was a bitter disappointment to Henry, as he hoped for a male heir. After Anne Boleyn’s execution, Elizabeth was brought up as a follower of the Church of England. Her half-sister, Mary, was brought up as a Roman Catholic.

Elizabeth’s reign began when she succeeded her half-sister Mary in 1558. She was 25 years old and had received a good education. She was prepared to rule. Elizabeth reestablished the independent Church of England and chose William Cecil as her chief minister.

One of Elizabeth’s most significant achievements was her skillful diplomacy. She refused to marry, which was a critical decision for the question of succession and international diplomacy. If Elizabeth had died childless, her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, would have assumed the throne in England.

Protestants saw a Catholic monarchy as a threat, and Elizabeth’s choice of marriage had a significant impact on England’s need for allies and the succession issue.

Elizabeth’s reign also saw a brilliant flourishing in the arts. English literature, poetry, and drama reached new heights during her reign, which is now known as the Elizabethan Age. 

Elizabeth managed the middle ground on religious matters between the hardline Protestants (Puritans) and the Catholics. She reestablished the independent Church of England but retained many features of Catholicism, including bishops and archbishops.

Elizabeth’s reign was also marked by her effective use of Parliament and the Privy Council, a small advisory body of important state officials. She unified a Protestant England against the Catholic Spanish and defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Elizabeth’s reign is often referred to as the Elizabethan or “Golden Age” because it was a time of great advancement and achievement in England. She has been called an outstanding politician, orator, tactician, and musician. Her reign saw England’s emergence as a world power, and her presence helped unify the nation against foreign enemies.

After she died in 1603, Elizabeth was succeeded by her cousin James I. Her legacy continues in the form of the enduring impact of the English Renaissance, the establishment of the Church of England, and her role in shaping the course of British and world history.

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2- Empress Wu Zetian (624-705)

Empress Wu Zetian is a significant figure in Chinese history as the first woman to rule China. Her reign, from 690 to 705, is known as the Zhou Dynasty. She was famous for her strong leadership and effective governance.

One of Wu Zetian’s notable accomplishments was her implementation of reforms that established a more efficient bureaucracy and promoted education. She oversaw the construction of major infrastructure projects, such as the Grand Canal and the Lingyan Temple. Her reign was also characterized by her ability to select capable men to serve as officials. 

Wu Zetian’s reign was a crucial moment for the imperial examination system. Before her rule, the Tang rulers had all been male members of the Li family. As a woman outside the Li family, Wu Zetian needed an alternative base of power. 

She reformed the imperial examinations to create a new class of elite bureaucrats derived from humbler origins. Both the palace and military examinations were created under Wu Zetian and were based on merit.

Wu Zetian steered a middle course between the extreme Confucianists and the Buddhists. She reestablished the independent Church of China but retained many features of Buddhism.

Wu Zetian’s reign was not without controversy. She began to lose control around 697 due to her romantic affairs and the use of aphrodisiacs. Despite these challenges, she eventually fell prey to her weakness for younger men and mind-altering substances, which led her to pay less attention to rules. Her last days were full of paranoia, and she was forced to abdicate.

Her reign is still celebrated as a time of cultural achievements, economic growth, and relative stability. Despite the mixed evaluation of her rule, Wu Zetian remains an important figure in Chinese and global history.

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3- Catherine the Great (1729-1796)

Catherine the Great was born in 1729. Her reign from 1762 to 1796, is known as the Catherinian Era. She was born in Prussia but rose to power after a coup that led to her husband’s resignation and eventual murder. 

Catherine always believed in the ideals of the Enlightenment and sought to bring Russia in line with these principles. Catherine’s reforms included creating a middle class and limiting the influence of the landed rich people by dividing the nation into provinces and districts and granting the Charter of the Towns, which divided the population into six classes.

She developed a relationship and stayed in touch with French encyclopedists as an essential patron of the arts, literature, and education. Her reign is often referred to as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire and Russian nobility.

Catherine the Great also returned land and property to the church that her late husband had seized and attempted to increase religious freedom. Her conquests also helped to spread Russian traditions and culture to new territories.  

Unfortunately, Catherine started facing opposition from the nobility and peasantry due to political and other national matters. Over time, a large number of peasant revolts occurred between 1762 and 1769, with Pugachev’s Rebellion being the greatest in Russian history. 

Catherine’s legacy endures in the form of the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church. Her reign is still celebrated as a time of cultural achievements, economic growth, and stability as she helped to modernize and expand the territory of Russia. 

4- Hatshepsut (1508 BC – 1458 BC) 

Hatshepsut, also known as Hatshepsut I or Hatchepsut, was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt from around 1508 to 1458 BC. Born to Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose, Hatshepsut was the daughter of a king. She chose to have herself crowned pharaoh of Egypt amidst the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated society.

During her reign, she reinstated trade with Asian people and restored monuments. She also built a vast and innovative mortuary complex, Djeser-Djeseru, which is considered one of the most elegant temples in Egypt. 

Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri is a testament to her divine origin, as she claimed to be the daughter of the god Amun to legitimize her rule. 

Hatshepsut’s reign did not witness great military conquests or significant conflicts but she initiated numerous building projects, such as the construction of a temple at Deir el-Bahri and the restoration of other monuments. 

Hatshepsut’s determination to become the pharaoh of Egypt, despite her gender, demonstrates her courage and resilience in the face of societal expectations. Unfortunately, her successors, Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, attempted to erase her name and monuments from history but her achievements and influence continue to be recognized and celebrated today.

5- Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780)

Maria Theresa of Austria was born on May 13, 1717. She was one of the most powerful women in history during the age of Enlightened Absolutism. As the Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy from 1740 to 1780, she was an iconic figure in European history.

Maria Theresa was the first woman to sit on the Habsburg throne at the tender age of 23, and she won the war on several fronts against other monarchs in Europe. 

She introduced numerous enduring reforms, including institutional, financial, medical, and educational reforms, which solidified the Habsburg rule. She also organized Austria’s military, strengthened and modernized its institutions, encouraged trade and agricultural growth, and transformed the empire into a powerful nation on the world stage. 

The “enlightened absolutism” period in Austria began with her reforms, which were followed by innovative and reasonable policies that considered the welfare of the people and the state.

Despite her hardened nature, Maria Theresa is recognized as one of the most successful leaders of the 18th century. Her reign was considered very successful when compared to other Habsburg rulers. 

Her efforts to evoke both esteem and affection in her subjects, as well as her ability to centralize and modernize the Habsburg Monarchy, continue to influence the world today.

Read More: Most Influential Women in Ancient Rome

6- Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908)

Empress Dowager Cixi was born in 1835 in China. She rose from being a concubine to a powerful ruler who transformed China from a medieval society into a global power. Cixi’s reign began in 1861, after the death of Emperor Xianfeng. Her reign lasted for 47 years until she died in 1908.

She was the longest-ruling woman in China’s history. Cixi’s reforms involved banning foot-binding, reforming the legal code and education system, and outlawing certain barbaric punishments. 

Cixi also ordered the construction of railways, introduced electricity, telegraph, telephones, Western medicine, a modern-style army and navy, and modern ways of conducting foreign policy and diplomacy. 

Under her leadership, China’s ties with other countries improved. Trade was opened, and regular contacts were maintained with the USA, Japan, Britain, and other countries through diplomats.

Cixi was a feminist who encouraged modern education for women by setting up schools for girls and issuing a bill in 1907 that made it official that women must receive education. 

On the contrary, she was known for her ruthlessness. She ordered the execution of individuals she believed were plotting against her and China. The worst misstep made by Cixi was to back the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, which was put down decisively by American and Japanese colonial forces as well as European ones. 

The miscalculations and consequences of war forced the Chinese Empress to leave the city in shame. She died in 1908, but her legacy remains vital for upcoming Chinese generations. 

7- Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

Queen Victoria was one of the most influential women in British history. She was born on May 24, 1819. From an orphaned princess to a strong ruler, she ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until she died in 1901. Victoria’s reign is known as the Victorian Age.

She was the last of the Hanoverian monarchs and the first queen of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. During her reign, she faced numerous challenges, including calls for a republic and the potato famine in Ireland. However, she faced these challenges with determination and resilience by implementing ambitious reforms and policies that transformed Britain. 

Victoria’s reign helped the expansion of the British Empire, which covered a fifth of the Earth’s surface by the time of her death. She was also known for her strong influence on European monarchies, as her family members married into various royal families across the continent. 

Victoria’s time of rule has seen multiple controversies, such as her controversial relationship with her servant John Brown, and the divisive colonialism practices of the empire she ruled. These controversies eventually raised speculations against her. 

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8- Theodora (500-548)

Theodora was a Byzantine empress who was born around 500 CE. She was the wife of the Emporer of Byzantine, Justinian I. Theodora’s husband was attracted to her intelligence and beauty and married her in 525.

Theodora was a strong advocate for women’s rights and passed strict laws to prohibit trafficking in young girls and altered the divorce laws to give greater benefits to women.  

She also played a crucial role in Justinian’s great recodification of Roman law, such as the rights of women, access to property through inheritance, and the division of estates after divorce. Her influence over Justinian’s policies led to the redressing of traditional inequalities.

Theodora also made efforts to mitigate the laws against the miaphysite, a non-orthodox Christian doctrine, but she never succeeded in changing Justinian’s religious policy and friendship with Rome. 

Despite her significant contributions, Theodora’s reputation was questioned by the famous historian Procopius in his book “Secret History,” which cast a shadow over her merits. However, her impact on the Byzantine political landscape is evident. 

9- Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984)

Indira Gandhi was born on November 19, 1917. She was an Indian politician who served as the third Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. She was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru and the mother of Rajiv Gandhi.

Her belief that the communist-dominated Kerala state government posed a threat to the Indian National Congress led her to play a crucial role in its dismissal in 1959.

After her father died in 1964, she was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and served in Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. 

In January 1966, after Shastri’s death, Congress elected her over Morarji Desai as their leader, and she became prime minister.

She organized Indian armies against Pakistan in support of East Bengal’s secession and executed significant changes, such as a strict population control program.

Despite her recognition and contributions, Gandhi’s rule was also marked by contention. She declared a state of emergency in 1975, which led to the imprisonment of political opponents and the passing of laws limiting personal freedoms.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. The sad betrayal of those designated with her protection symbolized her final moments.

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10- Elizabeth II (1926-2022)

Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926. She was the longest-reigning British monarch who served from February 6, 1952, until her death on September 8, 2022. She will be remembered as one of the most powerful queens in ages to come.   

She served as a symbol of stability and continuity for over six decades. During her reign, she witnessed enormous upheaval and transformation in the kingdom she presided over, such as the end of the British Empire and the move towards independence for many Commonwealth countries. 

She was the head of the Church of England and the head of state of 14 Commonwealth countries at the time of her death. During her reign, she visited over 120 nations and made 200 trips to all corners of the world, where she was regarded as the Queen. 

Her patronage of over 600 charities across the UK and the Commonwealth connected her to all sectors of public life and helped cultivate strong diplomatic relationships.

Queen Elizabeth II was succeeded by her eldest son, Prince Charles, who became King Charles III upon her death. Her final moments were spent at Balmoral Castle with her family, including her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.


Throughout history, these ten women have left a mark on the world through their leadership, intelligence, and resilience. Their reigns showcase the power and influence of women in shaping societies and legacies that transcend time. From political prowess to cultural reform, they faced complex challenges with grace and determination.

Their stories serve as an inspiration to women in positions of authority. Their impact echoes through the ages and reminds us of the transformative power of women’s leadership and determination.


1- Who is the Most Powerful Woman Ever?

Elizabeth I, Empress Wu Zetian, and Catherine the Great are the three most powerful women of all time. 

2- Who Was the Greatest Female Leader in History?

Queen Elizabeth I is the greatest female leader in history. 

3- Who is the Most Popular Woman in the World?

Before her death, Queen Elizabeth II was the most popular woman in every part of the world. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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