Powerful Women

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Between 1450 and 1800 many women gained power as rulers, some as reigning queens, others as regents. Identify two such powerful women and discuss how issues of gender, such as marriage and reproduction, influenced their ability to obtain and exercise power.

Two of the most powerful women of this era were Queen Elizabeth the first of England and Catherine the Great of Russia. These women had a difficult time gaining their power, and were faced with many adversaries, but, they overcame them and rose to the top. Catherine the Great of Russia started out as the empress consort of Russia, married to the emperor, which is not a bad title, but she did not have complete power and being Empress Consort did not make her famous. Although she was married to the emperor, it was not a happy marriage, he was mad and had fits of rages and was very gullible. She gave birth to his child, but was led to believe that this child was not his, and sent Catherine away. While she was by herself, she came into contact with several groups that were opposed to her husband’s ruling. After Peter became Emperor, she started conspiring to take the throne for herself. When she learned that the Emperor had arrested her co-conspirators, she took matters into her own hands and accelerated the process, delivering a speech to the soldiers to protect her and keep her safe from her husband. She also had members of the clergy ready to ordain her as the sole occupant of the Russian throne. Once that was done, she had her husband arrested, forced him to sign a document of abdication, which left her as the next in line for the throne, and imprisoned him. The change that came over Russia was legendary. Under the new empress’s rule, Russia expanded to cover New Russia, Crimea, Northern Caucasus, Rightbank Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Courland at the expense, mainly, of two powers – the Ottoman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. All told, she added some 200,000 square miles to Russian...
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