The Seven Bloodiest Queens in History: War, Execution and Murder
The Seven Bloodiest Queens in History: War, Execution and Murder

The Seven Bloodiest Queens in History: War, Execution and Murder

Michelle Powell-Smith - November 17, 2016

The Seven Bloodiest Queens in History: War, Execution and Murder

Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Born early in their marriage, Elizabeth’s childhood was tumultuous after her mother’s beheading. She inherited the throne after the death of her half-sister Mary in 1558. Unlike her sister, she was a fine queen and a skilled ruler, so why do we remember her as one of the bloodiest of queens?

Just as Mary I punished Protestants during her reign, Elizabeth I banned Catholicism. Fines and prison were possible for anyone who even attended a Mass. Being a Catholic priest in England, or providing shelter to one, was treason, and punishable by death. Elizabeth certainly did put people to death when they threatened her reign; some 450 were executed after an uprising in the North, largely by Catholic nobles. During her reign, some 130 priests were executed solely for being priests, along with around 60 of their supporters.

While Elizabeth did not, by all accounts, take any pleasure in executions, she also signed the death warrant for a woman she knew rather well, although only through letters, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary, the mother of Elizabeth’s successor James, became Queen of Scotland as an infant, but was raised in France. Throughout much of her adult life she was a pawn in various plots to execute Elizabeth and was eventually convicted for complicity in one such plot.

Elizabeth I did not succeed in limiting tensions with Spain, and may have escalated them. When Spain sailed into the English Channel in 1588, they did so, it was believed, with the support of English Catholics. Spain sent some 55,000 men to defeat England; fewer than 10,000 of those survived, and of the 130 ships, only 67 returned. The English victory established the prominence of the English navy that continued into the 20th century and allowed England to retain a key role in the political happenings of mainland Europe.

While she may have, when needed, been ruthless, and certainly did not support religious tolerance, Good Queen Bess was largely a fair and just ruler, and one fondly remembered by history.

The Seven Bloodiest Queens in History: War, Execution and Murder

Queen Rani Lakshmi Bai

Rani Lakshmi Bai is sometimes called India’s Joan of Arc. She was a warrior queen, leading her people. Born in 1835 to the King of Jhansi, Rani Lakshmi Bai was raised to be a warrior, taught to fight as a young age. This was, of course, quite unusual for 19th century India. By the time she was a young woman, she was teaching other women of the court the same fighting skills.

She was married off to an older man quite young, but lost her only child and husband within a short time; she adopted a son to rule Jhansi, and served as his regent. With a young boy on the throne, the British East India company, which then dominated India, deemed the region lapsed in control and sought to gain full control of it. This was already a period of significant conflict between the people of India and the British East India Company.

At only 22 years old, in June 1857, Queen Rani Lakshmi Bai entered full-blown revolt against the British East India Company following a mutiny of the Indian Army. The mutiny provided her with a much-needed opportunity. The Indian Army attacked the British fort in Jhansi and killed every British man, woman and child in the region. Rani Lakshmi Bai’s involvement here is under question; she later publicly opposed the slaughter, but some sources suggest she was directly involved in it.

When the British sent forces to attack Jhansi, she was able to withstand the assault for two weeks, until Indian reinforcements could arrive. Unfortunately, even reinforcements could not prevent the fall of Jhansi. When the kingdom fell to the British, she worked to evacuate as many of her people as possible, saving as many lives as she could.

Unlike some of the bloody queens discussed here, this queen was a warrior. She acted for the well-being of her people, who loved and respected her. The only people who would call this queen bloody are the British.

Rani Lakshmi Bai died on the battlefield, and was burned on a funeral pyre on that same field. She had not wanted the British to have her body. Her son renounced his throne, and eventually, the British gained control of India. The country remained a British possession until 1948. Rani Lakshi Bai is remembered as a hero of Indian independence.

Sources For Further Reading:

Smithsonian Magazine – The Demonization of Empress Wu

Sup China – Wu Zetian, The Most Controversial Woman in Chinese History

Smithsonian Magazine – The Little-Known Story of Madagascar’s Last Queen, Ranavalona III

BBC UK – The Rebellion of The Northern Earls 1569

National Geographic – India’s Warrior Queen Didn’t Back Down from The British