Catherine de' Medici was an Italian noblewoman who played a key role in the political affairs of France during the rule of her sons, a period which came to be known as the age of Catherine de' Medici. Catherine is credited with saving the monarchy from deposition during the French Wars of Religion.
The second-born daughter of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Lucilla was married off to his father’s co-ruler, Lucius Verus, who was twice his age. After both Verus and Aurelius died, Commodus, Lucilla’s brother, came to power. Though Lucilla was politically conscious, she was eventually executed in her early 30s for plotting the murder of Commodus.
The second wife of Roman Emperor Nero, Poppaea Sabina, apparently used her charms to get Nero to murder his mother, Agrippina, and then execute his first wife, Claudia Octavia. According to Roman historian Tacitus, a heavily pregnant Poppaea eventually succumbed to Nero’s anger, when he kicked her in her belly.
Mary of Modena, the second wife of King James II of England, who was also James VII of Scotland, reigned as the queen of England, Ireland, and Scotland. It is believed she induced James to escape to France during the Glorious Revolution, when William of Orange invaded England.
It is believed that the Margherita pizza that is a popular dish today was actually first made by a pizza maker in Naples to treat Margherita of Savoy, who had grown tired of the royal gourmet food. The wife of King Umberto I, Margherita was the queen of Italy.
The second daughter of Italian king Victor Emmanuel III, Princess Mafalda of Savoy grew up as any aristocratic lady would, learning 5 languages and various musical instruments. Known for her charitable spirit, she spoke against Hitler and was sent to a concentration camp, where she died in an Allied bombing.
After her father died, Joanna I was made the heir to the throne of Naples by her grandfather, King Robert the Wise. Her life was marred by the murder of her first husband and the attacks of the Hungarian king Louis I. She was eventually imprisoned and killed by Charles of Durazzo.
An ideal elite Renaissance woman, Bona Sforza was the queen of Poland and the wife of Sigismund I the Old. She is remembered for her fiery resistance to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, when he suggested Bona be planted as a Habsburg spy to counter the Jagiellonian dynasty.
The queen consort of Spain Maria Luisa was the wife of Spanish king Charles IV and the daughter of Duke Philip of Parma. She often served as the muse of Spanish artist Goya. She also started the Order of Queen Maria Luisa to reward noble women. She was later exiled with Charles.
Known as the May Queen for her 34-day stint as the queen of Italy, Queen Maria José of Savoy was the wife of Umberto II, the last Italian king. Following the fall of the monarchy, she went into exile in Switzerland. She also penned several books and worked for the Red Cross.
The queen of Spain and the wife of Spanish king Ferdinand VII, Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies also served as a regent to her daughter, Isabella, after Ferdinand’s death. She had previously made Ferdinand change the law of succession to let Isabella become the ruler instead of Ferdinand’s brother, Don Carlos.
The daughter of the Ostrogothic king of Italy, Theodoric the Great, Amalasuntha was married to Eutharic, who was supposed to be the next king. However, Eutharic died early, and Amalasuntha acted as a regent to her son, Athalaric. She became the queen after Athalaric’s death and developed a diplomatic bond with Justinian I.
Beatrice d'Este was one of the most beautiful noblewomen of the Italian Renaissance and a patron of the arts. The duchess of Bari and Milan through her marriage to Ludovico Sforza, she not only influenced the dress sense of her time but also supported the Milanese resistance during the Italian Wars.
The daughter of Austria’s Archduke Charles II and Mary Anna of Bavaria, Margaret of Austria Queen of Spain, later became the queen of Spain and Portugal by virtue of her marriage to King Philip III of Spain, who was also Philip II of Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia.
The eldest daughter of Portuguese king John III, Maria Manuela was also the first wife of Philip II of Spain, who ruled Spain, Portugal, Naples, and Sicily at various points. She died following a haemorrhage after giving birth to Carlos, Prince of Asturius, also known as Don Carlos.
Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies, also known as the Mother of the Brazilians, was the wife of Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro II The Magnanimous and the daughter of King Don Francesco I of Sicily. Exiled after the collapse of the Brazilian monarchy, she died of a cardiac arrest shortly after.
Constance, the queen of Sicily, avoided marriage till age 30 due to a prophecy. She later became the Holy Roman Empress, through her marriage to emperor Henry V, and gave birth to her only child, Frederick, at 40. Following Henry’s death, she successfully got her son crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor.
Venetian noblewoman Caterina Cornaro ruled as the queen of Cyprus through her marriage to King James II of Cyprus. Their marriage was chiefly a political one, improving ties between Cyprus and Venice. Following James’s death, she was forced to abdicate and given the town of Asolo.
The second wife of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, Bianca Maria Sforza often remained overshadowed by the emperor’s first wife, Mary of Burgundy. Her marriage was mostly unhappy, and she lived in her own court, separate from her husband’s. She is also hardly mentioned in any literary text about Maximilian’s reign.
Marie Josephine of Savoy became the countess of Provence through her marriage to future French king Louis XVIII. Disliked by her sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette, she became the target of rumors stating Louis avoided her in bed. Unfortunately, she died before her husband became the king, and thus couldn’t become the queen of France.
The first wife of European ruler Charlemagne, Desiderata was also the daughter of the Lombardian king Desiderius. Her marriage to Charlemagne was a political alliance that strengthen ties between Frankia and the Lombardian kingdom. Some historians believe Himiltrude, and not Desiderata, was Charlemagne’s first wife, though most believe Himiltrude was a concubine.
The first wife of Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia, who later became the king of Italy, Adelaide of Austria was a Milanese noblewoman who became the queen of Sardinia. She birthed 8 children, including future king of Italy, Umberto I. Her marriage to Victor was primarily a political alliance.
Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal was the second wife of Robert I, the duke of Parma. Born in exile, to Portuguese king Infante Miguel, who had been banished by his brother, Maria again went into exile in Canada after her husband’s death and eventually moved to Luxembourg after World War II.
Known for her short stature, plain appearance, and loving nature, Julie Clary was the wife of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoléon’s elder brother, and thus the queen of Naples and Spain. Joseph later fled to America, leaving her alone in Italy. She reunited with Joseph in her final years.
The queen of Sardinia through her marriage to Victor Amadeus III, Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain was also the youngest daughter of Spanish king Philip V. Known for shunning people, except learned intellectuals and politicians, she was also extremely religious. A mother of 12, she lost 3 children in infancy.
Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma was the first wife of prince-regnant Ferdinand of Bulgaria, who later became Tsar Ferdinand I. Well-read and fluent in 5 languages, she was a woman of culture. She died at age 29, shortly after giving birth to her fourth child.
The eldest daughter of Ercole II, the duke of Ferrera, Anna d'Este was initially married to Francis, Duke of Guise and then to Jacques, Duke of Nemours. A supporter of the Catholic League, Anna was targeted by Henry III. She later served the Queen of France, Marie de' Medici, but died poor.
The twin of Maria Teresa, Maria Anna of Savoy was born to Victor Emmanuel I, the king of Sardinia. She later became the empress of Austria and queen of Hungary through her marriage to Ferdinand I of Austria. After her husband abdicated, she lived with him in Prague and was involved in philanthropy.
Legend has it that Joanna II, the Queen of Naples, often got her lovers killed by throwing them inside a cellar or feeding them to a crocodile after satiating her pleasure, only to protest her good name. She came to power at age 41, after her brother Ladislaus’s death.
Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, known for her deformed jaw, was the daughter of Duke Henry of Carinthia, also the Count of Tyrol. Initially married to John Henry of Luxembourg, she had her marriage annulled by Louis IV the Bavarian, who got her married to his son. She, however, failed to retain Tyrol.
Beatrice, the countess of Provence, later became the queen of Sicily and Naples through her marriage to Charles I of Naples, or Charles of Anjou. Beatrice accompanied Charles to the Seventh Crusade and gave birth to her first child in Nicosia, though the child lived only for a few days.
Constance of Sicily, Queen of Aragon was the only daughter of Manfred of Sicily, who was the last ruler of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. She later married Peter III of Aragon, who claimed Sicily, leading to the partition of the region. She died a nun. Constance later appeared in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Maria Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Massa was the wife of Archduke Ferdinand, who was the son of Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria. Her marriage was a political alliance, aiming at strengthening bonds between Austria and Italy. She and Ferdinand formed the House of Austria-Este.
A Lombard princess, Sikelgaita was the second wife of Norman adventurer Duke Robert Guiscard. A woman of strong build, she had also studied medicine. She was not just her husband’s political aide, but also fought battles alongside him. She also spent a considerable amount of time in the Abbey of Montecassino.
Archduchess Maria Maddalena of Austria was a well-educated woman and grew up appreciating art and culture. The wife of Grand Duke Cosimo II de Medici, she also had a palace of her own, the Poggio Imperiale. Following Cosimo’s death, she and her mother-in-law, Christine of Lorraine, served as regents.
The youngest daughter of Victor Emmanuel I, the king of Sardinia, Maria Cristina of Savoy was the first wife of Ferdinand II, the king of the Two Sicilies. She died at age 23, shortly after giving birth to future king Francis II. She was later declared beatified by the Roman Catholic church.
The daughter of Spanish king Charles IV, Maria Luisa, married Louis, Hereditary Prince of Parma, who was her first cousin, at age 13. While Louis later became the king of Etruria, following his death, Maria acted as a regent to their son. After the dissolution of Etruria, she became the duchess of Lucca.
Joanna of Aragon was the daughter of John II of Aragon and later became the queen of Naples through her marriage to Ferdinand I. After Ferdinand’s death, a grieving Joanna signed all documents as the sad queen. While her step-son took over the kingdom, she was always accompanied by her daughter, Joanna.
The daughter of the duke of Brabant, John I, Margaret of Brabant later became the queen of Germany through her marriage to Henry of Luxembourg, who ruled as Henry VII of Germany. She died while on a campaign for the siege of Brescia in Italy.
Charles I, Duke of Savoy was nicknamed the Warrior for his fearlessness on the battleground. Born to Amadeus IX, he took over his duchy after the death of his brother, Philibert I. He not only subdued the French and their allies but also had Queen Charlotte surrender Cyprus, Armenia, and Jerusalem to him.
A Neapolitan princess, Maria of Calabria was born 6 months after her father, Charles, Duke of Calabria’s death. Although betrothed to Louis I of Hungary, she was kidnapped by the Agnes of Périgord, who got her married to her son, Charles, Duke of Durazzo. She had 2 more marriages later.
The daughter of John of Enghien, Mary of Enghien initially reigned as the countess of Lecce, and later became the queen of Naples through her marriage to King Ladislaus. Initially married to Raimondo Orsini Del Balzo, she was forced to marry Ladislaus when the latter besieged Taranto.
Blanche was the eldest daughter of William VIII Palaiologos, the Marquis of Montferrat. She later became the duchess of Savoy through her marriage to Duke Charles I of Savoy. Her bloodline was eventually erased, as all her children died, either accidentally or due to illness.
Helena Angelina Doukaina reigned as the queen of Sicily through her marriage to King Manfred. The last king of Sicily. She was Manfred’s second wife, after Beatrice of Savoy, his first wife, died. She spent her final years in captivity, after Charles of Angou defeated and killed Manfred in battle.