Famous Mothers from History (and their famous children)
Catherine de’ Medici (13 April 1519 - 5 January 1589) - She was a member of the powerful Italian Medici family and the famous wife of King Henry II of France. Her husband died in 1560, leaving his wife regent during a time of intense religious strife. Catherine was also the mother of three of France’s kings - Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, all of whom were rather sickly and weak (both Francis and Charles died before their mother). She held enormous sway over her sons, though Henry less so, and great authority in the government; after she embarked on a diplomatic journey across France (as a sixty-year-old woman), the Venetian ambassador claimed she was “born to tame and govern a people as unruly as the French”.
Empress Dowager Cixi (29 November 1835 - 15 November 1908) - Although her son, the Tongzhi Emperor, was the technical ruler of China, the charismatic but stubborn Cixi effectively controlled the government. When her son died, Cixi put her nephew, the Guanxu Emperor, in power; however, when he began to implement reforms that the conservative Cixi disapproved of, she had him placed under house arrest. His reign technically continued until 1908, but, as always, Empress Dowager Cixi was 垂簾聽政 - taking care of business from behind a curtain.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 - 1 April 1204) - Unlike the previous two historical mothers, this French wife of Henry II of England did not give birth to feeble, pliant sons - her third-eldest (the first to become king) was Richard the Lionheart, and her fifth (the second to become king) was John Lackland (“Prince John”). She did rule as regent, however, as Richard went off crusading. But even before her marriage to Henry, Eleanor was a Duchess in her own right, having inherited the entire Duchy of Aquitaine at age fifteen. She married twice; her first marriage was to Louis VII, King of the Franks, but this was annulled; the second was to Henry, whom she asked to marry her, two months after the annulment of her first marriage. Clearly, she was a woman who got what she wanted. She eventually bore him eight children, and she outlived six of them.
Agrippina the Younger (7 November 15 - 23 March 59) - Agrippina the Younger was the great-granddaughter of Augustus, sister of Caligula, wife (and niece) of Claudius, and the mother of Nero. As Empress consort, she was the most powerful woman in the Empire. When Claudius began to favor his son Britannicus over her own son Nero, however, he died suddenly and suspiciously (ancient sources state that Agrippina poisoned him, but this is unconfirmed). Nero’s accession did very little to further Agrippina’s power, however. Although she tried to take control of her son’s empire, Nero proved less yielding than she had expected and resisted his mother’s ambitious grabs for power. He attempted more than once to have her murdered. The actual circumstances of her death are unclear, though apparently her son viewed her more as a political rival than his mother and did indeed have her executed.
And on that somewhat morbid note, we end. Don’t forget to wish your own mother a happy Mother’s Day!
Qiu Jin wore masculine attire before the Qing Dynasty and system of imperial rule fell (in other words, during a time when traditional Confucian values about women’s proper place were still dominant). She made war with the emperor and was beheaded. She’s touted as China’s first feminist…but perhaps we could even say she’s proto-genderqueer? I snagged this photo from the wonderful book Chinese Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination, 1905–1948 by Yan Haiping. So good.