Next Episode of Women Who Made History is
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From Cleopatra to Elizabeth I and Sophie Scholl – they're all women from vastly contrasting eras and backgrounds, but with one thing in common: they are some of the most influential women in history. Powerful and helpless, popular and scorned, determined and desperate – each one of them stood out from her peers in some way.
This dramatised series portrays these remarkable women in unprecedented detail, and examines their lives both in a contemporary context as well as from a historical perspective.
She commanded armies and built warships. She was ruthless with rivals and quick to eliminate traitors. She spoke at least nine languages, received diplomats and negotiated with kings. But the last woman to rule Egypt is a legend today because of her powers of seduction. Her story has provided material for countless novels and films, and the myth of Cleopatra lives on, her appearance fused with that of Elizabeth Taylor in the epic 1963 film. The real Cleopatra may well not have been so graceful; her attraction was more a matter of intelligence and strength of will. And she succeeded in winning over the most powerful Romans of her day.
The first woman who made history in Western civilisation, who believed she had a divine mission and saved France during the dark days of the Hundred Years War, was a girl from a simple background who defied all the institutions of the day. Her victories enabled the dauphin to be crowned Charles VII of France in the cathedral at Reims, but in the end she was charged with heresy and burned at the stake... still just 19 years of age.
In an era dominated by men, Queen Elizabeth I was the only woman. She ruled England for 45 years, laying the foundation for the British Empire, and when she died in 1603 she gave her name to an entire epoch: the Elizabethan Age.
Nobody would have thought this possible when she was younger – least of all herself. Elizabeth was born in a period when the idea of a woman on the throne was considered a disaster, and she was regarded as a "bastard whore" by her opponents. Henry VIII had divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and married Anne Boleyn, a lady from the court; this illicit divorce caused the rift with the Catholic Church. When Anne Boleyn gave birth to Princess Elizabeth on 7 September 1533, the king was hugely disappointed: all his efforts had been designed to ensure a male heir. He didn't even attend the christening.
At the age of 14 Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst a princess from a minor German aristocratic family, journeyed to Russia... because she had been chosen to marry Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. For the sake of the marriage she converted to the Russian Orthodox religion and was given the name that has become famous in history: Catherine.
Some countries attain crucial characteristics under female rule, such as the England of Queen Elizabeth I and the Russia of Catherine the Great. And then there are women who do not rule and yet manage to leave their mark on their land, their era. One of these, known as the Queen of Hearts during her lifetime, was Louise of Prussia. Though she had no official political or military power, she wielded influence over the men who did - predominantly her husband King Frederick Wilhelm III - and she had the stature and style to become a symbolic figure.
Unlike the other women in this series, Sophie Scholl had neither power nor influence. She has gone down in history because she took a stand against injustice, virtually ignored by the world at large, and paid the ultimate price for her principles. Alongside Count von Stauffenberg, she is now one of the most popular figures of German resistance against Hitler during the Second World War. Photographs show her as a 20-year-old girl; knowing that she was interrogated, tried and executed simply for speaking out about the injustices of the Nazi regime has helped make her part of the collective memory of the German nation.
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