Women Who Ruled: Influential British Female Monarchs (Photo Gallery)

Throughout British history, female monarchs have been few and far between. They range from tragic to powerful, prejudiced to generous, but each woman impacted the history of Great Britian. Let's take a moment to learn from their ancient successes and mistakes.

Click through the gallery above to learn about the female monarchs who have shaped Britain's past, present and future. 


Lady Jane Grey (1553, 9 days) Jane is a tragic figure in British history. In the attempt to prevent Catholic Mary Tudor from ascending to the throne upon King Edward’s death, the Protestant Duke of Northumberland managed to alter the line of succession, proclaiming Mary and Elizabeth Tudor illegitimate and placing Jane on the throne.   Photo: The National Gallery 

Jane reigned for just nine days before she was imprisoned and later executed by Mary Tudor, who took Jane’s place as queen of Britain. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Queen Mary I (1553 - 1558) Mary I--only child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon—acquired the infamous title "Bloody Mary" due to the fact that approximately 300 Protestant heretics were burnt at the stake after she restored papal supremacy in England.   Photo: Society of Antiquaries of London 

To her credit, Mary managed to secure her place on the throne against great odds.  Because Henry VIII divorced her mother, Mary was initially deemed an illegitimate heir to the throne.  Years later, Mary reasserted herself as a legitimate heir and Catholic, rejecting the practice of divorce altogether.  Photo: National Portrait Gallery  

Queen Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603) Elizabeth Tudor is one of the most respected and powerful historical figures in British history.  During her 44 year reign—known as the “Golden Age” of England—the arts flourished, the Protestant Church was reinstated, and England enjoyed a period of great stability. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Queen Elizabeth was a master of her own public relations.  She circulated standardized images of herself for painters to replicate, maintaining the public’s perception of herself as a timeless, ever-youthful authority figure.  She embraced her self-image as the “Virgin Queen” and refused to marry, maintaining her autonomy and unshared power. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Mary II (1689 - 1694)   Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Mary II (1689 - 1694) Queen Mary II insisted on co-ruling with her husband William of Orange.  Their joint monarchy prevented the ascension of yet another Catholic monarch, the son of James II.  Photo: Old Royal Naval College

Queen Anne (1702 - 1714)   Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Queen Anne (1702 - 1714) Queen Anne was the last of the Stuart monarchs.  During Anne's reign, England developed the two party system in which Whigs and Tories competed for power.  Photo: The Royal Collection

Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) Queen Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch.  She was only eighteen years old when she became the Queen of England.   Photo: National Portrait Gallery  

Victoria oversaw a constitutional monarchy—in which the monarch’s direct political influence is limited; however, Victoria is accredited with building a global empire on which the sun never set.  Towards the end of Victoria's reign, almost a quarter of the earth's land surface was part of the British Empire. Victoria was also a proud wife and mother of nine children. Photo: Getty Images.

Queen Elizabeth II While it was unlikely that Queen Elizabeth II would ascend to the throne with two male heirs before her, Queen Elizabeth II has served as Head of the Commonwealth for over 60 years.  Photo: Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II recently signed off on The Succession to the Crown Act 2013, ending the old law that placed males ahead of females in the line of succession to the British throne, regardless of birthdate. In other recent news, Queen Elizabeth II signed the 21st Century Commonwealth Magna Carta which effectively legalizes gay marriage in England and Wales.  Photo: Getty Images