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Great Mothers in History

Posted January 7th, 2018 at 03:27 PM by Valens
Updated May 24th, 2018 at 02:07 PM by Valens

Mothers of some of history's most significant personalities often played a critical role in the development of their character and often represented a power behind the curtain.
Many of these women were ambitious, power hungry and completely devoted to their children and their cause. Some of the great mother figures went down in history as villains, while others were regarded as saints and models of virtue and continued to be venerated centuries after their deaths.

The influence of personality in history has always been one of the most fascinating objects of historical research. It was not a rare occurrence in the history of our civilization that a single personality could, even within a single lifespan, change the course of history and leave a lasting impact on subsequent historical processes.

Without a doubt, the lives of greatest historical figures had been a subject of meticulous and systematic research by world's finest historians, scientists, and artists, all of whom examined specific aspects of their personalities.
In this context, it should be no surprise that mothers had always played a very important role in the formation of personalities of their children.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the lives of some of history's most prominent people.

This list represents a modest attempt at presenting some of the greatest mother figures in history.


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A daughter of a king, a wife of another king, and a mother to one of history's most significant personalities - Alexander the Great.

According to ancient sources, Olympias had a strong personality and was also politically adept. She helped Alexander secure his throne after the death of his father, Philip II.
Olympias continued to play a significant role in politics after the death of her son.

Cornelia Africana - better known as 'The Mother of the Gracchi'

Cornelia was the daughter of one of Rome's finest generals, Scipio Africanus. During Roman history, she had been regarded as an example of virtue and was one of the first women to be honored by a statue in Rome.
She also seemed to be politically active during the careers of her sons, Tiberius and Gaius.

Aurelia Cotta

Renowned as an example of a Roman matron, Aurelia was a descendant of one of Rome's most prominent families but remained best known for being the mother of Gaius Julius Caesar.
She was considered to be highly intelligent and had a significant role in Caesar's upbringing. Most notably, Aurelia had intervened to save her son from the wrath of the all-powerful dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla, when young Caesar declined his request to divorce his wife.

Atia Balba Caesonia

Little could be said about Atia, aside from the descriptions of ancient historians who praised her as an example of a Roman matron.
Atia was the daughter of Julius Caesar' sister, Julia Minor, and the mother of Augustus.

Livia Drusilla

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Livia was a member of the gens Claudia, one of the oldest Roman patrician families. As one of Rome's most influential women, Livia was an important political ally to her husband Augustus, with whom she was married for more than fifty years.
Livia was the mother of Emperor Tiberius, the heir of Augustus, in whose ascendancy she had likely played a very important role. One of the richest women in Rome, she was respected and had a vast network of clients in her own right, and the Senate even proposed she be honored with the title of 'Mater Patriae' - Mother of the Fatherland.
Officially deified during the reign of her grandson, Emperor Claudius, as Diva Augusta, her cult continued to be practiced, together with that of her husband, Augustus, in the following centuries.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

Mary's role in the history of the world could hardly be overstated. In the personality and image of Mary, Mother of Jesus (Virgin Mary), not only in Christianity but other religions, we can see a symbiosis of very ancient notions of a powerful female element ('The Great Mother' in many polytheistic cults and religious systems), and a unique new figure of veneration adapted into Greco-Roman and later European Civilization.

Agrippina the Younger

Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of the power of women in history, and certainly one of the most influential mother figures in ancient history, Agrippina was the great-granddaughter of Emperor Augustus and the daughter of the popular general Germanicus. Agrippina survived through very perilous times and eventually succeeded in placing her young son Nero on the throne, after, according to the account historians, she poisoned her husband, Emperor Claudius, by serving him a portion of mushrooms.
Not wanting to stop there, Agrippina intended to play a crucial role in her son's reign.
Such was Nero's gratitude to his mother, to whom he entirely owed his accession to the throne, that the password he gave to the tribune of the guards during the first day of his rule was: "The Best of Mothers."

Empress Helena

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Helena rose from obscure origins to become one of the most significant women in history. It was never established whether Helena had been the legal wife of Emperor Constantius Chlorus, but it is the birth of her son, Constantine - later known as 'The Great' - that made her one of the greatest mothers in history.
Many historians have speculated whether Helena - as a devout Christian - had played a role in her son's adoption of Christianity as an accepted religion in the Roman Empire, yet many found it likely that Helena and Constantine enjoyed a very close relationship.
During the years in which her son changed the course of Roman history, Helena continued to play a very important role in the rise of Christianity in the Empire.
Perhaps the best evidence of this is that Helena is venerated as a saint in both major Christian churches, and Equal to the Apostles.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

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Eleanor shines as one of the most prolific women of all Middle Ages, as well as one of the most influential queens in European history.
Born into a powerful family of the Dukes of Aquitaine, Eleanor became a wealthy woman and a feudal ruler in her own right already at a young age.
Her fabled beauty (and wealth) made her into the most desired bride in Western Europe. During her first marriage with French king Louis VII, Eleanor demonstrated a remarkable sense of politics and a strong personality.
Later on, she married one of the most powerful rulers of Medieval Europe, Anglo-Norman king of England Henry II, with whom she had multiple issue. Two of Eleanor's sons with Henry later became kings - Richard I and John.
Eleanor remained politically active during the reign of her husband and was involved in one of her son's rebellions against their father.
During Richard I's crusade in the East, Eleanor ruled England as regent.

Isabella of France

One of the remarkable women of the Middle Ages, Isabella became remembered as a beautiful, but dangerous medieval queen. The best indicator of her power and ambition is the nickname given to her - 'She-Wolf of France'.
Isabella was the daughter of Philip IV 'Le Bel' of France, a king best remembered for his role in the persecution of Knight Templar.
Isabella inherited her father's intelligence, ambition and inclination towards intrigue and was married to Edward II of England, son and heir of Edward I, one of the most powerful kings of medieval England.
Her marriage to the controversial king was not happy, but Isabella refused to play the role of an obedient wife.
Upon returning to France, she forged an alliance with a powerful baron, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, and together they launched an invasion of England, deposed Edward and placed Isabella's son Edward III on the throne.
Isabella reigned over England with her ally, Mortimer, for four years, during the youth of Edward III.

Margaret Beaufort

One among the ranks of great women of her era, Margaret was caught in the chaotic dynastic civil war in XV century England, now known as 'The War of the Roses'. Margaret played a central role in the rise of her son, future King Henry VII of England, and was the key instrument in his eventual victory over Richard III.
Having survived through the reign of her son, Margaret lived to see the coronation of her grandson Henry VIII.

Isabella I of Castile

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Isabella played a crucial role in the history of Spain, Europe, and the world. With her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella ruled over their dominions in Spain and ushered in a new era for her kingdom. With her husband, she unified Spain and laid the foundation for a century of Spanish dominance during the reign of her grandson, Charles V.
Isabella was also the mother of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England.

Lucrezia Borgia

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One of the most well-known figures of the Renaissance, Lucrezia enjoys a notorious reputation in popular culture. As a member of one of the most powerful and controversial families in history - the Borgias - Lucrezia had a role in intricate politics of Renaissance Italy.
Daughter of the infamous Pope Alexander VI, and sister of the equally notorious Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia married three times to forward the ambitions of her father and brother. With her third husband, the Duke of Ferrara, Lucrezia had eight children.
Lucrecia's notoriety seems to have been largely a result of anti-Borgia propaganda, as the family had many enemies across Italy.

Hurrem Sultan

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While her origins are still a matter of debate among historians, Hurrem was likely born as Roxelana or Alexandra, in the area then part of Kingdom of Poland.
Captured in a raid on her village by Crimean Tatars, she was taken to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the Sultan's harem. Hurrem soon became a favorite of one of the most powerful rulers of the era, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. In an almost unprecedented act for Ottoman rulers, Suleiman had legally married his former concubine, and during the next decades, Hurrem exerted influence over the Sultan and even corresponded with foreign rulers.
The eventual accession of her son, Selim II, as Sultan had been attributed to her influence.

Catherine de' Medici

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Catherine stands as one of the most intriguing queens in history. She had enjoyed a reputation of an archetypal scheming queen - ruthless and ambitious, a woman who played a key role in French politics during a tumultuous time for the monarchy when France had been caught in a series of bloody religious conflicts between Catholics and Hugenots.
As the wife of French king Henry II, Catherine dominated French politics through her sons, three of whom became kings.
Catherine - an ardent Roman Catholic - played a significant role in French Religious Wars of the XVI century. The Queen Mother exercised influence over her sons on the throne and was likely the most powerful woman of her era.

Kösem Sultan

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A central figure of the so-called 'Sultanate of Women' period of Ottoman history, Kösem was the mother of two Sultans, Murad IV and Ibrahim.
Born as Anastasia, on the Greek Island of Tinos, like her powerful predecessors Hurrem and Nurbanu Sultan, Kösem rose to become the favorite of Sultan Ahmed I.
Likely the most powerful woman in the history of the Ottoman Empire, Kösem controlled the Ottoman court and ruled as a regent through the minority of her son Murad IV.
After an era of unparalleled palace intrigue and corruption, Kösem fell out of power during the era of her grandson Mehmed IV, whose mother proved to be as ambitious as she was.

Letizia Remolino

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A descendant of a minor noble Italian family from the Island of Corsica, Letizia was remembered as the mother of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Sometimes described as a harsh, but caring mother, Letizia was a family matriarch, and took great care for all her children, even during her son's spectacular rise to power as the most powerful man in Europe.
It is not known how much influence Letizia wielded over the formative years of her son, Napoleon, but her dominant, headstrong character had likely played a role in his early life.
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