Women Rulers of the 18th Century

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Queens, Empresses, Other Women Rulers 1701 - 1800

Crown of Mary of Modena, queen consort of Britain's James II
Crown of Mary of Modena, queen consort of Britain's James II. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 In the 18th century, it was still true that most royal succession and most power was in the hands of men. But a number of women ruled, directly or through influencing their husbands and sons. Here are some of the most powerful women of the 18th century (some born earlier than 1700, but important after), listed chronologically.

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Sophia von Hanover

Sophia of Hanover, Electress of Hanover from a painting by Gerard Honthorst
Sophia of Hanover, Electress of Hanover from a painting by Gerard Honthorst. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1630 - 1714

Electress of Hanover, married to Friedrich V, she was the nearest Protestant successor to the British throne and thus Heir Presumptive. She died before her cousin Queen Anne did, so she did not become the British ruler, but her descendants did, including her son, George I.

1692 - 1698: Electress of Hanover
1701 - 1714: Crown Princess of Great Britain

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Mary of Modena

Mary of Modena, from a portrait about 1680
Mary of Modena, from a portrait about 1680. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1658 - 1718

Second wife of James II of Great Britain, her Roman Catholicism was not acceptable to the Whigs, who saw that James II was deposed and replaced by Mary II, his daughter by his first wife.

1685 - 1688: Queen Consort of England, Scotland and Ireland
1701 - 1702: regent for her son, claimant James Francis Edward Stuart, recognized as James III of England and VIII of Scotland by France, Spain, Modena and the Papal States but not by England, Scotland and Ireland

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Anne Stuart

Anne Stuart
Anne Stuart, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

1665 - 1714

She succeeded her brother-in-law, William of Orange, as ruler of Scotland and England, and was Queen at the creation of Great Britain with the Act of Union in 1707. She was married to George of Denmark, but though she was pregnant 18 times, only one child survived past infancy, and he died at age 12. Because she had no offspring to inherit the throne, her successor was George I, son of her cousin, Sophia, Electress of Hanover.

1702 - 1707: Queen regnant of England, Scotland and Ireland
1707 - 1714: Queen regnant of Great Britain and Ireland

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Maria Elisabeth of Austria

Maria Elisabeth, Archduchess of Austria
Maria Elisabeth, Archduchess of Austria, about 1703. Courtesy Wikimedia, from engraving. Artist Christoph Weigel the Elder

1680 - 1741

She was the daughter of Habsburg Emperor Leopold I and Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg, and was appointed governor of the Netherlands. She never married. She's known for her cultural and artistic patronage. She was sister of Emperors Joseph I and Charles VI and of Maria Anna, Queen of Portugal, who ruled as regent of Portugal after her husband's stroke. Her niece, Maria Theresa, was the first queen regnant of Austria.

1725 - 1741: regent governor of the Netherlands

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Maria Anna of Austria

Maria Anna Josefa Antoinette of Austria, Queen of Portugal, about 1730
Maria Anna Josefa Antoinette of Austria, Queen of Portugal, about 1730. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1683 - 1754

Daughter of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, she married John V of Portugal. When he suffered a stroke, she ruled for him for eight years until his death and succession by their son, Joseph I. She was sister of Emperors Joseph I and Charles VI and of Maria Elisabeth of Austria, governor of the Netherlands. Her niece, Maria Theresa, was the first queen regnant of Austria.

1708 - 1750: Queen consort of Portugal, sometimes acting as regent, especially 1742 - 1750 after her husband's partial paralysis from a stroke

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Catherine I of Russia

Tsarina Catherine I, from a portrait about 1720
Tsarina Catherine I, from a portrait about 1720, anonymous. Sergio Anelli / Electa / Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

 1684 - 1727

A Lithuanian orphan and former housemaid married to Peter the Great of Russia, she ruled with her husband until his death, when she ruled as a figurehead for two years until her own death.

1721 - 1725: Empress consort of Russia
1725 - 1727: Empress of Russia

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Ulrika Eleonora the Younger, Queen of Sweden

Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden, from a painting
Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden, from a painting by David von Krafft (1655 - 1724). Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

 1688 - 1741

Daughter of Ulrika Eleonora the Older and Karl XII, she reigned as queen after succeeding her brother Karl in 1682, until her husband became king; she served as a regent for her husband as well.

1712 - 1718: regent for her brother
1718 - 1720: Queen regnant of Sweden
1720 - 1741: Queen consort of Sweden

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Elisabeth (Isabella) Farnese

Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, from a 1723 portrait by artist Jean Ranc
Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, from a 1723 portrait by artist Jean Ranc. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1692 - 1766

Queen consort and second wife of Spain's Philip V, Isabella or Elisabeth Farnese virtually ruled while he was alive. She briefly served as regent between the death of her stepson, Ferdinand VI, and the succession of his brother, Charles III.

1714 - 1746: Queen consort of Spain, with a few months break during 1724
1759 - 1760: regent 

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Empress Elisabeth of Russia

Empress Elisabeth of Russia, from a portrait by Georg Kaspar Prenner, 1754
Empress Elisabeth of Russia, from a portrait by Georg Kaspar Prenner, 1754. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1709 - 1762

Daughter of Peter the Great, she staged a military coup and became Empress regnant in 1741. She opposed Germany, built grand palaces, and was seen as a beloved ruler.

1741 - 1762: Empress of Russia

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Empress Maria Theresa

Empress Maria Theresa, with her husband Francis I and 11 of their children.
Empress Maria Theresa, with her husband Francis I and 11 of their children. Painting by Martin van Meytens, about 1754. Hulton Fine Art Archives / Imagno / Getty Images

 1717 - 1780

Maria Theresa was the daughter and heir of Emperor Charles VI. For forty years she ruled a substantial part of Europe as the Archduchess of Austria, bearing 16 children (including Marie Antoinette) who intermarried into royal houses. She's known for reforming and centralizing the government, and strengthening the army. She was the only reigning woman ruler in the history of the Habsburgs.

1740 - 1741: Queen of Bohemia
1740 - 1780: Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Croatia
1745 - 1765: Holy Roman Empress consort; Queen consort of Germany

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Empress Catherine II

Catherine II, Empress of Russia, 1782 portrait by Dmitry Levitsky.
Catherine II, Empress of Russia, 1782 portrait by Dmitry Levitsky. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

1729 - 1796

Empress consort then Empress regnant of Russia, perhaps responsible for her husband's death, Catherine the Great was known for her autocratic rule but also for promoting education and the Enlightenment among the elite, and for her many lovers.

1761 - 1762: Empress consort of Russia
1762 - 1796: Empress regnant of Russia

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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette. Portrait by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty
Marie Antoinette. Portrait by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty. Hulton Fine Art Images / Imagno / Getty Images

1755 - 1793

Queen Consort in France, 1774-1793, Marie Antoinette will forever be connected with the French Revolution. Daughter of the great Austrian empress, Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette was not trusted by French subjects for her foreign ancestry, extravagant spending, and influence on her husband Louis XVI.

1774 - 1792: Queen consort of France and Navarre

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More Women Rulers

Crown of Mary of Modena, queen consort of Britain's James II
Crown of Mary of Modena, queen consort of Britain's James II. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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