Queens: Victoria, Esther, Cleopatra

Queen Cleopatra, Queen Esther, and Queen Victoria. What did these three women have in common, and how would their strength and courage impact the lives of the people they ruled?

Historically, strong women have suffered the same fate as anyone else who went against the politics or religious dogma of their time. Many women were forced to abide the confines of a system which believed them inferior and, as a sex, weak. Even women in positions of power, queens of entire realms, often felt the strangling leash of society and sexual politics which held them from what they felt must be accomplished. However, there were some women who ignored those restraints, and who rose above the expectations of their sex, to win even the acclaim of men. There were queens who ruled people not of their own nationality and yet had the authority and power to decide the fates of men, and the solitude and wisdom of hermits.

One of the most famous female monarchs to ever rule independently was the tragic figure of Cleopatra VI, often referred to merely as Cleopatra. She is the famed Queen of Egypt who was lover to both Gaius Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, though few people realise that Cleopatra was as foreign to Egypt as either Roman. She was, in fact, a Macedonian by birth. The daughter of the Macedonian general, Ptolemy, some say she was born in Egypt, giving her clear title to the throne, while others speculate that she was actually born in Macedonia, and simply inherited the throne through her father and brother-husband. Her father ruled over Egypt after Alexander the Great's death, and was seen as just and progressive. After Ptolemy's death, his kingdom's rule fell to his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, and his daughter, Cleopatra. But Philadelphus and Cleopatra were at odds over how Egypt should be ruled, and Cleopatra proved to be the stronger of the siblings, displacing Philadelphus and making herself sole ruler of Egypt.

As queen, the Egyptians could not have asked for a stronger or more protective ruler than Cleopatra. She was a cunning woman, and ruthless in her defence of Egypt, and in gaining back some measure of its former glory and world power. For this, among many qualities, Cleopatra was adored by the Egyptian people, who had never accepted foreign rule graciously before, and were never to accept it again.

Where Cleopatra's history and politics with Egypt are black and white, her dealings with Rome were a far more murky issue. That history is both long and littered with lies and intrigues. It seems very apparent that Cleopatra had no real love for the Roman eagle, which set out to conquer Egypt, along with the rest of Alexander's former empire, under Gaius Julius Caesar. However, the cunning strategist in Cleopatra knew that holding Rome at bay would not be easy, unless she was willing to use herself as the wall between Caesar and Egypt. That was exactly what she did. When Caesar sought to conquer Egypt, he would besiege the port of Alexandria only to find himself face-to-face with Cleopatra. Appealing to Caesar's vanity and sympathy, she lured him into a state of truce, an alliance disguised as an affair, which would successfully deflect Caesar from realising that he never truly conquered or ruled Egypt.

Caesar's bickering successors, however, were not so easy to fool. After Caesar's murder, they realised that Egypt, under Cleopatra, had an autonomous operation, though under Rome's protection. As they all sought to conquer Egypt, Cleopatra realised that the only hope for Egypt was for her to use her wiles to find it a protector. So she chose sides in the battle, seducing Mark Antony. But Antony proved to be the weak link, crumbling before Octavian's army upon hearing the false news that Cleopatra was dead. His defeat and grief over Cleopatra would lead to his suicide, and leave Egypt without a Roman protector. Cleopatra, however, was not yet dead, and her own suicide in the late summer of 30 BC was no act of lovesick pining. It was the last desperate strategy of a proud and defiant leader held in captivity. She would die, rather than shame her people by allowing Octavian to parade her defeat like a trophy through the streets of Rome.

Another queen famed for her courage in the face of seemingly hopeless odds and vicious tradition was a Hebrew Queen of Persia named Esther. Originally named Hadassah, she was a devout Jewess in a land of idol-worshipers. A Hebrew captive in Persia, she was at constant risk of the royal whim, which could either overlook or eradicate her entire race with a single word. It was not, however, for Jews to gain the adoration of Persian nobility.

Against these odds, Hadassah would change her name to Esther and journey to the palace of King Ahasuerus when he sought the most beautiful woman in his empire to be his wife. Luck, or Providence, went with her, for Ahasuerus chose her, above all the women of Persia, to be his queen, though at the time he knew nothing of her past. As Queen of Persia, Esther earned the respect and adoration of the populace of Persia, and her husband loved her above all women. As queen, she also found the power to overcome tradition, in the end, to save her people from eradication at the hands of Ahasuerus' evil minister, Haman. For her courage as much as her deed, she would find herself forever venerated among the Jews she saved.

There was another queen who would gain veneration, millennia later, from an entire world. She was born Alexandra Victoria on May 24, 1819, at Kensington Palace in England. She would become Queen of England in 1837, but wouldn't be crowned until 1838. On February 10, 1840, she married her beloved Prince Albert, and settled into a happy life and a blissful reign. In 1841, Britain expanded its empire by leaps and bounds, claiming sovereignty over Hong Kong, a rule that would last for over one hundred-fifty years, and New Zealand became a British colony. That same year, her first child and heir, Prince Edward, was born.

In 1849, 1852, and 1853, Britain annexed portions of India and the surrounding region. By a mere fifteen years after she ascended to the throne of England, Victoria ruled an empire which spanned the globe, including Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and a large piece of Asia Minor. All that would begin to change in only four more years, however. In 1857, there was an uprising in India. It lasted just about a year, before peace reigned again along the Indus, and Victoria began to gain acceptance from the Indian people. Then, in 1861, tragedy struck, and the Prince Consort, Albert, died of typhoid fever. The loss of her beloved husband descimated Victoria, and her interest in the ruling of her realm declined. Though Britain annexed Fiji in 1874, and Victoria herself was proclaimed Empress of India in 19877, the English Queen had already withdrawn from most of her empire's politics, leaving the conduction of state affair largely to her ministers. She remained a patron of learning and the arts, however, until her death on January 22,1901. In her reign of sixty-four years, she gained the adoration of an entire world, and most particularly of the nations she ruled. The life of Victoria is upheld in many nations as a symbol of piety and devotion.

Whether through wiles, courage, or humble piety, these three women, and many more like them, achieved a level of devotion from the people they rules which was unmatched by men. And, for every one of these extraordinary women, that adoration came from a people who were not their own.

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