When monarchies ruled civilization, there was no greater offense than defying the king. This goes for all social classes: commoners, aristocrats, and even the most powerful women in society— the queens of the kingdom. Female monarchs, in particular, had to tread lightly in the royal court. Queens may indulge the wealth and glory that came with royalty, but ideally, they should remain compliant to the wishes of male monarchs. Otherwise, anyone in the monarchy can order for their murder.
Queens were also assassinated for the political gain of others. If a queen’s political utility ran dry, her throne was up for grabs. Being a female ruler comes with a target on your back, in any case. Some of the women in this list had their murder coming, while others were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, the deaths of these female rulers demonstrate the disposability of women’s statuses in society.
10. Berenice III of Egypt
Berenice III ruled as queen of Egypt without a consort in 81 BCE. She ruled solo for six months, but she was eventually forced to share the reign and marry Ptolemy XI. Her new husband, however, wanted to usurp all the power to himself, and in true tyrannical fashion, he decided to assassinate her.
Berenice previously served as co-ruler with her first husband (and uncle) Ptolemy X, and her father, Ptolemy IX. After their deaths, she assumed sole queenship of Egypt. It turned out that she also won the adoration of the public while she was at it. The Roman Emperor soon caught wind of this and disapproved of her solitary reign. Reluctantly, she agreed to marry her stepson, Ptolemy XI, under the condition of joint rule.
Nineteen days after they tied the knot, Ptolemy XI arranged for Berenice’s murder. He felt it was no use to share the kingdom with his wife. What he did not take into account was the public’s favoring of Berenice; her assassination sparked a public uprising to avenge their queen. Ptolemy XI was lynched by her angry populace a few days later. >> Top 10 Female Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.
Amastris ruled Heraclea for five solid years, but she knew it would not last. After an effective tenure as queen, she would eventually have to resign the kingdom to her heirs. That still did not stop her sons from taking her life before she could even make the decision to retire.
Amastris (or Amastrine) was the niece of Darius III, the king of Persia. She had three marriages that ended badly. Her first husband, Craterus, ran off to marry another woman. Her second, Dionysus of Hereclea Pontica, became heavily obese and choked on his own fat. Her third, King Lysimachus of Macedon, withdrew from their marriage to pursue a more opportune espousal to an Egyptian queen.
After Lysimachus fled, Amastris retreated to Heraclea and ruled on her own. Here, she founded the city of Amastris and colonized several other small towns. She was also the first female to distribute her own currency.
She was the guardian to her sons with Dionysus— Clearchus and Oxyarthes. They were too young at the time to succeed their father, but the time was now approaching for them to come of age and replace her. While she was accepting of this inevitability, her sons grew to be impatient and power-hungry. Clearchus and Oxyarthes arranged for their mother to be drowned at sea. Lysimachus caught word of his ex-wife’s murder and immediately acted on vengeance. He killed the prodigal sons and ascended to the Heraclean throne himself. >> 10 Historical Persian Queens and Empresses.
8. Galswintha of Neustria
Galswintha was always a footnote in the saga of her more infamous sister, Brunhilda— the queen who “caused” multiple wars and the deaths of ten kings. Yet it is important to note how it was Galswintha’s assassination that enabled Brunhilda’s actions. It served as the root trigger that started over 40 years of warfare in the Frank kingdoms. All this chaos started when Galswintha’s husband conspired for her murder so his mistress can take her place.
Galswintha and Brunhilda were the daughters of Athanagild, the Visigoth king of Spain. Athanagild arranged for them to marry two brothers who each ruled their respective kingdoms. Brunhilda matched with an ideal husband in the charming King Sigebert I of Austrasia. Galswintha, on the other hand, ended up marrying someone far less pleasant— Chilperic I of Neustria, a known womanizer who bedded and impregnated many women. Galswintha begged her father to have her return home but alas, he left her to fatally face her imploding marriage.
A year after the union, Chilperic’s favourite mistress, Fredegund, talked him into murdering Galswintha. Chilperic jumped into marrying his co-conspirator shortly after they killed the queen. When Brunhilda found out about her sister’s murder, she persuaded Sigebert to go at war with his brother. This kickstarted the long-winded conflict between Neustria and Austrasia.
When Alexander the Great died, it was a bloodbath race to his throne. His wife Roxana was a power player in the race, having fought and killed ruthlessly for her son’s claim to rule. She soon fell short when she and her son were murdered, just when it seemed like most of the competition were gone.
Roxana was the daughter of a Bactrian noble. Alexander took a passionate liking to Roxana after he seized control of her father’s kingdom. Alexander took her hand in marriage, and also attracted the familial affections of Alexander’s mother, Olympias. Her mother-in-law would grant her protection in her time with the Alexandrian empire.
In 323 BCE, Alexander died of illness. Roxana needed to quickly secure her son’s succession to the fallen conqueror. In order to eliminate the competition, she arranged to murder Alexander’s other widows, Stateira II and Parysatis.
As she schemed, her beloved mother-in-law was executed by Cassander, the Macedonian heir. With Olympias out of the way, Cassander had entrenched his case for kingship. What was left is to rid of the final obstacle in his path to power— Alexander’s surviving lineage. He ordered for Roxana and her thirteen year old son to be murdered, thus ending Alexander’s royal bloodline.
6. Empress Xu Ping Jun
Xu Ping Jun and her husband, Liu Bingyi, started out in poverty. Huo Guang, a noble statesman, scouted Liu and groomed him into becoming Emperor Xuan of Han. Xuan brought Xu with him to the royal court as he ascended the throne. However, the court felt that the emperor was more suited with someone of nobler blood. Xu, in this case, was necessary roadkill.
Remaining devoted to his Xu, Xuan refused Huo Guang’s advice of taking a second wife. Huo particularly offered his daughter for marriage, but to no avail. The emperor proceeded to crown Xu as the Han empress.
Huo Guang’s wife, Lady Xian, did not take kindly to her daughter being denied the role of empress. When Empress Xu was pregnant, Xian arranged for her doctor to tamper with the empress’ medicine. Xu died by poison, and as a resort, Emperor Xuan ended up marrying the Huo daughter. But as soon as he found out about how his wife’s murder, he ordered for almost the entire Huo family to be killed. >> Top 10 Surprising Queens in History.
5. Inês De Castro
The heart wants what it wants, and if the heart in question is the future king of Portugal’s, true love could bring more bad luck than it could any ‘happily ever afters’. For Inês de Castro, falling in love with a prince left the royal court no choice but end her life mid-fairy tale. She was only crowned queen after death.
Inês was a lady-in-waiting when she attracted the affections of Prince Pedro I. At the time, the prince was married to her cousin, Constanza, with whom he bore legitimate heirs to the throne. Pedro’s heart, however, was passionately devoted to Inês. When Constanza fell ill and succumbed to death, it yielded the path for Inês and Pedro to openly indulge their relationship. Pedro secretly married Inês without notifying the king of Portugal (and Pedro’s father), Alphonso. They had four children.
Alphonso learned of Pedro’s marriage through his three counsellors, who noticed how Pedro became closer with Inês’ brothers. The counsellors cautioned that Pedro’s children with Inês could block Pedro’s legitimate heir from rightfully ascending to the throne. Their solution was to kill Inês. The counsellors stabbed her to death after she bravely appeared and pleaded before the king.
After Alphonso died, Pedro became king. His first order of business? Vengeance. He ordered for the hearts of two counsellors to be ripped out of their bodies. After publicly disclosing his marriage to Inês, he posthumously declared her the lawful queen of Portugal. Pedro organized a lavish funeral; some say he even had Inês’ corpse retrieved and sat on the throne.
4. Blanche of Bourbon
Blanche is yet another queen who was subjected to a complicated, loveless marriage. Her husband’s disdain for her escalated to her imprisonment in a tower. Yet unlike Sleeping Beauty, the one who would come to her was not a rescuer, but her executioner.
To unite the French and Spanish kingdoms, Blanche’s parents arranged her marriage to Pedro of Castile. (LINK 8, p. 87) After he married Blanche, Pedro did not take a liking to his new wife at all. His loyalties lied instead with his mistress, Maria de Padilla. This was much to the bewilderment of people around him; Blanche was perceived to be as gracious and charming as a queen could be. A popular rumour was that Maria de Padilla bewitched Pedro into being repelled by Blanche.
Then came the rumours of Blanche falling in love with one of Pedro’s enemies, St. Jago. Upon hearing of this, Pedro locked her in the castle of Medina Sidonin. She was trapped for years until Pedro arranged for one of his executioners to kill Blanche. This, and many other injustices under his rule, earned him the title of “Pedro the Cruel”. >> 10 Most Famous Love Stories in History and Literature.
3. Aishwarya of Nepal
Few families can match the notoriety and melodrama of Queen Aishwarya and the Nepalese royals. The family boasted a long history akin to Game of Thrones meets The Bold and the Beautiful, but their saga came to a tragic climax in June of 2001. The crown prince unexpectedly massacred the queen and the rest of the immediate royal family.
Queen Aishwarya was not a popular woman. Compared to the well-mannered King Birendra, the queen was forceful, greedy and openly corrupt. She was also adamantly against democracy. Many identify her as the one who called the shots in the family, like a Nepalese Lady Macbeth to her weak-willed husband. She did not, however, expect such a drastic karma like the assassination of her family.
There are two theories about the massacre’s motive. The first has to do with Aishwarya blockading her son’s marriage. Prince Dipendra brought home a girl who not only half-Indian, but also belonged to a rival faction. Aishwarya refrained from giving them her blessing. At a family function, Prince Dipendra reportedly went on a drunken shooting rampage. He shot the queen, the king, his two siblings and seven other family members before killing himself.
The second conspiracy pertained to the king’s brother Gyanendra and his pursuit for power. Some Nepalese people suspect that Gyanendra framed Dipendra to yield his ascendency to the throne. Eye witness reports, however, overwhelmingly support the former theory.
2. Elizabeth of Bosnia
Elizabeth looked out for the best interests of her children. As regent to the young Queen Mary of Hungary, she was heavily unpopular during her rule and many wanted depose her daughter. She was desperate to keep Mary seated on the Hungarian throne, and she even resorted to murder. For her enemies, the only way to deter her political influence was her death.
Elizabeth had no male heirs with her husband, King Louis I of Hungary. After Louis died, Mary was crowned queen at age 11 with Elizabeth as regent. They ruled for three years until two prospective usurpers entered the picture. Sigismund of Luxembourg intended to marry Mary, while Charles III of Naples desired to overthrow her.
Charles invaded Hungary in 1385, deposing Mary to take the throne himself. Intending to restore Mary’s title, she invited Charles over for a visit one day, only to assassinate him. She successfully restored Mary to the throne, until Charles’ supporters returned the favor.
Charles’ supporters, the noblemen John Horvat of Horjani and John of Palisna, seeked vengeance. They ambushed Elizabeth and Mary’s carriage ride to kidnap them. Elizabeth begged her captors to spare her daughter’s life. They agreed, but not until they inflicted Mary with the trauma of strangling her mother in front of her.
1. Anula of Anuradhapura
Anula is infamous in Sri Lankan history as the queen who murdered her husbands and slept with multiple working class men. After she exhausted her antics, the court organized her karma by burning her alive.
Anula rose to power after marrying the rebellious king, Coronaga. The union that lasted for twelve years, but Anula was actually engaging other business on the side. She especially fell enamoured with Siva, her palace guard. Intending to replace the king by her side, she poisoned Coronaga and made Siva her consort, thus kickstarting her streak of murders.
After three years, she also poisoned Siva. Rinse and repeat with the next two men she made her husband. Each man she killed kept the throne warm for his next replacement. While married, she was also said to have had sexual affairs with multiple palace guards on the down low.
She poisoned her final consort, and it was then that she decided to rule Sri Lanka on her own. This was cut short when her solitary rule received backlash from the public. Katakana Tissa, the son of Coronaga’s original successor, deposed Anula and enforced her judgment day. Tissa had her trapped in the palace where she committed her crimes and ignited it on fire, setting her live body ablaze. In dying, she was surrounded by the spirits of those she murdered.
Author – Ali Pitargue