In Woman’s History Month – Women Who Ruled

February 27, 2022

Since March is Woman’s History Month, it is topical that Cruise through History present an historic look at Women Who Ruled through history. It is an easy step to consider the three top monarchs of Britain, leading the list in the length of reign, economic growth, and endearing to subjects, who are all women: Queens Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II. February 2022 marked the 70th year of reign for Elizabeth II, an endurance record not matched by any world leader. In Russia, the leader most regarded today is Peter I, who would tip his hat to Catherine I and II, his wife and wife of his grandson, both who led with calm vision and left monuments enjoyed by visitors today. Cleopatra and Hatshepsut, ruling as kings of Egypt, not queens, are well known. Cleo and Caesar were candidates for power couple of the ages, had he not been murdered, an act quickly regretted by his assassins. 

Cruise through History looks beyond the obvious to lesser-known, yet greatly accomplished female leaders through time. In the realm of notable leaders, consider Queen Teuta of Kotor, who held off Roman legions, Reine Pomare IV, queen of Tahiti, who established the identity of her people, Queen Lily of Hawaii, who battled usurping of her country by the United States, even as she drew the admiration of the American president, and Margaret I of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, founder of the powerful Kalmar Union.

Being inclusive of capable, effective, female leaders of nations from Blanch in Medieval Sicily to Michele Bachelet of modern Chile, the list is long. Instead, tribute is limited here to a few, whose names are unfamiliar and their accomplishments stellar. Pause to be acquainted with queens Teuta, Pomare IV, Lily, and Margaret, nation builders and defenders of their people, notable leaders, possessing qualities inspiring any era.

image of boka bay villas at entrance cruise through history
Boka Bay Villas At Entrance

To honor these monarchs, we must travel the Boka Bays of Montenegro; Papeete, Tahiti; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Queen Teuta of Kotor Bay 

Just beyond the southern tip of Croatia, on the east coast of the Adriatic, there is a small inlet, which allows cruise ships to enter a scenic and idyllic string of four gulfs in Montenegro. Together the gulfs are known as the Bay of Kotor, so named for the small medieval town at the farthest interior point. Venetians, who were frequent 15th-century visitors, referred to the entire area as Boka Bay. In the second century BCE, the bays provided natural protection to the hidden domain of Queen Teuta of Illyria. 

Cruise ships glide slowly for an hour transit from the entrance to the bay to docks at Kotor. Steep mountains on either side of small gulfs, connected by two narrow passageways, are like fjords. Mountains of the Balkan Mountain range rise as much as 7,000 feet from the water’s edge. Ships transverse an ice-age submerged river canyon.

Four gulfs in Boka Bay are: Herceg-Novi, Tivat, Risan, and Kotor. Small towns anchor each gulf. Inner reaches of the bays comprise a World Heritage Natural/Cultural site. 

For those not familiar with Montenegro, it sits between Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina to the north, with Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east, and Albania to the south.  The country is 80% Christian, Catholic or Orthodox, and 20% Muslim.   

Montenegro enjoyed periods of independence from its beginnings, until after WWI when it became part of Yugoslavia. In the civil war of 1991-1992, Montenegro was part of the Serbia-Montenegro federation. Montenegro was fully independent in 2006. 

image of boka bay submarine caves
Boka Bay Submarine Caves

Five main towns of Boka Bay each have unique points of interest. Towns openly display stories of turbulent history. Bays were the epicenter of the Great Schism splitting the Catholic Church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in the 13th century, seen in numerous Catholic church steeples or Orthodox church domes in each town. There are WWI gun turrets on hilltops and WWII submarine garages at the waterline. 

Herceg Novi sits at the entrance to the bay, guarded by Fortress Stari Grad on a hill. The largest town of Boka Bay, it has an airport, 35 miles south of Dubrovnik. Herceg Novi began as a Roman fishing village. By the 1380s, it was home of the Bosnian king.

Today Herceg Novi is a spa town enjoyed by Montenegrins and travelers. Cultural sites are Bosnian, Austrian, Turkish and Serbian. On lovely beaches are luxury homes.

From the Gulf of Herceg Novi, ships emerge from a brief constriction to the Gulf of Tivat. Tivat is the youngest medieval town of Boka Bay, also holding Greek and Roman archaeological sites. Today the town has a population of 15,000 and an airport, to support a recently developed luxury yacht marina. Tivat has dreams of being a second Monaco.

image of Boka Bay Perast
Boka Bay Perast

Emerging from the Verige Strait, Perast sits straight ahead, halfway between the Gulf of Risan and the Gulf of Kotor. The picture postcard-perfect town of a few hundred residents sits at the edge of the water with 16th-century warehouses. There is no protective wall. Instead, Venetians built defensive towers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Sixteen palaces and 17 Catholic churches rise against the mountainside in Perast. It was the last town on Boka Bay to surrender Venetian rule to Napoleon in 1797.  

image of Boka Bay Island Church
Boka Bay Island Church

Note two tiny islands in the gulf of Perast. One island is naturally formed: home to a monastery with the 12th century St. George church. The other island, supporting Our Lady of the Rock grew after 1452, when a drowning fisherman found an icon of the Holy Mother and Christ on a rock as he was saved. The rescued sailor vowed to build a church. From vows of the sailor to today, boats cast boulders onto the site, creating an island.  

image of Boka Bay Villa
Boka Bay Villa

As the ship turns right at Perast, into the Gulf of Kotor, look to the left, north of Perast to RisanThis is the only area in the bay where farming is possible. In the 3rd century BCE, 10,000 people lived in Risan in luxury villas, wealth made possible by Queen Teuta of the Illyrians. Risan is protected in the rear by high mountains and by the queen’s navy at sea. 

Queen Teuta ruled from 231 to 227 BCE. During her reign, the Queen brought wealth to Risan and security to her subjects by piracy on the seas. Most booty came from Roman ships traversing the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Queen Teuta’s fleet captured many Greek ships, establishing her as the Terror of the Adriatic. Neighbors kept their distance.

In 229 BCE, Rome declared war on Risan’s Queen. Romans sent 200 ships and 20,000 troops to the Balkan Peninsula, then known as Illyria. By force of numbers, Romans conquered each little hamlet on the bays until Queen Teuta surrendered. She was tortured and executed. Illyria was denuded.

Turks held Teuta’s domain by 1482. Her surviving people came into Venetian control in 1688, too late to enjoy commercial benefits. Today there are many Venetian Baroque-style buildings in Risan. In recent times, Risan was a logging town, with a population of 2,000.

image of Boka Bay Kotor Church Pre-Schism
Boka Bay Kotor Church Pre-Schism

As cruise ships reach the farthest point in Boka Bay, Kotor is in view. This perfectly protected medieval town has walls built during the Venetian period from 1420 to 1797 when Kotor competed in trade with Dubrovnik. High on the hill above Kotor is a walled fortress, built during the Byzantine Christian period. A town icon is the 12th-century Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, built on church foundations dating to 975.

image of Boka Bay Finale at Kotor Venetian Walls
Boka Bay Finale at Kotor Venetian Walls

Turbulent times in the towns of Boka Bay are gone. All that remains is the beauty of a place welcoming to visitors. Risan recalls its height under Queen Teuta.

Queen Pomare IV of Tahiti 

image of Tahiti Moorea Mountain
Tahiti Moorea Mountain

The royal dynasty of Tahiti was short-lived, with two notable accomplishments. The first king unified Tahiti in the late eighteenth century. The first queen, Pomare IV, protected the identity of her people in the face of nineteenth-century European conquest.

Chieftain Tu Tina Mate utilized guns received from Fletcher Christian, the lead mutineer on the Bounty, to dominate other contenders for the king of the islands, that is, the Society Islands, now Tahiti. When Tu conquered Moorea by 1800, he dubbed himself King Pomare I. His son followed as Pomare II in 1815. 

Despite Pomare II becoming Christian in 1812, English missionaries preferred seeing his infant son designated king upon birth. European missionaries employed ancient Polynesian tradition by consecrating a crown prince so early. The custom insured succession without turmoil. For missionaries, it was an opportunity to control the education of a Christian monarch in the Church of England.  

Whatever hopes British missionaries had for Pomare III, died with him six years later. Pomare III had an older sister, Aimata, who was overlooked by the missionaries. In 1827, Queen Pomare Vahine IV began her fifty-year reign at age fourteen. She was revered by her people, befriended by British counsel George Pritchard, who became her close counsel, and detested by the French, for her strong, independent spirit. Her husband, King Tapoa II of Bora Bora never interfered with her rule.

image of Tahiti Museum Portrait of Pomare IV
Tahiti Museum Portrait of Pomare IV

Pomare IV had a son, who succeeded her as Pomare V in 1877, at age 38. The wife of Pomare V was a native of Tahiti, of half Tahitian and half Jewish heritage. She lived to 1934 as the last royal of the islands, although she never ruled. Pomare V was an active king for only three years. In 1880, he gave his royal islands to the French and abdicated the title. In 1891, the last king died. The high point of the dynasty was during Pomare IV.

image of Tahitian Gaughin Idyll
Tahitian Gaughin Idyll

Witness to the outpouring of grief upon the death of their king was Paul Gauguin. He wrote in his journal, Noa Noa, that people showed emotion for the dead king, held funeral rites in native tradition, then went back to daily business as though nothing changed. In fact, much had changed, as Tahiti went from monarchy to French annexed territory.  

Missionaries of the London Missionary School arrived in French Polynesia in 1795. Believing life blissful in Tahiti, they were surprised to find people living in grass huts, weaving mats and simple cloth, and growing vegetables. Tasks were not difficult, nor time-consuming, so natives felt life was ideal. Missionaries told them differently. Once people felt deprived, they found a Christian god. Although for many it was facial conversion.

Pomare II was impressed to become a Christian in 1812 when he realized Christian missionaries would not denigrate him to his people. With guns, he maintained power on earth, regardless of who held power in the next life. Pomare II issued a Code of Pomare. 

image of Tahiti Pomare Tomb Papeete & Bligh Breadfruit Tree
Tahiti Pomare Tomb Papeete & Bligh Breadfruit Tree

Natives needed no Code to know what was taboo, tapu in tradition. Pomare’s code was an English code of ethics of early nineteenth-century England. Young girls were to remain chaste until marriage in the church. They could have one union. Ritual sacrifice ended. 

Mana was protected by god, not by island priests. It was no longer a death sentence to injure mana of the king. Animals and objects lost mana. Animist priests lost prestige.

In customary native life, ceremony, death rites, and important events, such as the induction of a new king, were conducted by priests on marae. Marae are raised platforms of reverence to gods. As Christians, maraes lost relevance. They were left to deteriorate.

Within mission schools, there was no room for an oral history of cultural traditions of the people. Canoe building, reading stars and winds, practical and not religious, were lost concepts. By the time islanders lost their freedom to the French, they already lost their culture.

In 1838, French Commodore Dupetit Thouars arrived in Papeete and threatened Queen Pomare IV with removal by force if she did not abdicate to the French government. The Queen turned to her trusted advisor, Englishman, George Pritchard. Pritchard sailed to England asking the British Parliament to offer the Queen a British protectorate. In his absence, Thouars annexed the Marquesas for France and pressed Queen Pomare to abdicate. She gathered her people, then sailed across the bay to Moorea and retrenched.

image of Tahiti Royal Breakfast
Tahiti Royal Breakfast
image of Tahiti Reconstructed Marae
Tahiti Reconstructed Marae

Working adverse to the Queen, was Hitoti a Manua, descendant of a powerful chief, overcome by Pomare I. The Pomare rival urged island chiefs to support the French annexation of Tahiti. In response, Queen Pomare rallied her people. She hoped Britain would not abandon them. In fact, Parliament did so. 

By the time Pritchard informed the Queen of her situation in 1843, the French governor of Tahiti, Armand Bruat announced annexation by fiat of the French king. The Queen defiantly flew the Tahitian flag over her Papeete palace. The French governor had soldiers tear down the flag, build a fort, and arrest and expel Pritchard.

image of Tahiti Three French Ladies
Tahiti Three French Ladies

By 1844, the French held Tahiti. That did not mean all islands acquiesced to the French. For the next three years, a bloody, island by island battle ensued. 

France annexed Gambier islands in 1881, then fought against stiff resistance in Huahine. So bloody were the battles on Huahine, that when the French finally overcame native warriors in 1897, French citizenship was withheld from the island until 1946. In 1958, France offered a referendum on independence, and voters on Huahine said no to France.

In 1957, the name of Polynesia was changed to French Polynesia. Polynesia became autonomous in 1984, and an overseas collectivity in 2003. All verbiage aside, France does not want to lose its islands, and the reality is that islands want French financial support.  

image of Dr. Sherry Visiting Pomare's Domain
Dr. Sherry Visiting Pomare’s Domain

English, US, and German businessmen came to Tahiti once France established government. Europeans married locals, one of whom married Pomare V and reigned, although did not rule, as queen, into the twentieth century. These families sought wealth on the islands and several of them succeeded. The French were their benefactors. 

France gained a colony. It served to give prestige to a nineteenth-century colonizing power. That was all. Cultural traditions and defiance of Queen Pomare IV were not quenched by French rule. An indigenous minority population sustains Tahitian culture.  

image of Tahiti Sunset
Tahiti Sunset

Queen Lili of Hawaii

Like King Pomare in Tahiti, Kamehameha I, the first king of Hawaii, unified islands in deft strategic maneuvers, beginning with the capture of two cannons from a European ship. The Kamehameha royal dynasty lasted until American-supported sugar barons deposed the last Hawaiian royal, Queen Lili, in 1895. A statue of King Kamehameha stands in front of the government building in Honolulu today. A statue of Queen Lili is in limbo. 

Imagine the schoolyard of the Chiefs’ Children’s School, begun in 1839, by a missionary as a boarding school in Honolulu. In the constant company were future kings and queens. Siblings Lot, future Kamehameha V, Alexander and his future wife Emma, future Kamehameha IV and his queen were there, with sister Victoria. Lili, future queen; Like-Like, mother of Victoria Ka’iulani who was a possible successor to Lili; David Kalakaua and William Pitt, future kings, were part of the group. Classmates in the school were princesses Ruth and Bernice, with Victoria, all granddaughters of Kamehameha I. Also in the royal boarding school was Esther, mother of David Kawananaloa, who began the twentieth-century line of royals, without a kingdom.  

Queen Lili reminisced over school days with royal playmates in her memoir, Hawaii’s Story, first published in 1898. She was pleased to see her brothers rule. Early deaths and lack of heirs brought her time to rule. Lili had not expected those she loved and admired to all predecease her. When the throne came to her, she was ready to take responsibility. She was prepared for her known world. The real world was much different.

Kamehameha I (public domain)
image of The Royal Family of Hawaii By Charles Nahl, Public Domain
The Royal Family of Hawaii By Charles Nahl, Public Domain

Upon the death of Kamehameha V, the council of chiefs looked to royals on the list composed by Kamehameha III. Widowed Queen Emma asserted herself as a contender. She descended from the brother of Kamehameha I. The campaign for monarch came close to a riot. Finally, the council anointed William Charles Lunalilo, a descendant of an original clan, not related to Kamehameha. His rule lasted one year until his death.

Upon the sudden death of Lunalilo, his brother, Kalakaua, became king. His first act was appointing successors his younger brother, who died years later, and Lydia, who he anointed Lili’uokalani, or Lili. He inherited a government filled with Americans, and a national debt in bonds owed to American sugar barons, for funds to build infrastructure to benefit sugar exports. In 1887, Kalakaua gave the US exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor.

In 1879, Kalakaua rebuilt Iolani Palace, initially built in 1872 by Kamehameha V. He commissioned a statue of Kamehameha I in front of the palace. Kalakaua wanted to preserve Hawaiian cultural identity, so he founded Hale Naua Society, fostering hula dancing and festivals. The stretch of land from Diamond Head to Waikiki Beach was Crown land, which Kalakaua dedicated as a public park in the name of Queen Kapi’olani.  

Kalakaua was undone by personal and national debt, a corrupt cabinet, which forced him into the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, reducing his power, and by excessive alcohol. He often played cards and drank late into the night with Claus Spreckels and Robert Lewis Stevenson. Stevenson wrote poems about the loss of Hawaii. Spreckels once had a poker hand with three kings and told Kalakaua that he, the sugar magnate, was the fourth king. Kalakaua died in 1891 of liver disease.  

Queen Lili had two years, from 1891 to 1893, to undue effects of her predecessors on the Hawaiians’ loss of Hawaii. Strong, able, intelligent, healthy, she was just what Hawaii needed fifty years earlier. She was incorruptible by drink or debt. Lili was a threat to Hawaiian sugar lords. Talented in music, she wrote the Hawaiian national anthem.

image of Queen Liliuokalani (1898)
Queen Liliuokalani (1898)

Lili was born in Queen’s Hospital in 1838. She married John Dominis, the son of a sea captain in 1862. According to Lili, as children, they met when Dominis scaled the fence at the royal school. He was her best friend and advisor until his death in 1891, about the time she became queen. By then, all her childhood friends and family predeceased her.

As an advisor to King Kalakaua, Lili traveled to Washington, DC, and London. She knew how to represent Hawaii as a sovereign nation. She was elegant and experienced.  

President Cleveland recognized Lili as queen of a constitutional monarchy, even as his foreign secretary worked with sugar barons, then in control of the cabinet, undermining her leadership. By the time Lili ascended the throne, revenues from crown land were controlled by the cabinet, the royal military was disbanded by the cabinet in favor of their private militia, and the population of Hawaiians was dwarfed by non-Hawaiian residents of the islands, owners of businesses controlling growing fields and the docks. 

The US military stood guard as Lili was arrested and charged with treason of her own government, by a self-appointed Hawaiian Republic. As Lili’s home, Washington House, was seized, her papers and personal items confiscated, and her assets assumed by the state, that did not yet exist, Lili wrote in her memoir that as Queen she had no means to support poor Hawaiians who depended upon her as ruler. She was an ali’i, a traditional Hawaiian leader, to the soul of her being. She knew obligations of a ruler to the people was to feed and protect them. When she could do neither, she capitulated in abdication. 

Lili was convicted of treason and sentenced to five years of hard labor. In 1896, President of the Republic of Hawaii, Sanford Dole, gave Lili a pardon. The next year, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. The US assumed the national debt of Hawaii to sugar barons to build their infrastructure. Lili attempted court action to recoup income from the crown property for the benefit of Hawaiians, kept off the books by the Republic of Hawaii government. Lili lived to 1917, reminiscing how Hawaii was lost to Hawaiians and writing her history of Hawaii. By her efforts, Lili displayed the capacity of Hawaii for self-government. She governed in the Hawaiian traditional manner, to benefit Hawaiians. 

Today, the US government is struggling with a definition of Native Hawaiian for the purpose of government benefits to disenfranchised people of Hawaii. A statue of Queen Lili, dedicated in 1982, is in limbo between the state capital building and palace grounds. Government representatives debate whether she was a ruler or merely a royal. They might ask how Lili would resolve both dilemmas. Few ali’i possess her insight into Hawaii.

Queen Margaret I of Denmark and Tre Kronor

image of feather cloak and chief's crown bishop museum photo gary sizemore creative commons share
Feather Cloak and Chief’s Crown (Bishop Museum, Photo Gary Sizemore Creative Commons Share)

At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Denmark, known then as Scandia, was a bankrupt entity. In the Baltic Sea, power emanated from Lubeck, within modern Germany. The Law of Lubeck formed a trade consortium of merchants, non-royals, who had ships of commerce. Two hundred ports joined the Hanseatic League at its height, pooling funds to build ships in Amsterdam and found ports of Tallinn, doing business with kings of England and tsars of Russia. Provinces of Scandia, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway were left out of the rising prosperity of Hansa members. 

By the end of the fourteenth century, Queen Margaret changed circumstances in her realm from impoverished vassals of German princes to powerful, prosperous, competitors to Hansa. She accomplished the amazing feat in 1397, by instituting the Kalmar Union of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which included Finland. In unity there was strength. The Banner of the Union was the Tre Kroner, the three crowns of three nations.

image of Hans Christian Anderson in Rosenborg Garden
Hans Christian Anderson in Rosenborg Garden

Of the three crowns of the Kalmar Union, the Danish monarch prevailed for a century. In 1521 Gustav Vasa led the independence of Sweden. Norway remained part of Denmark until the Napoleonic War of 1814 when it passed to Sweden. Norway achieved independence in 1905. Regardless of recognition as independent entities, prosperity for all began with the Kalmar Union. Today, Sweden and Denmark dispute ownership of the Tre Kroner image. 

Margaret, born in Copenhagen in 1353, was a daughter of the king of Denmark. In a political union, she was married to the king of Norway, Haakon VI, who died in 1380. Margaret was never a docile domestic. By 1387 she proved her leadership mettle and was crowned queen of Denmark, not as a consort or regent for a young male. The next year she was crowned queen of Norway and the following year queen of Sweden. Margaret I, also known as Margrethe I, was called the Lady King for her wise, capable leadership. Rather than lead as a warrior, she kept the Kalmar Union out of wars with England and other neighbors by tact, diplomacy, and foresight. 

image of copenhagen gammel strand
Copenhagen Gammel Strand
image of Copenhagen Christianborg Palace
Copenhagen Christianborg Palace

When Margaret’s nephew and successor came of age in 1401, she continued as the decision-making authority to her death in 1412, in deference to her leadership prowess. Margaret was not without detractors. She overcame adversity with kindness and energy. 

image of copenhagen rosenborg palace
Copenhagen Rosenborg Palace

Margaret is not known by monuments, battles, or personal collections of wealth. She built the foundation of nations. In her honor, the current monarch of Denmark is Margrethe II. 

These four Women Who Ruled had in common a desire to protect their people and their country. They all had detractors in their time and an absence of recognition in history books. Exemplary in recognizing the needs of their people, these women of great strength and ability are models of leadership that transcend the ages. Acknowledging their rule gives recognition to possibilities for successful peaceful nations when ecumenical in choice of leaders. Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on the benefits of inclusivity. 

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