Many biographies of famous people have been published over the years and they give us the opportunity to delve deeper into their lives and to discover why such people were the role models of their day. Throughout history there have been many women role models, or pioneers if you prefer, that have more than made their mark on history and who are still read about and studied today.
Cleopatra was one of the earliest women to make their own mark in history and was regarded as a most charismatic and mysterious woman. She was born around 69 BC into ancient Egypt’s royal family, although her family originated from Macedonia. Upon her father’s death Cleopatra succeeded to the throne of Egypt where she ruled alongside her brother. Cleopatra was the only ruler that took the time to learn the Egyptian language.
She was forced to flee Egypt due to conflicts with her brother, who wished to rule alone and also with outside forces, one of these forces being Rome. She embarked upon a relationship with Julius Caesar who made Cleopatra the queen and sole ruler of Egypt. Following his death she then became involved with Marc Antony. Caesar and Antony were two of the most powerful men in the Roman Empire. Historians believe that Cleopatra was poisoned around 30 BC, however legend has it that she induced a cobra to bite her, thus taking her own life. It is this legend that film makers preferred to believe when they made the Hollywood blockbuster film, Cleopatra, with screen actress Elizabeth Taylor in the starring role.
Joan of Arc
The Hundred Years War was a period of ongoing battles between England and France. It was during this time in 1412 that Joan of Arc was born to a peasant farmer in France. Joan was very pious and believed strongly that she was guided by the voices of French saints. When only 16 years of age, these voices commanded her to join the fight against the British. The army men dismissed her at first but once she’d proved herself in battle achieved their respect. She played a vital role in the siege of Orleans which more than established her as a heroine of France. Eventually she was captured by the British and burned at the stake. Joan of Arc was canonized over 500 years later and is now one of the patron saints of France.
Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I is probably the most famous female ruler of England who was perhaps not meant to be. As the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she had a most difficult childhood. While she was just a toddler her father had her mother beheaded. For whatever reason she was given the type of education that was unusual for females of that time and she was well known for being a very clever girl.
Although not succeeding to the throne immediately upon her father’s death, Elizabeth endured all the political intrigues and rivals for the throne until finally becoming Queen of England at the age of 25. During her rule England asserted itself as a powerful force in Europe, distinguishing itself in military might, the arts and commerce. She was known as the Virgin Queen because she never married. Elizabeth’s glorious reign lasted until her death in 1603 and this period is known as the Elizabethan Age. The details of her life have fascinated us for hundreds of years.
Anne Frank is perhaps one of the youngest and most tragic modern-day heroes. Frank was a 13-year-old Austrian Jewish girl whose family went into hiding in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. She kept a diary while in hiding, describing mundane details of her life as well as news about the world outside. Her family spent two years in hiding, but were discovered by German soldiers in August 1944. Anne, her sister and her mother all died in Nazi concentration camps the following year. Anne Frank left the world with one of the best records of everyday life during the Holocaust and whose courage will never be forgotten.
Thankfully we've come a long way from the times when women's achievements were not celebrated, and women were discouraged from standing out from the crowd. The one thing all these famous women have in common is that they achieved truly extraordinary things before they were 25 and it is the likes of these people that famous biography books were intended!
A selection of biographies can be found in our biography category on the Shop4Books website.
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