Weird Facts About The Most Powerful Women In History

The vast majority of the most powerful people in history have been men. That's just the reality of the situation, for better or worse. And a lot of those guys have famously been pretty crazy. But every now and then a woman managed to get her hands on some authority and when it came to being weird told the dudes to hold her beer.

Just like powerful women are just as good at leading as guys are, they are equally just as able to be completely bonkers when they get that power. Even if in general they manage to stay pretty normal, there's always something about their life that's a whole lot stranger than the average person's. Whether it's trying to control what people get up to in the bedroom, having crazy relatives, hanging out with corpses, or trying to control what people get up to in the bedroom again (seriously, what is the obsession with this?), these powerful women found ways to lead extremely interesting lives.

Queen Victoria controlled her children's every move

Britain's Queen Victoria, who reigned over a quarter of the world for most of the 1800s, was a tiny bit messed up in the head. She wasn't just sad when her husband died; she obsessively mourned him for the next 40 years. And she couldn't just be a proud mom to her nine kids, she had what the BBC describes as a "pathological" need to control them. But alas, she was busy with queen stuff and palaces are really big. So she set up a network of spies to report back everything they did.

And woe on the kids if they chose to do something Victoria didn't approve of. Two of her daughters, after they had gotten married and moved away, decided they wanted to breastfeed their children. They tried to hide it from Victoria because she thought that was absolutely disgusting, but she found out anyway and called them cows.

Victoria had plans for her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, to stay single and be her special helper until Victoria died. But then Beatrice set eyes on Prince Henry of Battenberg and decided she had to have him. For daring to go against Victoria's wishes, her mother didn't speak to her for six months, even though they lived together.

It wasn't just her kids either; even Victoria's daughter-in-law was under scrutiny. Princess Alexandra's doctor had orders to tell the queen when she got her periods so Victoria could schedule court balls for other days.

Isabel Perón was haunted by Evita

Everyone has heard of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Peron. She had lots of unofficial power and was beloved by the people, but it was Juan's third wife, Isabel (above), who got her hands on actual power in 1974 when she took over the country, becoming the world's first woman president.

Eva cast a long shadow, but Isabel embraced it in the grossest way possible. According to Regina Jennings, Eva died of cancer in 1952 during her husband's first term. Juan was overthrown before the planned shrine for Eva was built, and suddenly her body was a political problem. It ended up being moved all over the world, until it finally landed on her widower's dining room table, literally.

By this time Juan had married Isabel. Instead of being completely grossed out that her predecessor's body was now in her house, she got on board with it. They left Eva in an open casket on their table and the New York Times reported that every night Isabel would brush Eva's hair as a sign of "devotion."

Juan eventually became president again but died in office, and Isabel was elected to take over. Encyclopedia Britannica says that once in control she had Eva's remains brought back to Argentina, in hopes that repatriating the heroine would make the people like Isabel more. But the new president wasn't taking any chances. There were previous rumors that the occult-loving Isabel had performed a special ceremony to transfer Eva's metaphysical power to her.

Marie Theresa tried to enforce her husband's fidelity

Empress Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions, which covered huge swathes of Europe. She came to power in 1740 and was absolute sovereign for the next four decades. Even though she married Francis I of the Holy Roman Empire, she was the one who wore the pants in her family and in her empire.

Maria Theresa was ridiculously in love with her husband. The author of one of her biographies described her feelings as "devouring" and "possessive." When one of Francis' friends mentioned maybe he should ask to have a separate bedroom, totally normal for royalty at the time, Maria Theresa was furious and made the poor guy's life hell until she died. She also believed in the sanctity of marriage. Her hubby, despite liking her enough to knock her up with 16 children, did not. Francis had one long-standing mistress and also spread his wild oats all over town.

In a probably related move, Maria Theresa decided it was vitally important to stamp down on infidelity in her subjects and established the Chastity Commission. According to the World of the Hapsburgs, lower-class people who couldn't keep their pants buttoned might be sentenced to hard labor or deported. But even aristocrats were expected to show Francis how to behave correctly, and men who didn't faced fines or loss of military rank, while women could be sent to convents. Shortly after her husband died, the empress decided the commission was no longer important and disbanded it.

Eleanor Roosevelt had the world's worst mother-in-law

Eleanor Roosevelt might have been the most powerful and influential first lady in United States history, but she was completely under the thumb of her domineering mother-in-law. Sara Delano Roosevelt had just one child, Franklin, and she tried to control his life until she died.

Things went wrong for Eleanor from the very beginning. According to History, when Franklin told his mother he wanted to marry Eleanor, his distant cousin, Sarah freaked out. She dragged her son off on a cruise so he couldn't escape while she spent the whole trip trying to talk him out of it. But for once in his life he stood up to her and went through with the wedding.

Suddenly, Sarah seemed to be okay with Eleanor. In fact, she kindly built the newlyweds a Manhattan townhouse. Sure, she designed and decorated it without any of their input, but it's the thought that counts, right? What they didn't know was that Sarah was moving in right next door and that each floor had connecting doors so she could pop in unannounced whenever she wanted. This made it easier for her to control other parts of their lives, like how they raised their children.

Even becoming the first lady didn't get Eleanor freedom from her mother-in-law. NPR reports Sarah controlled the family's considerable wealth and kept the couple on a strict allowance until she finally died in 1941, by which time Franklin had already been president for eight years.

Hurrem Sultan outsmarted her boyfriend

Hurrem Sultan was one of the most powerful and influential women in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Born around 1502, she became the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent. Despite sounding like a magician, he is considered the empire's greatest sultan and she was one of his most important advisers.

According to Ancient Origins, Hurrem was born in what is now Ukraine, kidnapped when she was a teenager, and brought to Constantinople as a slave, where she was selected for the sultan's harem. She must have been something special because within months of her arrival she was Suleiman's senior consort. Their bond was exceptionally weird for the time. He started ignoring the rest of his harem for her. She controlled foreign affairs, and her influence became so legendary that some male advisers of the sultan decided she must be a witch. When Suleiman heard, he punished everyone who dared talk smack about his love.

Still, Hurrem wanted more power, so she set out to trick her man. She had been born a Christian, but she told Suleiman that after a lot of thought she wanted to convert to Islam. He was thrilled. She went through the process and then as usual he tried to sleep with her. Hurrem was shocked. Shocked! Didn't he know that Muslim women can't have sex outside marriage? Suddenly, Suleiman was in a pickle. No sultan had gotten legally married for over 200 years. He managed to hold out for three days before giving in, making Hurrem's power official.

Madame de Pompadour was the least seductive mistress ever

In France, kings just didn't sleep around, they appointed their favorite mistress to a semi-official position called maîtresse-en-titre. This came with rooms in the palace, an allowance, and a lot of power. And Louis XV's lady friend Madame de Pompadour grabbed that bull by the horns.

Pompadour was extremely intelligent and a great conversationalist, which she used to get the king around to her way of thinking. Eventually she was basically his prime minister in all but name, appointing ministers and influencing policy.

It's a logical assumption that if a woman's official title is basically "chick that sleeps with the king," she would get her power through being great in bed. Not Pompadour. Amazingly, she held on to her position for 19 years despite hardly ever having sex with Louis. The problem was she had some icky medical issues downstairs, which made intercourse painful. Not that she didn't give it a go. According to Royal Romances, she tried every alleged aphrodisiac under the sun. But instead of turning Pompadour on, they made her so ill that one of her friends thought they would kill her.

History Ireland says instead Pompadour made sure the king got his jollies elsewhere, then came home to her. A brothel was set up where he could go sleep with lower-class women whom the aristocratic Pompadour saw as no threat. Thus she became one of the most important people in France while almost never putting out.

Jiang Qing abused her power in bizarre ways

Jiang Qing is perhaps better known as Madame Mao, the fourth wife of Mao Zedong. According to Shooting Parrots, Jiang was born in 1914 and had a terrible childhood. After she was expelled from school at 14 she ran off to become an actress. At some point she joined the Communist party and set her sights on Mao. She performed for his troops and he fell for her, despite being very much married and her being half his age. The party was also against their relationship because Jiang had lived a decadent, Western lifestyle. But Mao divorced his wife and married Jiang after promising she wouldn't be involved in politics for 20 years.

Exactly 20 years later, Mao, by now in charge of China, gave Jiang a whole bunch of power and it immediately went to her head. She ordered the arrest of a famous actress who had beaten her out for a part decades before, and made sure she died in jail. Other enemies were humiliated or physically abused. She banned the piano. Servants had to walk with their arms in the air and their legs spread so Jiang couldn't hear their clothes rustle. She selected some healthy young men whose blood she was going to transfuse into her body to try and restore her youth and vigor, but that was a step too far even for Mao, who finally stopped her for once.

Empress Theodora protected sex workers

Theodora was empress of the Eastern Roman Empire (eventually Byzantium). She's remembered as one of the most powerful women in Roman history, and some sources list her as co-regent with her husband, Justinian I, which would have put her in charge officially. Her position was all the more astonishing because she came from a seriously trashy background.

Born around 500 A.D., according to The Guardian, when Theodora was just a child her mother started teaching her how to perform, and by the time she was 15 she was a star act at the hippodrome. The earliest person to write about her called her "Theodora-from-the-Brothel," and we do know she was a lady of the night. He claims her repertoire included having geese peck grain from her downstairs area. However, he also said her husband was a headless demon, so take it all with a huge grain of salt. Theodora met Justinian when she was 21 and he changed laws so she could marry him.

As empress, Theodora did not forget her roots. She used her power to make sure prostitutes had better lives, getting tough on pimps and brothels. Girls who were sold into slavery got support, and Theodora set up a shelter where prostitutes could "live in peace." She worked on anti-rape legislation and in general made sure women who were still living the life she escaped could be as happy as possible.

Yaa Asantewaa made her female subjects stop putting out

It takes some serious lady cojones to go down in history as "Africa's Joan of Arc" like Yaa Asantewaa did. According to Ghana Culture, she became queen of Edweso in 1877. Her rule is supposed to have been fair and objective, with a big concentration on women's rights.

But the Dangerous Women Project says the surrounding area had been having serious problems with the British. The local tribes had fought four wars against them, and the Brits had set fire to the capital, implemented forced labor, and levied a huge tax. But then they demanded the Golden Stool, symbol of the throne, and that was too far. Asantewaa went to war with them again.

A lot of men were tired of fighting. While some warriors signed up to get their killing on, inspired by their leader's "charisma and bravery," others took more convincing. Asantewaa was not having it with these "cowards." She gave a rousing speech, saying anyone who wouldn't fight should exchange their loincloths for her underwear. Despite women not being allowed on the battlefield, she took over as commander-in-chief of the forces and was out there herself. And when men still wouldn't join her she made their wives help out. Asantewaa's female subjects were told to stay out of their husbands' beds until they enlisted. The tactic was "hugely successful" as guys were apparently willing to risk death to get laid again.

Rani Lakshmibai combined kicking butt with childcare

Rani Lakshmibai was born around 1828 in India, but her mother died when she was just a toddler, according to Atlas Obscura. Her dad decided he didn't want to teach his daughter traditional girl stuff, so her education covered things like how to "ride elephants, jump over fire-pits on horseback, sword fight, shoot a crossbow, [and] load a musket" with a bit of reading and writing thrown in.

As a teenager, Lakshmibai married the maharaja of Jhansi, who let her keep doing the stuff she loved, like horseback riding, exercising, and practicing with weapons. But Lakshmibai must have wanted someone to play with, because she put together a regiment of women, drilling and training them herself.

Since they were childless, her husband adopted a son (and then died). The boy was supposed to rule after him, with Lakshmibai holding the throne while he was growing up. But even though the British thought she was "fully capable" of running the government, they decided to just take over Jhansi instead.

So when mutiny broke out across India in 1857, Lakshmibai joined in. She raised an army and led troops into battle herself. She was recorded riding "with the reins in her teeth and two swords in her hand." But she must not have had a nanny — legend says she also had her adopted son strapped to her back. Eventually she was killed in battle, but the British general called her "the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders."