In honour of International Women’s Day 2022, we wanted to focus on the importance of female friendships for female rulers!
Being a female ruler, whether sole or in partnership, often brought prestige and elevation, and in monogamous societies, set the ruler above all other women. If a woman became ruler of their native country, they might have the option to have female companions they had grown up with at court, or close family members, such as the Boleyn sisters at the court of Henry VIII. Even if there were not intimate friendships between family members, having female kin at court who could serve as allies against other political and familial factions was important.
Conversely, women who travelled to other countries to become ruler, typically because of a marital alliance, often needed to establish their own household with members of their new court, and to create friendships in a new environment. Though many elite and royal women brought members from their native country with them, these household staff were often selected by the royal family for their loyalty to the royal family, skills, and prestige, and not necessarily because of existing companionship or affability to the queen to be.
Below, we’ve selected some of the female friendships in royal circles: feel free to suggest more in the comments that you love and want to find more about!
Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Charmion
One of the most famous queens of Egypt, Cleopatra VII is often noted more for her relationships with men than any of her female companions. However Plutarch in his biography of Mark Antony, notes that Charmion, or Charmian, was a trusted servant and advisor to Cleopatra. According to Plutarch, Charmion was an important figure in Cleopatra’s government, and died alongside Cleopatra when the latter committed suicide upon Mark Antony’s death. The figure of Charmion, who we know so little of from the historical documentation, has been dramatized several times, most recently in the HBO/BBC series Rome.
Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands
Whether the geographical proximity of these two rulers has enhanced their friendship or not, several photos attest the closeness of these two women. They regularly visit each other on personal trips, and have performed official duties together as a recent trip by Mathilde and her partner, King Philippe, to the Netherlands, indicates. Mathilde is godmother to Máxima’s second daughter, Alexia. Máxima also visited Mathilde in hospital after the birth of Mathilde’s daughter Princess Elisabeth.
Queen Anne of Britain and Sarah Churchill
Speculation as to the true relationship between Anne and one of her favourites, Sarah Churchill, remains rife, and was recently catapulted into the public eye more recently by the release of the film The Favourite starring Olivia Coleman and Rachel Weisz in the respective roles of Anne and Sarah. The film also highlighted the friendship between Anne and another woman, that of Abigail Masham, Sarah’s cousin. Regardless of whether a sexual relationship did exist between Anne and either of her favourites, the companionship that Anne valued from both Sarah and Abigail is evident by the appointments granted by Anne to both women and their family members, as well as the influence Sarah and Abigail held at court.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the inspiration behind the film, check out our review of The Favourite here!
These are three of our favourites but we’re aware there are many more to uncover – who would you like to find more about?