Powerful Voices: Female Leaders of the British Isles

By Stephanie Tanke

ASU Undergraduate Student in English Literature and Oxford 2016 Alumna

Many countries have a past laden with attempts to fight off foreign invasion. Some resulted in success, while others went through a new era of change and repression. England and Ireland are no exception here. When looking through their history, both countries have had a few powerful, memorable, and talented female leaders that were able to create a sense of unity in the common people against a foreign invasion. Their methodologies were unique. Yet, all shared similarities in their strengths. Instead of using brute force to intimidate and unite, these women used their voices and respect from their community as nurturers and caretakers to their advantage. Three specific women come to mind; Queen Boudicca of the British Celtic Iceni tribe, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and Grace O’Malley, the “Pirate Queen” of Ireland.

Boudicca, Grace O’Malley, and Elizabeth all had similarities in their methods of fighting foreign invasion. All three women were powerful orators and created unity in the common people. Elizabeth was typically seen as a nurturer. Her tolerance after the brutal rule of her sister, historically known as “Bloody Mary”, earned her much respect from the common people, even those residing in other countries. Grace became a voice of the people in a different manner, being that she led her own army and fought alongside her men as an equal. Boudicca seemed to be a combination of these two powerful women. She was not as refined as Elizabeth, although her community was much more disjointed. Boudicca did to the Romans what had been done to her, using her beating and the rape of her daughters to fuel a fire for vengeance. Grace took a slightly different approach. She had more of a sense of equality in her mindset, one of, “What you’re doing to them, I’ll do to you.” This put things into a different perspective for Elizabeth, who had been fighting King Phillip II of Spain and his infringing patriarchy for decades.

Using their voices, these women were able to unite diverse groups of people under the idea of nationhood and for the most part, it was successful. While Grace and Boudicca did take a more forward approach to conjoining their people, women were still not viewed as men's equals. They used their force in speech, giving voice to those unheard, and their commanding presence to create solidarity. All three women also applied their femininity to their advantage. Having the role of a nurturer encouraged respect from their community, which viewed them as caretakers. Using the opposing nations’ methods of war against them was also another successful tactic, specifically when thinking of how Elizabeth defeated the Spanish Armada, in part because she used Phillip II's methods of propaganda. Grace and Boudicca both drew motivation from the battles against their own people, using their desire for revenge and the enemies’ tactics to defeat them.

All three women displayed unwavering confidence and courage in leading their people. One memorable display was the meeting of Queen Elizabeth and Grace O’Malley in 1593. Grace was said to have met Elizabeth in her traditional Gaelic clothing with a crown upon her head, demanding respect and courageously showing that they were meeting as sisters sovereign. This encounter displayed Elizabeth’s tolerance toward Catholicism and, in this case, admiration and respect for a fellow powerful female leader. Though Grace and Boudicca did not have the same pressure of being the single head of state and the political voice for their community, all three women had strong, successful careers consolidating their communities against a common enemy.


About Stephanie Tanke
I'm a senior at ASU studying English Literature, I have a passion for dancing and traveling. I want to give a voice to those who feel silenced and I can't wait to change the world.