Powerful women have too often been overlooked by history. Of course we know about Boudica, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great. But there are many others whose stories are just as dramatic and deserve to be better known, such as Wu Zhao, who poisoned the crown prince and became the first and only female empress of China, or Razia of the Delhi sultanate, who killed her opponents to establish herself as the first female Muslim ruler of the subcontinent. And then there’s Kösem, married to the Ottoman sultan Ahmed I, who exercised power for decades, had everyone who stood in her way strangled, including her own son, and suffered the same fate herself, possibly by means of her own hair.
In December 2022 Intelligence Squared welcomed the acclaimed historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of the new book The World: A Family History and the historical novelist Kate Mosse, whose latest publication is Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World. In conversation with historian and broadcaster Kate Williams they discussed great women from across the globe and the whole span of human history – how they gained power, how they wielded it and how, given that it was largely men who wrote history and often distorted it to suit their own ends, we can establish the truth about these women and celebrate their contribution to the human story.