Mothers and Daughters of European History
May 3, 2020

European history is littered with powerful pairs of mother and daughters. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve compiled some of my favorites.


Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I

The second wife of Henry VIII gave birth to their only living child, Elizabeth, in 1533. Soon after, their relationship soured and King Henry rid himself of Anne in the worst way possible. Elizabeth was only a toddler when Anne Boleyn was executed on false charges in 1536. Elizabeth, of course, would go on to be Henry VIII’s most successful children, reigning as England’s monarch during a long and prosperous era.


Marie Curie and Irène Joliot-Curie

Marie Curie is history’s most famous scientist and the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Her research, work, and discoveries relating to radioactivity made her a household name but also did tremendous damage to her health. The year after Marie’s death in 1934, Iréne and her husband Frédéric co-won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Unfortunately, Iréne’s health would be negatively affected by the same illness that ended Marie’s life.


Maria Theresa and Maria Antoinette

Maria Theresa was the Holy Roman Empress for twenty years, ruling over a large chunk of Europe. With Emperor Francis I, Maria Theresa had sixteen children, including eleven daughters. The youngest, Maria Antonia, was uneducated and not considered one of the prettier daughters but Maria Theresa was only too happy to marry her off at age 14 when France was looking for an alliance. Their relationship was not terribly friendly as the Empress was highly critical of all of her children, even when they were adults. Marie Antoinette, as she was known once she arrived in France, was executed in 1793 during the French Revolution.


Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft was an early feminist author who had an unconventional but brief life. She married William Godwin, a prominent anarchist, journalist, and author. Wollstonecraft died shortly after giving birth to their only child, also named Mary. At the age of 20, Mary Shelley invented the science-fiction genre when her novel, Frankenstein, was published.

But until you have sex with your married boyfriend on your own mother’s grave, you will never, ever be as goth as Mary Shelley.



Marie de Guise and Mary, Queen of Scots

Marie de Guise came from a powerful French noble family and was put into an unexpected position of power when her husband, James V of Scotland, was killed six days after their only surviving child, Mary, was born, automatically making the infant the new Scottish monarch. Marie would later act as regent in Mary’s stead for several years while Mary was raised in France. She returned to Scotland and, ultimately, her reign was unsuccessful and fraught with drama. Mary was executed in 1587 after years of trying to claim the English throne on the grounds that her cousin, Elizabeth I, was illegitimate.


Isabel of Spain and Catherine of Aragon and Mary I

Three generations of powerful women? I couldn’t resist.

Isabel of Castile married Fernando of Aragon, uniting the two major kingdoms within Spain for the first time. The power couple did a lot of good things and a lot of really, really bad things. Let’s just say she was very into Catholicism (and no other religion whatsoever) and really into colonialism. But she also made Spain safer and reorganized how the kingdom was governed.

Isabel’s youngest daughter, Catherine, married Henry VIII of England and even served as regent when Henry was waging war against the French. During that time, Scotland took advantage of the king’s absence and attacked England. Thanks to Catherine’s quick-thinking and mind for strategy, Scotland was defeated.

Catherine and Henry had one surviving child: Mary. After an unhappy childhood, Mary had to wait for her younger brother to die of tuberculosis so she could inherit the throne. She finally did so in 1553, spending much of her reign working to reestablish England as a Catholic nation. She is considered by many to be England’s first queen in her own right and not through marriage.

Jillianne Hamilton is a history enthusiast and the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle (historical fiction), The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street (historical romance), and The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII (non-fiction). Jill launched The Lazy Historian in 2015. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada’s beautiful east coast. Learn more.

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Hi, I'm Jillianne.

I'm a historical fiction writer, a lover of history, and a hoarder of books. I'm the author of The Spirited Mrs. Pringle, The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII.

The Lazy Historian is a history blog featuring stories from the past with sass. With a focus on Western European and women's history, I delve into anything fascinating. Learn more.