Female Heads of Governments prior to the 20th century

Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership 



Before the introduction of constitutional democratcies most Heads of State were executive,
but throughout the ages some women held the seperate office of Chief of Government
without being Head of State.

Unnamed Muslim Lady 1316-17 Principal Minister and Regent Qutlug Sah Hatun of Persia and Iraq
After the death of her husband, Ghiyath al-Din Muhammed Uljaytu (1282-1304-16) the 8th Il Khan she was regent for their son, 'Ala al-Dunaya wa 'l-din Abu Said (1304-1317-1335). The dynasty had reigned Persia and Iraq  China since Kubilai Khan of Mongolia and China appointed his brother, Halagu (1256-1265) as tributary sub-ruler. With the death of Abu Sa'id the Il-lkhanid dynasty in Iran virtually came to an end.

A contemporary picture of an unnamed Persian queen 1338-39 Acting Principal Minister and Caliph Governor Sati Beg Hatun of the Mongols Il Khans Empires in Persia (Iran)
She used the title Al-sultana al-radila Sati Bek Khan Khallad Allah mulkaha - The just sultana Sati Bek, may Allah perpetuate her reign, and was daughter and sister of some of the earlier rulers. After Mohammad was overthrown, she took power and married Suleiman, who became titular co-ruler. The Mongols Il Khans controlled Persia  as a sort of local Mongol authority under the Great Horde.  

Isabeau of Bavaria 1403-04 President of the Council of State Queen Isabeau Baverie of France
1392-1419 Regent of France during her husband's, Charles IV fits of insanity, which were to last until his death in 1422, and would make him unable to reign. Isabeau was given large lands in Normandie, around Paris and in Champagne as a security, and officially declared regent during the "absence" of her husband. From 1395 she actively engaged in politics, and arranged the marriage of her children in very young age. Her advisors, the brother's of her husband,  Philippe de Burgundy and d'Orléans, engaged in a fierce power struggle, which almost resulted in a civil war. In 1402 she took over the control of the taxation and at 26.4.1403 she became President of the Council of State and took over the management of the Government. One year later Louis died, and she reigned jointly with Philippe. After the birth of the last child, she removed totally from Charles, who became more and more violent and dangerous. In 1407 her position was reaffirmed in an official act, but her husband's cousin, Jean placed his followers in all the central positions. 1411-12 a civil war broke out between the Burundians and Orleans. In 1415 her 18 year old son, Louis, took over the government, and soon after the English attacked France. After Louis' death, his brother, Jean (Married to Jakobäa of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland) was regent until his death two years later. She then was in charge again, and appointed Jean without Fear  as Governor of the French Kingdom. In 1419 and 1420 she met the English king, Henry V and negotiated a peace-treaty. After the death of her husband, she lived alone, plagued by rheumatism and immobile because of her heavy weight. Originally named Elisabeth von Bayern, she was mother of 12 children, and lived (1370-1435).

 Juana Azurduy de Padilla Circa 1809-25 Presidentessa of the  Republiqueta Juana Azurduy de Padilla of the Eastern Region (Bolivia)
She and her husband, Manuel Ascencio Padilla (1774-1816),  were co-rulers of the Eastern Bolivian area which was established during the wars for independence. When Bolivia declared its independence in 1809, her husband and she raised a small army to fight for an independent republic. Her husband was killed early into the war, but she continued to fight against royalist forces until Bolivia became an independent republic in 1826 when Spanish forces were finally overthrown. Juana Azurduy had managed to form a small "republiqueta" (little republic) with the territory her small army held. This republiqueta was basically under siege from 1810 until 1825 when other republican  armies under Simon Bolivar were able to join her remote forces. She lived (1781-1862) 

Ka’ahumau of Hawai'i

1819-32 Kuhina Nui Queen Elizabeth Ka'ahumanu I of Hawaiian Islands (USA)
1823-24 Sole Regent of the Kingdom
1824-32 Regent of the Kingdom

First married to Kamehameha I, whom her father had served as Councillor. She supported him in his efforts to unite the islands of the archipelago under his central authority and shared largely in their governance. After her husband's death in 1819, she became Kuhina nui (premier) to his successor, Liholiho Kamehameha II, and instigated many reforms. She worked in particular to overcome the taboos placed on women in the islanders' traditional religion and scored a major victory in persuading Kamehameha II to eat publicly with women. When Liholiho went to England in 1823 she was appointed regent until Kaukeouali Kamehameha III should come of age. To ensure the Kamehameha line, she married the two leading contenders for the throne, King Kuamalii of Kauai and his son. She worked closely with the Christian missionaries and was baptized in 1825. She travelled much among the islands, promoting the evangelizing and educational work of the missionaries, until her death. She lived (1772-1832).

Ka'ahumanu II

1832-39 Kuhina Nui H.R.H. Princess Kalani-Ahumanu-i-Kaliko-o-Iwi-Kauhipua-o-Kina'u Ka'ahumanu II
1832-33 Regent of the Kingdom

Kīna'u was first married to her half-brother Lihohilo Kamehameha II, King of the Hawaiian Islands (1797-1824), secondly her cousin, Prince Kahalaia Luanu'u, Prince Mataio Kekuanao'a, who was Governor of Oahu 1834-1868 and Premier from 1863 until the promulgation of the new constitution in 1864. She was regent for half brother Kamehameha III Kauikeaouli (1814-1824-54). Their children included both Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. Following the death of her aunt, Kaohumareu in 1832, she assumed the position of Kuhina Nui, and her term of office was marked by discord as the young King Kamehameha III, her half-brother, struggled with her and the chiefs for political power. She was responsible for enforcing Hawai‘i’s first penal code, proclaimed by the King in 1835. She became a Christian in 1830, and was involved in the persecution of Hawaiian Catholics and attempts to expel French priests. This contributed to a diplomatic confrontation with France that threatened Hawaiian sovereignty. Mother of five sons and one daughter, and lived  (1805/07-39).

Kekauluohi Ka'ahumanu III of Hawai'i

1839-45 Kuhina Nui H.R.H. Princess Miriam Auhea-Kalani-Kui-Kawekiu-o-Kekauluohi-Keali'iuhiwaihanau-o-Kalani-Makahonua-Ahilapalapa-Kai-wikapu-o-Kaleilei-a- Kalakaua Ka'ahumanu III of Hawaii (USA)

When Kekāuluohi succeeded her half-sister, Kina'u, she declared: "…The authority hitherto possessed by my mother Ka‘ahumanu II. Until her decease is now transferred to my other mother (Miriam Kekāuluohi) though Victoria Kamehamalu II is her superior, but still under my direction." Initially, she was considered something of a "place-holder" for Kīna‘u’s infant daughter Victoria Kamāmalu, who would later assume the office. As Kuhina nui she signed, with the king, all official documents; conducted all executive business affecting the Crown; received and transferred government lands; and served as special Councillor to the king, with exclusive veto power over his decisions. She was a co-signer with Kamehameha III of the country's first Constitution in 1840, which provided for an elected representative body, a first step toward the common people gaining political power. The constitution also codified for the first time, the responsibilities and authority of the Kuhina Nui. As a child she was betrothed to a prince of the Pomare line of Tahiti, but because of the prince's early death, the union never took place. In 1809 she married the first of her seven husbands, her uncle Kamehameha, as a companion in his final years, until his death in 1819. She then married her cousin, King Lihohilo Kamehameha II (1797-1824) and later to Kana'ina and one of her two children, William Charles Lunalilo, later became king of Hawai'i. . She was daughter of Alii Kalaimamahu and Alii Kaheiheimalie Kalakaua, both Governors of Maui, and died from influenza, after having lived (1794-1845).

1855-63 Kuhina Nui H.R.H. Princess  Victoria Kamāma Ka'ahumanu IV of Hawaii
1863 Acting Monarch
of Hawaii

1832 she inherited the lands of Chiefess Ka'ahumau, and her brother, King Kamehameha IV, appointed her to the office of premier soon after he acended to the throne. As the daughter of Kīna'u, the second Kuhina Nui, and as the highest ranking female chief of the day, it had long been her destiny to assume the responsibilities of the office. She presided over the King’s Privy Council. On 30 October 1863, her brother, King Kamehameha IV, died without naming a successor and, as the Premier, she constitutionally assumed the office of Monarch until the successor was inaugurated, and until her death she was heir to her other brother, Kamehameha V. The office of Kuhina nui was abolished in 1866. She lived (1838-66).

Makea Nui Takau 1891-1901 President of the Executive Council Makea Takau Ariki of the of Cook Islands (5.6-11.6)
She was Ariki of Roatonga and Aurua 1868-1901, Supreme High Chiefess of the Cook Islands 1874-1911 and Leader of the Council of Chiefs 1888-1900.The Cook Islands federation lasted until 1901 when it was incorporated into New Zealand. In 1885 4 of the 5 high chiefs of Rorotonga were women. Queen Makea was married to Chief Ngamaru Rongotini (d. 1903) and was succeded by son. She lived (circa 1845-1911)  

1935-49 President of the Cabinet  and Vice-President of the State Council  Princess Abida Sultan Begum of Bhopal (India)
1960-61 Titular Nawab 
Sahiba , Begum Sultan of Bhopal 
Her full name was Colonel Suraya Jah, Gauhar-i-Taj, Nawab Abida Sultan Begum Sahiba, but is normally known as Begum Abida Sultan. She was appointed as Heir Apparent to her father and recognized as such by the Indian government in 1928. In 1950 she moved to Pakistan. were she was a Delegate to UN in 1954, Ambassador to Brazil and Chile 1954-59. She was also an active politician and supporter of Miss Fatima Jinnah's candidacy for President of Pakistan. She Contested the succession after the death of her father, HH Sikander Savlat Ifrikar il-Mulk Haji Sir Muhammad Hamidullah Khan Badur, in February 1960, but the Indian government ruled against her in January 1961 in favour of her sister, H.H.Sikander Saulat Iftikhar ul-Mulk Haji Nawab Mehr Tai Sajida Sultan Begum Sahiba (1960-95). Aida lived (1913-2002)   

Last update 12.04.07