1. Joan of Arc 1412 – 1431
Perhaps the most famous saint in history, Joan of Arc came from humble beginnings as the daughter of a peasant family in north-east France. Led by her visions of angels and saints, she journeyed to aid King Charles VII of France in the hundred years war. She was granted a small army and achieved a series of military successes. Captured by the British in 1430, she refused to renounce her faith and was burned at the stake. She was canonized in 1920 and her feast day is celebrated on the 30 May every year.
2. Elizabeth I 1533 – 1603
Often referred to as the ‘Virgin Queen’, Elizabeth never married and ruled alone with absolute power – the first queen of England to do so. An intellectual and cultural lady, she brought the renaissance to England, transforming the courts with poetry, writing and music, as well as befriending Shakespeare, Marlowe and Spenser. Elizabeth also possessed an iron will in battle, and led a crushing defeat of the Spanish Armada, leaving Spain bankrupt and propelling England forward as a world power.
3. Empress Dowager Cixi 1835 – 1905
The last Empress Dowager of China, after the death of her husband she acted as regent for her son and nephew. Because of the young age of her son, Cixi held the real power with total control over the affairs of the state. Furiously conservative and opposed to foreign influence, when her nephew launched the hundred days reform – an effort to use aspects of Western culture to reform China – she launched a coup and put him under house arrest.
4. Emmeline Pankhurst 1858 – 1928
The leader of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain, Pankhurst was a pioneer for women’s rights. She formed the Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Franchise Lead and famously involved herself in public revolts, embracing the motto “Deeds, not words.” The actions of her organization shocked the British press with vandalism, arson and hunger strikes a common practice. Emmeline was arrested on numerous occasions, and in one year she was arrested 12 times. Women were finally granted equal voting rights shortly before her death.
5. Benazir Bhutto 1953 – 2007
After her father’s government was overthrown in a corrupt and unjust trial, Bhutto was inspired to follow in his footsteps and create a free democratic country. Naming herself the head of the Pakistan People’s Party, Bhutto led a determined campaign that saw her arrested and placed in solitary confinement for several years. When she was released the people rallied behind her and she became the first female president of a Muslim nation in 1988. A champion for women’s rights, Bhutto remained firm in her beliefs against constant threats and daily perils, introducing education systems and programs aimed at protecting women. Bhutto was tragically assassinated in 2007, but her fight for justice continues to inspire people around the world.