- 26th Memorial Lecture
By: R.F. Nariman
- 25th Memorial Lecture
By: Upendra Baxi
- 24th Memorial Lecture
By: Nayantara Sahgal
- 23rd Memorial Lecture
By: Ramachandra Guha
- 22nd Memorial Lecture
By: M. Hamid Ansari
- 21st Memorial Lecture
By: Kailash Satyarthi
- 20th Memorial Lecture
By: Pranab Mukherjee
- 19th Memorial Lecture
By: Sharmila Tagore
- 18th Memorial Lecture
By: Dr. Shashi Tharoor
- 17th Memorial Lecture
By: Meira Kumar
- 16th Memorial Lecture
By: Asma Jahangir
- 15th Memorial Lecture
By: The Dalai Lama
- 14th Memorial Lecture
By: Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri
- 13th Memorial Lecture
By: Aruna Roy
- 12th Memorial Lecture
By: Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
- 11th Memorial Lecture
By: Ela R.Bhatt
- 10th Memorial Lecture
By: Sonia Gandhi
- 9th Memorial Lecture
Prof. M.S. Swaminathan
- 8th Memorial Lecture
By: K.R. Narayan
- 7th Memorial Lecture
By: Prof. Amartya Sen
- 6th Memorial Lecture
By: Prof. Madhu Dandavate
- 5th Memorial Lecture
By: M.N. Venkatachaliah
- 4th Memorial Lecture
By: Prof. Savitri Goonesekere
- 3rd Memorial Lecture
By: Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer
- 2nd Memorial Lecture
By: Justice Silvia Cartwright
- 1st Memorial Lecture
By: Justice Sujata V. Manohar
The 26th Memorial Lecture
Every year, since its inception, the Foundation invites an eminent person to deliver a lecture on the subject of
Great Women Of History.
Hon'ble Justice R.F. Nariman, delivered the 26th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on "Great Women Of History" on 16th April, 2021.
The expression "cherchez la femme" is something which is attributed to Voltaire but is actually found in a novel by Alexander Dumas, The Mohicans of Paris. It is a pejorative expression, which essentially means, "Look out for the woman," as a source of trouble whenever there is trouble.
The unfortunate "cherchez la femme" has its roots in ancient history and religion. If we start with the Bible itself, Eve was made from Adam's rib. Everyone knows that man is, in fact, born of woman. But the Bible tells us that short of Adam, every other man was, but then Adam was first.
If you see the Rigveda, the 10 th and last Mandala - chapter 95, verse 15 - says: "Do not make lasting friendships with women for they are like hyenas." This is a very strong statement made quite long ago.
The old Persian texts also tell us that the source of menstruation is because there was a primeval whore called Jeh, and it's because she chose to be a whore that women were afflicted with menstruation--something like Adam's original sin, however, transformed this time into women and menstruation.
Given this kind of background, even fairly recently Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence : "All men are created equal." Not only did he leave out the blacks, he left out half of humanity. He did not mean to include women.
We have had this misogynistic tradition for ages, as a result of which women have had to be like the great Greek orator Demosthenes, who was born a stammerer. The first thing he had to do was get over the stammer, after which he wanted to be better than any other orator. We are told by Plutarch that he practiced by putting pebbles in his mouth so that finally when he spoke he would able to speak without the pebbles and be able to be the greatest orator of his time.
Like Demosthenes, women in history have started out by their being perceived by the other sex as something below the male sex-stammerers, in Demosthenes's terms. They have had to put pebbles throughout in order to show that they are better than men in order to be allowed to perform.
I have chosen for this lecture five such remarkable women.
The first is Cleopatra. She goes back 2,000 years. She was actually the seventh of her dynasty, descended from one of the generals of Alexander. As you know, Alexander's huge empire fragmented into four pieces. The Egyptian part was taken over by Ptolemy the First. It was really taken over because it had been a satrap of the Persian Empire. As a matter of fact, the 27th and the 31st dynasties in Egypt were the Achaemenian--the start of the 27 th dynasty being with Cambyses, who was Cyrus The Great's Son, and the 31st by Artaxerxes the Third, ending with Darius the Third, who got defeated at Guagamela by Alexander. So, because of the defeat in Persia, Egypt fell into Alexander's lap. As a result of which, Ptolemy, who happened to be present in Egypt when Alexander died, became the first pharaoh of the Greek/Macedonian dynasty.
It is from Ptolemy the Second that a peculiar Egyptian habit of marrying your sister got into vogue. As a result of which you had a series of all kinds of lunatics and geniuses.
Cleopatra was by no means a lunatic. She was a real genius who could speak four languages and could charm anybody. Shakespeare's quote in Antony and Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety," is a great quote because it tells you exactly what this woman was. It comes at a stage where Antony is now to marry Octavia, because Octavian has persevered and is trying to get Antony out of Egypt as Antony had a dalliance with Cleopatra. So, two Shakespearean characters are speaking to each other with one telling the other that now Antony will have to go back to Rome. The answer given to him is that there's no question of going back; he is caught for life.
Going back to Cleopatra in her youth, she was one out of six children of Ptolemy the 12th, who was also called Auletes, which means flute, because he liked playing the flute. He was obviously a better musician than a ruler. He tried to rebel against Rome but the rebellion was put down, and he was taken to Rome when Sulla was the dictator. Little Cleopatra was the only child who went with him to Rome. It seems he was treated so badly that when Sulla was being administered some laxative, he actually called in Ptolemy and had him dismissed.
So, Cleopatra grew up seeing Rome boss over her great country. Finally, when her father died, she and her brother were declared joint rulers in the old tradition of brother marrying sister and becoming joint rulers.
At that point of time, there was a great triumvirate in Rome after Sulla the dictator died. This triumvirate consisted of Julius Caesar, Crassus and the other great general, Pompey. Pompey had been defeated by Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Even before that, in 53 BC, Crassus had been defeated by the Parthians. Crassus, you will remember, was a great figure because he put down the Spartacus revolt and was a very wealthy man. So when he himself was put down, the triumvirate now became just these two gentlemen, Caesar and Pompey. Pompey got defeated at Pharsalus and went to Egypt thinking he could get asylum there because Ptolemy the 13th had sided with him. Unfortunately, as soon as he landed, he was murdered and his head was kept as an offering to Julius Caesar who was now about to come to Egypt.
When Julius Caesar came to Egypt, Plutarch tells us and, therefore, this is a true story, that Cleopatra was actually rolled out of a carpet when she was brought to him. The moment she was rolled out of that carpet, the first thing she tried to tell Caesar was not to trust her brother.
Caesar tried to mediate between the two and found it almost impossible. Shortly after, they became lovers. The fruit of their love happened to be a son--the only son of Julius Caesar who was called Caesarion. Caeser was married three times, by the way, and he couldn't bear, or at least none of his wives was able to bear, a son.
History tells us about the second wife, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion". That was because Pompeia, the second wife was indulging in some all-women festival. Some man crept in and, as a result, rumours started flying around saying that she may have had an affair with that man. As a result, Caesar said, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion," and promptly divorced her, one other hurrah for the male bastion.
Finally, when Caesar settled down with Cleopatra and the little son got bigger, he decided to take her to Rome for a second time. He paraded her around Rome but she wasn't very popular. In fact, Cicero, when he met her, thought she was extremely vain. So, Cleopatra was kept in a villa just outside Rome with her little son.
In 44 BC on the Ides of March, Caeser was murdered. Cleopatra was then advised by Antony to leave Rome. So she went back to Egypt and ruled there from 44 BC to 31 BC. Antony followed her and she produced three children from him.
She ruled wisely and ruled well until, unfortunately, Octavian, who now had become the Emperor Augustus, decided to reclaim Egypt.
After a land battle, the famous Battle of Actium was fought. This was a major sea battle in which Antony and Cleopatra made a big mistake by dividing up their fleets. Once the fleets were divided, Antony told Cleopatra to turn around because he thought he was losing. When Cleopatra turned around, Antony's fleet, in turn, felt they had lost the battle when they hadn't.
Thanks to the Battle of Actium, Cleopatra was faced with the fact that her beloved Egypt would now fall into Roman hands yet again. Unfortunately, she tried one last attempt to get to Antony, but Antony was told that she had killed herself when she hadn't. So he stabbed himself. The entire thing ended in a huge tragedy with her being bitten by an Asp, which is an Egyptian cobra, as a result of which she also died.
Shortly thereafter, Rome took over Egypt. Cleopatra's little son was murdered by the new emperor Augustus. The other children through Anthony were brought up, strangely enough, by Octavian's sister, who was Antony's wife, Octavia. With this, this great queen who did her best to try and save Egypt from being a satrap of Rome, ultimately failed and failed only because as a woman she could not possibly rule it and hope to continue to rule it against the male dominance of Rome.
The second remarkable character in this talk is perhaps the most remarkable of them all.
The last bastion of male orthodoxy, if I may call it that, is the Roman Catholic Church. I wonder if any of you have heard that in the ninth century there was supposedly a Pope Joan. Now, how could there possibly be a Pope Joan when you didn't have females who could become priests in the first place?
Nonetheless, chroniclers in the 13th century started telling us that that there did exist this lady, born of English parents, in Mainz, Germany. She proved herself to be so adept at the scriptures, having dressed as a man throughout--nobody knew she was a woman--that she became a cardinal. Having become a cardinal, after Pope Leo IV (who was one of the great popes who fortified the walls of Rome), she was elected pope by the Roman populace.
At that point of time, popes were elected by the Roman people. It was not done by an electoral college consisting of cardinals. That happened only in 1159, much after Pope Joan had existed, when Pope Nicholas II laid down a papal bull that henceforth an electoral college consisting of cardinals would select the pope. A century later, at the Third Lateran Council, a two third majority had to be obtained before somebody could be invested as pope.
But at Pope Joan's time--this is supposed to be in 855--she was elected by the people of Rome. Now, Jean de Mailly, one of the chroniclers in the 13th century tells us that she actually sat on that throne for two years, five months and four days.
How she got discovered is a remarkable story. She was apparently pregnant with child when, from St Peter's, she started walking towards St Clements church on a small road, which has never been used by the popes thereafter. There is apparently a little shrine there, which is supposed to house her remains. On the way, walking uphill, she gave birth to her baby. After she gave birth, there's a divergence as to what happened to her. The original manuscript says she was stoned on the spot. The other manuscript, which is now in Berlin says that she was sent to a nunnery and her son was brought up by the Catholic church and became Bishop of Ostia afterwards.
Whatever the story, the Catholic Church staunchly denies that there ever was a female pope. Even I thought that the story was a little far-fetched until I read a book by a scholar called Peter Stanford published in 2000. He marshals all the facts, and then gives us five reasons as to why this lady existed.
The first most important reason is the fact that these chroniclers spoke about her and about her name. Somebody in the year 1691 actually collected 500 such chronicles. So there appears to have been this historical figure.
Second, the narrow lane where she gave birth to her child, was shunned by every pope thereafter. It's a fact then no pope ever goes down that lane even though it is the shortest way to St Clements church from St. Peter's. If they have to go to St Clements, they take a roundabout way.
Third, there were statues erected to her--one in Rome and one in Sienna, Pope Joan with child. The one in Rome was outside the Colosseum. As you know the Colosseum was constructed by Emperor Vespasian and was called the Colosseum because there was a colossus of the Emperor Nero outside which didn't exist for long. But somewhere near the Colosseum, there was her statue as well. Martin Luther, who visited Rome in 1510 tells us that he saw that statue. So, for a long period in the Middle Ages, there was a statue of this lady in Rome that obviously couldn't have been there had the Church believed that she had not existed.
Most interesting is the fact that medieval popes used to be invested on a chair which looked like a commode. Now, apparently Innocent II was invested on that chair. Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, was invested on that chair. It was used until the only Dutch pope, Adrian VI, decided in the 16th century that that chair would no longer be used in papal investitures.
Why was that chair used? It was apparently where the papal elect sat for the first time before being invested. The deacon next to him would have to put his hand out and feel the testicles of the gentleman, after which he would declare that this is a gentleman and, therefore, ought to be invested as pope. Peter Stanford, as a matter of fact, went to the Vatican and in some room, where a lot of artifacts were just thrown, found one of these two chairs - the other was apparently taken away by Napoleon.
Piecing all this together, we find that this remarkable lady not only existed, but was a pope who managed to survive for two years and five months in an all-male setup. This is something remarkable.
Many other remarkable things also happened in the ninth century.
Towards the end of the ninth century, you have what is called the Cadaver Synod. There was a pope called Formosus. Formosus had invested his successor Stephen VI as a bishop. At that point of time, if you were a bishop, you could not possibly stand for election to become pope. When Formosus died, Stephen VI as bishop stood for becoming pope and got elected. There was a huge clamour saying there was no question of his becoming pope as he was already a bishop of another see.
What did Stephen VI do? He exhumed the body of Formosus, put the cadaver on a chair and put it to trial. It was found guilty, as a result of which three of its fingers, which had blessed people, were cut off. The body was thrown into a grave, then picked up and thrown into the river Tiber. Most importantly, from Stephen's point of view, every single papal bull or decree that had been made by Formosus was annulled. The moment it was annulled, it meant that his being appointed bishop went, which meant that he could be invested as pope.
Stephen VI, unfortunately, didn't last and was horribly murdered in 897. After him, you have two other popes who reinvested Formosus until finally Pope Sergius III decided that Formosus must be punished once and for all, and thrown back into the Tiber
Sergius III had a remarkable mistress, a lady called Marozia, who in turn became the mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother of six popes starting with Pope John XI. The last of them, that is the great-great-grandson turned out to be Benedict IX who was perhaps the most evil pope in history, beating even the Borgia popes. He was invested at the very young age of 20, and was removed from the papacy thrice during his reign. The second time he removed himself because he had sold the papacy.
It's remarkable that in Rome, there are two such sales in history. One was this sale by Benedict IX to his successor, Gregory VI. Gregory VI was later told by the cardinals that he had done a terrible thing by buying the papacy. He said, "What do you think I should do?" They asked him to look at his own conscience and judge himself. So he looked at his own conscience, judged himself, and said, "Yes, I must step down."
The other famous instance in history of a sale taking place is that of the Roman Empire itself. In 193 AD the Roman Emperor Pertinax was murdered. The Praetorian Guard put up the Roman Empire for sale. A citizen called Marcus Didius Julianus purchased the Empire by paying 25,000 sesterces, which was the currency at the time, to each soldier. He ruled for some 66 days before a general Septimius Severus finally had him beheaded.
Pope Benedict IX had the ignominy of not only giving up his popedom three times, but of being excommunicated at the end of it all. All this tells us, therefore, that anything is possible. Anything being possible makes me believe, after reading Peter Stanford's book, that Pope Joan was a historical fact - a remarkable woman who, like Demosthenes, overcame a lot and was able to finally sit on the exclusive male preserve of the Middle Ages in those days.
We come now to our other great lady, and this time we don't have to travel far.
All of you have seen the Qutub Minar. Razia Sultana was the daughter of the Emperor Iltutmish. She was a remarkable woman and Iltutmish, her father, was a remarkable man. They were members of what was called the Slave Dynasty because they were manumitted slaves.
Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who started the construction of the Qutub Minar, was a slave who was manumitted by Muhammad of Ghor and became his viceroy here. Once Muhammad of Ghor died, he declared himself king. Aibak died in 1206 and his son-in-law Iltutmish succeeded after one inept son succeeded Aibak, and managed to rule for a fairly long period till 1236 AD.
Iltutmish had a massive empire. Nobody realises when one sees his grave, which is a little open grave outside the Qutub complex, that this was the man who first completed the Qutub Minar. What he did was build upon Aibak's first storey and go right up until you see the last marble part, which was built by Firoze Shah Tughlaq, when it was hit by lightning.
This remarkable man ruled over an empire, which went all the way from Sindh in the west, the entire North India right up to Kashmir, and in the east, right up to Bengal.
In 1229, he had a terrible setback. The son who he thought would succeed him died. He built his tomb, the Sultan Garhi tomb, which is a very beautiful tomb in Delhi near Vasant Kunj. It's a remarkable, small, little, round marble tomb with the actual tomb down below. It's not a massive structure; it only has walls around it. Now when this son died, Iltutmish decided that all his other sons were useless, and announced that his daughter would succeed him, something that was unthinkable in the 13th century,
Once he died, one of his sons, Ruk Nudin Firoz, declared himself Firoz Shah the First and got onto the throne and managed to stay on it for about six months.
This fantastic lady, always dressed in male attire, this time shows up red-she used to ride around on her pet elephant-during the Friday prayer, to say that this man is utterly inept. If he was okay, there would be no problem. "You can see that I am a woman. But, if I am more capable than any man please give me a chance. I want to prove it. My father thought so. My father invested me with his authority."
The people said yes, and she managed to rule for three years. She ruled extremely well. The chronicler of the time said she was easily the wisest, most capable and greatest leader of her time--except that she was a woman. And because she was a woman, unfortunately, she got murdered after a short three-year reign.
The murder took place because she had invested great faith in an Abyssinian slave called Yakut, and the Turkish nobles who were in her court got jealous of the fact that they had been bypassed in favour of this Yakut. They had Yakut murdered. She fought against them, and ultimately got imprisoned in Bathinda in a 2,000-year-old fort built by Kanishka.
The governor of that fort, Malik Altunia was originally opposed to her, but then somehow or the other came on to her side. Strangely enough, she went and married him. Having married him, the two of them that went to reclaim the kingdom. They fought a battle, lost, and finally fled to a place called Kaithal in Punjab. Unfortunately, she got murdered in Kaithal. Ibn Battuta, the famous Moroccan traveler who was here, tells us that she got murdered by ordinary peasants for her clothes.
Her grave is not far from here, at Turkman Gate, behind the Delhi Stock Exchange. My wife and I had recently gone to visit it. It is now completely cluttered with buildings, but there are two ancient graves, one her's and the other her sister's. At that point of time, it was on the banks of the Yamuna. Today it is surrounded by the Stock Exchange and all these buildings.
So, we have this fantastic woman again, who was not given her due, was not able to rule, was not unfortunately recognised as the ruler that she was only because she was a woman.
We now move forward to the next great. This lady not only ruled but was recognized as perhaps the greatest ruler ever of the country she ruled over: Elizabeth the First of England.
Elizabeth was born into the Tudor dynasty. Her father, Henry VIII married six times. His wives went something like this: Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced beheaded, survived.
The first wife was Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella who combined Aragon and Castile and started ruling Spain in 1492. He was happy with her. Unfortunately, he thought that since she had been married to his elder brother, who died at the age of 15, he was cursed. He brought out a verse from Leviticus in the Bible, which says that no man shall sleep with his brother's wife. Catherine assured him that the brother had not consummated the wedding. Despite that, since only a daughter had been produced and no son, he tried to divorce her. At this point in time, her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was the big emperor in Europe. The Pope was subservient to him. There was no question, therefore, of getting a papal dispensation. The result was that this man who wrote Defender of the Faith and many other books defending the papacy, suddenly decided to break with the papacy only because he couldn't get a divorce from his wife. He then made himself head of the church, divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn, with whom he produced Queen Elizabeth.
England has been ruled by foreigners ever since 1066. It continues to be ruled by foreigners. No Englishman has ever sat on the throne since 1066. You had French dynasties; you had the Plantagenets uptill 1485; after them, the Tudors, a Welsh dynasty. After them, you had the Stuarts, a Scot dynasty. And finally the Hanoverians, who are German.
What is remarkable about Elizabeth is, first, that she was brought up as a Protestant. Her mother was beheaded when she was only two-years-old. She was brought up in a court when Henry was busy fighting his wars in France and amassing wives. When he died, fortunately for her, in his will he made it clear that after him his elder daughter would succeed, if there is no male issue alive. After Mary, if she had no male issue, in turn Elizabeth will rule. So legitimacy for her was found in Henry VIII's ultimate will.
But unfortunately for her, when her sickly brother Edward VI succeeded Henry and ruled for about six years, he in his will said that only those who are descended from one particular sister of Henry VIII i.e. Mary, and only her children, Frances and somebody else, and her children's children can rule, provided they have male issues. Two days before his death, because he knew they had no male issue, he finally put in his own hand, that the Lady Jane Grey would succeed him.
In an England which had never been ruled by a woman, you suddenly had three women one after the other. Jane Grey was a puppet who ruled for about eight days after which she was taken down and Mary declared the queen, as she was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon.
Mary ruled for five years and upset everything because she was Catholic. There was a huge pogrom against Protestants. One of the people who was burned at the stake was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who put his hand into the fire first and said, "It is with this hand that I signed my death warrant and that I gave up my religion. Let this burn first."
She ruled very badly, having married Philip II of Spain--both ruled from their respective countries-and fortunately, for England, died in 1558. Elizabeth then took over, and being Protestant was widely welcomed.
This lady, like Cleopatra, was a genius. She spoke about four languages. She founded Dublin University. She founded some 100 grammar schools, which were free for little children. She is supposed to have, at Trinity College, in Dublin, replied in Greek to a full speech in her honour given in Greek.
She was remarkable for many things. In fact, it was called the Elizabethan Age. The arts flourished. Shakespeare, Marlowe, the great Francis Bacon were all greatly encouraged by her encouragement of the arts.
She was brilliant in doing two things. One: finding the right person for the right job. And second: making procrastination a fine art. She found William Cecil who was her prime minister for over 25 years. He ruled the country extremely well. He gave England what it never had: peace.
All the great English rulers, whether you think of Henry II, Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, Henry V who regained most of France - all of them ultimately fell on their faces because finally, every territory in France went back to France with Calais alone remaining. What she achieved was a lasting peace.
Second, not only did she rule wisely and well, she was tolerant. She saw what had happened under the reign of Queen Mary and, therefore tolerated Catholics so long as they were tolerant of her.
The major Catholic thorn in her flesh was Mary Queen of Scots. Mary Queen of Scots was a cousin, being a descendant from another sister of Henry VIII - Margaret, who married James IV of Scotland. As a young girl Mary had married Francis II of France. He died early. So she came back to Scotland, and then got married to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. That union produced James VI of Scotland who became James I of England and succeeded her.
She had a very rough time ruling Scotland, as a result of which she and her third husband, Bothwell had to flee to England. Once she fled to England, William Cecil, the prime minister of Elizabeth, kept her almost captive in various castles for her 21 years stay there.
Finally, there was a Popish plot by one Babington in which she was directly implicated, as a result of which she had to be tried. She was tried and ordered to be sentenced to death. Elizabeth kept procrastinating; she didn't want her killed. Finally, both Francis Walsingham her Secretary of State, and William Cecil insisted and said, "Look, so long as this woman is alive, the Catholics won't leave you. You have to put her to death."
Finally, she signed the death warrant, and in 1587 Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded. The beheading also was remarkable in that she was wearing a wig which nobody knew about. So when her head rolled down, the wig flew off and what was revealed was a 44-year-old lady with short, grey hair. Elizabeth was very upset with her killing and didn't quite recover.
But she had other things on her mind. She is best known for staving off a massive invasion that was prepared by Philip II of Spain. Philip II got together an armada of 130 ships that set sail and sought to invade England by coming up into the Thames River. Elizabeth had some great admirals, like Francis Drake who had circumnavigated the entire globe after Zheng He, the Chinese Admiral in 1421, and after Magellan, a century later. She also had Sir Walter Raleigh, who founded Virginia in North America in her name. They together mustered 82 ships. These 82 set sail from Plymouth and met the Spanish Armada. Fortunately for them, the Spanish ships couldn't adjust their guns to the English ships so the cannon balls actually went over the English vessels. Not only did a favourable wind blow the Armada back--but that happened only 10 days after the battle started --the English also set some six ships ablaze and shoved them into the Armada, so a lot of them were set ablaze. Finally, they managed to stave off the invasion, all 82 ships coming back, and only 54 of the 130 ships going back, to Spain.
One of the most fantastic speeches she ever made was in a place called Tilbury. She exhorted her troops as well as the sailors and told them, "I may be a weak and feeble woman. But I have the heart and stomach of a king, a king of England too." The troops cheered her, the Navy cheered her, and they went to battle for her and succeeded.
Shortly before she died, she called a Parliament. She didn't get on very well with her later parliaments but had to keep calling parliaments to levy taxes, although the tax burden was generally low in her reign. She addressed this parliament in 1601, two years before she died and said, "There may have been mightier, better rulers than me, but none that have loved all of you so much."
Truly, she was the most loved monarch of her time. She died in 1603, greatly loved, deeply mourned, and finally set at rest beside her sister, Mary in Westminster Abbey.
She was a remarkable woman, and Will Durant tells us that she was undoubtedly the greatest ruler of England ever.
We now come to the last subject of today's talk. One other great. This time it's Catherine, the ruler of Russia.
This lady was born Sophie, a German princess at a place called Anhalt-Zerbst in Germany. She was drafted by Empress Elizabeth of Russia to marry the heir presumptive to the throne, Peter III.
Peter III was none other than the grandson of Peter the Great, a larger-than-life figure and arguably the greatest of the Romanov dynasty. He was six foot eight inches. He wanted to modernize Russia overnight. He went and spent many years of his reign trying to learn how to build ships in the docks in Amsterdam, came back and actually fitted together a whole Baltic Sea Fleet.
To modernize Russia he, overnight, ordered everyone to have their beards removed. Many didn't remove their beards. So he decided to levy a beard tax, which ranged from one kopec, depending on whether the person was a serf, to a couple of rubles, depending on how rich the man was. He made it a great disincentive to have a beard--and not only that, you had to wear a gibbet which pronounced that you are actually paid the tax. Otherwise, you were liable to be taken and have your beard shaved off.
This remarkable man fought many battles, including the Great Battle of Poltava in 1709 against his most formidable adversary, Charles XII of Sweden. Finally, he extended the entire territory of Russia in the Baltic region, and built St Petersburg. This great ruler died in 1725 and his wife took over as Catherine the first.
His grandson, Peter III happened also to be a great-nephew of Charles XII of Sweden, and, so was, in fact, offered the Swedish throne before he was offered the Russian throne. Once the Swedish Parliament found out that he had already been offered the Russian throne, they withdrew the offer.
Peter III happened to be a silly little chap. He thought he was like a Prussian prince and would dress up like a Prussian prince. He had toy soldiers and would fight toy battles. He was known to hang rats. He once passed sentence on a rat that had nibbled the toe of one of his toy soldiers and hanged the rat.
Obviously, a lady who was as brilliant as Catherine, when she was married to this character, found that she was a complete misfit. So, for many years, they led their own lives.
The Seven Years War began in 1756. Frederick the Great of Prussia found himself surrounded by four formidable allies: Austria, France, Russia under Elizabeth, and some German princes. Despite having fought the great battles of Rossbach and Leuthen and having staved off his enemies for some time, found, in 1761, that he was at the end of his tether, and, short of some miracle, would either have to commit suicide or cede his kingdom.
The miracle happened. Empress Elizabeth of Russia died and Peter III took over. Now, Peter III loved Prussia and everything Prussian. So, you have perhaps the only case in history where an entire army fighting on one side now suddenly switches sides and fights on the other side -- the entire Russian army switched sides and began fighting on the Prussian side.
This intolerable state of affairs couldn't continue. Peter III also wanted to invade Denmark. The result was that his reign lasted about six months. In a palace coup, Catherine, who had by now become part of the Russian Orthodox Church having given up her Lutheran background, took over and was now invested Empress of Russia. Peter got murdered and Catherine started ruling in 1762.
She had a fantastic 34 years during which she did many things. First, the territory of Russia was expanded by some 200,000 miles. Second, the entire Crimean region was annexed through Potemkin, one of her lovers. She founded Sebastopol. Voltaire, in fact, called her the Semiramis of the North. Semiramis was an ancient Assyrian queen who was known for her profligacy. Catherine is supposed to have had some 21 lovers in 40 years.
But apart from that, each lover was a remarkable man, who in turn gave his life for her. The Orlov Bothers, for example. Potemkin himself, who founded the Black Sea Fleet and annexed Crimea. And people like Poniatowski, who ultimately became a king of Poland.
Like Elizabeth of England, she encouraged the arts. She corresponded with Voltaire. She had a great French poet Diderot who visited her. He was a very excitable chap who, apparently, every time they engaged in conversation, would slap her thighs. She said that every time this man would come, she would go back with red thighs but didn't mind because he was so brilliant.
She was also soft-hearted in her own way and would keep bread out for the birds. Unfortunately for her, she didn't get on with her own son, Paul who succeeded her. He had been taken away from her, almost at birth, by the Empress Elizabeth and brought up by her. What she did was to make friends with her grandchildren, and her grandson, Alexander, who became Alexander I after the brief rule of his father, and was the one who finally defeated Napolean with the help of the Russian winter, in 1812.
This great woman was considered by many to be the greatest ever ruler that Russia had, even though Peter the Great was a strong contender.
At the end we find that of all these historical personages, (the first three existed way back in time) had to fight with their backs to the wall. Each of them was brilliant, but none of these three succeeded. It's only the two fairly recent ones in history who succeeded--Elizabeth the Great and Catherine the Great.
We now fast forward to the 20th century. The 1960s brought a rich haul of women prime ministers. For the first time you had Bandaranaike in Ceylon. You had Indira Gandhi here. You also had Golda Meir in Israel. In 1979 you had Margaret Thatcher, after which I've counted, there are some 125 women heads of state till date, whether as president or prime minister.
In India, we've had a woman president. But unfortunately, despite the fact that we've had a woman president and a woman prime minister, we have never had a woman chief justice.
I see the picture of Sunanda today. It's a beautiful picture and I remember her this way. She was probably the foremost candidate for becoming the first woman chief justice of India. Unfortunately, life was cruel to her and cut her remarkable career short. In any event, I hope that, given the present dispensation, the time for the first woman chief justice won't be very far off.
With that, I thank you all very much.