5 influential women from our British Empire series - History Bombs
Articles / British Empire

5 influential women from our British Empire series

Happy International Women’s Day!

Amazing women have long made history, but their stories are often overlooked. At History Bombs, we aim to shed light on important historical narratives that don’t get the credit they deserve. Here are five women who featured in our British Empire series that we think should be celebrated this International Women’s Day. 

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Nanny of the Maroons

In the 18th century, Nanny of the Maroons emerged as a formidable leader and symbol of female strength, leading a guerrilla war against British colonial forces in Jamaica. As a woman commanding an army comprising self-freed enslaved individuals and Taino Indigenous people known as Maroons, her leadership was not just military but deeply symbolic.

Under Nanny’s guidance, this period of conflict came to be recognized as the First Maroon War. Her adept use of guerrilla tactics, deeply rooted in an understanding of the Jamaican terrain and the spirit of resilience among her people, led to significant successes against the British. This culminated in a historic moment in 1740 when the British governor was compelled to sign a peace treaty with Nanny, officially acknowledging the autonomy of Nanny Town.

Nanny of the Maroons’ achievements stand out as a testament to her leadership, resilience, and strategic acumen. Her success in securing freedom and independence for her community highlights the critical role women have played in resistance movements against colonial oppression.

Nanny’s legacy is a powerful narrative of female empowerment, illustrating how pivotal women have been in the fight for freedom and social justice.

Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière 

Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière stands as an influential figure in the Haitian Revolution, remembered for her involvement at the Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot in 1802. Though specific details of her life remain sparse, Lamartinière’s actions during this pivotal conflict have cemented her legacy as a symbol of heroism and resistance within Haitian history. Distinguished for her bravery and tactical prowess, she fought valiantly alongside her husband, Louis Daure Lamartinière, who commanded the fort’s garrison. 

Dressed for battle with a sabre and rifle, she not only supported her husband in logistical roles but also took an active combat role. Her direct participation in the fighting and her ability to motivate her peers were instrumental in overcoming a siege by French forces, despite being vastly outnumbered. This feat contributed significantly to the Haitian struggle for independence, making her an enduring emblem of female strength and resilience in the fight against oppression.

The Haitian Revolution, in which Lamartinière played a crucial role, was a crucial event that led to the establishment of Haiti as the first Black republic and the only successful slave insurrection leading to the formation of an independent nation. This revolution not only shattered the racial hierarchies of the island but also served as a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for slave communities and abolitionist movements worldwide.

Figures like Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière, who transcended gender roles to participate actively in the revolution, highlight the significant, albeit often overlooked, roles women played in these historical movements. Their contributions went beyond combat; they were instrumental in resistance and leadership, and had a profound impact on the global struggle for freedom and equality.

You can read more about Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière here


Pocahontas was a powerful member of the Indigenous Powhatan people in early 17th-century Virginia. She played a key role in achieving peace with English colonists. She married the English tobacco planter John Rolfe, was an honoured guest in England, and met King James I. She died in England in 1617. 

As a daughter of Powhatan, the paramount chief of a network of tributary tribal nations in the Tsenacommacah, encompassing parts of present-day Virginia, her life and legacy are testament to her influential role in the early encounters between Native American tribes and European settlers.

Her involvement with the English colonists, particularly during the period of intense conflicts and mistrust, underscores her pivotal role in fostering peace and mutual understanding. Pocahontas is known for her purported act of saving the life of Captain John Smith, an English explorer, which, whether mythologised or not, symbolises her bridging role between two disparate cultures.

Her marriage in 1614 to John Rolfe, an English tobacco planter, was more than a personal union; it represented a significant political alliance that brought a period of peace between the English settlers and the Powhatan people. This marriage is often highlighted as one of the first recorded instances of intercultural marriage in North American history, showing potential cooperation and coexistence between Native Americans and Europeans.

While some saw her dedication to cooperation with colonists as betraying her community, her actions certainly shifted the colonial view of indigenous people in America, and she remains an important female figurehead for colonial-indigenous relations. 

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz was a figure whose life and career embodied the intertwined struggles for Irish independence and women’s rights, making her an influential female figure in Irish and imperial history.

Her role in the Easter Rising of 1916—a pivotal event in the struggle for Irish independence—cemented her place in history. As a member of the ICA, she took an active part in the uprising, serving as a lieutenant and second-in-command at St. Stephen’s Green, where she demonstrated remarkable leadership and courage. Despite the failure of the Easter Rising, Markievicz’s involvement showcased the significant role women played in the fight for Irish freedom.

In a groundbreaking moment for women in politics, Constance Markievicz made history by becoming the first woman elected to the British House of Commons in 1918. However, in line with Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy, she did not take her seat, choosing instead to align herself with the Irish Republic. Her election was a significant milestone in the struggle for women’s political representation and marked a moment of profound change in the political landscape of the British Isles.

Mary Prince

Mary Prince was an Afro-Bermudian woman born into slavery in 1788, whose autobiography, “The History of Mary Prince,” became a pivotal text in the abolitionist movement in Britain. Her narrative, published in 1831, was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in the United Kingdom and played a significant role in exposing the brutal realities of slavery to a British audience largely unaware of its horrors. 

Prince’s story begins with her early years in Bermuda, follows her through several owners and islands in the Caribbean, and culminates with her fight for freedom in England. Her vivid descriptions of the cruel treatment she endured and witnessed, including physical abuse and separation from her family, provided a compelling personal testimony to the inhumanity of slavery.

Her narrative not only offered a previously unheard voice to the countless women who suffered under slavery, but also highlighted the strength and agency of enslaved people in challenging their oppression. Prince’s legacy is a testament to the power of personal testimony in driving social change and the importance of raising the voices of the oppressed – especially women – who are too often silenced and overlooked in history. 

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