Reign: 1141 – 1148 (disputed)

When Henry I’s sole legitimate son died unexpectedly, he promoted Matilda to the succession and secured the necessary oaths to make it happen. At a young age, Matilda was already the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, herself an anointed Empress in her own right, and had served as regent over vast areas of land in France and Italy. There’s probably never been a more qualified claimant to the English throne, but it didn’t matter: women can’t be King, and so she was forced to gather an army and invade.

The following decade is known as “The Anarchy” for the breakdown in order that resulted from the conflict, the back-and-forth between Matilda and her cousin Stephen causing widespread disruption. Finally, realizing that there was no end to the stalemate, Matilda agreed to back down, but only if her child, not Stephen’s, would be the next ruler. It was, and every monarch since has been a descendent of hers. So, even though her place on the royal rolls is debated…she gets her own slide.

Pillars of the Earth isn’t exclusively the story of Matilda and Stephen (though they are important players), but it takes place entirely against the backdrop of that societal breakdown.

Where to stream: Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV, Starz