Great Kates in History
CATHERINE OF ARAGON
Legacy: First wife of Henry VIII
The King's first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, changed the course of English history. In 1533, an infatuated Henry divorced Catherine, married his second wife Anne Boleyn and declared himself the head of the new Anglican Church of England after the Pope refused to grant his divorce. Three years later, Anne was charged with adultery, incest and treason and was beheaded at the Tower of London.
Legacy: Last wife of Henry VIII
After two of his five wives lost their heads, Henry VIII's last (and tallest at 5 ft., 10 in.) wife was a sensible match for the 52-year-old monarch, whose girth had long overshadowed passion. Aside from providing a stable family life for Henry's three children and tending to the king's gout and ulcers, the devout queen was also a best-selling author, penning two religious works. Henry was reportedly so thankful to God for sending him "so faithful a spouse" that he decreed on his deathbed that Catherine should be paid an unheard of annual sum of £7,000 and allowed to keep her royal jewels.
Legacy: Most Oscar-winning actress of all time
"[F]or me, prizes are nothing. My prize is my work," the formidable actress once said, but she still managed to do the work (with over 50 films to her credit) and hold the record for the most Academy Awards statuettes of all time – with four Best Actress Oscar wins. And at a time when powerful Hollywood studios ran the lives and sound bites of their contract stars, Hepburn made a second career of speaking her mind and making her own choices, including starring in timeless classics like Little Women, The African Queen and On Golden Pond.
CATHERINE THE GREAT
Legacy: Empress of Russia
The German-born empress ruled the Russian empire for a remarkable 34 years, from 1762 to 1796. During her reign, she guided her country through three major wars, expanded her reach to the Black Sea and into central Europe, and patronized the arts, purchasing the first collection for the Hermitage. As a student of the Enlightenment, Catherine also held enlightened views about love – she had at least a dozen lovers throughout her lifetime, which scandalized her fellow royals across Europe.
Legacy: Two-time Olympic gold medal figure skater
The former East German star on ice remains the only woman to repeat gold medals since Norwegian skater Sonja Henie did it a record three times (in 1928, 1932 and 1936). At age 19, Witt captured her first gold at the '84 Olympics in Sarajevo. But it was her second medal at the '88 Calgary games, won in a nail-biting flurry of triple loops, salchows and lutzs against American Debi Thomas – dubbed the battle of the Carmens (both skated to Bizet's opera for their long programs) – that cemented Witt's status in the record books.
CATHERINE OF VALOIS
Legacy: Grandmother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England
Crowned Queen of England in 1421, the French royal's short-lived marriage to Henry V (he died in battle a year later) produced a sole heir, King Henry VI. But it was her second marriage, to Welshman Owen Tudor, that gave rise to the mighty House of Tudor. Her grandson Henry VII was the first of five Tudor sovereigns to rule England, bringing the country from civil war and the Reformation to its golden age under Elizabeth I.
Legacy: Iconic supermodel
Standing at just 5 ft., 7 in., Moss ended the reign of the glamazon supermodel and ushered in a new era of waiflike mannequins after starring in a campaign for Calvin Klein underwear in 1992. Two decades after her spectacular debut, the British trendsetter is still as in demand as ever, prompting Time to name her among its 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2007 for having "the face that has never gone out of style."
Legacy: 19th-century American novelist
Considered essential reading for students of American literature, Chopin's most well-known novel, The Awakening, was widely panned for being "unpleasant," "poison" and downright "morbid" when it was published in 1899. Writing about a woman's desires for independence against the social conventions of her time, the Louisiana-based author is now praised for tackling themes that are still relevant to modern-day women.
Legacy: Fashion accessories multimillionaire
No, we're not in Kansas City anymore. Three years after leaving her job at Mademoiselle to launch her eponymous line of handbags in 1993, the Midwest native was awarded a coveted CFDA award, an honor she again received in 1998. Perhaps the biggest reward for the editor turned designer? Selling her company (which has since expanded to include home decor, eyewear, stationary, beauty products and shoes) to Liz Claiborne in 2007 – to the tune of $124 million.
CATHERINE DE MéDICI
Legacy: Mother of three kings of France
Behind every great man, there's a great woman was never more true than in the case of Catherine de Médici. The Italian-born, Roman Catholic royal became queen of France in 1547, when her husband Henry II ascended the throne. But it was her political cunning, which set off the bloody St. Batholomew's Day Massacre, that put her in the history books – and three sons on the French throne.
Legacy: Princess Diana's royal couturier
One of Diana's favorite royal couturiers, the French-born British designer forged a discreet two-decade collaboration with the Princess both in life and in death. Starting with maternity wear (before William's birth in 1981), Walker created more than 1,000 outfits for Diana, including the iconic white silk strapless dress and matching bolero jacket (dubbed the "Elvis dress"), which she would famously wear to the British Fashion Awards. And when Diana died in 1997, she would aptly be buried in a chic little black dress, one by the late designer.
Legacy: Hollywood's reigning star
From her very first movie (Heavenly Creatures), it was clear that Winslet was going to be a star – just ask Peter Jackson, who directed the 17-year-old in the 1993 drama. " Kate instantly impressed us with her fierce intelligence, her mature view of the world (which was way beyond her years) and, above all, her courage as an actor," he wrote in Time in 2009, the year Winslet, 35, finally won an Oscar (for The Reader) after dazzling audiences in more than 20 films.
Legacy: Pulitzer Prize-winning author and publisher of The Washington Post
Following her husband's suicide in 1963, Graham became the first woman to take the reins of The Washington Post, presiding over the paper during a crucial time in its history: the Watergate scandal. Decades later in 1997, Graham penned the memoir Personal History, detailing her husband Phillip's mental illness and the challenges she faced as a female publisher in what was then an all-male newsroom. Her candor was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize.
Legacy: First Oscar-winning female director
The Hurt Locker director went up against ex-husband James Cameron – and 82 years of no-win odds on Oscar night in 2010 – and took home Best Director. "I'm sure [Kathryn will] be very ambivalent about this because she'll be of a mind that, 'Wait a minute, I want to win for the work. I don't want to win because I'm a woman,'" Cameron told 60 Minutes. But even the 58-year-old Bigelow had to acknowledge the precedent during her acceptance speech, telling millions of viewers, "This is the moment of a lifetime."