GOT Star Nathalie Emmanuel Presents New Podcast About History’s Most Powerful “Killer Queens”

‘War Queens’ podcast cover. From Diversion Audio

We’re all familiar with the portrayal of recent fictional Queens on screen, from ‘Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen to the fierce warriors in ‘Woman King’ and ‘Black Panther’. But as it turns out, real life history contains some badass stories of female fighters who led armies and entire countries into battle defying the notion that women are not equipped for war. And now a new podcast series called ‘War Queens’ from Diversion Audio is allowing us to learn more about these warrior women, from host Emily Anne Jordan, presented by ‘Game of Thrones’ actress Nathalie Emmanuel.

This podcast goes beyond fiction to tell the stories of the powerful women on the frontlines of real-life battles from countries and cultures around the world. Emily co-hosts “War Queens”, which launched November 8th, with her father, Jon Jordan. The two also co-authored the book ‘War Queens: Extraordinary Women Who Ruled the Battlefield‘ which inspired the podcast. Emily is a native of Houston, Texas and is currently attending the University of Kentucky, where she speaks out on public health issues, interns in research on the opioid crisis, and studies nursing.

Every week the father-daughter duo examine the incredible stories of history’s most powerful female battle leaders, the brilliant methods and maneuvers history’s “killer queens” used to defend themselves and their people from enemy forces—and both father and daughter find out something about each other and how each generation appreciates these incredible women. From ancient Persia to modern-day Britain, experience the daunting thresholds these exceptional women had to cross and the clever, sometimes violent ways in which they smashed obstacles in their paths.

History’s killer queens come in all colors, ages, and leadership styles, and from countries and cultures around the world. Elizabeth Tudor and Golda Meir played the roles of high-stakes gamblers who studied maps with an unblinking, calculating eye. Angola’s Queen Njinga was willing to shed (and occasionally drink) blood to establish a stable kingdom in an Africa ravaged by the slave trade. Caterina Sforza defended her Italian holdings with cannon and scimitar, and Indira Gandhi launched a war to solve a refugee crisis. 

We had the chance to speak with Emily about the book, the podcast series, and why these stories of women have largely been hidden or gone unnoticed throughout history (until now!).

‘War Queens’ co-author and podcast host Emily Jordan

How did the idea for the “War Queens” podcast first come about?

Growing up with a dad who is an author had an immense influence on my interests and way of understanding the world. From a young age, he really inspired a love of writing and appreciation for history. I grew up sitting on the big brown chair in his office while he typed, trying not to knock over his medal display case, playing with his army action figures, and doodling sketches of his political cartoon posters. Every now and then I would ask him, “Are there any women who did these kinds of things?”

And he would either recount a few tales or we would have to go look them up. Over time, we accumulated a few heroines, but it was when we saw a TV segment during election season (Hillary Clinton was campaigning) that asked the question, “Can women handle leadership in times of war?” That was when we decided that was too stupid of a question to be on the news and more people should know the answer: Of course!

When did you first start learning about these fascinating women throughout history?

We started the book when I was 16 years old. Between classes, basketball practice, and orchestra lessons I would bring along biographies to read about our war queens and just highlight through them. On weekends I would go home and spend time sitting in my dad’s office drafting up their storylines. Since we covered so many cultures and time periods, it was a several year process to refine their stories and pull them all together in a way that is accessible. I often found myself having to research cultural norms or the time/ region to really understand why their actions were commendable or unique in their historical context.

Why do you think their stories have largely got unnoticed or been hidden?

A lot of women’s history has been covered up by their progeny who do not want to live in the shadow of a mother or partner. We often see women erased from effigies, coins, and of course, records. That was not always a malicious or misogynistic practice, but oftentimes it was seen as almost a political pruning to set someone up for a perceptively more successful career. We also have to look at who is telling the story. For some women, we get a saint-like or goddess-like reverence which over plays or distracts from the more practical successes/ failures of their careers. Other times, historians with more patriarchal or misogynistic views will impart their own opinions on whether or not these women aligned their institutions of lady-like behavior.

Were there any stories that stood out to you or shocked you in any way?

I had never heard of Queen Njinga of the Ndongo region of Africa before researching this topic and I was fascinated by her ability to transform into the leader her people needed. Whether that meant changing her name, her religion, her dress, etc., she never saw them as mutually exclusive but always upheld her values of community and courage. I was also deeply impressed by the longevity of her career and the fact that she was physically involved in conflict/ combat into her 60s.

She was immensely athletically-capable and known to be skilled in her people’s dance like movements of battle. Njinga was also one of our only war queens that history suggests was romantically/physically involved with partners other than men.

You wrote the “War Queens” book with your dad. What was that process like, and what perspective did he bring to the table?

My dad was both my collaborator and my coach throughout this entire process. Being an established military history author (Brothers, Rivals, Victors 2011; American Warlords 2015; Lone Star Navy 2006) he knew all about where to find the best biographies, how to properly cite sources, how to work with agents and publishing companies, etc. That was all new to me. My dad‘s style brings stories to life and fills them with descriptive details, whereas a lot of military history is more cut and paste reporting. He blends history and vibrancy together so well and really taught me a lot about how to masterfully combine the two.

There were so many times where I felt very intimidated and overwhelmed with the process and he consistently encouraged me to keep pushing. He supported me on ideas that were maybe a little bit unique but became a large part of my style. For example, anyone who knows me knows I never tell a story in the right order – a great trait for an author, right? I wanted to play to my strengths and start every chapter with a preview of the most important moment of the woman’s life and then back up to context. I
approached my dad with this concept and he supported it from the beginning. It is so incredible getting to look back and reminisce on projects that my dad and I created together that we will have forever.

The podcast series is presented by “Game of Thrones” actress Nathalie Emmanuel. How did she get involved in the project, and what was it like working with her?

Natalie was incredible to work with! She is brilliant, witty, well-read, and personable to be around and that made for a great working atmosphere and experience. I loved hearing her perspectives on the women she had heard of as well as her reactions to some of the leaders she had never heard of. She got involved with the project after connecting with our producers at Diversion Audio, who were searching for a host to introduce our podcast in an exciting way. She was the perfect pick after playing so many powerful women on the screen and I have seriously enjoyed her involvement.

Are there any women from the series that we may already know about?

There are a few women in the book that I would say are relatively well-known including Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great. The most recent war queen we wrote about is Margaret Thatcher. I gamble that most would recognize the name, but I don’t think as many would understand her story and contributions to history unless they lived in England. She is definitely a controversial figure for good reasons, but we wanted to include her because our goal was to present women who waged war and broke their glass ceiling. The first female prime minister who also sent soldiers onto the battlefield was not someone we would overlook.

How do you hope listeners will react and respond to the stories they hear?

I would hope that listeners to the podcast or readers of the book would take in these stories, enjoy them, learn from them, and go on to share them with others and break the stigma that women/non male-identifying persons are not as capable as men in leadership positions (war or not). I would hope that people also understand that all of these women had their virtues and their faults. We wanted to report on their successes but we cannot leave out the atrocities that also come with war and come with some of the decisions that were made.

Women were part of the problem and equally part of the solution just like any other man would be. I want to live in a world where every person, no matter their gender, background, expression, culture etc. can visualize themselves in a position of leadership. I think that starts with seeing others doing the same. There is so much popular media about power struggles and succession crises where we see plenty of men who are told from the time their heads could support a crown that they would be king and that they would lead.

I think about what that has to do to a person psychologically. It’s like with sports; many times boys are given a toy football as a toddler and told “you are great at sports you will be an athlete.” They spend their whole lives in programs to hone their skills and being told that they will be great at something and we get a male-dominated field. What if we told everyone the same thing. “You can get that promotion. You can be president. You can influence great change.” It starts with seeing people like you who changed history.

What are some of the biggest lessons we can learn from the women in “War Queens?” What have you been inspired by the most?

You can walk into a space where everyone says you shouldn’t be and accomplish great things. It often takes courage, risk, great allies, and a bit of luck, but you deserve to be there. Some of the women in this book were so young and changed the course of history. I think it should inspire all people to believe that they can too. Perhaps not all of us can charge into congress with a scimitar (readers please refrain from that), but know that we have so many social barriers left to break and so many emerging opportunities to lead. I would never encourage war, but I always encourage people to fight for what they believe and positive change.

You are a nursing student who is passionate about public health and speaks out about the opioid crisis. How has your education impacted your book and podcast, if at all?

Since becoming a nurse last February and working in behavioral health here in Kentucky, I have definitely analyzed some of these women with new eyes. I think it takes a unique personality (or perhaps ego) to dictate the efforts of a region with the conviction that you can speak for everyone. I see both their traumas and their accomplishments a little differently, but nonetheless I’m still in awe. I have a deeper respect for the war queens who emphasized public health in their time such as Caterina Sforza of Italy, who was known to study plague remedies and deliver them directly to her people. It was definitely difficult to finalize the book during college because I spent most of my time in a more scientific mindset than a creative/ historical writing one.

I think it helped me become a more structured writer in some ways, but also made revisiting some of the early content more difficult- my brain could only spare so much room for ancient Mongolian pronunciations when nursing boards approached. Nonetheless, my dad and great publishers kept me encouraged enough to delve back in! Working in a more dangerous field also gave me some perspective on what it feels like to be in a high intensity situation and have to make
decisive choices for people depending on you.

While the “War Queens” will no doubt inspire many women and girls, what do you hope male listeners will love about?

I hope male-identifying audiences embrace these stories and consider them when they are involved in or creating spaces for leadership. I think these are stories that anyone can enjoy and who doesn’t love a good underdog story? I am inspired by all of these queens and I think anyone could be inspired as well. If anything, I hope they gain respect for women and solidify their commitment to inclusivity in all fields.

I do not want any more news segments on “if women can lead.” Let’s make more stories of examples of great women who ARE leading! No matter what their gender affiliation is, people are amazing and capable and should be included in the conversation. Anyone and everyone should be a part of supporting that.

You can buy ‘War Queens’ the book HERE, and subscribe and listen to the ‘War Queens’ podcast from Diversion Audio by clicking HERE. Hear the trailer for Season 1, featuring Nathalie Emmanuel, below:

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