Women have had a harder time getting rich because of legal, social, and educational barriers often holding them back. Despite these adversities, many throughout history have managed to build significant business empires. Time magazine hired 30 historians to conduct a meticulous research job and come up with a ranking of the richest women of all time. The researchers compared the women’s wealth to the total global economic output at the time and assigned them a “Peak Wealth/Global GDP” score. The ranking focuses only on women who took an active business or political role in managing their fortunes, even if some of them originally acquired their wealth from their relatives.
10. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 0.017%
You may recognize her last name as the world’s third-largest brewer. The Dutch-English businesswoman owns a 25% controlling interest in Heineken International. According to Forbes magazine, she is worth $12.5 billion.
9. Anne Cox Chambers – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 0.021%
Chambers has a stake of interest in the American media empire Cox Enterprises. According to Forbes, she is worth $17 billion. She is the 28th richest person in the U.S. and the 53rd wealthiest person in the world.
8. Susanne Klatten – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 0.024%
According to Forbes magazine, Klatten is the richest woman in Germany and the 54th richest person in the world. As of 2016, her net worth stands at $19 billion. Much of her wealth was inherited from her father. After his death, she inherited his 50.1% stake in pharmaceutical manufacturer Altana and a 12.50% stake in BMW. She then made several key investments in the energy and in the pharma industries.
7. Yang Huiyan – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 0.025%
Huiyan is the main shareholder Country Garden Holdings. She inherited $16.2 billion from her father. She is the youngest female billionaire in Asia, the 24th richest person in mainland China. After the financial crisis in China, Yang’s net worth was fell drastically; she’s now worth $5.1 billion.
6. Liliane Bettencourt – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 0.055%
Bettencourt’s father founded L’Oréal in 1907. The company became the largest cosmetics company in the world. She is now one of the main shareholders of L’Oréal. Under her leadership, the group acquired other brands such as Lancôme. Liliane is currently the richest woman in the world and the 10th richest person in the world. Her wealth is estimated at $36.6 billion.
5. Isabella I of Castile – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 1%
Isabella and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon are rather infamous for ordering the Spanish Inquisition – the forced exile and conversion of Spain’s Jews and Muslims – and for financing Christopher Columbus’ journey to the so-called New World. Their tactic was extreme, but it allowed Spain to position itself as the first global power to dominate Europe and much of the world for more than a century. Isabella had an annual income of about 1.45 million gold coins.
4. Cleopatra – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: about 2.6%
She was the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, a profitable kingdom in the region. Through a combination of her inherited wealth and her political savviness, she accumulated a great deal of money. Modern historians estimated her net worth to be around $95.8 billion.
3. Catherine the Great – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 5.4%
As the longest-ruling woman of Russia, she gained a great deal of power and wealth. She reigned from 1762 until 1796, when she died at the age of 67. Russia grew to great power status under her reign. It was recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. According to historians, her wealth equals the modern equivalent of a whopping $1.5 trillion.
2. Hatshepsut – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: about 20%
She was one of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs and is still the richest female ruler in the history of Egypt. She was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. During her reign, Hatshepsut established trade routes that brought her dynasty great wealth. The country’s gold mines alone were worth $2 billion.
1. Empress Wu Zetian – Peak Wealth/Global GDP: 22.7%
Wu rose from being the emperor of China’s concubine to becoming empress herself. Under her leadership, China’s empire expanded far into Central Asia. Over 300 million units of currency were produced during the Tang Dynasty. She was the only female emperor in Chinese history to rule the whole country for almost half a century.