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A dowager is a widow who holds a title or property — a "dower" — derived from her deceased husband. As an adjective, "dowager" usually appears in association with monarchical and aristocratic titles.
In popular the noun "dowager" may refer to any elderly widow, especially one of both wealth and dignity.
In the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the widow of a peer may continue to use the style she had during her husband's lifetime, e.g. "Countess of Loamshire", provided that his successor, if any, has no wife to bear the plain title. Otherwise she more properly prefixes either her forename or the word Dowager, e.g. "Jane, Countess of Loamshire" or "Dowager Countess of Loamshire" (In any case she would continue to be called "Lady Loamshire").
The term Dowager Queen is used in the United Kingdom and several other countries for the widow of a King.
- Following the annulment of her marriage to King Henry VIII of England, Catherine of Aragon was styled either "Princess Dowager of Wales" or "Dowager Princess of Wales" in consequence of her previous marriage (1501) to Henry's older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales (died 1502)
- Cixi was referred to as the Empress Dowager of China
- The wife of a deceased emperor in the Russian imperial family and the Monarchy of China were referred to as a "Dowager Empress"
- Following the death of Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer in 1992, his widow, Raine McCorquodale, ceased to use the style Countess Spencer, becoming Raine, Dowager Countess Spencer. Her stepdaughter-in-law, Victoria, became Countess Spencer