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A Queen mother is a dowager queen who is the mother of the reigning monarch. The term has been used in English since at least 1577. It arises in hereditary monarchies in Europe and is also used to describe a number of similar yet distinct monarchical concepts in non-European cultures around the world.
"The Queen Mother" usually refers to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, 1900-2002 (queen, 1936-1952; queen mother, 1952-2002), who was the mother of Queen Elizabeth II. She was extremely popular during her very long life, and remains popular today more than a decade after her death.
A widowed queen consort, or dowager queen, has an important royal position (regardless whether or not she is the mother of the reigning sovereign) but does not normally have any rights to succeed a king as monarch on his death unless she happens to be next in line to the throne, and would thus be re-crowned as Queen Regnant.
A new reigning King would have (at accession or eventually) a wife who would be the new Queen consort; and, of course, a Queen regnant would also be called 'Queen'. More to the point, there may be more than one Queen Dowager at any given time.
The title 'Queen Mother' evolved to distinguish a Queen Dowager from all other queens, when she is also the mother of the reigning sovereign. Thus, upon the death of her husband, King George V, Queen Mary became Queen Mary, The Queen Mother, during the reigns of her sons, King Edward VIII and King George VI. Upon the death of George VI, she became Queen Mary, The Queen Dowager, as Elizabeth, her daughter-in-law and mother of her granddaughter Elizabeth II, became Queen Mother.
The title also distinguishes a monarch's mother who was not previously a queen consort. For example, The Duchess of Kent was "the Queen's mother" when her daughter Victoria became queen regnant but she was not "queen mother". It should be noted, however, that the title in British usage is purely a courtesy title. Whereas the wife of a king must be "queen", there is no constitutional or statutory recognition of the "Queen Mother" as a "real" title.
As the king's or queen's mother, the queen mother is typically supported throughout her remaining years and given honour as a beloved relative, but has no official position or power. She is expected to carefully abstain from any involvement in governance or politics. Elsewhere, the position she occupies is somewhat more ritualistic in nature.
In Swaziland, for example, a kingdom located in Southern Africa, the Queen Mother, or Ndlovukati, reigns alongside her son. She serves as a ceremonial figurehead, while her son serves as the administrative head of state. He has absolute power. She is important at festivals such as the annual reed dance ceremony.
In many matrilineal societies of West Africa, such as the Ashanti, the queen mother is the one through whom royal descent is reckoned and thus wields considerable power. One of the greatest leaders of Ashanti was Nana Yaa Asantewaa (1840–1921), who led her subjects against the British Empire during the War of the Golden Stool in 1900.
In more symbolically driven societies such as the kingdoms of the Yoruba peoples, the queen mother may not even be a blood relative of the reigning monarch. She could be a female individual of any age who is vested with the ritual essence of the departed queens in a ceremonial sense, and who is practically regarded as the monarch's mother as a result. A good example is Oloye Erelu Kuti of Lagos, who has been seen as the iya oba or queen mother of every succeeding king of that realm, due to the activities of the three successors to her noble title that have reigned since her demise.
Recent British Queens Mother
The following queens became queen mothers, though not all chose to use that style.
- Queen Alexandra (1844–1925): widow of King Edward VII and mother of King George V.
- Queen Mary (1867–1953): widow of King George V and mother of kings Edward VIII and George VI. Queen Mary never used the title Queen Mother, because she thought it implied advancing years, choosing instead to be known as "Queen Mary" and that style was used to describe her in the Court Circular. But she was a queen mother just the same. When her granddaughter acceded to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, the new queen's mother became queen mother, and Queen Mary became known as Queen Mary, the Queen Dowager.
- Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900–2002): the widow of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II. In some of the British media, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was often referred to as the Queen Mum, and the term "Queen Mother" remains associated with her after her death.
Other notable queen mothers in history
The title "queen mother" has been widely used. Other well-known queen mothers include:
- Anna Pavlovna of Russia: Queen Mother of the Netherlands (1849-1865)
- Anne of Austria: Queen Mother of France (1643–1666)
- Ayşe Hafsa Sultan: Queen mother of the Ottoman Empire, daughter of the Crimean Khan (1520-1534)
- Bathsheba: Mother of Solomon of Ancient Kingdom of Israel
- Blanche of Castile: Queen Mother of France (1226–1252)
- Bona Sforza: Queen Mother of Poland-Lithuania (1548–1557)
- Catherine of Bosnia: Queen Mother of Bosnia (1463–1478)
- Catherine de Medici: Queen Mother of France (1559–1589)
- Catherine of Valois: Queen Mother of England and France
- Désirée Clary: Queen Mother of Sweden and Norway (1844-1859)
- Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont: Queen Mother (and Regent 1890-1898) of the Netherlands (1890-1934)
- Frederica of Hanover: Queen mother of Greece (1964–1981)
- Hedwig Eleanor, Queen of Sweden
- Helen of Greece and Denmark: Queen Mother of Romania (1940–1948)
- Ingrid of Sweden: Queen Mother of Denmark (1972-2000)
- Josephine of Leuchtenberg: Queen mother of Sweden and Norway (1859-1872)
- Norodom Monineath: Queen Mother of Cambodia (1936-Present)
- Keōpūolani of Hawaiʻi
- Margaret of Savoy: Queen Mother of Italy (1900–1926)
- Maria Christina of Austria: Queen Mother of Spain (1906–1929)
- Maria of Romania:Queen Mother of Yugoslavia (1934–1961)
- Marie de' Medici: Queen Mother of France (1610–1642)
- Nazli Sabri: Queen Mother of Egypt (1936–1950)
- Saovabha Phongsri: Queen Mother of Siam (later Thailand) (1910–1919)
- Tiye: An Egyptian queen and grandmother of Tutankhamun
- Zein al-Sharaf Talal: Queen Mother of Jordan (1952–1994)
- Gayatri Devi: Queen Mother (Rajmata) of Jaipur (1919−2009)
- Queen Mother Moore: American queen mother of the African Diaspora by way of Ghanaian Ashanti tradition (1972-1996)
- Ingeborg of Norway (1301–61), Duchess of Sweden, acted and ranked as if she were a queen regnant for a year before the Swedish reign of her son, King Magnus IV, and thereafter as if she were his queen mother, serving intermittently on his board of regents. However, she was never officially recognized as queen or queen mother.
- Her granddaughter-in-law Margaret (1353–1412), who ruled all of Scandinavia as the mother of one king and the adoptive mother of another, held a similar complicated unofficial position, but much longer and in traditional history given the title of Queen. Early in her career, she had been Queen consort of Norway for 17 years and of Sweden for one year.
- Helen of Greece and Denmark: wife, from 1921 to 1928, of the future Carol II of Romania, and mother of King Michael of Romania. In circumstances that read like a soap opera, Michael first ruled 1927–30, before his father was king (and again after his father abdicated). When in 1930 Carol returned to Romania and assumed the throne, he actually retrodated his reign to 1927, the year his father (King Ferdinand) died. As Helen had not yet divorced her playboy husband at the time (that was to happen in the following year), he unwittingly granted her the retroactive title of queen. Thus, in 1940, after his abdication and the second accession of their son, she rightfully became the queen mother of Romania.
- Similarly, Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur was the third wife of her husband, the monarch, but not the mother of his successor, a son by the king's first wife. However, she has been accorded the title of queen mother (Rajmata) anyway.
- The Valide Sultan, the mother of an Ottoman Sultan, is sometimes referred to as queen mother.
Diana, Princess of Wales, reportedly once suggested to journalist Andrew Morton (author of Diana: Her True Story) that when her son, Prince William, became king, she would be known as "King Mother". No such designation has ever officially existed, nor is there independent evidence that such terminology was ever considered. Queen mother means "queen who is mother to the current monarch", not "mother of the queen"; "king mother" is a contradiction in terms.
However, of note, and possibly Diana's basis for the idea, is the style My Lady The King's Mother, held by Margaret Beaufort during the reign of her son, Henry VII of England. In the Strontium Dog story "The Royal Affair" in 2000 AD a few years earlier, the mother of the reigning King was referred to in-story as the King Mother.
If a king were to abdicate and pass the throne to his child, then in that case the king could have his son or daughter style him as a king father. King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia was styled as HM King-Father Norodom Sihanouk when he abdicated in favor of his son. When His Majesty King Albert II of the Belgians abdicated in 2013 his style shorted to His Majesty King Albert (as did King Leopold's before him); "king father" is the name of his role rather than forming part of his style or title.
- A queen mother is defined as "A Queen dowager who is the mother of the reigning sovereign" by both the Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's Third New International Dictionary.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Michie, God Save The Queen at 290
- Michie, God Save The Queen at 381–382
- Grethe Authén Blom Norsk Historisk Tidskrift Oslo 1981 p. 425
- Source: Andrew Morton, interviewed by Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show on RTÉ