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Empress dowager (also dowager empress or empress mother) (Chinese and Japanese: 皇太后; pinyin: húangtàihòu; rōmaji: Kōtaigō; Korean pronunciation: Hwang Tae Hu; Vietnamese: Hoàng Thái Hậu) is the English language translation of the title given to the mother or widow of a Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese emperor.
The title was also given occasionally to another woman of the same generation, while a woman from the previous generation was sometimes given the title of grand empress dowager. Numerous empress dowagers held regency during the reign of underage emperors. Many of the most prominent empress dowagers also extended their control for long periods after the emperor was old enough to govern. This was a source of political turmoil according to the traditional view of Chinese history.
Chinese empresses dowager
- Empress Dowager Lü
- Empress Dowager Dou
- Empress Dowager Wang
- Empress Dowager Deng
- Empress Dowager Liang
- Empress Dowager He
- Empress Dowager Wu, more commonly known as Wu Zetian
- Empress Dowager Wei, daughter-in-law of Wu Zetian.
- Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang
- Empress Dowager Chongqing
- Empress Dowager Ci'an
- Empress Dowager Cixi, de facto ruler of the Qing Dynasty for 40 years
- Empress Dowager Longyu, abdicated on behalf of Puyi
Holy Roman dowager empresses
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Although never referred to as a dowager, Empress Matilda was controversially the Holy Roman Empress and continued to be referred to as "empress" long after her husband's death.
Indian empresses dowager
Queen-Empress Victoria was widowed in 1861, before her accession as Queen-Empress of India. Her son, her grandson and her great-grandson all died before their wives, and their widows were known as empresses dowager in this Indian context. Had George VI, the last Emperor of India, died before the independence of India was proclaimed in 1947, his widow would have been known as the dowager empress of India. However, George VI did not die until 1952, some years after India's formal independence and the renunciation of the title Emperor of India by the British monarch (which took place formally in 1948).
- Queen-Empress Alexandra (d. 20 Nov. 1925), widow of King-Emperor Edward VII (r. 1901-1910)
- Queen-Empress Mary (d. 24 Mar. 1953), widow of King-Emperor George V (r. 1910-1936)
- Queen-Empress Elizabeth (d. 30 Mar. 2002), widow of King-Emperor George VI (r. 1936-1947)
Japanese empress dowager
In the complex organization of the Japanese Imperial Court, the title of "empress dowager" does not automatically devolve to the principal consort of an Emperor who has died. The title "Kōtaigō" can only be bestowed or granted by the Emperor who will have acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The following were granted this Imperial title:
- HIM Empress Dowager Kōjun (香淳皇太后 Kōjun kōtaigō, 1903-2000), widow of Emperor Shōwa
- HIM Empress Dowager Teimei (貞明皇太后 Teimei kōtaigō, 1884–1951), widow of Emperor Taishō
- HIM Empress Dowager Shōken (昭憲皇太后 Shōken kōtaigō, 1849-1914), widow of Emperor Meiji
- HIM Empress Dowager Eishō (英照皇太后 Eishō kōtaigō, 1834-1898), widow of Emperor Kōmei
- HIM Empress Dowager Yoshikō (欣子皇太后 Yoshikō kōtaigō, 1779-1846), widow of Emperor Kōkaku
Korean empress dowager
Russian dowager empresses
Dowager empresses of Russia held precedence over the empress consort. This was occasionally a source of tension. For example, when Paul I was assassinated, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg), for whom this tradition was started, often took the arm of her son Tsar Alexander I at court functions and ceremonies while his wife Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna (Louise of Baden) walked behind, which caused resentment on the part of the young empress. The same thing happened decades later when Emperor Alexander III died, and the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark) held precedence over Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna (Alix of Hesse), which put an enormous strain on their already tense relationship. The power struggle culminated when the Dowager Empress refused to hand over certain jewels traditionally associated with the Empress Consort.
There have been four dowager empresses in Russia:
- HIM Empress Maria Feodorovna (Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg) Empress Consort of Paul I of Russia
- HIM Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna (Louise of Baden) Empress Consort of Alexander I of Russia
- HIM Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (Charlotte of Prussia) Empress Consort of Nicholas I of Russia
- HIM Empress Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark) Empress Consort of Alexander III of Russia
Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna was briefly and concurrently, along with her mother in-law Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, a Dowager empress. She is therefore often forgotten as an Dowager Empress.
Vietnamese empresses dowager
Notes: The parentheses shows the dates of birth and the dates of death.
- Empress Dowager Dương Vân Nga (952-1000): In 979, her husband Emperor Đinh Bộ Lĩnh died after an assassination, her son Prince Đinh Toàn ascended to the throne, she became empress dowager and handle all political matters. But later she dethroned her son and ceded the throne to Lê Đại Hành and married him. Once again she took the title of empress consort. Because of being a empress twice with two different emperor, she is called "Hoàng hậu hai triều" (Two-dynasty Empress) 
- Empress Dowager Thượng Dương (?-1073): While she could not give birth to any sons, her husband's concubine Lady Ỷ Lan gave birth to a prince, called Lý Càn Đức. After husband's death, she became empress dowager and declared that she will "buông rèm nhiếp chính" (regent) for the new seven-year-old emperor, but the mother of the new emperor Lady Dowager Ỷ Lan vehemently opposed and forced her to the death. Her tenure of being a empress dowager is one year.
- Empress Dowager Ỷ Lan (ca 1044-1117): After dethroning and killing the empress dowager, she became empress dowager and keep all political powers
- Empress Dowager Chiêu Linh (?-1200): Empress of Emperor Lý Thần Tông. Her son was appointed as crown prince, but later he was dethroned from the seat of crown prince to a normal prince due to an event. Her husband's concubine Lady Đỗ Thụy Châu gave birth to a prince and he was appointed as crown prince later. After her husband's death, the crown prince ascended to the throne, she became empress dowager.
- Empress Dowager Đỗ Thụy Châu: After her son ascended to the throne, she became the co-empress dowager with Empress Dowager Chiêu Linh.
- Empress Dowager An Toàn (?-1226): She was famous for misusing authority during the reign of her son Emperor Lý Huệ Tông. Her daughter-in-law, Empress Trần Thị Dung joined Trần Thủ Độ plotting to overthrow the Lý dynasty and replace by Trần dynasty. Trần Thủ Độ forced her son to abdicate and be a monk at the pagoda, her son did as Trần Thủ Độ told and ceded the throne to her granddaughter Lý Chiêu Hoàng, who is the only empress of Vietnamese history, thus, she became grand empress dowager. But later Trần Thủ Độ forced Lý Chiêu Hoàng to get married with his seven-year-old nephew Trần Cảnh and ceded the throne to Trần Cảnh. At that point, An Toàn was no longer an empress dowager.
- Empress Dowager Trần Thị Dung (?-1259): She became empress dowager after her daughter Lý Chiêu Hoàng ascended to the throne. But later, Lý Chiêu Hoàng ceded the throne to her husband Trần Cảnh. Trần Thị Dung was no longer empress dowager.
- Empress Dowager Tuyên Từ (?-1318): A concubine and younger sister-in-law of Emperor Trần Nhân Tông, she is younger sister of the proper Empress Bảo Thánh. In 1293, Emperor Trần Nhân Tông ceded the throne to his son with Empress Bảo Thánh, Trần Anh Tông, some months later her sister Grand Empress Bảo Thánh died, she became the only surviving consort of Grand Emperor Trần Nhân Tông. 1308, Grand Emperor Trần Nhân Tông died, she became empress dowager. 1314, Emperor Trần Anh Tông ceded the throne to his son Trần Minh Tông, she became grand empress dowager.
- Consort clan
- Grand empress dowager
- Queen dowager and queen mother
- Valide Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
- 1947: Indian independence.
- Ponsonby-Fane (1959), pp. 337-338.
- Ponsonby-Fane (1959), pp. 335-337.
- Ponsonby-Fane (1959), pp. 334-335.
- Ponsonby-Fane (1959), pp. 333-334.