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A queen dowager, dowager queen or queen mother (compare: princess dowager, dowager princess or princess mother) is a title or status generally held by the widow of a king. In the case of the widow of an emperor, the title of empress dowager is used. Its full meaning is clear from the two words from which it is composed: queen indicates someone who served as queen consort (i.e. wife of a king), while dowager indicates a woman who holds the title from her deceased husband. (A queen who rules in her own right and not due to marriage to a king is a queen regnant.)
A queen mother is a dowager queen who is the mother of the reigning monarch. Currently there are three queens dowager: Halaevalu Mataʻaho ʻAhomeʻe of Tonga (who is also queen mother), Lisa Najeeb Halaby (Noor Al'Hussein), and Sirikit Kitiyakara of Thailand. Queen Ratna of Nepal was queen dowager and queen mother until the abolition of the Nepalese monarchy in 2008.
Distinction from queen mother
A queen mother is a particular type of queen dowager who is simultaneously a former queen consort and the mother of the current monarch. Therefore, every queen mother is by definition also a queen dowager. However, not all queens dowager are queens mother; they may have a relation other than mother to the reigning monarch, such as aunt or grandmother. For example, Mary, Queen of Scots, was queen dowager of France after the death of her husband Francis II, to whom she bore no children. Similarly, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen was queen dowager after her husband William IV was succeeded by his niece Victoria.
Not every mother of a reigning monarch is a queen mother or a queen dowager. For example, the mother of Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was never a queen dowager because her husband, Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, had never been king. Similarly, whilst being the mothers of monarchs, both Augusta of Saxe-Gotha and Srinagarindra of Thailand were not styled queen dowager because their respective husbands, Frederick, Prince of Wales and Mahidol Adulyadej, Prince of Songkla, were never kings. Instead, Augusta held the title of ”Dowager Princess of Wales” (a precedent was Henry VII of England's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, titled "My Lady the King's Mother"); Srinagarindra meanwhile received the designation ”Princess Mother".
Finally, it is possible for there to be a queen mother and one or more queens dowager alive at any one time. This situation occurred in the Commonwealth realms in the period between the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952 and the death of her paternal grandmother on 24 March 1953. For slightly over a year, there were three queens alive:
- Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch (Queen regnant).
- Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the widow of the deceased King George VI and the mother of the reigning queen. Queen Elizabeth, the former queen consort, specifically adopted the appellation Queen Mother to distinguish herself from her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. She reportedly loathed being referred to as a dowager queen.
- Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, the mother of the former king Edward VIII (the then Duke of Windsor) and of the late King George VI. Queen Mary had been the queen mother between the death of her husband in 1936 and before the accession of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, as the reigning monarch in 1952. After her accession, Queen Mary became Mary, the Queen Dowager. However, she continued to be titled and styled Her Majesty Queen Mary.
A queen dowager continues to enjoy the title, style, and precedence of a queen. However, many former queens consort do not formally use the word "dowager" as part of their titles. The Garter King of Arms's proclamation in the United Kingdom of the styles and titles of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at her funeral on 9 April 2002 illustrates her dual status as a queen dowager and a queen mother:
Thus it hath pleased Almighty God to take out of this transitory life unto His Divine Mercy the late Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Princess Elizabeth, Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Grand Master and Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Victorian Chain, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John, Relict of His Majesty King George the Sixth and Mother of Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth The Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, whom may God preserve and bless with long life, health and honour and all worldly happiness.
British queens dowager
There were several former queens consort of England, Scotland, and later the United Kingdom, who were never queen mothers. The following queens were dowagers between the given dates, whether queen mothers or not:
- Edith of Wessex 5 January 1066 – 18 December 1075, wife of Edward the Confessor; sister of Harold Godwinson.
- Adeliza of Louvain 1 December 1135 – 23 April 1151, wife of Henry I of England; remarried to William d'Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel in 1139.
- Eleanor of Aquitaine 6 July 1189 – 1 April 1204, wife of Henry II of England; queen mother to Richard I and John.
- Berengaria of Navarre 6 April 1199 – 23 December 1230, wife of Richard I of England.
- Isabella of Angoulême 18/19 October 1216 – 31 May 1246, wife of John of England and queen mother to Henry III of England. Remarried to Hugh X of Lusignan 1220.
- Eleanor of Provence 16 November 1272 – 24 June 1291, wife of Henry III of England and queen mother to Edward I of England.
- Marguerite of France 7 July 1307 – 14 February 1317, wife of Edward I of England and stepmother to Edward II of England.
- Isabella of France September 1327 – 22 August 1358, wife of Edward II of England and queen mother to Edward III of England, from her husband's deposition on 20 January 1327.
- Isabella of Valois 14 February 1399 – 13 September 1409, wife of Richard II of England; ceased to be queen consort with Richard's deposition on 30 September 1399. Remarried to Charles I de Valois, Duke of Orléans on 29 June 1406.
- Joanna of Navarre 20 March 1413—9 July 1437, wife of Henry IV of England and stepmother to Henry V of England.
- Catherine of Valois 31 August 1422 – 3 January 1437, wife of Henry V of England and queen mother to Henry VI of England. Remarried to Owen Tudor in 1428 or 1429.
- Margaret of Anjou 21 May 1471 – 25 August 1482, wife of Henry VI of England.
- Elizabeth Woodville 9 April 1483 – 8 June 1492, wife of Edward IV of England and queen mother to Edward V of England until the latter's deposition and death in 1483.
Of England and Ireland
- Anne of Cleves survived her marriage to Henry VIII until her death on 16 July 1557, but since her marriage had been annulled on 9 July 1540, she was not considered a queen dowager.
- Catherine Parr 28 January 1547 – 5 September 1548, sixth and last wife of Henry VIII of England and stepmother to his children King Edward VI, Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth. Remarried to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley most likely in mid-spring of 1547.
Of England, Ireland and Scotland
- Henrietta Maria of France 30 January 1649 – 10 September 1669, wife of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and queen mother to Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland.
- Catherine of Braganza 6 February 1685 – 30 November 1705, wife of Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland.
- Mary of Modena 16 September 1701 – 7 May 1718, wife of James II of England & Ireland and James VII of Scotland; ceased to be queen consort with his deposition on 11 December 1688.
Of the United Kingdom:
- Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen 20 June 1837 – 2 December 1849, wife of William IV of the United Kingdom.
- Alexandra of Denmark 6 May 1910 – 20 November 1925, wife of Edward VII, queen mother to George V.
- Mary of Teck 20 January 1936 – 24 March 1953, wife of George V, queen mother to Edward VIII and George VI until the latter's death on 6 February 1952.
- Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon 6 February 1952 – 30 March 2002, wife of George VI and queen mother to Elizabeth II – styled as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
Note that in some of the countries mentioned below it is unusual to indicate a former queen-consort as a dowager.
- Dowager Queen Ka'ahumanu, favoured wife of King Kamehameha I
- Queen Emma of Hawaii, queen consort of King Kamehameha IV
- Empress Dowager Eishō (11 January 1835 – 11 January 1897), wife and widow of Emperor Kōmei of Japan.
- Empress Shōken (9 May 1849 – 9 April 1914), wife and widow of Emperor Meiji of Japan.
- Empress Teimei (25 June 1884 – 17 May 1951), wife and widow of Emperor Taishō of Japan.
- Empress Kōjun (6 March 1903 – 16 June 2000), wife and widow of Emperor Shōwa of Japan.
- Lisa Najeeb Halaby (Noor Al'Hussein) (b. 23 August 1951), the fourth wife and widow of King Hussein of Jordan and the stepmother of the current king, Abdullah II.
- Queen Heonae (997–1009), wife and widow of Gyeongjong of Goryeo and sister of Seongjong of Goryeo, mother of Mokjong of Goryeo and daughter of Gwangjong of Goryeo.
- Queen Jangryeol (1624–1688), wife and widow of Injo of Joseon step-mother of Hyojong of Joseon, step-grandmother of Hyeonjong of Joseon, step-great-grandmother of Sukjong of Joseon.
- Queen Jeongsun (1745–1805), second wife and widow of Yeongjo of Joseon and step-grandmother of Jeongjo of Joseon and step-great-grandmother of Sunjo of Joseon.
- Tengku Budriah Tengku Ismail (1999–2008), widow of Syed Putra Jamalulail
- Tengku Zainab II of Kelantan (1979–1993), widow of Yahya Petra of Kelantan
- Raja Perempuan Muzwin of Perak
- Permaisuri Siti Aishah Abdul Rahman of Selangor, widow of Salahuddin of Selangor
- Beatrice of Castile (1242 – 27 October 1303), wife of King Afonso III of Portugal, and mother of King Dinis I of Portugal
- Leonor Telles de Menezes (1350 – 27 April 1386), wife of King Fernando I of Portugal
- Eleanor of Aragon (1 February 1402 – 19 February 1445), wife of King Duarte I of Portugal, and mother of King Afonso V of Portugal
- Eleanor of Viseu (2 May 1458 – 17 November 1525), wife of King João II of Portugal
- Eleanor of Austria (15 November 1498 – 25 February 1558), wife of King Manuel I of Portugal
- Catherine of Austria (14 January 1507 – 12 February 1578), wife of King João III of Portugal, and grandmother of King Sebastião I of Portugal
- Luisa of Guzman (13 October 1613 – 27 February 1666), wife of King João IV of Portugal, and mother of Kings Afonso VI and Pedro II
- Maria Anna of Austria (7 September 1683 – 14 August 1754), wife of King João V of Portugal, and mother of King José I of Portugal
- Mariana Victoria of Spain (31 March 1718 – 15 January 1781), wife of King José I of Portugal and mother of Queen Maria I of Portugal
- Carlota Joaquina of Spain (25 April 1775 – 7 January 1830), wife of King-Emperor João VI of Portugal and mother of King-Emperor Pedro IV of Portugal and King Miguel I of Portugal
- Maria Pia of Savoy (14 February 1847 – 5 July 1911), wife of King Luís I of Portugal and mother of King Carlos I of Portugal
- Amélie of Orleans (28 September 1865 – 25 October 1951), wife of King Carlos I of Portugal and mother of King Manuel II of Portugal
- Maria Anna of Bavaria (27 January 1805 – 13 September 1877), second wife and widow of King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony.
- Mafalda of Portugal (1197-1 May 1256), wife of King Henry I of Castile
- Constance of Portugal (3 January 1290 – 18 November 1313), wife of King Ferdinand IV of Castile
- Maria of Portugal (9 February 1313 – 18 January 1357), wife of King Alfonso XI of Castile
- Isabella of Portugal (1428 – 15 August 1496), wife of King John II of Castile, mother of Isabella I of Castle
- Joan of Portugal (20 March 1439 – 12 December 1475), wife of King Henry IV of Castile
- Urraca of Portugal (1151–1222), wife of King Ferdinand II of León, mother of King Alfonso IX of León
- Teresa of Portugal (4 October 1178 – 8 June 1250), wife of King Alfonso IX of León
- Constance of Portugal (3 January 1290 – 18 November 1313), wife of King Fernando IV of León
- Maria of Portugal (9 February 1313 – 18 January 1357), wife of King Alfonso XI of León
- Isabella of Portugal (1428 – 15 August 1496), wife of King John II of León, mother of Isabella I of León
- Joan of Portugal (20 March 1439 – 12 December 1475), wife of King Henry IV of León
In Sweden, there has also been another title for a dowager queen, called Riksänkedrottning, which means Queen Dowager of the Realm. This title was used in the 16th and 17th centuries. The last time the title queen dowager was used was in 1913.
- Katarina Stenbock, (1537–1610), third wife and widow of King Gustav I of Sweden.
- Gunilla Bielke, (1568–1597), second wife and widow of King John III of Sweden.
- Christina of Holstein-Gottorp, (1573–1625), second wife and widow of King Charles IX of Sweden.
- Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, (1599–1655), widow of King Gustaf II Adolf of Sweden.
- Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, (1636–1715) widow of King Charles X Gustav of Sweden.
- Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, (1720–1781), widow of King Adolf Frederick of Sweden.
- Sophia Magdalena of Denmark, (1746–1815), widow of King Gustaf III of Sweden.
- Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp, (1759–1818) widow of King Charles XIII of Sweden.
- Désirée Clary, (1777–1860) widow of King Charles XIV John of Sweden.
- Josephine of Leuchtenberg, (1807–1876) widow of King Oscar I of Sweden.
- Sophia of Nassau, (1836–1913) widow of King Oscar II of Sweden.
- Sirikit, (b. 1932), wife and widow of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
- Rambai Barni, (1904–1984), wife and widow of King Prajadhipok of Siam.
- Saovabha Phongsri, (1861-1919), wife and widow of King Chulalongkorn of Siam.
- Charlotte, Princess Royal of Great Britain and Ireland (29 September 1765 – 5 October 1828), second wife and widow of King Frederick I of Württemberg and stepmother of King William I of Württemberg.
In the series The Princess Diaries, the character Princess Clarisse Marie Grimaldi Renaldi is the Princess Dowager of the Principality of Genovia. In the films, where Genovia is portrayed as a kingdom, Clarisse is portrayed as a Dowager Queen.
In the series A Song of Ice and Fire, and later the HBO series Game of Thrones the character Cersei became the queen mother to king Joffrey after her husband Robert Baratheon is killed in a hunting accident.