Queen mother

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A queen mother is a former queen, often a queen dowager, who is the mother of the reigning monarch.[a] The term has been used in English since the early 1560s.[1] 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 rank does not go to all mothers of monarchs though. A mother of a ruling monarch may only be referred to as Queen Mother if she was a Queen Consort as opposed to a Princess Consort.

"The Queen Mother" usually, in English, refers to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (queen consort, 1936–1952; queen mother, 1952–2002), who was the mother of Queen Elizabeth II and one of the few people to use the term as an official style. However, it is also used as an official title in Thailand where Sirikit, the mother of the present king, is officially styled "The Queen Mother".[2]


A queen mother is often a queen dowager, a widow of a king, who is simultaneously a former queen consort and the mother of the current monarch. As there is only one monarch, there can only be one queen mother.

It is unclear if a queen consort whose husband abdicates the throne, or a queen regnant who abdicates, and is the mother of the current monarch would be the queen mother. In many countries, such as the United Kingdom, a monarch loses the title of king or queen after abdication.[3] For example, Juliana of the Netherlands, who abdicated in favor of her daughter Beatrix, was sometimes colloquially referred to as the queen mother despite declining the title and having reverted to being a princess.[4][5] Queen Paola of Belgium, whose husband Albert II abdicated but retained the title of king, has generally been referred to as the queen mother of Philippe despite not being a queen dowager.[6]

A former queen consort who is the grandmother of the reigning monarch is sometimes called the queen grandmother. Savang Vadhana of Thailand was known by this style.[7]

United Kingdom[edit]

The widowed mother of Queen Elizabeth II was known as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

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 mother, retaining the status throughout the reigns of her sons, Edward VIII and George VI.

The title also distinguishes former queens consort from those who are simply the mother of the current monarch. For example, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was "the queen's mother" when her daughter Victoria became queen regnant, but she was not "queen mother" as her husband was never a king. The title in British usage is purely a courtesy title. While the wife of a king is called "queen", there is no constitutional or statutory recognition of "queen mother" as a title.

There is no male equivalent to a queen mother (i.e. "king father"). This would occur only if the husband of a queen regnant outlived the queen and was thereafter father to the new king or queen. Such a situation has never occurred. Since the title "queen mother" derives from the woman's previous title of "queen", it would also be incongruous to call such a father of a monarch the "king father", as the husbands of queens regnant are not given the title "king", but rather titled as a prince. The exact title such a person would assume has not been clarified by royal lineage experts. "Prince father" is a possibility.[8]

Ottoman Empire[edit]

In the Ottoman Empire, valide sultan (Ottoman Turkish: والده سلطان) or sultana mother was the title held by the mother of a ruling Sultan.[9] The title was first used in the 16th century for Hafsa Sultan, consort of Selim I and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent, superseding the previous title of mehd-i ülya ("cradle of the great").[9] The Turkish pronunciation of the word Valide is [vaː.liˈde].

The second position the most important position in the Ottoman Empire after the sultan himself and being more powerful in the hierarchy than Haseki sultan. As the mother to the sultan, by Islamic tradition ("A mother's right is God's right"),[10] the valide sultan would have a significant influence on the affairs of the empire. She had great power in the court and her own rooms (always adjacent to her son's) and state staff.[9] In particular during the 17th century, in a period known as the "Sultanate of Women", a series of incompetent or child sultans raised the role of the valide sultan to new heights.[11]

Ancient Israel[edit]

The Israelites had in the Kingdom of Judah a title called "Gebirah" which can be translated to Queen Mother. The mother of the Jewish Monarch was given high rank and status among the Israelites.


In India, a queen (usually styled rani, or in the Muslim tradition, begum) who becomes queen-mother is known in Sanskrit and Hindi as a rajamata - literally, mother of the king/monarch.


In Eswatini, 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 Lesotho, Queen Mamohato Bereng Seeiso became Queen mother when her son King Letsie III became King. She served as Queen Mother until her death. There are many other queen mothers in Africa's tribal monarchies, most of whom have served as regents to their sons.

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 of this is Oloye Erelu Kuti I 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.

Notable examples[edit]

These mothers of monarchs, and others, albeit not always officially so titled have also been considered equal to queen mothers:

Queen Hedwig Eleanor of Sweden (née Princess of Holstein-Gottorp) was twice regent of that country, once for her only son, once for a grandson

Exceptional cases[edit]

Duchess Ingeborg was regent of Norway and Sweden 1318–1319
  • Ingeborg of Norway (1301–1361), Duchess of Södermanland, 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, though she has been called the King Mother in biographical literature, she was never officially recognized as queen or queen mother.[13]
  • 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 similarly complicated unofficial position but for much longer, and in traditional history is given the title of Queen. Early in her career, she had been Queen consort of Norway for seventeen years and of Sweden for one year.
  • Jijabai (1598–1674) was neither consort of a ruling king nor a ruling queen or regent. In practical terms her husband Shahaji was a nobleman under other rulers, but her son founded an independent empire and became its sovereign. Hence she is given the title Queen Mother – Rajmata in Hindi.
  • Sadijé Toptani (1876–1934), mother of King Zog I of Albania: after her son became king in 1928 she was raised to the title Queen Mother of the Albanians (Nëna Mbretëreshë e Shqiptarëve) with the style of Her Majesty, a position she held from September 1, 1928, until her death.
  • Helen of Greece and Denmark was the wife of the future Carol II of Romania from 1921 to 1928, and mother of King Michael of Romania. 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, Gayatri Devi, Maharani of Jaipur (1919–2009) 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 or Sultana mother was title which usually held by the mother of the reigning Ottoman Sultan, even though she may never have been chief consort (haseki sultan).
  • Shubhadrangi was mother of future emperor Ashoka, but was murdered by Susima in order to save her daughter in law. She was not able to be empress mother (rajmata)
  • Helena Maurya, the second wife of Chandragupta Maurya, was step mother of Bindusara, and held the title of Rajmata until her death.[citation needed]

King father[edit]

The male equivalent of a queen mother, being a male former monarch or consort who is the father of the reigning monarch, is sometimes known as the "king father" or another variation based on the title of the monarch or consort. If a king abdicates and passes the throne to his child, or if a reigning queen abdicates or dies and is survived by her husband, he might acquire a substantive title.


Current comparisons[edit]

The following individuals hold a similar role as mothers or fathers of their country's reigning monarchs:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.


  1. ^ "Queen mother". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "Announcement of the royal title Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother" (PDF). Royal Thai Government Gazette (in Thai). 136 (15b). 2019-05-05. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 5, 2019.
  3. ^ Eksouzian-Cavadas, Ana (2020-11-04). "What will happen when The Queen steps down?". Vogue Australia. Retrieved 2021-09-24.
  4. ^ "Dutch Queen Mother Juliana Dies at 94". Washington Post. March 21, 2004.
  5. ^ Simons, Marlise (2004-03-21). "Princess Juliana, Former Dutch Monarch, Is Dead at 94". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-09-24.
  6. ^ "Belgium's queen mother flies home for health tests". AP. September 26, 2018.
  7. ^ Finestone, Jeffrey. The Royal Family of Thailand: The Descendants of King Chulalongkorn. Bangkok : Phitsanulok Publishing, 1989, p. 64
  8. ^ U.S. National Archives, "When Queen Elizabeth Dies", Prologue Magazine, Summer 1998
  9. ^ a b c Davis, Fanny (1986). "The Valide". The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918. ISBN 0-313-24811-7.
  10. ^ "Can Muslims Celebrate Mother's Day?". Belief.net. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  11. ^ Peirce, Leslie P., The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-508677-5 (paperback)
  12. ^ Michie, God Save The Queen at 290
  13. ^ Grethe Authén Blom Norsk Historisk Tidskrift Oslo 1981 p. 425
  14. ^ Denis D. Gray (February 4, 2013). "Cambodia mourns as 'King-Father' Sihanouk cremated". Yahoo News. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  15. ^ Walker, Lesley (2015-12-29). "Qatar's Father Emir flown to Switzerland to treat broken leg". Doha News | Qatar. Retrieved 2022-11-21.
  16. ^ Sidhu, Jatswan S. (2009-12-22). Historical Dictionary of Brunei Darussalam. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-7078-9.