A queen mother is a dowager queen who is the mother of the reigning monarch (or an empress mother in the case of an empire). The term has been used in English since at least 1560. 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, and held the status of queen mother for 50 years.
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 (one possibility would be if the King and Queen were also cousins and childless, the King had no other siblings, and she in her other position as his cousin was also his heiress presumptive).
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 mother, retaining the status throughout the reigns of her sons, Edward VIII and George VI.
The title also distinguishes former queen consorts 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". 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. The exact title such a person would assume has not been clarified by royal lineage experts.
In the Ottoman Empire, Valide sultan (Ottoman Turkish: والده سلطان) or Sultana mother was the title held by the mother of a ruling Sultan. 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"). The Turkish pronunciation of the word Valide is [vaː.liˈde].
The position was perhaps the most important position in the Ottoman Empire after the sultan himself. As the mother to the sultan, by Islamic tradition ("A mother's right is God's right"), 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. 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.
Other oriental monarchies
In Swaziland, for example, 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 of this 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.
Notable mothers of kings and queens regnant
These mothers of monarchs, and others, albeit not always officially so titled have also been considered equal to queen mothers:
- Adela of Champagne (1180–1206) France
- Adelaide of Aquitaine (996–1004) France
- Adelaide of Maurienne (1137–1154) France
- Agnes of Brandenburg (1286–1304) Denmark
- Alexandra of Denmark (1910–1925), United Kingdom
- Amarindra (1810–1826) Siam
- Amélie of Orléans (1908–1910) Portugal
- Alexandrine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1947–1952) Denmark
- Anna Pavlovna of Russia (1849–1865) Netherlands
- Anne of Austria (1643–1666) France and Navarre
- Anne of Kiev (1060–1075) France
- Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1888) Prussia
- Ayşe Hafsa Sultan (1520–1534) Ottoman Empire
- Bathsheba (11th century BC) Israel and Judah
- Beatrice of Castile (1279–1303) Portugal
- Beatrice of Castile (1357–1359) Portugal
- Blanche of Castile (1226–1252) France
- Blanche of Namur (1343–1362) Norway
- Bona Sforza (1548–1557) Poland and Lithuania
- Carlota Joaquina of Spain (1825–1830)
- Catherine de Medici (1559–1589) France
- Catherine of Lancaster (1406–1418) Castile
- Catherine of Valois (1401–1437) England
- Charlotte of Savoy (1483) France
- Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel (1699–1714) Denmark and Norway
- Christina of Holstein-Gottorp (1611–1625) Sweden
- Christina of Saxony (1513–1521) Denmark and Norway
- Clementia of Hungary (1316) France
- Constance of Arles (1031–1032) France
- Desideria (1844–1859) Sweden and Norway
- Dorothea of Brandenburg (1481–1495) Denmark and Norway
- Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg (1559–1571) Denmark and Norway
- Eleanor of Alburquerque (1416–1435) Aragon
- Eleanor of Aquitaine (1189–1204) England
- Eleanor of Aragon (1438–1445) Portugal
- Eleanor of Provence (1272–1291) England
- Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg (1705–1720) Hungary and Bohemia
- Elena of Montenegro (1946) Italy
- Ælfthryth (978–1000) England
- Elisabeth of Bavaria (1934–1951) Belgium
- Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1952–2002): 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.
- Elisabeth Farnese (1759–1766)
- Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1745–1750) Hungary and Bohemia
- Elizabeth of Aragon (1325–1336) Portugal
- Elizabeth Woodville (1483) England
- Emma of Normandy (1035–1052) Denmark and England
- Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont (1890–1934) Netherlands
- Ermengarde de Beaumont (1214–1233) Scotland
- Estrid of the Obotrites (1022–1035) Sweden
- Frederica of Hanover (1964–1981) Greece
- Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt (1797–1805) Prussia
- Gayatri Devi (1919–2009) Jaipur (India)
- Gayatri Rajapatni (1309–1350) Majapahit (Indonesia)
- Giovanna of Italy (1943–1946) Bulgaria
- Handan Valide Sultan (1574–1605) Ottoman Empire
- Halaevalu Mataʻaho ʻAhomeʻe (2006–2017) Tonga
- Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp (1660–1697) Sweden
- Hedwig of Holstein (1290–1318) Sweden
- Helen of Greece and Denmark (1940–1948) Romania
- Henrietta Maria of France (1649–1669) England and Scotland
- Ingrid of Sweden (1972–2000) Denmark
- Isabeau of Bavaria (1422–1435) France
- Isabel II of Spain (1874–1885) Spain
- Isabella of Angoulême (1216–1246) England
- Isabella of France (1327–1358) England
- Isabella of Portugal (1474–1496)
- Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots (1437–1445) Scotland
- Josephine of Leuchtenberg (1859–1876) Sweden and Norway
- Jijabai (1598–1674) Maratha Empire (India)
- Juana Manuel (1379–1381) Castile
- Keōpūolani (1778–1823) Hawaii (United States)
- Kesang Choden (1972–2006) Bhutan
- Kosem Valide Sultan (1623–1648) Ottoman Empire
- Louisa Ulrika of Prussia (1771–1782) Sweden
- Louise of Sweden (1912–1926) Denmark
- Luisa de Guzmán (1656–1666) Portugal
- Margaret of Denmark (1380–1387) Norway
- Margaret Sambiria (1259–1282) Denmark
- Margaret Tudor (1513–1541) Scotland
- Margaret of Provence (1270–1285) France
- Margaret of Savoy (1900–1926) Italy
- Margrete Skulesdatter (1263–1270) Norway
- Maria of Austria (1576–1603) Hungary and Bohemia
- Maria of Romania (1934–1961) Yugoslavia
- Maria Amalia of Saxony (1759–1760) Naples and Sicily
- Maria Anna of Austria (1750–1754) Portugal
- Maria Christina of Austria (1906–1929) Spain
- Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies (1833–1868) Spain
- Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg (1632–1654) Sweden
- María Isabella of Spain (1830–1848) Two Sicilies
- Maria Luisa of Parma (1808–1819) Spain
- Maria Luisa of Spain (1792) Hungary and Bohemia
- Maria Pia of Savoy (1889–1908)
- Maria Theresa (1765–1780) Germany
- Mariana of Austria (1665–1696) Spain
- Mariana Victoria of Spain (1777 –1781) Portugal
- Marie de Coucy (1249–1285) Scotland
- Marie de' Medici (1610–1642) France
- Marie of Anjou (1461–1463) France
- Marie of Prussia (1864–1889)
- Marie of Edinburgh (1930–1938) Romania
- Mary of Guelders (1460–1463) Scotland
- Mary of Guise (1542–1560) Scotland
- Mary of Teck (1936–1952): 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.
- Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II (1999–2016) Ashanti people (Ghana)
- Musbah bint Nasser (1951–1952) Jordan
- Narriman Sadek (1952–1953) Egypt
- Nazli Sabri (1936–1950) Egypt
- Norodom Monineath (from 2004) Cambodia
- Nurbanu Sultan (1574–1583) Ottoman Empire
- Olga Constantinovna of Russia (1913–1922) Greece
- Pauline Therese of Württemberg (1864–1873) Württemberg
- Phuntsho Choden (1952–1972) Bhutan
- Richeza of Denmark (1216–1220) Sweden
- Safiye Sultan (1595–1603) Ottoman Empire
- Saovabha Phongsri (1910–1919) Thailand
- Sirikit (from 2016) Thailand
- Sophia of Minsk (1182–1198) Denmark
- Sophia of Nassau (1907–1913) Sweden
- Sophia of Prussia (1922–1936) Greece
- Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow (1588–1631) Denmark and Norway
- Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1670–1685) Denmark and Norway
- Sophia Dorothea of Hanover (1740–1757) Prussia
- Sophia Magdalena of Denmark (1792–1809) Sweden
- Sophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach (1746–1766) Denmark and Norway
- Tadj ol-Molouk (1896 – 1982) Persia (Iran)
- Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (1848–1854)
- Tiye (14th century BC) Egypt
- Tshering Yangdon (from 2006) Bhutan
- Turhan Hatice Sultan (1651–1681) Ottoman Empire
- Victoria, Princess Royal (1888–1901) Prussia
- Zein al-Sharaf Talal (1952–1994) Jordan
- Ingeborg of Norway (1301–1361), 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, though she has been called the King Mother in biographical literature (also see heading below), 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 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.
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, was the style My Lady The King's Mother, held by Margaret Beaufort during the reign of her son, Henry VII of England.
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 King Albert II of the Belgians abdicated in 2013 his style shortened to His Majesty King Albert (as did King Leopold III); "king father" is the name of his role rather than forming part of his style or title.
When Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III of Brunei abdicated, he became the Begawan Sultan or the Sultan Father or Begawan Sultan. He was given the title of His Majesty the Sultan-Father or in Malay was Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan and this office became vacant when he died.
Current European comparisons
Hold a similar role as mothers or fathers of their country's reigning monarchs:
- HRH Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (from 2000),
- HRH Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands (from 2013),
- HM King Albert II of Belgium (from 2013),
- HM Queen Paola of Belgium (from 2013),
- HM King Juan Carlos I of Spain (from 2014),
- HM Queen Sofía of Spain (from 2014).
- 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.
- "Queen mother". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- U.S. National Archives, "When Queen Elizabeth Dies", Prologue Magazine, Summer 1998
- Davis, Fanny (1986). "The Valide". The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918. ISBN 0-313-24811-7.
- "Can Muslims Celebrate Mother's Day?". Belief.net. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
- Peirce, Leslie P., The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-508677-5 (paperback)
- Michie, God Save The Queen at 290
- Grethe Authén Blom Norsk Historisk Tidskrift Oslo 1981 p. 425
- Source: Andrew Morton, interviewed by Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show on RTÉ
- Denis D. Gray (February 4, 2013). "Cambodia mourns as 'King-Father' Sihanouk cremated". Yahoo News. Retrieved August 22, 2016.