Queen regnant

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Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned as queen of the United Kingdom from 1952 until her death in 2022, is the longest-reigning queen regnant in world history.

A queen regnant (pl.: queens regnant) is a female monarch, equivalent in rank, title and position to a king. She reigns suo jure (in her own right) over a realm known as a kingdom; as opposed to a queen consort, who is married to a reigning king; or a queen regent, who is the guardian of a child monarch and rules pro tempore in the child's stead or instead of her husband who is absent from the realm, be it de jure in sharing power or de facto in ruling alone. A queen regnant is sometimes called a woman king.[1][2] A princess regnant is a female monarch who reigns suo jure over a principality; an empress regnant is a female monarch who reigns suo jure over an empire.

A queen regnant possesses and exercises sovereign powers, whereas a queen consort or queen regent shares her spouse's or child's rank and titles but does not share the sovereignty of her spouse or child. The husband of a queen regnant traditionally does not share the queen regnant's rank, title, or sovereignty. However, the concept of a king consort or prince consort is not unheard of in both contemporary and historical periods.

A queen dowager or empress dowager is the widow of a king or emperor; a queen mother is a queen dowager who is also the mother of a reigning sovereign.

Since the abdication of Margrethe II of Denmark on 14 January 2024, there are currently no female sovereigns in the world. This is the first time this has been the case in over 200 years.


Bust of Sobekneferu, the earliest Pharaoh of Egypt confidently proven to have been a woman (r.18th/17th century BC)

The oldest attested queen regnant was the Pharaoh Sobekneferu from the 18th/17th century BC.

In Ancient Africa, Ancient Persia, Asian and Pacific cultures, and in some European countries, female monarchs have been given the title king or its equivalent, such as pharaoh, when gender is irrelevant to the office, or else have used the masculine form of the word in languages that have grammatical gender as a way to classify nouns. The Roman Empress Irene of Athens sometimes titled herself basileus (βασιλεύς), 'emperor', rather than basilissa (βασίλισσα), 'empress', and Mary of Hungary was crowned as Rex Hungariae, King of Hungary in 1382.

Among the Davidic Monarchs of the Kingdom of Judah, there is mentioned a single queen regnant, Athaliah, though the Hebrew Bible regards her negatively as a usurper. The much later Hasmonean Queen Salome Alexandra (Shlom Tzion) was highly popular.[citation needed]

Accession of a queen regnant occurs as a nation's order of succession permits. Methods of succession to kingdoms, tribal chiefships, and such include nomination (the reigning monarch or a council names an heir), primogeniture (in which the children of a monarch or chief have preference in order of birth from eldest to youngest), and ultimogeniture (in which the children have preference in the reverse order of birth from youngest to eldest). The scope of succession may be matrilineal, patrilineal, or both; or, rarely, open to general election when necessary. The right of succession may be open to men and women, or limited to men only or to women only.

Margaret I ruled Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

The most typical succession in European monarchies from the Late Middle Ages until the late 20th century was male-preference primogeniture: the order of succession ranked the sons of the monarch in order of their birth, followed by the daughters. Historically, many realms, like France, Holy Roman Empire forbade succession by women or through a female line in accordance with the Salic law, and nine countries still do, such countries being Japan, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Bhutan. No queen regnant ever ruled France, for example. Only one woman, Maria Theresa, ruled Austria. As noted in the list below of widely-known ruling queens, many reigned in European monarchies.

Male-preference primogeniture was also practised in a lot of the separate kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent from the Middle Ages, until the Indian independence movement. In a lot of these kingdoms, adoption was allowed from a relative if a monarch didn't have children, and the adopted child could succeed to the throne at the death of the monarch, subject to the rules of male-preference primogeniture. A lot of times, the wife or mother of a childless king were allowed to succeed to the throne as well and allowed to rule as queen regnants in their own right, until their death, after which the throne passed to the next closest relative.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg[3] and the United Kingdom[4] amended their laws of succession to absolute primogeniture (in which the children of a monarch or chief have preference in order of birth from eldest to youngest regardless of gender). In some cases, the change does not take effect during the lifetimes of people already in the line of succession at the time the law was passed.

In 2011, the United Kingdom and the 15 other Commonwealth realms agreed to remove the rule of male-preference primogeniture. Once the necessary legislation was passed, this means that had Prince William had a daughter first, a younger son would not have become heir apparent.[5]

In 2015, Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state in world history. She was the longest currently serving head of state and longest currently reigning monarch from 2016 until her death on 8 September 2022.[6]

Since the abdication of Margrethe II of Denmark on 14 January 2024, there are currently no female sovereigns in the world,[7][8][9] for the first time in over 200 years.[citation needed] Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, Princess Elisabeth, Duchess of Brabant (monarchy of Belgium), and Catharina-Amalia, Princess of Orange (monarchy of the Netherlands) are currently heiresses apparent to the thrones of their respective monarchies, along with Leonor, Princess of Asturias, who is the heiress presumptive of the throne of Spain. All four are therefore liable to become queens regnant following the end of the current reigns.

East Asia[edit]

Because there is no feminine equivalent to king and emperor in East Asian languages, different titles are used for female monarchs and female consorts. The titles of female monarchs in East Asia are translated directly as "female king" or "female emperor" and the titles of female consorts in East Asia are translated directly as "king's consort" or "emperor's consort". So, the titles of female monarchs in East Asia are the same as those of male monarchs, just indicating that they are women.[a]

In China, the term nǚhuángdì (女皇帝, "female emperor"), abbreviated as nǚhuáng (女皇), has been used for three empresses regnant to assume the title of huángdì: Daughter of Xiaoming, Chen Shuozhen and Wu Zetian, because the title huánghòu (皇后, "emperor's consort") means only an empress consort.[b] The term nǚwáng (女王, "female king") was also used for queens regnant of Eastern Kingdom of Women [zh] of the tribe Sumpa and it is different from the title wánghòu (王后, "king's consort") which means a queen consort.

In Korea, the term yeowang (Hangul: 여왕, Hanja: 女王, "female king") was developed to refer to three queens regnant of Silla: Seondeok, Jindeok and Jinseong, because the title wangbi (Hangul: 왕비, Hanja: 王妃, "king's consort") means only a queen consort.[10][11] The term yeoje (Hangul: 여제, Hanja: 女帝, "female emperor") was also used for Yi Hae-won, the titular empress regnant of Korean Empire because the title hwanghu (Hangul: 황후, Hanja: 皇后, "emperor's consort") means only an empress consort.

Although Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia, it used the royal titles of East Asia.[c] The title as a queen regnant of Trưng Trắc was Nữ vương (chữ Hán: 女王, "female king") and the title as an empress regnant of Lý Chiêu Hoàng was Nữ hoàng (chữ Hán: 女皇, "female emperor"), and they are different from the titles of female consorts.

In Japan, the title used for two queens regnant of Yamatai: Himiko and Toyo was joō (女王, "female king") and it is different from the title ōhi (王妃, "king's consort") which means only a queen consort. The term jotei (女帝, "female emperor") or josei tennō (女性天皇, "female heavenly emperor") has been used for empresses regnant of Japan because the title kōgō (皇后, "emperor's consort") means only an empress consort.[12]

Although the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan is currently barred to women following the Imperial Household Law (Emperor Naruhito has a daughter, Princess Aiko. She cannot accede to the Chrysanthemum Throne), this has not always been the case; throughout Japanese history, there have been eight empresses regnant. The Japanese imperial succession debate became a significant political issue during the early 2000s, as no male children had been born to the Imperial House of Japan since 1965. Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi pledged to present parliament with a bill to allow women to ascend the Imperial Throne, but he withdrew this after the birth of Prince Hisahito (Naruhito's nephew) in 2006.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Unlike European languages, in East Asia, the titles of female monarchs can also be abbreviated as "king" or "emperor". However, to avoid confusion with male monarchs, they are usually referred to as "female king" or "female emperor".
  2. ^ The ancient Chinese title hòu (后) originally referred to female leaders in matrilineal groups. During the Xia dynasty, the term was used also for male leaders, such as Qi of Xia (called the hou of Xia) and Hou Yi. However, by the Zhou Dynasty, the title had evolved to exclusively refer to female consorts.
  3. ^ East Asian royal titles are all related. For example, a queen regnant is called nǚwáng in Chinese, yeowang in Korean, Nữ vương in Vietnamese, and joō in Japanese, but these are all just their respective pronunciations of the Chinese character 女王 ("female king"). Also, an empress regnant is called nǚhuáng in Chinese, yeoje in Korean, Nữ hoàng in Vietnamese, and jotei in Japanese, but these are all just their respective pronunciations of the Chinese character 女皇帝 ("female emperor") or its abbreviation. But, the Japanese call only their emperors/empresses-regnant with the special title tennō/josei tennō.


  1. ^ Jason Thompson (2015). Wonderful Things – A History of Egyptology – Volume 2 – The Golden Age: 1881–1914. American University in Cairo Press. p. 16.
  2. ^ Parvin Torkamany Azar (February 2010). "The Author's Attitude of the Book 'Tarikh-i-Shahi' on Women Kings". Journal of Woman in Culture Arts. 1 (2). 148774.
  3. ^ "Overturning centuries of royal rules". BBC News. 28 October 2011.
  4. ^ "New rules on royal succession come into force". BBC News. 26 March 2015.
  5. ^ Bloxham, Andy (28 October 2011). "Centuries-old rule of primogeniture in Royal Family scrapped". Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  6. ^ "Queen Elizabeth II has died, Buckingham Palace announces". BBC News. 8 September 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  7. ^ Sommerlad, Joe (31 December 2023). "Margrethe II: Who is the chain-smoking, fashion-forward Queen of Denmark?". The Independent. Retrieved 31 December 2023.
  8. ^ "Queen Margrethe II: Danish monarch announces abdication live on TV". BBC News. 31 December 2023. Retrieved 31 December 2023.
  9. ^ "King Frederik: Tens of thousands turn out for succession". BBC News. 15 January 2024. Retrieved 15 January 2024.
  10. ^ Young, Stefano (2019). Marrying Korean: And Other Attempts To Impress, Communicate, And Fight My Way Into An Exotic Culture. Seoul Selection. ISBN 978-1-62412-128-9. but Queen Seondeok was progressive. It taught me the difference between a wangbi, a queen by marriage to the king, and a yeowang, a female king,
  11. ^ Nelson, Sarah Milledge (2017). Gyeongju: The Capital of Golden Silla. Taylor & Francis. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-317-23793-8. Another important assumption has been that the rulers of Old Silla, as listed in the Samguk Sagi and Samguk Yusa, were men (kings), with the exception of Queen Seondeok (r. 632–646) and Queen Jindeok (r. 647–653), the two final Song'gol rulers, and Queen Jinseong (r. 887–896) of Unified Silla, who were called "female kings" (although the English language literature calls them queens), distinguishing between the king's consort and a ruler with intrinsic power.
  12. ^ Cherry, Kittredge (2016). Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 978-1-61172-919-1. During Japan's long history eight women have ruled as female emperor or josei tenno. An older term is empress or jotei. In English "empress" can mean either a reigning monarch or the wife of an emperor, but in Japanese there are separate words for each. The title bestowed on the emperor's wife is kogo.

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