Queen mother

A queen mother is a dowager queen who is the mother of the reigning monarch[1] The term has been used in English since at least 1560.[2] 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 (queen consort, 1936–1952; queen mother, 1952–2002), who was the mother of Queen Elizabeth II.


A widowed queen consort, or dowager queen, has an important royal position (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 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". 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 called "king", but rather "prince consort". The exact title such a person would assume has not been clarified by royal lineage experts. "Prince father" is a possibility.[3]

Ottoman Empire

In the Ottoman Empire, Valide sultan (Ottoman Turkish: والده سلطان) or Sultana mother was the title held by the mother of a ruling Sultan.[4] 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").[4] 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"),[5] 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.[4] 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.[6]

Ancient Israel

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 Hindi as a rajmata - literally, mother of the state (raj).


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 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

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

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

Exceptional cases

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.[8]
  • 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.

King father

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.[9] 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.

Currently, HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the king father of Bhutan. A similar title of Father Emir is now held by HH Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar.

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.

Francis, Duke of Cádiz, king consort of Isabel II of Spain, was king father to Alfonso XII of Spain and later king grandfather to Alfonso XIII of Spain.

Ferdinand II of Portugal, jure uxoris king to Maria II of Portugal, was king father to Pedro V of Portugal and Luís I of Portugal.

Following his abdication, Ludwig I of Bavaria was king father to Maximilian II of Bavaria and later king grandfather to Ludwig II of Bavaria.

In the former Chinese Empire, a living monarch who passed the throne to his son was called Taishang Huang. This title was last bestowed upon Qianlong Emperor.

Current comparisons

Hold a similar role as mothers or fathers of their country's reigning monarchs:

See also


  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.
  2. "Queen mother". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. U.S. National Archives, "When Queen Elizabeth Dies", Prologue Magazine, Summer 1998
  4. Davis, Fanny (1986). "The Valide". The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918. ISBN 0-313-24811-7.
  5. "Can Muslims Celebrate Mother's Day?". Belief.net. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  6. Peirce, Leslie P., The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-508677-5 (paperback)
  7. Michie, God Save The Queen at 290
  8. Grethe Authén Blom Norsk Historisk Tidskrift Oslo 1981 p. 425
  9. Denis D. Gray (February 4, 2013). "Cambodia mourns as 'King-Father' Sihanouk cremated". Yahoo News. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
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