Queen mother

For the West African use of the term, see Queen mothers (Africa).

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).[1] The term has been used in English since at least 1577.[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 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.

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


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, George V, Mary of Teck 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." It should be noted, however, that the title in British usage is purely a courtesy title. Whereas the wife of a king is called "queen", there is no constitutional or statutory recognition of "Queen Mother" as a title.

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother served as a Counsellor of State several times.

Ottoman Empire

Main article: Valide sultan

In the Ottoman Empire, "Valide sultan" (Ottoman Turkish: والده سلطان, literally "mother sultan") was the title held by the empress mother of a ruling Sultan.[3] The title was first used in the 16th century for Ayşe Hafsa Sultan, consort of Selim I and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent, superseding the previous title of mehd-i ülya ("cradle of the great").[3] 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"),[4] 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 sons) and state staff.[3] 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.[5]

Other oriental monachies

In India, a queen (often styled rani and/or begum) who becomes queen-mother is known in Hindi as rajmata

African 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.

Recent British Queens Mother

The following queens became queens mother, though not all chose to use that style.

Other notable mothers of kings

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

Exceptional cases

"King mother"

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".[8] 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, is the style My Lady The King's Mother, held by Margaret Beaufort during the reign of her son, Henry VII of England. In the Strontium Dog story "The Royal Affair" in 2000 AD a few years earlier, the mother of the reigning King was referred to in-story as the King Mother.

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 shorted to His Majesty King Albert (as did King Leopold's before him); "king father" is the name of his role rather than forming part of his style or title.

Currently Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the king father of Bhutan.

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.

Queen grandmother

Bhutan is the only country in the world that currently has a queen grandmother. The title is currently held by Kesang Choden, grandmother of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Phuntsho Choden was previously queen grandmother from 1972 to 2003 under the reign of Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

In 1603, when Ahmet I ascended the throne upon the death of his father Mehmet III, his grandmother Valide Safiye Sultan was still alive. Thus, she was Bük Valide. It also happened with Kösem Sultan when her grandson Mehmed IV was appointed sultan.

The same thing happened when Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne: the Queen Mother was Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and, unofficially, the Queen Grandmother was Queen Mary.

Although none of her sons succeeded to the throne of Thailand, Savang Vadhana became queen grandmother under the reigns of her grandsons Ananda Mahidol and Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Other examples of Queen grandmothers include Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of Belgium under Baudouin of Belgium, Sophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach under Christian VII of Denmark, Isabel II of Spain under Alfonso XIII of Spain, Désirée Clary under Charles XV of Sweden, Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp under Charles XII of Sweden, Olga Constantinovna of Russia under Alexander of Greece and George II of Greece, Margaret of Provence under Philip IV of France, Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach under Wilhelm II, German Emperor, Maria Pia of Savoy under Manuel II of Portugal, Carlota Joaquina of Spain under Maria II of Portugal, Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugal under Sebastian of Portugal, Musbah bint Nasser under Hussein of Jordan, and Marie of Romania under Michael I of Romania.

Current European comparisons

Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Paola of Belgium and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands hold a similar role as mothers of their country's reigning monarchs. Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, King Albert II of Belgium and King Juan Carlos I of Spain hold a similar paternal role.

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. Oxford English Dictionary
  3. 1 2 3 Davis, Fanny (1986). "The Valide". The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918. ISBN 0-313-24811-7.
  4. "Can Muslims Celebrate Mother's Day?". Belief.net. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  5. Peirce, Leslie P., The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-508677-5 (paperback)
  6. Michie, God Save The Queen at 290
  7. Grethe Authén Blom Norsk Historisk Tidskrift Oslo 1981 p. 425
  8. Source: Andrew Morton, interviewed by Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show on RTÉ
  9. Denis D. Gray (February 4, 2013). "Cambodia mourns as 'King-Father' Sihanouk cremated". Yahoo News. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
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