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Ranavalona was the 19th-century ruler of the Kingdom of Madagascar. She lived during a time when there was increasing contact between the island kingdom and Europeans. Ranavalona, however, pursued a policy of isolationism, and self-sufficiency, so as to reduce dependency on these foreign powers. This has been interpreted as a means by which the queen fought off the encroachment of Europeans and protected the sovereignty of her kingdom. This, however, is a more recent re-assessment of Ranavalona’s reign. Traditionally, scholars depict the queen as a tyrant whose policies caused great suffering to her subjects, a view first propagated by her European contemporaries.
The Early Life of Queen Ranavalona
Queen Ranavalona was born in the Kingdom of Madagascar, known also as the Merina Kingdom, in around 1788. Her birth name was Ramavo. The names of the future queen’s biological parents have unfortunately been lost to history.
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According to historical stories, when Ranavalona was still a child, her father alerted Andrianampoinimerina, the King of Madagascar, to a plot against his life. The conspiracy to assassinate Andrianampoinimerina was led by one of the king’s uncles, who, along with other conservative traditionalists, opposed his support for the adoption of Western ways in the kingdom. As a reward for saving his life, the king adopted Ranavalona as his own daughter, and betrothed her to his son and heir, Prince Radama.
King Andrianampoinimerina of Madagascar. (Philippe-Auguste Ramanankirahina (1860-1915) / )
Andrianampoinimerina is arguably the most famous ruler of the Kingdom of Madagascar. His name loosely translates to mean “the king who is not like the stupid,” or “the one who will always stay in the Merina’s hearts.” The Kingdom of Madagascar traces its history all the way back to Andrianerinerina, a legendary king said to have descended from heaven, who subdued the Vazimba people.
Written records about the kingdom’s rulers before the 16 th century, however, are not known. Nevertheless, it is known that prior to Andrianampoinimerina’s reign, the Kingdom of Madagascar was a small polity, and its territory was confined to the central highlands of the island. Moreover, as a result of a civil war in the 18 th century, the kingdom was split into four smaller states.
In 1787, Andrianampoinimerina seized the throne of one of the Merina kingdoms, and initiated the unification of Madagascar. In the years that followed, he pursued an expansionist policy, and by 1806 had conquered the three remaining kingdoms. Andrianampoinimerina’s ultimate goal, however, was to unite the entire island as one big kingdom under his rule.
Andrianampoinimerina’s reunification of the Kingdom of Madagascar alone would have ensured his legacy. Nevertheless, the king also established a number of reforms within the kingdom, which contributed further to his fame. These include setting up rice storage depots for orphans and widows, a new penal code , as well as rules for rice cultivation , street cleaning, and social life.
Andrianampoinimerina did not achieve his goal of uniting the whole island of Madagascar, as he died in 1810. He was succeeded by his son Radama, who was only 18 years old at the time. Fortunately for Andrianampoinimerina, his son also shared his ambitions, and therefore the new king continued to pursue his father’s policies.
King Radama I follows in the footsteps of his Western-friendly father, Andrianampoinimerina. (Philippe-Auguste Ramanankirahina (1860-1915) / )
Radama Follows As King In His Father’s Footsteps
In 1824, King Radama defeated the Betsimisaraka people, who occupied the island’s east coast. Following this victory, the king is alleged to have proclaimed, “Today I own the whole country – Madagascar has a king now!” Indeed, Radama succeeded in conquering most of the island.
King Radama was also similar to his father in his adoption of Western ideas . This is seen, for instance, in the permission he granted to British missionaries to operate in the kingdom. In addition to spreading Christianity amongst the Madagascans, the missionaries also built schools, and developed a written language for the people.
Apart from that, Radama began to abolish the slave trade in his kingdom, through the intercession of the British. The modernization of the Madagascan army was also accomplished with British help. Incidentally, the British were willing to help Radama strengthen his army in part due to their desire to use the kingdom to counter the influence of the French in the area.
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Interestingly enough, even though Radama was eager to adopt Western ideas, he himself did not convert to Christianity . Some of his actions may even be regarded as “un-Christian,” most notably, perhaps, is the fact that he had 12 wives.
Since Ranavalona was Radama’s first wife, she was the only one who was officially referred to as “queen.” In spite of her high status, Ranavalona was not the king’s favorite wife, and never bore Radama any children. The king, by the way, had several children with his other wives. One of the reasons for the incompatibility between Radama and Ranavalona was the fact that the queen, in direct opposition to her husband, had a more conservative and traditional outlook. Whilst the king was still alive, however, Ranavalona was unable to do much about her husband’s policies.
In 1828, Radama died prematurely at the age of 35. The historical records provide conflicting accounts as to the cause of the king’s death, though it is commonly thought that it was heavy drinking that ultimately led to his early death.
Radama had not named a successor at the time of his death. Nevertheless, according to local custom, he would have been succeeded by Prince Rakotobe, one of his nephews. Had the prince succeeded Radama, he would have had to eliminate Ranavalona. This was due not only to the fact that she was Radama’s queen, but also due to a local tradition which states that any children she bore would be considered as Radama’s own, regardless of the father. Such a child would have a stronger claim to the throne than Rakotobe.
Queen Ranavalona ascends the throne and begins to undo the Western-friendly work of the previous two kings. (Philippe-Auguste Ramanankirahina (1860-1915) / )
Queen Ranavalona Rises To the Throne and Changes Everything
Radama’s modernization program had alienated the more conservative elites of his kingdom. And these elites viewed Ranavalona as a means to restore the old ways. Therefore, they rallied to her cause, and garnered enough support from the military to take the throne for her by force.
It seems that Rakotobe and his supporters were unable to offer any resistance, and therefore the prince was forced to give up his claim to the throne. Rakotobe and his mother were amongst the first victims of Queen Ranavalona, as they were obviously regarded as threats to her position. The queen also put to death many other political rivals to secure her position.
Queen Ranavalona did not disappoint her supporters, as she immediately overturned the reforms instituted by her late husband. The queen cancelled the trade deals that her kingdom had with Britain and France, and expelled European merchants, teachers, and diplomats from Madagascar.
In retaliation, the French launched an attack on Ranavalona’s kingdom. The Madagascans, however, successfully repelled the invasion, thanks largely to the fact that many of the French soldiers were struck down by malaria. After the battle, the queen had 21 enemy soldiers decapitated. Their heads were stuck onto pikes, and lined along the beach, so as to warn their countrymen against attempting another attack.
Queen Ranavalona also targeted the missionaries and their local Christian converts. Christianity was outlawed, and those who refused to give up their faith were treated cruelly. These Christians were beaten, tortured, and executed by various means. The relatives of these Christians are said to have been forced to watch these brutal punishments, so as to instill fear in them. On one occasion, the queen ordered 15 Christian leaders to be dangled over a rocky ravine by ropes. She then had the ropes cut, sending them plunging to their deaths.
Queen Ranavalona on her throne as she begins to change the legal system and adopts increasingly "cruel" ways. (H. Linton / )
Queen Ranavalona Also Resumed Cruel Legal Practices
Apart from overturning her late husband’s Western-friendly policies, and her persecution of Christians, the queen, as a conservative traditionalist, reintroduced traditional practices. These included trials by ordeal , which were used to determine if a person accused of a crime was innocent or not.
One of these trials is known as the tangena, named after a poisonous nut that causes a person to vomit after eating it. This trial was used in particular against people suspected of disloyalty and involved the accused eating three pieces of chicken skin, followed by the tangena nut. If the accused was innocent, he/she would regurgitate all three pieces of the chicken skin. If the accused was unable to do so, he/she would be declared guilty.
One of the people subjected to the tangena by Ranavalona was Adriamihaja, a young military officer who had supported Ranavalona’s claim to the throne following Radama’s death. Adriamihaja was also the queen’s lover, and the biological father of her son, Prince Rakoto. Adriamihaja was rewarded with the post of Prime Minister, but eventually met his end as a result of his unfaithfulness. Adriamihaja was caught by the queen with another woman and was given the chance to undergo the tangena trial. He refused, however, preferring to be executed instead.
Ranavalona’s cruelty was certainly not limited to those close to her, or even the Christians whom she persecuted. Even ordinary Madagascans were not spared: nobody in the kingdom was safe from her. For instance, she made full use of the tradition of fanompoana, or forced labor in lieu of the payment of taxes in money or goods. In other words, these laborers were slaves, and suffered greatly.
Working conditions were brutal, the laborers worked far away from their homes, had to return home on foot, and were malnourished. Consequently, many lost their lives under such appalling living conditions. It has been estimated that by the end of Queen Ranavalona’s rule, the population of her kingdom had been reduced from 5 million to about 2.5 million people.
Ranavalona may have also been mentally unstable . In 1845, she demanded that her entire court embark on a buffalo hunt. Along with the servants and slaves, the hunting party consisted of around 50000 people. It seems that the hunt was a haphazard decision by the queen, as the hunting party brought with them insufficient supplies. Moreover, a road had to be built as the hunting party advanced. It is alleged that by the end of the hunt, which lasted for four months, 10000 people had died from hunger and exhaustion. Incidentally, no buffaloes were killed during the hunt.
Rakoto, Queen Ranavalona’s son, plotted against her unsuccessfully more than once but still rose to the throne. (William Ellis / )
Plots Against Queen Ranavalona By Her Son Rakoto
Ranavalona’s son, Rakoto, opposed his mother’s policies, and held views that were more in line with her predecessor’s. Rakoto participated in several plots against the queen, all of which ended in failure.
One of these plots was launched in 1857, and involved two Frenchmen, Jean Laborde, and Joseph-François Lambert. Although the queen was generally opposed to Europeans in her kingdom, she was shrewd enough to recognize their value when needed. Laborde, for instance, had arrived in Madagascar in 1831, following a shipwreck off the island. The queen accepted him into her inner circle, as he had the knowledge required for the manufacture of guns, gunpowder, and other industrial goods. Laborde was also responsible for constructing a palace for the queen on a hill in Antananarivo. Unfortunately, the palace was destroyed in a fire in 1995.
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Despite being one of the queen’s confidants, Laborde supported Rakoto, and turned against her in 1857. The plot was foiled, and the conspirators were purged. The Europeans were spared, perhaps due to the prince’s intervention, but exiled from the kingdom. The Madagascans who participated in the plot, on the other hand, were less fortunate, and put to death. As for Rakoto, he remained as heir to the throne, even though he attempted to overthrow his mother several times.
Queen Ranavalona ruled the Kingdom of Madagascar for a total of 32 years and died in her sleep in 1861. Her death was mourned throughout the kingdom for nine months, and part of the funerary rituals involved the slaughter of thousands of animals, whose meat was then distributed to the people. Ranavalona was succeeded by her son, Rakoto, who adopted the name Radama II.
Although the historical records portray Queen Ranavalona as an extremely cruel despot, it must be said that she was a shrewd politician, as she managed to maintain her grip on power for such a long time.
Moreover, it was in part due to her isolationist policies that the Kingdom of Madagascar was able to maintain its sovereignty in the face of colonialism. By contrast, her successors were much less capable than her, and in 1895, Madagascar became a French protectorate. In the following year, the island was reduced to the status of a colony.
Ranavalona the Cruel
"Never say, 'She is only a feeble and ignorant woman, how can she rule such a vast empire?' I will rule here, to the good fortune of my people and the glory of my name! I will worship no gods but those of my ancestors. The ocean shall be the boundary of my realm, and I will not cede the thickness of one hair of my realm!"
Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar wasn't known by the warm-and-cuddly nickname "Ranavalona the Cruel" for nothing. In fact, according to most of the (admittedly somewhat-unreliable) sources we have on this powerful African ruler, she generally tends to fall somewhere in the "Vlad the Impaler" quadrant of the spectrum between "benevolent dictator" and "bloodthirsty oppressive tyrant who would be more likely to jam a sharpened toothpick in your eye than grant you one sentence's worth of freedom of speech". Ruling a country that's nowadays more known for delicious vanilla beans and delightfully-wacky dancing CGI Disney characters than it is for vicious public executions and coastlines adorned with severed heads mounted on spiked poles, this exceedingly-violent Queen carved out a gruesome, badass reputation that would have many people today referring to her as the "Female Caligula".
Ranavalona's birth name was Rabodoandrianampoinimerina, which is a ludicrously-long name that literally translates into roughly a paragraph of English text. She was daughter of a poor peasant, and illiterate for her entire life, but that last part is understandable considering that Madagascar didn't actually have a written language until a few years before she ascended to the throne so let's cut the lady a break. With little more than a life of poverty and hard, back-breaking labor ahead of her, Ranavalona caught kind of a sweet break when her father somehow managed to uncover a murder conspiracy aimed at assassinating King Andrianampoinimerinandriantsimitoviaminandriampanjaka (!!) and managed to warn the regent before his impending doom. The King was so happy that he wasn't going to die a bloody, premature death that he adopted Ranvalona into the royal family, marrying her off to the incredibly-boringly-named Prince Radama (only three syllables -- what a loser!). She was to be the first of his twelve wives, which I guess is the sort of honor that made a girl feel really good about herself back then.
Radama took over as King after his dad retired, but he didn't last too long. Theories on Radama's untimely death range from syphilis to cirrhosis, but the safe money here is on Queen Ranavalona slipping him a few too many cyanide-laced sugar cubes in his morning tea. After Radama's sudden, untimely, and excruciatingly-painful demise in 1828 (he is said to have been in such head-searingly devastating agony that he cut his own throat to end his suffering), the power-hungry Queen sprung into action like a rocket-powered pogo stick of totalitarian authority. The rightful heir to the throne – Radama's brother – got all pissed and decided to take the crown and have Ranavalona executed, but she had spent her entire career in the royal palace making friends with powerful ministers, self-proclaimed sorcerers, and super-fundamental traditionalists, and the 46-year old tyrant was so firmly entrenched in her position that you couldn't dig her out with the Bagger 288. She seized the palace, garrisoned it with a powerful contingent of loyal warriors from her village, and had them kill the shit out of anyone who tried to enter the gates.
Ranavalona already kind of hated her in-laws, but after she was in control she decided to go out of her way to make sure that no one - especially them - messed with her. First, she killed every member of the royal family that she could get her hands on, starting with the rightful heir to the throne and ending with some guy who knew a guy that used to be Facebook friends with the King's second cousin. It bears mentioning that it was considered bad form to spill royal blood, so these poor saps were usually either strangled to death or locked into a prison cell until they died of starvation. Both of these are equally shitty ways to go, but Ranavalona couldn't have given two craps about it as long as she eliminated any threat to her rule. In 1828, the 46-year old peasant girl was anointed with the blood of a freshly-slaughtered bull and coronated Queen and Supreme Ruler of Madagascar.
Now during this time in history, European Colonialism was in the early stages of getting its 4X on with Madagascar. Ranavalona's power base was with traditionalists who hated this foreign expansion, and as soon as she took over she told every country in Europe that they could get fucked with a tetanus-encrusted pipe wrench. She expelled or destroyed all foreigners in her country, stripped all colonials of their titles, nullified all of Madagascar's treaties with Britain and France, and banned Christianity in favor of the traditional tribal religion. She also did away with the bullshit legal system, and brought back "Trial by Ordeal", where a person's guilt was judged not by logic and reason, but rather whether or not they threw up after drinking the super-poisonous juice of a particular indigenous plant. I think everyone will agree that this is crazy and/or awesome.
The French of course got all pissed off about this, and launched an amphibious attack on the port city of Tamataye within a few months of Ranavalona seizing power. They made marginal gains against the Madagascarian defenders, and actually took control of the city at one point, but they were eventually turned back when most of their assault team was killed by a combination of gunshot wounds and malaria-infected mosquitoes. Both the French and the British would devote quite a bit of effort to ripping Ranavalona's face off, but nothing really proved successful. In 1835 a combined army landed at Tamataye once again, but they fared even worse against the entrenched defenders than the initial invaders. Ranavalona, being the good propaganda mistress that she was, cut off the heads of the slain Europeans, impaled them on pikes, and lined them up along the beach facing the ocean as a warning to anybody dumbshit enough to screw with her. After this little display of generosity, the Europeans decided they'd just leave well enough alone and worry about conquest and colonial exploitation of resources until such time as there wasn't an insane, dominant shit-wrecker presiding over the armies of Madagascar.
Having effectively (and gruesomely), elected for sovereignty and self-rule over European power, wealth, and territorial dominance, Ranavalona's next task was to make her people self-reliant. She brought in a handful of prominent foreign mercenaries to set up an infrastructure and train people in industrial development (making sure to keep them close enough that they wouldn't get into any trouble), and before long Madagascar had built factories for producing all of the most important shit they needed to sustain themselves – namely guns, bullets, sugar, clothing, and booze. For severing ties and dependence on foreign aid, Ranavalona was something of a hero to those people who opposed colonialism and foreign control. It was really only after she got older and crazier that Ranavalona started to put the "mad" in "Madagascar" (and perhaps both "mad"s in the phrase, "The Mad Queen of Madagascar") with the ridiculous tortures and killings for which she is now famous.
In addition to suppressing a couple revolts (her preferred method for dealing with dissent in her ranks way by sending her enemies on endless force-marches through malaria-infested swamps) on her own turf, Ranavalona made every effort to crush European influence in her country. She was so opposed to these colonials and their beliefs that she then made it her personal mission to wipe out Christianity on the island – first by banning it, and then by executing Christians and missionaries by throwing them off of high places, setting them on fire, and/or torturing them to death with something called "progressive amputation", which doesn't sound like much of a picnic. Through this sort-of inverse Spanish Inquisition, she attempted to torture people to renounce their faith, and then popped their heads off when they didn't. She was never really able to wipe the Christians off of Madagascar (they are a tenacious bunch, from what I understand), but she did force it underground during her reign, effectively eliminating Christianity as a threat to her pro-traditionalist rule. Slaughtering tens of thousands of your own citizens has that effect on people from time to time. I suppose it's important to point out that I'm certainly not saying it's "awesome" or "totally awesome" to go around tossing people head-first off of cliffs just because they don't share your particular religious convictions, but you kind of have to appreciate the fact that she was really willing to go that extra mile for the sake of being a brutal despot.
From her palace, which was dominated by a Sauron-esque 100-foot tower, Ranavalona the Cruel reined for 33 years of semi-oppressive, Vlad the Impaler-style tyranny. She founded cities, built structures, and was one of the few African rulers to successfully hold off colonial rule (a fact that makes her something of a hero among African traditionalists), and even though she was somewhat of a bastard, she overcame her enemies and died peacefully in her bed of old age at the age of 80. Two other queens of Madagascar would go on to take her name, and her island wouldn't fall under colonial control for another 30 years after her death.
Queen Ranavalona I: The Intensely Cruel Monarch of Madagascar
Madagascar is an island that is located off the south-east side of Africa. Due to many civil wars in the country and European invaders, King Andrianampoinimernia united as many tribes as possible to form the kingdom of Merina. As wars and the generations succeeded, the son of the king, Radama, came into power.
After a bloody war where the already sick Radama died, one of his wives by the name of Ranavalona took the news as her chance to rule. She spread rumors from one village to another that the religious icons were telling her that she should be the next ruler of Merina. In the end, she achieved her goal, and ruled with a bloody, iron fist.
Born a Commoner, but Won a Royal Life
In approximately the 1780s, Ranavalona was born into a humble family of tribesmen who were supporters of the kingdom of Merina. During her childhood, Ranavalona lived under the rule of a king that owned the west side of the island of Madagascar, where there were many wars against King Andrianampoinimernia who attempted to unite the whole island.
After years of turmoil, Ranavalona’s father informed the king of a plot to kill him, and the king, to show his gratitude to his servant, decided to adopt Ranavalona and teach her court life. Everyone thought she was quite imposing as a figure, and many feared her. All who saw her believed that there was something evil about her.
Queen Ranavalona I
Ranavalona was married to Andrianampoinimernia’s son, Radama, but he showed little interest in her. Radama, like his father, wished to use European missionaries as modernizers of their country. Ranavalona loathed the invaders, and as time went on, became increasingly outspoken of her hatred.
Once Ranavalona became queen, she started to express her ideas. Due to the fact that she severed ties with Britain, Ranavalona looked for an internal source for weapons, and found one in a ship wrecked survivor Frenchman Jean Laborde. He was able to equip the kingdom with countless weapons and he also was appointed tutor to her son, Prince Rakoto.
Ranavalona was obsessed with hygiene when she was young she discovered that the French came to the country with soap, and thought it was a glorious invention she had to have. Once she procured the recipe for soap making from the missionaries, Ranavalona banned certain Christian ceremonies from her kingdom, and then years later ordered the exile of all Europeans from Madagascar.
This time period was filled with enslavement and death sentences of missionaries and Christians. Because of the soap, Ranavalona would take public baths from her balcony. This showed her love of cleanliness, of herself, her love of ancient rituals, and the fact she was queen. This bath was a reinvention of an ancient custom of washing away sins in the river, but this was a way to rise herself to godly status.
To boost the economy, Ranavalona sold slaves and her subjects into slavery to other countries. Sold subjects where ones that were arrested for being ‘traitors’ or Christians that were caught practicing the religion in secret. Those who were not killed were sold. Those that were killed were first tortured burned at the stake, boiled in water, poisoned, flung off cliffs, and beheaded as fellow villagers were made to watch. This continued until one third of the population was killed off in many gruesome ways.
Any remaining Europeans were banished from the island instead of killed, and eventually the majority of them died from island illnesses on their way to the port to leave the country. With the Europeans gone, Ranavalona continued to torture her subjects. She finally died after a thirty year reign, and the future generations of Madagascar claimed Ranavalona was insane and believed that instead of saving her culture, Ranavalona almost was the demise of it.
Ranavalona II was born Princess Ramoma in 1829 at Ambatomanoina, near Antananarivo in the central highlands to Prince Razakaratrimo and his wife Princess Rafarasoa Ramasindrazana. As a young woman she, like her cousin Rasoherina, was married to King Radama II and was widowed upon his assassination in the nobles' coup of 1863. The prime minister at the time, Rainivoninahitriniony, played a major role in the assassination plot and public condemnation of the action forced him from his post. The position of prime minister was then filled by his younger brother Rainilaiarivony, who married Queen Rasoherina and then, upon her death, helped to designate Ranavalona II the next monarch of Madagascar and consequently married her to retain his position.
During her years at court, young Ramoma was tutored by Protestant missionaries who greatly influenced her religious and political views. She became increasingly favorable toward the beliefs of the Christian religion. 
Ranavalona II succeeded to the throne upon the death of Queen Rasoherina on April 1, 1868. On 21 February 1869, she entered into a political marriage with her prime minister, Rainilaiarivony, in a public ceremony at Andohalo wherein the court officially underwent conversion to Christianity.  This conversion was effected to bring the increasingly powerful Protestant faction under the influence of the royal court. Declaring Madagascar a Christian nation, Ranavalona had the traditional royal talismans (sampy) burned in a bonfire in September 1869 and replaced their authority with that of the Bible. 
Under her rule the problem of deforestation was considered. The queen authorized construction using brick and other durable materials within the walls of Antananarivo (previously forbidden by King Andrianampoinimerina  ). She also banned the traditional practice of tavy (swidden, slash-and-burn agriculture), charcoal making and construction of houses within forests. 
A European visitor to the court of Ranavalona II in 1873 described the queen in the following terms: "I should think the queen was about 45 years of age, with a dark olive complexion, and a face full of kindness and benevolence. She was very queenly, and dressed in a gray shot-silk dress, and a silk lamba fell negligently from her shoulders. Her hair was black, and beautifully arranged 'crown she did not wear', but from the hair at the top of her head there depended the long fine gold chain ending in a gold tassel, which only the queen can wear." 
Ranavalona II died in 1883 and was buried in Ambohimanga.  In a bid to desacralize the holy city, in 1897 the French colonial authority disinterred her remains along with those of other monarchs buried in Ambohimanga and transferred them to the tombs on the compound of the Rova of Antananarivo, where her bones were interred in the tomb of Queen Rasoherina.  She was succeeded by Queen Ranavalona III, the last monarch of the kingdom.
5. Her Marriage Wasn’t Happy
Ranavalona’s hubby became King in 1810, yet this did not mean that Ranavalona became Queen. Instead, he took care of business while Ranavalona twiddled her thumbs. Technically, she was Radama’s most important spouse, but he wasn’t super into her, which I guess is what sometimes happens when your dad tells you who to marry. And soon, Radama’s neglect had disastrous consequences.
Below is a list of the line of Merina monarchs that ruled in the Central Highlands of Madagascar and from whom were issued the first true monarchs of a united Madagascar in the 19th century. Before the uniting of Madagascar, succession was based on the current monarch's designation of an heir, typically from among his or her own children. As such, the list below represents a direct genealogical line from the last 19th-century queen of Madagascar to some of the earliest known rulers identified in the 15th century or before. Prior to the 16th century, detailed information about the names and dates of Merina rulers becomes less consistent. Genealogy in this early period are derived primarily from oral history, while later names and dates are verifiable from primary sources. These combined sources provide the following list of Merina rulers preceding Andrianampoinimerina's unification of Imerina in the Central Highlands and his son Radama I's successful conquest of the majority of Madagascar, bringing the island under his rule.
Asterisks denote names drawn from oral history without substantive evidence to verify the ruler's life or reign, viz., legendary or semi-legendary monarchs.
- * (Son of God incarnate. According to popular belief, descended from the skies and established his kingdom at Anerinerina)
- Andrianamponga I*
- Andriandranolava (Andranolava)*
- Andrianampandrandrandava (Rafandrandrava)*
- Andriamasindohafandrana (Ramasindohafandrana)*
- Andriampandramanenitra (Rafandramanenitra)*
- Queen Rangita (Rangitamanjakatrimovavy) (1520–1530)
- Queen Rafohy (1530–1540)
- King Andriamanelo (1540–1575)
- King Ralambo (1575–1612)
- King Andrianjaka (1612–1630)
- King Andriantsitakatrandriana (1630–1650)
- King Andriantsimitoviaminandriandehibe (1650–1670)
- King Andrianjaka Razakatsitakatrandriana (1670–1675)
- King Andriamasinavalona (Andrianjakanavalondambo) (1675–1710)
- King Andriantsimitoviaminiandriana Andriandrazaka (Andriantsimitoviaminandriandrazaka) (1710–1730)
- King Andriambelomasina (1730–1770)
- King Andrianjafynandriamanitra (Andrianjafinjanahary or Andrianjafy) (1770–1787)
- King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810)
|Radama I |
King of Madagascar
|Ranavalona I |
Queen of Madagascar
|Radama II |
King of Madagascar
|Ranavalona II |
Queen of Madagascar
Prime Minister of Madagascar
|Ranavalona III |
Queen of Madagascar
Prime Minister of Madagascar
Queen of Madagascar
After the fall of the Royal House, and the death of the last ruling Sovereign, Queen Ranavalona III's heir apparent, Princess Marie-Louise of Madagascar, remained. She died childless in 1948. 
9 of the worst monarchs in history
History has no shortage of disastrous rulers this list could easily have been filled with the Roman emperors alone. Rulers have been homicidal, like Nero or Genghis Khan incompetent, like Edward II completely untrustworthy, like Charles I or amiable but inadequate, like Louis XVI of France or Tsar Nicholas II.
Some royal stinkers were limited in their capacity to do serious harm: the self-absorbed Edward VIII by his abdication, the narcissistic prince regent and king, George IV, by the constitutional limits on his power. And the mass murderer and self-proclaimed ‘Emperor’ Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Empire might have featured on this list had his imperial status been internationally recognised, but it wasn’t.
Nearly-rans include the French Emperor Napoleon III, whose delusions of competence led to disaster in Italy, Mexico and finally defeat at the hands of Bismarck, and the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, a ludicrously gauche and immature ruler but not actually responsible on his own for launching Germany, and the rest of Europe, into the First World War.
The nearly-rans also include the extravagant waste of money and space that went by the name of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and absentee monarchs like Richard I of England and Charles XII of Sweden – both of them great military leaders who spent much of their reigns away at war, including time in captivity, instead of seeing to the affairs of their kingdoms.
Here, then, is my list of the nine worst monarchs in history…
Gaius Caligula (AD 12–41)
There are plenty of other contenders for worst Roman Emperor – Nero and Commodus for example – but Caligula‘s mad reign sets a high standard. After a promising start to his reign he seems to have set out specifically to intimidate and humiliate the senate and high command of the army, and he gave grave offence, not least in Jerusalem, by declaring himself a god even the Romans normally only recognised deification after death.
Caligula instituted a reign of terror through arbitrary arrest for treason, much as his predecessor Tiberius had done it was also widely rumoured that he was engaged in incest with his sisters and that he lived a life of sexual debauchery, and this may well be true. The story of his making his horse a consul, meanwhile, may have been exaggerated, but it was not out of character.
Caligula’s unforgivable mistake was to jeopardise Rome’s military reputation by declaring a sort of surreal war on the sea, ordering his soldiers to wade in and slash at the waves with their swords and collecting chests full of seashells as the spoils of his ‘victory’ over the god Neptune, king of the sea and by his failed campaign against the Germans, for which he still awarded himself a triumph. He was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard in AD 41.
Caligula’s successor, Claudius, was an improvement but, despite the favourable picture in Robert Graves’s famous book I, Claudius, not by much.
Pope John XII (954–964)
Even by the lax standards of the medieval papacy, John XII stands out as a disaster of the highest order. He was elected pope at the ripe old age of 18 as part of a political deal with the Roman nobility, and he inherited a conflict for control of Italy between the papacy and the Italian king Berengarius.
John had the support of the powerful German emperor Otto I, who swore to defend John’s title, but John himself was too taken up with a life of drunken sex parties in the Lateran to care too much either way. He recovered from his hangover enough to accept Otto’s oath of undying loyalty and then promptly linked up behind Otto’s back with his enemy, Berengarius.
Understandably annoyed, Otto had John overthrown and accused, among other things, of simony (clerical corruption), murder, perjury and incest, and he replaced him with a new pope, Leo VIII. However, John made a comeback and had Leo’s supporters punished ruthlessly: one cardinal had his hand cut off and he had a bishop whipped.
Full-scale war broke out between John and Otto, until John unexpectedly died – in bed with another man’s wife, or so rumour had it.
King John (1199–1216)
The reign of King John is a salutary reminder that murder and treachery may possibly be forgiven in a monarch, but not incompetence.
John was the youngest and favourite son of Henry II, but he had not been entrusted with any lands and was mockingly nicknamed John Lackland. He tried unsuccessfully to seize power while his brother Richard I was away on crusade and was sent into exile upon Richard’s return.
On his accession John had his own nephew Arthur murdered, fearing Arthur might pursue his own, much better, claim to the throne, and he embarked on a disastrous war with King Philippe-Auguste of France in which he lost the whole of Normandy. This singular act of incompetence deprived the barons of an important part of their power base, and he alienated them further with arbitrary demands for money and even by forcing himself on their wives.
In exasperation they forced him to accept Magna Carta no sooner had he sealed it, however, than he then went back on his word and plunged the country into a maelstrom of war and French invasion. Some tyrants have been rehabilitated by history – but not John.
King Richard II (1377–99)
Unlike Richard III, Richard II has good reason to feel grateful towards Shakespeare, who portrayed this startlingly incompetent monarch as a tragic figure a victim of circumstances and of others’ machinations rather than the vain, self-regarding author of his own downfall he actually was.
Learning nothing from the disastrous precedent of Edward II, Richard II alienated the nobility by gathering a bunch of cronies around him and then ended up in confrontation with parliament over his demands for money.
His reign descended into a game of political manoeuvre between himself and his much more able and impressive uncle, John of Gaunt, before degenerating into a gory grudge match between Richard and the five Lords Appellant, whom he either had killed or forced into exile.
Richard might have redeemed himself by prowess in war or administration, but he possessed neither. Henry Bolingbroke’s coup of 1399, illegal though it no doubt was, brought to an end Richard’s disastrous reign. Richard II has his defenders nowadays, who will doubtless take issue with his inclusion in this list, but there really is very little to say for him as a ruler.
TIL of Ranavalona, a ruthless ruler of Madagascar. During her reign the population of Madagascar is estimated to have declined from around 5 million to 2.5 million
The name was cut in half, just like Madagascar's population.
When you can't remember the name, so you just say every name you can think of.
If you look at the parts about her early life and family basically all the names are like that. It must be truly awful to be a historian of Madagascar because having to write those names repeatedly would be extremely tedious.
EDIT: For those that don't want to look, her parents were named Prince Andriantsalamanjaka and Princess Rabodonandriantompo
. but can you see why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch™?
Perfectly balanced. As all things should be.
"The combination of regular warfare, disease, difficult forced labor and harsh measures of justice resulted in a high mortality rate among soldiers and civilians alike during her 33-year reign."
There was more, like a trial by poison and some other stuff.
George McDonald Fraser writes about her in the Flashman novel, Flashman’s Lady. It’s an excellent read as are all of the Flashman books.
Yes! Logged in to say that-in his novels he also has great characterisations of other famous women in history, such as Lola Montez.
“Ranavalona” translates into “Cersei” in Valerian.
The Wikipedia page appears to back that up
What a bitch. I’d be mad too though if I had a ridiculous name like that
Thats going to look bad in her performance review.
So Ranavalona's life was basically her playing a real game of Civilization gone horribly wrong. . .except the consequences were real human lives.
Always hard to fathom the sheer amount of power one person can have over the fate of millions (and now billions). Fun in videogames but horrifying in real life.
It's more simple : she discovered Thanos glove and decided to give it a try
Would be pretty damn great for the environment if someone could bring the population down to at least 2.5 million again.
Given current population growth trends, that sort of thing may happen completely naturally. World population growth is projected to stop in a couple of decades and may turn negative after that. Wealthier countries already have negative population growth and as poverty rates decrease at record rates worldwide, a drop in population growth continues to follow.
Queen Ranavalona: Ruthless Ruler of Madagascar - History
Today I found out about Ranavalona I, the Mad Queen of Madagascar.
Ranavalona I started out in life as a girl named Ramavo. Born in 1788 in Madagascar, she had humble origins as a commoner’s daughter. When her father learned of a plot to murder the future king, Andrianampoinimerina, he told his master and the plot was foiled. As thanks for saving his life, Andrianampoinimerina adopted Ramavo as his own daughter. In addition, he arranged for her to marry his son, Radama.
As such, when Radama became King Radama I, Ranavalona became his first of twelve wives. In this position, it was her children who would become heirs to the throne. As in many cultures, the need to create “an heir and a spare” was very much in place in order to secure the line of succession. However, King Radama and Ranavalona never produced any children. This became particularly problematic when the King died after a bout of syphilis.
The rightful heir to the throne was Prince Rakotobe, Radama’s nephew. However, Malagasy tradition stated that any children that Ranavalona bore would be considered children of Radama, whether they were actually his or not. This would obviously threaten Rakotobe’s claims. The smartest thing for Rakotobe to do would be to kill Ranavalona—and she knew it.
She had already befriended many people who believed in the traditional Merina (their tribe) way of life. Her husband had allowed Christian missionaries onto Madagascar, earning him many enemies, and people feared that Rakotobe would follow in his uncle’s footsteps. Many traditionalists believed in Ranavalona, and she was able to rally enough military men to hold down the palace in those first few days after Radama’s death.
When people came defending Rakotobe’s right to the throne, they were met with a choice: accept Ranavalona as queen or face the consequences.
As a result, this commoner’s daughter was crowned Queen on June 12, 1829. Some of her first acts were to kill Rakotobe and his mother, along with many of his relatives. At her coronation, she proclaimed:
Never say, ‘she is only a feeble and ignorant woman, how can she rule such a vast empire?’ I will rule here, to the good fortune of my people and the glory of my name! I will worship no gods but those of my ancestors. The ocean shall be the boundary of my realm, and I will not cede the thickness of one hair of my realm!
Strong words, but whether or not Ranavalona’s rule was “good fortune” for her people remained to be seen. She certainly did attempt to stick to traditional values by overturning nearly all of her husband’s policies: she kicked the missionaries out, threw away trade agreements with France and England, and fought off an attack from the French navy.
Discipline under Ranavalona was brutal. If someone was suspected of being untrustworthy, they had to eat three chicken skins followed by the nut of a plant that made them throw up. Why? They had to throw up all three chicken skins in order to prove themselves faithful.
Once, one of Ranavalona’s lovers—whom she had caught with another woman—refused to do this and was promptly speared in the neck. After a battle against the French and English, 21 European heads could be found on pikes, warning others of their countrymen’s mistakes. That said, the battle was won mostly because the people of Madagascar were lucky—many of the foreigners fell victim to malaria.
Meanwhile, Ranavalona forbade the practice of Christianity within her kingdom she wanted nothing to do with the teaching of Christianity, baptisms, or Sunday services. In 1835, she said that she would not deny foreigners their freedom of religion, but it was not to be taught to her people, and “whoever breaks the laws of my kingdom will be put to death—whoever he may be.”
Many foreign Christians fled, leaving their converts to face fines, imprisonment, torture, and execution. At one point, Ranavalona ordered that fifteen Christian leaders dangle by ropes over a rocky ravine. Their ropes were then cut, sending them to meet their maker. A few thousand people were thought to have been persecuted for religious reasons under Ranavalona’s rule.
Understandably, Ranavalona is portrayed as a brutish tyrant by many of her contemporary European leaders. Her own people grew somewhat wary themselves, particularly as Ranavalona’s behaviour became more and more erratic. For instance, in 1845 she demanded that the entire court—along with a huge number of servants and slaves—go on a buffalo hunt. A total of 50,000 people set off to hunt buffalo. They carried with them very few supplies and had to build a road as they went as per Ranavalona’s orders. Many dropped dead from hunger and exhaustion, and it’s thought that around 10,000 people died during the 4-month-long hunt in which no buffalo were killed.
Along the way, Ranavalona bore a son named Rakoto, who, due to tradition, became the late King Radama’s legitimate heir. Rakoto did not agree with many of his mother’s policies and participated in several plots against her life, none of which succeeded. Nevertheless, he was still named heir to the throne and took over when she died peacefully in 1861.
“Mad” though she might have been and a tad brutal, Ranavalona was actually quite a good politician and leader. She did her best to retain her country’s cultural heritage, defended it against more powerful foreign nations who wanted to take advantage of the island’s resources, and expanded her territory to cover nearly the entirety of Madagascar. That said, the death toll associated with Ranavalona did not stop with her death. At her funeral, a barrel of gunpowder was accidentally ignited and the resulting explosion killed several funeral attendees, perhaps a fitting end to her reign.
Rakoto, who took on the name Radama II after his coronation, reversed many of his mother’s policies, but proved himself to be inept when it came to spotting assassination plots, and was killed just a few years into his reign.
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