Madagascar · Pocket Profiles

Pocket Profiles – Queen Ranavalona III

This Pocket Profile focuses on another queen with a dramatic story, someone who was the last of her kind: Ranavalona III, the last monarch of Madagascar.

She was born Princess Razafindrahety on November 22, 1861, a niece of the reigning Queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona II. The princess was a member of the Andriana, the noble caste in the highly structured society. She was chosen from several Andriana princesses to be the heir. When she reached school age, she was transferred to the care of her aunt, the Queen, who ensured she would receive a properly disciplined and Christian-based education. The princess was considered a bright and serious student.

That education and structured upbringing was a good thing, since her aunt died in 1883, when the Princess was only 21. At the time Madagascar was a constitutional monarchy, with governing responsibilities shared between the prime minister and the monarch. The previous two queens had married their prime ministers to solidify power within the family. When she was very young the Princess was married to a young Andriana nobleman, who died suddenly. It was rumored that he had been poisoned by ministers of the court to free Ranavalona to marry her prime minister.

Queen Ranavalona circa 1890, Wikimedia Commons

The queen’s coronation was conducted in November 1883, also her 22nd birthday. She broke tradition by honoring education and inviting students, both boys and girls, to accompany her procession. She was subsequently married to Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who had also been married to the previous queen.

Her role as Queen was largely ceremonial, as most of the day to day governing was handled by her older husband. The bright well-educated Queen was directed to focus on her more traditional interests: knitting, crocheting, and local crafts. She was very proficient at the first two, and often brought her work in progress to cabinet meetings. She was also a fashionable woman, who imported many of her clothes from France, and with her slim figure she was an excellent model for them.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

The French had been attempting to colonize Madagascar since the beginning of the century. Between 1890 and 1894, the French asserted their rights to the territory, and after a series of diplomatic initiatives by Ranavalona failed, guerilla warfare broke out.  Eventually, in 1895, Queen Ranavalona signed a treaty accepting the French protectorate over Madagascar. Although she and her court were permitted to remain at the palace under French rule, her husband the prime minister was exiled to Algiers, where he died the next year. The French officially annexed Madagascar as a colony in 1897, and after being forced to sign over all royal property, the Queen was exiled to Reunion Island the next day. After two years, the French determined she was too close to Madagascar and she was removed to Algiers.

Queen Ranavalona in Exile, with her grand-niece Marie Louise, Wikimedia

There was significant sympathy for the Queen, who longed for sophisticated clothes and company. Eventually, she was allowed to visit Paris from exile, where she was a great hit with society. Her love of clothes and free-spending ways somewhat alarmed the Colonial Office, who shipped her back to Algiers quickly after one particularly profligate buying spree. The Queen did cut a fashionable figure, and was the subject of great interest in the press, as shown in the illustrations from the article below (along with the photo that was used as inspiration.)

Ranavalona died suddenly in 1917, of an embolism. She had never been permitted to visit Madagascar, despite many petitions to do so. She was buried in Algiers, but twenty-one years after her death her remains were returned to Madagascar and interred in the tomb of Queen Rasoherina.

Note: There were Queens Ranavalona I and II, too. Rana I has quite a story and we will do a post on the “Mad Queen of Madagascar” soon, I promise!