Ranavalona I: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Ranavalona I

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ranavalona I
Queen of Madagascar
Reign 1 August 1828 – 16 August 1861
Coronation 12 August 1829
Born 1782
Birthplace Rovan' Ambatomanoina Fokontany of Masombahiny
Died 16 August 1861 [1]
Place of death Lapan' Manjakamiadana, Rovan' Antananarivo
Buried Tomb of the Queens, Rovan' Antananarivo
Predecessor Radama I
Successor Radama II
Consort Radama the Great
Offspring Prince Rakoto
Dynasty Merina
Father Andrian-Tsala-Manjaka, King of Menabe
Mother Rabodo Andrian-Tampo

Ranavalona I ( born Rabodoandrianampoinimerina (Ramavo); c. 1782 – 16 August 1861 Antananarivo) was a Merina Queen of Madagascar. After succeeding her husband, Radama I, and becoming Queen, she was also known as Ranavalo-Manjaka I. Over the course of her reign, and after it, she was referred to by Western scholars as the Modern Messalina, the Bloody Mary of Madagascar, Most Mad Queen of History, Wicked Queen Ranavalona, and the Mad Queen of Madagascar and Female Caligula. The death of nearly half the population (largely by torture) during her reign is seen as a unique cultural quirk.[2] Her attempts to annihilate Christianity are typically cited as testimonials to the fervency of that faith as its adherents refused to recant it even under extreme torture and death.[3]


Early life

Ranavalona's background is in dispute. One source indicates that she was born into the Menabe tribe somewhere between 1782 and 1790. Little is known of her early life, but it was during her first years that the King Andrianampoinimerina was attempting to unite Madagascar's various factions under a single crown. The king of the Menabe ruled the western portion of the island, and he was unwilling to unify. Because of this, Andrianampoinimerina's successor, Radama I, did the next best thing by marrying the eldest daughter of Andrian-Tsala-Manjaka and his wife Rabodo Andrian-Tampo.

Laidler indicates that Ranavalona was adopted by King Andrianampoinimerina as a reward to her father who had uncovered a plot. She was later married at the age of 22 but cheated on him with his favorite son.[4]

Radama then became king of the Merina upon his father’s death, and succeeded in unifying the island. Ranavalona is suspected to have caused Radama’s death by poisoning him.

When Radama died in 1828, he left no descendants, and according to the local matrilineal custom, the rightful heir was Rakotobe, the eldest son of Radama's eldest sister. Ranavalona however gained knowledge of her husband's death before Rakotobe and his followers, secured the loyalty of the military leaders, and captured her potential opponents. She took the throne on 1 August 1828 after eliminating any potential rivals.

Restoration and repression

Ascending to the throne, Ranavalona swore to uphold the customary rites and old beliefs, and to defend her realm. Radama had started to modernize and westernize the country, but now with Ranavalona restoration was instituted as the old power brokers – priests, judges, slave merchants – regained control, supported by the Merina military. Ranavalona had most of the relatives of her late husband Radama I executed, repudiated the treaties he had negotiated with the British empire and legalized the slave trade. A preferred method to determine the guilt of an accused was the tanguena ordeal. Xenophobic and warned about European colonial expansion, she persecuted and expelled foreigners, including the island's six British missionaries, who left the island in 1835 not without having established a Malagasy-English dictionary.

In addition to a prosperous farming activity, the Merina economy was driven by the annual predatory military expeditions against other Madagascar tribes during the dry season. However more and more historians think that she allowed for the unification of Madagascar through Merina supremacy. These historians do not regard her empire building as colonialism. Robbing and plundering, the Merina forces descended from the highlands and left a destructive path in the countryside.[4] In this war against their own countrymen converted to European religion, she maintained control and supremacy of her loyalists. Dissident religious belief was seen as a decadent European intrusion on traditional Magalasy ways, to be stamped out without mercy.

Persecution of Christians

Ranavalona was a violent persecutor of the native Christians after expelling the alien missionaries, but failed to eradicate Christianity from her island. All people who possessed a Bible, or outwardly claimed to be Christian, were executed. Some were trussed up like chickens and thrown from hilltops repeatedly until they died. Others were dressed in the bloody skins of animals and had hunting dogs set upon them. Some were yoked together like cattle and placed in the thick tangled jungles of Madagascar where they would break their necks trying to get free, get caught in the undergrowth and starve to death, or be eaten by beasts. One of Ranavalona's favorite methods of execution was to have a prisoner placed in a pit at the bottom of a hill and have her soldiers, at the top of the hill, tip over pots of boiling water; when the water reached the pit, it would slowly rise up and boil the prisoner alive.[4]

Ranavalona's objections to Christianity were generally based on her antagonism to the Christians' behavior. They prayed frequently, but refused to pray to her idols. They shunned fornication. They assembled repeatedly for worship. She became exasperated when, despite her execution of 1600 of them in dungeons beneath her palace, "twenty more rose up" to take their place. She retaliated by dangling 15 Christian leaders on ropes 150 feet above a rock-filled ravine adjacent to the palace pending denial of Christ, with her idols perched triumphantly as saviors atop the cliff. As each Christian leader refused, the rope was cut. Some of the leaders sang hymns before crashing into and dying on the rocks. The place is now an impromptu shrine.[5]


The French, who held some islands off Madagascar, were interested in gaining control over Madagascar; a move that was opposed by the British who had an interest in maintaining a safe passage to India. With the abrogation of the Anglo-Merina friendship treaty, however, Ranavalona became vulnerable as British arms were no longer being delivered. She was able to repel a French attack on Foule Point in 1829, but in the long run, she was in a precarious position. Fortunately for her, help arrived when Jean Laborde got shipwrecked off Madagascar in 1832.

Laborde was introduced to the Queen and, given his knowledge and background, was commissioned to produce cannons, muskets, and gun powder. He was given the manpower and resources to create an early industrial empire in order to fulfill the needs of a modern army, making the kingdom independent from the supply of weapons from the colonial powers. In addition, there is little doubt that he had to attend to the queen's personal wishes.


Her son, Prince Rakoto, was officially born in 1829 and his official father was King Radama I who had actually died more than nine months prior to the birth. However, according to the local custom of the time he was considered Radama's son. Laborde was close to him and educated him. With mounting hatred of the queen's reign, both on Madagascar and in Europe, Joseph-François Lambert sought the help of the French to end her reign. He travelled to her court in May 1857, and conspired with Laborde and local leaders to topple her and place her son Rakoto on the throne. The world traveller Ida Pfeiffer was unwittingly drawn into the plot. The conspiracy, however, was discovered, locals executed, and the Europeans banned. Ranavalona did not dare to execute the Europeans for fear of reprisals, but she made sure that the normally week-long trip to the coast became gruesome and protracted to 53 days so that the Europeans arrived emaciated at the embarkation port. Ida Pfeiffer never fully recovered and died the following year, presumably from malaria.


During the final years of her reign, worried by news about European colonial expansion over Africa and Asia, weakened by the global slave trade decline, she maintained her brutal and repressive control and tried to keep the slave trade intact. She died peacefully on 16 August 1861 in her sleep after a rule of 33 years. A lot of her population had died due to the atrocities of her rule;[4] and she had resisted the attempts of the colonial powers to gain control of the island for the time being. After her death, Britain and France came to an agreement in the early 1890s, and the island soon became a French dominion and the slave trade was finally suppressed. With the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, British interests to keep the French out of Madagascar subsided.

Her son, Prince Rakoto, succeeded her as King Radama II.

In fiction

In George MacDonald Fraser's novel Flashman's Lady adventures take place at Ranavalona's court where the queen is described as follows (based on a contemporary account):

She might have been anywhere between forty and fifty, rather round-faced, with a small straight nose, a fine brow, and a short, broad-lipped; her skin was jet black and plump – and then you met her eyes, and in a sudden chill rush of fear realized that all you had heard was true, and the horrors you'd seen needed no further explanation. They were small and bright and evil as a snake's, unblinking, with a depth of cruelty and malice that was terrifying.

— George MacDonald Fraser

The novel's protagonist, Harry Flashman, describes Ranavalona as 'The most horrible woman I have ever met in my life, bar none.'


  1. ^ L'apostolat missionnaire de la France. p. 119. http://ia311527.us.archive.org/1/items/MN41413ucmf_4/MN41413ucmf_4.pdf.  
  2. ^ Edge, Simon (7 November 2005). "The Female Caligula". U.K.: The Express.  
  3. ^ Extreme Devotion Writing Team, Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002). ISBN 0849917395 ISBN 978-0849917394.
  4. ^ a b c d Keith Laidler. Female Caligula. Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagascar. Wiley (2005) ISNB -13 978-0-470-02223-8 (HB).  
  5. ^ Extreme Devotion Writing Team, Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002). ISBN 0849917395 ISBN 978-0849917394.


The Merina monarchy

King Andrianampoinimerina | King Radama I | Queen Ranavalona I | King Radama II | Queen Rasoherina | Queen Ranavalona II
Queen Ranavalona III

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address