Queen Ranavalona III (1861-1917)

Queen Ranavalona III, Antananarivo, Madagascar, ca. 1890
Queen Ranavalona III, Antananarivo, Madagascar, ca. 1890
Photo by unknown author (CC0)

Madagascar’s queen, Ranavalona III, was born Princess Razafindrahety in Amparibe, Manjakazafy, Madagascar, on November 22, 1861. She was the last sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar. Reared as a Protestant, her formal education was completed privately by London Missionary Society instructors. Her parents were Andriantsimianatra and his wife and cousin, Princess Razafindrahety, who was the great-granddaughter of King Andrianampoinimerina. Her older sister was Princess Rasendranoro.

While Queen Ranavalona III did not have any biological children, after the death of her influential aunt, Princess Razafinandriamanitra, she adopted the Princess’s surviving infant, Marie-Louise, and made her heir.

The French challenged Madagascar’s freedom in the Franco-Hova War of 1883. During this period, Ranavalona III succeeded her great-aunt, Ranavalona II. Unlike previous Queens, she actively strategized against the political designs of some in her government and carefully monitored France’s colonial desires over Madagascar.

The war against the French continued into 1885. That year, the Queen’s Army was overpowered and forced to surrender Madagascar’s capital, Tananarive, to France. Over the next decade, Ranavalona diplomatically maneuvered to keep her nation’s independence. Still, in 1896, the French Parliament voted to annex Madagascar and immediately exiled the Queen’s husband, Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, who died a few months later.

Queen Ranavalona
Queen Ranavalona, Photo by J. Geiser. Algier phot. (CC0)

The Madagascar monarchy was officially abolished, thus making Madagascar a colony of the French Empire in 1897. For a brief while, France allowed Ranavalona to remain Queen for ceremonial purposes without real power. By the end of 1897, however, the French seized her crown and exiled her to the island of Réunion, barring her from ever returning to Madagascar to prevent her from rallying sympathetic rebels still waging a guerilla conflict against the French. In 1899, still fearful of Ranavalona’s influence, the French exiled her and her remaining family members to French Algeria.

Queen Ranavalona III died in Algiers, French Algeria, of an arterial embolism on May 23, 1917. She was 55. In 1962, the Queen’s remains were exhumed and sent to Antananarivo, in Madagascar, to be reinterred in the tomb of Queen Rasoherina, who ruled in 1862. In 2020, France returned all of Queen Ranavalona’s belongings to Madagascar, including her crown and dais, gowns, and hats.