History remembers tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Their brutality is etched in the scars of the 20th century. But what of their female counterparts? While overshadowed by their male peers, history reveals a chilling truth: women, too, have wielded absolute power and, sometimes, inflicted horrific consequences.

And NO, your mother-in-law is not on the list.

Queen Ranavalona I (1778 – 1861)

Also known as Ranavalo-Manjaka I and the “Mad Monarch of Madagascar”

Rise to Power and Isolationist Policies

Queen Ranavalona I‘s rise to power was shrouded in controversy. Following the death of her husband, King Radama I, the rightful heir was Radama’s nephew, Rakotobe. However, Ranavalona I, known then as Ramavo, and her advisors concealed Radama’s death and manipulated succession traditions to secure the throne for herself. This ruthless act marked the beginning of a turbulent reign.

Queen Ranavalona I
Queen Ranavalona I with her son and heir, Prince Rakoto (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ranavalona I, determined to preserve Madagascar’s independence, implemented strong isolationist policies. In 1835, she expelled European missionaries, fearing their influence and the spread of Christianity. This move effectively cut off the island from Western powers and halted modernization efforts initiated by her predecessor.

Harsh Rule and Devastating Consequences

Ranavalona I’s reign was characterized by harsh policies. She heavily relied on fanompoana, a system of forced labor that served as a form of taxation. This, coupled with constant warfare and brutal punishments like the trial by Tangena, a deadly poison ordeal, led to a significant decline in Madagascar’s population.

Estimates suggest the population dropped from 5 million to 2.5 million during her 33-year rule.

While Ranavalona I undoubtedly ruled with an iron fist, her motives were complex. She fiercely protected her nation’s sovereignty against European encroachment. However, her methods, including the suppression of Christianity and reliance on brutal practices, resulted in devastating consequences for Madagascar.