No, your mother-in-law is not on the list. When it comes to dictators throughout history, we usually think of Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or maybe Mao Zedong, which is understandable. They’ve done atrocious things that took the lives of some 200 million people, along with untold damage and suffering. On the other hand, there were also some female dictators less known in history who were equally brutal in their own ways.

Ranavalona I

Born Rabodoandrianampoinimerina (This name crashed our Spell Check software for an hour), Princess Ramavo was born in 1778 in Ambatomanoina in Madagascar. Her rise to power began when she was still a young girl. Her father, Prince Andriantsalamanjaka, alerted the then-King  Andrianampoinimerina about an assassination planned against the king by his own uncle. As a form of gratitude for saving his life, he betrothed his son and heir, Prince Radama, to Princess Ramavo. He also declared that the child they would have would be first in the line of succession after the prince.

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

When Radama died, his sister’s eldest son was supposed to be the rightful heir, an intelligent and amiable young man named Rakotobe. However, Ramavo and her cronies decided to keep her husband’s death a secret and instead claimed the throne by saying Radama himself decreed it. She followed the royal custom and ordered the capture and killing of her political rivals, Rakotobe included. She was then officially crowned on June 12, 1829, which was the beginning of doom for the Kingdom of Madagascar.

In her 33 years of reign, she focused on strengthening the domestic authority of the Kingdom of Imerina and preserving Madagascar’s political and cultural sovereignty, which was not a bad thing until she decided to completely ban all Christian practices in 1835.

Just within a year, there were almost no foreigners in her country. She was also an avid fan of a traditional practice called fanompoana, which is tax payment in the form of forced labor. The regular war, diseases, the burden of forced labor, and the trials by ordeal using a poisonous nut from the Tangena shrub caused a very high mortality rate throughout her time as a ruler Madagascar’s population was almost halved from 5 million to 2.5 million.

Jiang Qing

Jiang Qing
Jiang Qing (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Known as Madame Mao, Jiang was an actress before she became a major political figure during the Cultural Revolution when she became the fourth wife and “First Lady” of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party and Paramount leader of China. She first worked as a director of the film in the Central Propaganda Department, writing pamphlets against traditional operas that were “feudal and bourgeois.”

So, she basically purged the Chinese media and literature and left nothing but political propaganda through their prescribed “revolutionary” material. She also established a close political relationship and became the leader of the Gang of Four— a Maoist political faction of four Communist Party of China officials who would later be charged with treasonous crimes.

Perhaps one of the most atrocious things that Jiang had done was to take advantage of the Cultural Revolution by taking revenge on her personal enemies, even those during her acting career. One of her rivals was First Premier Zhou Enlai, whom she hurt by having his adopted son murdered in the basement of Renmin University while his adopted daughter was kept and tortured in a secret prison and then cremating her body before disposing of it so that she could not be autopsied nor her family has her ashes. When Zhou Enlai died in 1976, she started a campaign called “Five Nos” to prohibit public mourning for Zhou.