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 that 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.

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 ban all Christian practice in 1835 completely. Just within a year, there were almost no foreigners in her country. She was also an avid fan of a traditional practice called fanompoana, 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 that Madagascar’s population was almost halved from 5 million to 2.5 million.