A dowager is a widow or widower who holds a title or property – a "dower" – derived from her or his deceased spouse.[1] As an adjective, dowager usually appears in association with monarchical and aristocratic titles.

In popular usage, the noun dowager may refer to any elderly widow, especially one of wealth and dignity or autocratic manner.

Some dowagers move to a separate residence known as a dower house.


The Dowager Duchess of Ventadour in full mourning attends the King of France
The dowager Empress Eugénie of France in grand deuil
Empress Amélie of Brazil wore black in mourning for her husband Pedro I for the rest of her life.[2]

In the United Kingdom

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

In the United Kingdom the widow of a peer or baronet may continue to use the style she had during her husband's lifetime, e.g. "Countess of Loamshire", provided that his successor, if any, has no wife to bear the plain title. Otherwise she more properly prefixes either her forename or the word Dowager, e.g. "Jane, Countess of Loamshire" or "Dowager Countess of Loamshire". (In any case, she would continue to be called "Lady Loamshire".)[3]

The term queen dowager is used in the United Kingdom and several other countries for the widow of a king; when the dowager is the mother of the current monarch she is more often known as the queen mother.[4]

In Sinosphere

Empress dowager is the title given to the mother or widow of a Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese emperor. A notable example is Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi, who effectively ruled China for over 47 years.[5]

In other regions

This form of address is used for noble ladies whose husbands have died. It was used for the late Queen Dowager, Fabiola of Belgium.

Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain was known as a dowager queen after the death of her husband.[6]

The widowed wives of Russian emperors were bestowed the title of Dowager Empress, and ranked above the wife of the reigning emperor.


Elderly widows of wealth, prominence, and dignified or autocratic manner are often referred to informally as dowagers.

The lady in white is a dowager (c. 1914)

Dowagers portrayed in literature include Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and the Dowager Duchess of Merton in Agatha Christie's Lord Edgware Dies.

Maggie Smith portrayed Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham from 2010 to 2015 in the television series Downton Abbey, and in the 2019 movie sequel Downton Abbey and the 2022 film Downton Abbey: A New Era.


  1. ^ "Queen as a Title – History of Titles for Female Rulers". about.com. Archived from the original on 13 May 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  2. ^ Loés, João (22 February 2013). "A volta de Dom Pedro I". istoe.com.br (in Portuguese). Retrieved 7 November 2022.
  3. ^ "Titles and how to use them". The Telegraph. 4 May 2009. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  4. ^ "The Queen Mother". Sky HISTORY TV channel. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  5. ^ Jung Chang (2013). Empress Dowager Cixi. Knopf Doubleday. p. 68. ISBN 9780385350372.
  6. ^ lesoir.be (21 August 2016). "Baudouin et Fabiola, un couple fusionnel". lesoir.be. Retrieved 19 March 2017.