A queen consort is the wife of a reigning king, and usually shares her spouse's social rank and status. She holds the feminine equivalent of the king's monarchical titles and may be crowned and anointed, but historically she does not formally share the king's political and military powers, unless on occasion acting as regent.
In contrast, a queen regnant is a female monarch who rules suo jure and usually becomes queen by inheriting the throne upon the death of the previous monarch.
When a title other than king is held by the sovereign, his wife can be referred to by the feminine equivalent, such as princess consort or empress consort.
In monarchies where polygamy has been practised in the past (such as Morocco and Thailand), or is practised today (such as the Zulu nation and the various Yoruba polities), the number of wives of the king varies. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has broken with tradition and given his wife, Lalla Salma, the title of princess. Prior to the reign of King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan monarchy had no such title. In Thailand, the king and queen must both be of royal descent. The king's other consorts are accorded royal titles that confer status. Other cultures maintain different traditions on queenly status. A Zulu chieftain designates one of his wives as "Great Wife", which would be the equivalent to queen consort.
Conversely, in Yorubaland, all of a chief's consorts are essentially of equal rank. Although one of their number, usually the one who has been married to the chief for the longest time, may be given a chieftaincy of her own to highlight her relatively higher status when compared to the other wives, she does not share her husband's ritual power as a chieftain. When a woman is to be vested with an authority similar to that of the chief, she is usually a lady courtier in his service who is not married to him, but who is expected to lead his female subjects on his behalf.
The traditional historiography on queenship has created an image of a queen who is a king's "helpmate" and provider of heirs. They had power within the royal household and partially within the court. Their duty was running the royal household smoothly, such as directing the children's education, supervising the staff, and managing the private royal treasury. They unofficially acted as hostesses, ensuring the royal family was not involved in scandals and giving gifts to high-ranking officials in a society where this was important to maintain bonds. As a result, consorts were expected to act as wise, loyal, and chaste women.
Some royal consorts from foreign origins have served roles as transfers of culture. Due to their unique position of being reared in one culture and then, when very young, promised into marriage in another land with a different culture, they have served as a cultural bridge between nations. Based on their journals, diaries, and accounts, some exchanged and introduced new forms of art, music, religion, and fashion.
However, the consorts of monarchs have no official political power per se, even when their position is constitutionally or statutorily recognized. They often held an informal sort of power that was dependent on what opportunities were afforded to her. Should she
have an amiable personality and high intelligence, produce a healthy heir and gain the favor of the court (especially the monarch's), then chances were higher for her to gain it over time. There have been many cases of royal consorts being shrewd or ambitious stateswomen and, usually (but not always) unofficially, being among the monarch's most trusted advisors. In some cases, the royal consort has been the chief power behind her husband's throne; e.g. Maria Luisa of Parma, wife of Charles IV of Spain. Often the consort of a deceased monarch (the dowager queen or queen mother) has served as regent if her child, the successor to the throne, was still a minor—for example:
Because queens consort lack an ordinal with which to distinguish between them, many historical texts and encyclopedias refer to deceased consorts by their premarital (or maiden) name or title, not by their marital royal title (examples: Queen Mary, consort of George V, is usually called Mary of Teck, and Queen Maria José, consort of Umberto II of Italy, is usually called Marie José of Belgium).