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A queen dowager or dowager queen (compare: princess dowager or dowager princess) is a title or status generally held by the widow of a king. In the case of the widow of an emperor, the title of empress dowager is used. Its full meaning is clear from the two words from which it is composed: queen indicates someone who served as queen consort (i.e. wife of a king), while dowager indicates a woman continues to hold the title from her deceased husband (a queen who reigns in her own right is a queen regnant). A queen mother is a former queen consort, often a dowager queen, who is the mother of the reigning monarch.
Currently (2019) there are four queens dowager: Kesang Choden of Bhutan (who is the only living queen grandmother worldwide), Norodom Monineath of Cambodia (who is also queen mother), Lisa Najeeb Halaby (Noor Al'Hussein) of Jordan, and Sirikit Kitiyakara of Thailand (who is also queen mother). Queen Ratna of Nepal was queen dowager until the abolition of the Nepalese monarchy in 2008.
A queen dowager has an important royal position (whether or not she is the mother of the reigning sovereign) but does not normally have any rights to succeed a king as monarch on his death unless she happens to be next in line to the throne (one possibility would be if the king and queen were also cousins and childless, the king had no other siblings, and she in her other position as his cousin was also his heiress presumptive).
A queen dowager continues to enjoy the title, style, and precedence of a queen, but is no longer referred to as the queen. A new reigning king would have (at accession or eventually) a wife who would be the new queen consort and therefore the queen; and, of course, a queen regnant would also be called the queen. Many former queens consort do not formally use the word "dowager" as part of their titles. There may be more than one queen dowager at any given time. The Garter King of Arms's proclamation in the United Kingdom of the styles and titles of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at her funeral on 9 April 2002 illustrates her dual status as a queen dowager and a queen mother:
Thus it hath pleased Almighty God to take out of this transitory life unto His Divine Mercy the late Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Princess Elizabeth, Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Grand Master and Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Victorian Chain, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John, Relict of His Majesty King George the Sixth and Mother of Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth The Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, whom may God preserve and bless with long life, health and honour and all worldly happiness.
A queen mother is a former queen, often a queen dowager, who is the mother of the current monarch. Not every queen mother is a queen dowager, such as Queen Paola of Belgium, who became the queen mother of her son Philippe after her husband Albert II abdicated the throne but retained the title of king. Not all queens dowager are the queen mother; they may have a relation other than mother to the reigning monarch, such as aunt or grandmother. For example, Mary, Queen of Scots, was queen dowager of France after the death of her husband Francis II, to whom she bore no children. Similarly, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen was queen dowager after her husband William IV was succeeded by his niece Victoria.
Not every mother of a reigning monarch is the queen mother or a queen dowager. For example, the mother of Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was not a queen dowager nor the queen mother because her husband, Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, had never been king. Similarly, whilst being the mothers of monarchs, both Augusta of Saxe-Gotha and Srinagarindra of Thailand were not styled queen dowager because their respective husbands, Frederick, Prince of Wales and Mahidol Adulyadej, Prince of Songkla, were never kings. Instead, Augusta held the title of "Dowager Princess of Wales" (a precedent was Henry VII of England's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, titled "My Lady the King's Mother"); Srinagarindra meanwhile received the designation "Princess Mother".
As there is only one monarch, there can only be one queen mother. It is possible for there to be a queen mother and one or more queens dowager alive at any one time. This situation occurred in the Commonwealth realms in the period between the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952 and the death of her paternal grandmother on 24 March 1953. For slightly over a year, there were three queens alive:
See also: British queen mothers
There were several former queens consort of England, Scotland, and later the United Kingdom, who were never queen mothers. The following queens were dowagers between the given dates, whether queen mothers or not:
Of England and Ireland
Of England, Ireland and Scotland
Of the United Kingdom:
If the current queen consort, Queen Camilla, outlives the incumbent king, King Charles III, she will become a queen dowager, while King Charles’s son and daughter in law become the new king and queen consort respectively. She would not be known as a queen mother, as she is not the biological parent of Prince William.
Note that in some of the countries mentioned below it is unusual to indicate a former queen-consort as a dowager.
In Sweden, there has also been another title for a dowager queen, called Riksänkedrottning, which means Queen Dowager of the Realm. This title was used in the 16th and 17th centuries. The last time the title queen dowager was used was in 1913.
In the novel series The Princess Diaries, the character Princess Clarisse Marie Grimaldi Renaldo is the princess dowager of the principality of Genovia. In the films, where Genovia is portrayed as a kingdom, Clarisse is portrayed as a dowager queen.
In the fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, and later the HBO series Game of Thrones, the character Cersei Lannister became the queen mother to King Joffrey Baratheon after her husband Robert Baratheon was killed in a hunting accident, although she managed to strong-arm the position of regent as well, and was thus known as the "queen regent". In the episode "High Sparrow", the new queen consort, Margaery Tyrell, mocks Cersei's loss of power by asking her to clarify whether she should be addressed as queen mother or dowager queen.
In the 2015 Indian movie Baahubali-The Beginning and its sequel Baahubali-the Conclusion, actress Ramya Krishnan portrays the character "Rajamatha Shivagami Devi". In most Indian languages, the word 'rajamata' means 'Queen-Mother'.
In the video game Long Live the Queen, after the queen regnant of the kingdom of Nova is assassinated, her widower is referred to as the king-dowager.
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