Ranavalona II (1829–1883)

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Ranavalona II (1829–1883)

Queen of Madagascar. Pronunciation: rah-nah-VAH-loo-nah. Name variations: Ranavalomanjaka; Ramoma. Born in 1829 in Madagascar; died on July 13, 1883, in Tananarive, Madagascar; daughter of Prince Ramasindrazana of Madagascar; married Radama II, king of Madagascar (died 1863); married Rainilaiarivony, prime minister of Madagascar, in 1869; no children.

The future Queen Ranavalona II was born in 1829 into the royal family of the Imerina, rulers of the largest kingdom on the African island of Madagascar. Called Princess Ramoma, she became the first wife of King Radama II, her cousin, but when he married Rasoherina , she was relegated to the status of second wife. Radama II was assassinated in 1863, and Rasoherina was chosen to succeed him. When Rasoherina died in 1868, Ramoma was chosen as the new queen and took the name Ranavalona II. Her election to the throne was allegedly to honor the dynasty's founder's wish that women should rule the Imerina. However, historians believe it was arranged by the prime minister, Rainilaiarivony, who wanted to rule himself with a queen to act as figurehead. He consolidated his power in 1869 with his marriage to Ranavalona II. Nevertheless, Ranavalona was to have a significant impact on Madagascar's history.

Her primary influence was on the religion of the Malagasy people. British and French missionaries had been working on the island for decades, but her reign of 15 years began the Christian period of the Madagascar monarchy and implemented Protestant Christianity as the state religion. Ranavalona II was raised and educated as a Christian, taught by Malagasy pastors converted by the London Missionary Society. Her coronation in 1868 used Christian language and symbols, rejecting the traditional gods of the Imerina. In 1869, she and her husband were baptized in a public ceremony, which was followed by the conversion of most of her subjects.

In 1873 and 1881, Ranavalona and her husband issued new legal codes, which borrowed heavily from European liberal political ideology while preserving royal authority. They also centralized the island's administration and tried to strengthen the military.

In foreign policy, the queen and prime minister followed an "open-door" strategy towards European missionaries and traders, and exiled the traditionalist, anti-European faction at court. Britain and France were particularly eager to dominate the cattle, rice, coffee, sugar, and gold trades of Madagascar, and were threatening the stability of the monarchy. The struggle to maintain the island's independence from the colonial European powers had already erupted once into war by the time of Ranavalona's accession.

During the late 1870s, the threat of annexation by the French became more immediate, despite several treaties recognizing her as ruler of all the Malagasy people of Madagascar. In 1882, she sent an embassy to Europe and the United States to arrange treaties with Germany, France, Italy, America, and Britain, but because of France's increasing domination of the island, the other states were not willing to negotiate with her representatives. Another treaty with the French was signed in 1883, but, soon after, the French government made an ultimatum to the queen demanding that she accept the establishment of a French protectorate over the island, allow the sale of land to French nationals, and pay an indemnity for losses to the French army during the struggle for control of Madagascar. Ranavalona rejected these demands, and in June 1883 the French-Malagasy war broke out, the queen urging her subjects to fight for independence. However, she survived only one month into the war. The queen, about 54 years old, died in her capital city of Tananarive on July 13, 1883.


Brown, Mervyn. Madagascar Rediscovered: A History from Early Times to Independence. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1979.

Mutibwa, Phares. The Malagasy and the Europeans: Madagascar's Foreign Relations, 1861–1895. London: Longman, 1974.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California