Zauditu (1876–1930)

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Zauditu (1876–1930)

Ethiopian empress. Name variations: Judith (Zauditu means Judith in English); Waizero. Born in 1876; died in 1930; daughter of Menelik II (1844–1913), king of Shoa (r. 1865–1889), emperor of Ethiopia (r. 1889–1913), and possibly Altash (first of four wives of Menelik II); married Aria Selassi (died 1888); married and widowed a second time; married Ras Gugsa Wolie, in 1902 (died 1930).

Zauditu, which translates as "Judith" in English, was born in 1876 into the Ethiopian ruling class. She was the daughter of Menelik II, a ruler of one of the southern regions known as Shoa, and perhaps his first of four wives, Altash . As a child, she was married to Aria Selassi, who died in 1888; after marrying and being widowed a second time, she married Gugsa Wolie, the nephew of her stepmother Taytu , in 1902. Menelik II had become emperor over all of Ethiopia following the death of Emperor Yohannes IV in 1889. During his 24-year rule, Menelik failed to produce a male heir to succeed him, and although Taytu reportedly campaigned to have Zauditu named as successor, Menelik chose his grandson, Iyasu V.

Iyasu ascended to the throne in 1913 upon Menelik's death, but his brief rule was marred by his attempts to integrate Muslim ministers into a government largely dependent on a Christian ruling class, as well as his dalliance with the Central Powers during World War I. He was deposed in 1916, and Zauditu became empress of Ethiopia. Her title came with a price; as a condition of her rule, Zauditu had to renounce her marriage to Ras Gugsa Wolie and share her power with Ras Tafari (later known as Haile Selassie), a cousin of Emperor Menelik. Ras Tafari quickly eclipsed Zauditu as ruler, embarking on an ambitious campaign to modernize Ethiopia which eventually led to Ethiopia's transformation into a market economy, the abolishment of the slave trade, and the country's entry into the League of Nations in 1923.

Ras Tafari's pro-Western, liberal approach to ruling Ethiopia clashed with Zauditu's conservative outlook, and she came under pressure to concede even more power to him as Ethiopia's economy prospered under his policies. She reluctantly crowned Ras Tafari king in 1928, a move that effectively made her ruler in title alone. The significance of this transfer of power was not lost on Zauditu's former husband, who was now governorgeneral of one of Ethiopia's northern provinces; Ras Gugsa Wolie launched a revolt against Ras Tafari in 1930, but was defeated and killed that same year. The role that his death may have played in Zauditu's demise shortly thereafter is the source of some speculation; some sources attribute her death to the overwhelming grief she experienced upon learning of Ras Gugsa Wolie's execution; other sources suggest that she died from complications of diabetes. Regardless of the cause, Zauditu's death cleared the way for Ras Tafari to claim rule under the name Haile Selassie I ("Strength of the Trinity") in 1930.


Dictionary of African Historical Biography. 2nd ed. Ed. by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Jackson, Guida M., ed. Women Who Ruled. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1990.

Uglow, Jennifer S., ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1985.

Philip Yacuboski , freelance writer, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania

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Zauditu (1876–1930)

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