Did You Know a Former Empress of Ethiopia Was Born on This Day?

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This Day In History: April 29th

The stories of ruling women often go untold in history or are overshadowed by Kings and Emperors. Although it was not as common, there were several women who held titles of nobility and ruled over territories like the men. Empress Zewditu (also written as Zauditu) of Ethiopia claimed her throne to lead the country for more than a decade.

She was born Askala Maryam on April 29, 1876, and her father was Menelik II. He was the King of Shewa and the future emperor of Ethiopia. He established an agreement to submit to the Emperor’s rule but required that his daughter, Zewditu, marry the Emperor’s son and future heir to the throne. The two were married, but Menelik and the Emperor continued to have disagreements until his death in 1889. Menelik II became emperor over Ethiopia soon after. 

After more than two decades of ruling, Menelik was succeeded by Emperor Iyasu in 1913. Menelik never had any sons to inherit the title of Emperor and Zewditu was initially passed over for her relative, Iyasu. He was threatened by her so he forced her and her husband to live on the outskirts of the country. His reign as emperor was brief due to his interest in Islam and attempts to integrate Muslims into the administration. 

Zewditu took the throne after his fall in 1916. She was crowned empress but due to optics and societal norms of the time, she had a male appointed as her Prime Minister. Her cousin, Ras Tafari Makonnen served as the Prime Minister and would also become future emperor, Haile Selassie. Despite being relatives, the two had very different ideas for how the country should operate moving forward. 

The Empress took a more conservative approach while Makonnen wanted to take the country in a new direction. Zewditu promoted the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and constructed churches throughout the empire.

Zewditu’s husband led conservative rebels to battle against Makonnen and his changes, but he died while in battle, ultimately losing the revolt as well. Empress Zewditu died on April 2, 1930, and was succeeded by Makonnen who changed his name to Haile Selassie after being crowned Emperor. 

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