Queen dowager

A queen dowager, dowager queen or queen mother (compare: princess dowager, dowager princess or princess mother) 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 who holds the title from her deceased husband (a queen who rules in her own right and not due to marriage to a king is a queen regnant).

A queen mother is 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.

Distinction from queen mother

A queen mother is a particular type of queen dowager who is simultaneously a former queen consort and the mother of the current monarch. Therefore, every queen mother is by definition also a queen dowager. However, not all queens dowager are queens 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 a queen mother or a queen dowager. For example, the mother of Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was never a queen dowager 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".

Finally, 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:

  • Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch (Queen regnant).
  • Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the widow of the deceased King George VI and the mother of the reigning queen. Queen Elizabeth, the former queen consort, specifically adopted the appellation Queen Mother to distinguish herself from her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. She reportedly loathed being referred to as a dowager queen, and felt there would be confusion if she were called simply by her name, as her two immediate predecessors, Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra, had been.
  • Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, the mother of the former king Edward VIII (the then Duke of Windsor) and of the late King George VI. Queen Mary had been Queen Mother between the death of her husband in 1936 and the accession of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1952. After the accession of her granddaughter, Queen Mary became Queen Grandmother. However, she continued to be titled and styled Her Majesty Queen Mary.

A queen dowager continues to enjoy the title, style, and precedence of a queen. However, many former queens consort do not formally use the word "dowager" as part of their titles. 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.

British queens dowager

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:

Of England and Ireland

Of Scotland

Of England, Ireland and Scotland

Of the United Kingdom:


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 Renaldi 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 'rajamatha' 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.


  1. Catherine Parr continued to use the title Queen Dowager even after her remarriage to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, the younger brother of the late Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife.
  2. Linda Porter. Katherine, the queen, Macmillan 2011.
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