Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rasoherina: The Decline of a Monarchy

Two tumultuous monarch had ruled Merina after the death of King Radama I. His successor and wife brought the nation into a bloodbath. Meanwhile, his supposedly son ruled too openly to the influences of the foreigners leading eventually to his downfall. Next to rule was widow, either forced or in fear, she began a period of tolerance and shift on the power to rule the Merina Kingdom. These was the reign of Queen Rasoherina.

Rasoherina was closely related to the royal Merina family. She was a descendant of a former ruler of a neighboring kingdom of Merina. She also had Queen Ranavalona as her aunt. She was born in 1814. She was later married to her cousin, Prince Ratoko. When Queen Ranavalona I passed away, Prince Ratoko assumed the throne as King Radama II.

Radama II reign proved to brief. His reign saw a rapid phase of liberalization to the influences of the Europeans. British and French began to show their interest on exploitation of natural resources of the island of Madagascar. Radama also showed tolerance to Christianity. He also began the westernization of the Merina Kingdom. His fast phased reform concerned not just the conservatives but also within the progressive officials as well. In 1863 he wanted to emulate the European tradition of dueling. This, however, was perceive by the liberals, with Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony on the lead, to be dangerous. And so in May of 1833, he and his brother, the commander of the army, Rainilaiarivony, launched a coup against the King and his allies. Finally ending with the strangulation of King Radama II.

The two officials then saw fit that the widow of the King to take the throne. Either force or not, she took the throne as Queen Rasoherina. Before she ascended to the throne, the murderers of his husband forced Rasoherina to sign an agreement. The agreement bounded the Queen to several conditions. This included that the Queen must never drink alcohol or any strong beverages. She must institute a judiciary based on trial by jury. She must also outlaw the dangerous and deadly ordeal of tangena. She must also continue the religious tolerance policies made by his husband. And finally, she must not disband the army. Rasoherina silently complied with them.

Under Rasoherina, the crown of Merina saw a decline on its absolute power. After the Prime Minister showed his strength, he became the power behind the throne. To further secure his power base, Rainivoninahitriniony decided to marry the widow Queen.

He then began to reverse some of King Radama II’s policies and commitments. For example, he revoked the controversial Charter of Joseph Francois Lambert agreed upon during the time of King Radama II. This resulted into a diplomatic row between France and the Merina Kingdom. Negotiations for compensation began in soon after. This would result to an agreement made in August 1865 where the Merina Kingdom was to pay 240,000 dollars to France. However, the agreement was made after Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony was ousted to power.

On July 14, 1864, a move was made to remove the Prime Minister. Excess of the Rainivoninahitriniony scandalized many. Individuals in the government and court wanted him out. Then some of the antis chose the Prime Minister’s brother to rally them in deposing him. Queen Rasoherina supported his ousting by removing him of power and divorcing him. Then Rainilaiarivony took the post of Prime Minister and also married the Queen to cement his position. Rainilaiarivony would hold the position of until the fall of the Kingdom, and on its wake were marriages to the successors of Rasoherina.

Under Queen Rasoherina’s reign, the country made reforms. The country continued to the policy of openness of Radama II but in a much slower pace. Religious freedom was exercise. However, fears of return to the anti-Christian policy of Ranavalona I loomed. The Queen supported the traditional ancestral talisman religion of the Kingdom but she did nothing to stop the propagation of Christianity. In fact, in 1867, the first Christian church was built in Ambatonakanga which commemorates the martyrs during Ranavalona’s reign. In civil affairs, a code of law was also made in 1866. The military was also strengthen when a recruitment drive began in the same year.

The reign of Rasoherina also saw the strengthening of ties with western countries. In June 27, 1865, a treaty of friendship and commerce was signed with Great Britain. Another one followed with a same treaty signed with the Americans on February 14, 1867. The diplomatic row with France, however, hampered the signing of a same treaty. A treaty of friendship and commerce was only signed with France only after the death of the Queen.

The reign of Rasoherina lasted only for five years. During late 1867, Rasoherina became suddenly ill after a tour of Andevoranto. The Queen never recovered. And on April 1, 1868, the Queen passed away. A coup was plotted by the former Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony to install his puppet, a boy named Rasata. It failed. Rasoherina was succeeded by a relative who took the name of Ranavalona II.

The reign of Rasoherina marked the decline of the absolute power of the monarchy. It was also the start of the rule of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony. Rasoherina’s reign was the start of the decline not just of the royal family, but the Kingdom itself.

See also:
Merina Kingdom
Radama I
Radama II
Ranavalona I
Ranavalona II
Ranavalona III

Akyeampong, E. Dictionary of African Biography. New York: Dictionary of African Biography, 2012.

Cousins, W. Madagascar of To-day: A Sketch of the Island, With Chapters on Its Past History and Present Prospects. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1895.

Jackson, G. Women Leaders of Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Pacific: A Biographical Reference. United States: Xlibris, 2009.

The Cambridge History of Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Thompson, V. & R. Adloff. The Malagasy Republic: Madagascar Today. California: Stanford University Press, 1965.

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