The Bastard Heir
Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar gave birth to her only child, a son, on September 23rd, 182. The child almost immediately proclaimed heir to the throne and given the name Prince Rakoto (Rakotosehenondradama). It apparently didn’t matter that the boy’s official father – and Ranavalona’s husband – had been dead for over a year and most certainly did not get his wife pregnant from beyond the grave. Instead, it was an open secret that Prince Rakoto’s real father was the Queen’s lover, Andriamihaja, a young officer of the Merina army.
Queen Ranavalona was born Princess Ramova at the royal residence of Ambatomanoina. She was betrothed as a child to Prince Radama (later King Radama I) after her father warned the prince’s father of an impending assassination plot. Despite her rank, Ranavalona was not Radama’s preferred consort, and the couple had no children. Unsatisfied in her loveless marriage, Ranavalona would spend most days drinking rum and socializing with other court ladies at the home of David Griffiths, a Christian missionary. Radama died abruptly at the age of 35 without an heir, though local custom said that the eldest son of his eldest sister was to be King. The court was split, with several high ranking officials instead favoring Ranavalona as heir. In the end, Ranavalona declared herself successor on the pretense that her husband has decreed it – there was no immediate resistance, and she was crowned Queen Ranavalona in 1829, becoming the first female sovereign since the kingdom’s founding in 1540.
In the early years of her reign, Ranavalona’s lover was highly influential at court, and prevailed over her court’s progressive faction (in opposition to the conservative faction). The progressive faction soon tired of Andriamihaja’s influence over the Queen and managed to persuade a highly intoxicated Ranavalona to sign his death warrant for invented charges of witchcraft and treason. Andriamihaja was then immediately taken from his home and killed before the Queen had time to sober up.
Queen Ranavalona ruled for 33 years and following her death at the age of 83, her son succeeded the throne as King Radama II. The new king immediately set about reversing many of his mother’s policies and was assassinated at the age 33 – though fairly credible rumors indicate that he escaped and lived to be an old man. Though Queen Ranavalona’s lenghty reign was condemned as being tyrannical, more detailed research shows that the Queen was an astute politician who effectively protected her kingdom from the political and cultural encroachment of the Europeans.