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Zauditu (also known as Zawditu, Zewditu, or Judith) (1876 - 1930) was reigning Empress of Ethiopia from 1916 to 1930. She was noted for opposing the reforms of Taffari Makonnen (later Emperor Haile Selassie) and for her strong religious devotion.

Early life

Zauditu was the eldest daughter of King Menelik of Shoa. Her mother, Woizero (Lady) Abechi, was a Shoan noblewoman. Abechi had died when Zauditu was very young, and so Zauditu was raised mainly by her father. Menelik later married Taytu Betul, and had several more children (some legitimate, some not), but still remained very close to Zauditu. Zauditu also had good relations with her step-mother Taytu.

In 1882, Zauditu was married to Ras Araya Selassie Yohannis, son and heir of Emperor Yohannis IV. The marriage was political, having been arranged when Menelik agreed to submit to Yohannis' rule. Yohannis and Menelik soon fell into conflict, however, with Menelik beginning a rebellion against Yohannis' rule. Zauditu's marriage was childless, although her husband had fathered a son by another woman. When Zauditu's husband died in 1888, she returned to her father's court. Despite the hostility between Menelik and Yohannis, Zauditu managed throughout the conflict to maintain good relations with both.

Zauditu had two further marriages, both brief, before marrying Ras Gugsa Welle. Gugsa Welle was the newphew of Taytu Betul, Zauditu's stepmother. Zauditu had already been on good terms with Taytu, but the establishment of a direct tie between the two helped cement the relationship. Unlike her prior marriages, Zauditu's marriage to Gugsa Welle is thought to have been happy.

Ascent to power

Menelik, having defeated Yohannis IV, had himself become Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889. In 1913, Menelik died. Lij Iyasu, Menelik's grandson (the son of Zauditu's sister-in-law) had been declared heir apparent in 1909, following the death of Menelik's own son. Iyasu considered Zauditu a potential threat to his rule, and exiled her and her husband to the countryside.

Iyasu was officially proclaimed as Emperor Iyasu IV, but quickly encountered problems with his rule. He was widely disliked by the nobility, and the church held him in suspicion for his alleged Mulsim sympathies. After a troubled few years, Iyasu was removed from power. Zauditu was summoned to the capital, and on 27 September 27 1916, the Council of State officially deposed Iyasu in favour of Zauditu. Zauditu's official title was Negeste Negusti (Queen of Kings), a modification of the traditional title Negus Negusti (King of Kings).

Initially, Zauditu was not permitted to exercise power herself. Instead, her cousin Ras Taffari Makonnen was appointed regent. Ras Taffari was also made heir apparent to Zauditu - none of Zauditu's children had survived to adulthood. In 1928, however, the regency ended, and Zauditu began to exercise power in her own right.


Political maneuvering

While the Ethiopian aristocracy was generally supportive of Zauditu, it was less enthusiastic about many of her relatives. Zauditu's stepmother and mother-in-law, Dowager Empress Taytu, had withdrawn from the capital after Menelik's death, but was still distrusted somewhat. In an attempt to limit her influence, the aristocracy arranged for her nephew (Zauditu's husband Gugsa Welle) to be appointed to a remote governorship, removing him from court. This move, while intended as a strike against Taytu rather than against Zauditu, is believed to have upset Zauditu considerably. Zauditu also suffered guilt for taking the throne from Lij Iyasu, who her father had wanted to succeed him - while she believed that Iyasu's overthrow was necessary, she had admired her father greatly, and was unhappy at having to disobey his wishes. Her separation from her husband and her guilt about Iyasu's overthrow combined to make Zauditu not particularly happy as Empress.

War against Iyasu

The early period of Zauditu's reign was marked by a war against Lij Iyasu, who had escaped captivity. Backed by his father, a powerful noble, Iyasu attempted to regain the throne. Iyasu's father was eventually captured, however, and Iyasu himself fled to Afar. Iyasu was later captured by Dejazmatch Gugsa Araya, the son who Zauditu's first husband had fathered on another woman. Gugsa Araya was rewarded with the title of Ras.

Rise of Taffari

As Zauditu's reign progressed, a rift gradually widened between her and her supposed heir, Ras Taffari. Taffari was a moderniser, believing that Ethiopia needed to open itself to the world in order to survive. In this, he had the backing of many younger nobles. Zauditu, however, was a conservative, believing in the preservation of Ethiopian tradition. She had the strong backing of the church in this belief. Slowly, however, Zauditu began to withdraw from active politics, leaving more and more power to Taffari. Under Taffari's direction, Ethiopia entered the League of Nations, and abolished slavery. Zauditu busied herself with religious activities, such as the construction of a number of significant churches.

In 1928, there was a small conservative uprising against Taffari's reforms, but it was unsuccessful. Zauditu was compelled to grant Taffari, who now controlled most of the Ethiopian government, the post of Regent and the additional title of Negus (king). While Negus Taffari remained under the nominal rule of Zauditu (who was still Negeste Negusti, Queen of Kings), Taffari was now effectively the ruler of Ethiopia. A number of attempts were made to displace him, but they were all unsuccessful. In 1930, Zauditu's husband Gugsa Welle led a rebellion against Taffari, hoping to end the regency, but was defeated in battle by the modernised Ethiopian army.

Death and succession

On 1 March 1930, the day after Gugsa Welle was killed in battle, Empress Zauditu died. It is known today that Zauditu suffered from diabetes, and was seriously ill, but it is not universally agreed that this was the cause of her death. According to some popular histories, Zauditu died of shock and grief at hearing of her husband's death, but other accounts contradict this, claiming that Zauditu was not informed of the battle's outcome. Some, particularly critics of Taffari, allege that once the rebellion had been decisively defeated, Taffari or his supporters felt safe in poisoning Zauditu. Speculation as to the cause of Zauditu's death continues today.

Zauditu was succeeded on the throne by Taffari, who took the name Haile Selassie.

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