Ranavalona III was the last sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar. She succeeded her aunt, Ranavalona II, in 1883, aged twenty-two. Ranavalona’s reign was dominated by the Franco-Hova War, which eventually resulted in her exile in 1897 and the French colonisation of Madagascar.
Her first, short-lived marriage was to a nobleman named Ratrimoarivony. Unfortunately, we do not know much about the match. What we do know, though, is that it ended abruptly with Ratrimo’s death just two months before Ranavalona became queen.
It was believed that Ranavalona’s husband might have been poisoned by the Prime Minster, Rainilaiarivony, who had been married to both Ranavalona II and her predecessor, Rasoherina. Rainilaiarivony intended to marry Ranavalona in order to secure his power during her reign.
At the time of Ranavalona’s succession, Madagascar was transitioning from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one and Ranavalona’s role was much more ceremonial at the start of her reign. Real power lay in the hands of the statesmen around her, including her new husband.
The experience of these politicians did not help in their fight against the military presence of the French in the region. They managed to stave off the inevitable for some time through a series of treaties and prolonged negotiations.
The French eventually invaded fully and, in September 1895, Ranavalona was forced to surrender her kingdom. For a time, the French allowed Ranavalona to remain in Madagascar as a figurehead.
Rainilaiarivony was exiled to Algiers, where he died in 1896. It was court intrigues, and the fear of a popular uprising, which eventually led to Ranavalona’s exile in 1897 and the official abolition of the Madagascan monarchy.
Ranavalona and her family went into exile first on Réunion Island but later they were moved to Algiers in what was then French Algeria. There, Ranavalona became quite a sensation, and she was eventually allowed to visit Paris which she did at least seven times.
She would never return to Madagascar, though. She died in her villa in Algiers in 1917, aged fifty-five.
Marie-France Barrier, Ranavalona, dernière reine de Madagascar (Paris: Balland, 1996).