Her Imperial Majesty Empress Zewditu, Queen of Kings
ANCESTRY & BACKGROUND
Empress Zewditu was the daughter of Emperor Menelik II, by Woizero Abechi, a woman of mid-level nobility, born shortly after Menelik returned to Shewa following his captivity at Magdalla.
Woizero Abechi died while Zewditu was still a very young child, so Zewditu was raised
by her father, in the care of nannies, and was closer to him than any other person save his wife Empress Taitu.
Zewditu also had a half sister, Woizero Shewaregga Menelik, the mother of Lij Eyasu,
and a half brother, Prince Asfaw Wossen Menelik, who died in 1888 while still a child. She was often refered to by her close relatives by the nickname of "Mamite" which translates to "Baby".
Unlike most of the rest of the Shewan aristocracy, Zewditu had very good relations with
Empress Taitu. Although Taitu was brusque, and a stern mistress of Menelik's household, Zewditu had deep affection for her step-mother. Taitu returned Zewditu's affection, although often dispairing of her behavior. She believed that Zewditu was overly familiar with the palace serving maids saying "It's imposible to separate Mamite from the servants". She often scolded her for not maintaining the dignity of a daughter of the House of Solomon. Zewditu had earned a reputation of kindness and completely lacked the haughty and imperious attitude of her step-mother and other female relatives. Zewditu treated everyone with the same sweet friendliness whether they were royalty or simple servants. Underlying these traits was a truely innocent naivete that endeared her to many, but would perhaps be a drawback to her eventually. Zewditu was married in 1882 at the age of 9 to Ras Araya Selassie Yohannis, son
and heir of Emperor Yohannis IV, in order to cement the agreement between her father and
the emperor when Menelik (then king of Shewa) submitted to Yohannis. However, Ras Araya Selassie
died in 1888, and Zewditu, who had not produced any children returned to Shewa. Ras Araya had
fathered a son, Gugsa, by another woman. Zewditu maintaied very warm relations with her father-in-law who was very fond of Zewditu. Yohannis IV was very angered when Zewditu's father rebled against him shortly after the death of Ras Araya Selassie. Zewditu, upon recieving news that her father had rebled agains the emperor, is said to have wept bitterly, saying "My father and the Emperor would never have quarelled if only my husband had lived." When the Emperor's informants told Yohannis IV of Zewditu's comments, he was much moved, and had her summoned, and the two of them wept over the cruel fate of Ras Araya together. The Emperor then returned Zewditu to Shewa, eventhough her father was still defying him, along with a huge gift of cattle and property in 1889. Emperor Yohannis IV continued to hold Zewditu in deep affection until his death. Zewditu did not stay a widow for long. In 1891, Zewditu
married Dejazmatch Gwangul Zegeye. The marriage was short lived, not more than a few months, but Zewditu did have a daughter by him, who died in 1895 at the age of 4. Zewditu then married
Wube Atnaf Seged, an unhappy marriage that ended in divorce after two and a half years. In 1900, at the suggestion of her step-mother, Zewditu married Ras Gugsa Welle,
son of Ras Welle Bitul and nephew of Taitu. Ras Welle was ruler of Simien and Yejju and younger brother of Empress Taitu Bitul. This marriage bound the princess even more closely to her stepmother, and the marriage proved to be a generaly happy one. Zewditu had no children who survived to adulthood.
Ras Gugsa Welle of Simien and Yejju, Husband of Empress ZewdituLater Governor of Amhara Sayint, and then Beghemidir
Upon the death of Emperor Menelik II, Lij Eyasu, the designated heir ordered Zewditu to be placed under
arrest, and she was rusticated with her husband to the small town of Falle, which was part of Zewditu's personal estates. The reasons for her banishment were never explained. Her husband was rusticated with her, although he had already been under house arrest ever since the removal from state responsibility of his aunt, Empress Taitu. After a brief and contraversial
tenure on the throne, Lij Eyasu was deposed by the nobility and the church. Zewditu was proclaimed Empress, Queen of Kings, Elect of God, and Lion of Judah, the first woman to sit
on the Imperial Throne in her own right since the Queen of Sheba. Her cousin Dejazmatch Taffari Makonnen was declared Heir to the Throne with the title of Ras at the same time. A delegation of nobles was sent out to bring the Empress to Addis Ababa from her estate at Falle. When she first saw the huge force of troops and high nobles that had gathered at her country home, she thought that she was being moved to a new location on her nephew's orders. When she was told that the nobility and the Church had decided that she was to sit on her father's throne as Empress, she was quite stunned and unable to grasp what they were saying. She is said to have asked "But if I am Empress, what is to happen to my lord Eyasu?" When she was told that her nephew had been dethroned and excommunicated for apostacy and conversion to Islam, she burst into tears, and continued to weep until her shema (thin cotton shoulder wrap) was soaked with her tears. The shock of being told she was now Empress was now overshadowed in her mind by the fate of her only nephew, the son of her long dead only sister. Although she accepted the crown, to the end of her life, she continued to refer to Lij Eyasu as "my lord". Zewditu was crowned Empress and Queen of Kings at the Cathedral of St. George
in November, 1916. However, the nobility was reluctant to give further influence to the family of the Dowager
Empress Taitu, the widow of Menelik II. As Ras Gugsa was Taitu's nephew, and the relationship between the new Empress
and the Dowager Empress had always been close, the aristocracy decided that some distance was now called for. Therefore,
in one of the more cruel acts of political convenience, Empress Zewditu was compelled to separate from her husband
who was to be sent to govern a province. Ras Gugsa had hoped to be crowned at his wife's side, and was deeply resentful of the Shewan aristocracy whom he blamed for not only his own forced separation, but the downfall of his aunt Empress Taitu and the fortunes of their family. Gugsa expected to be compensated with the governorship of Beghemidir with the title of King of Gondar. However, the new powers that be thought that their interests were better served by giving that title to Ras Wolde Giorgis Aboye, grandson of Sahle Selassie of Shewa, and first cousin to the late Emperor Menelik II. Wolde Giorgis had felt slighted when Menelik had made Ras Tessema regent and guardian of Lij Eyasu, and so the government sought to compensate for that oversight. Wolde Giorgis recieved his crown from Empress Zewditu, and went to Gondar, while Gugsa had to settle for Amhara Sayint, which angered him deeply. When King Wolde Giorgis died only a year later, Zewditu succeeded in getting her husband approved as governor of Beghemidir, but without the title of King of Gondar. Ras Gugsa was again insulted that while the Shewan born Wolde Giorgis was made a King over Gonder, he a Beghemidir native, and a man with just as illustrous an Imperial ancestry was denied the title of King. Although Empress Zewditu invited her step-mother to return to the Palace in
Addis Ababa, Dowager Empress Taitu declined, prefering to remain on Mt. Entoto near St. Mary's Church which she had founded.
At the time of her coronation, Zewditu found the cabinet appointed by her father Menelik II still in place, led by Fitawrarri Hapte Giorgis Denagde, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and minister of war. The Fitawrarri was the architect of the coup that had removed her nephew, placing her on the Imperial throne, and her cousin Ras Taffari Makonnen as her Heir and Regent.
Her Imperial Majesty Empress Zewditu on her Coronation Day, flanked by her cousin, Ras Taffari Makonnen, Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary (Bale mulu siltan enderase).
Empress Zewditu's reign began with a bitter war. Lij Eyasu narrowly escaped arrest at Harrar, and fled to the lowlands.
His father, King Michael of Wollo declared war and marched his huge army into Shewa. After initial victory at Tora Mesk, the army of Wollow was defeated at Segelle. The king was captured and was made to parade through the streets of Addis Ababa on foot
carrying a rock of repentance on his shoulders, his hands chained with gold chains. Although he was made to pay public homage to Empress Zewditu, both the Empress and the Regent met with him privately to enquire after his health, and accorded him every royal dignity. He was then placed under house arrest at the Palace in Holeta where he spent the rest of his
life. Lij Eyasu, upon hearing of his father's defeat, fled into the Afar lowlands with a small band of men and remained a hunted fugitive
for months. He tried to fortify Magdalla in a quasi-Theodoran attempt of a great heroic last stand there, but had to withdraw from that possition
when it became untenable. He would eventually be arrested by Dejazmatch Gugsa Araya, son of Zewditu's first husband Ras Araya Selassie Yohannis, and grandson
of Emperor Yohannis IV. Gugsa was rewarded with the title of Ras. Empress Zewditu was informed of the capture of Lij Eyasu by officials who were sent by the Crown Prince and Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis, who had gone to Dessie to recieve him into custody. She asked the messengers about how Lij Eyasu was, and when they triumphantly told her that the claimant to her throne had been chained with the customary gold chains and was being held on and impregnable mountaintop, she shocked the messengers by promptly breaking down into anguished tears. When Crown Prince Ras Taffari and Fitawrarri Hapte Giorgis returned to Addis Ababa, the Empress tearfully asked them if they couldn't build "my Lord Eyasu" a house on the grounds of the Imperial palace, where he would be guarded by trusted guards, and recieve pastoral teachings from the Archbishop, and where she could care for him. Both the Crown Prince and the Fitawrarri, (who seldom agreed on much), were adamant that this was out of the question. Instead, Lij Eyasu was handed over to his cousin Ras Kassa Hailu and placed in comfortable detention at Sellale. Until the end of her life, Empress Zewditu would make sure that a constant stream of clothing, favorite foods, and other little luxuries found their way to Sellale and her nephew "my lord Eyasu". She stressed to her cousin Ras Kassa that "my Lord" should want for nothing, and must always be comfortable. Lij Eyasu would refer to her as his "poor naive aunt" who was being manipulated by Ras Taffari and Fitawrrari Hapte Giorgis.
Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia as she appeared in an issue of a Paris magazine in 1917
The political order that emerged with the crowning of the Empress was anything but comfortable. The original plans seem to have been
that Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis would preside over the cabinet, that the Crown Prince would be in charge of all Government Affairs, and that the
Empress would reign as a symbol over it all advised by the cabinet of ministers.
The Empress and the Fitawrari were conservatives, strongly backed by the feudal aristocracy and the heirarchy of the Orthodox church and the Coptic Archbishop Abune Mattiwos. They all believed
in an insular empire, regarding all things foriegn with suspicion, and the maintenance of a traditional way of life. Ras Taffari Makonnen however was
of the belief that modernization and opening up to the outside world were essential in preserving the independence of the country, and in bettering the lives of the people. The Empress began with much goodwill towards the Crown Prince for whom she had deep affection, and she sought to support his innovations as much as possible, although she had many misgivings about his progressive agenda. The Fitawrarri was not as enamoured of the Crown Prince, and often openly opposed his policies. Yet he firmly believed that Ras Taffari was the best option for Ethiopia's future. As the years went by, the split between the conservative camp and the reformer camp widened. The Crown Prince, whose supporters included
many younger nobles, most of the small group of foriegn educated Ethiopians, and most of the diplomats of the western powers, was able to convince more and more powerful figures that his was the way to preserve the countries independence
in the face of a colonized continent. The Empress was a deeply religious woman, and her interests lay more with prayer and fasting, and less with the
machiavelian manuvering and court politics that surrounded her throne. The Empress was said to be wracked with guilt over having defied her father's stated
wish that Lij Eyasu succeed him, and had accepted the crown for herself. Zewditu had lost her mother at an early age, and her love for her father was deep
and paramount in her life. Inspite of his rather harsh and cavalier treatment of her, she also had affection for Lij Eyasu her nephew as shown above. The
forced separation from her husband Ras Gugsa was also a bitter pill, but she accepted it as part of the punishment for her defiance of the will of her father.
She retreated into a world of constant prayer and penance. She was clearly a supporter of conservative causes, but raised as she was among the Imperial and aristocratic
women of that era, unlike her step-mother Taitu, she was not one to intrude willingly into the power games of men. However, conservative elements within he nobility stressed that it was not right that she was not even consulted regularly by the Crown Prince, and it would be preferable for Ras Taffari to hold back on his reforms until he himself was on the throne. her occasional attempts at interveneing in government affairs, including her attempts at winning some lieniency for Lij Eyasu caused exasperation and irritation with Ras Taffari the Regent. Egged on by conservatives, particularly the cabinet of ministers and other nobles of her father, she continued to make some waves which were making things more and more difficult for the Regent and his progressive supporters. The progressives pushed the "Mahil Sefari" military division to back up thier demands with an insurection and demonstration. The bewildered Empress aquieced when these reformers and troops demonstrated for the
removal of the cabinet, and let the Crown Prince appoint reformers and his supporters in their place. She was distraught at having to send the former ministers to their country estates in banishment, feeling that she was treating her father's advisors poorly, but had little choice given the fact that the Mahil Sefari troops held the upper hand. During her reign, Ethiopia gained entry to the League of Nations, and abolished Slavery. Both these acts were largely the work of the Crown Prince, and were of little intrest to the Queen of Kings.
Zewditu ws out to please God and only God. She is responsible for building several churches, including the present building of Yeka Michael Church, which claims to be the second oldest
church in Ethiopia after St. Mary of Zion in Axum. The cornerstone of Holy Trinity Cathedral was laid durnig her reign as well. She visited her step-mother Empress Taitu on
Entoto often, and when the old Empress died, she sat as chief mourner and held a state funeral for her. She also hosted a visit by the Patriarch of Alexandria, only the second
time in the history of the Empire that this had happened. She recieved the crown of Emperor Tewodros from the British to mark the visit of the Crown Prince to Great Britain.
Although a staunch supporter of the conservative cause, she had left active leadership to the Archbishop Abune Mattiwos and to Supreme Commander Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis, until these powerful men died.
By that time, the power of the conservatives had eroded so much, and Ras Taffari and the reformers had gained so much momentum, that there was little that she could do to stop the progression of the modernists take over of power. Among the first acts of the Crown Prince upon hearing of the death of Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis, was to quickly hire and recruit almost the entire staff and retainers of the old nobleman into his own household, and incorporating Hapte Giorgis' vast personal military forces into the central army and his own personal guard. Upon the death of the aged Archbishop, the Crown Prince took the opportunity to ask the Coptic Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria to appoint an Ethiopian to the position of Archbishop of the Empire for the first time, knowing that the Patriarch would not readily agree. As lengthy negotiations were undertaken, the church was led temporarily by the Echege of Debre Libanos, an Ethiopian, and a strong conservative supporter of the Empress, but a man much more easily influenced by the Crown Prince than the late Coptic Archbishop. These moves served to greatly enhance the power of the Prince Regent at the expense of the Empress and her conservative camp. In order to end conservative attempts at sabotaging the Crown Prince's efforts by involving the Empress, the progressive elements and the "Mahil Sefari" division again launched an insurrection and demonstration in support of Ras Taffari following a
conservative palace pusch that tried to remove the Prince from power failed in 1928. This time the Empress was compelled to agree to crown Taffari King following this unprecdented public demonstation. Ras Taffari was pleased with the outcome of the demonstation as it consolidated his power, but he voiced his alarm at the methods used by his supporters, particularly when the Empresses announcement that she would crown him were responded to by the "Mahil Sefari" with a demand that it be done immediately without delay. Public demonstrations forcing the Empress into consessions seemed to him a very dangerous precedent. In his message to his supporters following this latest victory, the new king thanked them, but warned them that the methods they had used were not in keeping with the character of Ethiopians as respect for the annointed monarch was paramount. He warned them in a written statement of the dangers of actions such as theirs, reminding them of the horrors of the recent Bolshevic revolution in Russia and the ruin it had brought that country and the loss of it's crown. The Empress would crown him when preparations were complete, and no more demands were to be made of her majesty that smacked of orders or rebellion. Although he was a progressive in the context of the times, he was still a firm monarchist and a believer in "change from above" not "revolution". Nigus Taffari, as he was now called, was not given a set territory as a kingdom, so it was assumed that he was now king of all Ethiopia. This in addition to his titles as Regent and Heir to the Imperial Throne. This was an unprecedented event, and caused much anger and resentment among traditionalists that continued to attempt to thwart the reformist programs of the government. All sides continued to proffess loyalty to the Empress, but she was undoubtedly
against the forces of reform. The conservative traditionalists would not simply bow and accept the accendance of the King-Regent and his followers. Soon after Taffari Makonnen was crowned king-regent, Dejazmatch Abba Watew, commander of the Empresses, Imperial Guard, reported to the Empress that he had evidence that the King-Regent was about to have her deposed, and that he was about to fortify the Imperial Palace to protect her crown. The Empress ordered the Dejazmatch to stand down, and to do nothing before until the King-regent arrived and they could all sit down and discuss these stories that she found to be far-fetched. Instead, Abba Watew took a force of his followers, occupied Emperor Menelik II's mausoleum, the Church of Ba'eta Le Mariam, and fortified it, threatening to open fire on the King-regent's forces. The King-regent determined that force would have to be used, but the Empress pleaded that Abba Watew be given a chance to surrender, as he was acting out of a misguided sense of protecting her person. She sent messengers to the church to get him to surrender, but he refused to do so unless he heard this request from the Empress herself. The King-regent expressed outrage that Abba Watew would be impertinent enough to demand that the Empress herself appear, and persuaded the Empress that she could not go to the Church in person as it was beneith her dignity to appear at the demand of a subject in this manner. Finally, a telephone line had to be laid to the church so that the Empress could order Dejazmatch Abba Watew to surrender, as he would not obey anyone but the Empress herself. The Dejazmatch was tried for treason and insubordination, and the Regent and his supporters demanded that the harshest penalties be administered. The Empress however would not hear of it, and only had the Dejazmatch confined to his home on a country estate. This was only the begining of the unrest caused by the crowning of the new King-regent. Dejazmatch Balcha Saffo, an Oromo unich who had been raised by Emperor Menelik and placed in various powerful governorships over the years, and now the powerful Governor of the wealthy province of Sidamo, arrived in Addis Ababa with a very large number of well armed men. He had repeatedly refused the summons of the new King to come to the Capital, saying he was ill, and only obeyed now because he had recieced a summons from the Empress herself. It is said that the delivery to him of a diamond ring from her finger was regarded by him as a signal from her to come to her rescue. It is not known if this in fact happened, if the Empress was complicit in this act, or if it was a trick to get him to Addis Ababa. No evidence exists that would indicate that this ring story is even true, but Dejazmatch Balcha and his army encamped at Nifas Silk, just outside the city, and the presence of Balcha's Army was openly regarded as being a direct challenge to the King-Regent, and in support of the Empress and her conservative partisans. On the second
evening after his arrival, Dejazmatch Balcha and his leading officers were invited by King Taffari to come to the Imperial Palace for dinner. They arrived to find a fine feast prepared for them, and much to drink. The Empress did not preside at this dinner, but the King-Regent was there being quietly affable. As the evening wore on, and the officers of Dejazmatch Balcha grew more and more intoxicated, they also grew more and more insulting to the King and his supporters as they sang self composed warrior songs of bravery as was customary after the meal. The King and his followers were oddly quiet and did not respond at all to this provocation, causing Balcha and his men to scoff and feel utter contempt for them. When the Dejazmatch and his followers finally returned to his Nifas Silk camp, they were stunned to find that
their entire army had vanished. While they had been eating and drinking at the palace, Ras Kassa Hailu and several other officials had arrived at Nifas Silk with a bag of Silver Maria Theresa Thallers, and another bag of whips. They announced to Balcha's army that a new governor, Ras Birru Wolde Gabriel, had been appointed over Sidamo and that they were to report to him at once. They were to immediately accept payment in the silver coins, surrender their weapons and go home to their farms and await the orders of their new governor. The bag of whips was left in clear view to show what would happen to anyone who did not obey. Within a short time, the soldiers had surrendered their weapons, recieved their payment and were headed back to their farms and families in the
south. When Dejazmatch Balcha realized what had happened, he realized he had been outmanuvered by a master. He had grossly underestimated the young King-Regent. Dejazmatch Balcha and a few of his officers fled to the Raguel Church on Mt. Entoto and rang the bell of the Church, a traditional plea for royal mercy that monarchs are required to accept and honor. The King-Regent confined Balcha to a monastery, and deprived him of his governorship, but did not punish him further. Again, the Empress had acted to protect one of her father's loyal men. Two rival courts developed, and as young King Taffari had time on his side, his supporters grew in numbers and strength in relation to the camp of the Empress which reeled with the sudden elimination of her champions Dejazmatch Abba Watew and Dejazmatch Balcha. The King-Regent began an agressive restructuring of the
government. The abolishing of slavery was a great blow to the feudal nobility, now he moved to consolidate their regional armies into the central military forces. He equiped his own
central government troops with the latest in weapons, training and uniforms that he could obtain (in light of the fact that a treaty between the Great Powers prevented the sale of new
weaponry to African States). Education was being opened up to more and more people, and the Regent seemed to prefer to educate and promote people of non-noble and non-aristocratic background
as he believed that these people would be more loyal to him personally and the Ethiopian state, unlike the nobles who would be more loyal to their own ambitions and regional interests.
This caused deep resentments among the many nobles and aristocrats who believed that ruling Ethiopia was their birthright and didn't like to see some upstart commoners sit in positions of
power over them. Taxation was being uniformized accross the land, and it's collection handed over to officials appointed by Addis Ababa rather than by the regional rulers. This cut into their income and caused great fury. The most
resentful was clearly Ras Gugsa Wele who had much to be angry about.
Empress Zewditu with her attendants
Although he had been made governor of Beghemidir, Ras Gugsa fealt greatly slighted by the Shewans, and by King
Taffari in particular. The Shewans and Tigreans had been responsible for the removal from state responsibility of his aunt Empress Taitu. They had later conspired to remove
Lij Eyasu and place his own wife on the throne on the condition that he separate from her, and he sent to Gondar to remove him from proximity to the throne. He perhaps believed that he was rightfully the person most entitled to be regent for his wife. He was assuredt that if he rose up in rebellion, he would probably be able to count on the support of the two Princes of Tigrai, Ras Seyoum and Ras Araya, as well as the Prince of Gojjam, Ras Hailu. Indeed Ras Gugsa corresponded with Ras Hailu Tekle Haimanot, and the two princes had agreed in principle to march on Addis Ababa and remove the King-regent from power. Gugsa's letters to the Tigrean Princes remained unanswered, and indeed, neither of these princes had any intention of joining him in his rebellion. Seeing the attitude of the Tigrean princes, and realizing that he would get no direct benefit out of the removal of King Taffari and the empowering of Ras Gugsa, Ras Hailu also backed out of the rebellion. Ras Gugsa's resentment against Addis Ababa and the King had increased
as time went by, and in 1929 he gathered together a huge army of Beghemidir, Simien, and Yeju loyalists of his family, and marched on Shewa. As news of his preparations reached Addis Ababa, the Empress frantically tried to broker a truce and tried to desuade her husband from marching on the capital. He ignored her pleas. "In the name of your father Menelik II and your mother Empress Taitu, by their bones I beg you, for the sake of the Savior of the World whom you love, I beg you!" pleaded Empress Zewditu to her husband. When he failed to listen to her pleading, she sadly gave up, and gave her political support and blessing to the forces of the central government. The government of the King-regent ordered an Army north to
meet Ras Gugsa and do battle, and the two forces met at Anchiem plain on April 30th, 1930. Before the battle began, the government engaged in a first for Ethiopia, the use of airplanes in battle. Two short flights
took place. The first flight was used to drop leaflets on Ras Gugsa's army which bore messages from the newly arrived Coptic Archbishop Kyrilos excommunicating anyone who was found to have fought against the government, and another that bore letters from the King-Regent and the Empress, that declaired Ras Gugsa a rebel. This psychological warfare worked on some of Ras Gugsa's forces
who then began to desert. The second flight then took place in which a bomb was dropped on Ras Gugsas forces and caused widespread panic as such a thing had never before been seen in Ethiopia. Thus the bitter battle of Anchiem began. By the end of the day, Ras Gugsa was dead and his army crushed. The conservatives having lost every attempt at removing the Regent and his party from the road to power, now saw their last hopes dashed. The victory of the progressive party was definitive, and the only thing that stood between them and complete victory was the person of the Empress of Ethiopia, Zewditu Queen of Kings.
The news of the defeat of Ras Gugsa Welle at Anchiem had barely begun to circulate in Addis Ababa and hardly any celebrating begun the next day, when suddenly the capital was plunged into mourning with the death of Empress Zewditu on March 1st, 1930. The fact that the Empress died the very next day, and the lack of transparency as far as the announcement of her death would lend the event an air of sinister mystery that would never be dispelled. Recent revelations from unpublished first hand account have revealed that Empress Zewditu was never actually told that her husband was dead. A few days earlier, the Empress had taken to her bed with a high fever, and what appeared to be symptoms of the flu. The devout Empress was also fasting for Lent, and refused to eat before 3pm when mass was over as was the practice during Lent. Her doctors insisted that she had to eat, and particularly they wanted her to drink milk in order to strenghten her, but both the Empress and her confessor were adamant that she would not violate the prohibition against meat and dairy products during lent. The Empress began to weaken as her fever continued to rage. It had been a palace secret that the Empress had long suffered from diabeties, and that in addition to western medicine, she also took traditional folk treatments, and visited shrines to bathe in holy water and holy springs. The tradition of keeping the physical ailments of the monarchs secret was an ancient one in Ethiopia, and often served to fan rumors of poisoning when the news of the monarchs death was made public. On the morning of her death, Holy water from the Kidane Meheret (Our Lady Covenant of Mercy) Church was placed in a large container and the Empress was immersed in it for a cure. The Empress became unconcious, possible from the shock of having her feverish body placed in the frigid water, and died late that day. There are those who believe that the Empress was poisoned as soon as news of her husbands defeat was certain, in order to clear the way for the progressive camp to power, and the King-Regent to the Imperial Throne. These people claim that the timing of her death, immediately after the defeat of her husband, was just too coincidental. They ask why there had been no public sign that the Empress was ill if indeed she was. However, Zewditu's illness was a closely guarded secret which only the top ministers, and close relatives were aware of. Members of the diplomatic corps reported to their home governments that the Empress had been taken early that morning to be emmersed in a container of frigid holy water for her ailments, and that she had promptly gone into shock and died. Members of the government were possibly intent on keeping this information from leaking out, as they wouldn't want to be held responsible for allowing this immersion in her poor state of health. The diplomats reported that she had not been told of her husbands death. The recently revealed first hand accounts that have been quoted and published in the Amharic book "Taffari Makonnen, the Long Journey to Power." by Ambassador Zewde Retta confirms this account. However, popular legent states that the Empress fainted upon hearing of the death of her husband, and had then died of the shock of the news. Popular myth likes to paint the picture of the pious Empress dying of a broken heart. The romantic couple forced apart finally united in death. Romantics and conspiracy theorists aside, no firm historic evidence has ever been brought forward to back these theories. Her Swiss doctor would report years later that her cause of death was diabeties, and it is this that
is stated in Emperor Haile Selassies autobiography, and in a book by General Virgin, a Swedish military advisor. Nevertheless, the death of the Empress continues to be the subject of speculation. Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Zewditu, Elect of God, Conquering Lion of Judah, Queen of Kings of Ethiopia, was laid to rest in the Masoleum Church of St. Mary Ba-eta that she had built to house the remains of her father Menelik II. The Empress was placed in an ornate sarcophagus next to those of her father and his wife Empress Taitu. She was the only monarch in over a century to recieve a state burial at the time of her death, and also the last one. As her coffin was carried in her final grand procession around the Church before her burial, Abune Abraham, the Archbishop of Gojjam is said to have said to the wailing crowds, "The Orthodox Church wails with you at the death of our good and great Queen". Empress Zewditu is remembered largely for her piety, her gentleness, her generosity, her humaneness and lack of airs, and her devotion to her father's memory.
Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia
The Tombs of Emperor Menelik II (left) and his daughter Empress Zewditu(right)
In the Crypt of the Ta'eka Negest Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery Church, Built By Zewditu in her father's memory.
(Church of the Presentation of the Virgin, Resting Place of Kings)