Taytu Betul

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Taytu Betul (Amharic: ጣይቱ ብጡል; baptismal name Wälättä Mikael; c. 1851 – 11 February 1918) was the Empress of the Ethiopian Empire in 1889 after the death of Menelik II in 1913. She was the third wife of Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia and she founded Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa.

Taytu Betul
Empress of the Ethiopian Empire
Tenure10 May 1889 – 12 December 1913
Coronation4 November 1889
Queen consort of Shewa
Tenure1883 – 9 March 1889
BornWälättä Mikael
c. 1851
Died11 February 1918(1918-02-11) (aged 66–67)
Entoto, Shewa
SpouseMenelik II
FatherBetul Haile Maryam

Early lifeEdit

According to Chris Prouty, Taytu Betul (or Taitu) was born in Debretabor, Ethiopia, in 1840, as he founded in her gravestone.[1][2] Scholars consensus assess that she was born at about 1851. Her father, Ras Betul Haile Maryam, was from Yejju and Gonder. Her mother, Yewibdar, was from Gojjam – a northern province in Ethiopia.[1] Taytu had four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, and was the third-born of the family.[3] This was considered rare, since child mortality rates ran high during this time. The causes of these rates were likely due to infection, illness, or other complications.[3] The month of her baptism is unknown; nevertheless, she was baptized on the 12th day, which is associated with St. Mikael.[3] This is the reason why Mikael is indicated in her baptismal name. Her childhood was short, as she soon had to prepare to become a woman at the age of 10, when she would be married off to her first husband, an officer of Emperor Tewedros.[3]


There is no record indicating that Empress Taytu attended school; however, she was taught to read and write in Amharic. This is a rarity, considering that during this time period it was unlikely for women to be educated. It is believed that she was taught diplomacy, politics and economy. Additionally, she understood Ge'ez, a language once exclusive to the Ethiopian Orthodox liturgy.[4]


Empress Taytu was known to play the begena, which is a 10-string instrument. Her other activities included playing chess, and an interest in poetry writing.[4]

Family historyEdit

Historically, her family is claimed to have a ruling foothold in the Northern region of the country. Such places include: Simien, Gojjam, Yejju, Lasta, Wello and Begemdir.[4] Her aristocratic lineage dates back to 1607–32, descending from the daughter of Emperor Susneyos.[3] Her great-grandfather, Ras Gebre of Semen, ruled Semen for 44 years, a period known as Zemene Mesafint, or the "Era of the Princes".[3] His fame was acknowledged through two measures. He was responsible for making the communities west of Gondar pay taxes in gold, as well as treating his subjects so well – providing an ample amount of food and drink so that they no longer needed to farm to sustain themselves.[3] Her grandfather, Dejazmach Hayle Maryam, also held a respected title. He governed Semen, where his children Wube, Betul and Merso were born.[3] Similarly, her grandmother was the daughter of Ras Gugsa (her other great-grandfather), who was a leader from the Were Sheik Yejju ruling family. Additionally, her uncle Degazmach Wube followed in the family's footsteps by also acquiring a high position in the region. As the half-brother of Taytu's father, Degazmach Wube was responsible for ruling the Tigray province.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

In her fourth and final marriage, Taytu Betul married King Menelek of Shewa, later Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia.[3] Menelik II and Taytu Betul personally owned 70,000 slaves.[5]

Political contributionsEdit

Taytu is acknowledged to have wielded considerable political power, both before and after she and Menelik were crowned Emperor and Empress in 1889. She led the conservative faction at court that resisted the modernists and progressives who wanted to develop Ethiopia along western lines and bring modernity to the country. According to the historians, she was always consulted by the Emperor prior to making important decisions. Thus, Empress Taytu was a key player in the conflict over the Treaty of Wuchale with Italy, which she tore up. Empress Taytu was the first to agitate the hesitant Emperor and other men to stand up for liberty, dignity, and against Italian aggression.[6] Deeply suspicious of European intentions towards Ethiopia, she was a key player in the conflict over the Treaty of Wuchale with Italy, in which the Italian version made Ethiopia an Italian protectorate, while the Amharic version did not do so. The Empress held a hard line against the Italians, and when talks eventually broke down, and Italy invaded the Empire from its Eritrean colony, she marched north with the Emperor and the Imperial Army, commanding a force of cannoneers at the historic Battle of Adwa that resulted in a humiliating defeat for Italy in March 1896. This victory was the most significant of any African army battling European colonialism.[7] Menelik, who often prevaricated and postponed unpleasant decisions by answering "Yes, tomorrow" (Ishi, nega), found it useful to have his wife be in a powerful enough position to say "Absolutely not" (Imbi) to people and issues he just did not want to personally offend or refuse.[8]

When Menelik's health began to decline around 1906, Taytu began to make decisions on his behalf, angering her rivals for power through her appointment of favorites and relatives to most of the positions of power and influence. As a means to curb her family's political influence at court, Menelik selected Sabla Wangel Hailu as the heir-presumptive Lij Iyasu's wife, as her family had no ties to Taytu's.[9] Taytu was widely resented for her alleged Gonderine xenophobia and nepotism, and the nobility of Shoa and Tigray, along with the Wollo relatives of Lij Iyasu conspired to remove her from state responsibility. In 1910, she was forced from power, and a regency under Ras Tessema Nadew took over. Instructed to limit herself to the care of her stricken husband, Taytu faded from the political scene. Taytu and Menelik did not have any children. Menelik died in 1913 and was succeeded by his grandson from a daughter of a previous liaison, Lij Iyasu. Taytu was banished to the old Palace at Entoto, next to the St. Mary's church she had founded years before, and where her husband had been crowned Emperor.

While some believe Taytu may have played a part in the plot that eventually removed Emperor Iyasu V from the throne in 1916, replacing him with Empress Zauditu, the price for Zauditu's elevation was a divorce from Taytu's nephew Ras Gugsa Welle, who became governor of Begemder. Zauditu, Menelik II's daughter by yet another previous marriage, had always been close to Empress Taytu and invited Taytu to live with her. Although Taytu declined she resumed advising rulers "in a modest way," to quote Chris Prouty.

Later yearsEdit

Taytu lived out the next few years at the old palace next to the Entoto Maryam Church overlooking Addis Ababa. She requested permission to go to Gondar in November 1917 to end her days, but was refused; she died three months later.[10] She is buried next to her husband at the Taeka Negest Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery in Addis Ababa and lives to this day in the memories as the Empress who won liberty against the colonizers.


  1. ^ a b Akyeampong, Emmanuel; Gates, Jr, Henry (2012). Dictionary of African Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195382075.
  2. ^ Chris Prouty notes that her tomb in Addis Ababa states she was born in E.C. 1832 (or 1839/40), while other sources state her date of birth was 1853. "The date of 1850–1 dovetails best with the known facts of her life." (Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethiopia 1883–1910, p. 27).
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Prouty, Chris (1986). Empress Taytu and Menelik II: Ethiopia 1883–1910. London: Ravens Educational and Developmental Services and The Red Sea Press. ISBN 0947895019.
  4. ^ a b c Ofoego, Obioma; Onajin, Alaba (2015). Taytu Betul: The Rise of an Itege. France: UNESCO. pp. 43–52. ISBN 978-92-3-100104-8.
  5. ^ Stokes, Jamie; Gorman, editor; Anthony; consultants, Andrew Newman, historical (2008). Encyclopedia of the peoples of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts On File. p. 516. ISBN 143812676X.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ "Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti". ZODML. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  7. ^ "Taytu Betul: The Rise of an Itege" (PDF). United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 2015. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  8. ^ Prouty (1986), Empress Taytu, p. 42.
  9. ^ Augustyniak, Zuzanna (2014). "Lïj Iyasu's marriages as a reflection of his domestic policy". In Ficquet, Éloi; Smidt, Wolbert G. C. (eds.). The Life and times of Lïj Iyasu of Ethiopia: New Insights. Zurich: LIT Verlag. p. 41.
  10. ^ Prouty (1986), Empress Taytu, pp. 345f.


  • Chris Prouty. Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethiopia 1883–1910. Trenton: The Red Sea Press, 1986. ISBN 0-932415-11-3

External linksEdit

Taytu Betul
Born: circa 1851 Died: 11 February 1918
Royal titles
Title last held by
Dinqinesh Mercha
Empress consort of Ethiopia
10 May 1889 – 12 December 1913
Seble Wongel Hailu
to Iyasu V
(Never crowned)