Taytu Betul

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Taytu Betul (c. 1851 - February 11, 1918) was Empress of Ethiopia (1889 - 1913).

Taytu Betul (or Taitu) was born in or around 1851, the third of four children in an aristocratic Ethiopian family that had blood links to the ruling dynasty. Her father, Ras Betul was less well known than her uncle Dejazmatch Wube Haile Maryam, who was the ruler of much of Northern Ethiopia in the 1840's, and a rival of Emperor Tewodros II. Dejazmatch Wube's daughter and Empress Taytu's first cousin, Empress Tiruwork Wube, was Emperor Tewodros's widow. Her father's family were the ruling family of the province of Semien, and could claim descent from Emperor Sissinios. Another side of her father's family were descended from the powerful ruling family of the district of Yejju, which was of Oromo origin and had converted to Christianity from Islam, and which for almost two centuries, and ruled as Regents for a series of puppet Emperors in Gondar. Taytu's mother Yewubdar, was from Gondar, from a minor noble family. Taytu had the reputation of being fiercely proud of her lineage in Yejju, Semien and Gondar. After four failed marriages, Taytu Betul married King Menelik of Shoa, later Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia.

Taytu is acknowledged to have wielded considerable political power as the wife of Menelik, both before and after they 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. 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 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, and commanded a force of cannoneers at the historic Battle of Adwa which resulted in a humiliating defeat for Italy in March, 1894. 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. In 1910, she was forced from power, and a regency took over. Taytu and Menelik did not have any children. Menelik died in 1913 and was succeeded by his grandson by a daughter from a previous marriage, 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.

Taytu is believed to have been active in the plot that eventually removed Emperor Iyasu V from the throne in 1916, and replaced him with her step-daughter, Empress Zauditu. Zauditu, Menelik II's daughter by yet another previous marriage, had always been close to Empress Taytu, and was additionally married to Taytu's nephew, Ras Gusga Welle. Taytu lived out the rest of her life at Entoto Maryam Church near Addis Ababa, where she died on February 11, 1918. She is buried next to her husband at the Taeka Negest Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery in Addis Ababa.

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