times, the island of Madagascar was divided into eighteen
tribes, each with its own kingdom. The Merina are easily
the largest amongst them, accounting for about a quarter
of the entire population. Consequently, the unification
of the island was accomplished by the ruling dynasty of
the Merinas. Significantly, this was not achieved until
after the arrival of the Europeans, when guns and
ammunition from Western allies enabled the Merina King
Radama I, to complete the task of consolidation begun by
his father. He sought to modernise his kingdom through an
alliance with the British, learning English and French,
modernising the government, administration and army, and
forbidding the export of slaves. However, he had failed
to ensure a peaceful succession after his death.
King Radama I's principal widow was proclaimed Queen,
with the help of the senior commanders of the army. King
Radama's grandson and appointed heir were murdered, as
were his parents. The choice of Queen Ranavalona I proved
to be a backward step, as far as the advancement of the
country was concerned. She reversed most of King Radama's
reforms, including his more humane judicial punishments,
in favour of traditional barbaric practices. The
Christian missionaries were expelled from the country and
their educational and medical institutions closed. In the
style of Catherine the Great, she maintained a string of
lovers and husbands, mothering a son some fourteen months
after the King's death. She died after a reign of
Providence surprisingly cast the new King in the same
mould as his putative father. Radama II reinstated most
of the reforms of Radama I, extending and modernising the
kingdom still further. Education became a priority and
missionaries from all denominations were encouraged to
return. The King, Queen and other members of the Royal
family became Christians and close diplomatic relations
established with both France and Britain. His reforms
were not popular with the aristocracy and a military
revolt resulted in his murder after a brief reign of two
The leaders of the military revolt were two brothers.
Rainivoninahitriniony, the elder brother proclaimed
Radama's widow as Queen, married her and assumed the
reigns of government as Prime Minister. After his death,
Rainilairovony, the younger brother, also married the
widowed Queen and added his brother's offices to his own.
He was to remain the chief power in the land until for
the remaining years of the monarchy. He ensured his grip
on the reins of power by placing compliant princesses of
the house on the throne and then marrying them shortly
after their accession. Members of his family and
connections filled virtually all the major governmental
and military appointments.
RULES OF SUCCESSION:
Until the death of Radama I, succession was by nomination
by the reigning King, who usually appointed one of his
sons by a Royal wife as his Heir Apparent. After that
date, succession was basically by coup d'état. The Prime
Minister and C-in-C of the day choosing a member of the
family most amenable to him.
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