king radama ii of madagascar

 Radama II and his wife, Rabodo, who would become Queen Rasoherina after his (supposed) assassination

Radama II and his wife, Rabodo, who would become Queen Rasoherina after his (supposed) assassination

Did King Radama II of Madagascar survive assassination, living on in hiding as a hero to his people? So the legend goes. He ruled for only two years, but whatever his fate might have been, Radama’s brief reign forever changed the island nation.

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In 1861, Radama inherited the throne from his formidable mother, Queen Ranavalona, who had tried to keep Madagascar isolated, not least from the predatory ambitions of the French and British empires.

The new king wanted to modernize his country. He established good relations with foreigners, especially the French. But many of Radama’s officials opposed his reforms.

When the king instituted a new law that allowed disputes to be settled by dueling with pistols, the traditionalists decided that enough was enough. They surrounded the royal palace and demanded that Radama give up his Western advisors.

Radama obliged, first guaranteeing the safety of his advisors; but it wasn’t long before the king’s opponents struck again.

The palace was over-run by members of the army. Radama was seized and strangled.

Seeking to avoid responsibility for murdering their king, whose very blood was considered sacred by his people, the regicides claimed that Radama had killed himself. They declared Radama’s wife to be the new ruler, but changed the constitution to weaken the authority of the monarch and increase the power of the island’s nobility.

A legend quickly arose that Radama had survived. Many ordinary Malagasy people refused to believe that their king had committed suicide. Instead, it was rumored that Radama lived on in the remote jungle and that one day he would return to reclaim his throne.

The reforms that Radama II instituted, opening up Madagascar to outside influence, transformed the previously isolated nation. Thanks in large part to deals struck with Radama, the French became increasingly powerful, until they eventually turned Madagascar into a colony.

Madagascar regained its independence in 1960.