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A queen consort is the wife of a reigning king, or an empress consort in the case of an emperor. A queen consort usually shares her spouse's social rank and status. She holds the feminine equivalent of the king's monarchical titles, and is crowned and anointed, but historically, she does not formally share the regnant's political and military powers, unless on occasion acting as regent.
In contrast, a queen regnant is queen in her own right, with all the powers of a monarch, who (usually) has become queen by inheriting the throne upon the death of the previous monarch. A well known example of a queen regnant is Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She was queen regnant from 1558 until her death in 1603.
The title of King Consort for the husband of a reigning queen is rare. Examples are Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in Scotland and Francis, Duke of Cádiz, in Spain. Antoine of Bourbon-Vendôme in Navarre and Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in Portugal gained the title king, not king consort, and were co-rulers with their reigning queen wives because of the practice of Jure uxoris. The title of Prince Consort for the husband of a reigning queen is more common. An example is Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who, upon marrying Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and because of her insistence that he be given a title of his status, became Albert, Prince Consort.
Where some title other than that of king is held by the sovereign, his wife is referred to by the feminine equivalent, such as princess consort or empress consort.
In monarchies where polygamy has been practiced in the past (such as Morocco and Thailand), or is practiced today (such as the Zulu nation and the various Yoruba polities), the number of wives of the king varies. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has broken with tradition and given his wife, Lalla Salma, the title of princess. Prior to the reign of King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan monarchy had no such title. In Thailand, the king and queen must both be of royal descent. The king's other consorts are accorded royal titles that confer status.
Other cultures maintain different traditions on queenly status. A Zulu chieftain designates one of his wives as "Great Wife", which would be the equivalent to queen consort. Conversely, in Yorubaland, all of a chief's consorts are essentially of equal rank. Although one of their number, usually the one who has been married to the chief for the longest time, may be given a chieftaincy of her own to highlight her relatively higher status when compared to the other wives; she does not share her husband's ritual power as a chieftain. When a woman is to be vested with an authority similar to that of the chief, she is usually a lady courtier in his service who is not married to him, but who is expected to lead his female subjects on his behalf.
In general, the consorts of monarchs have no power per se, even when their position is constitutionally or statutorily recognized. Queen consorts often held an informal sort of power that was dependent on what opportunities were afforded to her. Should she produce a healthy heir, have an amiable personality, ambition and piety then chances were higher for her to gain this informal type of power. They may have served roles as transfers of culture. Due to their unique position of being reared in one culture and then, when very young, promised into marriage in another land and culture, queens consort may have served as a cultural bridge between nations. Based on journals, diaries and accounts, some queens consort exchanged and introduced new forms of art, music, religion and fashion. This is all based on the individual women, their experiences. If the court, and even more so, the king were in favor of the queen consort she could gain power over time with cultural and social influence and with the birth of an heir. Often the queen consort of a deceased king (the dowager queen or queen mother) has served as regent if her child, the successor to the throne, was still a minor--for example:
Besides these examples, there have been many cases of queens consort being shrewd or ambitious stateswomen and, usually (but not always) unofficially, being among the king's most trusted advisors. In some cases, the queen consort has been the chief power behind her husband's throne; e.g. Maria Luisa of Parma, wife of Charles IV of Spain.
Past queens consort:
Past empresses consort:
Current queens consort:
Current empress consort:
Current queens consort in federal monarchies
Because queens consort lack an ordinal with which to distinguish between them, many historical texts and encyclopedias refer to deceased consorts by their premarital (or maiden) name or title, not by their marital royal title (examples: Queen Mary, consort of George V, is usually called Mary of Teck, and Queen Maria José, consort of Umberto II of Italy, is usually called Marie José of Belgium).