A Queen Dowager or Dowager Queen is a title or status generally held by the widow of a reigning king. Its full meaning is clear from the two words from which it is composed: queen indicates someone who served as queen consort (i.e. wife of a king), while dowager indicates a widow who holds the title from her deceased husband.
A Queen Mother is a particular type of queen dowager who is simultaneously a former queen consort and the mother of the current monarch.1 Therefore, every queen mother is by definition also a queen dowager. However, not all queen dowagers are queen mothers (i.e., the mothers of the reigning monarch). For example, a queen dowager may be the widow of the older brother of the reigning monarch. One example of this is Dowager Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, whose late husband King Baudouin died in 1993 and was succeeded by his younger brother Albert.
Not every mother of a reigning monarch is a queen mother or a queen dowager. For example, the mother of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, the Duchess of Kent, was never a queen dowager because her late husband, the Duke of Kent, had never been king. Similarly, the mother of King George III of the United Kingdom, the former Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, was not a queen dowager because her husband, Frederick, Prince of Wales, was never king. Instead, she held the title of Dowager Princess of Wales.
Finally, it is entirely possible for there to be a queen mother and one or more queen dowagers alive at any one time. This situation occurred in the United Kingdom in the period between the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February 1952 and the death of her paternal grandmother on 24 March 1953. For slightly over a year, there were three queens in Great Britain:
- Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch.
- Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, the widow of the recently deceased King George VI and the mother of the reigning queen. Queen Elizabeth, the former queen consort, specifically adopted the appelation "Queen Mother" to distinguish herself from her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.
- Queen Mary, the widow of King George V, the mother of the former king Edward VIII (then-the Duke of Windsor) and of the late King George VI. Queen Mary had been the queen mother between the death of her husband in 1936 and the ascension of her granddaughter in 1952. However, she continued to be titled and styled "Her Majesty Queen Mary."
British Queen Dowagers
The article on Queen Mothers provides a list of former British queen consorts who became queen mothers. However, there were several former queen consorts of England, Scotland, and later the United Kingdom, who were never queen mothers. These dowager queens were:
- Catherine Parr (1512-7 September 1548), the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII of England and the stepmother of King Edward VI, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I.2
- Catherine of Braganza (25 November 1638 - 30 November 1705), the second wife and widow of King Charles II of England and Scotland.
- Mary of Modena (25 November 1638-1 December 1705), the widow of the deposed King James II of England and Scotland.
- Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (13 August 1792 - 2 December 1849), the widow of King William IV of the United Kingdom.
Other Queen Dowagers who were (or are) not also Queen Mothers
"Thus it hath pleased Almighty God to take out of this transitory life unto His Divine Mercy the late Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Princess Elizabeth, Queen Dowager and Queen Mother, Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, Grand Master and Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Victorian Chain, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dame Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John, Relict of His Majesty King George the Sixth and Mother of Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth The Second by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, whom may God preserve and bless with long life, health and honour and all worldly happiness."
2 Catherine Parr continued to use the title Queen Dowager even after her remarriage to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, the younger brother of the late Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife.