The loyal wife, the commander, the strategist, the practical feminist even way before feminism was a mainstream movement: Empress Taytu—her name literally means Empress Sunshine—was indeed a sunshine for her nation when it fell under the cover of darkness. Perhaps, there would not have been the story of Adwa/Adowa—the March 1, 1896, Ethiopian victory against colonialism, without Empress Taytu, for she inspired it.
Empress Taytu was not only loyal and respectful wife to her husband Emperor Menelik II (she was older than him), but also powerful enough to challenge his decision-making. She was the one that pushed him to declare war against Italy at the Battle of Adwa—tearing up the Wuchale Treaty between Ethiopia and Italy, a treaty whose article 17 had two different meanings in Amharic and Italian versions: The Amharic version recognized the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy as just a diplomatic partnership, while the Italian version made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate. The moment that discrepancy was discovered, Empress Taytu was the first to agitate the hesitant Emperor and other men to stand up for liberty, dignity and against Italian aggression.
Empress Taytu, as a military strategist, facilitated the downfall of Italy at the Battle of Adwa. She had her own brigade that she bravely commanded in the battlefield, fighting in the frontline and motivating any man that wanted to retreat. She also mobilized women, both as fighters and nurses of wounded soldiers. You could say, she was fierce and motherly leader that brilliantly led from behind without taking any credit for it.
Here is a nice article for those interested in reading more about her: Empress Taytu.
A quote from the article:
Empress Taitu Bitul was actively involved in Menelik’s government. She exemplified the possibility of reform and transformation from within. She was a persistent critic of the nobilities and ministers of Menelik. Born in Wollo from a Christian and Muslim family, Taitu had a comprehensive early training in traditional education. She was fluent in Ge’ez, the classical Ethiopian language.
European papers of her time praised Empress Taytu, comparing her with Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, and other famous women in history. She had inspired so many Ethiopian women warriors that followed her. Still today she inspires many more Ethiopian sunshines. Sadly, after her Emperor husband passed away, she was a victim of conspiracy and power struggle in the palace, forced to spend the rest of her life in solitary.
Here is a wikipedia entry on her last days:
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. Widely resented for her alleged Gonderine xenophobia and nepotism, the nobility of Shoa and Tigray, along with the Wollo relatives of the heir-to-the-throne, Lij Iyasu, conspired to remove her from state responsibility. In 1910, she was forced from power, and a regency under Ras Tessema Nadew took over. Instructed to limit herself to the care of her stricken husband, Taytu faded from the political scene. Taytu and Menelik did not have any children. Menelik died in 1913 and was succeeded by his grandson from a daughter of a previous liaison, 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.