She’s Royal #10

Preamble: This She’s Royal series has been a learning experience for me; I discovered new people and new things about historical figures I already knew. Last week was Nanny of the Maroons from Jamaica, and now we head to Hawaii for another lesson in imperialism.

She’s Royal #10:


Queen Lili’uokalani (Lydia Kamakaeha)

Her story:  The last monarch of the Hawaiian islands, Queen Lili’uokalani, ascended to the throne after the sudden death of the reigning monarch, her brother. Apparently before European settlement the islands were ruled by individual leaders. Then as the islands became economically and politically important (as a result of this interaction/colonization) leadership solidified under a single ruler. I’m sure there’s more to this story but let’s come back to Queen Lili’uokalani who was born in 1838 with an acknowledged claim to the throne and as such fostered in to her role – private education, English language tutelage etc. We can assume that music was also on the syllabus as, she is also a composer of a more than 150 Hawaiian songs including  Aloha’Oe.

This haunting song, a well known classic, Farewell, Hawaii, was composed, reportedly (there are different stories of its origins), while she was under house arrest at the lolani palace.

Yes, you read that right, house arrest, as Queen Lili’uokalani’s brief (approximately) two year reign ended with a violent overthrow.

Reportedly, the white investors who had settled or invested in Hawaii exerted great pressure on the monarchs and by the time of her brother had pushed him to modify the constitution to a degree that greatly weakened the monarchy (this is known as the Bayonet Constitution which itself suggests that the changes were made under duress). She refused to acknowledge this new constitution and instead drafted a document that restored traditional government. On January 17th 1893, there was a coup led by the European settlers and backed by the US marines, and the Queen surrendered at gunpoint. This stuff isn’t new. Reportedly, two years on, there was an attempt to return her to the throne but in the end might was right (i.e. she was charged with treason and put under house arrest) and the US officially annexed Hawaii in 1898. It became the 50th American state in 1959 – you might know it as the home state of the first African American president, born in Hawaii in 1961, Barack Obama.

As for Queen Lili’uokalani, who continued to advocate in exile for a free Hawaii, she died in 1917. “Her legacy continues to spark discussions about Hawaiian identity and the role history plays in contemporary affairs.” As DeSoto Brown, a historian at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, explained “She remains a symbol of the overthrow, of the loss of sovereignty, of the injustice of what happened.” The descendants of Hawaii’s royal line maintain their claim to the throne and continue to push for the sovereignty of Hawaii. (Source)

Possible casting: Tia Carrere is probably the only Hawaiian actress I know (shame on me) and I haven’t seen her in anything in a while (shame on Hollywood?). But maybe this one needs an open casting call so that we can discover all that untapped talent.
Next up: That’s all she wrote. Thanks for taking this journey with me. The purpose of this journey was to tell stories of royal women often overlooked by Hollywood – They love to tell a royal tale, only it’s the same royals, the same tales, over and over. Hollywood can’t continue to give the British royals all the shine. I mean, they will but they have no excuse; not with all these stories out there and these women featured these 10 weeks being only a small handful of the stories out there for the telling. If you missed any of the entries, no worries; you can revisit all the royals, right here.


She’s Royal #7

Preamble: Last week was Queen Mary in the Caribbean, now we go to the Scottish highlands.

She’s Royal #7:

agnesLady Agnes Randolph (Black Agnes)

Her Story: Known as the defender of Dunbar, this Scottish (warrior) princess held off against a British attack in 1338. Maybe they thought that with her husband absent, it would have been easy to get her to surrender; instead she met their rocks with arrows, their battering ram with boulders, and their aggression with determination. Bribery and starving her out didn’t work; at one point, they even brought her brother before the castle threatening his life if she did not surrender – remember when Jamie Lannister tried a similar move against the Blackfish during the siege at the Riverrun in Game of Thrones? Well, like that irascible warrior, Black Agnes was unmoved by this threat. It ended better for her than it did Brynden Tully as eventually, as word spread, other Scots rallied to her aid and the invading army retreated in humiliation and defeat. The siege had lasted 19 weeks.

Possible casting: Apparently, she was nicknamed Black Agnes due to her dark hair and colouring…and, of course, a Scottish actress is preferable…so, Rose Leslie? Okay, she’s not dark of hair and colouring but she is Scottish and played a popular (and similarly stubborn) character (Ygritte) on Game of Thrones (so seems fitting).
Next: an Apache warrior princess.

She’s Royal #6

Preamble: After three weeks on the continent of Africa, last week with Nandi, Queen Mother of the Zulus, we land right here in Antigua, well, in Antigua and St. Croix. Let me explain.

She’s Royal #6:


Queen Mary (Mary Thomas)

Her story: Queen Mary is one of the three queens of the Virgin Islands. The others are Queen Mathilda (Mathilda McBean) and Queen Agnes (Axeline Elizabeth Salomon). Their queendom (yes, I know the VI doesn’t have actual royalty but this is a moniker Mary an’ dem have been blessed with and for the purposes of this series, it counts) is due to their leadership of the 1878 uprising known as the Fireburn in St. Croix. St. Croix, now one of the United States Virgin Islands, was still part of the Danish West Indies at the time of the revolt. The revolt was fueled, in great part, by the fact that conditions for Black people had remained much as they had been since emancipation roughly 30 years earlier; but the spark was a clash with police in the streets of Fredriksted during a period of revelry and more specifically the injury and believed death of one of the revelers, farm labourer Henry Trotman. Fires burned for two weeks, and when the smoke cleared, three Europeans/Whites and more than 100 Africans/Blacks had been killed during the uprising. In the aftermath, “she (Queen Mary) was incarcerated in Christianshavns Women’s Prison together with Mathilde McBean; Susanna Abraham, ‘Bottom Belly’, and Axeline ‘Agnes’ Solomon, who together with Rebecca Frederik were known as ‘the black amazons’.”  (source) They served the first part of their sentence in Copenhagen, Denmark before being moved, in 1887 to Christiansted, St. Croix to serve out the remainder.

I decided to single out Queen Mary in part because she is Antiguan, yes, but also because (from all accounts I’ve come across) she was the most prominent of the three female rebel leaders.  One unofficial source goes so far as to describe her as the instigator (it’s worth noting here that, unlike the Danish-held Virgin Islands, Antigua moved from slavery in to full emancipation in 1834 and that much of the rest of the British Caribbean would have done so in 1838 after a period of ‘apprenticeship’. This is not to say that there wasn’t sufferation – there most decidedly was – just read Keithlyn and Fernando Smith’s To Shoot Hard Labour).

Queen Mary was reportedly a thirtysomething mother of three at the time of the revolt, and fierce if the accounts of her acts of arson and of her calling for decapitation for anyone who did not want to rise up are to be believed. I am Queen Mary is a website detailing a public art project of the same name, the first collaborative sculpture to publicly memorialize the impact of the Danes in the Caribbean, unveiled in 2018 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the sale of the Virgin Islands to the US. The finished sculpture is pictured at the start of this article. Quoting a related pdf, Queen Mary was born in Antigua in 1842 and immigrated to St. Croix as a young adult. It is suggested that her experience with rebellion in Antigua imprinted on her in a way that shaped her actions in St. Croix. “When Queen Mary was 16 years old in 1858 and living in Antigua, a four day post-slavery – and complicated and violent – uprising took place, where Antiguan women – in the reports that followed, were characterized as ’acting violently and aggressively like men’ and using the watchword ‘our side’. ‘Our side’ was the watchword that was heard again and again during the rebellion on St Croix and a favorite one for Queen Mary.”

Interesting; I never knew of this connection. If any Antiguan – or researcher generally – has information on where in Antigua Queen Mary came from, please share…maybe she still has family here?

On the point of family, it’s worth emphasizing that Queen Mary, mother of three, Queen Mathilda, mother of three, the youngest only four months, at the time of her incarceration, and fellow prisoner Susanna ‘Bottom Belly’ Abrahamson, mother of nine, would each have left children behind while they paid the price for taking up cutlass.

Small compensation but history remembers – and the history is still being written.


(1888 leaflet picturing Queen Mary)

In addition to the impressive statue in Denmark, Queen Mary is commemorated in a folk song known by all Crucians and in a statue – with Queen Agnes and Queen Mathilda – along Queen Mary highway.

Possible casting: Ideally, a newcomer of Antiguan-Crucian origin.
Next up: We head to the Highlands.

She’s Royal #5

Preamble: From the Dahomey royal from last week’s post, we now move to a Zulu royal.  I grew up hearing about King Shaka (Zulu) but never knew anything about his mother, or his kingdom really; he was more myth than man. But, he is a man with a mother. And she’s the latest feature in this #wcw #womancrushWednesday She’s royal series that I’m doing as my note to Hollywood.  Preamble-post-note: I am aware that some of the women featured do less than noble things, and some are quite violent, but they’re not presented here because they’re angels (though some are, in fact, quite heroic and each is fierce in her own way) but because they’re lesser known (at least in the west) royals with interesting life stories; and Hollywood, after its fixation on certain popular European royals, some of whom also have blood on their hands, some of whom are also not angels, might want to give them a looksee. Just to mix things up a bit.

She’s Royal #5:


Nandi (Queen Mother of Shaka, King of the Zulus)

Her story: Of the 1828 assassination of Zulu king, Shaka, writes “In 1827, Shaka’s mother, Nandi, died, and the Zulu leader lost his mind. In his grief, Shaka had hundreds of Zulus killed, and he outlawed the planting of crops and the use of milk for a year. All women found pregnant were murdered along with their husbands. He sent his army on an extensive military operation, and when they returned exhausted he immediately ordered them out again. It was the last straw for the lesser Zulu chiefs: On September 22, 1828, his half-brothers murdered Shaka. Dingane, one of the brothers, then became king of the Zulus.”

Nandi’s life which began in 1760 was quite interesting, and any chapter would make for a dramatic self-contained tale but the full span of it is epic. Long story short, Nandi, got knocked up by a Zulu chieftain during uku-hlobonga “a form of coitus interruptus allowed to unmarried couples”. There were all sorts of pregnancy and paternity denials, but eventually Nandi and her son Shaka found a place in his father’s household, for a time. The marriage was reportedly problematic for a few reasons, including being interclan, and Nandi eventually re-settled elsewhere with Shaka and his sister – bad treatment and bullying arguably forging a special bond between them. When Shaka became king, Nandi had some influence – “it is said that Nandi was a force for moderation in Shaka’s life, suggesting various political compromises to him rather than violent action.” (Source) The stories surrounding her death are confusing and contradictory – one story being that Shaka himself killed her after she permitted a member of his harem to leave with his son (because he might kill her for getting pregnant and bearing an heir who could then take his throne?). In any case, after her death, Nandi had the burial rituals befitting a Nguni chief and there was murder and mayhem amidst a year long period of enforced mourning. Soaps can’t manufacture this kind of drama.

Possible casting: Danai Gurira.
Next up: A queen who reportedly has her roots right here in Antigua.

She’s Royal #3

Preamble: This is the 3rd alternative royal women post in my #womencrushWednesday #wcw series…just giving Hollywood some ideas. She follows Royal #2, Nora Baker. To see all the royal women, search ‘she’s royal’ (or some variation of that) to the right.

She’s Royal #3:


Queen of Sheba (Makeda)

Her story: I have to admit watching Neil Gaiman’s American Gods rekindled my interest in the Queen of Sheba, whom I hadn’t thought about since Bible school days. Specifically, the goddess Bilquis who is meant to be the Queen of Sheba, the self-same one from the Judeo-Christian Bible where she meets with King Solomon – arriving with a great caravan and many riches – drawn by his reputed greatness. She tests him and he impresses her. “Your wisdom and prosperity far surpass the report that I had heard,” she reportedly said (1 Kings 10:7). Not much to go on, but movies have been built from less. And researchers have dug up more; a key source being Ethiopian scripture. That’s her land (disputed, as Arabian texts peg her as a Yemeni queen) – Ethiopia; her name is Makeda, she lived between the latter half of the 11th century and approximately 955 BCE, and her lasting gift from her time with Solomon was her son Ebna Hakim (according to sources). There is more re his journey to Israel and speculation that the Ark of the Covenant traveled back to the land of Sheba with him. On his return, his mother gave up the crown to him and he ascended as Menilek l. But I’m more interested in the story of this connection between his parents (there’s some suggestion that there was coercion in the seduction so I hesitate to call it a grand love story though it is reputed that the Song of Solomon testify to that love). There’s more to her story, of course; and versions of that story have been told including on film several times. One purpose of re-imagining her on film could be reframing the narrative. “European authors and artists extend these subordinating narratives that show Solomon as not only the political superior of the Queen of Sheba, but also her spiritual senior and initiator. But now they add a racial distortion, whitening her … We’re now at a moment where women of African descent are re-envisioning who the Queen of Sheba may have really been, beyond the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptural traditions, within her original cultural context.” (source)

Possible casting: Viola Davis…or, swinging wildly in another direction, Solange Knowles…or Queen Sugar’s Rutina Wesley.
Next up: ‘God speaks true’.