Princess Tenagnework

Princess Tenagnework

Princess Tenagnework Haile Selassie baptismal name Fikirte Mariam (12 January 1912 – 6 April 2003) of Ethiopia was the eldest child of Emperor Haile Selassie and Empress Menen Asfaw.

Early life

Born in the city of Harrar, Princess Tenagnework received her title upon her father's succession to the imperial throne in November 1930. Princess Tenagnework was first married to Ras Desta Damtew, a member of the prominent aristocratic Addisge clan. Ras Desta and Princess Tenagnework were the parents of two sons, Princes Amha and Iskinder Desta (later Rear Admiral), and four daughters, Princesses Aida Desta, Seble Desta, Sophia Desta and Hirut Desta. Ras Desta Damtew was appointed Governor-General, first of Kaffa and Limu, and then of Sidamo.

In 1935, following the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy, the imperial family was forced to flee into exile in Bath, England. However, Ras Desta remained behind to command the imperial forces fighting in the south of the country. Ras Desta was captured and summarily executed by the fascist forces. While in exile, Princess Tenagnework gave birth to Emebet Tsige Mariam (Mary) during a brief union with Ato Abebe Retta, who later served in ambassadorial and other roles in the post-war imperial government, and would eventually become president of the Imperial Senate after their separation.
Government career

In 1941, with British assistance, Emperor Haile Selassie was restored to his throne, and Princess Tenagnework and her children returned to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, her elder son, Amha Desta, died shortly before the return. Princess Tenagnework would eventually marry Betwoded (later Ras) Andargatchew Messai, who had formerly served as "Afe-Mesfin" and representative for the underage Prince Makonnen in his Duchy of Harrar. They were married at the Miskea Hazunan Medhane Alem Church ("Church of the Savior of the World, Consoler of the Bereaved") in September 1944. Bitwoded Andargatchew was then appointed Governor-General of Begemder and Semien Provinces, and the couple were based in Gondar.

The couple then served as the Vice-Roy and Vice-Rein of Eritrea, representing the Emperor there when the former Italian colony was federated to Ethiopia in 1951. Bitwoded Andargatchew served in many other governmental posts. He was elevated to the title of Ras, served as Minister of the Interior, and was made an Imperial Senator and a Crown Councilor. Princess Tenagnework and Ras Andargatchew Messai were the parents of a daughter, Mentewab Andargatchew, who died in childhood. After the death of her mother, Empress Menen Asfaw in 1961, Princess Tenagnework became the most visible and foremost woman at the imperial court and played an ever increasing advisory role to the monarch.

The princess was often described as the child most like her father in temperament and character. A strong personality credited with mostly conservative views, she was widely regarded as a guardian of the institution of the monarchy. She was perceived as a leader of the traditionalist element within the nobility, which was seen as opposing constitutional and land tenure reform.

Princess Tenagnework and the rest of the imperial family were arrested on 11 September 1974, the day before Emperor Haile Selassie was formally deposed by the Derg. The women of the imperial family were kept at Akaki Prison, also known as "Alem Bekagn" which translates to "I have had enough of this world". On 24 November 1974, the Dergue executed sixty-one former officials of the imperial government without trial. Among the many relatives, friends and associates of the Princess to die at this time, was her remaining son, Rear Admiral Prince Iskinder (Alexander) Desta.

The Princess was allowed a final visit with her father only a few days before his death in August 1975. That same year her daughter Mary Abebe Retta died, as did her niece Princess Ijigayehu Asfaw Wossen. Her husband, Ras Andargatchew Messai, who had been outside Ethiopia when the monarchy fell, died after a long illness in London a few years later (August 1981).

After an imprisonment of fifteen years, the women of the imperial family were freed in 1989. A year later, the imprisoned males of the family were also released. After living in Addis Ababa quietly for a little over a year, Princess Tenagnework and a few of the other members of the imperial family were allowed to depart into exile. Princess Tenagnework travelled to London and from there joined her only surviving brother, Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC.

Later life

Princess Tenagnework settled in her second exile, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. to be near her only surviving sibling, Amha Selassie (Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen). The imperial family was living mostly in the Washington area and in London at the time. The death of her brother in 1997 deeply affected her, and her health began to decline. She returned permanently to Ethiopia in 1999. On 5 November 2000, Emperor Haile Selassie was reburied at Holy Trinity Cathedral with much pomp conducted by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Princess attended the burial, which was refused state funeral status by the EPRDF government.
Empress Menen Asfaw seated in the centre and Standing women from left to right are Princess Tsehai, Princess Tenagnework, and Princess Zenebework, her daughters, and on the far right is Princess Wolete Israel Seyoum, her daughter-in-law.

Princess Tenagnework died in Addis Ababa on 6 April 2003. On 13 April, a funeral mass for the Princess was led by Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church, and was attended by most of the other hierarchs of the Ethiopian Church. Much of the old Ethiopian nobility and many members of the general public attended. She was buried in the crypt of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa near the graves of her family.

During her lifetime, Princess Tenagnework received the following honours:

    Collar of the Order of Solomon
    Cordon of the Order of the Queen of Sheba
    Grand Cross of the Order of Beneficence (Greece) (1959)
    Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav (Norway) (1956)
    Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog (Denmark) 1970

Tagged as:

Ethiopian nobility, Princess Tenagnework, Nobility


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