Taytu Betul (c. 1851 – February 11, 1918) (baptismal name Wälättä Mikael) was an Empress Consort of the Ethiopian Empire (1889–1913) and the wife of Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia.
Taytu Betul (or Taitu) was born in or around 1851, the third of four children in an aristocratic Ethiopian family that was related to the Solomonic dynasty. Her father, Ras Betul Haile Maryam was less well known than her uncle Dejazmach Wube Haile Maryam, who was the ruler of much of Northern Ethiopia in the 1840s, and a rival of Emperor Tewodros II. Her father's family were the ruling family of Semien province, claiming descent from Emperor Susenyos I. Her father's mother was a daughter of Ras Guga, a member of the powerful ruling family of Yejju, which was of Oromo origin and had converted to Christianity from Islam, and which had ruled as Regents for the powerless Emperors in Gondar during the Zemene Mesafint ("Era of the Princes"). Taytu's mother Yewubdar was from a minor noble family of Gondar. Taytu had the reputation of being fiercely proud of her lineage in Yejju, Semien and Begemder. After four failed marriages, Taytu Betul married King Menelek of Shewa, later Emperor Menelek II of Ethopia.
Taytu is acknowledged to have wielded considerable political power as the wife of Menelik, both before and after they were crowned Emperor and Empress in 1889. She led the conservative faction at court that resisted the modernists and progressives who wanted to develop Ethiopia along western lines and bring modernity to the country. Deeply suspicious of European intentions towards Ethiopia, she was a key player in the conflict over the Treaty of Wuchale with Italy, in which the Italian version made Ethiopia an Italian protectorate, while the Amharic version did not do so. The Empress held a hard line against the Italians, and when talks eventually broke down, and Italy invaded the Empire from its Eritrean colony, she marched north with the Emperor and the Imperial Army, commanding a force of cannoneers at the historic Battle of Adwa which resulted in a humiliating defeat for Italy in March, 1896. Menelik, who often prevaricated and postponed unpleasant decisions with answering "Yes, tomorrow" (Ishi, nega), found it useful to have his wife be in a powerful enough position to say "Absolutely not" (Imbi) to people and issues he just didn't want to personally offend or refuse. As a result, Empress Taytu was increasingly unpopular while Menelik remained very loved by one and all at court and beyond.
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 xenephobia 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.
While some believe Taytu may have played a part in the plot that eventually removed Emperor Iyasu V from the throne in 1916, replacing him with Empress Zauditu, the price for Zauditu's elevation was a divorce from Taytu's nephew Ras Gugsa Welle, who became governor of Begemder. Zauditu, Menelik II's daughter by yet another previous marriage, had always been close to Empress Taytu and invited Taytu to live with her. although Taytu declined she resumed advising rulers "in a modest way," to quote Chris Prouty. Taytu lived out the next few years at the old palace next to the Entoto Maryam Church overlooking Addis Ababa. She requested permission to go to Gondar in November 1917 to end her days, but was refused; three months later she was dead. She is buried next to her husband at the Taeka Negest Ba'eta Le Mariam Monastery in Addis Ababa.
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