A dowager is a widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...

 who holds a title or property, or dower
Dower or morning gift was a provision accorded by law to a wife for her support in the event that she should survive her husband...

, derived from her deceased husband. As an adjective, "Dowager" usually appears in association with monarchical
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

 and aristocratic
Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...


In loose popular usage, dowager as a stand-alone noun may refer to any elderly widow, especially one who is wealthy or behaves with dignity.

Use in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the widow of a peer
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

 may continue to use the style she had during her husband's lifetime, e.g. "Countess of Loamshire
Placeholder name
Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are either temporarily forgotten, irrelevant, or unknown in the context in which they are being discussed...

", provided that his successor, if any, has no wife to bear the plain title. Otherwise she more properly prefixes either her forename or the word Dowager, e.g. "Jane, Countess of Loamshire" or "Dowager Countess of Loamshire". (In any case she would continue to be called "Lady Loamshire".)

Monarchical dowagers

Queen Dowager
Queen Dowager
A queen dowager or dowager queen is a title or status generally held by the widow of a deceased king. In the case of the widow of a deceased emperor, the title of empress dowager is used...

 is used in the United Kingdom and several other countries.

In reference to the fallen Russian imperial family
The House of Romanov was the second and last imperial dynasty to rule over Russia, reigning from 1613 until the February Revolution abolished the crown in 1917...

 and the Monarchy of China
Emperor of China
The Emperor of China refers to any sovereign of Imperial China reigning between the founding of Qin Dynasty of China, united by the King of Qin in 221 BCE, and the fall of Yuan Shikai's Empire of China in 1916. When referred to as the Son of Heaven , a title that predates the Qin unification, the...

, the term "Dowager Empress" was used in English to describe the wife of a deceased emperor
An emperor is a monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife or a woman who rules in her own right...


Historical and current

  • Following the annulment of her marriage
    Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

     to King Henry VIII of England
    Henry VIII of England
    Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

    , Katherine of Aragon was styled either "Princess Dowager of Wales" or "Dowager Princess of Wales" in consequence of her previous marriage (1501) to Henry's older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales
    Arthur, Prince of Wales
    Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales was the first son of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, and therefore, heir to the throne of England. As he predeceased his father, Arthur never became king...

     (died 1502).
  • Cixi
    Empress Dowager Cixi
    Empress Dowager Cixi1 , of the Manchu Yehenara clan, was a powerful and charismatic figure who became the de facto ruler of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years from 1861 to her death in 1908....

     was referred to as the Empress Dowager of China.
  • Following the adoption of same-sex marriage in Spain
    Same-sex marriage in Spain
    Same-sex marriage in Spain has been legal since July 3, 2005. In 2004, the nation's newly elected social democratic government, led by President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, began a campaign for its legalization, including the right of adoption by same-sex couples...

    , Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo, 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia married on her deathbed her longtime secretary Liliana Dahlgren, leaving her as the Dowager Duchess of Medina Sidonia.
  • Helen E. Hokinson, a cartoonist for the The New Yorker
    The New Yorker
    The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

    , was best known for her sketches of American dowagers from the 1920s though the 1940s.
  • Following the death of Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer
    Edward Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer
    Edward John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer MVO , styled Viscount Althorp until 1975, was a British peer and the father of Diana, Princess of Wales.-Education and military career:...

     in 1992, his widow, Raine McCorquodale, ceased to use the style Countess Spencer, becoming Raine, Dowager Countess Spencer. Her stepdaughter-in-law, Victoria, became Countess Spencer.

In media and entertainment

  • In the 1997 movie Anastasia
    Anastasia (1997 film)
    Anastasia is a 1997 American animated musical film produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. It was the first feature film to be released by Fox Animation Studios....

    , the term is said many times to address the Dowager Empress Marie, Anastasia's grandmother.
  • In The Princess Diaries
    The Princess Diaries
    The Princess Diaries is a series of epistolary novels by Meg Cabot in the chick-lit and young-adult fiction genre, and the title of the first volume, published in 2000....

    books, Mia's grandmother is the Dowager Princess of Genovia, although she is simply known as "the Queen" in the films
    The Princess Diaries (film)
    The Princess Diaries is a 2001 comedy film produced by singer and actress Whitney Houston and directed by Garry Marshall. It is based on Meg Cabot's 2000 novel of the same name...

  • In the video game Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Nintendo Wii, one can see Ike refer to Lady Almedha as the Dowager Queen of Daein if one can enable the secret conversation regarding Soren in the Epilogue.
  • The 2010 television series, Downton Abbey
    Downton Abbey
    Downton Abbey is a British television period drama series, produced by NBC Universal-owned British media company Carnival Films for the ITV network. The series is set during the late Edwardian era and the First World War on the fictional estate of Downton Abbey in Yorkshire, and features an...

    , features Dame Maggie Smith
    Maggie Smith
    Dame Margaret Natalie Smith, DBE , better known as Maggie Smith, is an English film, stage, and television actress who made her stage debut in 1952 and is still performing after 59 years...

     playing the fictional Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
  • In the 100th episode of the television series, Futurama
    Futurama is an American animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late 20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J...

    , a wealthy older woman is seen reading a fictional magazine "Now Dowager."
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