Mentewab (ca. 1706 - 27 June 1773), was Empress of Ethiopia, consort of Emperor Bakaffa, mother of Iyasu II and grandmother of Iyoas I. She was also known officially by her baptismal name of Welete Giyorgis ("Daughter of St. George"). Mentewab was a major political figure during the reigns of her son the Emperor Iyasu and grandson Iyoas. Empress Mentewab was also known by the honorific of Berhan Mogasa or "Glorifier of Light". This was to compliment the honorific of her son Iyasu II, who was Berhan Seged or "He To Whom the Light Bows".
Mentewab was born in Qwara province, and was rumored to have had a Portuguese grandparent; because of this, she was often suspected of harboring secret Roman Catholic sympathies. She was a daughter of Dejazmach Manbare of Dembiya by his wife, Woizero Yenkoy. Mentewab married Emperor Bakaffa in Qwara 6 September 1722, becoming his second wife (his first wife having mysteriously died on the day she was crowned immediately following her coronation banquet).
Following the death of her husband, Empress Mentewab took up a romantic liaison with her late husband's nephew. The Empress' much younger lover was derisively called "Melmal Iyasu" (Iyasu the Kept) by members of the court. Mentewab would have three daughters by "Melmal Iyasu", including Woizero Aster Iyasu, who would marry the powerful Tigrean warlord Ras Mikael Sehul.
Empress Mentewab built several significant structures in Gondar, including her own castle in the Royal Enclosure, and a large banqueting hall as well. Most significantly she built a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary at Qusquam (named for a site in Egypt where the Holy Family had stayed during their exile) in the mountains outside of Gondar. Empress Mentewab also built a palace adjoining her church, which became her favored residence.
Empress Mentewab was crowned co-ruler upon the succession of her son Iyasu II in 1730, and held unprecedented power over government during his reign. (She descended in her own right from emperors who reigned two centuries earlier.) Her attempt to continue in this role following the death of her son 1755 led her into conflict with Wubit (Welete Bersabe), Iyasu's widow, who believed that it was her turn to preside at the court of her own son Iyoas. The conflict between these two queens led to Mentewab summoning her Qwaran relatives and their forces to Gondar for support. Wubit responded by summoning her own Oromo relatives and their considerable forces from Yejju. Mentewab summoned the powerful Mikael Sehul (who was to become her son-in-law) to mediate the dispute and prevent a bloodbath. Upon arriving in Gondar, he was made Ras. Mentewab had hoped that he would land firmly on her side, but instead Ras Mikael seized power for himself, and eventually engineered the murder by strangulation of Emperor Iyoas I, at which time Mikael also married the aunt of his victim.
Empress Mentewab was distraught at the murder of her grandson. She retreated to Qusquam and buried her grandson there next to her son, and refused to return to the city of Gondar. She lived at her palace there in seclusion till the end of her life.
Children and Genealogy
Children by Emperor Bakaffa:
Abetohun (Prince) Agaldem Iyasu, succeeded as Iyasu II
Woizero (Princess) Walatta Takla Haymanot, married 1730, Ras Ilyas
Children by Abetohun Iyasu Milmal:
Woizero Walatta Israel, married (first) Dejazmach Yosadiq Wolde Habib (d. 28 July 1759), sometime Governor of Gojjam, son of Dejazmach Wolde Habib bin Ibido, sometime Governor of Gojjam; married (second) Ras Goshu Wodago, sometime Governor of Amhara and Viceroy of the Empire, son of Ras Wodago, sometime Governor of Amhara, Walaqa, Begameder, and Gojjam, by his wife, Woizero Surantiya, of Ambassel, a descendant of Abeto Yitbarek, son of Emperor Na'od and brother of Emperor Lebna Dengel.
Woizero Aster, married (first) ca. 1755, Dejazmatch Natcho (d. before 1760), of Chirkin, by whom she had one son; married (second) 1760, Ras Ya Mariam Bariaw (killed before 9 December 1769), Viceroy of the Empire, and Governor of Lasta and Begameder 1764-1768, son of Dejazmach Ayo, sometime Governor of Begemder; married (third) 1769, Ras Mikael Sehul Hezqiyas, sometime Viceroy of the Empire.
Woizero Altash (Eleni), married September 2, 1755 Wolde Hayawrat (d. May 22, 1760, Tigray), son of Ras Mikael Sehul Hezqiyas.