A queen consort is the wife of a reigning king (or an empress consort in the case of an emperor). A queen consort usually shares her husband's social rank and status. She holds the feminine equivalent of the king's monarchical titles, but historically, she does not share the king's political and military powers. A queen regnant is a queen in her own right with all the powers of a monarch, who (usually) has become queen by inheriting the throne upon the death of the previous monarch.
In Brunei, the wife of the Sultan is known as a Raja Isteri with prefix Pengiran Anak, equivalent to queen consort in English, as were the consorts of tsars when Bulgaria was still a monarchy.
The title of king consort for the husband of a reigning queen is rare, but not unheard of. Examples are: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in Scotland; Antoine of Bourbon-Vendôme in Navarre; and Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in Portugal.
Where some title other than that of king is held by the sovereign, his wife is referred to by the feminine equivalent, such as princess consort or empress consort.
In monarchies where polygamy has been practiced in the past (such as Morocco and Thailand), or is practiced today (such as the Zulu nation and the various Yoruba polities), the number of wives of the king varies. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has broken with tradition and given his wife, Lalla Salma, the title of princess. Prior to the reign of King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan monarchy had no such title. In Thailand, the king and queen must both be of royal descent. The king's other consorts are accorded royal titles that confer status.
Other cultures maintain different traditions on queenly status. A Zulu chieftain designates one of his wives as "Great Wife", which would be the equivalent to queen consort. Conversely, in Yorubaland, all of a chief's consorts are essentially of equal rank. Although one of their number, usually the one that has been married to the chief for the longest time, may be given a chieftaincy of her own to highlight her relatively higher status when compared to the other wives, she does not share her husband's ritual power as a chieftain. When a woman is to be vested with an authority similar to that of the chief, she is usually a lady courtier in his service who is not married to him, but who is expected to lead his female subjects on his behalf.
In general, the consorts of monarchs have no power per se, even when their position is constitutionally or statutorily recognized. However, often the queen consort of a deceased king (the dowager queen or queen mother) has served as regent if her child, the successor to the throne, was still a minor—for example:
- Anne of Kiev, wife of Henry I of France
- Munjeong, mother of King Myeongjong of Korea
- Mary of Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots
- Catherine of Austria, grandmother of Sebastian of Portugal
- Marie de Medici, mother of Louis XIII of France
- Kösem Sultan, mother of Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire
- Luisa de Guzmán, mother of Afonso VI of Portugal
- Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi and mother of Damodar Rao
- Maria Christina of Austria, mother of Alfonso XIII of Spain
- Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, mother of Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
- Helen of Greece, mother of King Michael of Romania
Besides these examples, there have been many cases of queens consort being shrewd or ambitious stateswomen and, usually (but not always) unofficially, being among the king's most trusted advisors. In some cases, the queen consort has been the chief power behind her husband's throne; e.g. Maria Luisa of Parma, wife of Charles IV of Spain.
Examples of queens and empresses consort
Past queens consort:
- Queen Jang, consort to Sukjong of Joseon. Demoted back in 1694 to the rank of hui-bin, Royal Noble Consort Joseon rank 1
- Queen Marie Antoinette, consort to Louis XVI of France
- Queen Charlotte was George III's consort for 57 years, 70 days, between 1761 and 1818, making her Britain's longest-tenured queen consort.
- Queen Mary, consort of George V
- Queen Elizabeth, consort of George VI
- Queen Fabiola, consort of Baudouin I of the Belgians
- Queen Paola, consort of Albert II of Belgium
- Queen Marie José, consort of Umberto II of Italy
- Queen Kapiolani, consort of King Kalākaua of Hawaiʻi
- Queen Soraya Tarzi, consort of King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan
- Tsaritsa Ioanna, consort of Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria
- Queen Regent Saovabha Phongsri, consort of Chulalongkorn of Siam
- Panapillai Amma (queen consort) Srimathi Lakshmi Pilla Kochamma Chempakaraman Arumana Ammaveedu, wife of Visakham Thirunal Maharajah of Travancore
- Queen Catherine, first queen consort of Henry VIII of England, was also regent when he was in a war in France.
- Queen Hortense, consort of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland
- Queen Wilhelmine, consort of William I of the Netherlands
- Queen Anna Pavlovna, consort of William II of the Netherlands
- Queen Sophie, first consort of William III of the Netherlands
- Queen Emma, second consort of William III of the Netherlands: When William died on 23 November 1890, Emma became regent (1890–1898) for her underaged daughter, Wilhelmina, the late king's only surviving child.
- Queen Ratna, second consort of Mahendra of Nepal
- Queen Sirikit, consort of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand
Past empresses consort:
- Empress Theodora, consort of Justinian I, East Roman Emperor
- Empress Hürrem Sultan, consort of Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Her imperial title was Haseki Sultan
- Empress Nur Jahan, consort of Jahangir, Mughal Emperor
- Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, consort of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor
- Titular Empress Carlota Joaquina of Spain, consort of John VI of Portugal, Titular Emperor of Brazil
- Empress Maria Leopoldina, consort of Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil
- Empress Xiao Zhen Xian, consort of Xianfeng, Qing Emperor
- Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, consort of Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All Russia
Current queens consort:
- Queen Nanasipauʻu Tukuʻaho, consort of Tupou VI of Tonga
- Queen 'Masenate, consort of Letsie III of Lesotho
- Queen Jetsun Pema, consort of Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck of Bhutan
- Queen Saleha, consort of Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam
- Queen Máxima, consort of Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
- Queen Mathilde, consort of Philippe of Belgium
- Queen Rania, consort of Abdullah II of Jordan
- Queen Silvia, consort of Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
- Queen Letizia, consort of Felipe VI of Spain
- Queen Sonja, consort of Harald V of Norway
- Queen Sylvia, consort of Muwenda Mutebi II of Buganda: Her official title is Nnabagereka of Buganda.
Current empresses consort:
Because queens consort lack an ordinal with which to distinguish between them, many historical texts and encyclopedias refer to deceased consorts by their premarital (or maiden) name or title, not by their marital royal title (examples: Queen Mary, consort of George V, is usually called Mary of Teck, and Queen Maria José, consort of Umberto II of Italy, is usually called Marie José of Belgium).