Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar was the dictatorial sovereign of an island caught up in the 19th century European exploration and colonization. Known in history as both the "Mad Queen of Madagascar" and "Ranavalona the Cruel," the sovereign queen rivals some of the most hardcore female leaders to have ever lived with her ruthlessness and shrewd behavior.
Much like China's Wu Zetian, Ranavalona didn't shy away from taking down anyone who got in her way during her long tenure as queen. She had the poisonous tangena tree at her disposal too, and used it to determine the guilt or innocence of her perceived foes. Her reign may be long over, but it is hardly forgotten.
One way to determine innocence in Madagascar, before and during Ranavalona's reign, was "trial by tangena." The trial involved eating the skin of three chickens followed by a poisonous tangena nut or kernel. Then, vomiting was induced. If all three skins came up, the person was innocent. If not, the person was guilty.
Ranavalona used this method to test the loyalty of her subjects. She also used it on thousands of Christian martyrs. The queen became increasingly paranoid and used it for even minor offenses as her reign progressed.
In 1845, Ranavalona ordered her court and thousands of her subjects to go on a buffalo hunt. The group, some 50,000 large, took a small amount of supplies and had to build a road as they went.
The hunt lasted four months, during which time 10,000 people passed from exhaustion and starvation. No buffalo was ever felled on the hunt.
Ranavalona eventually had a child after the king's passing, a son named Rakoto. Rakoto was opposed to his mother's isolationist policies and attempted to overthrow her several times. Nevertheless, when his mother passed in 1861, Rakoto became King Radama II of Madagascar. She was remembered as a queen that fought to maintain the traditional culture of Madagascar, policies from which her son quickly retreated.
In an ironic twist for the anti-imperialist queen, there was an explosion at her funeral, taking out several people and destroying nearby buildings. Even after her passing, Ranavalona is associated with loss of life.
Ranavalona wasn't opposed to using physical punishment against criminals and enemies and was known to engage in heinous acts to prove a point. In fact, one of her lovers, Andrianamihaja, actually refused to take the tangena test.
Andrianamihaja had been linked to another woman and when Ranavalona found out, she ordered him to prove his innocence. Instead, he instructed his executioner to take him out to avoid suffering.