Ranavalona I (born Rabodoandrianampoinimerina; 1778 – August 16, 1861), also known as Ramavo and Ranavalo-Manjaka I, was sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar from 1828 to 1861. After positioning herself as queen following the death of her young husband and second cousin, Radama I, Ranavalona pursued a policy of isolationism and self-sufficiency, reducing economic and political ties with European powers, repelling a French attack on the coastal town of Foulpointe, and taking vigorous measures to eradicate the small but growing Malagasy Christian movement initiated under Radama I by members of the London Missionary Society. She made heavy use of the traditional practice of fanompoana (forced labor as tax payment) to complete public works projects and develop a standing army of between 20,000 and 30,000 Merina soldiers, whom she deployed to pacify outlying regions of the island and further expand the realm. She also maintained order within her realm through the traditional practice of trial by the ordeal of tangena to determine guilt, a practice that had a 20 to 50 percent death rate. The combination of regular warfare, disease, difficult forced labor and harsh measures of justice resulted in a high mortality rate among soldiers and civilians alike during her 33-year reign, with Madagascar's population reducing from 5 million in 1833 to 2.5 million in 1839.
Although greatly obstructed by Ranavalona's policies, French and British political interests in Madagascar remained undiminished. Divisions between traditionalist and pro-European factions at the queen's court created opportunities that European intermediaries exploited in an attempt to hasten the succession of Ranavalona's son, Radama II. The young prince disagreed with many of his mother's policies and was amenable to French proposals for the exploitation of the island's resources, as expressed in the Lambert Charter he concluded with a French representative in 1855. These plans were never successful, however, and Radama II was not to take the throne until 1861, when Ranavalona died aged 83.
Ranavalona's European contemporaries generally condemned her policies and characterized her as a tyrant at best and insane at worst.