April 3, 1891 February 15, 1962
Empress Menen was the wife and consort of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.. She was active in promoting women’s issues in Ethiopia, was Patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross, and the Ethiopian Women’s Charitable Organization. She was also patroness of the Jerusalem Society that arranged for pilgrimages to the Holy Land. She founded the Empress Menen School for Girls in Addis Ababa, the first all-girls school which had both boarding and day students. Girls from all over the Empire were brought to the school to receive a modern education, encouraged by the Empress who visited it often and presided over its graduation ceremonies. The Empress gave generously, as well as sponsored programs for the poor, ill and disabled. She was also a devoutly religious woman who did much to support the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She built, renovated and endowed numerous churches in Ethiopia and in the Holy Land. Prominent among these are the St. Raguel Church in Addis Ababa’s Merkato district, the Kidane Mehret (Our Lady Covenant of Mercy) Church on Mount Entoto, and the Holy Trinity Monastery on the banks of the River Jordan in the Holy Land. She gave generously from her personal funds towards the building of the new Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion at Axum, but did not live to see it completed and dedicated.
When the Empress was exiled from Ethiopia during the Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941, she made a pledge to the Virgin Mary at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, promising to give her crown to the church if Ethiopia were liberated from occupation. The Empress made numerous pilgrimages to Holy Sites in then British-ruled Palestine, in Syria and in Lebanon, during her exile to pray for her occupied homeland. Following the return of Emperor Haile Selassie and his family to Ethiopia in 1941, a replica of the crown was made for future Empresses, but the original crown that Empress Menen was crowned with at her husband’s side in 1930 was sent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Empress Menen, although often seen wearing a tiara at public events that called for it, would never again wear a full crown.
Empress Menen performed perfectly in the role of Empress-consort. In her public role she combined religious piety, concern for social causes, and support for development schemes with the majesty of her Imperial status. Outwardly she was the dutiful wife, visiting schools, churches, exhibitions and model farms, attending public and state events at her husband’s side or by herself. She took no public stand on political or policy issues. Behind the scenes however, she was the Emperor’s most trusted advisor, quietly offering advice on a whole range of issues. She avoided the publicly political role that her predecessor as Empress-consort, Empress Taitu Bitul, had taken, which had caused deep resentment in government circles during the reign of Menelik II
Empress Menen and Emperor Haile Selassie were the parents of six children. The eldest was Princess Tenagnework, followed by Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen (later Amha Selassie I,Emperor-in-Exile),Princess Zenebework,Princess Tsehai,Prince Makonnen Duke (Mesfin) of Harrar, and Prince Sahle Selassie. Princess Tenagnework first married Ras Desta Damtew who died fighting the Italians in 1936. By him she had two sons, Prince Amha Desta, and Prince Rear-Admiral Iskinder Desta, as well as four daughters, Princesses Aida, Seble, Sophia, and Hirut. Prince Amha Desta died young (possibly of tuberculosis) in Englad during the exile of the Imperial family there. He had no children and was never married. Princess Aida would marry the hereditary prince of Tigrai, Ras Mengesha Seyoum, and had four sons and a daughter. They are Lij Michael Sehul, Lij Yohannis, Lij Stephanos, Lij Jalliye and Woizero Menen Mengesha. Princess Seble Desta would marry the heir to the Oromo ruling family of Leqa-Qellem principality of Wellega Dejazmatch Kassa Jote. They would have four daughters and a son, Woizero Jote, Woizero Yeshi, Woizerit Lally, Woizerit Kokeb and Lij Amha Kassa. Princess Sophia Desta would marry Captain Dereje Haile Mariam , and had a daughter, Woizero Hanna Dereje. Princess Hirut Desta would marry Gen. Nega Tegegne. Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen first married Princess Wollete Israel Seyoum, daughter of the then hereditary prince of Tigrai Ras Seyoum Mengesha. They had one daughter, Princess Ijigayehu Asfaw Wossen. Princes Ijigayehu was married to the heir of the ruling Oromo family of Leqa-Neqemt in Wellega, Dejazmatch Fikre Selassie Hapte Mariam. They had six children (see details under page for Emperor Amha Selassie I on main page). Following his divorce from from his first wife, the Crown Prince married Medferiashwork Abebe, daughter of General Abebe Damtew. The new Crown Princess was thus the neice of Ras Desta Damtew, first husband of Princess Tenagnework. Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen had four more children with Crown Princess Medferiash. They are Princess Mariam Senna (Mary), Princess Sefrash Bizu, Princess Sehin, and Prince Zera Yacob (See under Emperor Amha Selassie). Princess Zenebework Haile Selassie married Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa, son of the other hereditary prince of Tigrai, Ras Gugsa Araya. Princess Zenebework died in 1934, and her husband defected to the fascist Italians on the eve of the 1935 war. He was sent into internal exile after the restoration. Princess Tsehai Haile Selassie was married to General Abiye Abebe, but died in childbirth in 1941. General Abiye continued to be accorded the protocol rank of the Emperor’s son-in-law, even after his remarriage. General Abiye served in a number of capacities in the Imperial government including Crown Representative in Eritrea, Senator, and Minister of Defence. Lt. General Abiye Abebe was executed with the other high government official by the Derg in November of 1974. Prince Makonnen Haile Selassie, Duke of Harrar was married to Princess Sara Gizaw Duches of Harrar. They had five sons,Princes Wossen Seged, Taffari, Makonnen (David),Michael, and Beide Mariam. Prince Sahle Selassie Haile Selassie was married to Princess Mahisente Hapte Mariam, daughter of the heir to the Oromo principality of Leqa-Neqemt. They had one son, Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie, who is the current President of the Ethiopian Crown Council in exile.
Prince Makonnen, Duke of Harrar, was killed in a car crash on his way to the resort town of Nazareth in 1959. Prince Sahle Selassie died of illness in 1961. Her Imperial Majesty Empress Menen also died in 1961 after many years of ill health. The Empress, the Duke of Harrar, Prince Sahle Selassie, Princess Zenebework, Princess Romanework, and Ras Desta Damtew (first husband of Princess Tenagnework were all buried in the crypt of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa. Princess Tsehai was buried at the Ba’eta Le Mariam Monastery Church, in the Imperial mausoleum with Emperor Menelik II, Empress Taitu and Empress Zewditu. Emperor Haile Selassie had built a huge new sarcophagus for himself and a matching one for his wife in the north trancept of the Nave in Holy Trinity Cathedral. He planed to move the Empress’ remains from the crypt under the cathedral to this new tomb,and to be buried there himself. However, the revolution intervened, and the Empress remained in her original tomb until November 2000. Following the disinternment of the Emperor’s remains from the secret grave he was placed in by the Derg in 1991, disputes between the government in Ethiopia and the Imperial family over whether the Emperor should receve a state funeral or not, erupted. The Emperor’s remains were placed in the mausoleum at the Ba’eta Le Mariam Monastery until the time that an agreement could be reached to hold his funeral and final burial at Holy Trinity Cathedral. No agreement could be reached with the state authorities, so the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Haile Selassie I Memorial Foundation, and the Veterans Association of Ethiopia, in agreement with the Imperial family, held a non-State Imperial Funeral for the late Emperor on November 5th, 2000. Her Imperial Highness, Princess Tenagnework Haile Selassie is the only child of the Emperor who survives.