Ethiopian Royal Hats Part II: Invasion & Exile

Longtime reader Jake Short is back today with the second installment in a 5-part series on the history and hats of the Ethiopian Imperial Family (see Part 1 here). You can catch him at @BestDressdMenno on Instagram or Twitter. Welcome back, Jake!

Ras Tafari Makonnen’s Rise To Power

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Ras Tafari Makonnen continued the work of putting Ethiopia on the world stage. Surviving the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, he successfully petitioned Ethiopia’s admittance into the League of Nations in 1923 before embarking on a tour of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean in 1924.

During the 1924 tour, Ras Tafari visited London, seen below in a light-colored (some colorized images have it as dove grey) wide brim felt fedora accompanied by the then-Duke of York (later King George VI) who in a bicorne hat and a feathered military helmet. While in London, Ras Tafari was given back with one of two imperial crowns of Tewodros II, which were stolen by General Sir Robert Napier during a military expedition in 1868. Ras Tafari also visited the Vatican and wore a similar (the same?) hat and outfit as that in London.

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In 1930, after the death of Empress Zewditu, Ras Tafari became Neguse Negest ze-‘Ityopp’ya (“King of Kings of Ethiopia”), Emperor of Ethiopia and assumed the name Haile Selassie.

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His wife, Menen Asfaw, became Empress of Ethiopia.Their coronation on 2 November 1930 was attended by Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (King George V’s son) and Prince Ferdinando of Savoy, Prince of Udine (King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy’s first cousin), along with representatives from Belgium, Egypt, France, Japan, Sweden, Turkey, and the US. Ethiopia’s first written constitution soon followed in July 1931.

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A very religious woman, the Empress made many pilgrimages to the Holy Land. During a 1933 visit, she can be seen wearing a structured cloche, seen both unadorned and covered by a cloth veil. She is shown below in a brimless hat with intricate cut-out pattern and veil. 

Here you can see Haile Selassie’s sons Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen and Prince Makonnen, Duke of Harar in a pith helmet and a Western-style military cap, respectively (the 1925 date on this photo is not accurate as the Duke of Harar was born in 1924). The Duke of Harar can also be seen in another military cap with what looks to be a feathered crown here.

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Italian Invasion of Ethiopia and Exile

Emperor Haile Selassie is seen with King Vittorio Emanuele III and Crown Prince Umberto in Italy sometime in the early 1930s, wearing a similar (the same?) fedora and outfit previously seen during the 1924 visit to London.

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A 1932 visit by Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen saw a very similar hat and outfit. Relations with Italy were always strained as Italy controlled what is now Eritrea and most of Somalia at that time (modern nations that border Ethiopia and also make up most of the land that keeps the country landlocked). In late 1934, a short battle against an Italian base illegally established inside Ethiopian territory led Emperor Haile Selassie to appeal to the League of Nations to stop further Italian incursions; months of negotiations and attempted sanctions failed to resolve the crisis.

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In October 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia (the Emperor is seen below during the war wearing a military pith helmet – you can read more about the Emperor and his pith helmet here); the Emperor was forced into exile in May 1936 and made a last-minute in-person appeal to the League of Nations on 7 June 1936. Nothing came about of this speech (made worse by France and the UK’s appeasement efforts towards Italy), and ultimately the League of Nations was dissolved because of its inability to act and the rise of fascist nationalism in Europe.

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When they fled Ethiopia, Haile Selassie and some members of his family first escaped to Jerusalem, then made their way to Gibraltar (the Emperor seen in Gibraltar in bowler and fedora hats, below) 

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before landing in Geneva, Switzerland, to speak at the League of Nations.

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After the League’s failure, the Emperor and his family settled in Bath, England with a small government-in-exile while other family members and government officials kept up the fight in Ethiopia; multiple members of the Emperor’s family, including his oldest daughter and two sons-in-law, died during the occupation. Although exiled, the family was still treated according to royal standards. A garden party was held for them in London shortly after their arrival. Below is a better look Princess Tsehai wearing a standard 1930s wide-brimmed portrait hat at the party.

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The Emperor was also seen wearing homburg and bowler hats during his family’s residency in the UK.
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Thank you, Jake, for this interesting post. I’m sorry to admit I did not know that the Ethiopian Imperial family were forced to spend years in exile in the United Kingdom. This led me to dig further into this part of their story and uncovered another interesting photo- Haile Selassie’s daughter, Princess Tsehai, photographed on the right below in 1940 during the early days of WWII. She trained at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and graduated as a state registered children’s nurse on August 25,1939.

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I look forward to your third post in this series next week!

Photos from Getty and social media as indicated

5 thoughts on “Ethiopian Royal Hats Part II: Invasion & Exile

  1. Glad people seem to be enjoying this series so far, and thanks HatQueen for some additional photos in this post! Looking forward to what you think about the next 3 parts.

    Apparently Ras Desta Damtew’s (Demtu) trip to Washington, DC in 1933 was the only time he left Ethiopia. He was also one of the two sons-in-law who died during the Italian occupation, being captured and executed in 1937 while his wife Princess Tenagnework and their children escaped to England with the Emperor, Empress, and others.

    And while Ethiopia is now more pluralistic in terms of religion, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the oldest established Christian denominations in the world. Ethiopia was also the second country in the world to declare Christianity as its state religion in 333 AD/CE, only a few decades after Armenia.

    Stay tuned for more hats!

  2. I had an Ethiopian student in my class for two years. He was a very good student. During Covid I visited his home at the end of the school year to give him his certificate. The mother explained that a family member in Ethiopia had died and she invited me to dinner. She knew I was a vegetarian and gave me the bread and lentil dish she had made while the others had a chicken dish, also. It was a very special experience. They were a very nice family and good parents.

    Thanks again, Jake, for the time you have put into this series. I am enjoying it. The embroidery on the coronation capes looks extraordinary. I was thinking how much time must have gone into making those clothes and how hard it would be to push a needle through that thick material! I always learn so much from other cultures.

  3. The splendid Ethiopian robes and gold crowns are truly remarkable works of art – Such a jolt seeing the exiled family in Western hats and clothing. Jake, this is really a treat for us. Thanks so much.

  4. Here is Prince Ras Desta Demtu, Halie Selassie’s son-in-law in an interesting hat worn on a 1933 visit to the US capital
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  5. I, too, was unaware that the royal family was in exile in England nor did I realize that they were Christian. The references to the Holy Land and Jerusalem sent me to the internet to read more about them. Thank you very much, Jake.

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