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This busy state of affairs is brought to an abrupt end by the early death of Radama in 1828. He is succeeded on the throne by his queen, Ranavalona, who reverses all his policies. Most of the Europeans are expelled, the newly baptized Christians are persecuted (some 200 are killed), and in 1835 the Christian religion is formally banned.

The new policies need not imply chaos and a collapse of the kingdom, but in practice the reign of Ranavalona is characterized by rebellions, wars and brutality. It comes to an end with her death in 1861. Her son, Radama II, immediately opens the island again to European involvement. But within two years he is murdered in his palace - with the complicity of his wife, Rasoherina, who follows him on the throne.

For the next three decades Madagascar, or the greater part of it, is ruled by a succession of three queens - Rasoherina (1863-8), her cousin Ranavalona II (1868-83), and Ranavalona's cousin Ranavalona III (1883-97). But the power behind the throne is a man. Each queen in turn marries the same prime minister, Rainilaiarivony.

The prime minister continues the policy of welcoming back the Europeans (he and his second wife are baptized together soon after the start of her reign), but by the 1880s the European powers are in a new and aggressive mood of colonialism. In the case of Madagascar this is all too plain in the behaviour of the French.