As Queen Mandukhai the Wise lay on the battlefield giving birth to twins, surprisingly there was not a single thought of doubt over whether this was a good idea. The Mongols were at war. This was the 1400s and for over a century, there had been nothing but bloodshed among the warring clans. The death of one leader could have brought untold carnage but Mandukhai was there to bring peace… and mayhem to those that defied her. Her life started with the aristocracy, flourished on the battlefield where she led vast armies in her quest to unite Mongolia, and was cemented in the peace she brought to the region. This is the story of a warrior queen who led from the front and forever changed the fortunes of Mongolia…
The Death of the Ruler and the Next Top Khan
Mandukhai was born in 1449. She was the only daughter of Chorosbai-Tumur, the chingsang of the Ongus Mongols in eastern Mongolia. Mandukhai’s family were aristocrats. A ‘chingsang’ was the grand councillor, so Chorosbai-Tumur was a big deal.
Kinda the opposite of me. Nobody cares what I have to say. Sniff…
Mandukhai was married at around 15 or 16 years old. She married a man named Manduul Khan, who ruled the Northern Yuan from 1473 to 1479. We know the couple had at least one daughter but we do not know her name. In those days, it was common for men to have multiple wives.
Chop, chop, dig, dig… and so forth.
Manduul’s first wife, Yungen Qabar-tu, began to be left out of things. Manduul much preferred his second wife, Mandukhai. After all, she brought Manduul children and he liked having children. Yungen gave him none so she was in the metaphorical dog house.
But after just three years of marriage, Manduul died. He was poisoned by his advisor Esmel, which I’d argue is a sacking offence but Manduul is dead, so I guess it’s a win-win for Esmel…
He was a spy for the Ming dynasty. Manduul’s first wife fled, never to be seen again. Manduul’s death threw his empire into chaos. He may have had one, possibly two daughters, but no son. No son, no heir. It prompted a power struggle in the region.
Mongolian princes battled for the crown. Who should be Northern Yuan’s next top Khan? Sadly, it wasn’t as fun as it sounds…
The Last Queen Standing and the Battle to Rule
The last remaining descendant of Genghis Khan was a seven-year-old orphan, Batumunkh. Queen Mandukhai brought the boy from hiding, adopting him and proclaiming him Dayan Khan or, rather awesomely, ‘Khan of the Universe’. When he turned 19, Mandukhai married him, making herself the empress, or the Khatun.
This hardly resolved the conflict.
Mandukhai, however, was considerably older than Batumunkh. 42, in fact. So she retained great influence over the court and military. The disparate Mongol tribes lived in a state of almost constant civil war. Mandukhai vowed to bring this to an end.
She was, effectively, in charge…
Queen Mandukhai now had total command over the Mongols. She made war with the Oirats and she defeated them. This stunning victory united Mongolia for the first time in over 100 years. But Mandukhai was not done with the Oirats yet.
She imposed the following laws upon the Oirats to cement her dominance over them:
- Oirats could not wear helmets with crests more than two fingers long.
- They could not refer to their yurts or gers as ‘ordons’, meaning ‘palaces’.
- They had to kneel before Khan. Seriously.
Mandukhai was a badass. She later imposed other rules upon them, such as forbidding them from eating meat with knives. How are you supposed to cut a steak with a spoon, for heaven’s sake!
Such laws were hard to enforce but they did succeed in solidifying Mandukhai’s power…
The Wise Leader Who Was Too Much for the Great Wall
In case you’re wondering, it is likely Mandukhai made the Oirats tear at their meat with their teeth. However, the Oirats did not stay in line for long. They rebelled and so Mandukhai decided enough was enough.
She decided to raid the Eastern Mongols.
Mandukhai, however, was not the kind of ruler to make orders in her palace and sit back. She would lead her army from the front. Oh, and she was pregnant. With twins.
There were few people she did not fight, hand-on-hand combat, leading by example. From the Oirats to the Mings. She defeated several Ming dynasty attacks, time and time again, defending and protecting Northern Yuan. In fact, Mandukhai piled so much pressure on the Ming dynasty that it led to the rapid expansion of the Great Wall of China.
It didn’t work.
She was injured while pregnant. With her adopted son’s twin sons. Erm… different time? And don’t assume she was a few months pregnant. During one long, epic battle, she delivered the twins. On the battlefield. And then got right back to killing some Mings…
Once again, she was victorious. In truth, she won many of her battles. She and Khan increased the pressure on the Ming territory after they closed border trade and killed a Northern Yuan envoy. Expanding the Great Wall, however, did not contain Mandukhai.
Plus, it was super expensive…
She reoccupied the Ordos area and stationed soldiers there to keep watch on the Mings. That said, she had to flee Ming counter-attacks on a few occasions. She managed to keep Dayan Khan in power, leading to centuries of legends surrounding the famous warrior queen.
She was older and wiser than Khan and wielded great influence both in court and in military matters. Together, they led their army in the field against the rebels and united Mongolia…
The Legacy of the Queen’s Courageous Battle to Unify a Broken Empire
Mandukhai’s lasting legacy was reunifying the Mongol retainers of the former eastern region of the Mongol Empire. And that is how she is remembered today. She died in 1510 at the age of 61, a very good age in those days.
But nobody knows how she died.
Most believe she died of natural causes, which makes sense considering she lived 10 years longer than most people were expected to live in 1510. However, there are legends that she was killed by a Ming double agent or even by one of her husband’s concubines.
Perhaps, even, the first wife…
There are even those who believe Queen Mandukhai the Wise, as she has become known, was killed by the Mongol general… Esmel. The Ming spy who killed Manduul. Esmel was the very man who Mandukhai battled against her whole adult life.
Her arch-nemesis, if you will…
Considering how tough and courageous Mandukhai was, it is hard to believe anyone could kill her. The location of her grave is unknown. Perhaps we will never know what truly happened to the great queen of the Mongols.
Mandukhai Khatun was a wise queen and a fearless leader. She and her husband led vast armies to unite the Mongols, bringing an end to the centuries of war and bloodshed. And any time anyone tried to stop her, she led that very army from the front.
Even when pregnant.
What makes her a great woman is that she is one of the great warrior queens in history, the woman who kept Dayan Khan in power as a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. She defeated the Oirats and gave the Mings a bloody eye. Legends abound around the famous leader.
And here’s the remarkable thing about her:
Most of those legends are true…
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandukhai, https://shootingparrots.co.uk/2017/05/03/queen-mandukhai-the-wise/, http://en.mwf.mn/5v, https://brewminate.com/queen-manduhai-the-wise/, https://amazingwomeninhistory.com/queen-manduhai-wise/