How does one go from being a princess locked in a tower to a warrior-queen regent of a Fourteenth Century spice empire? First you start with a little assassination.
Much of what we know about Gitarja's reign comes from the epic poem 'Nagarakretagama.' Written by court poet Rakawi Prapanca, this mix of history and myth should be taken with a grain of salt. But 'Nagarakretagama' tells us that Gitarjah, the Duchess of Kahuripan's story truly begins with the murder of her half-brother, King Jayanagara.
Queen Regent Tribhuwannottunggadewi Jayawishnuwardhani, also known by her familiar name Dyah Gitarja, was born sometime before 1309, daughter to Raden Wijaya, father of the Majapahit empire and the queen consort Gayarti Rajapatni. She ruled the Southeast Asian spice kingdom from 1329 to 1350, succeeding her half-brother, Jayanagara (also known as Prince of Kadiri) during a time of open revolt and chaos for the Majapahit Empire.
Legend has it Jayanagara was so beset by enemies that he even saw his sisters as threats to his throne. So he locked them away in a palace, out of reach of potential suitors. What he didn't account for was a jealous palace physician, who killed the king in 1328 after learning that Jayanagara had seduced his wife.
Because Jayanagara spent more time wooing his subjects' wives and less so siring an heir, the queen consort was able to appoint her daughter, Dyah Gitarja, to the throne in 1329. The newly crowned Queen Regent, would now be known by her official title of Tribhuwannottunggadewi Jayawishnuwardhani.
That same year, she would appoint Gajah Mada 'pati,' or prime minister of the Majapahit Empire. The histories paint Mada as a vigorous expansionist of the Majapahit Empire, loyal to the Rajasa dynasty across three monarchs, and a palace schemer. It remains to be seen whether the rumors of Mada having anything to do with the assassination of King Jayanagara are true, and the historical record is mum on whether Dyah Gitarja was aware of her pati's possible hand in a little regicide.
That same year, free of her icy tower of loneliness, she would take the noble Chakradhara as her consort, and together, they had a son, Hayam Wuruk, in 1334.
The Queen Regent's reign would see her quell rebellions among the Sadeng and Keta regions. She's said to have ridden into battle alongside her cousin, Malayapuran king Adityawarman.
But history will remember her reign for the Majapahit conquest of the island of Bali under the martial skills of her prime minister. Gajah Mada would end the line of the local Balinese leadership, allowing the kingdom to fall under Majapahit domination.
Gitarjah's reign came to an end not through warfare or palace intrigues, but through an unfortunate quirk in Majapahit succession. Her mother, Gayatri, was responsible for granting Gitarja the title of Queen Regent, meaning Gitarja ruled at the pleasure of the queen dowager. But when Gayatri died in a monastery in 1350, Gitarja lost her patron and was forced to abdicate the throne.
Gitarja would be succeeded by her son, Hayam Wuruk, who would usher in what some Indonesians consider the golden age of the Majapahit kingdom. Depending on the historian, Hayam Wuruk took the empire which his mother was able to secure and saw its borders pushed beyond present-day Indonesia and out to some of what is now Malaysia.
As for Dyah Gitarja's life after the throne? The record is silent on the facts of her later years, or even when she died. But she'll be remembered for expanding the boundaries of her empire and increasing the majesty of the Majapahit.