Leopold II of Belgium
|Reign||17 December 1865 – 17 December 1909|
|Reign||July 1 1885 - November 15, 1908|
|Successor||Annexed to Belgium|
|Spouse||Marie Henriette of Austria|
|Louise, Princess Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant
Stéphanie, Crown Princess of Austria
Clémentine, Princess Napoléon
|House||House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha|
|Mother||Louise-Marie of France|
9 April 1835|
|Died||17 December 1909
|Burial||Church of Our Lady of Laeken|
Leopold II (French: Léopold Louis Philippe Marie Victor, Dutch: Leopold Lodewijk Filips Maria Victor) (9 April 1835 – 17 December 1909) was the King of the Belgians, and is chiefly remembered for the founding and exploitation of the Congo Free State. Born in Brussels the second (but eldest surviving) son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.
Leopold was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the colonial nations of Europe committed the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using a mercenary force for his personal gain. Some of the money from this exploitation was used for public and private construction projects in Belgium during this period.
Leopold extracted a fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory, and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s, by forcing the population to collect sap from rubber plants. Villages were required to meet quotas on rubber collections, and individuals' hands were cut off if they did not meet the requirements. His regime was responsible for the death of an estimated 2 to 15 million Congolese. This became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced to relinquish control of it to the Belgian government.
- 1 Personal life
- 2 Early political career
- 3 Reign
- 4 Congo Free State
- 5 Death and legacy
- 6 Family
- 7 Styles and arms
- 8 Ancestry
- 9 Gallery
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 External links
Leopold was born in Brussels on 9 April 1835. He was the second child of the reigning Belgian monarch, Leopold I, and his second wife, Louise, the daughter of King Louis Philippe of France. The French Revolution of 1848, which spared Belgium, forced Louis Philippe to flee to the United Kingdom, ruled by Leopold's German cousin Queen Victoria. The royal families of Belgium and the United Kingdom were linked by numerous marriages, and were additionally both descended from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Louis Philippe died two years later, in 1850. Leopold's fragile mother was deeply affected by the death of her father, and her health deteriorated. She died prematurely that same year at 38, when Leopold was only 15 years old.
Three years later, in 1853, he married Marie Henriette of Austria in Brussels on August 22. Marie Henriette was a cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and granddaughter of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor through her father, Austrian archduke Joseph. Marie Henriette was lively and was lively, energetic, and endeared herself to the people by her elevated character and indefatigable benevolence, while her beauty gained for her the sobriquet of "The Rose of Brabant". She was also an accomplished artist and musician, and a fine horsewoman, passionate about horseback riding to the point that she would care for her horses personally. Some people would joke about this "marriage of a stableman and a nun", the shy and withdrawn Leopold being the nun.
Four children were born of this marriage; three were daughters, and only one son, Leopold. The younger Leopold died in 1869 from pneumonia, after falling into a pond at only 9 years old. His death was a source of great sorrow for King Leopold, who thereby also lost his only heir. The marriage had become unhappy and the couple lived more or less separate lives, and by the death of their son, the couple separated completely after having made a last attempt to have another son, which, however, resulted in their daughter Clementine. In 1895 Marie Henriette retreated to Spa to live out the remainder of her days, and would die there in 1902.
Leopold would have many mistresses. In 1899, at age 65, Leopold took on Caroline Lacroix, a 16 year old French prostitute as a mistress, and they would remain together until his death. Leopold lavished upon her large sums of money, estates, gifts, and a noble title, Baroness Vaughan. Because of these presents and the illegitimacy of their relationship, Caroline was deeply unpopular among the Belgian people and internationally. She and Leopold married secretly in a religious ceremony five days before his death, though their failure to perform a civil ceremony rendered the marriage invalid under Belgian law. After the king's death, it was soon discovered that he had left Caroline massive amounts of wealth, which the Belgian government and Leopold's three estranged daughters attempted to seize as rightfully theirs. Caroline bore two illegitimate sons that were likely Leopold's, and would have had a strong claim to the throne had the marriage been valid.
Early political career
As the young Leopold's older brother, also named Louis Philippe, had died a few months after his own birth in 1834, Leopold was heir to the throne from the moment he was born. When he was 9 years old, Leopold received the title of Duke of Brabant, and was appointed a sub-lieutenant in the army, in which he served until his accession, by which time he had reached the rank of lieutenant-general. Leopold's public career began on attaining the age of majority in 1855, when he became a member of the Belgian Senate. He took a lively interest in the senate especially in matters concerning the development of Belgium and its trade, and began to urge Belgium's acquisition of colonies.
Between the years 1854 and 1865 Leopold travelled much abroad, visiting India and China as well as Egypt and the countries on the Mediterranean coast of Africa. Leopold's father died on December 10, 1865, and Leopold took the oath of office on December 17.
In 1865 Leopold became king. His reign was marked by a number of major political developments. The Liberals governed Belgium from 1857 to 1880 and during their final year in power legislated the Frère-Orban Law of 1879. This law created free, secular, compulsory primary schools supported by the state and withdrew all state support from Roman Catholic primary schools. In 1880 the Catholic Party obtained a parliamentary majority and 4 years later restored state support to Catholic schools. In 1885 various socialist and social democratic groups drew together and formed the Labour Party. Increasing social unrest and the rise of the Labour Party forced the adoption of universal male suffrage in 1893. In Belgian domestic politics, Leopold emphasized military defense as the basis of neutrality, but he was unable to obtain a universal conscription law until on his death bed.
On 15 November 1902, Italian anarchist Gennaro Rubino attempted to assassinate Leopold, who was riding in a royal cortege from a ceremony in memory of his recently deceased wife, Marie Henriette. After Leopold's carriage passed, Rubino fired three shots at the King; the shots missed Leopold and Rubino was immediately arrested.
Congo Free State
Obtaining the Congo Free State
Leopold fervently believed that overseas colonies were the key to a country's greatness, and he worked tirelessly to acquire colonial territory for Belgium. Leopold eventually began trying to acquire a colony in his private capacity as an ordinary citizen. The Belgian government lent him money for this venture.
In 1866, Leopold instructed the Belgian ambassador in Madrid to speak to Queen Isabella II of Spain about ceding the Philippines to Belgium. However, knowing the situation fully, the ambassador did nothing. Leopold quickly replaced the ambassador with a more sympathetic individual to carry out his plan.
In 1868, when Isabella II was deposed as Queen of Spain, Leopold attempted to take advantage of his original plan to acquire the Philippines. But without funds, he was unsuccessful. Leopold then devised another unsuccessful plan to establish the Philippines as an independent state, which could then be ruled by a Belgian. Because both of these plans had failed, Leopold shifted his aspirations of colonization to Africa.
After numerous unsuccessful schemes to acquire colonies in Africa and Asia, in 1876 Leopold organized a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society, or the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo. In 1878, under the auspices of the holding company, he hired the famous explorer Henry Stanley to explore and establish a colony in the Congo region. Much diplomatic maneuvering resulted in the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 regarding African affairs, at which representatives of fourteen European countries and the United States recognized Leopold as sovereign of most of the area to which he and Stanley had laid claim. On 5 February 1885, the Congo Free State was established under Leopold II's personal rule, an area 76 times larger than Belgium, which Leopold was free to control through his private army, the Force Publique.
Exploitation and atrocities
Leopold then amassed a huge personal fortune by exploiting the Congo. The first economic focus of the colony was ivory, but this did not yield the expected levels of revenue. When the global demand for rubber exploded, attention shifted to the labor-intensive collection of sap from rubber plants. Abandoning the promises of the Berlin Conference in the late 1890s, the Free State government restricted foreign access and extorted forced labor from the natives. Abuses, especially in the rubber industry, included the effective enslavement of the native population, beatings, widespread killing, and frequent mutilation when the production quotas were not met. Missionary John Harris of Baringa, for example, was so shocked by what he had come across that he wrote to Leopold's chief agent in the Congo saying: "I have just returned from a journey inland to the village of Insongo Mboyo. The abject misery and utter abandon is positively indescribable. I was so moved, Your Excellency, by the people's stories that I took the liberty of promising them that in future you will only kill them for crimes they commit."
Estimates of the death toll range from two million to fifteen million, since accurate records were not kept. Louis and Stengers state that population figures at the start of Leopold's control are only "wild guesses", while E. D. Morel's attempt and others at coming to a figure for population losses were "but figments of the imagination".
Smallpox and sleeping sickness also devastated the disrupted population. By 1896 the sleeping sickness had killed up to 5,000 Africans in the village of Lukolela on the Congo River. The mortality figures were collected through the efforts of Roger Casement, who found, for example, only 600 survivors of the disease in Lukolela in 1903.
Criticism of his rule
Reports of outrageous exploitation and widespread human rights abuses led to international outcry in the early 1900s leading to a widespread war of words. The campaign to examine Leopold's regime, led by British diplomat Roger Casement and former shipping clerk E. D. Morel under the auspices of the Congo Reform Association, became the first mass human rights movement. Supporters included American writer Mark Twain, who wrote a stinging political satire entitled King Leopold's Soliloquy, in which the King supposedly argues that bringing Christianity to the country outweighs a little starvation using many of his own quotes against him. Rubber gatherers were tortured, maimed and slaughtered until the start of the 20th century, when the Western world forced the Belgian government to intervene.
Leopold's rule was subject to severe criticism, especially from British sources. Arthur Conan Doyle also criticised the 'rubber regime' in his 1908 work The Crime of the Congo, written to aid the work of the Congo Reform Association. Doyle contrasted Leopold's rule to the British rule of Nigeria, arguing decency required that those who ruled primitive peoples to be concerned first with their uplift, not how much could be extracted from them. It should be noted that, as Hochschild describes in King Leopold's Ghost, many of Leopold's policies were adopted from Dutch practices in the East Indies, and similar methods were employed to some degree by Germany, France and Portugal where natural rubber occurred in their colonies.
Relinquishment of the Congo
Criticism from both the Catholic Party and the Labor Party caused the Belgian parliament to compel the King to cede the Congo Free State to Belgium in 1908. The Congo Free State was transformed into a Belgian colony known as the Belgian Congo under parliamentary control. It later became, successively, the Republic of the Congo, Zaire (under Mobutu Sese Seko), and currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC, not to be confused with Republic of the Congo, a former colony of France.
Death and legacy
On 17 December 1909, Leopold II died at Laeken, and the Belgian crown passed to Albert, the son of Leopold's brother, Philip, Count of Flanders. He was interred in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady of Laeken in Brussels.
Though he became unpopular at the end of his reign—his funeral cortege was booed— many Belgians in the 21st century remember Leopold II as the "Builder King" (Koning-Bouwer in Dutch, le Roi-Bâtisseur in French) because he commissioned a great number of buildings and urban projects, mainly in Brussels, Ostend and Antwerp. These buildings include the Royal Glasshouses in the grounds of the Royal Palace of Laeken, the Japanese Tower, the Chinese Pavilion, the Musée du Congo (now called the Royal Museum for Central Africa), and their surrounding park in Tervuren, the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, and the 1895-1905 Antwerpen-Centraal railway station. He also built an important country estate in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera, including the Villa des Cèdres, which is now a botanical garden. These were all built using the profits from the Congo. In 1900, he created the Royal Trust, by which means he donated most of his property to the Belgian nation.
Leopold II remains a controversial figure in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His statue in the capital, Kinshasa, was removed after independence. Congolese culture minister Christoph Muzungu decided to reinstate the statue in 2005, pointing out the sense of liberating progress that had marked the beginning of the Free State and arguing that people should see the positive aspects of the king as well as the negative; but just hours after the six-metre (20 ft) statue was erected in the middle of a roundabout near Kinshasa's central station, it was taken down again by the same workers that had erected it. Although the reasons for its removal remain unclear, it was possibly due to the threats of rioting by the locals. The Congo continues, however, to use a variation of the Free State flag, which it adopted after dropping the name and flag of Zaire.
After the King transferred his private colony to Belgium, there occurred, as Adam Hochschild puts it in King Leopold's Ghost, a "Great Forgetting". Hochschild records that, on his visit to the colonial Royal Museum for Central Africa in the 1990s, there was no mention of the atrocities committed in the Congo Free State, despite the museum's large collection of colonial objects. Another example of this "Great Forgetting" may be found on the boardwalk of Blankenberge, a popular coastal resort, where a monument shows a colonialist bringing "civilization" to the black child at his feet. The beach at Ostend has a 1931 sculptural monument to Leopold II, showing Leopold and grateful Ostend fishermen and Congolese. The inscription accompanying the Congolese group mentions The gratitude of the Congolese to Leopold II for having liberated them from slavery under the Arabs. In 2004, an activist group cut off the hand of the leftmost Congolese bronze figure, in protest against the atrocities committed in the Congo. The city council decided to keep the statue in its new form, without the hand.
Leopold was the brother of Empress Carlota of Mexico, and among his first cousins were both Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and her husband Prince Albert, as well as King Fernando II of Portugal.
He had four children with Queen Marie-Henriette, of whom the youngest two have descendants living today:
- Louise-Marie-Amélie, born in Brussels on 18 February 1858, and died at Wiesbaden on 1 March 1924. She married Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
- Léopold Ferdinand Elie Victor Albert Marie, Count of Hainaut (as eldest son of the heir apparent), later Duke of Brabant (as heir apparent), born at Laeken on 12 June 1859, and died at Laeken on 22 January 1869, from pneumonia, after falling into a pond.
- Stéphanie Clotilde Louise Herminie Marie Charlotte, born at Laeken on 11 May 1864, and died at the Archabbey of Pannonhalma in Győr-Moson-Sopron, Hungary, on 23 August 1945. She married (1) Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and then (2) Elemér Edmund Graf Lónyay de Nagy-Lónya et Vásáros-Namény (created, in 1917, Prince Lónyay de Nagy-Lónya et Vásáros-Namény).
- Clémentine, born at Laeken on 30 July 1872, and died at Nice on 8 March 1955. She married Prince Napoléon Victor Jérôme Frédéric Bonaparte (1862–1926), head of the Bonaparte family.
- Lucien Philippe Marie Antoine (9 February 1906 – 1984), duke of Tervuren
- Philippe Henri Marie François (16 October 1907 – 21 August 1914), count of Ravenstein
Styles and arms
|Royal styles of
Leopold II of Belgium
|Reference style||His Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Majesty|
Leopold II horseback riding statue, Regent place, Brussels.
Leopold II with the coat of arms of the Belgian Congo in Ghent, Belgium.
Bronze bust of Leopold II at the Royal Museum for Central Africa.
Caricature of Leopold II. Caption reads: Un roi constitutionnel
- Abir Congo Company
- Émile Banning
- Congo Free State propaganda war
- Crown Council of Belgium
- Kings of Belgium family tree
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Leopold II". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- (French) « mariage d'un palefrenier et d'une religieuse »
- "Leopold II". The Belgian Monarchy. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- Ocampo, Ambeth (2009). Looking Back. Anvil Publishing. pp. 54–57. ISBN 978-971-27-2336-0.
- Hochschild, Adam: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Mariner Books, 1998. p. 62. ISBN 0-330-49233-0.
- Dummett, Mark (24 February 2004). "King Leopold's legacy of DR Congo violence". BBC. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
- The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic Rivers," Harper & Row, (1977). ISBN Forbath, Peter, p. 278.
- Fredric Wertham A Sign For Cain: An Exploration of Human Violence (1968), Adam Hochschild King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998; new edition, 2006).
- "War statistics".
- Wm. Roger Louis and Jean Stengers: E.D. Morel's History of the Congo Reform Movement, pp. 252–7.
- "The 'Leopold II' concession system exported to French Congo with as example the Mpoko Company" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-02.
- "Le rapport Casement annoté par A. Schorochoff" (PDF). Posted at the website for the Royal Union for Overseas Colonies, http://www.urome.be.
- "Time". 16 May 1955. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
- Pieter De Vos. "Sikitiko" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2012-08-13. "De dank der Congolezen aan Leopold II om hen te hebben bevrijd van de slavernij onder de Arabieren (1:10)"
- "Leopold II krijgt zijn hand terug als Oostende zwicht" [Oostende herstelt afgehakte hand van Leopold II niet] (in Dutch). 2004-06-22. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
- "Le Petit Gotha"
- Ascherson, Neal: The King Incorporated, Allen & Unwin, 1963. ISBN 1-86207-290-6 (1999 Granta edition).
- Hochschild, Adam: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Mariner Books, 1998. ISBN 0-330-49233-0.
- Petringa, Maria: Brazza, A Life for Africa, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4259-1198-0
- Wm. Roger Louis and Jean Stengers: E.D. Morel's History of the Congo Reform Movement, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1968.
- Ó Síocháin, Séamas and Michael O’Sullivan, eds: The Eyes of Another Race: Roger Casement's Congo Report and 1903 Diary. University College Dublin Press, 2004. ISBN 1-900621-99-1.
- Ó Síocháin, Séamas: Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel, Revolutionary. Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2008.
- Roes, Aldwin, Towards a History of Mass Violence in the Etat Indépendant du Congo, 1885-1908, http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/74340/2/roesAW2.pdf, South African Historical Journal, 62 (4). pp. 634-670, 2010.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Leopold II of Belgium|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leopold II of Belgium.|
- Official biography from the Belgian Royal Family website
- "The Political Economy of Power" Interview with political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, with a discussion of Leopold halfway through
- Interview with King Leopold II Publishers' Press, 1906
- Mass crimes against humanity in the Congo Free State
- Congo: White king, red rubber, black death A 2003 documentary by Peter Bate on Leopold II and the Congo
Leopold II of Belgium
Cadet branch of the House of WettinBorn: 9 April 1835 Died: 17 December 1909
|King of the Belgians
|New title for heir apparent||Duke of Brabant