Ras Mengesha Yohannes
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|Native name||መንገሻ ዮሐንነስ|
Mengesha Yohannes (Ge'ez: መንገሻ ዮሐንነስ; 1868 – 1906) was the "natural" son of Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, Ras of Tigray, and, as a claimant of the Imperial throne, is often given the title of Leul. Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes was his older half brother.
Prior to the Battle of Metemma, Mengesha Yohannes was considered to be a nephew of Emperor Yohannes IV. During the battle, the Emperor was mortally wounded and it was on his deathbed that Mengesha Yohannes was acknowledged as his "natural" son and designated as his heir. This created something of a succession problem.
Fighting between various relatives of the slain Emperor split his camp and prevented Mengesha from making a viable bid for the Imperial throne. Instead, the throne was assumed by King Menelik of Shewa. Ras Mengesha refused to submit to Menelik and later even flirted with joining the new Italian colony of Eritrea. He hoped that the Italians would support his rebellion against Emperor Menelik. However, encroachments by the Italians into his native Tigray, their previous enmity to his father Yohannes, and recognition that the ultimate goal of the Italians was to conquer Ethiopia themselves, led Mengesha Yohannes to finally submit to Menelik II. On 2 June 1894, he and his three major lieutenants went to the new capital at Addis Ababa. Within the newly constructed reception hall of the Grand Palace, the Emperor awaited them. He was seated on his throne with a large crown on his head. Mengesha Yohannes and his lieutenants each carried a rock of submission on his shoulder. They approached, prostrated themselves, and asked for forgiveness. Menelik simply declared them pardoned.
Following their allegiance with Menelik, they returned to Tigray, where Bahta Hagos initiated the rebellion against the Italians. Mengesha then led his army against the Italians at the Battle of Coatit, where his force was rebuffed. The Tigrians regrouped, and later attacked the Italians at Amba Alagi. The war culminated in 1896, as Mengesha Yohannes and the forces of Tigray fought at the side of Menelik against the Italians at the pivotal Battle of Adowa.
In 1899, Mengesha Yohannes rebelled again against Menelik when he was denied the title of Negus of Zion (his descendants would be outraged decades later when Ras Mikael of Wollo was crowned with this title by Lij Iyasu). Emperor Menelik had Ras Mengesha captured and put under house arrest at the old Shewan royal palace at Ankober.
Familial rivalry and division of Tigray
Even after the submission of Mengesha Yohannes, familial rivalry between the two lines of descent from Emperor Yohannes IV proved to be a difficult issue for Emperor Menelik II and his successors. Yohannes IV was survived by his elder "legitimate" son Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes and by his younger "natural" son Mengesha. Ras Araya's son Gugsa Araya, and Ras Mengesha's son Ras Seyoum would for a time divide Tigray between them, with Ras Gugsa Araya ruling the eastern half and Ras Seyoum the western half.
Eventually Mengesha's son Ras Seyoum was made Leul of all Tigray in succession to his father after the death of his cousin Ras Gugsa Araya and after the treason of Gugsa Araya's son, Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa. In 1935, Haile Selassie Gugsa joined forces with the Italian invaders when they conquered Ethiopia and occupied the country.
Ras Mengesha is regarded as the founder of one of the two senior cadet branches of the Ethiopian Imperial Solomonic Dynasty.
- Marcus, A History of Ethiopia, pg.89
- Marcus, A History of Ethiopia, pg.95