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Leopold II of Belgium

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Leopold II, King of the Belgians (April 9, 1835 - December 17, 1909), succeeded his father, Leopold I of Belgium, to the Belgian throne in 1865. He was born Louis Philippe Marie Victor in Brussels.

- King Leopold II -

Leopold II was most famous for having his own colony, the Congo Free State, which he virtually made his private property in 1884. In 1908, the Congo free state was annexed by the Belgian state and renamed Belgian Congo.

At an early age he entered the Belgian army, and in Brussels, on August 22, 1853, he was married to Marie Henriette Anne, Archduchess of Austria, born at Pesth, Austria (now Budapest, Hungary) on August 23, 1836, and who died at Spa, Ličge, Belgium on September 20, 1902. She was the daughter of Joseph, Archduke of Austria (1776 - 1847) who was son of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (1747 - 1792).

Leopold II and Marie Henriette Anne's children were:

  • Stéphanie Clotilde Louise Herminie Marie Charlotte, born at Laken on May 21, 1864, and died at the Abbey of Pannonhalma at Györszentmarton[?], Hungary on August 23, 1945. She married (1) Rudolf, Crown Prince 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).

Leopold II was also the father of two sons, Lucien Philippe Marie Antoine (1906-1984) and Philippe Henri Marie François (1907-1914), born out of wedlock. Their mother was Blanche Zélia Joséphine Delacroix[?] (1883-1948), aka Caroline Lacroix, a prostitute who married the king on December 12, 1909, morganatically, in a religious ceremony with no validity under Belgian law, at the Pavillion of Palms, Château de Laeken, five days before his death. These sons were adopted in 1910 by Lacroix's second husband, Antoine Durrieux. Though Lacroix is said to have been created Baroness de Vaughan, Lucien the Duke of Tervuren, and Philippe the Count of Ravenstein, no such royal decrees were ever issued.

In 1876 Leopold II of the Belgians organized an international association as a front for his private plan to "develop" central Africa. In 1879, under Leopold's sponsorship, Henry Morton Stanley aggressively competed with the French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza[?] to lay claim to the Congo region. For the next five years Stanley worked feverishly to open the lower Congo to commerce, constructing a road from the lower river to Stanley Pool (now Pool Malebo), where the river became navigable. Stanley's ruthless behaviour, which came under much criticsm in England, earned him the African nickname Bula Matari, or "breaker of rocks."

At the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, representatives of 14 European countries and the United States recognized Leopold as sovereign of most of the Congo Free State. In 1891 he hired the Canadian explorer, and British Military Commander, William Stairs to command a mission to take control of the copper lands of Katanga.

Reports of outrageous exploitation and mistreatment of the native population, including enslavement, malnutrition, and mutilation, especially at it applied to the rubber industry, led to an international protest movement in the early 1900s. Finally, in 1908, the Belgian parliament compelled the King to cede the Congo Free State to Belgium.

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.

King Leopold II died on December 17, 1909 and was interred in the Royal vault at the Church of Our Lady, Laeken Cemetery, Brussels, Belgium.

The Congo Free State

A constitutional, if strong-willed, monarch in Belgium, Leopold ruled the Congo Free State (renamed Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of Congo) as a personal domain.

Exploitation of the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, German Southwest Africa, Rhodesia, and South Africa paled in comparison to that of the Belgian Congo. The fortunes of King Leopold II, the famed philanthropist, abolitionist, and self-anointed sovereign of Congo Free State (1885) which was seventy-six times larger geographically than Belgium itself and those of the multinational concessionary companies under his auspices, were mainly made on the proceeds of Congolese rubber, which had historically never been mass-produced in surplus quantities. Between 1880 and 1920 the population of Congo thus halved; over 10 million indolent natives unaccustomed to the capitalist ethos of labor productivity, were the victims of murder, starvation, exhaustion induced by over-work, and disease.

Writings about Leopold

Many prominent writers of the time took part in international condemnation of Leopold II's exploitation of the Congo, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Booker T. Washington, and those mentioned below.

The American mystic poet Vachel Lindsay wrote: "Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost / Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host / Hear how the demons chuckle and yell / Cutting his hands off, down in Hell."

King Leopold's Ghost[?] by Adam Hochschild describes the history and brutality of King Leopold's rule in the Belgian Congo.

King Leopold's Belgian Congo was described as a colonial regime of slave labor, rape and mutilation in Joseph Conrad's, Heart of Darkness.

Mark Twain wrote a biting sarcastic political satire, King Leopold's Soliloquy.


Preceded by:
Leopold I
List of Belgian monarchs Succeeded by:
Albert I

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