History - OnThisDay - April 9th. 1835 - King Leopold II of Belgium

Léopold Louise Philippe Marie Victor was born on April 9th. 1835
in Brussels, Belgium.

Leopold, in 1844 - Source: Wikipedia

Family

Leopold was the second child of King Leopold I of Belgium and
his wife Louise of Orléans.

He was thus a brother of:
- Louis Philippe, Crown Prince of Belgium (who died young),
- Philippe, Count of Flanders,
- Charlotte, the later empress of Mexico

His first cousins included both Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom
and her husband Prince Albert, but also King Fernando II of Portugal.

King Leopold II and his wife Queen Marie Henriette
Source: Wikipedia

Love & Marriage

In 1853, at the age of 18, Leopold married Marie Henriette of Austria.
She was a cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and a
granddaughter of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor.

Some people joked about this marriage of a "stableman and a nun".
Leopold was referred as the nun.

From this marriage four children were born:

- Princess Louise, who married Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
- Leopold, Count of Hainaut, died in 1869 from pneumonia
- Princess Stéphanie who married
  1/ Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria
  2/ Elemér, Graf Lónya et Vásáros-Namény
- Princess Clémentine, who married Victor, Prince Napoléon

Leopold also had many mistresses. At the age of 65 the King took as
mistress Caroline Lacroix, a 16-year-old French prostitute. They
remained together until his death.

Leopold gave her a noble title: Baroness Vaughan. She was very
unpopular among the Belgian people. They would have 2 sons.

statue of King Leopold II  - picture taken at the Belvue Museum in Brussels in 2015



Duty as crown prince

Leopold's older brother, Louis Philippe, had died a year before
Leopold's birth. When Leopold was 9 years old, he received the
title Duke of Brabant and he was appointed as sub-lieutenant in
the army. He served in the army until 1865, then he had reached
the rank of lieutenant - general.

In 1855, Leopold became a member of the Belgian Senate. There
he was interested in the development of Belgium and its trade. He
also began to urge Belgium's acquisition of colonies.

From 1854 till 1865, Leopold traveled a lot, he visited India, China,
Egypt and the countries on the Mediterranean coast of Africa.

King Leopold II - Source: Wikipedia

A controversial king

King Leopold I of Belgium, Leopold's father died on
December 10th. 1865. Leopold became the second King of Belgium
on December 17th. 1865 at the age of 30.

Leopold's reign was marked by a lot of political developments.
The Liberals, who governed Belgium from 1857 to 1880 were
followed by the Catholics. Laws against child labor were passed.

Leopold also was concerned about the military defense of Belgium
as the  basis of neutrality. He achieved the construction of fortresses
at Liège, Namur and Antwerp.

The second King of Belgium commissioned a great number of
buildings, urban projects and public works. These projects gave
him the name "Builder King". The public buildings were mainly in
Brussels, Ostend and Antwerp.

In 1900 he created the Royal Trust, by means of which he donated
most of his property to the Belgian nation. This preserved them to
beautify Belgium in perpetuity, while still allowing future generations
of the Belgian Royal Family the privilege of their use.

On November 15th. 1902 the Italian anarchist, Gennaro Rubino,
tried to assassinate Leopold, who was riding in a royal cortege from a
ceremony at the Saint-Gudule Cathedrale in memory of his deceased
wife. After Leopold's carriage passed, Rubino fired three shots at the
procession. The shots missed Leopold but almost killed the king's
Grand Marshall, Count Charles John d'Oultremont. Rubino was
immediately arrested. He died in prison in 1918.

Statue of King Leopold II in the Royal Museum of Armed Forces and Military History
in Brussels - own picture taken in 2014


Congo

There is a lot of justly criticism about King Leopold's management of
Congo.

Leopold was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State. This
was a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used explorer
Henry Morton Stanley to help him.

Leopold used Congo for his personal enrichment. He extracted a fortune
from the Congo , by the collection of ivory and rubber. Under his regime
millions of Congolese people died.

Inter alia the American writer Marc Twain, wrote a political satire
entitled King Leopold's Soliloquy.

International opposition and criticism from both the Catholic party and
the Labour 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.

A controversial statue of King Leopold II in Ostend - own picture 


Death

King Leopold II died at Laeken on December 17th. 1909. The crown was
passed to King Albert I, the son of Leopold's brother, Philip, Count of
Flanders.

Leopold's funeral cortege was booed by the crowd. He was interred in the
Church of Our Lady of Laeken in Brussels.

See also the page Belgian: a Royal History on top of this blog or on this
link