( , ) (9 April 1835 – 17 December 1909)
was King of the Belgians
Brussels the second
(but eldest surviving) son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he
succeeded his father to the throne in 1865 and remained king until
He was the brother of Empress Carlota of Mexico
cousin to Queen
Victoria of the United Kingdom
. He is chiefly remembered as the founder
and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken by the King.
Henry Morton Stanley to help
him lay claim to the Congo, which included the entire area now
known as the Democratic Republic of the
Leopold ran the Congo brutally, by proxy through a mercenary force,
as his personal fiefdom
. Though he extracted
a personal fortune from the Congo, his regime became one of the
most infamous international scandals of the turn of the 20th
century. The famous 1904
report by the British Consul Roger
Casement led to the arrest and punishment of white officials
who had been responsible for cold-blooded mass killings during a
rubber-collecting expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national for
causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese people).
Leopold II married
Henriette Anne von Habsburg-Lothringen, Archduchess of Austria in
Brussels on 22 August
Their children were:
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/Laken on 12 June
1859, and died at Laken on 22 January 1869, from pneumonia, after
falling into a pond.
- Stéphanie Clotilde Louise
Herminie Marie Charlotte, born at Laken 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
born at Laken 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.
Leopold II was also the father of two illegitimate sons, Lucien
Philippe Marie Antoine (9 February 1906–1984) and Philippe Henri
Marie François (16 October 1907 – 21 August 1914). Their mother was
Zélia Joséphine Delacroix, aka Caroline Lacroix, a prostitute with whom the King engaged in a
religious ceremony on 12 December/14 December 1909, with no
validity under Belgian law, at the Pavilion of Palms, Royal Palace
of Laken, in Brussels, five days
before his death.
The Priest of Laeken Cooreman performed
the ceremony These sons were adopted in 1910 by Lacroix's second
husband, Antoine Durrieux. Lacroix is said to have been
unofficially created Baroness de Vaughan
in Belgium (a
courtesy title), Lucien Duke of Tervuren
, and Philippe
Count of Ravenstein
the 975th Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece in
Austria, the 748th
Knight of the Order of the
Garter in 1866 and the 69th and 321st Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and
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,
After Leopold's carriage passed, Rubino
fired three shots at the King; the shots missed Leopold and Rubino
was immediately arrested.
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
died in Laeken on 17
December 1909, and was interred in the royal vault at the Church of
Our Lady, Laeken Cemetery, Brussels.
He was succeeded as King of the Belgians by his nephew Albert
, son of his brother
Leopold fervently believed that overseas colonies were the key to a
country's greatness, and he worked tirelessly to acquire colonial
territory for Belgium. Neither the Belgian people nor the Belgian
government were interested, however, and Leopold eventually
began trying to acquire a colony in his private capacity as an
The Belgian government lent him money for
A statue of Leopold in Mons,
After a number of unsuccessful schemes for colonies in Africa or
Asia, in 1876 he organized a private holding company
disguised as an
international scientific and philanthropic association, which he
called the International African
In 1878, under the auspices of the holding company, he hired the
famous explorer Henry Morton
to establish a colony in the Congo
region. Much diplomatic
maneuvering resulted in the Berlin
Conference of 1884–85, at which representatives of fourteen
European countries and the United States recognized Leopold as sovereign of most of the area
he and Stanley had laid claim to. On 5 February 1885,
the result was the Congo Free State (later becoming, successively, the Belgian Congo, the Republic
of the Congo, Zaire, and now the
Republic of the Congo or DRC — not to be confused with Republic of
the Congo formerly owned by France), an area 76 times larger
than Belgium, which Leopold was free to rule as a personal domain
through his private army, the Force Publique.
A result of Leopold's colonialism, not
just children had their hands amputated when they didn't meet
demands for the Belgians.
was extorted from the
natives. The abuses suffered were horrific not only in the rubber
industry, including enslavement
of the native population. 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 to fifteen million.
Determining precisely how many people died is next to impossible as
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
Adam Hochschild devotes a chapter of his book to the problem of
estimating the death toll. He cites several recent lines of
investigation, by anthropologist Jan Vansina and others, examining
local sources, from police records, religious records, oral
traditions, genealogies, personal diaries, and "many others", which
generally agree with the assessment of the 1919 Belgian government
commission: roughly half the population perished during the Free
State period. Since the first official census by the Belgian
authorities in 1924 put the population at about 10 million, that
implies a rough estimate of 10 million dead.
and sleeping sickness decimated
the 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 gained through
the efforts of Roger Casement, who found only 600 survivors of the
disease in Lukolela in 1903.
Reports of outrageous exploitation and widespread human rights
abuses led to international outcry
in the early 1900s. The campaign to examine Leopold's regime, led
by British diplomat Roger Casement
and former shipping clerk E. D. Morel
auspices of the Congo Reform Association, became the first mass
included American writer Mark Twain
wrote a stinging political satire
entitled King Leopold's
, in which the King supposedly argues that
bringing Christianity to the country outweighs a little starvation.
gatherers were tortured, maimed and slaughtered until the turn of
the century, when the Western world
forced Brussels to call a halt.
It should be noted that, as
Hochschild describes in King Leopold's Ghost
Germany and Portugal were adopted the Congo methods in those parts
of their colonies where natural rubber occurred.
in 1908, the Belgian parliament compelled the King to cede the Congo Free State to
described his fellow ruler as a "thoroughly bad man."
II is still a controversial figure in the Democratic
Republic of Congo; in 2005 his statue was taken down just hours after
it was re-erected in the capital, Kinshasa.
The Congolese culture minister, Christoph
Muzungu, decided to reinstate the statue, arguing 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, without explanation.
Leopold and the Belgians
extremely disliked by his subjects at the end of his reign — his
funeral cortege was booed — Leopold II is remembered today by many
Belgians 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.
buildings include the Royal Glasshouses in the grounds of the
Palace at Laken, 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 Antwerp railway station
hall. 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
which means he donated most of his property to the Belgian
After the King transferred his private colony to Belgium, there
was, 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.
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
However an activist group cut off the hands of a
statue of Leopold II in Ostend to protest the Congo
- Ascherson, Neal: The King
Incorporated, Allen &
Unwin, 1963. ISBN 1-86207-290-6 (1999 Granta
- Hochschild, Adam: King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed,
Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Mariner Books, 1998. ISBN 0-330-49233-0.
- Wm. Roger Louis and Jean Stengers: E.D. Morel's
History of the Congo Reform Movement, Clarendon Press Oxford,
- 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 1-900-62199-1.
- Ó Síocháin, Séamas: Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel,
Revolutionary. Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2008.