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Tekle Giyorgis I (Ge'ez ተክለ ጊዮርጊስ "Plant of Saint George"; c.1751 - 12 December 1817) was Emperor of Ethiopia (throne name Feqr Sagad) intermittently between 20 July 1779 and June 1800, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was the youngest son of Yohannes II and Woizoro Sancheviyer, and the brother of Tekle Haymanot II.

According to Sven Rubenson, who described Teke Giyorgis as the last emperor to exercise authority on his own, "It is not without justification that he has in Ethiopian tradition received the nickname Fiṣame Mengist, 'the end of the government'".

Physical description

Nathaniel Pearce, who lived in Ethiopia during the 1810s, was acquainted with Tekle Giyorgis and described the emperor, at age 66, as
tall, and stout in proportion, always wears his hair long and plaited; has large eyes, a Roman nose, not much beard, and a very manly and expressive countenance, though he is a great coward. He has a dark, shining skin which is very singular, as ... [his parents and brother], were very fair for Abyssinians ... while he, the youngest son, is as dark as mahogany. The Ras [i.e. Wolde Selassie] who knew the whole family, often remarked this, and repeated "Black without and black within."


Pearce continues his description on the next page, noting that Tekle Giyorgis
is remarkably proud of his person: though a little bald at the top of his head, he manages to have the hair, which is nearly a span long, so plaited and disposed as to hide the bald part. He always wears silver or gold bodkin with a large head, called wolever, upon his forehead; and round the instep, and below the ancle, a string of oval silver or gold beads, such as are worn by all women rich and poor, and which are called aloo.


Then the Englishman concludes this description with an account of the former Emperor's character, by writing, "I shall begin by stating, in plain English, that he is a great liar and a great miser, and from his childhood has been remarkable for his changeable and deceitful temper, and utter disregard of his oath." Pearce illustrates this by his treatment of Wolde Gabriel, the son of Ras Mikael Sehul, who had restored him to the throne after the Rasses Ali and Meru rebelled against him: when Wolde Gabriel protested that his men were exhausted after their campaign against the rebels, and could not march forth with the Emperor to Shewamarker, Tekle Giyorgis conspired with his captured foes to arrest and kept Wolde Gabriel in chains, until he had ransomed himself with "the last article of value he possessed".

Life

Tekle Giyorgis gained and lost the Imperial throne five times after Ras Wolde Selassie and Ras Kefla Adyam called him down from the royal prison at Wehni and made him Emperor in 1779. According to E. A. Wallis Budge, the Emperor proved unpopular from the beginning, and until he was deposed for the first time in 8 February 1784 by Ras Abeto of Gojjam, he was forced at times to seek a safe haven from Ras Wolde Selassie. Eventually he could not exert his authority in any part of his realm. According to the Royal chronicle of Abyssinia, Tekle Giyorgis was campaigning against Ras Haile in Gojjammarker, who was in revolt against him, when a group of nobles marched together against him. The Emperor withdrew across the Abaymarker to Afarwanat, where a battle took place in which the Emperor was defeated, fleeing southward to Ambasell in Shewamarker.

Before Tekle Giyorgis was restored as Emperor on 24 April 1788, two rivals for the throne had appeared: Iyasu and Baeda Maryam, supported by rivals of Ras Ali. Until he lost the throne 26 July 1789, Tekle Giyorgis was one of five Emperors ruling in Ethiopia in the years of 1788 and 1789 — the others being Iyasu III, Tekle Haymanot, Hezqeyas of Ethiopia.

In January 1794, Tekle Giyorgis defeated the warlord Ras Haile Yosadiq, and once again was Emperor. He went to the province of Dembiya in the northwestern part of Begemdermarker to seek the support of Dejazmach Gadelu, but the Dejazmach would not receive him; however, Ras Aligaz the brother of Ras Ali and who had a large army encamped at Tchat Weha did receive him, and with his help Tekle Giyorgis was able to hold onto the throne until 15 April 1795.

Tekle Giyorgis was restored as Emperor a fourth time December 1795, and remained Emperor until 20 May 1796. His fifth period as emperor was from 4 January 1798 to 20 May 1799, and his last ran from 24 March 1800 into June of that year. He lived the rest of his life in Waldebba and Tigraymarker.

Despite the fact that the Imperial throne had little power or income, Tekle Giyorgis continued to work towards his restoration. Pearce recounts how the common wisdom, while he lived in Ethiopia, expected Ras Wolde Selassie to restore Tekle Giyorgis to the throne. He notes a meeting the former Emperor and the Ras had at Axummarker 17 January 1814, but the Ras declined to help the former ruler. Tekle Giyorgis then left for the court of Wolde Selassie's rival, Ras Gebre, and stirred up trouble between the two until Wolde Selassie met Gebre, and was undeceived; Ras Wolde Selassie took custody of Tekle Giyorgis and afterwards exiled him to Axum, where he was kept under close watch until the Ras' death. Having fled to Axum after the death of his patron the Ras, Pearce found the former king doing quite well in that city, selling noble titles to the victorious warlords in return for shares of their plunder; only Sabagadis refused to take a part in this trade. He died of natural causes at Axum, and was buried in the churchyard of Mariam Sean of that city.

Richard Pankhurst states that Tekle Giyorgis erected Debre Metmaq Maryam church in Gondarmarker, the last example of Imperial patronage in that city in that century.

Notes

  1. Nathaniel Pearce estimated his age as 66 at the time of his death, which would mean Tekle Giyorgis was born in 1751.
  2. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 1 pp. 272f
  3. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 1 pp. 274
  4. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 1 pp. 276
  5. H. Weld Blundell, The Royal chronicle of Abyssinia, 1769-1840 (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), p. 342
  6. Budge, A History of Ethiopia, p. 478
  7. Budge, A History of Ethiopia, p. 479
  8. Rubenson, King of Kings, p. 18.
  9. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 1 pp. 155ff
  10. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 1 pp. 254f, 277f
  11. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 2 pp. 123ff
  12. Pearce, Life and Adventures, vol. 2 p. 168



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