Leopold II of Belgium

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Leopold II (French: Léopold Louis Philippe Marie Victor, Dutch: Leopold Lodewijk Filips Maria Victor) (9 April 1835 – 17 December 1909) was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second (but eldest surviving) son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.

Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken by the King. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Powers at the Berlin Conference agreed to set up the Free State in 1885, on the condition that the inhabitants were to be brought into the modern world and that all nations be allowed to trade freely. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions and ran the Congo brutally, by proxy through a mercenary force, for his own personal gain. He extracted a personal fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory, and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s by forcing the native population to collect sap from rubber plants. His harsh regime was directly or indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people. The Congo became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced to relinquish control of it to the government of Belgium.

Contents

Biography

Leopold II married Marie Henriette, archduchess of Austria, in Brussels on 22 August 1853. Leopold was too ill to attend his own wedding, and sent his brother-in-law, Archduke Charles, to stand in for him. The sexually naïve Marie Henriette went to her wedding bed armed only with instructions to submit to her husband’s wishes; Leopold sufficiently recovered to attend the honeymoon.

Leopold II also engaged in a religious ceremony with Blanche Zélia Joséphine Delacroix, also known as Caroline Lacroix, a prostitute, on December 14, 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.[1][2]

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