Leopold II (1835-1909) was king of the Belgians from 1865 to 1909. He founded the Congo Free State.
Leopold was born in Brussels on April 9, 1835. He was the second child of the reigning Belgian monarch, Leopold I, and his second wife, Louise, the daughter of King Louis Philippe of France. His elder brother had died a few months after his birth in 1834, and thus Leopold was heir to the throne. When he was 9 years old, Leopold received the title of Duke of Brabant.
Leopold's public career began in 1855, when he became a member of the Belgian Senate. That same year Leopold began to urge Belgium's acquisition of colonies. In 1853 he married Marie Henriette, daughter of the Austrian archduke Joseph. Four children were born of this marriage; three were daughters, and the only son, Leopold, died when he was 9 years old.
In 1865 Leopold became king. His reign was marked by a number of major political developments. The Liberals governed Belgium from 1857 to 1880 and during their final year in power legislated the Frère-Orban Law of 1879. This law created free, secular, compulsory primary schools supported by the state and withdrew all state support from Roman Catholic primary schools. In 1880 the Catholic party obtained a parliamentary majority and 4 years later restored state support to Catholic schools. In 1885 various socialist and social democratic groups drew together and formed the Labor party. Increasing social unrest and the rise of the Labor party forced the adoption of universal male suffrage in 1893.
In 1876 Leopold organized, with the help of Henry Stanley, the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo. The Congo Free State was established under Leopold II's personal rule at a European conference on African affairs held in Berlin in 1884-1885. Leopold then amassed a huge personal fortune by exploiting the Congo. His rule there, however, was subject to severe criticism, especially from British sources. Criticism from both Social Catholics and the Labor party at home forced Leopold to give the Congo to the Belgian nation. The Congo Free State was transformed into a Belgian colony under parliamentary control in 1908.
On Dec. 17, 1909, Leopold II died at Laeken, and the Belgian crown passed to Albert, the son of Leopold's brother, Philip, Count of Flanders.
The best introductions to the "Congo question" are Ruth Slade, King Leopold's Congo (1962), and Roger Anstey, King Leopold's Legacy (1966). A discussion of Leopold's role in the southern Sudan can be found in Robert O. Collins, King Leopold, England, and the Upper Nile, 1899-1909 (1968). □
Leopold II (1747-1792) was Holy Roman emperor from 1790 to 1792. He used his outstanding talents as a diplomat and administrator to strengthen the empire by pacifying the Netherlands and Hungary and making agreements with Prussia and Turkey.
Born in Vienna on May 5, 1747, Leopold was the third son of Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. In 1765 he succeeded his father as grand duke of Tuscany, ruling as Leopold I but known by his full name, Peter Leopold. His 25-year rule made Florence a citadel of the Enlightenment.
Leopold's reforms, although no less radical than those of his brother Joseph II in Austria and just as distinguished by an institutionalized anticlericalism, met less opposition. Because Leopold discussed them beforehand with representatives of the local nobility and bourgeoisie, they went less against the grain.
Joseph considered Leopold his only friend, confided in him, and frequently asked his opinion. Leopold always replied with the utmost courtesy and respect, although, as can be learned from his secret journal, he actively disliked his brother. Leopold thought Joseph had brought the monarchy to the brink of ruin by impetuous and unwise policies. In 1790 Joseph lay dying and summoned Leopold, his heir. Leopold, to avoid association in the popular mind with his unpopular brother, made excuses. Joseph died, deprived of this last consolation.
Having become emperor, Leopold put down the revolt in the Austrian Netherlands, came to terms with Hungarian rebels, and negotiated the Convention of Reichenbach (1790) with Prussia, preventing that state from profiting from Austria's troubles by acquiring part of its territories. In 1791 he ended the war with the Turks on favorable terms, reacquiring Belgrade and Walachia.
Leopold's attention was increasingly drawn to the perilous situation of his sister Marie Antoinette in France, and in February 1792 he signed the Treaty of Pillnitz with Prussia, which provided for possible common action by these two powers against France and so made war extremely likely.
Internally, while ostensibly retaining what was viable in Joseph's program, Leopold canceled or ignored most reforms to which there was vocal opposition, thus sacrificing the heart of the program. At the same time he secretly encouraged Hungarian liberals to agitate for reform. What might have resulted from his convoluted and contradictory policies remains an enigma, as he died suddenly in Vienna on March 1, 1792, before either his domestic or foreign policies had come to fruition. His son Francis II succeeded him as emperor.
Leopold is discussed in C. A. Macartney, The Habsburg Empire, 1790-1918 (1968). □
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