Birthday: December 16, 1790
Died At Age: 74
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Leopold George Christian Frederick
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Ehrenburg Palace, Coburg, Germany
Famous as: King of Belgium
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Louise of Orléans (m. 1832–1850), Princess Charlotte of Wales (m. 1816–1817)
father: Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
mother: Countess Augusta Reuss of Ebersdorf
siblings: Ernest I; Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Princess Antoinette of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
children: Arthur von Eppinghoven, Carlota of Mexico, Georg von Eppinghoven, Leopold II, Louis Philippe; Crown Prince of Belgium, Prince Philippe; Count of Flanders
Died on: December 10, 1865
place of death: Laeken
awards: Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour
Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Military Order of Maria Theresa
Knight of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Order of the Black Eagle
Order of the Red Eagle 1st Class
Order of Saint Anna
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Order of St. Andrew
Gold Sword for Bravery
Order of St. George
Who was Leopold I of Belgium?
Leopold I was a prince from Germany who was made the king of the Belgians after the country declared its independence in 1830. He ruled from July 1831 to December 1865. Hailing from the ruling family of the small German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, he received an honorary commission in the Imperial Russian Army and took part in the wars against Napoleon. After Napoleon’s fall, he moved to the United Kingdom, where he exchanged wedding vows with Princess Charlotte of Wales. Following the Greek War of Independence, he was asked to be the king of that country but he declined, as he thought it to be too precarious. However, when he was offered the crown of Belgium, he accepted. The Belgian government made the request to Leopold because of his links with other royal houses in Europe. The day of his coronation, 21 July, is celebrated as the annual Belgian National Day. Leopold I was a Protestant and seen as a liberal leader who advocated for economic modernisations. After his death, his son, Leopold II, became the king of the Belgians.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on December 16, 1790, in Ehrenburg Palace, Coburg, Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Holy Roman Empire (modern-day Germany), Leopold was the youngest child of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Countess Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf to have made it past infancy. Some of his siblings were Sophie Fredericka; Antoinette; Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; and Juliane.
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Career in the Military
In 1795, when Leopold was five years old, he was granted an honorary commission of the rank of colonel in the Izmaylovsky Regiment, part of the Imperial Guard, in the Imperial Russian Army. He was made major general seven years later.
In 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, the French troops invaded the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg. He subsequently travelled to Paris, where he met Napoleon who suggested that Leopold should join the French military. He declined and travelled to Russia, where he joined the Imperial Russian cavalry.
He took part in campaigns against Napoleon and led his cuirassier division at the Battle of Kulm in 1813. In the next two years, Leopold rose through the ranks to become lieutenant general by the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
England & First Marriage
In 1815, Leopold was granted British citizenship. He and Princess Charlotte of Wales exchanged wedding vows on May 2, 1816, at Carlton House in London. Being the sole legitimate child of the Prince Regent George (later King George IV), Charlotte was the second in the line of succession to the British throne. Leopold was made an honorary field marshal and a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1816.
In 1817, Leopold and Charlotte were expecting their first child. However, On November 5, 1817, she had a miscarriage. Her son was stillborn. Charlotte died a day later. According to contemporary sources, Leopold was devastated by his wife’s death.
Between 1828 and 1829, he was involved in an affair with actress Caroline Bauer, who, according to reports, was a lookalike of Charlotte. The relationship was brief, lasting for about a year.
In the memoirs released following her death, Caroline claimed that she and Leopold had a morganatic marriage, and he made her Countess Montgomery. These claims were refuted by the son of Baron Stockmar. Furthermore, no records of a civil or religious marriage with the actress have been yet discovered.
Declining the Kingship of Greece
After the successful rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, Greece received recognition as an independent, sovereign state under the London Protocol of February 1830.
The protocol included an offer to Leopold to assume the Greek throne. Although he initially wanted to accept the offer, he refused it on May 17, 1830. Ultimately, Otto of Wittelsbach became the Greek king in May 1832 and served in that position until he was removed in October 1862.
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Accession & Reign
In 1830, Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands and immediately began searching for a monarch to lead its government. The National Congress of Belgium did not want a Dutch ruler and later found out that all of their viable options were French. Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was considered in the beginning, but, after French opposition, the Congress was forced to move on to other candidates.
He received the formal offer to assume the Belgian throne on April 22, 1831. After initial hesitation, he accepted, and the coronation happened on 21 July in the Place Royale in Brussels. The accession is seen as the official point in time when the revolution ended and the Kingdom of Belgium began. Belgians celebrate 21 July as their National Day.
On 2 August, only 12 days after his enthronement, the Netherlands attacked Belgium. The new nation failed to put up much resistance, and Leopold I was forced to reach out to France for support.
The French subsequently sent their Armée du Nord to Belgium, which prompted the Netherlands forces to fall back to the pre-war border. The hostilities continued until the signing of the Treaty of London in 1839.
Leopold I was not fully content with the power he had been granted as the monarch in the constitution and attempted to expand it wherever the constitution was vague. However, he generally had no wish to participate in routine politics.
Due to the non-existent diplomatic relations with the Netherlands, the Belgian economy suffered. This situation persisted until the 1850s. In Flanders, the crisis became particularly terrible between 1845 and 1849.
During Leopold I’s reign, the politics in Belgium was segregated between the liberals and the Catholics. Leopold I, who was a Protestant, held mostly liberal views but had no desire of depicting himself as a partisan.
In 1842, he unsuccessfully tried to introduce a law which would have made it illegal for women and children to work in certain industries. He was one of the first monarchs in Europe to support railways.
The Revolutions of 1848 had the least effects on Belgium among all its neighbours. This was partly due to the economic reforms, which had begun revitalizing the economy. However, there was some unrest in the country, which caused Leopold I’s famous and theatrical offer to step down if that was the will of the Belgian people.
Throughout his reign, Leopold I sought to maintain Belgium’s neutrality. He was connected to most royal families in Europe and was the monarch of a neutral and unthreatening power. He served as a mediator during several conflicts between the Great Powers, receiving the nickname the ‘Nestor of Europe’.
Remarriage & Children
On August 9, 1832, Leopold tied the knot with Louise-Marie of Orléans, the daughter of Louis Philippe I. Their oldest child, a son whom they named Louis Philippe, was born on July 24, 1833, and died on May 16, 1834.
Their second child, Leopold, Duke of Brabant, was born on April 9, 1835. He was followed by Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, on March 24, 1837, and Princess Charlotte of Belgium on June 7, 1840.
Leopold I had a mistress, whose name was Arcadie Meyer (née Claret). With her, he had two sons, George von Eppinghoven (born 1849) and Arthur von Eppinghoven (1852).
Death & Legacy
On December 10, 1865, Leopold I passed away in Laeken near Brussels. He was 74 years old at the time. On 16 December, his funeral was hosted. He was buried in the Royal Crypt at the Church of Notre-Dame de Laeken, beside his second wife, Louise-Marie.
His son, Leopold II, was crowned the king of the Belgians on December 17, 1865. The dynasty he established in Brussels continues to exist even today. The current king, Philippe, is his great-great-great-great grandson.