Leopold I of Belgium

From New World Encyclopedia
Leopold I of Belgium.

Leopold I (Leopold George Christian Frederick (in German Leopold Georg Christian Friedrich) Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony) (December 16, 1790 – December 10, 1865) was from July 21, 1831 the first King of the Belgians. He was the founder of the Belgian line of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His children included Leopold II of Belgium and Empress Carlota of Mexico. He was born in Coburg and died in Laeken. He was responsible for building the first railway in Europe. He also tried to introduce laws restricting child labor, although he was not successful. During the period of instability in Europe following the 1848 change in France's government, he managed to keep Belgium free from the revolutions that spread across the continent. Belgium pioneered the Industrial Revolution on continental Europe, developing a flourishing mining and steel industry.

Leopold ruled as a constitutional monarch. His steady hand allowed Belgium, although small geographically, to become a stable and economically prosperous state. Under Leopold II his son and successor, Belgium contributed to the European exploration of Africa. The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 that launched the Scramble for Africa gave Leopold II the Congo as his personal territory. Leopold I kept his country neutral during conflicts, a tradition that continued through two world wars. Britain's entry into World War I was to honor the 1839 Treaty of London, signed by Leopold I. As a nation, Belgium has tried to avoid war, strongly supporting the founding of the post World War II European institutions that aim to make war unthinkable and materially impossible, and participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Leopold's choice of neutrality was pragmatic rather than the result of pacifist conviction but increasingly his people have taken the view that war is rarely justified and can be avoided when nations cooperate to resolve disputes non-violently and to make the world a fairer, juster more sustainable habitat for all people.

Early life

He was the youngest son of Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Countess Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf, and later became a prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after the territorial swap by his father of Ehrenburg Castle in the Bavarian town of Coburg. He was also an uncle of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.

In 1795, as a mere child, Leopold was appointed colonel of the Izmaylovsky Imperial Regiment in Russia. Seven years later he became a major general. When Napoleonic troops occupied the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg in 1806 Leopold went to Paris. Napoléon offered him the position of adjutant, but he refused. Instead he took up a military career in the Imperial Russian cavalry. He campaigned against Napoléon, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Kulm at the head of his cuirassier division. In 1815, Leopold reached the rank of lieutenant general in the Imperial Russian Army.

In Carlton House on May 2, 1816, he married Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the only legitimate child of the British Prince Regent (later King George IV of the United Kingdom) and therefore heiress to the British throne, and was created a British field-marshal and Knight of the Garter. On November 5, 1817, Princess Charlotte was delivered of a stillborn son; she herself died the following day. Had she lived, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom on the death of her father, and Leopold presumably would have assumed the role later taken by his nephew, Prince Albert, as Prince Consort of Great Britain, and never chosen King of the Belgians. Despite Charlotte's death, the Prince Regent granted Prince Leopold the British style of Royal Highness by Order-in-Council on April 6, 1818[1]. In honor of his first wife, Leopold and Louise-Marie of France, his second wife, named their first daughter Charlotte, who would later marry Maximilian to become Empress Carlota of Mexico.

On July 2, 1829, Leopold participated in nuptials of doubtful validity (a private marriage-contract with no religious or public ceremony) with the actress Caroline Bauer, created Countess of Montgomery, a cousin of his adviser, Christian Friedrich Freiherr von Stockmar. The 'marriage' reportedly ended in 1831 and the following year he married Louise-Marie at the Château de Compiègne, in Compiègne, France, on August 9, 1832.

King of the Belgians

After Belgium asserted its independence from the Netherlands on October 4, 1830, the Belgian National Congress, considered several candidates and eventually asked Leopold to become king of the newly formed country. He was elected on 4 June and accepted and became "King of the Belgians" on June 26, 1831. He swore allegiance to the constitution in front of the Saint Jacob's Church at Coudenbergh Place in Brussels on July 21, 1831. This day became the Belgian national holiday. Jules Van Praet would become his personal secretary.

King Leopold I, Queen Louise-Marie, Crown Prince Leopold, Prince Philippe, Princess Marie-Charlotte

Less than two weeks later, on August 2, the Netherlands invaded Belgium. Skirmishes continued for eight years, but in 1839 the two countries signed the Treaty of London establishing Belgium's independence.

With the opening of the railway line between Brussels and Mechelen on May 5, 1835, one of King Leopold's fondest hopes—to build the first railway in continental Europe—became a reality.

In 1840, Leopold arranged the marriage of his niece, Queen Victoria, the daughter of his sister, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, to his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, son of his brother, Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Even before she succeeded to the throne, Leopold had been advising the then-Princess Victoria by letter, and after her accession, he was one of the great influences on her in the early days of her monarchy.

In 1842, Leopold tried unsuccessfully to pass laws to regulate female and child labor. A wave of revolutions passed over Europe after the deposition of King Louis-Philippe from the French throne in 1848. Belgium remained neutral, mainly because of Leopold's diplomatic efforts. A conservative and traditional Catholic, he petitioned the Pope to appoint conservative bishops, which he did.[2]

He was the 649th Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1816, the 947th Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece in Spain in 1835 and the 35th Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword.

On October 11, 1850, Leopold again lost a young wife, as Queen Louise-Marie died of tuberculosis at age 38. At 11:45 A.M. on December 10, 1865, the king died in Laken. He lies buried in the Royal vault at the Church of Our Lady, Laken Cemetery, Brussels, Belgium. He was succeeded by his second son, Leopold II.


Leopold's steady hand, wise diplomacy and constitutional governance enabled the small nation of Belgium to become one of the most prosperous in Europe. The choice of neutrality was less for ideological reasons (as a Catholic, Leopold believed that a just war was morally acceptable) than it was pragmatic. Belgium was a small country with borders that were shared by larger powers. Neutrality was a wise option. It meant, however, that Belgium did not spend huge sums on its military. Instead, an economy developed that was free from the need to finance a large military. After World War II, Belgium aligned itself with NATO and the Western alliance and was a founder member of the new European institutions, the Council of Europe and the European Union both of which aim to end war. Hosting the headquarters of the EU, Belgium is at the heart of Europe. The "modern prosperity of Belgium is," says Sheip, et al. "due to her freedom from great wars."[3]

The Arch of Triumph, started for the 1880 world expedition in Brussels, glorifies the "peace-loving nation of Belgium."[4] Leopold's legacy lives on in a nation that, while it does not advocate absolute pacifism, is strongly pro-peace. When Germany invaded Belgium in World War II, the United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt denounced the "tyranny on peace loving Belgium" adding that "Belgium's cause is humanity's cause."[5] Subsequently, Belgium had made humanity her cause.


Leopold's ancestors in three generations
Leopold I of Belgium Father:
Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Paternal Grandfather:
Ernest Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Francis Josias, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Anna Sophie, Princess of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt
Paternal Grandmother:
Sophia Antonia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Ferdinand Albert II of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Antoinetta Amelia of Wolfenbüttel-Blackenburg
Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf
Maternal Grandfather:
Count Heinrich XXIV Reuss of Ebersdorf and Lobenstein
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Heinrich XXIII Reuss of Ebersdorf and Lobenstein
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Sophie Theodora of Castell-Remlingen
Maternal Grandmother:
Karoline Ernestine of Erbach-Schönberg
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Georg August of Erbach-Schönberg
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Ferdinande Henriette of Stolberg-Gedern

Patrilineal descent


House of Wettin

  1. Burkhard I, Duke of Thuringia, d. 870
  2. Burchard, Duke of Thuringia, 836 - 908
  3. (possibly) Burkhard III of Grabfeldgau, 866 - 913
  4. Dedi I, Count of Hessegau, 896 - 957
  5. (probably) Dietrich I of Wettin, d. 976
  6. (possibly) Dedi II, Count of Hessegau, 946 - 1009
  7. Dietrich II of Wettin, 991 - 1034
  8. Thimo I of Wettin, d. 1099
  9. Thimo II the Brave, Count of Wettin, d. 1118
  10. Conrad, Margrave of Meissen, 1098 - 1157
  11. Otto II, Margrave of Meissen, 1125 - 1190
  12. Dietrich I, Margrave of Meissen, 1162 - 1221
  13. Henry III, Margrave of Meissen, c. 1215 - 1288
  14. Albert II, Margrave of Meissen, 1240 - 1314
  15. Frederick I, Margrave of Meissen, 1257 - 1323
  16. Frederick II, Margrave of Meissen, 1310 - 1349
  17. Frederick III, Landgrave of Thuringia, 1332 - 1381
  18. Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, 1370 - 1428
  19. Frederick II, Elector of Saxony, 1412 - 1464
  20. Ernest, Elector of Saxony, 1441 - 1486
  21. John, Elector of Saxony, 1468 - 1532
  22. John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, 1503 - 1554
  23. Johann Wilhelm, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, 1530 - 1573
  24. John II, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, 1570 - 1605
  25. Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Gotha, 1601 - 1675
  26. John Ernest IV, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1658 - 1729
  27. Francis Josias, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1697 - 1764
  28. Ernest Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1724 - 1800
  29. Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1750 - 1806

House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Cadet Branch of the House of Wettin
Born: 16 December 1790; Died: 10 December 1865
Regnal Titles

New Title King of the Belgians
1831 – 1865
Succeeded by: Leopold II

See also

  • Kings of Belgium family tree
  • Leopold I of Belgium has left such a legacy behind that he was selected as a motive for a very recent commemorative coin: the 12.50 euro 175th Anniversary of the Belgian Dynasty Coin. The obverse shows his portrait facing left.
  • Crown Council of Belgium
  • Louis-Joseph Seutin (1793-1862), personal doctor.


  1. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Apr 6, 1818). Royal Style and titles of Great Britain. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  2. J.C.H. Blom and Emiel Lamberts. 1998. History of the Low Countries. (New York, NY: Berghahn Books. ISBN 9781571810847), 322.
  3. Stanley Solomon Sheip, Alfred Bingham, and Corinne Bacon. 1914. Handbook of the European war. (White Plains, NY: H.W. Wilson Co.), 43.
  4. Brussels: buildings and monuments. Trabel Information on Belgium. Retrieved December 21, 2008.
  5. United Nations Information Office. 1941. United Nations review, a bimonthly selection of official statements and documents. (New York, NY: The United Nations Information Office), 27.
  6. Descent before Conrad the Great is taken from The PEDIGREE of Konrad `the Great' von GROITZSCH-ROCHLITZ. Fabpedigree. Retrieved December 21, 2008. This may be inaccurate.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Arblaster, Paul. 2006. A history of the Low Countries. Palgrave essential histories. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403948274.
  • Blom, J.C.H., and Emiel Lamberts. 1998. History of the Low Countries. New York, NY: Berghahn Books. ISBN 9781571810847.
  • Cook, Bernard A. 2002. Belgium a history. (Studies in modern European history, v. 50.) New York, NY: Peter Lang. ISBN 9780820472836.
  • Corti, Egon Caesar, and Joseph McCabe. 1923. Leopold I of Belgium; secret pages of European history. New York, NY: Brentano's.
  • Richardson, Joanna. 1961. My dearest uncle; a life of Leopold, first King of the Belgians. London, UK: J. Cape.
  • Sheip, Stanley Solomon, Alfred Bingham, and Corinne Bacon. 1914. Handbook of the European war. White Plains, NY: H.W. Wilson Co.


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