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the first King of Belgium
Léopold Georges Chrétien Frédéric was born in Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Germany (then part of Russian Empire), on December 16, 1790. He was the youngest son of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and the uncle of the future Queen Victoria of England. At the age of eighteen he entered the military service of Russia and accompanied Czar Alexander to Erfurt as a member of the staff. He was subsequently required by Napoleon Bonaparte to quit the Russian army, and then spent several years travelling Europe.
In 1813, Czar Alexander invited Leopold back into the Russian Army and made him a Cavalry General in the Army of Invasion. He took part in the entire campaign against Napoleon, distinguished himself in the battles of Leipzig, Lützen and Bautzen, and entered Paris with the allied sovereigns; he then accompanied the allied sovereigns to England.
In May of 1816, Leopold married Princess Charlotte, the only child of George, then Prince Regent, later King George IV, and was created Duke of Kendal in the British peerage. Although Charlotte's death the following year devastated Leopold, he chose to continue living in England, where he lived on an annuity of £50,000. Leopold was still living in England when, in 1830, he was offered the crown of Greece. He declined the crown, however, due to the refual of European powers to grant conditions he considered essential to the welfare of the new kingdom.
King of Belgium
In 1830, the Kingdom of Belgium gained its independence from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and, on June 4, 1831, the new kingdom elected Leopold as its first king. After determining that he would have the support of the other major European powers, Leopold accepted the Belgian crown, and was formally enthroned on July 12.
King Leopold spent the first eight years of his reign trying to resolve differences between Belgium and the Netherlands that had arisen from the Belgian revolt. Those differences were finally resolved at a conference in London in 1839, and Belgium enjoyed peaceful relations with the rest of Europe throughout the remainder of his reign.
Domestically, King Leopold successfully oversaw the establishment of a parliamentary government, the reform of electoral law, and the establishment of a national bank. His only real crisis arose when he tried to form a conservative front by grouping clericals and Liberals into a controlling parliamentary bloc. He finally succeeded in this endeavor in 1847, but only after recognizing an all-Liberal cabinet. King Leopold's reign was, in fact, so successful that Belgium escaped the turmoil of 1848, when several European kingdoms were shaken by revolution.
On August 8, 1832, King Leopold married Louise of Orleans, the daughter of Louis-Philippe, King of the French. The queen was so well liked by the Belgian people that her death in 1850 was felt as a national loss. The couple had three children -- Leopold II (1835-1909) succeeded his father in 1865; Philip (1837-1905) became Count of Flanders; Marie Charlotte (1840-1927) married Maximilian of Austria, who subsequently became the short-lived Emperor of Mexico.
King Leopold died at Laeken, Belgium, on December 10, 1865.
This page was last updated on February 17, 2017.