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Leopold I of Belgium

- King Leopold I -

Leopold I, first King of the Belgians, (December 16, 1790 - December 10, 1865), was born in Ehrenburg Castle in the Bavarian town of Coburg, and named "Georges Chrétien Frédéric." He was the youngest son of Duke Francis Frederick of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (1750-1806) and Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf (1757-1831).

In 1795 -- as a mere toddler -- Leopold was appointed colonel of the Izmailovski Imperial Regiment in Russia. Seven years later he became a general. When the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg was occupied by Napoleonic troops in 1806 he went to Paris. Napoleon offered him the position of adjutant, but he refused. Instead he succeeded his brother as head of the Duchy. Afterwards he campaigned against Napoleon. In 1815 Leopold was appointed field-marshal.

On May 2, 1816, he married Princess Charlotte Augusta, (1796-1817; the only legitimate child of the Prince Regent (later King George IV) and therefore heiress to the English throne. On November 5, 1817, Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son; she died the following day.

He functioned as a principal advisor to his niece, Queen Victoria.

On July 2, 1829, Leopold participated in nuptials of doubtful validity, (a private marriage contract with no religious or public ceremony) with actress Caroline Bauer , created Countess of Montgomery, a cousin of his advisor, Christian Friedrich Freiherr von Stockmar. The marriage reportedly ended in 1831.

In 1830 Leopold was offered the Greek crown, but he refused it. After Belgium asserted its independence from the Netherlands on October 4, 1830, the Belgian National Congress asked Leopold to become king of the newly-formed country. He accepted and became "King of the Belgians" on June 26, 1831. His inauguration took place in the Royal Palace in Brussels on July 21, 1831. This day became a Belgian national holiday.

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

On August 9, 1832, Leopold married Princesse Louise-Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle d'Orléans (April 3, 1812 - October 11, 1850), daughter of King Louis-Philippe of France.

Leopold and Louise had four children:

The king also had two sons, Baron Georg von Eppinghoven (1849-1904) and Baron Arthur von Eppinghoven (1852-1940), by a mistress, Arcadia Claret, created Baroness von Eppinghoven (1826-1897).

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 of England to his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Leopold tried to pass laws to regulate female and child labor in 1842, but the time was not yet ripe for it.

A wave of revolutions passed over Europe after King Louis-Philippe was chased from the French throne in 1848. Belgium remained neutral, mainly because of Leopold's diplomatic efforts.

On December 10, 1865, the king died in Laeken and was interred in the Royal vault at the Church of Our Lady, Laeken Cemetery, Brussels, Belgium.

Preceded by:
King of the Belgians Succeeded by:
Leopold II

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45