1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leopold I., King of the Belgians

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LEOPOLD I. (1790–1865), king of the Belgians, fourth son of Francis, duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and uncle of Queen Victoria of England, was born at Coburg on the 18th of December 1790. At the age of eighteen he entered the military service of Russia, and accompanied the emperor Alexander to Erfurt as a member of his staff. He was required by Napoleon to quit the Russian army, and spent some years in travelling. In 1813 he accepted from the emperor Alexander the post of a cavalry general in the army of invasion, and he took part in the whole of the campaign of that and the following year, distinguishing himself in the battles of Leipzig, Lützen and Bautzen. He entered Paris with the allied sovereigns, and accompanied them to England. He married in May 1816 Charlotte, only child of George, prince regent, afterwards George IV., heiress-presumptive to the British throne, and was created duke of Kendal in the British peerage and given an annuity of £50,000. The death of the princess in the following year was a heavy blow to his hopes, but he continued to reside in England. In 1830 he declined the offer of the crown of Greece, owing to the refusal of the powers to grant conditions which he considered essential to the welfare of the new kingdom, but was in the following year elected king of the Belgians (4th June 1831). After some hesitation he accepted the crown, having previously ascertained that he would have the support of the great powers on entering upon his difficult task, and on the 12th of July he made his entry into Brussels and took the oath to observe the constitution. During the first eight years of his reign he was confronted with the resolute hostility of King William I. of Holland, and it was not until 1839 that the differences between the two states, which until 1830 had formed the kingdom of the Netherlands, were finally settled at the conference of London by the treaty of the 24 Articles (see Belgium). From this date until his death, King Leopold spent all his energies in the wise administration of the affairs of the newly formed kingdom, which may be said to owe in a large measure its first consolidation and constant prosperity to the care and skill of his discreet and fatherly government. In 1848 the throne of Belgium stood unshaken amidst the revolutions which marked that year in almost every European country. On the 8th of August 1832 Leopold married, as his second wife, Louise of Orleans, daughter of Louis Philippe, king of the French. Queen Louise endeared herself to the Belgian people, and her death in 1850 was felt as a national loss. This union produced two sons and one daughter—(1) Leopold, afterwards king of the Belgians; (2) Philip, count of Flanders; (3) Marie Charlotte, who married Maximilian of Austria, the unfortunate emperor of Mexico. Leopold I. died at Laeken on the 10th of December 1865. He was a most cultured man and a great reader, and did his utmost during his reign to encourage art, science and education. His judgment was universally respected by contemporary sovereigns and statesmen, and he was frequently spoken of as “the Nestor of Europe” (see also Victoria, Queen).

See Th. Juste, Léopold I er, roi des Belges d’après des doc. inéd. 1793–1865 (2 vols., Brussels, 1868), and Les Fondateurs de la monarchie Belge (22 vols., Brussels, 1878–1880); J. J. Thonissen, La Belgique sous le règne de Léopold I er (Louvain, 1862).