The First King of the Belgians
Born into European royalty , The first King King of the Belgians, Leopold I , reigned for more than 30 years from 1831 until his death in 1865.
He was the youngest son of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. He took a commission in the Imperial Russian Army and fought against Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars.
After Napoleon’s defeat, Leopold moved to the United Kingdom where he married Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was second in line to the British throne and the only legitimate child of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV). Charlotte died after only a year of marriage, but Leopold continued to enjoy considerable status in Britain.
Had Charlotte survived, she would have become queen of the United Kingdom on the death of her father and Leopold presumably would have assumed the role of prince consort, later taken by his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Despite Charlotte’s death, the Prince Regent granted Prince Leopold the British style of Royal Highness
After the Greek War of Independence (1821–1830), Leopold was offered the throne of Greece , a creation of an independent Greek state, but turned it down, believing it to be too precarious. Instead, he accepted the throne of Belgium in 1831 following the country’s independence in 1830.
The Belgian government offered the position to Leopold because of his diplomatic connections with royal houses across Europe, and because as the British-backed candidate, he was not affiliated with other powers, such as France, which were believed to have territorial ambitions in Belgium which might threaten the European balance of power created by the 1815 Congress of Vienna.
Leopold took his oath as King of the Belgians on 21 July 1831, an event commemorated annually as Belgian National Day. His reign was marked by attempts by the Dutch to recapture Belgium and, later, by internal political division between liberals and Catholics.
As a Protestant, Leopold was considered liberal and encouraged economic modernisation, playing an important role in encouraging the creation of Belgium’s first railway and subsequent industrialisation. He also played an important role in stopping the spread of the Revolutions of 1848 into Belgium. He died in 1865 and was succeeded by his son, Leopold II, who became notorious for exploitative and violent practices in what would become the Belgian Congo .