Leopold I of Belgium
Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (December 16, 1790 – December 10, 1865), was the first king of Belgium, or more correct of the Belgians, according to the constitution of that country, since July 21, 1831.
He was born as Leopold Georg Christian Friedrich, Prince of Saxen Coburg Saalfeld, later changed to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha after ground swap by his father in Ehrenburg Castle in the Bavarian town of Coburg as the youngest son of Duke Francis Frederick of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (1750 - 1806) and of CountessAugusta 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 Napoleonic troops occupied the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg in 1806 he went to Paris. Napoléon offered him the position of adjutant, but he refused. He campaigned against Napoleon.Instead he took up a military career in the Imperial Russian cavalry. He 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 Russian army.
On May 2, 1816, he married Princess Charlotte Augusta, (1796-1817); the only legitimate child of the British Prince Regent (later King George IV) 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 gave birth to a stillborn son; she herself died the following day. (Had she lived, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom in 1830 on the death of her father, and Leopold presumably would have been the British Prince Consort instead of king of the Belgians.)
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 the people of Greece offered Leopold the Greek crown, but he declined. After Belgium asserted its independence from the Netherlands on October 4, 1830, the Belgian National Congress, after considering several other candidates, asked Leopold to become king of the newly-formed country. He accepted and became "King of the Belgians" on June 26, 1831. He swore allegiance to the constitution in the Royal Palace in Brussels on July 21, 1831. This day became the 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 Princess Louise-Marie of Orléans (April 3, 1812 - October 11, 1850), daughter of King Louis-Philippe of France. Leopold and Louise-Marie were avid chefs. Leopold created the recipe for Beefsteak Leopold.
Leopold and Louise had four children:
- Louis-Philippe Léopold Victor Ernst of Belgium, born on July 24, 1833, but died the following year on May 16, 1834;
- Léopold Louis-Philippe Marie Victor of Saxe-Coburg, born in Brussels on April 9, 1835, the second King of the Belgians;
- Philippe Eugène Ferdinand Marie Clément Baudouin Léopold George, Count of Flanders, born in Laeken on March 24, 1837 and died in Brussels on November 17, 1905, whose son succeeded Leopold II as Albert.
- Marie-Charlotte Amélie Auguste Victoire Clémentine Léopoldine, born in Laeken on June 7, 1840 and died in Meise on January 19, 1927, wife of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.
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).
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.
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