King Leopold II, christened Louis Philippe Marie Victor, was king of Belgium from 1865 to 1909. He was one ruthless cat with a hunger for colonies; using his crafty little brain, a far-reaching network of political agents, and the explorer Henry Morton Stanley, he established a hold upon the humongous African region that became the Congo Free State. His claim, allegedly made under philanthropic auspices, was formally recognized at the international level in 1884.

While maintaining publicly that his only intent in the Congo was to uplift the native peoples, his government there committed gross brutalities while extracting a huge profit from the colony through the use of slave labor. Leopold was a P.R. master and a shrewd business man, but due to public outcry he had to relinquish the Congo Free State to the control of the Belgian Parliament.

Despite his eventual loss of the colony, Leopold reaped huge profits while the colony was in his possession. He spent much of his money on lavish architectural projects in Brussels. At sixty-five he met the mistress who became the love of his life, a French girl who was sixteen at their first meeting; much of his fortune went to buying her extensive wardrobe. In his old age, he became a bit batty. He rode a large tricycle from place to place and referred to himself in the third person.

To learn more, peruse Adam Hochschild's book King Leopold's Ghost. It's a good read, and my source.

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