Leopold I (Léopold Georges Chrétien Frédéric;
German: Leopold Georg Christian Friedrich; 16 December 1790 - 10 December
1865) was from 21 July 1831 the first King of the Belgians, following
Belgium's independence from the Netherlands. He was the founder of the
Belgian line of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His children included Leopold
II of Belgium and Empress Carlota of Mexico. He was a maternal uncle and
adviser of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
He was born in Coburg and died in Laeken. By birth, he was a Prince of
Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, later a Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of
Leopold was the youngest son of Francis, Duke
of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Countess Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf, and later
became a prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after Saxe-Coburg acquired Gotha
from Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in 1826 and yielded Saalfeld to Saxe-Meiningen.
In 1795, as a mere child, Leopold was appointed colonel of the Izmaylovsky
Guards Regiment in Russia. Seven years later, he became a major general. When
Napoleonic troops occupied the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg in 1806 Leopold went to
Paris. Emperor Napoleon I offered him the position of adjutant, but he
refused. Instead, he took up a military career in the Imperial Russian
Cavalry. He campaigned against Napoleon and distinguished himself at the
Battle of Kulm at the head of his cuirassier division. In 1815, at the age of
25, Leopold reached the rank of lieutenant general in the Imperial Russian
In Carlton House on 2 May 1816, he married Princess Charlotte of Wales, the
only legitimate child of the British Prince Regent (later King George IV) and
therefore second in line to the British throne, and was created a British
field-marshal and Knight of the Garter. On 5 November 1817, Princess
Charlotte delivered a stillborn son; she herself died the following day. Had
she lived, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom on the death of
her father, and Leopold presumably would have assumed the role later taken by
his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, as Prince Consort of the
United Kingdom, and never been chosen to reign as King of the Belgians.
Despite Charlotte's death, the Prince Regent granted Prince Leopold the
British style of Royal Highness by Order in Council on 6 April 1818.
From 1828 to 1829, Leopold was involved romantically during several months
with the actress Caroline Bauer, who enjoyed a striking resemblance to
Charlotte. Caroline was a cousin of his advisor Christian Friedrich Freiherr
von Stockmar. She came to England with her mother and took up residence at
Longwood House, a few miles from Claremont House. But, by mid-1829, the
liaison was over, and the actress and her mother returned to Berlin. Many
years later, in memoirs published after her death, she declared that she and
Leopold had engaged into a morganatic marriage and that he had bestowed upon
her the title of Countess Montgomery. He would have broken this marriage when
the possibility arose that he could become King of Greece. The son of Freiherr
von Stockmar denied that these events ever happened, and indeed no records
have been found of a civil or religious marriage or of an ennobling of the
King of the Belgians:
Leopold turned down the throne of Greece. After Belgium asserted its
independence from the Netherlands on 4 October 1830, the Belgian National
Congress considered several candidates and eventually asked Leopold to become
King of the newly formed country. He was elected on 4 June, accepted, and
became "King of the Belgians" on 26 June 1831. He swore allegiance
to the constitution in front of the Church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg at
Coudenbergh Place in Brussels on 21 July 1831. This day became the Belgian
national holiday. Jules Van Praet would become his personal secretary.
Less than two weeks later, on 2 August, the Netherlands invaded Belgium.
Skirmishes continued for eight years, but in 1839, the two countries signed
the Treaty of London establishing Belgium's independence.
With the opening of the railway line between Brussels and Mechelen on 5 May
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, the
daughter of his sister, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, to his
nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, son of his brother, Ernest I,
Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Even before she succeeded to the throne,
Leopold had been advising the then-Princess Victoria by letter, and after her
accession, he was one of the great influences on her in the early days of her
monarchy, although she did begin to assert her independence very early on in
In 1842, Leopold tried unsuccessfully to pass laws to regulate female and child
labor. A wave of revolutions passed over Europe after the deposition of his
father-in-law, King Louis-Philippe, from the French throne in 1848. Belgium
remained neutral, mainly because of Leopold's diplomatic efforts.
He was the 649th Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1816, the 947th Knight
of the Order of the Golden Fleece in Spain in 1835 and the 35th Grand Cross
of the Order of the Tower and Sword.
On 11 October 1850, Leopold again lost a young wife, as Queen Louise-Marie
died of tuberculosis at age 38.
Leopold also had two sons, George and Arthur, by a mistress, Arcadie Meyer
(née Claret). George was born in 1849, and Arthur was born in 1852. At
Leopold's request, in 1862 the two sons were created Freiherr von Eppinghoven
by his nephew, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; in 1863 Arcadie was
also created Baronin von Eppinghoven.
On 10 December 1865, the King died in Laeken at the age of 74. He lies buried
in the Royal Vault at the Church of Our Lady of Laeken.
Titles and styles:
16 December 1790 - 12 November 1826 His Serene Highness Prince Leopold of
Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke of Saxony
6 April 1818 - 12 November 1826 (in the UK) His Royal Highness Prince Leopold
of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke of Saxony
12 November 1826 - 21 July 1831 His Serene Highness (His Royal Highness in
the UK) Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony
21 July 1831 - 10 December 1865 His Majesty The King of the Belgians