King George IV of the United Kingdom, King Leopold I of the Belgians, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess Charlotte of Wales, Princess Louise of Orléans, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, The Prince Regent
Leopold I (December 16, 1790 – December 10, 1865) was the first king of the Belgians, reigning from July 21, 1831 until his death in 1865.
Leopold was born in Coburg in the tiny German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in modern-day Bavaria on 16 December 16, 1790. He was the youngest son of Franz, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. In 1826, Saxe-Coburg acquired the city of Gotha from the neighboring Duchy of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and gave up Saalfeld to Saxe-Meiningen, becoming the Duchy Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Leopold took a commission in the Imperial Russian Army and fought against Napoleon after French troops overran Saxe-Coburg 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) and Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttle.
The Prince Regent had hoped Charlotte would marry Willem, Prince of Orange, but she favoured Leopold. Although the Regent was displeased, he found Leopold to be charming and possessing every quality to make his daughter happy, and so approved their marriage.
The same year Leopold received an honorary commission to the rank of Field Marshal and Knight of the Order of the Garter. The Prince Regent also considered making Leopold a royal duke, the Duke of Kendal, though the plan was abandoned due to government fears that it would draw Leopold into party politics and would be viewed as a demotion for Charlotte.
On November 5, 1817, after having suffered a miscarriage, Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son. She herself died the next day following complications. Leopold was said to have been heartbroken by her death.
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 by Order in Council on April 6, 1818.
From 1828 to 1829, Leopold had an affair with the actress Caroline Bauer, who bore a striking resemblance to Charlotte. Caroline was a cousin of his advisor Baron Christian Friedrich 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 in 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 Baron Stockmar denied that these events ever happened, and indeed no records have been found of a civil or religious marriage with the actress.
After the Greek War of Independence (1821–1830), Leopold was offered the throne of Greece under the 1830 London Protocol that created 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 July 21, 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.
Princess Louise of Orléans was the second child and eldest daughter of King Louis Philippe I of the French and his wife, Princess Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies.
On August 9, 1832, the twenty-year-old Louise married King Leopold I of the Belgians, who was twenty-two years her senior, at the Compiègne Palace. Since Leopold was a Protestant, he and Louise had both a Catholic and a Calvinist ceremony.
The marriage had been suggested already when Leopold was considered for the throne of Greece, and was repeated when he was elected king of the Belgians instead of Louise’s brother, Louis, Duke of Nemours.
The marriage created an alliance between two newly elected and less established monarchs, her father and spouse, and was thus seen suitable. Louise’s mother disliked the marriage because Leopold was a Protestant, but since Louise’s father was a new monarch and his position weak in the eyes of other monarchs, the marriage was considered favorable for the new French Orléans dynasty, as it might then become easier for Louise’s siblings to marry members of established dynasties.
While the marriage was arranged against Louise’s will, and she was unhappy to leave France and her family, Leopold was very careful to treat her with consideration and respect from the beginning, which was appreciated by Louise, and soon their relationship came to be described as a harmonious one.
Leopold was particularly known as a political marriage broker. In 1835–1836, he promoted the marriage between his nephew Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and the Queen of Portugal, Maria II. He promoted the marriage of his niece, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, to his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Even before she succeeded to the throne, Leopold had been advising Victoria by letter, and continued to influence her after her accession.
As a Protestant, Leopold was considered liberal and encouraged economic modernisation, playing an important role in encouraging the creation of Belgium’s first railway in 1835 and subsequent industrialisation. As a result of the ambiguities in the Belgian Constitution, Leopold was able to slightly expand the monarch’s powers during his reign.
Leopold 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.