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King Leopold II
*King Leopold II was born on this date in 1835. He was a white-European Monarch, the second King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909.
Born Leopold Ludwig Philipp Maria Viktor in Brussels as the second but eldest surviving son of Leopold I and Louise of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the Belgian throne in 1865 and reigned for 44 years until his death, the longest reign of any Belgian monarch. He and, through his own efforts, were the owner and absolute ruler of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908. The Congo Free State was a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He hired Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, the colonial nations of Europe authorized his claim by committing the Congo Free State to improve the lives of the native inhabitants. Leopold ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using the mercenary Force Publique for his personal gain. He extracted a fortune from the territory, initially by the collection of ivory, and after a rise in the price of natural rubber in the 1890s, by forced labor from the native population to harvest and process rubber.
Leopold's administration of the Congo was characterized by atrocities, including torture and murder, resulting from notorious systematic brutality. The hands of men, women, and children were amputated when the quota of rubber was not met. Millions of the Congolese people died: modern estimates range from 1 million to 15 million deaths, with a consensus growing around 10 million.
Colonial accounts placed much more stress on Leopold's modernizing changes in the Congo. These and other facts were established at the time by the 1904 Casement Report and by eyewitness testimony and on-site inspection by an international Commission of Inquiry. Some historians argue against this figure, citing the absence of reliable censuses, the enormous mortality of diseases such as smallpox or African trypanosomiasis, and the fact that there were only 175 administrative agents in charge of rubber exploitation.
In 1908, the reports of deaths and abuse and pressure from the Congo Reform Association and other international groups induced the Belgian government to take over the administration of the Congo from Leopold as a new territory, Belgian Congo. King Leopold II died on December 17, 1909, without surviving legitimate sons. The current Belgian king descends from his nephew and successor, Albert I.