Leopold II


Leopold II
(1835-1909)
   Leopold Louis Philippe Marie Victor de Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha, the second king of the Belgians, was born in Brussels on 9 April 1835, the son of King Leopold I and Queen Louise-Marie d'Orleans. He was raised under a strict regimen at the Château royal de Laeken. On 22 August 1853, he married Archduchess Marie-Henriette of Hungary in a civil ceremony at the Palais Royal and a religious service at the collegiate church of Saints-Michel-et-Gudule, followed by an ommegang through the city streets.
   As duke of Brabant, Leopold traveled widely and he showed an early, keen interest in urban development in Brussels. He assumed the throne in 1865 and set out to raise the status of his kingdom on the world stage. Befitting that goal, Leopold affirmed that "Brussels can become the turntable of Europe," and to further that aim he supported expanding and updating the capital's transportation infrastructure together with an ambitious building program. Known as the "king-builder," he backed the project to vault the Senne River and lay out the central boulevards. He was a driving force behind redevelopment of the Mont des Arts and construction of the Basilique nationale de Sacré-Coeur. The king promoted development of the avenue Louise and environs, the Palais de Justice, the royal grounds at Laeken, the Cinquantenaire, and the avenue de Tervuren, the thoroughfare designed to link the latter complex with the royal estate in Tervuren as well as the Musée royale de l'Afrique centrale.
   Strong-willed and energetic, Leopold contributed substantial funds to building projects, much of it drawn from the enormous fortune he acquired from exploitation of the Congo Free State, a colony he ruled personally from 1885 to 1908.
   Scandalous in his private life, the king maintained a succession of mistresses, but he left no heir. His only son died at age 10, and he barred his three daughters from the succession, which passed to his nephew Albert I. Leopold died in the palm greenhouse (Serres royales) at Laeken on 17 December 1909. An equestrian statue of the king by Thomas Vinçotte (1850-1925) stands in place du Trône.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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