King Leopold II Of Belgium: The Criminal Who Brutally Killed 10 Million Congolese

Portrait of the future king Leopold II, king of the Belgians. (Nicaise de Keyser/Wikimedia Commons)

Having only gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, Belgium acts as young as it is—very into beer and chocolate, generally disinclined to start fights with anyone—but just how this fledgling nation became one of the richest countries on Earth is perhaps one of the darkest and barbaric stories known to human history. When the second ever King of Belgium, Leopold II, ascended to the throne in 1865, he made clear that he was not satisfied with simply ruling the country like his father had. Rather, he sought out to gain the kind of power and wealth he saw countries like France and the United Kingdom boast. In the 19th century, there was only one way to get that kind of status in Europe.

Belgium Wanted Some Colonies, Too

Leopold II was a little late to the colonization game. By the mid-1800s, Spain, France, and the U.K. already ran so much of the world that many of the countries under their purview had already revolted and become independent all over again. Even the U.S. had outlawed the slave trade by the time Leopold II set his sights on sub-Saharan Africa in 1876, when he founded the International African Association.

Realizing that times were changing, Leopold II disguised his intentions of robbing Africa of its natural resources and claimed that he simply desired to bring Christianity to the people. He dispatched missionaries, paved roads, and sent famed adventurer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (most notable for having found David Livingstone) to chart out territory and negotiate with the various peoples of the Congo basin.