Leopold II 1835–1909
Leopold II was Belgium's second king after its separation in 1831 from Holland, which had deprived Belgium's industries of their Dutch East Indies markets. His drive to create new overseas markets for Belgium led to the founding of the Congo Free State in 1885 and failed attempts at colonizing along the upper Nile and in China. Even before becoming king in 1865, Leopold had traveled to Turkey, Egypt, India, and China, and had said that Belgium needed colonies for its economic well-being. This dream was fulfilled in 1885 when the major powers at the Berlin Conference granted Leopold's International Congo Association sovereign power over the Congo. Lacking the resources to develop the Congo, he ceded huge portions of land—some of them much larger than Belgium itself—to concession companies with private armies that plundered the rubber and ivory resources of the Congo's forests and terrorized the population. When these abuses became known to the wider world in 1904 and 1905, the resulting international outcry forced the Belgian government in 1908 to take over the Congo, which was by then bankrupt and denuded of its most accessible natural resources. A series of reforms followed, but they were insufficient to overcome the bitter legacy of Leopold's rule.
Ascherson, Neal. The King Incorporated: Leopold II in the Age of Trusts. London: Allen and Unwin, 1963.
Emerson, Barbara. Leopold II of the Belgians: King of Colonialism. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1979.