The story of King Leopold II of Belgium's brutal colonisation of central Africa, turning it into a vast rubber-harvesting labour camp in which millions died.
(9 April 1835 â€“ 17 December 1909)
was the King of the Belgians, and is chiefly remembered for the founding and brutal exploitation of the Congo Free State. Born in Brussels the second (but eldest surviving) son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of OrlÃ©ans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.
Leopold was the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free State, a private project undertaken on his own behalf. He used Henry Morton Stanley to help him lay claim to the Congo, an area now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the colonial nations of Europe committed the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants. From the beginning, however, Leopold essentially ignored these conditions and ran the Congo using a mercenary force, for his personal gain.
Leopold extracted a fortune from the Congo, initially by the collection of ivory, and after a rise in the price of rubber in the 1890s, by forcing the population to collect sap from rubber plants. Villages were required to meet quotas on rubber collections, and individuals' hands were cut off if they didn't meet the requirements. His regime was responsible for the death of an estimated 2 to 15 million Congolese. This became one of the most infamous international scandals of the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced to relinquish control of it to the government of Belgium.