A group of historical writers voted Henry VIII the worst monarch in history. This is not surprising given Henry’s notorious habit of having people’s heads chopped off, including two of his six wifes. Personally, I think King Leopold of Belgium takes the cake!
This Belgian King raped the Congo for his own personal gain. Under his supervision, hundreds of thousands of Africans were killed and many, many more died of disease and starvation as a result of Leopold’s efforts to extract valuable natural resources from the Congo. Adam Hoschschild aptly describes Leopold’s Congo as a “territory was awash in corpses, sometimes literally.” (1) The Congolese were often killed because they refused to be enslaved. At gunpoint they were forced to strip the Congo of its resources (mostly rubber). Since that didn’t always work they held the families of the laborers hostage and threatened to kill them if they did not produce the desired amount of natural rubber. And if they refused the whole village was massacred (men, women, and children). But in many cases instead of killing all of them they severed their hands as proof to show their bosses that they had used the bullets to kill Africans rather than “wasted” them on hunting.
Joseph Conrad’s In the Heart of Darkness was not the product of his imagination, it was the product of his actual experiences in King Leopold’s Congo. Based on the level of cruelty and the fact that Leopold’s legacy is still playing out in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I believe that he was the worst monarch in history.
Emma McFarnon voted these nine monarchs as the worst: Caligula; Pope John XII; King John of England; King Richard II of England; Ivan “the Terrible” of Russia, Mary, Queen of Scots; Emperor Rudolf II; Queen Tanavalona I of Madagascar; and King Leopold II of Belgium.
What do you think?
(1) Adam Hoschschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998) 227.