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Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was the first king the Belgians, from July 21, 1831 to his death in December 1865. He was born Prince Leopold George Christian Frederick of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duke in Saxony, on December 16, 1790. He was the youngest son of Duke Francis Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (1750–1806) and of Countess Augusta Reuss (1757–1831), and later became a prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha after the territorial swap by his father in Ehrenburg Castle in the Bavarian town of Coburg.
In 1795, at the age of five, Leopold was appointed colonel of the Izmailovski Imperial Regiment in Russia. Seven years later he became a general. When Napoleonic troops occupied the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg in 1806 Leopold went to Paris. Napoleon offered him the position of adjutant, but he refused. Instead he took up a military career in the Imperial Russian cavalry. He campaigned against Napoleon, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Kulm at the head of his cuirassier division. In 1815 Leopold reached the rank of lieutenant-general in the Russian army.
On May 2, 1816, he married Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, (1796–1817), the only legitimate child of the British Prince Regent (later King George IV of the United Kingdom) and therefore heiress to the British throne. Leopoldand was created a British field-marshal and knight of the Garter. On November 5, 1817, Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son; she herself died the following day. Had she lived, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom in 1830 on the death of her father, and Leopold presumably would have been the British Prince Consort instead of King of the Belgians.
Although the Princess died in 1817, Leopold continued to live in England until 1831, when he accepted his election as king of the Belgians, having declined the Greek crown the previous year. He immediately began to strengthen the Belgian Army and, with assistance from France and England, fought off the attacks of William I of The Netherlands, who refused until 1838 to recognize Belgium as an independent kingdom.
He functioned as a principal advisor to his niece, Queen Victoria (reigned 1837–1901), the daughter of his sister Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. On July 2, 1829, Leopold participated in (a private marriage-contract with no religious or public ceremony with the actress Caroline Bauer, created Countess of Montgomery, a cousin of his advisor, Christian Friedrich Freiherr von Stockmar. The marriage reportedly ended in 1831.
In 1830 the people of Greece offered Leopold the Greek crown, but he declined. After Belgium asserted its independence from the Netherlands on October 4 1830, the Belgian National Congress, after considering several other candidates, asked Leopold to become king of the newly formed country. He accepted and became King of the Belgians on June 26, 1831. He swore allegiance to the constitution in the Royal Palace in Brussels on July 21 1831. This day became the Belgian national holiday.
Less than two weeks later, on August 2, the Netherlands invaded Belgium. Skirmishes continued for eight years, but in 1839 the two countries signed a treaty establishing Belgium's independence.
Often referred to as the Nestor of Europe, Leopold was highly influential in European diplomacy and used marriages to strengthen his ties with France, England, and Austria. On August 9, 1832, Leopold married Princess Louise-Marie Therese Charlotte Isabelle of Orleans (April 3, 1812–October 11, 1850), daughter of King Louis-Philippe of France. They had four children:
Louis-Philippe Leopold Victor Ernst of Belgium ( July 24, 1833 - May 16, 1834)
Leopold Louis-Philippe Marie Victor of Belgium (April 9, 1835 - 1909)
Philippe Eugene Ferdinand Marie Clement Baudouin Leopold George of Belgium, Count of Flanders ( March 24, 1837 - November 17, 1905)
Marie-Charlotte Amelie Auguste Victoire Clementine Leopoldine of Belgium (June 7, 1840 - January 19, 1927). She married the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.
The king also had two sons, Baron Georg von Eppinghoven (1849–1904) and Baron Arthur von Eppinghoven (1852–1940), by a mistress, Arcadia Claret, created Baroness von Eppinghoven (1826–1897).
In 1840 Leopold arranged the marriage of his niece Queen Victoria to his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, son of his brother Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Leopold's influence declined with the growing power of Napoleon III and of Otto von Bismarck of Prussia
On December 10, 1865, the king died in Laeken. He lies buried in the Royal vault at the Church of Our Lady, Laeken Cemetery, Brussels, Belgium.
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