At any point in history, has an individual ever purchased an entire country - using their private wealth?

Specifically, I'm looking for any examples of somebody who has purchased an entire already-existing country - not simply buying significant amounts of land, and then founding a new country from it.

Ideally, the person who purchased the country, would then be in charge of its governance. However if no such situation exists, examples of things that come close would be welcome too (such as owning all land and infrastructure - but not directly governing the country).

Has such an event ever happened in history?

  • 12
    During the crisis of the third century Romans flung bags of coins over the walls of the Praetorian Guard in an attempt to purchase the country - that probably comes pretty close. Roman politics (and indeed most pre-modern politics) permitted such things. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 4 at 16:27
  • 2
    I would say there are several instances of foreign rulers buying their right to rule a country from the Romans, Ptolemy Auletes I believe would be one. – ed.hank Oct 4 at 16:29
  • 11
    King Leopold II of Belgium tried to personally buy the Philippines, but as an individual had trouble securing the loans he needed. He was king of a Parlimentary democracy, and his parliament (unlike him) was against colonialism. – T.E.D. Oct 4 at 16:37
  • 14
    If you consider 'promises of future investment' as a 'purchase', Leopold II of Belgium convinced the rest of Europe to agree that the Congo was his private property in exchange for promising to keep it open to European investment. – Giter Oct 4 at 16:37
  • 1
    @Giter - I thought of that too of course. However, his whole Congo venture was done on the cheap, and he effectively founded the country. All he really paid for in advance was one explorer. So it's not really in the spirit of the question. – T.E.D. Oct 4 at 16:39
up vote 94 down vote accepted

In 1699, Johann Adam Andreas von Liechtenstein bought Schellenberg and in 1712 the county of Vaduz. The county was operating under feudal principles, thus perhaps might not be considered a country in the modern meaning, but comes close. Schellenberg and Vaduz have been united in 1718, got the status of Fürstentum and were renamed to Liechtenstein, the name it holds since then.

  • 16
    Note that Schellenberg at least had imperial immediacy, and thus should be regarded as a sovereign state. The proximate reason for its purchase was that owning territory with imperial immediacy was necessary for the Liechtenstein line to acquire a vote in the Imperial Diet. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 5 at 6:09
  • 3
    Pieter Geerkens Schellenberg was a state of the Holy Roman Empire and thus was NOT a sovereign state. The Holy Roman Empire was a sovereign state and Schellenberg was a fiefdom and state in the Holy Roman Empire. The only type of sovereignty that Schellenberg could have was the weak and limited sovereignty that American states or Indian tribes have. – MAGolding Oct 5 at 22:01
  • 6
    @MAGolding I guess this depends on your definition of sovereign states. I would argue that the HRE operated in a way more similar to the EU of today (and in particular its constituents had to some extent an independent foreign policy). I am more familiar with the situation pre-Thirthy years war however, so I'm not going to argue this too strongly – Denis Nardin Oct 6 at 19:19
  • 2
    @MAGolding Using modern definition of sovereign states, it definitely counts - it had a defined territory, permanent population, government and foreign policy. Europe didn't have a political structure similar to the modern US. If the HRE was indeed the only sovereign state, what's the need for the sad attempts to "unify Germany" over the centuries? The states didn't even pay taxes. At the time Liechtenstein bought Schellenberg, the Emperor was pretty much powerless, and the states were pretty much entirely independent, especially with regards to foreign policy outside of the HRE. – Luaan Oct 8 at 13:13
  • @MAGolding Late to this party, sorry, but it would be hard to argue that a state of the HRE could not be sovereign at that time. Prussia under the Great Elector (d 1688) was pretty sovereign, and continued to be when Frederick III became a king (1701). The Elector of Bavaria in 1701 allied with France against the Emperor in the War of Spanish Succession. – kingledion Oct 23 at 18:22

In certain sense yes. Didius Julianus purchased the position of the Roman emperor in 193. This position was actually auctioned by Praetorian guards to the highest bidder, the Wikipedia article on Didius Julianus contains a short account.

Of course one can argue in what sense a Roman emperor "owned" the country. But at that time the emperors were absolute rulers.

In 1846, The East India Company annexed the Kashmir Valley, Jammu, Ladakh, and Gilgit-Baltistan from the Sikhs, and then transferred it to Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu in return for an indemnity payment of 7.5 Million (Nanakshahee) Rupees, making it an interesting incident in the history when a private company (annexed and) sold a state. [1][2]

In 933 King Rudolph II of Burgundy and King Hugh of Burgundy both wished to rule Italy. So they made a deal. Hugh traded his kingdom of Burgundy to King Rudolph of the other kingdom of Burgundy, thus forming the united kingdom of Burgundy or Arles, in return for Hugh getting the right to rule Italy undisturbed (by Rudolph at least).

So this is an example of a a king trading a kingdom to another king in return for the second king giving up his claim to a third kingdom.

In the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Sicily were granted to Charles VI, Emperor of the Romans and king of a bunch of kingdoms, and the other kingdom of Sicily was granted to Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, etc., and titular king of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia. In 1720 Victor Amadeus II was forced to exchange kingdoms with Emperor Charles VI, who thus had both kingdoms of Sicily, while Victor Amadeus received the kingdom of Sardinia.

So this is an example of monarchs trading kingdoms.

In 1204 the misdirected Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople, capital of the eastern Roman or "Byzantine" empire. The Crusaders selected a dark horse candidate, Count Baldwin of Flanders to be the new Emperor. Margrave Boniface I of Montferrat, the leader of the crusade, was consoled with the title of vassal King of Thessalonika. A number of rump "Byzantine" states were founded, and the three most powerful such states claimed to be the true Roman empires at various times. And two other allegedly Roman rulers got involved in the struggles for power, the Bulgarian Tsar of the Bulgarians and the Romans and the Turkish Sultan of Rum (Rome).

Thessalonika was gradually conquered by Epirus, the city being captured in 1224. Boniface's son King Demetrius died childless in 1230, and left his claim to the Kingdom to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in his will in 1230. Emperor Frederick granted the claim to Thessalonika to Margrave Boniface II of Montferrat, half nephew of King Demetrius, in 1239.

Constantinople was recaptured by the "Byzantines" in 1261 and Emperor Baldwin II fled. Various popes tried to arrange a new crusade to put the Latin Emperor back on the throne, and "Byzantine" Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos tried to arrange a marriage of his heir Michael IX with Empress Catherine I, heiress of the Latin Empire, in order to avoid the danger of a crusade. He failed, but did marry as his second wife Yolanda of Montferrat in 1284, who brought her family's claim to the Kingdom of Thessalonika with her, and a son of theirs became Margrave of Montferrat when Yolanda's brother died in 1305.

Latin Emperor Baldwin II lost his capital and the lands he directly ruled in 1261, and his remaining vassals apparently didn't pay him much tribute, so he was short of money. And an attempt to reconquer his lands would be very expensive.

So in 1266 Baldwin II sold the right to the Kingdom of Thessalonika to Hugh IV, Duke of Burgundy, even though Margrave William VII of Montferrat already had the rights to the Kingdom of Thessalonika.

Then in 1274 Emperor Philip of Courtenay, son of Baldwin II, granted the rights to the Kingdom of Thessalonika to Philip of Sicily (1255/56-1277), even though Margrave William VII of Montferrat and Duke Robert II of Burgundy already had claims to the Kingdom of Thessalonika.

Philip of Sicily's claim died with him in 1277, William VII's was given to his daughter Yolanda when she married Emperor Andronikos II in 1284, And Duke Odo IV of Burgundy sold his rights to the Kingdom of Thessalonika and the Principality of Achaea to Count Louis of Cleremont, first Duke of Bourbon, in 1320.

And I suppose that it is possible that rights to the Kingdom of Thessalonika were sold to someone else at some time.

IN 1453 the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and the last "Byzantine" Emperor Constantine XI was killed fighting. In 1460 the Ottomans conquered the Morea and Constantine XI's brother Despot Demetrius Palaiologos (c. 1407-1470) submitted to the Sultan. His only known child Helena entered the harem of the Sultan and died in 1469, and Demetrios became a monk before he died.

Despot Thomas Palaiologos (1409-1465), the youngest brother of Constantine XI, fled to western Europe, and was recognized as the claimant to the the "Byzantine" Empire. Thomas's younger son Manuel Palaiologos (1455-1512) lived in Italy for much of his life and then traveled to Constantinople to the court of the Sultan. He sold his rights to the empire to the sultan in return for an estate and a pension. He had a son John who died young, and a son Andrew who converted to Islam.

Andreas Palaiologos (1453-1502), the older son of titular emperor Thomas, succeeded as titular emperor. He sold his rights to the "Byzantine" empire twice, to King Charles VII of France in 1494 and again to King Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Aragon and Castile.

This might not exactly fit the question: Belgian Congo was a personal colony of the Belgian King Leopold II..

From Wikipedia:

After numerous unsuccessful schemes to acquire colonies in Africa and Asia, in 1876 Leopold organized a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society, or the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo. In 1878, under the auspices of the holding company, he hired explorer Henry Stanley to explore and establish a colony in the Congo region. Much diplomatic maneuvering among European nations resulted in the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 regarding African affairs, at which representatives of 14 European countries and the United States recognized Leopold as sovereign of most of the area to which he and Stanley had laid claim. On 5 February 1885, the Congo Free State, an area 76 times larger than Belgium, was established under Leopold II's personal rule and private army, the Force Publique.

  • 7
    It would be an interesting argument whether Leopold II bought the Congo Free State. You could improve your answer by elaborating on the exact circumstances which lead to Leopold II obtaining control of Congo and in what ways he used his own personal wealth to achieve that goal. – Philipp Oct 5 at 12:07
  • The owners of that land clearly were not those European countries but the current inhabitants of the Congo region. No-one seriously considers them to have sold the land - not to put too fine a point on it, they were enslaved. – Graham Oct 6 at 21:16
  • Leopold II was the deadliest colonialist in africa. – Pedro Lobito Oct 7 at 8:46

From http://kingdomofbiffeche.net/history.htm :

Born in the United States, Edward Schafer (...) an active business man (...) was asked by the Roman Catholic Cardinal of St. Louis to form a committee to aid the needy people of Biffeche.
(...) Edward Schafer put together a group that raised money and sent aid to the people of Biffeche.

A group of Roman Catholic people of the Sérér-Mont-Roland tribe (...) transported to the semi-desert of Biffeche (...). They come from the oldest ethnic group in Sénégal, the Sérér (...)

In 1963 they could not settle upon a new King at the time; instead of choosing one of their own people they asked their priest (...). He advised them to choose the person who had helped them the most during their plight. That person was (...) Edward Charles Schafer.

The United States State Department presented no objections to the new arrangement. The 100th King of Biffeche was enthroned as Edward I by the Grace of God, by the Will of Allah, Protected by the Great White Leopard.

While Mr Schafer's actions did not seem motivated by the obtention of regalian power, and even though Biffeche might not be recognized by all as a separate country ; in the end Edward became King as a consequence of the money he collected and spent for the people of the Land.

  • "Biffeche might not be recognized by all as a separate country" seems to me to be one problem. The second is that Schafer didn't exactly purchase the place or use his personal wealth to do so. – Steve Bird Nov 6 at 14:41

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.