I was browsing the internet and came across the post Which Dictator Killed the Most People. It seems that Leopold 2 had a lot of people killed. This got me thinking, I don't see for example heirs of Hitler (or related to him) rule Germany, that would be absurd. Though in case of Leopold 2, his lineage is still the royal family currently in Belgium. How is this possible ? Is it because they are not direct descendants ? Or are these killings not comparable to other killings under dictators ?

I know the information I saw is not from the history books and so on. I don't know a lot about history, normally I'm not even remotely interested in this stuff, though this I find very strange and intriguing. If someone could shed some light and clarify what I am missing ?

  • I think, it is very hard to guess the correct numbers in these situations. These guys didn't like the correct statistics for their crimes. But I do remember the info on Leopold II's genocide in Belgian Congo in our history books at school.
    – Gangnus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:21

4 Answers 4


As a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congo_Free_State#Humanitarian_disaster - which is a reason why Leopold was put in the "ranking " you've pasted.
There's a simple reason Belgium is still a monarchy: because there was no political reason for changing the state of affairs - this idea did not occur neither to public opinion nor to international community (other states' diplomacy) of that time. What's more, as a King of Belgians, Leopold is generally regarded positively. Also after his death, there never was a need for republic, Belgians were content enough with their royalty. And why did Leopold got away with all these atrocities?

They happened in Africa, in wild, no-man's land. What would be the legal base for the prosecution? What's more, to organize the investigation and trial, unprecedented diplomatic action would have needed to be taken, action for which you'd need approval of diplomacies of all other colonial powers. None of these diplomacies did ever conceive such idea - most of the colonial states were monarchies - and who except the revolutionaries have ever put the kings on trials? Putting things simply, all European monarchs are related to each other, in the monarchical times it was simply unthinkable to organize such a lawsuit for a king.

So summing up:

  1. Belgium is still a monarchy, because Belgians were always content enough with their monarchs (despite the atrocities commited in the overseas collonies).
  2. Leopold was never held responsible for Congo disaster because:
    • there was no legal basis for accusing him of anything,
    • other states diplomacies had no reason to trouble him
  • Thank you for your answer. It still baffles me to be honest, but then again, there are still a lot of atrocities happening in the current world ... why bother with the past it seems. Jan 11, 2013 at 20:47
  • I'd rather say that it's been common through the ages that crimes performed by politicians/kings/leaders, which were part of politics/state expansion were left unpunished, if the King/leader did not lose a war that would dispose him of power. Leopold is just one of many cases (hoever quite an interesting one).
    – soliloquyy
    Jan 11, 2013 at 21:20
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    You could add that Congo was at that time a personal property of Leopold II and had nothing to do with Belgium.
    – Yves
    May 21, 2013 at 20:07

The killings to which they are doubtless referring occurred as part of his ownership of the Congo Free State. They all happened in Africa, and the deaths seem to have been the result of a rather abusive form of slave labor that was employed to keep productivity there high. The wikipedia page says that estimates range from 2 to 14 million deaths, but there's really no certianty involved in those numbers, as no records were kept, and Congo in the 19th century wasn't eactly the kind of place prone to gather census figures.

However, this was all completely aside from the fact that Leopold happened to be the king of a European nation. The CFS was owned by Leopold personally, and the profits went to enrich himself, not his country.

That particular graphic seems to have taken a very high estimate and used it as an absolute number. If they did that with everybody on the list, I suppose you can at least get a good relative sense, but still I find that a little dishonest.

If you truly "don't know a lot about history", there is one thing I'd like you to take away from this: be careful, because everybody has an angle. History is little better than politics in this regard.

  • Ok, though still it is the person ... Leopold who is responsible for those acts, regardless if he was King or not. I personally don't think that the fact it was a privately executed action, shouldn't affect the monarchy. I would be surprised that the other nations & the people of Belgium would allow the family of Leopold rein the country. I can't imagine I'm the only person thinking this way, that because it was done privately that it does not have an affect on being a rule of a nation. Jan 11, 2013 at 19:05
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    @Ojtwist Actually they did not, after growing international criticism the Belgian government took over the rule of Congo in 1908. Article 3 of the new Colonial Charter of 18 October 1908 established that: “Nobody can be forced to work on behalf of and for the profit of companies or privates”.
    – Jeroen K
    Feb 10, 2014 at 18:01

My relatives are Belgian, and you might want to note that they are very fond of their current monarch. The question seems a bit insensitive.

Putting that aside, why would you end a monarchy because one of the monarchs performed atrocities? What relationship is there between the monarch's morality and the legitimacy of the monarchy? Would you end the US government if one of the presidents were discovered to have colluded with press to deceive the American public about his fitness to rule (Roosevelt), or if the President's cabinet had conspired to fix the outcome of the Electoral College (Washington), or if the President invited a foreign power to establish armed forces inside the United States with the goal of overthrowing the government (Jefferson)?

I think if we explore any royal lineage we'll find some monsters; Leopold may be a bit in the extreme, but StackExchange has recently examined Henry V. I thought I'd find other SE examples, but a quick search didn't reveal any. (Ivan the Terrible comes to mind). Most royal lines also include a few heroes. Leopold III's decision to remain in Belgium during the Nazi occupation comes to mind, or Baudoin's day long abdication to avoid a personal crisis over abortion rights. Please note that I'm not trying to assert any sense of scale or comparison, nor am I trying to defend Leopold II in any way.

Ultimately the legitimacy of a royal line does not depend on the morality of the predecessors. (Discussion of what constitutes legitmacy of a royal line is probably out of scope for SE).

  • 6
    "Legitimacy of a royal line"? Clearly, it is necessarily defined by strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords.
    – DVK
    Jan 11, 2013 at 19:37
  • 2
    Speaking the truth is not insensitive - Leopold is guilty of mass murder whether or not your relatives are fond of his dynasty. Feb 14, 2014 at 0:35
  • @MarkC.Wallace Nowhere in the OP or further posts do I see a claim that the current king should be deposed. The OP is asking why the same dynasty is still around. I took that to mean, why was the monarchy not deposed during Leopold II, or right afterwards? Why was the monarchy not changed? Instead the current monarchy is still there. At least, that is how I read the OP.
    – DrZ214
    Dec 8, 2016 at 2:23

"The gentleman will never notices what happens on the backyard of another gentleman". The victims were not Europeans, so they were not taken into account. Leopild II was not alone - all colonial powers behaved the same. Vietnam, Boer republics, Sudan and so on.

But Leopold was not a dictator. He was a constitutional monarch and the quilt is on the whole nation and its elite, of course. So, it is not as if he alone killed or even ordered to kill these 15mil. personally.

If at the end of XIX cent the killing of blacks were considered a crime, it would be very probable that Belgians would accuse their king of being a cruel dictator - in order not to be accused themselves. But the simply didn't have any need in it. So they let the dynasty be.

As for the second reason, Belgians won. All crimes are timed out very fast, when it is convinient for winners. And who would ask for the opinion of these, who lost? At maximum, to make them quiet, the history would be cottected and recalling of unconvenient truth would be considered as "a bit insensitive". Excellent formulation, really!

What were the numbers of victims of British and French colonizators? I think, it was Leopold there instead of Victoria, for example, only because Belgium is such a small country.

  • 1
    You have a very valid point here, which I wanted to make myself at some stage, but you've beat me to it: a state-sponsored crime whose victims were black Africans was not likely to rouse much ire in 19th century Europe. However, this does not mean that all colonial regimes were vicious or murderous in the same measure; it may well be that Leopold is responsible for more deaths. Jan 14, 2013 at 14:47
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    But Leopold was not a dictator. He was a constitutional monarch and the guilt is on the whole nation and its elite, of course. That's an oversimplification, until today, it is unconstitutional by Belgian law to even accuse the king of anything. And nation being guilty for the deeds of its king (appointed and legitimated not-quite-so-democratically) - I cannot agree with this statement. However, I agree - as it was about killing Africans somewhere far far away, European public opinion did not care too much
    – soliloquyy
    Jan 14, 2013 at 14:53
  • @FelixGoldberg From my school program I remember a witness description of mass murder of a whole village in Vietnam about at 1860-ties. And German genocide of some african ethnics. (Herero and Hottentots). And what about Indian wars in USA? With the use of biological weapons?
    – Gangnus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:21
  • @soliloquyy Thank you for the info. I have rephrased a sentence in the post. But sorry, even such autocratic monarch as Russians ones were not dictators. There were some laws above them. (about marriage or throne heirs, for example) So, they were not dictators, as I see it.
    – Gangnus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:23
  • 1
    One interesting example from Russia. Kyrgyzs lived on Yenisey river till 16th century. And migrated to nowadays Kyrgyzstan to escape from Russians. To be again conquered by them in 19th Cent.
    – Gangnus
    Jan 14, 2013 at 15:27

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