THE CRUSADE that E. D. Morel now orchestrated through the Congo Reform Association exerted a relentless, growing pressure on the Belgian, British, and American governments. Almost never has one man, possessed of no wealth, title, or official post, caused so much trouble for the governments of several major countries. Morel knew that officials like Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey would act only "when kicked, and if the process of kicking is stopped, he will do nothing." To this kicking, Morel devoted more than a decade of his life.
In addition to running the Congo Reform Association, Morel continued to spend part of each workday, which sometimes stretched to sixteen or eighteen hours, editing his West African Mail. "People don't seem altogether to realize that—apart from everything else—I turn out a weekly paper," he wrote to a fellow activist, "plus a monthly organ for the C.R.A. whose size sometimes has been very great and would have kept an ordinary individual pretty well busy all the month. It is only because I am an exceptionallyrapid worker that I have been able to do it all."
Another reason Morel could do it all was that he had a devoted wife to run his household. Indeed, he is one of the few people in this entire story who was happily married. Mary Richardson Morel raised their five children and encouraged her husband's cause in every way. She took a particular liking to Casement, agreeing with him that her husband ought to form an organization that focused exclusively on the Congo. As with so many couples of their day, we do not know how many of Morel's memorable achievements should also be credited to her. "I always think of her as part of you," John Holt, his long-time staunch supporter and confidant, wrote him, "the two constituting the Morel of Congo reform."
Morel was not without flaws. He could be bullheaded; he rarely admitted any mistakes; and in his newspaper he ran an occasional picture of himself, enthusiastic reviews of his books, resolutions thanking him for his good work, interviews with himself reprinted from other papers, and an editorial "wish[ing] Mr. Morel 'God-speed' on his journey" when he went abroad to campaign for Congo reform. He sometimes clashed with colleagues who were, he felt, getting too much of the limelight—although seldom with Casement, whom he venerated. Like many enormously productive people, he had spells of depression and self-pity. "My home life is reduced to microscopic proportions.... Personally I am at the end of my tether," he wrote in 1906 to Mark Twain, declaring that he would go on with his Congo work nonetheless, because "those wretched people out there have no-one but us after all. And they have the right to live."
His politics also had limitations. Some of these he shared with most other Europeans of his time, from his faith in the magic of free trade to his belief that African men had a higher sexual drive than white men and could pose a danger to white women. Other quirks were more rooted in his single-minded passion for stopping the atrocities in King Leopold's Congo. The picture Morel gives in his writings of Africans in the Congo before whites arrived is that of Rousseau's idealized Noble Savage: in describing traditional African societies he focuses on what was peaceful and gentle and ignores any brutal aspects—which occasionally included, for example, long before the Force Publique made it the order of the day, cutting off the hands of one's dead enemies.
More important, Morel was so enraged by Leopold's villainy that he ignored his own country's use of forced labor—wide, though far less murderous—in its African colonies, particularly in the east and south. There was nothing inherently wrong with colonialism, he felt, if its administration was fair and just. He believed this to be the case in the British colonies in west Africa, where, to be sure, there was no rubber terror and no massive seizure of all so-called vacant land. In the later stages of his Congo campaign, he even found time to go to Nigeria and write a generally approving book about British rule there.
But whatever his faults, when it came to campaigning against injustice in the Congo, Morel had an unswerving, infectious sense of right and wrong. A superb speaker, he regularly addressed crowds of several thousand people with no notes. Between 1907 and 1909 alone, he spoke at some fifty mass meetings throughout Great Britain. "Sometimes..." he wrote, "I have had bursts of fury ... when some story more abominable than the rest moved me in a special way, and when I should have stopped at very little if any of Leopold's crew had been about.... [I have experienced] exhilaration when I had driven home some good thrust, or when that something or other which it is difficult to name gripped me on the platform and I felt I had a great audience in the hollow of my hand."
Morel considered his movement to be in the grand tradition of such British humanitarian crusades as the righteous outrage provoked by the Turkish massacres of Bulgarians in 1876 and of Armenians in the 1890s. Above all, he saw himself as a moral heir to the antislavery movement. He began his blistering Red Rubber: The Story of the Rubber Slave Trade Flourishing on the Congo in the Year of Grace 1906 with an epigraph from the great American Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison:
The standard of emancipation is now unfurled...
I will not equivocate,
I will not excuse,
I will not retreat a single inch:
And I will be heard,
Posterity will bear testimony that I was right.
The tradition of British radicalism from which Morel came was rooted in the Nonconformist—that is, Protestant, but not Church of England—churches and in the Clapham Sect, the humanitarian evangelical group to which the antislavery leader William Wilberforce had belonged. In the early nineteenth century these humanitarians had focused their zeal on improving the condition of all sorts of oppressed groups: prisoners, factory workers, child laborers, the insane. Theirs, however, was not the from-the-bottom-up politics later adopted by Marxists and trade unionists; it was the top-down reformism of the relatively well-born. They aimed at ending the death penalty, corporal punishment, and cruelty to animals. When they turned their attention overseas, it was to push for the abolition of the slave trade and to send missionaries abroad to uplift the "natives" in the far reaches of the world. (Indeed, it was the Nonconformist churches, especially the Baptists, that sent the British missionaries to the Congo.)
Significantly, Morel's humanitarian political ancestors, unlike his socialist contemporaries, had firmly believed that improving the lot of downtrodden people everywhere was good for business. Better treatment of colonial subjects would "promote the civil and commercial interests of Great Britain...." declared a parliamentary select committee in the 1830s. "Savages are dangerous neighbours and unprofitable customers, and if they remain as degraded denizens of our colonies, they become a burden upon the State."
Such humanitarians never saw themselves as being in conflict with the imperial project—as long as it was British imperialism. "Morally emancipation put the British on a special plane...." as James Morris sums it up in his history of the British Empire. "If so much could be achieved by agitation at home, what might not be done if the moral authority of England were distributed across the earth—to tackle the evils of slavery, ignorance and paganism at source, to teach the simpler peoples the benefits of Steam, Free Trade and Revealed Religion, and to establish not a world empire in the bad Napoleonic sense, but a Moral Empire of loftier intent? So was evolved the chemistry of evangelical imperialism."
This was the tradition in which Morel felt at home, and it was a tradition that perfectly suited his organizational talent. Although without old-school ties to them, he had the knack of making the wealthy, the powerful, and the famous believe they did credit to themselves by supporting his Congo crusade. Month after month, the front page of the Congo Reform Association's periodical carried a full-page portrait photo of a prominent supporter—an earl, a mayor, a member of Parliament, a mustachioed retired colonial governor. After the association's founding in Liverpool, Morel saw to it that the first meeting of the group's executive committee was held in a room secured by a sympathetic M.P. at the House of Commons. Almost every major C.R.A. public meeting after that had at least one bishop on the platform. Having the apparent blessing of both church and state, Morel found that few influential Britons could resist his entreaties to lend their names to the cause of Congo reform.
One of his political limitations was, in fact, a source of his immense success as an organizer. If he had believed, as we might conclude today, that Leopold's rape of the Congo was in part a logical consequence of the very idea of colonialism, of the belief that there was nothing wrong with a country being ruled other than by its own inhabitants, Morel would have been written off as being on the fringe. No one in England would have paid much attention to him. But he did not believe this; he believed with all his heart that Leopold's system of rule constituted a unique form of evil. People in England's ruling circles, therefore, could support his crusade without feeling their own interests threatened.
Yet despite some blind spots, Morel was at the far edge of the humanitarian tradition. His beliefs were implicitly more subversive than he allowed himself to recognize. He saw brutality in the Congo not as a specific imperfection to be wiped out in the way one could wipe out child labor or capital punishment, by passing a law against it, but as part of a complex, deeply embedded "System," as he called it—forced labor plus the massive European takeover of African land. This angle of vision is much closer to Marxism than to uplift-the-downtrodden humanitarianism, although Morel probably never read a word of Marx in his life. He never resolved the conflict between these two ways of seeing the world, and much of the drama of his later life lay in the constant tension between them.
"Morel has never had an equal as organizer and leader of a Dissenting movement," writes the historian A.J.P. Taylor. "He knew exactly where to look for rich sympathizers; and he took money from them without altering the democratic character of [his movement]. Millionaires and factory workers alike accepted his leadership." Among the millionaires were Quakers like the wealthy but plain-living chocolate manufacturer William Cadbury. Subsidies from these supporters kept the West African Mail alive, and it was the newspaper, not the Congo Reform Association, that paid Morel's salary. Paradoxically, Sir Alfred Jones of the Elder Dempster line also invested a little money in the paper, doubtless hoping to soften the attitude of his former employee. But his hopes were in vain; Morel repeatedly attacked Jones without mercy, exposing his doings as Leopold's major British ally. When Jones saw he would have no influence, he pulled his advertising from the paper.
Morel knew exactly how to fit his message to his audience. He reminded British businessmen that Leopold's monopolistic system, copied by France, had shut them out of much Congo trade. To members of the clergy he talked of Christian responsibility and quoted the grim reports from the missionaries. And for all Britons, and their representatives in Parliament, he evoked the widespread though unspoken belief that England had a particular responsibility to make decency prevail in the universe.
One of the more surprising things about the Congo crusade was that, except for forays to speak at meetings, Morel conducted it largely from his study. During the first half of the Congo Reform Association's nine-year lifetime, he didn't even live in London. Until December 1908, the C.R.A.'s head office was in Liverpool; from there and from his home in nearby Hawarden, Morel kept up a voluminous correspondence. In the first six months of 1906, for instance, he wrote 3700 letters. More important, his prodigious output of books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles about the Congo inspired people to write to him. He carefully crosschecked news items for accuracy, studied newspapers and documents from Belgium, and corresponded with government officials, journalists, and traders in Europe and Africa. By 1908, he estimated that he had amassed about twenty thousand letters concerning the Congo. They served as the basis for much of his published work.
Despite his disdain for organized religion, his tone was that of an evangelical preacher. To him, Leopold and his supporters, such as "the reptile Congophile Press of Brussels and Antwerp," personified the Devil; the Congo administration was "a bad and wicked system, inflicting terrible wrongs upon the native races." Morel spoke effectively to the mood of the day because he shared it: the optimism, the boundless confidence of a society that had not yet seen or imagined the world wars, the belief that humankind had the capacity to briskly eradicate all barriers that lay in the path of progress. "Our forefathers smashed the over-sea slave-trade," he declared in his book King Leopold's Rule in Africa, "and we shall root out the modern inland slave-trade on the Congo."
He was eager to raise the Congo reform movement above partisan politics and religious differences. On the speaker's platform for his major events were always M.P.s from the three major parties, clergy from both the Church of England and the Nonconformist churches, and an assortment of right honourables, lord mayors, lord provosts, and other notables. He had a superb sense of how to build up to an event: a large regional Congo protest rally was often preceded by an afternoon meeting with the local mayor and dignitaries at city hall. The mayor would then be on stage that evening. Before the end of 1905, more than sixty mass meetings had adopted a resolution condemning Leopold's rule as a revival of the African slave trade and calling "upon His Majesty's Government to convoke an assembly of the Christian Powers ... in order to devise and put in force a scheme for the good government of the Congo territories." In Liverpool, an audience overflowed an auditorium that seated nearly three thousand and filled two adjoining halls. Cries of "Shame! Shame!" resounded at similar mass meetings throughout England and Scotland.
A master of all the media of his day, Morel made particularly effective use of photography. A central part of almost every Congo protest meeting was a slide show, comprising some sixty vivid photos of life under Leopold's rule; half a dozen of them showed mutilated Africans or their cut-off hands. The pictures, ultimately seen in meetings and the press by millions of people, provided evidence that no propaganda could refute.
Slides also showed charts and graphs estimating Leopold's Congo profits; they even displayed poems, which made up in passion what they lacked in art:
No zeal, no Faith, inspired this Leopold,
Nor any madness of half-splendid birth.
Cool-eyed, he loosed the hounds that rend and slay,
Just that his coffers might be gorged with gold.
Embalm him, Time! Forget him not, O Earth,
Trumpet his name, and flood his deeds with day.
To flood Leopold's deeds with day required that Morel mobilize his fellow journalists. He knew the editors of most of the major British magazines and newspapers, and wrote regularly for many of them, including the most prestigious, the Times. When an editor needed to send a reporter to Belgium or the Congo, Morel always had a candidate to suggest. He engineered "the downfall," he happily claimed, of a Times Brussels correspondent whom he thought too friendly to Leopold. He fed information to sympathetic newspapers in Belgium, and through his connections to the Press Association wire service was able to distribute material worldwide. When the famous American correspondent Richard Harding Davis was sent to Africa by Collier's magazine, he went supplied with Morel's latest findings, and echoed them in what he wrote.
With a powerful boost from Casement's report, the international campaign mounted by Morel reached newspapers all over the world. His carefully kept files contain, for the ten years starting in 1902, 4194 clippings relating to the drive for Congo reform. Nor did he focus on newspapers alone: The author of a 1906 boy's adventure novel, Samba: A Story of the Rubber Slaves of the Congo, thanks C.R.A. officials in his preface "for their kindness in reading the manuscript and revising the proofs of this book, and for many most helpful suggestions and criticisms."
Morel described himself as "Congo possessed." A letter to his Quaker backer William Cadbury in 1906 shows how:
Book. Out this week...[this was Red Rubber]
Glasgow. Lord Provost has summoned a Town's meeting. Shall probably have to go. Am arranging for formation of local CRA.... Any prominent Friends in Glasgow you could drop a note to?
France. A French C.R.A. will be formed this month....
Rising tide. Demands for literature literally coming in shoals. ... Twelve to 20 letters per day for literature, information, etc.
Like the Abolitionists before him, Morel understood that every national organization had to have local branches, so the C.R.A. had "auxiliaries" throughout England and Scotland. These groups organized their members to send funds, to write to their representatives in Parliament, and to produce an unending flow of letters to local newspapers. A Ladies' Branch had two representatives on the C.R.A. Executive Committee. Through such means, Morel applied steady pressure on the British government. He and his supporters never doubted that if only Britain were to act, it could force Leopold to mend his ways or could wrest the Congo entirely from his grasp.
The most effective spokespeople of all, Morel knew, were those with firsthand knowledge. Starting in 1906, the returned Baptist missionaries the Reverend John Harris and his wife, Alice Seeley Harris—she had taken almost all the photographs Morel used—began working full time for the association. The Harrises' zeal matched Morel's. In their first two years with the C.R.A., one or both of them spoke in public on six hundred occasions. A woman in a large audience in Wales was so moved that she handed Alice Harris her jewels to be sold for the benefit of the movement. The Harrises displayed chicottes and shackles, and throughout England they led church congregations in special hymns on "Congo Sundays." To shocked audiences, they described personal experiences like this one, which John Harris later put down on paper:
Lined up ... are 40 emaciated sons of an African village, each carrying his little basket of rubber. The toll of rubber is weighed and accepted, but ... four baskets are short of the demand. The order is brutally short and sharp—Quickly the first defaulter is seized by four lusty "executioners," thrown on the bare ground, pinioned hands and feet, whilst a fifth steps forward carrying a long whip of twisted hippo hide. Swiftly and without cessation the whip falls, and the sharp corrugated edges cut deep into the flesh—on back, shoulders and buttocks blood spurts from a dozen places. In vain the victim twists in the grip of the executioners, and then the whip cuts other parts of the quivering body—and in the case of one of the four, upon the most sensitive part of the human frame. The "hundred lashes each" left four inert bodies bloody and quivering on the shimmering sand of the rubber collecting post.
Following hard upon this decisive incident was another. Breakfast was just finished when an African father rushed up the veranda steps of our mud house and laid upon the ground the hand and foot of his little daughter, whose age could not have been more than 5 years.
As Morel's campaign surged forward in Europe, frantic messages flowed from Brussels to the Congo capital of Boma and from there to the most remote outposts. Near the British mission station where the Harrises had been working, the state posted a deputy public prosecutor. The governor general wrote to him:
The main reason for your being placed at Baringa is to keep the government regularly informed of everything of interest in the Baringa region concerning the missionaries' agitation.... [It] will probably be necessary for you to have several blacks working for you who could gather useful information in the villages of the region, especially when the missionaries go traveling.
I authorize you to hire five workers towards this end; I have given instructions to the commissioner-general of the Equator district to furnish you the necessary funds. You will use the funds as seems best to you, whether in hiring black workers ... or in giving presents to certain natives living in the villages who can keep you up to date....
It goes without saying that this must be done with the greatest discretion.
In the following months, the public prosecutor at Boma wrote to his deputy at Baringa asking him to find out what plans were to be hatched at a forthcoming meeting of Protestant missionaries. Some weeks later, this was followed by a collection of seven months' worth of Morel's West African Mail and the news that further issues would be forwarded as soon as they arrived at the capital:
I particularly draw your attention to the importance for the Government in noting all the inaccuracies in the missionaries' accusations, in order to show the bad faith that inspires their attacks against the State. It is important that each of these issues ... be the object of your most careful examination, and of a report that you send me of inaccuracies....
As the attacks on Leopold mounted, the regime steadily increased its scrutiny of Morel's allies in the Congo. None was at more risk than Hezekiah Andrew Shanu.
Britain had established its colonies in Africa long before Leopold, and in its early days the Congo state turned to these territories to recruit experienced laborers, soldiers, and other personnel. Shanu was born and educated in what is today Nigeria and became a schoolteacher. In 1884, he began working for Leopold's regime; one task was to recruit soldiers from his homeland for the Force Publique. When he became a clerk and French-English translator on the governor general's staff at Boma, he brought his wife, brother-in-law, and other members of his family from Lagos to live in the Congo. In 1893, he left state service to go into business for himself. The following year he went to Belgium, where he ordered himself a piano and a steam launch, and put his son in school. In all countries with colonies there is a ready audience for grateful subjects, and Shanu was received with much enthusiasm when he lectured on the Congo and thanked the Belgians for their good works. One newspaper noted approvingly that Shanu "expresses himself in French with the greatest correctness;" another patronizingly remembered him as "a striking example of the perfectibility of the negro race." An august-looking man, Shanu wore a starched white collar on public occasions, with the ribbon of a Congo state medal on his jacket lapel.
After visits to England, France, and Germany, Shanu returned to the Congo and, in a remarkable move in this state set up by Europeans for their own benefit, became a successful businessman. In Boma, he opened a well-stocked store selling canned food and other supplies from Europe; in addition he operated a tailor's shop and laundry, and ran small lodging houses both in Boma and the railhead town of Matadi. He enjoyed photography, and had some of his pictures published in the Brussels magazine Le Congo Illustré. When he leased a house he owned to an early British vice consul, he made so great an impression that the man recommended Shanu to the Foreign Office as his replacement during a home leave. Shanu was also respected by his former employers. During a Force Publique mutiny at Boma in 1900, state officials gratefully accepted his help in preventing the rebellion from spreading to West Africans working in the town. He even offered to take up arms against the mutineers. "Monsieur Shanu, in these troubled moments, has given proof of his sincere loyalty to the State," wrote a high Congo official.
Up to this point Shanu had thrown in his lot completely with the Congo's rulers. But something—we do not know what—caused a change of heart, and he moved into the camp of Leopold's enemies. For a black man living in the Congo capital, this was a dangerous step. One sign of his changed attitude came when he apparently supplied Roger Casement with information about the mistreatment of West African workers in the Congo. In turn, it appears that Casement told Shanu about the campaign Morel was mounting in Europe. While Casement was in the interior in 1903 making his investigation, Shanu sent a check to Morel, asking for copies of his writings. Delighted to have an African ally right in the enemy's capital, Morel immediately wrote back, sending Shanu a subscription to his newspaper, a book, and some pamphlets. "I do not know what your views on the Congo question are," he wrote, "but if they agree with mine, I shall be very glad if you can let me have information from time to time." Some weeks later Morel wrote again, suggesting that Shanu could avoid catching the eye of the Boma postal censor by addressing his mail to Morel's father-in-law in Devon. Before long Shanu found some useful information to send.
After the protests against Leopold's rule began in Europe, the Congo state had periodically made a big show of prosecuting low-ranking white officials for atrocities against Africans. Occasionally the convicted men were sentenced to prison terms, although most were released after serving only a fraction of their time. But trials can be risky for repressive governments; they can put damaging material on the public record. Like other small-fry scapegoats in tyrannies the world over, the defendants accused of brutal massacres in the Congo usually said they were only following orders—and often could produce witnesses or documents to prove the claim. The state therefore took care to keep the transcripts of these trials secret, and for some years virtually nothing leaked out. Morel, knowing the evidence from these trials would be a source of ammunition for the Congo reform campaign, asked Shanu to find out what he could.
One especially revealing case came to a climax in early 1904. The main defendant, a trigger-happy rubber-company agent named Charles Caudron, was accused of several crimes, including the murder of at least 122 Africans. In part, he was put on trial so that the state could claim it was upholding human rights, but the authorities had other motives as well. Caudron had offended the Force Publique commander in his area, who thought he was the one to run any military operations there. And he had spread his reign of terror so wildly that he had disrupted rubber production in a highly profitable district.
The trial revealed much about government orders condoning the holding of hostages. Furthermore, the appeals court lowered Caudron's sentence because of "extenuating circumstances." Invoking the familiar lazy-native theme, the court referred to the "great difficulties under which [Caudron] found himself, accomplishing his mission in the midst of a population absolutely resistant to any idea of work, and which respects no other law than force, and knows no other means of persuasion than terror."
Shanu got hold of some of the court documents and secretly sent them to Morel, who published them immediately, claiming that this was "the most damaging blow ever received by the Congo State." That was an overstatement, but the material was indeed damaging. And what was most embarrassing in it came from the mouths of Congo state officials themselves. It caught the eye of the British Foreign Office and was reprinted in an official report.
Shanu's next contribution to the anti-Congo campaign, however, ended tragically. He acted as liaison between Morel and a Congo state official, the police chief of Boma, who claimed to have information to give or sell to the reformers. But the man turned treacherous; he attacked Morel in the Belgian press and exposed Shanu as Morel's accomplice. Morel, who considered Shanu a man "of unblemished reputation and of great courage," feared for Shanu's life and urged the British consul in Boma to do all he could to protect him. He sent offers of help to Shanu and anxiously asked for news. When it came, it was not good. Because Shanu was a British subject, the Congo authorities did not want to risk an international incident by arresting him. Instead, they harassed him unremittingly, even rescinding the medal he had been awarded for his work for the state. They then ordered all state employees not to patronize his businesses. That guaranteed that these would fail. In July 1905 Hezekiah Andrew Shanu committed suicide.
At the turn of the century, the Élysée-Palace Hotel, near the Arc de Triomphe, was among the most elegant in Paris. One day a guest happened to notice a young woman, also staying at the hotel, whose name, like other details of her past, remains in question: it was Caroline, or perhaps Blanche, Delacroix, or perhaps Lacroix. Although still a teenager, Caroline was the mistress of Antoine-Emmanuel Durrieux, a former officer in the French Army. He attempted to support them both by betting on horse races. When his betting luck ran low, it appears, Durrieux also acted as Caroline's pimp. Their lodgings at the Elysee-Palace were a useful base for these operations, but they frequently left bills unpaid. An unexpected solution to these troubles appeared when a woman approached Caroline at the hotel and said, "Madame, I am sent to you by a gentleman who has noticed you. He is a very high personage but his exalted position obliges me to withhold his name."
A meeting was arranged for the following day. According to Caroline's not entirely reliable memoirs, Durrieux, in a top hat and pearl-gray gloves, binoculars hanging around his neck, left for the racetrack unawares. (More likely, he was fully aware and had been paid off in advance.) Caroline went to a secluded room in a building on the nearby rue Lord Byron. The high personage arrived, accompanied by two aides, who took seats on either side of Caroline and began asking her questions. "It was not really a conversation; it was rather a series of trite questions asked in rotation first by one, then by the other.... These questions obliged me to turn my head first to the right, then to the left. I answered them without having to think, their only aim, as I learned later, being to show off my two profiles to the mute personage." After looking over his new prize, the high personage smiled behind his beard and pronounced himself pleased. He invited Caroline to travel to Austria with him, and the next day a large sum of money arrived, as well as some empty trunks for Caroline to fill with new dresses of her choice. Her admirer had found the way to her heart, for she liked nothing better in the world than to buy clothes. Caroline was sixteen; King Leopold II was sixty-five.
Then, as now, nothing royal stayed secret long. Courtiers gossiped, servants whispered, and news of the scandalous romance soon filled the press of Europe. Leopold had long had a well-known taste for extremely young women, but losing his head completely over a sixteen-year-old call girl was a different matter entirely. His new mistress was young enough to be his granddaughter. Leopold's chaotic family life and sexual tastes are far more than incidental to the Congo story. Ironically, they probably lost him more popularity in Belgium* than any of the cruelties he perpetrated in Africa. This, in turn, meant that few of his people were willing to rally behind him when he became the target of an international protest movement.
The king's personal foibles also turned him into an irresistible target for a world press stirred up by Morel. The large beard, now turned white, made him a cartoonist's dream. His bulky, cloaked figure stalked through the pages of Europe's newspapers: his beard dripping blood, his hands clutching shrunken heads from the Congo, his eyes hungrily devouring the dancers of a corps de ballet. He sits down to dine on a severed African head garnished with bayonets. Tsar Nicholas II complains that his knout is ineffective, so his cousin Leopold, dressed in a tiger skin, recommends the chicotte. Leopold's rejected daughters sadly beg their father for Caroline's cast-off clothing. Leopold and the Sultan of Turkey share a good laugh and a bottle of wine while comparing the massacre of the Congolese to that of the Armenians.
Several years into the king's liaison with his new love, his long-suffering wife, Marie-Henriette, lover of horses and music, died. From this point on, the king's infatuation with Caroline became flagrantly open. He installed her in a grand mansion, the Villa Vanderborght, across the way from the royal complex at Laeken, and built a pedestrian bridge over the street so that he could slip across at will for visits.
He was wildly jealous of Caroline, apparently with reason; he once caught her in the Brussels villa with Durrieux, the former officer from whom he thought he had stolen her. Durrieux, whom Caroline tried to pass off as her brother, seems to have shown up on other occasions as well. One newspaper informed its readers that Caroline and Durrieux had secret electric bells installed in all her residences so that servants could warn them if Leopold was approaching.
After she moved to Brussels, Caroline continued to make frequent trips to Paris to visit her dressmaker and her hatmaker. (During this period, she once bragged, she bought three million francs' worth of dresses at a single store, Callot's.) When she complained to the king that the evening express train back to Brussels departed too early and left her too little shopping time, Leopold, rather than risk her staying in Paris and out of his sight overnight, spoke to the head of the railway. From then on the train left an hour later.
Caroline quickly learned to make use of Leopold's quirks, such as his hypochondria. "One day when I needed some free hours for myself I obtained them by sneezing. How many times have I kept intriguing women away from the sovereign simply by telling him that they had colds!"
Leopold took Caroline with him everywhere. Ostensibly, she traveled incognito, but with an expanding retinue of servants this became difficult. Shocking everyone, she accompanied the king to London in 1901 for the funeral of his cousin Queen Victoria. The king did not entirely lose his interest in other young women—in Brussels, Paris, and elsewhere, he periodically sent his valet or another intermediary to look for candidates who met his detailed physical specifications—but Caroline was in a different category. The two of them seemed to trumpet, rather than disguise, their difference in age: she called him Très Vieux and he called her Très Belle. To the extent that someone like Leopold was capable of love, this teenage prostitute proved to be the love of his life.
But it was not only Leopold's liaison with Caroline that lost him popularity with Belgians. It began to dawn on his people that their country was gaining little financial benefit from the Congo: the bulk of the profits were going straight into Caroline's dresses and villas and, on a far larger scale, into the king's construction projects. Since Leopold had little taste for good works, literature, or drama—and a well-known dislike for music—he spent his money mostly on building things, the bigger the better.
For years the king had pled poverty, but as his triumphal arches, museums, and monuments sprouted around the country, he could keep up the pretense no longer. Belgians were even more upset when it became clear that their king was spending much of his newfound wealth abroad. He was soon one of the largest landowners on the French Riviera, where he built a dock for his fifteen-hundred-ton yacht, the Alberta, and had architects from Nice design and build a series of splendid villas. His property included most of the land at the end of the scenic fingertip of Cap Ferrat, then, as now, among the most expensive seaside real estate in the world.
On his young mistress Leopold showered castles and mansions. When she became pregnant, he and the French government split the cost of building a new road near her villa at Cap Ferrat, in order to give her carriage a smoother ride. When her son was born, he was given the title of Duke of Tervuren, and she became the Baroness de Vaughan. The king took her around the Mediterranean on his yacht, but the Belgian public loathed her, and her carriage was once stoned in the streets of Brussels. In the minds of Europeans, the king's public and private lives by now were wholly entwined. When Caroline's second son was born, he had a deformed hand. A cartoon in Punch showed Leopold holding the newborn child, surrounded by Congolese corpses with their hands cut off. The caption read: VENGEANCE PROM ON HIGH.
How did Leopold feel about being the target of such wrath? Clearly, it exasperated him; he once wrote to an aide, "I will not let myself be soiled with blood or mud." But the tone he sounded was always of annoyance or self-pity, never of shame or guilt. Once, when he saw a cartoon of himself in a German newspaper slicing off hands with his sword, he snorted, according to a military aide, and said, "Cut off hands—that's idiotic! I'd cut off all the rest of them, but not the hands. That's the one thing I need in the Congo!" Small wonder that when the king jokingly introduced Prime Minister Auguste Beernaert to a gathering as "the greatest cynic in the kingdom," Beernaert replied, deadpan, that he would not dare take precedence over His Majesty.