Source: Ethiopian Dynasty
Sahle Maryam – Menelik II (throne name)
9 March 1889 – 12 December 1913
Coronation: 3 November 1889
Data di nascita: 17 agosto 1844, Scioa
Data di morte: 12 dicembre 1913, Addis Abeba
Genitori: Haile Melekot
Figli: Zauditù I d’Etiopia
Coniuge: Taitù Batùl (s. 1883–1913), Befana Gatchew (s. 1865–1882),Altash Tewodros (s. 1864–1865)
Emperor Menelik II , baptized as Sahle Maryam (17 August 1844 – 12 December 1913), was Negus of Shewa (1866–89), then Nəgusä Nägäst of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death. At the height of his internal power and external prestige, the process of territorial expansion and creation of the modern empire-state had been completed by 1898. Ethiopia was transformed under Nəgusä Nägäst Menelik: the major signposts of modernization were put in place. Externally, his victory over the Italians colonists had earned him great fame: following Adwa, recognition of Ethiopia’s independence by external powers was expressed in terms of diplomatic representation at the court of Menelik and delineation of Ethiopia’s boundaries with the adjacent colonies. Menelik II is considered an African icon and one of the most powerful black persons in history.
Abeto Menelik (Sahle Maryam) was born in Angolela, near Debre Birhan, Shewa. He was the son of Negus Haile Melekot of Shewa andWoizero Ijigayehu. Woizero Ijigayehu was a lady in the household of Haile Melekot’s grandmother, the formidable Woizero Zenebework, widow of Merid Azmatch Wossen Seged, and mother of King Sahle Selassie of Shewa. Most sources indicate that while no marriage took place between Haile Melekot and Woizero Ijigayehu, Sahle Selassie ordered his grandson legitimized.
Prior to his death in 1855, Negus Haile Melekot named Menelik as successor to the throne of Shewa. Shortly after Haile Melekot died, Menelik was taken prisoner by Nəgusä Nägäst Tewodros II. Following Nəgusä Nägäst Tewodros II’s conquest of Shewa, he had young Sahle Maryam transferred to his mountain stronghold of Magdala. Still, Tewodros treated the young prince well. He even offered him the hand of his daughter Altash Tewodros in marriage, which Menelik accepted.
Upon Menelik’s imprisonment, his uncle, Haile Mikael, was appointed as Shum of Shewa by Nəgusä Nägäst Tewodros II with the title of Meridazmach. However, Meridazmach Haile Mikael rebelled against Tewodros, resulting in his being replaced by the non-royal Ato Bezabeh as Shum. However, Ato Bezabeh in turn then rebelled against the Emperor and proclaimed himself Negus of Shewa. Although the Shewan royals imprisoned at Magdala had been largely complacent as long as a member of their family ruled over Shewa, this usurpation by a commoner was not palatable to them. They plotted the escape of Menelik from Magdala; with the help of Mohammed Ali and Queen Worqitu of Wollo, he escaped from Magdala the night of 1 July 1865, abandoning his wife, and returned to Shewa. Enraged, Emperor Tewodros slaughtered 29 Oromo hostages then had 12 Amhara notables beaten to death with bamboo rods.
King of Shewa
Bezabeh’s attempt to raise an army against Menelik failed miserably; thousands of Shewans rallied to the flag of the son of Negus Haile Melekot and even Bezabeh’s own soldiers deserted him for the returning prince. Abeto Menelik entered Ankober and proclaimed himself Negus. While Negus Menelik reclaimed his ancestral Shewan crown, he also laid claim to the Imperial throne, as a direct descendant male line of Nəgusä Nägäst Lebna Dengel. However, he made no overt attempt to assert this claim during this time; Marcus interprets his lack of decisive action not only to Menelik’s lack of confidence and experience, but that “he was emotionally incapable of helping to destroy the man who had treated him as a son.” Not wishing to take part in the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, he allowed his rival Kassai to benefit with gifts of modern weapons and supplies from the British. Afterwards other challenges—a revolt amongst the Wollo to the north, the intrigues of his next wife Baffana to replace him with her choice of ruler, military failures against the Arsi Oromo to the south east—kept Menelik from directly confronting Kassai until after his rival had brought an Abuna from Egypt who crowned him Nəgusä Nägäst Yohannes IV.
Submission to Yohannes
Eventually Menelik acquiesced to the superior position of Yohannes and, on 20 March 1878, Menelik “approached Yohannes on foot. He was carrying a rock on his neck and his face was down in the traditional form of submission. However, very aware of how precarious his own position was, Yohannes recognized Menelik as Negus of Shewa and gave him numerous presents which included four cannons, several hundred modern Remington rifles, and ammunition for both.
On 10 March 1889, Emperor Yohannes was killed in a war against the dervishes during the Battle of Gallabat (Matemma). With his dying breaths, Yohannes declared his natural son, Dejazmach Mengesha Yohannes, as his heir. On 25 March, upon hearing of the death of Yohannes, Negus Menelik immediately proclaimed himself as Nəgusä Nägäst.
The succession now lay between Mengesha Yohannes of Tigray and Menelik of Shewa. Menelek argued that while the family of Yohannes IV claimed descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba through females of the dynasty, his own claim was based on uninterrupted direct male lineage which made the claims of the House of Shewa equal to those of the elder Gondar line of the dynasty. In the end, Menelik was able to obtain the allegiance of a large majority of the Ethiopian nobility. On 3 November 1889, Menelik was consecrated and crowned as Nəgusä Nägäst before a glittering crowd of dignitaries and clegy. He was crowned by Abuna Mattewos, Bishop of Shewa, at the Church of Mary on Mount Entoto.
The newly consecrated and crowned Nəgusä Nägäst Menelik II quickly toured the north in force. He received the submission of the local officials in Lasta, Yejju, Gojjam, Welo, and Begemder.
Menelik, and later his daughter Zauditu, would be the last Ethiopian monarchs who could claim uninterrupted direct male descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (both Lij Iyasu and Emperor Haile Selassie were in the female line, Iyasu through his mother Shewarega Menelik, and Haile Selassie through his paternal grandmother, Tenagnework Sahle Selassie).
His reign as emperor
In April 1889, while claiming the throne against Mengesha Yohannes, Menelik reached at Wuchale (Uccialli in Italian) in Wollo province a treaty with Italy, putting the northern province of Eritrea temporarily under the Italian protection. Most of the highland area of this province was part of Abyssinian kingdoms for hundreds of years under the title of Medri-Bahri (Land of the Sea), consisting of the districts of Hamasien, Akele-Guzay, and Seraye. It was also referred to as Merab Melash, meaning the “Land Beyond the River”. The river was the boundary that separated the two northern Abyssinian provinces; Medri-Bahri and Tigrai.
Menelik signed the Treaty of Wuchale with the Italians on May 2, 1889. Controversy soon emerged on the interpretation of article 17 of the treaty. While the Amharic text reads that Menelik could, if he wished, call upon the services of the Italian authorities in his communications with other powers, the Italian version made this obligatory, thereby making Eritrea in effect a protectorate of Italy.
Emperor Menelik denounced it and demanded that the Italian version be changed. Negotiations failed, so Menelik renounced the treaty, leading Italy to declare war and invade from Eritrea. After defeating the Italians at Amba Alagi and Mekele, Menelik inflicted an even greater defeat on them, at Adwa on 1 March 1896, forcing them to capitulate. A treaty was signed at Addis Ababa recognizing the absolute sovereign independence of Ethiopia.
Menelik II can be named as father for modern Ethiopia. He was a russophile because he thought only Russia could be the main ally of his policy of integration of Ethiopia by reason of necessity to counteract the British colonial expansion and sabotage against integration, starting with the war against the British (1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, theft of Kebra Nagast and death of Tewodros II).
During the visit of a Russian diplomatic and military mission in 1893, Menelik II concluded a strong alliance with that country. As a result of that alliance, from 1893–1913, Russia sponsored the visits of thousands of advisers and volunteers to Ethiopia. Two friendships that evolved from these visits were friendships between Menelik II and Alexander Bulatovich and also between Menelek II and Nikolay Gumilyov the great poet.
Menelik had in 1898 crushed a rebellion by Ras Mengesha Yohannes (who died in 1906). He directed his efforts thenceforth to the consolidation of his authority, and in a certain degree, to the opening up of his country to western civilization. Menelik’s clemency to Ras Mangasha, whom he compelled to submit and then made hereditary Prince of his native Tigray, was ill repaid by a long series of revolts by that prince. Menelek focused much of his energy on development and modernization of his country after this threat to his throne was firmly ended. He had granted in 1894 a concession for the building of a railway to his capital from the French port of Djibouti but, alarmed by a claim made by France in 1902 to the control of the line in Ethiopian territory, he stopped for four years the extension of the railway beyond Dire Dawa. When in 1906 France, the United Kingdom and Italy came to an agreement on the subject, granting control to a joint venture corporation, Menelek officially reiterated his full sovereign rights over the whole of his empire.
Developments during Menelik’s reign
Menelik II was fascinated by modernity, and like Tewodros II before him, had a keen ambition to introduce Western technological and administrative advances into Ethiopia. The Russian support for Ethiopia led to the advent of a Russian Red Cross mission. The Russian mission was a military mission conceived as medical support for the Ethiopian troops. It arrived in Addis Ababa some three months after Menilek’s Adwa victory, and then the first hospital was created in Ethiopia. Following the rush by the major powers to establish diplomatic relations following the Ethiopian victory at Adwa, more and more westerners began to travel to Ethiopia looking for trade, farming, hunting and mineral exploration concessions. Menelik II founded the first modern bank in Ethiopia, the Bank of Abyssinia, introduced the first modern postal system, signed the agreement and initiated work that established the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway with the French, introduced electricity to Addis Ababa, as well as the telephone, telegraph, the motor car and modern plumbing. He attempted unsuccessfully to introduce coinage to replace the Maria Theresa thaler.
According to one persistent tale, Menelik heard about the modern method of executing criminals using electric chairs during the 1890s, and ordered 3 for his kingdom. When the chairs arrived, Menelik learnt they would not work, as Ethiopia did not yet have an electric power industry. Rather than waste his investment, Menelik used one of the chairs as his throne, sending another to his “second” (Lique Mekwas) Abate Ba-Yalew. Recent research, however, has cast significant doubt on this story, and suggested it was invented by a Canadian journalist during the 1930s.
During a particularly devastating famine caused by Rinderpest early in his reign, Menelik personally went out with a hand-held hoe to furrow the fields to show that there was no shame in plowing fields by hand without oxen, something Ethiopian highlanders had been too proud to consider previously. He also forgave taxes during this particularly severe famine.
Later in his reign, Menelik established the first Cabinet of Ministers to help in the administration of the Empire, appointing trusted and widely respected nobles and retainers to the first Ministries. These ministers would remain in place long after his death, serving in their posts through the brief reign of Lij Iyasu and into the reign of Empress Zauditu. They played a key role in deposing Lij Iyasu.
Private life and death
In 1864, Menelik married Altash Tewodros, whom he divorced in 1865; the marriage produced no children. In 1865, he married Befana Gatchew, whom he divorced in 1882; the marriage produced no children. Finally, in 1883, he married Taytu Betul, who remained his wife until his death. From 1906, for all intents and purposes, Taytu Betul ruled in Menelik’s stead during his infirmity.
Woizero Altash Tewodros was a daughter of Emperor Tewodros II and the first wife of Menelik II. She and Menelik were married during the time that Menelik was held captive by Tewodros. The marriage ended when Menelik escaped captivity abandoning her. She was subsequently remarried to Dejazmatch Bariaw Paulos of Adwa.
Woizero Bafena Gatchew was married to Menelik for seventeen years from 1865 to 1882. Her brother was Zeka Gatchew, the first husband of Empress Taytu Betul. Woizero Bafena was implicated in a plot to overthrow Menelik when he was King of Shewa. She was widely suspected of being secretly in touch with Emperor Yohannes IV in her ambition to replace her husband on the Shewan throne with one of her sons from a previous marriage. With the failure of her plot, Woizero Bafena was separated from Menelik, but Menelik apparently was still deeply attached to her. An attempt at reconciliation failed, but when his relatives and courtiers suggested new young wives to the King, he would sadly say “You ask me to look at these women with the same eyes that once gazed upon Bafena?” Paying tribute both to his ex-wife’s great beauty and his own continuing attachment to her.
Empress Taytu Betul was a noblewoman of Imperial blood and a member of one of the leading families of the regions of Semien, Yejju in modern Wollo, and Begemder. Her paternal uncle, Dejazmatch Wube Haile Maryam of Semien, had been the ruler of Tigray and much of northern Ethiopia. She had been married four times previously and exercised considerable influence. Taytu and Menelik were married in a full communion church service and thus fully canonical and insoluble, which Menelik had not had with either of his previous wives. Menelik and Taytu would have no children. Empress Taytu would become Empress consort upon her husband’s succession, and would became the most powerful consort of an Ethiopian monarch since Empress Mentewab.
Previous to his marriage to Taytu Betul, Menelik fathered several “natural” children. Three natural children that Menelik recognized were Woizero Shoaregga Menelik, born 1867, Woizero (later Empress) Zauditu Menelik, born 1876, and Abeto Asfa Wossen Menelik, born 1873.
In 1886, Menelik married ten-year-old Zauditu to Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes, the fifteen-year-old son of Emperor Yohannes IV. In May 1888, Ras Araya Selassie died. WoizeroShoaregga was first married to Dejazmatch Wodajo Gobena, the son of Ras Gobena Dachi. They would have a son, Abeto Wossen Seged Wodajo, but this grandson of Menelik II was eliminated from the succession due to dwarfism. In 1892, twenty-five-year-old Woizero Shoaregga was married for a second time to forty-two-year-old Ras Mikael of Wollo. They had two children, a daughter Woizero Zenebework, and Menelik’s eventual successor, Lij Iyasu. Woizero Zenebework Mikael would evetually marry at age twelve, the much older Ras Bezabih Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam, and died in childbirth a year later. Abeto Asfa Wossen Menelik died when he was about fifteen-years-old. Only Shoagarad has present day descendants.
Rumoured natural children of the Emperor include Ras Birru Wolde Gabriel and Dejazmach Kebede Tessema. The latter, in turn, was possibly the natural grandfather of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, the communist leader of the Derg, who eventually deposed the monarchy and assumed power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991.
On 27 October 1909, Menelik II suffered a massive stroke and his “mind and spirit died”. After that, Menelik was no longer able to reign, and the office was taken over by Empress Taytu. as de facto ruler, until Ras Bitwaddad Tesemma was publicly appointed regent. However, he died within a year, and a council of regency — from which the empress was excluded — was formed in March 1910.
In the early morning hours of 12 December 1913, Nəgusä Nägäst Menelik II died. He was buried quickly without announcement or ceremony at the Se’el Bet Kidane Meheret Church, on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. In 1916 Menelik II was reburied in the specially built church at Ba’eta Le Mariam Monastery of Addis Ababa.
After the death of Menelik II, the council of regency continued to rule Ethiopia. As described above, Lij Iyasu had been designated successor of Menelik II by Empress Taytu in May 1909 — however, the imperial Abyssinian rules of succession dictated that only a Christian could rule Ethiopia as Emperor, and Lij Iyasu had taken the Muslim faith. Therefore Lij Iyasu was never crowned Emperor of Ethiopia, and eventually Empress Zewditu I succeeded Menelik II on the 27 September 1916. She was his oldest daughter.
December 12 1913 – 27 September 1916
Coronation: Never Crowned
Iyasu V ( the Ethiopian version of Joshua), also known as Lij Iyasu ( 4 February 1895 – 25 November 1935) was the designated but uncrowned Emperor of Ethiopia (1913–16). His baptismal name was Kifle Yaqob. Because he was never crowned emperor, he is usually referred to as Lij Iyasu, “Lij” meaning child, especially one born of royal blood. His excommunication by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church prevented him from being referred to publicly as Iyasu V.
Late in his life, Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia was confronted with the problem of his succession; if he did not explicitly name an heir before he died, the nation he had built would likely dissolve into civil war and be devoured by European colonial powers. He had four possible heirs. According to the traditional rules of succession, the next direct patrilineal descendant was the grandson of Menelik’s uncle, Dejazmach Taye Gulilat. His other three heirs were all in the female line. The first of these was his oldest grandson, Dejazmach Wosan Seged, son of his daughter Shoagarad Menelik by her first marriage to Wedadjo Gobena. The second heir of the female line was his younger grandson Lij Iyasu, son of Shoagarad and Ras Mikael. Finally, the third heir of the female line was Menelik’s third daughter Woizero Zewditu, who was married to Ras Gugsa Welle, nephew of the Empress Taitu.Menelik refused to consider Dejazmach Taye Gulilat whom he deeply disliked. Dejazmach Wosan Seged was eliminated from consideration due to dwarfism. In March 1908, at any rate, Wosan Seged was in poor health and dying of tuberculosis. It was clear that the aristocracy would not respect a woman as their leader, so Woizero Zewditu was also not seriously considered at this time. On 11 June 1908, after experiencing a stroke while on pilgrimage to Debre Libanos, Menelik informed his ministers that Lij Iyasu would succeed him. However, due to Iyasu’s youth, Menelik agreed to the suggestion that he appoint a Regent (Enderase)[nb 2] during the minority of his heir apparent. Until Lij Iyasu came of age, the elder statesman Ras Tessema Nadew ‘ would be Regent Plenipotentiary(Balemulu ‘Enderase).In May 1909, shortly before the Emperor made this decision, Lij Iyasu was married to Woizero Romanework Mengesha, the daughter of Ras Mengesha Yohannes, granddaughter of Emperor Yohannes IV, and the niece of Empress Taitu. However, that marriage was annulled without having been consummated. Subsequently in April 1910, Iyasu married Sabla Wangel Hailu, the daughter of Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam.RegencyNot long after his decision that Lij Iyasu would succeed him, Emperor Menelik succumbed to further strokes. These eventually left him a mere shell of his once-powerful self, and incapacitated until his death in 1913. During his last years, in a bid to retain power, Empress Taitu intrigued against his choice, intending to substitute either her step-daughter Leult Zewditu or her daughter’s husband Ras Gugsa Welle (who happened to be Taitu’s nephew) for Lij Iyasu. In response to Taitu’s intriguing, a number of nobles organized in an ever-closer alliance against her. On 28 October 1909, after a massive stroke, Menelik’s choice of Lij Iyasu as his heir was made public with RasBitwoedded Tessema Nadew as Enderase.Enderase Tessema found his authority undermined not only by the still living but paralyzed Emperor Menelik, but also by the Empress. For example, she insisted that questions from the foreign legations in Addis Ababa be directed to her, not to Tessema. Furthermore, Tessema himself suffered from an illness, which left him appearing helpless and apathetic and would take his life within a year. It took acoup d’état engineered by a group of aristocrats and the head of the Imperial Bodyguard to convince Ras Tesemma and Habte Giyorgis to decisively limit the influence of the Empress. Despite these developments, the imperial government continued to falter: administrators were unwilling to make decisions because Tessema himself might be overthrown, and foreign affairs likewise suffered. Despite this, Harold Marcus notes that the presence of Tessema “did curb ministerial dissensions and intrigues and was a reminder of the existence of central authority.”With Tessema, Iyasu continued Menelik’s program of modernization, including the establishment of the first police force in Addis Ababa. On 10 April 1911, Tessema Nadew died and, when the council met to appoint a successor as Enderase, Lij Iyasu demanded a role in the process. When asked whom he desired in the position, he is reported to have replied, “Myself!” On 11 May, the seal of Iyasu replaced that of his grandfather, although not with the style of Emperor.Marcus describes Lij Iyasu’s abilities as a ruler:
From the very beginning of his de facto reign, Lij Iyasu showed that he was not the stuff from which great monarchs were made. He was bright, but also impulsive, cruel, lascivious, prone to depressions and egocentricities, and politically inept. Despite his vision of an Ethiopia in which religion and ethnic affiliations made no difference in a man’s political or private career, he had no clear comprehension of the power realities in the empire, nor of his own position as its ruler.
In the first year, he was faced with several serious challenges to his rule. On 31 May, Ras Abate attempted a coup d’état by seizing the arsenal and its modern weapons in the palace, but was eventually convinced to make a public submission in return for being allowed to depart for his estates in the southern provinces. On 14 July, an attempt was made to poison Iyasu. That same year Menelik’s soldiers sent a delegation demanding back pay and regular supplies, which made clear that the government was on the brink of financial insolvency. Intelligence reached Iyasu’s father, Ras Mikael, of another plot, and he arrived on 14 November in Addis Ababa with an army of 8,000 men. This was only the first of many efforts Ras Mikael made to keep his son on the Imperial throne. Mikael established a powerful position behind the scenes.
At this point, Lij Iyasu decided to leave the capital, ostensibly on a military expedition against the Afar, but he simply traveled through eastern Shewa and into Wollo, meeting with the common people. He had promised to return to Addis Ababa in May 1912, but instead visited Debre Libanos, then Addis Alem, before joining Dajazmach Kabbada’s expedition into southwest Ethiopia. Here Lij Iyasu took part in a series of slave raids, in which 40,000 people of both sexes were captured, “half of whom died en route of smallpox,dysentery, hunger and fatigue.”[ Marcus explains this constant journeying beyond the capital by his will “to prove that the government could not function without him and to force the ministers to authorize his immediate coronation.” Once he finally returned to the capital, he came into conflict with the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard, which was eventually settled by the mediation of Abuna Mattewos. The conflict began when Iyasu expressed his wish to the ministers that the incapacitated Emperor be removed from the Imperial Palace so that Iyasu himself could take up residence there. Trying to please the heir, the ministers asked for an audience with Empress Taitu and suggested that she take the Emperor to Ankober as a change of scene that might be beneficial for his health. Taitu had however been informed that Iyasu inteded on moving into the Imperial Palace and defiantly refused to move either herself or her husband from the Palace. Informed of this exchange, the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard swore that he would protect the Emperor in his palace with his life. Angrily, Iyasu ordered the palace complex surrounded by his soldiers and only allowed in enough food for the Emperor himself. With Iyasu’s soldiers in a tense standoff with the Imperial guard, the situation deteriorated to the point that gunfire was exchanged, and the bedridden Emperor had to be moved to the cellars as his bedroom windows were shattered in the battle. Hearing the guns, the Archbishop rushed to the scene and arranged for a ceasefire. Empress Taitu then emerged from the palace to publicly berate Iyasu as an ungrateful child who wanted to kill his grandfather. She angrily declared that neither she nor the Emperor would be going anywhere and returned to her rooms. Iyasu was thwarted, but demanded vengeance against the commander of the Imperial Bodyguard. Although he had wanted him severely punished, he was convinced to accept a sentence of banishment from the capital. Iyasu indulged in a lavish celebration, which led the European diplomats to conclude “that he was purposely neglecting urgent business and impeding the ministers from carrying out their duties”.
Lij Iyasu left the capital after little more than a month, and during this time engaged in a raid upon the Afar, who had reportedly massacred 300 of the Karayu Oromo at the village of Sadimalka on the Awash River. Unable to find the responsible parties, he made a punitive raid upon the general population which provoked a general uprising of the Afar. On 8 April, after repeated messages from his father to return to the capital, he finally did arrive at the city and managed to accomplish nothing. On 8 May, Iyasu left to meet his father inDessie.
On the night of 12–3 December 1913, the Emperor Menelik II finally died. Iyasu was informed of his grandfather’s death, but insisted on continuing a mock battle game known as gugs and did not allow any form of public mourning. The Emperor’s body was secretly locked away in a small room adjoining the Se’el Bet Kidane Meheret (Our Lady Covenant of Mercy) Church on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. No public announcement of the Emperor’s death was made, and no requiem or any type of mourning ritual was allowed. Empress Taitu was immediately expelled from the Imperial Palace and sent to the old palace on Mt. Entoto. Lij Iyasu’s aunt, Zewditu Menelik, was also removed from the palace and banished into internal exile at her estates at Falle. By mid-January, the news had slipped through the official wall of silence. On 10 January 1914, the leading nobles of Ethiopia had gathered to discuss their response to his loss and the future of Ethiopia. “Although no records of the 1914 meeting have come to the author’s notice,” Marcus admits, he states that “it is safe to conclude” that their arrival in Addis Ababa “indicated their fidelity to Menelik’s heir.” However, they opposed his immediate coronation, although they did approve of his proposal to crown his father “Negus of the North.”
Lij Iyasu showed a pronounced lack of interest in the day to day running of the government, leaving most of the work for the ministers to deal with. However, the cabinet of ministers remained largely unchanged from the days of his grandfather, and by now the ministers wielded much power and influence. They were constantly subject to insults and disparagement by Lij Iyasu who referred to them as “my grandfather’s fattened sheep.”He constantly spoke of his intention of dismissing “these Shewans”, as he called them, and appointing new officials and creating a new aristocracy of his own choosing. His essentially reformist orientation clashed with the conservatism of his grandfather’s old ministers. As Paul Henze notes, Iyasu “seems deliberately to have antagonized the Shoan establishment. He lacked the diplomatic skill and the refined sense of discretion that came naturally to Tafari.”
Iyasu’s many capricious acts served only to further alienate the aristocracy. One was his betrothal of his royal-blooded cousin Woizero Sakamyelesh Seyfu to his former driver, Tilahun. Another was the appointment of his Syrian friend and crony Ydlibi to the position of Nagadras (Customs-Master) at the railway depot at Dire Dawa, thus controlling the vast tariff and customs that were collected there. All this, combined with his frequent absences from the capital, created the ideal environment for the ministers, led by Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis, the Minister of War, to plot his downfall.
In February 1915, Iyasu travelled to Harar with Abdullahi Tsadeq, who had become his constant companion, and went to the largest mosque of the city for a three hour service. Throughout his stay in Harar he was friendly towards the Muslims, an act which worried the priests of Ethiopia; when he remained in this Muslim community over Easter, they were scandalized.
However, the foreign legations in Addis Ababa had been lobbying for him to join their sides in World War I. According to Marcus, many of the Ethiopian nobility and commoners were impressed by the early successes of the Central Powers, and both listened eagerly to German and Turkish propaganda concerning events. Both sides sought Ethiopian support: the Central Powers wanted the Ethiopians to drive the Italians out of Eritrea. Rumors circulated that, in return for Iyasu invading the Sudan with 50,000 soldiers, that he would be rewarded with the strategic port of Djibouti. At a minimum, the Allies sought to keep Ethiopia neutral. However, some reports indicate that Iyasu not only supported the Central Powers, he converted to Islam.
In August 1915, Iyasu went to French Somaliland in disguise, and without informing either the French diplomats in Addis Ababa or even the colonial government. There he spent two days in mysterious meetings. Although Marcus states that “What actually happened will not be known until information from the French archives becomes available,” Fitawrari (“Commander of the Vanguard”) Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariyam, a fervent reformer and a onetime friend of Iyasu, states in his recently published autobiography that the Djibouti trip was something of a vacation for Lij Iyasu, and that he spent much of his time consorting with Muslim notables in the city and consuming large amounts of qat as well as completely depleting the funds of the Ethiopian mission in the French colony.
Around the same time, the British reported that documents preaching jihad against the Europeans had been posted in the Harar marketplace. That August, the British reported that supplies were being sent to Jijiga to support the activities of Mohammed Abdullah Hassan and Sheikh Hassan Barsane, a devout Muslim pair who were at war with the British and Italians in Somalia. Then that September, the Italians revealed that one of their Somali agents had witnessed Iyasu declaring to an assemblage of Muslim leaders that he was a Muslim, and swore to his apostasy on a Koran.
On 27 September 1916, while at the city of Harar, Lij Iyasu was deposed in favor of his aunt, Zewditu. Iyasu sent an army to attack Addis Ababa, which was met at Mieso and turned back. His father initially hesitated, then marched south from Dessie with 80,000 troops. On 27 October, Negus Mikael was defeated at the Battle of Segale. According to Paul Henze, Iyasu had reached Ankober the morning of the battle with a few thousand loyal followers, and after witnessing his father’s defeat, fled towards the Eritrean border. On 8 November, Iyasu appeared in Dessie where he vainly sought the support from the nobility of Tigray and then the Italians. On 10 December, Iyasu fled and took refuge with his followers on the abandoned amba of Maqdala. At Maqdala, he was surrounded and subjected to an uninspired siege. On 18 July 1917, Iyasu slipped through the siege lines and rallied the peasantry of Wollo to revolt. On 27 August, troops under Habte Giyorgis defeated the rebels and captured many of Iyasu’s generals, including Ras Imer. After this defeat, with a few hundred picked men, Iyasu fled to the desert of the Afar Depression, where he roamed for five years. On 11 January 1921, Iyasu was captured and taken into custody by Gugsa Araya Selassie. He was handed over to the custody of his cousin Ras Kassa Haile Darge. Ras Kassa kept Iyasu in comfortable house arrest at his country home at Fiche.
Empress Zewditu I, who in spite of having been treated harshly by her nephew seems to have had considerable sympathy for Iyasu’s fate and is said to have tried to have him handed over to her personal custody in order that he “be brought back to Christ and salvation” under her guidance. In her view, the most serious part of his fate was his excommunication, and she deeply wanted to save her nephew from what she regarded as assured damnation. While her plea to have her nephew moved to the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa was vehemently vetoed by both Fitawrari Habte Giorgis and by the Crown Prince, Ras Teferi Makonnen, the Empress took care that Iyasu lived in luxury and was supplied with whatever he desired. Ras Kassa also adhered to this policy for as long as Iyasu was in his custody, so the terms of Iyasu’s imprisonment were not particularly harsh.
Empress Zewditu died in 1930, and was succeeded by Emperor Haile Selassie who was considerably less sympathetic to Iyasu. In 1931, Iyasu escaped from imprisonment at Fichte. He apparently achieved his freedom with the aid of his former father-in-law, Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam, although Haile Selassie claimed that the Italians had a hand in his escape — or at least planned to assist in Iyasu’s attempt to regain the throne. In his autobiography, Haile Selassie reports that when Italian Baron Raimondo Franchettilanded his plane in a field outside of Addis Alem, onlookers “noticed that inside it were a machine-gun as well as rifles and many cartridges” — implying these were to arm Iyasu’s followers.
Iyasu was recaptured shortly after his escape. Having deeply alienated Ras Kassa with his escape, and having deeply angered the Emperor, Iyasu was taken to a fortress on the slopes of Mount Gara Muleta in Girawa, where he was guarded closely by locals loyal to Emperor Haile Selassie. When the forces of Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, aircraft of the Royal Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica Italiana) scattered fliers asking the population to rebel against Haile Selassie and support the “true Emperor Iyasu V.” It was feared that the Italians would make use of Iyasu to fragment Ethiopian resistance to their conquest.
In November 1935, Iyasu’s death was announced. The circumstances surrounding his death and his burial place remain shrouded in mystery. One rumour that persists to this day is that Emperor Haile Selassie ordered his guards to kill him. Others dispute this and allege that Iyasu died of natural causes. His grandson and current Iyasuist claimant to the Ethiopian throne, Lij Girma Yohannes, claims that Iyasu’s body was brought to the Church of St. Mark at Addis Ababa’s Guenete Leul Palace (since 1961 the main campus of Addis Ababa University) and buried there in secret. Because he had been excommunicated, these claims are extremely unlikely. Another recently published account states that Iyasu was interred in the grave prepared for Emperor Haile Selassie’s confessor and almoner, Abba Hanna Jimma, at Debre Libanos. This account contends that, upon the priest’s death, Lij Iyasu’s remains were moved to the crypt of St. Tekle Haimanot’s Church at the monastery, and placed below the tomb prepared for Ethiopia’s first Patriarch, Abuna Basilios.
His younger sister Zenebework was married off at a young age to Ras Bezabih of Gojjam, but died in childbirth. Iyasu also had an elder half-sister, Woizero Sehin Mikael, married to Jantirar Asfaw, Lord of Ambassel, whose daughter would eventually become Empress Menen Asfaw, wife of Emperor Haile Selassie. While through his Imperial mother, Iyasu could claim to be descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, through his father, he claimed descent from the Prophet Mohammed. Iyasu seems to have had at least thirteen secondary wives and an uncertain number of natural children, several of whom have been Iyasuist claimants to the Imperial throne, as well as grandchildren like Girma Yohannes. Lij Iyasu’s only legitimate child was a daughter born in 1928 to him and Sabla Wangel Hailu, Alem Tsahai Iyasu who was granted the title of Emebet-hoy by Emperor Haile Selassie.
The Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde describes Iyasu’s reign as “one of the most enigmatic in Ethiopian history.” A common account of his reign is provided by J. Spencer Trimingham, who writes that his acts favoring Islam were…encouraged by German and Turkish diplomats. He made the fuqaha construct a genealogy deriving his ancestry on his father’s side from the Prophet. He made prolonged stays in Harar where he adopted Muslim dress and customs. He put away his Christian wife, Romane-Warq, and started a harim by marrying the daughters of ‘Afar and Galla chiefs, including a daughter and niece of Abba Jifar of Jimma. He built mosques at Dire Dawa and Jigjiga. In 1916 he officially placed Abyssinia in religious dependence upon Turkey, and sent the Turkish consul-general an Abyssinian flag embroidered with a crescent and the Islamic formula of faith. He sent similar flags to his own Muslim chiefs and promised to lead them to the jihad. He entered into negotiations with Muhammed ibn ‘Abd Allah, the Mahdi of the Ogaden, and sent him rifles and ammunition. He then issued a summons to all Somalis, some of whom regarded him as true Mahdi, to follow him in a jihad against the Christians, and went to Jigjiga to collect an army.
According to Fitawrari Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariyam, Lij Iyasu at one point announced “If I do not make Ethiopia Muslim, then I am not Iyasu.” He also recalls Lij Iyasu’s visit toDire Dawa in 1916, when the ruler walked into a Roman Catholic church in that city (this an act alone would scandalize the Ethiopian Orthodox establishment) and commenced to light and smoke a cigarette while Mass was being conducted. Tekle Hawariat, concludes that Iyasu V was completely unsuited for the throne, and that his deposing was necessary for the survival of the Empire and the good of the people.
Bahru Zewde on the other hand, while admitting that “contradiction and inconsistency were the hallmark of his character and policies”, notes that Iyasu’s reign was characterized by “a series of measures which, because of the social and economic security they implied, may well be considered progressive.” Iyasu modernized many sections of the Ethiopian criminal code, and created a municipal police force, the Terenbulle. His overtures to the Muslim inhabitants of Ethiopia “can be interpreted as one of trying to redress the injustices of the past, of making the Muslims feel at home in their own country.”
However, Iyasu had the misfortune of being succeeded (in Bahru Zewde’s words) “by a ruler of extraordinary political longevity who found it in his interest to suppress any objective appreciation of the man.” According to Paul B. Henze, during the reign of his cousin Haile Selassie, Iyasu was “practically an ‘unperson’. If he was referred to at all, it was invariably in extremely negative terms.” While admitting the lack of information about this man, Henze suggests that “the fairest conclusion that can be reached on the basis of present knowledge may be to credit him with good intentions but condemn him for intemperate, inept and in the end, disastrous performance.”
Zewditu IReign: 27 September 1916 – 2 April 1930
Father Menelik II
Mother Weyziro Abechi
Died 2 April 1930 (aged 53)
Religion Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo
Zewditu I (also spelled Zawditu or Zauditu; 29 April 1876 – 2 April 1930) was Empress of Ethiopia from 1916 to 1930. The first woman head of an internationally recognized state in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, she was noted for opposing the reforms of Tafari Makonnen (later Emperor Haile Selassie I) and for her strong religious devotion.
Baptised as Askala Maryam (“Askal of Mary,” a type of flower), but using the given name of Zewditu (known erroneously as Judith in English), the future Empress was the eldest daughter of the then Negus (or King) Menelik of Shewa, the future emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia. Her mother, Weyziro (Lady) Abechi, was a noblewoman of Wollo and a brief companion of Menelek. Her mother had separated from Menelik when Zewditu was very young, and the future empress was raised by her father and his consort Baffana. Negus Menelik later married Taytu Betul, but had no children by this wife. Menelik had three acknowledged children: Zewditu herself, a son Asfaw Wossen who died in infancy, and another daughter Shewa Regga, the mother of Lij Iyasu, Menelik’s eventual heir. However, the Emperor remained closest to Zewditu, who also had good relations with her stepmother Empress Taytu, and was part of her father’s household for most of her life.
In 1886, the ten-year-old Zewditu was married to Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes, son and heir of Emperor Yohannes IV. The marriage was political, having been arranged when Menelik agreed to submit to Yohannes’ rule. Yohannes and Menelik eventually fell into conflict again, however, with Menelik launching a rebellion against Yohannes’ rule. Zewditu’s marriage was childless, being very young during her marriage, although her husband had fathered a son by another woman. When Araya Selassie died in 1888, she left Mekele and returned to her father’s court in Shewa. Despite the hostility between Menelik and Yohannes, Zewditu managed throughout the conflict to maintain good relations with both.
Zewditu had two further marriages, both brief, before marrying Ras Gugsa Welle. Gugsa Welle was the nephew of Empress Taytu, Zewditu’s stepmother. Zewditu had already been on good terms with Taytu, but the establishment of a direct tie between the two helped cement the relationship. Unlike her prior marriages, Zewditu’s marriage to Gugsa Welle is thought to have been happy.
Ascent to power
Upon the death of Emperor Yohannis IV at the Battle of Metemma against the Mahdists of the Sudan, Negus Menelek of Shewa assumed power and become Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889. This restored the direct male succession of the dynasty, as Emperor Yohannes’s claim to the throne was through a female link to the line. As the daughter of Menelek II, Zewditu would be the last monarch in direct agnatic descent from the Solomonic dynasty. Her successor Haile Selassie was also linked in the female line. In 1913, Menelik died, and Lij Iyasu, the son of Zewditu’s half-sister Shewa Regga, who had been publicly declared heir apparent in 1909, took the throne. Iyasu considered Zewditu a potential threat to his rule, and exiled her and her husband to the countryside.
Due to fears of instability that might be caused, the cabinet of ministers decided not to publicly proclaim the death of Menelik II. As a result, Iyasu was never officially proclaimed as Emperor Iyasu V. However, both Menelik’s death and Iyasu’s de-facto accession were widely known and accepted. The Church authorities, the Lord Regent Ras Tessema, and the ministers agreed that Iyasu’s coronation should be postponed until he was a bit older. However Iyasu quickly encountered problems with his rule and he was never crowned. He was widely disliked by the nobility for his unstable behavior, and the church held him in suspicion for his alleged Muslim sympathies. After a troubled few years, Iyasu was removed from power. Zewditu was summoned to the capital, and on 27 September 1916, the Council of State and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church officially announced the death of Emperor Menelik II and deposed Iyasu in favour of Zewditu. Zewditu’s official title was “Queen of Kings” (Negiste Negest), a modification of the traditional title “King of Kings” (Nəgusä Nägäst).
Initially, Zewditu was not permitted to exercise power herself. Instead, her cousin Ras Tafari Makonnen was appointed regent, and her father’s old loyal general, Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis Dinagde was made commander in chief of the army. Ras Tafari was also made heir apparent to Zewditu – none of Zewditu’s children had survived to adulthood. In 1928, after an attempt to remove Ras Tafari Makonnen from power failed, the Empress was compelled to crown her cousin Negus.
While the conservative Ethiopian aristocracy was generally supportive of Zewditu, it was less enthusiastic about many of her relatives. Zewditu’s stepmother and the aunt of her husband, Dowager Empress Taytu Betul, had withdrawn from the capital after Menelik’s death, but was still distrusted somewhat due to the evident favorism she had practiced during the reign of her late husband. In an attempt to limit her influence, the aristocracy arranged for her nephew (Zewditu’s husband Ras Gugsa Welle) to be appointed to a remote governorship, removing him from court. This move, while intended as a strike against Taytu rather than against Zewditu, is believed to have upset Zewditu considerably. Zewditu also suffered guilt for taking the throne from Lij Iyasu, who her father had wanted to succeed him – while she believed that Iyasu’s overthrow was necessary, she had admired her father greatly, and was unhappy at having to disobey his wishes. Her separation from her husband and her guilt about Iyasu’s overthrow combined to make Zewditu not particularly happy as Empress. Interestingly, even though he had treated her abominably, she held much personal affection for her nephew Iyasu, and is said to have wept bitterly for him when told that she was being made Empress as her nephew had been excommunicated for apostasy. Increasingly, the Empress retreated from state responsibility into a world of fasting and prayer, as the progressive elements that surrounded the heir, Tafari Makonnen gained in strength and influence at court.
War against Iyasu
The early period of Zewditu’s reign was marked by a war against Lij Iyasu, who had escaped captivity. Backed by his father, Negus Mikael of Wollo, a powerful northern leader, Iyasu attempted to regain the throne. The two failed to effectively coordinate their efforts however, and after some initial victories Iyasu’s father was defeated and captured at theBattle of Segale. The Negus was paraded through the streets of Addis Ababa in chains, carrying a rock of repentance on his shoulders, before entering the throne room and kissing the Empress’s shoes to beg for her mercy. The heir to the throne, Ras Tafari Makonnen was not present at this spectacle out of consideration for the feelings of his wife, who was the granddaughter of Negus Mikael. Upon hearing of his father’s defeat and humiliation, Iyasu himself fled to Afar. After years on the run, Iyasu was later captured by DejazmachGugsa Araya Selassie, the son who Zewditu’s first husband had fathered by another woman. Gugsa Araya was rewarded with the title of Ras from his former stepmother, and Princess Yeshashework Yilma, the niece of Tafari Makonnen, as his bride. When Iyasu was captured, a tearful Empress Zewditu pleaded that he be kept in a special house on the grounds of the palace where she would see to his care and he could receive religious counsel. She found Ras Tafari and Fitawrari Hapte Giorgis to be unbendingly opposed, and so gave up. She did however make sure that special favorite foods and a constant supply of clothing and small luxuries reached Lij Iyasu at his place of arrest in Sellale. To the end of her life, she referred to her deposed nephew as “Getaye (my lord master) Iyasu”.
Rise of Tafari
As Empress Zewditu’s reign progressed, the difference in outlook gradually widened between her and her appointed heir, Ras Tafari Makonnen. Tafari was a moderniser, believing that Ethiopia needed to open itself to the world in order to survive. In this, he had the backing of many younger nobles. Zewditu, however, was a conservative, believing in the preservation of Ethiopian tradition. She had the strong backing of the church in this belief. Slowly, however, Zewditu began to withdraw from active politics, leaving more and more power to Tafari. Under Tafari’s direction, Ethiopia entered the League of Nations, and abolished slavery. Zewditu busied herself with religious activities, such as the construction of a number of significant churches.
In 1928, there was a small conservative uprising against Tafari’s reforms, but it was unsuccessful. Empress Zewditu was compelled to grant Tafari, who now controlled most of the Ethiopian government, the title of King (Negus). While Negus Tafari remained under the nominal rule of Zewditu (who was still Negeste Negest, Queen of Kings or Empress), Tafari was now effectively the ruler of Ethiopia. A number of attempts were made to displace him, but they were all unsuccessful. In 1930, Zewditu’s husband Ras Gugsa Welle led a rebellion against Negus Tafari in Begemder, hoping to end the regency in spite of his wife’s repeated pleas and orders to desist, but was defeated and killed in battle by the modernised Ethiopian army at the Battle of Anchem on 31 March 1930.
Death and succession
On 2 April 1930, two days after Ras Gugsa Welle was killed in battle, Empress Zewditu died. It is known today that Zewditu suffered from diabetes, and was seriously ill with typhoid, but it is not universally agreed that this was the cause of her death. According to some popular histories, Zewditu died of shock and grief at hearing of her husband’s death, but other accounts contradict this, claiming that Zewditu was not informed of the battle’s outcome before her sudden death. Some diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa reported at the time that the fever stricken Empress was immersed in a large container of fridgidly cold holy water to cure her of her illness, but that her body went into shock and she died shortly thereafter. The timing of her death immediately after news of the outcome of the battle reached Addis Ababa has caused considerable speculation as to her cause of death. Some, particularly conservative critics of her successor, Emperor Haile Selassie, allege that once the rebellion had been decisively defeated, he or his supporters felt safe in poisoning Zewditu. Speculation as to the cause of Zewditu’s death continues today.
Empress Zewditu was succeeded on the throne by Negus Tafari, who took the name of Emperor Haile Selassie.