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Menelik II of Ethiopia

Menelik II (August 17 1844 - December 12, 1913) was negus negusti (emperor) of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death.

Menelik II

The son of Haeli Melicoth (Haile Menekot), king of Shoa 1847 to 1855, was born in 1844 in Ancober, Shoa and claimed to be a direct descendant of Solomon by the Queen of Sheba. On the death of his father in 1855 he was kept a prisoner at Gondar by Kassai, the governor, who had seized the throne under the title of Theodore II. Having succeeded in effecting his escape he was acknowledged king of Shoa, and at once attacked the usurper. These campaigns were unsuccessful, and he turned his arms to the west, east and south, and annexed much territory to his kingdom, still, however, maintaining his divine right to the crown of Ethiopia.

After the death of Theodore in 1888 he continued to struggle against his successor, the emperor Johannes (better known to Europeans as King John of Abyssinia). Being again unsuccessful, he resolved to await a more propitious occasion; so, acknowledging the supremacy of Johannes, in 1886 he married his daughter Zeodita (b. 1876) to the emperor’s son, the Ras Area; he was thereupon declared heir to the empire, and on his side acknowledged the Ras Area as his successor. Ras Area died in May 1888, and the emperor Johannes was killed in a war against the dervishes at the battle of Gallabat (Matemma) on the May 10, 1889. The succession now lay between the late emperor’s natural son, the Ras Mangasha, and Menelek, but the latter was elected by a large majority on November 4, and consecrated shortly afterwards. Menelek had married in 1883 Taitu (b. 1854) a princess of Tigré, a lady who had been married four times previously and who exercised considerable influence. Menelek’s clemency to Mangasha, whom he compelled to submit and then made viceroy of Tigré, was ill repaid by a long series of revolts.

In 1880, at the time when he was claiming the throne against Mangasha, Menelek signed at Ucciaffi a treaty with Italy acknowledging Italian claims to the Asmara district. Finding, however, that according to the Italian view of one of its articles the treaty placed his empire under Italian domination, Menelik denounced it; and after defeating the Italians at Amba-Alagi, he compelled them to capitulate in the battle of Adowa on March 1, 1896, and a treaty was signed recognizing the absolute independence of Abyssinia.

His French sympathies were shown in a reported official offer of treasure towards payment of the indemnity at the close of the Franco-Prussian War, and in February 1897 he concluded a commercial treaty with France on very favorable terms. He also gave assistance to French officers who sought to reach the upper Nile from Abyssinia, there to join forces with the Marchand Mission; and Abyssinian armies were sent Nilewards. A British mission under Sir Rennell Rodd in May 1897, however, was cordially received, and Menelik agreed to a settlement of the Somali boundaries, to keep open to British commerce the caravan route between Zaila and Harrar, and to prevent the transit of munitions of war to the Mahdists, whom he proclaimed enemies of Abyssinia.

In the following year the Sudan was reconquered by an Anglo-Egyptian army and thereafter cordial relations between Menelek and the British authorities were established. In 1889 and subsequent years, Menelik sent forces to co-operate with the British troops engaged against the Somali mullah, Mahommed Abdullah.

Menelik had in 1898 crushed a rebellion by Ras Mangasba (who died in 1906) and he directed his efforts henceforth to the consolidation of his authority, and in a certain degree, to the opening up of his country to western civilization. He had granted in 1894 a concession for the building of a railway to his capital from the French port of Jibuti, but, alarmed by a claim made by France in 1902 to the control of the line in Abyssinian territory, he stopped for four years the extension of the railway beyond Dire Dawa. When in 1906 France, Great Britain and Italy came to an agreement on the subject, Menelek officially reiterated his full sovereign rights over the whole of his empire.

In May 1909 the emperor’s grandson Lij Yasu, or Jeassu, then a lad of thirteen, was married to Romanie (b. 1902), granddaughter of the negus Johannes. Two days later Yasu was publicly proclaimed at Addis Ababa as Menelek’s successor. At that time the emperor was seriously ill and as his ill-health continued, a council of regency—from which the emperor was excluded—was formed in March 1910.

Original text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica (wikified)