Emperor Tewodros II was born Kassa Haile Giorgis, (often refered to as Kassa Hailu), the son of a minor nobleman of
Qwara district of Dembia, a region of western Beghemider province bordering on the
Sudan. His actual place of birth was in the small villiage of Dawa, located about 12 kilometers from the city of Gondar, in 1818. His father, Haile Giorgis Wolde Giorgis would die long before Kassa could possibly have remembered him. Kassa's paternal grandfather was Dejazmatch Wolde Giorgis, a prominent nobleman of his time. Kassa's mother was named Woizero Attitegeb Wondbewossen, and her paternal grandfather was Ras Wodajo, another powerful and prominent nobleman. Woizer Attitegeb's mother, Woizero Tishal, was also of noble birth, Although Emperor Tewodros II is often refered to as a non-royal userper, he did claim that father was decended from Emperor Fasiledes through a daughter. Many of his contemporaries however did not believe that he was of Imperial blood. Indeed even today, he captures the imagination of his admirers more as a self made man rather than the scion of an ancient lineage of monarchs. It was however dificult in those days to rule the Empire without establishing some connection to the dynasty, so his claims may have been his attempt at ligitimation.
While Kassa was still very young, his parents divorced, and his mother took her son from Kwara to her native Gondar. Not long afterwards, his father died, and his paternal relatives,
eager to divide up the property among themselves, left Kassa without a share of his father's property. Kassa's mother apparently supported
herself and her son by selling Kosso. Kosso is a powerful drug used to expel intestinal parasites
such as tapeworms, which Ethiopians were prone to get due to their high consumption of raw meat.
Kassa's detractors would often refer to him as "the Kosso sellers son", an insult he seldom forgave.
At a young age, Kassa was sent to study at a monastery as most other young boys of his era. The monastery
where he was studying was pillaged and burned as a result of the endless wars of the Zemene Mesafin. The particular battle involved was probably the oddest battle of the entire era. In a bitter contest for power, Dejazmatch Wube Haile Mariam had decided to challenge the Yejju dynasty of Ras Ali II, the Enderase and Re-ese Mekwanint of the Empire. Although through his control of the puppet Solomonic Emperor, Ras Ali was the de-jure ruler of Ethiopia, much of the Empire was ruled by regional princelings and warlords. Dejazmatch Wube was among the more powerful of these warlords as he ruled not only Simien, Tsegede and Wolkait, but all of Tigrai which he had snatched from the sons of Dejazmatch Sabagadis, the Shum Agame, and all of Hamasein, Serai, Akale Guzai, as well as parts of northern Wollo. He was ruler of most of northern Ethiopia, and in fact liked to occasionally call himself "Ye Abesha Nigus" or "King of Abyssinia", an illigitimate claim that irritated Ras Ali, the Emperor Yohannis III and the King of Shewa as well. Dejazmatch Wube had just arranged for the appointment of a new Archbishop from Alexandria. He had paid for the vast expenses involved in bringing the new bishop to Ethiopia, and pay the traditional payment for the appointment to the Turkish authorities in Egypt as well as to the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria. The new Archbishop, Abune Sellama II arrived in Ethiopia and went directly to Simien where Dejazmatch Wube convinced him that Ras Ali and his Yejju dynasty were really muslims and not Orthodox Christians. Although they were practicing Christians, the Re-ese Mekwanint and his family had clung to the Muslim names of their ancestors. However, this was apparently enough evidence for Abune Sellama to exhort the public to rise up against Ras Ali. Hearing of Dejazmatch Wube's intentions of removing Ras Ali from the Enderaseship, the puppet Emperor Yohannis III (who had been forced to marry Ali's mother and crown her Empress Menen) had secretly escaped and joined Wube in Simien in early 1841. In reply, the ex-Emperor Sahle Dingel was briefly restored to the throne by Ras Ali. In February of that year, Dejazmatch Wube attacked Ras Ali's seat of government at Debre Tabor. What followed is probably the oddest battle in Ethiopian (indeed African) history. During the course of the battle, Ras Ali ordered a cavalry charge. As he watched from a hill top, he saw many of his cavalry fall before the guns of Dejazmatch Wube's army. Seeing so many of his horsemen die, Ras Ali is said to have commented that all was lost, and he took flight to evade capture. Ironically, Dejazmatch Wube had also been viewing the charge, and seeing many of his men fall under the cavalry attack, he also decided that all was lost, and he also fled the battle field. The fact that both commanders of both armies had fled before the end of the battle would be the source of endless jokes for years. However, messengers were able to catch up with the fleeing Dejazmatch Wube to tell him that Ras Ali had fled. The prince of Simien returned in pompous triumph and entered Debre Tabor in victory, entering the great hall of Ras Ali to celebrate his victory. However, yet another odd twist was to take place. An officer of Ras Ali's army named Aligaz with a small band of men, entered Debre Tabor which was quite chaotic at the time, and siezed the great hall, taking Dejazmatch Wube prisoner and quickly ending the victory celebration he was holding. Aligaz then sent messengers after the fleeing Ras Ali to notify him that victory was now his. The Ras however was so fearful, he had taken refuge at the Wadla monastery, and no one could find him. After hours of searching far and wide, and largely by the use of spies and informants, Aligaz was finally able to locate the Re-ese Mekwanint of Ethiopia and give him the good news. Ras Ali emerged from hiding to claim victory and returned to power. However, after some negotioations, Dejazmatch Wube was restored to his domains with the agreement that he would continue to pay his tribute to Ras Ali. Emperor Yohannis III was restored to his powerless throne. All in all, the situation was restored to exactly what it had been before the war, and the battle had been nothing more than a farcical waste of time, resources and lives. It was during this epic battle, that soldiers from the Moslem Raya and Azebo tribes of Wollo who were loyal to the Yejju dynasty of Ras Ali had torched the monastery where Kassa was studying. Witnessing the horrors of
the distruction of his place of education had a deep impact on young Kassa and probably had a big effect on
the course that his life took.
During the Zemene Mesafint (Age of the Princes)period, there were few avenues of respectable occupation for
young men of the noble class. One could inherit a district from ones family and rule it, but Kassa had been
dispossesed of his inheritance, which was part of the domains of his relative Dejazmatch Marru. These lands were
known as Ye Marru Kammas ("that which has been tasted by Marru"), and following the death of that nobleman, it had
been taken over by Empress Mennen Liben, wife of the puppet Emperor Yohannis III, and mother of Ras Ali II, the Re-ese Mekwanint
and Enderase (Chief of the Nobles and Regent), so that avenue was closed to him. Another avenue was to go to court
and ingratiate himself to the Re-ese Mekwanint, Ras Ali, and to his mother the Empress, and hope that they appointed him
to some military or administrative post. There were other alternatives, such as entering the service of other Ethiopian
princelings, like Goshu of Gojjam, or Wube of Simien and Tigre, or the King of Shewa. Kassa was not one who served under anyone
easily, and although he did try to serve in Goshu's army, it did not work. The other option was to become a bandit warlord (shifta) and sieze property
and power, and it was in this endevor that Kassa excelled. As a warlord, Kassa Hailu lived very differently than other
lords of banditry. He shunned pomp and circumstance, living a frugal and simple life. He as accessible to his men, and lived
like them. He robbed and pillaged the property of his wealthy enemies, and kept a portion, but distributed a considerable ammount
to the poor, and devided what he kept among his men equally. He soon aquired legendary status, and men began to flock to his banner.
He became a larger and larger force to be reconned with. As the numbers of his followers grew, Kassa of Kwara began to display more and
more confidence. Soon he had siezed his native Kwara, and began ruling it as his private fief. He also launched an attack agains the Egyptian surrogates of the Ottoman Turks in the Sudan, but was soundly defeated at
the Battle of Dabarqi in 1848. Kassa realized that although his army had outnumbered the Egyptians, they had prevailed because of their
outstanding dicipline, and because of their modern weapons, two things that Kassa would thereafter insist on for his army. Kassa instituted
harsh punishment for the violation of military disipline among his men. He also ordered his men to stop robbing the peasantry of the lands
they fought in, and instead to only take from rich foes. As Kassa's fame spread, and his army grew ever larger, the Yejju camp of the
Re-ese Mekwanint became alarmed. First, an attempt was made to co-opt him into their ranks. The puppet Emperor Yohannis III, and
his step-son, the Enderase and Re-ese Mekwanint, Ras Ali, recognized Kassa as ruler of Kwara with the title of Dejazmatch, and the Empress Menen arranged to tie Kassa to them
even more closely by arranging the marriage of Kassa Hailu of Kwara, to Ras Ali's daughter, her granddaughter, Tewabech Ali. Kassa welcomed the
Imperial recognition of his right to Kwara. However, the more important event as far as history is probably his marriage to Tewabech Ali. Tewabech
was a small delicate woman of extraordinary beauty. Kassa was devoted to her to the point of worship, and she was equally loyal and loving towards
her new husband, not a common occurance in arranged marriages. Tewodros would refer to her often as his "Mentewab" and she is sometimes refered to by this name. Tewabech was the only person who could cool her husbands hot temper, and who moderated
his more radical urges. However, it was also Tewabech who encouraged him to rebel against her own father and grandmother, when they repeatedly insulted
him and ridiculed him as being a nobody. One such incident was when Kassa of Kwara lay convalesing from a serious battle wound sustained in fighting the Egyptians. It was customary for the ruler to send a sick vasal a gift of meat to be eaten, and the quantity was determined by the sick persons rank. A person of Kassa's rank would expect to recieve a whole slaughtered bull, and Emperor Yohannis III sent Kassa the meat of an entire bull. Empress Menen however sent him a single leg of beef. When a noble who saw this measly gift being sent off commented to the Empress that surely her grandson-in-law was of appropriate rank to recieve a complete bull or slaughtered sheep from Her Majesty, Menen contemptuously stated that no matter what, Kassa was nothing more than a mere lowlander (Qolegna), and that what she sent was enough for a lowlander. Tewabech was infuriated by this and is said to have demanded that Kassa respond like a man and rebel against her own grandmother. She declaired that she could not love a weak man. Thus stoked into anger, Kassa raised the banner of rebellion in Kwara and refused to send tribute to the Crown. Once his rebellion was official, the empress revealed her true feelings of hatered for her grandson-in-law who
she contemptuously refered to as "that Kosso sellers son". She sent out one of her finest generals, Dejazmatch Wondyerad who swore to her that he would
return with the "the son of the Kosso seller". Instead, Wondyerad himself was captured and chained in defeat and brought before a furious Dejazmatch Kassa, who could not bear the repeated insults to his mother. Wondyerad was made to continuously drink the powerful kosso until it had killed him. When Empress Menen heard this news, she quickly ordered out her army and marched into battle with them herself. However, Menen's large army was crushed by Kassa's men, and the Empress was captured.
When Empress Menen was led before Kassa, Tewabech Ali pleaded for her grandmother's life. The Empress however, still as proud and haughty as ever, refused to show even a little humility or submission. He granted his wife's wish that she not be killed, but the Empress was confined to a cave, where she was made to grind grain by hand between two large stones until her fine and soft aristocratic hands had become callused and course.
The news of his mother's defeat alarmed Ras Ali emensely. He promptly ordered Kassa's one time patron, Dejazmatch Goshu Zewde, Prince of Gojjam, to march north
and end the challenge of Kassa. The two armies met at Gur Amba on November 27, 1852, and Dejazmatch Goshu was killed, his army distroyed. Promptly, Kassa began
to wear a coronet (Ras werq) without Imperial sanction, and sent the Re-ese Mekwanent Ras Ali II, and Dejazmatch Wube Haile Mariam of Simien and Tigre, ruler of the north, into a panic. The fall of a major princely ruler such as Dejazmatch Goshu was an emense shock to the noble families and warlords that ruled their fiefdoms and districts with such autonomy durign the Zemene Mesafint period. Ras Ali and Dejazmatch Wube were life long enemies. Dejazmatch Wube was of Imperial blood, being decended from Empreror Susneyos, and he ruled much of northern Ethiopia,
including Simien, Wolkait, Tsegede, Tigre, most of Tigrai, Hamasein, and Serai. The only thing that had prevented him from seizing the Imperial throne was the power of Ras Ali's Yejju
dynasty and their existence of the puppet Emperor Yohannis III. Ali was married to Wube's daughter, and this had helped to maintain a grudging peace. Now however, both
men were being faced with a powerful challenge from a man of lesser birth. After quickly negotiating a response to the defeat and death of Goshu, they formed a formidible army, led by five Dejazmatches. These new forces were considered unbeatable, and Ras Ali along with Dejazmatch Wube sent them off to crush this rude upstart who was married to the daughter of Ali and granddaughter of Wube. The battle occured south west of Gondar, and the four Dejazmatches and their armies were routed again. Two of the Dejazmatches were killed, and it seemed that nothing stood
in the way of Kassa entering the capital. Emperor Yohannis III fled the city for the camp of Dejazmatch Wube, who promptly confined him under close guard. Abune Sellama, a long time friend of Dejazmatch Wube also arrived in Simien and joined his cause. Dejazmatch Kassa entered Gondar, the capital of the Ethiopian Empire and announced that Yohannis III was deposed. The proud city of the heir of the House of Solomon was now ruled by the heir of a minor noble of remote Kwara.
The news sent shock waves through Gojjam, Tigre, Shewa and Yejju, and Debre Tabor, the official seat of Ras Ali's government was now in total panic. Ras Ali, by now desperately clutching to hold on to power, and alarmed at news that Dejazmatch Wube would probably abandon their alliance and proclaim himself Emperor, marched at the head of his own army and met Kassa at the battle of Ayshal on the 29th of June, 1853. He was soundly defeated, and fled the scene of the battle.
Ras Ali II, Re-ese Mekwanint and Enderase was thus deposed as the titular leader and kingmaker of the Empire. He fled to Wollo, where he met with the King of Shewa, Haile Melekot, who was now also in a panic over the success of the upstart from Kwara. Haile Melekot returned to Shewa to prepare for what he recognized as the inevitable invasion of his Kingdom by Kassa, and Ras Ali went on to Yejju. Yejju was the home of the dynasty of Oromo lords who had
been the true power behind the throne since the reign of Emperor Tekle Giorgis II, and was now his place of hiding. Part of his time there was spent hiding in a cave. Meanwhile, Kassa entered Debre Tabor in triumph and crushed what little resistance was left. He began
to appoint his loyalists to positions of responsibility, and instituted his absolute control over all affairs of state. He began to consolidate his gains and refreshed his forces for
the battles to come against his remaining foe in the north, Dejazmatch Wube Haile Mariam. Dejazmatch Wube was also busy preparing. He had welcomed into Simien, his dear friend, the Coptic
Archbishop, Abune Sellama II, whose appointment and travel had been paid for by Wube years earlier, and who was always so sympathetic to him. Wube also had also had a new Church of the Virgin Mary built at his seat at Dirasge, and had robes and a crown made.
Clearly, he saw the recent events as his long desired opportunity as a Solomonic prince, to assume the Imperial Throne. When this news reached him, Kassa promptly marched into the heart of Simien after
Dejazmatch Wube, a man for whom he fealt nothing but loathing. The two men and their armies met at Dirasge on February 8th, 1855, and after a bitter and bloody battle, Wube's men broke and fled the scene.
The Dejazmatch and his family were chained and imprisoned, and the Egyptian Bishop was brought before Kassa. Kassa told Abune Sellama II that his consorting with the enemy would be forgiven if he agreed
to crown Kassa as Emperor of Ethiopia. For centuries the crown had never left the House of Solomon, and even when the Yejju dynasty grabbed power, they always saw to it that a Solomonic Emperor
was the actual crowned monarch in whose name they ruled. Yohannis III had also been captured and was only too glad to have his life spared, and did not raise a fuss when Kassa claimed the right to be crowned Emperor. Yohannis III's immediate priority it seems was to make sure that it was clear he had no intention of resuming married life with Empress Menen. For this aquiesence, Tewodros treated the deposed monarch with deference and respect, allowing him to return to Gondar and take up residence in a modest house outside the Palace compound. Regardless of the ex-Emperor's acceptance of this situation, the Archbishop was clearly reluctant to crown a non-dynastic warlord as Emperor over a land that he himself had not long before been annointed bishop. Kassa decided to use the carrot and stick approach. In using a stick, Kassa casually remarked that an Armenian Bishop was traveling through the Empire, and as he was of the same religion as Ethiopia and the Copts, Kassa could simply remove Sellama and replace him with the Armenian. As a carrot, Kassa promised to stamp out all of the various heretical sects that had proliferated in the Orthodox Church since the time of the conflict with the Catholics during the post-Gragn years, namely the Sost Lidet, Tsega, and Qibat doctrines. Sellama decided to agree to Kassa's terms, so on February 9th, 1855,
Kassa of Kwara was crowned Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia at the Church of the Virgin Mary at Dirasge. His wife became Empress Tewabech. He took the name Tewodros II(Theodore) because of a
widely believed profecy that a King named Tewodros would bring greatness and peace to Ethiopia that would last for 1000 years. He proclaimed that he was the fulfillment of this prediction.
The Wollo Campaign
Tewodros decided that it was time to unite the fractuous empire once more under a strong central monarchy. He swept into Wollo in March of 1855 and led a brutal campaign to bring that province
under the direct rule of the crown. The Yejju and the House of Wag both resisted fiercely, as did the Islamic Mammadoch clans which were split by the claims of the two rival princes to the leadership of the Mammadoch who claimed decent from the Prophet Mohammed. In Wag and Lasta the fighting was also brutal, and to make an example of him, Tewodros ordered that the rebelious Wagshum Gebre Medhin, heir to the Zagwe dynasty, be hung from a tree. Never before had the head of the Zagwe House of Wag been executed, and this act caused much fear and anger in Wag and Lasta. The mothers of the two underage Mammadoch claimants, Aba Wattew (whose mother was the queen Woizero Mestawat) and his rival Imam Amede (whose mother was the queen Woizero Werqitu) fought each other and Tewodros fiercely. He fought through Lent and the rainy season, two things that were not done traditionaly in Ethiopia. All of Wollo, resisted fiercly, and Emperor Tewodros responded with ever greater brutality, including the widespread practice of amputation of limbs. Tewodros siezed the formidable mountain fortress of
Magdalla on September 12, 1855, which ended his Wollo campaign on the second day of the Ethiopian New Year. Shortly thereafter, he captured the young Imam Amede, claimant to the leadership of the Mammadoch, along with a large number of his nobles. He took the young Imam to Magdalla and held him there, had him baptized, and stood as his godfather, much to the consternation of the young Imam's mother, Woizero Werqitu. The mountain top fortress town was surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs and extremely steep inclines, making it close to impregnable.
Capturing it was quite an accomplishment, and Tewodros made it his treasury, his citadel, and a prison for his most important political prisoners. From Gondar, Lalibela and Sokota, Debre Tabor and later from Ankober and Debre Birhan, he gathered the best illuminated manuscripts, the most beautiful church vessels and robes, his own royal jewels and the great Kurata Re'esu Icon and placed them in Magdalla's two churches, particularly in the Church of the Savior of the World (Medhane Alem). From these same places he gathered the members of the various princely and noble houses of the Empire and also imprissoned them in this fortress town. From Magdalla, he continued to brutally raid the surrounding Wollo communities. Part of Tewodros' brutality in Wollo may have been
caused by the death of Empress Tewabech. Tewodros was dispondent at the death of his wife, and refused to bury her body for some months. Ironically, the other person most affected was the exiled
Ras Ali, in Yejju. When Tewabech was alive, she had secretly sent provisions and money to her father in Yejju, and although her husband had found this out, Tewodros had kept quiet because he understood that his
wife loved her father deeply, and that this did not affect her loyalty to him in any way. When the Empress died, Tewodros sent messages to the place where he had known all along his enemy was hidden, to break the sad news to him. Tewodros perhaps understood that the only other person who would feel the impact of the Empress' death as much as he did would be her father. Ras Ali composed a heart rending poem of sorrow at the death of his beloved daughter, wife of his enemey, and remarked that he and Tewodros who had shed the blood of the others followers with impunity, were now
united in grief for one who was special to both of them. Although she was the one who had egged Tewodros into rebellion against her father by saying it was the only road for a true man after all the insults heaped on him, Tewabech Ali had also been a moderating influence on her husband. She would urge him to be more patient, to calm down when enraged, and to take his time before making decisions. People could count on the Emperor being favourable to any issues they put before him if they could win the intercession of Empress Tewabech. A religious woman, she had tried to foster cordial relations between the Emperor and the church hierarchy with whom Tewodros seemed to have little patience. Although pleased and proud of her husband's accomplishments in which she had a big influence, she was nevertheless distressed at the fate of her Yejju and Simien relatives, particularly her father Ras Ali, and her maternal grandfather Dejazmatch Wube. After his victory and coronation, Tewodros had been ambivalent about hunting down Ras Ali, due largely to his love for his wife. However, not even Tewabech could moderate his hate for her grandfather Wube. Wube grew so weary of the horrible conditions of his imprisonment, that he is said to have sent a message to the Emperor saying "Is even a single bullet too much for you to spend on me?" practically begging to be shot. With the death of Empress Tewabech, Wube could only look forward to more misery.
The Reincorporation of the Kingdom of Shewa
Tewodros II, King of Kings of Ethiopia then marched south to force the submission of the kingdom of Shewa. The Shewans had lived in relative independence throughout the Zemene Mesafint, only nominaly recognizing
the Emperor in Gondar, but being ruled by their own branch of the Solomonic Dynasty the head of which bore the title of Merid Azmatch. Then, Sahle Selassie had proclaimed himself King of Shewa, and while still nominally
recognizing the Emperor in Gondar, he ruled Shewa with no interference from the capital. Upon his death he was succeeded as King of Shewa by his son Haile Melekot, who now was gearing up to resist Tewodros. The Shewans gathered to support their king against the usurper, but much to their alarm, they found that Haile Melekot was gravely ill. Even as he made preparations to fight Tewodros, his illness grew graver, and as Tewodros marched accross the northern border of Wollo and Shewa into the district of Menz, King Haile Melekot died of his illness. Upon news of the death of the king, the Shewan forces rapidly began to disintegrate. Two of the dowager queens of Shewa, Zenebework and Bezabish, the grandmother and mother of Haile Melekot respectively, rushed forward to meet the Emperor and pay homage to him in order to keep their offices and estates. They were quickly followed by a half-brother of the king, Abeto Haile Michael who also submitted to Tewodros. Debre Birhan quickly fell to the Emperor as did several other major Shewan towns. Angered by the betrayal of their queens, a group of Shewan nobles led by Ato Bezabih grabed the 9 year old Prince Menelik (known then by his baptismal name Sahle Mariam) and tried to resist the Emperor under Menelik's banner. It was a futile attempt though, and Haile Melekot's son Menelik was captured, as was Haile Melekot's widow Tidenekialesh and his half-brother Darge. A full brother of the late king, Abeto Seyfu, escaped and would lead a guerrilla force for many years resisting the Emperor in Shewa. Upon hearing that Haile Melekot was dead, Tewodros refused to believe it. How could the King of Shewa, much admired for his bravery and prowess in battle simply die of illness? He marched into Ankober and demanded that the hastily buried king be dug up from his grave so that Tewodros could acertain his death. Haile Melekot's body was indeed exhumed in the presence of Emperor Tewodros. Upon seeing the dead king's face, Tewodros was so moved that it is said he wept sadly for the king who had been denied the glory of falling in battle in defence of his crown. Tewodros then authorized a full royal funeral and burial for Haile Melekot. He then took the most of the captured Shewan royals, and thier considerable treasure and carried them off to the citadel of Magdalla and imprisoned them there. He recognized however that it would be dificult to rule Shewa without it's royal family, so he appointed one of the princes, Haile Michael, son of Sahle Selassie and brother of Haile Melekot, as Merid Azmatch of Shewa and left him in charge. By puting a member of the royal family in charge of Shewa, he hoped to cut into the support that might go to Abeto Seyfu Sahle Selassie who remained a fugitive. He also aquiced to the constant nagging on the part of the two dowager queens, Zenebework and Bezabish, and allowed them to keep their extensive estates and fiefdoms. Shewa was now re-integrated into the direct rule of the Ethiopian Empire. The other dowager queen, the recently widowed Tidenekialish had caught Tewodros II's eye with her considerable beauty, but unlike her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law, this queen had decided she had little use for the trappings of royalty any longer. She escaped the Emperor and made her way to Massawa and after considerable difficulty, managed to secure passage to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. There she entered the Ethiopian Convent at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and lived out her life as a simple nun. Few people outside the small Ethiopian Community in Jerusalem probably realized that this prayerful nun had once been a queen in the heart of Africa.
Tewodros the Progressive
Tewodros embarked on an ambitious plan to bring his people out of the middle ages. He decided against establishing a permanent capital, choosing to travel around the Empire, collecting his tributes, putting down rebellions and directly administering law and justice as he went. He would however periodically return to Debre Tabor, Gondar and Magdalla. He imprissoned many of his more prominent opponents, nobility and possible claimants to the throne at Magdalla, including the young Imam, Amede Bashir of the Mammadoch of Wollo, and Menelik of Shewa and other assorted royals and aristocrats of Shewa, Gojjam, Wollo, Lasta, Tigrai and Gondar. Tewodros was not all about control however. He built roads and tried to administer fair justice to his people, although sometimes he could be brutal (increasingly so as his reign lengthend). He established a large workshop at Gaffat, south of Gondar, where he had Europeans attempt to make fire arms for his army. He tried to build a boat on lake Tana that was propelled by a pedaling system, and dreamed of establishing European modernism in is country. Tewodros tried to establish a more fair system of taxation, trying to lessen the burden on the peasantry. He tried to ensure that regional govenors ruled their provinces in a fair and equitable way. He himself shunned pomp and circumstance, and was exceedingly simple in his manner and his dress. However, there was no mistaking him for anything but Emperor of Ethiopia. He demanded the same respect that was once due to his predicessors. He had ambitions of building a network of roads to make communications in his mountainous Empire easier and quicker. He befriended two Englishmen, Walter Plowden and John Bell, who encouraged him in his zeal for progress, and told him of the greatness of Britain and assured him that Victoria's England would be a good ally for him to cultivate. Plowden was functioning as British Consul in Ethiopia when Tewodros came to power, and John Bell became a close friend and confidant to the Emperor. When the Emperor's own relatives, led by his rebellious nephew Garrad, ambushed and killed both Bell and Plowden, the Emperor's vengance was cruel and fast, and he ruthlessly and bloodily avenged them against his own relations, laying waste to much of Kwara in the process. Plowden was replaced by the much less successful Consul Cameron, who arrived with a letter of thanks, a silver platter and two pistols from Queen Victoria. Tewodros, amazed and sceptical that a huge Empire such as the British Empire could be ruled by a woman, was nevertheless very pleased by this gesture. He sent a letter to Queen Victoria asking for artisans and gunsmiths. The letter was forwarded to London, and was deposited in a file in the Foreign Office, not shown to the Queen, and quickly forgotten. It would be a critical mistake on the part of the Foreign Office.
Tewodros and the Church
Among Tewodros' goals was the ending of division in the Orthodox church as well as in the Empire. Since the 1500's and 1600's, various doctrines had appeared within the Orthodox church that were in direct conflict with the teachings of the faith as understood by the Patriarchate of Alexandria. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church upheld the Tewahido doctrine as did the Coptic Church of Egypt. The Tewahido translates to "United" or "Unionite" refering to the nature of Christ. After the Council of Chalcedon in the 4th Century A.D., the Oriental Orthodox Churches had broken with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches who said Christ had two distinct natures, one Human and one Divine. The "Tewahido" (known to their opponents as monophosytes) maintained that Christ had only one nature which was a complete union of the Human and the Divine, and which could not be divided or separated. He did everything as both Man and God, in the Oriental Orthodox version, while the others said that some things he did as a Man, while others he did as God. Now, in Ethiopia, the Tewahido was being challenged by subtle interpretations that had been influenced by Catholic missions during the Gragn wars and after. One group, the Qibat (Unctionists) believed that Christ recieved his Divinity from his unction or anointing by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. Another variation with a subtle yet significant difference was the Tsega (Grace) doctrine whose believers maintained that he became Devine by adoption when God the Father proclaimed him "MY SON" through grace, at the baptisim also. A third doctrine was the Sost Lidet (three births) that maintained that Christ (God the Son) had three births, the first from God the Father at the Creation, the second from the Holy Virgin at the Nativity, and the third from the Holy Spirit at the Baptism. This implied that he did not become completely Divine until after the baptism, and that the Trinity were not complete until after the baptism of Christ. The Tewahido maintained that the Trinity was complete always, that Christ was Divine from the womb of the Virgin and that his nature was indivisible and inseperably one at all times. This doctrine was endorsed by the Patriarch of Alexandira and the official church hierarchy in Ethiopia. Various Emperors had however leaned from time to time towards the Qibat doctrine, and the Qibat was particularly strong in Gojjam. The Sost Lidet was strongest in Shewa, and Sahle Selassie proclaimed it the official doctrine of his kingdom in 1841, earning him a threat of excommunication from the Archbishop in Gondar. Now however, these doctrines were all regarded as heretical by the Patriarch in Alexandira, and the Bishop, Abune Sellama II was determined to stamp them out. Tewodros was eager to help in uniformizing the doctrine of the church as it would help in uniting the country under central authority. Abune Sellama had accompanied Tewodros to Shewa, so one of his first acts there was to order the suppression of the Sost Lidet. The Qibat were also suppressed in Gojjam, and the Tsega stamped out wherever they were found. In Shewa particularly however, the Sost Lidet doctrine was identified with defiance of the Emperor, and was adopted by the supporters of the Shewan royal house, and Abeto Seyfu in particular.
The Coptic Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Chruch, Abune Sellama II
The heirarchs were very pleased with Tewodros II's doctrinal stance, and the initial relationship between church and state in Tewodros' reign were warm. Things would rapidly change however. One of Tewodros II's grievances was the huge number of clergy in the country. The land was teaming with priests who did not pay taxes, and who controlled the huge land holdings of the Church which was exempt from all taxes. He demanded that each church reduce the number of priest to two, and the number of deacons to four, and send the rest packing. He angrily complained that half the land is Seeso, and half Gedam (catagories of church land), and how was he expected to pay and feed his troops he wanted to know. The priests were lazy men who lived off the people, and who joined the clergy in order to avoid both work and military service he said. This was a patently unfair characterization as the vast majority of monks and priest were actually quite hard working farmers and teachers. He decided however to seize all the land that he needed from the church, leaving it what he thought would be adequate, and give the rest to tax paying peasants. This caused a huge uproar among the Ethiopian clergy and angered the Archbishop. Moreover, he noted that clergy men always removed their turbans when they entered the Holy of Holies in the chuches, but kept them on when they appeared before him. He demanded that they remove their turbans before him, which they steadfastly refused to do as it had never been so in the past with any previous Emperor. These things helped to fray the already strained personal relations between the Emperor and the Archbishop. When the Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Kyrilos (Cyril), decided to visit (the first time ever that a Patriarch actually visited the country), he hoped he could mediate an agreement between the Archbishop and the Emperor. However, when he judged the Archbishop to be right, and said that the Emperor should return the siezed church property, Tewodros had both the Patriarch and the Archbishop imprissoned. Both the Patriarch and the Archbishop further compromised themselves by writing a letter to the Khedive of Egypt asking for a military regiment be sent to Ethiopia to help in training the Emperor's army. They did this without consulting the Emperor, who was immediately suspicious that they were trying to establish an Egyptian foothold in his Empire. Tewodros declaired that they were both spies in the pay of the Turks and their Egyptian vassal state. These accusations and the imprisonment of the Coptic Pope caused such a reaction of horror accross the Empire, that Tewodros was eventually prevailed upon to release them both, and he allowed the Patriarch to leave for Egypt. The Patriarch departed convinced that Ethiopia was ruled by a mad man. Abune Sellama however continued to angrily denounce the Emperor to all who would listen, even to the Emperors face. Foreign observers have even left accounts of the two men hurling insults at each other in public. The Archbishop calling Tewodros a mad man and an apostate, while the Emperor called the Archbishop an Arab and a Moslem. Finally, both men had enough and Tewodros ordered the Archbishop imprissoned on Magdalla, and the Archbishop in turn called on the people of the land to refuse to be ruled by Tewodros and resist his authority anathemizing those who didn't. This encouraged many disgruntled nobles and rebles to rise up against Tewodros, and the later part of his reign was rife with rebellion and revolt from one end of the Empire to the other. His own brutality and ruthlessness did not help Tewodros in this either. When Abune Sellama II eventually died at Magdalla, a messenger came to Tewodros at Debre Tabor, knelt before him and said "His Eminence has died your Majesty, may God console you!" The Emperor is said to have replied "Console me! You should be congradulating me on my happiness!" Even with these considerable problems with the hierarchs of his church, Tewodros II was a devotee of the Orthodox faith. He forbade entrance to the Catholics, and only grudgingly allowed Protestants into his Christian Empire. His resentment and suspicion of clergymen extended to foriegn missionaries as well as native priests. When a group of German missionaries arrived at his court to pay their respects, he asked them if they knew how to make firearms. When they replied that they did not, and that they were men of God come to preach the Gospel, he angrily replied that Ethiopia already had the Gospel and already had more than enough priests. He didn't need more priests from Europe, what he needed was men who made fire arms he said. He ended up forcing many of these missionaries to join his workshops at Gaffat and attempt to make firearms. They succeeded in casting a huge canon which they named Sabastopol, and in gratitude he permited them to preach to the nearby Falasha Jews. However, even with his deep resentment of men of the cloth, Tewodros was still a deeply religious man, and his greatest and often mentioned dream and desire was to drive the Turks out of Jerusalem. He refered to himself as "Husband of Ethiopia, Fiance of Jerusalem."
Emperor Tewodros II, shown on the march with his pet Lions
Personal Tribulations and Remarriage
Tewodros II's personal life was as tumult filled as his public life. Following the death of his much loved first wife, Empress Tewabech Ali, Tewodros mourned deeply and bitterly. However, he recognized his need to provide his country with an heir. He had poor relations with his son Meshesha, and unstable relations with his other illigitmate children. He also recognized that his eventual heir should have undisputed Solomonic blood in order to be truely accepted as Emperor. Therefore, he decided to re-marry. It is said that one of his senior officers was attending church in Gondar one Sunday, when he noticed a particularly lovely woman. He noticed her ardent piety in her worship, and at the same time was struck by her queenly deportment and her regal manners. The officer is said to have hurried to the Emperor and said to him, "Sire, today I have seen a woman who was clearly created for my king." Tewodros was curioius and asked after the woman whom his officer had seen at church. The woman was none other than the daughter of the man whom he considered his most hated enemy. That enemy was Dejazmatch Wube of Simien, and the daughter was Tiruwork Wube. When first approached with the news that the Emperor had decided that she should be his new wife, Tiruwork resisted fiercely. Her feelings for a man she regarded as a usurper and a parvenue, not to mention the man who kept ther father and male relatives in chains can be imagined. However, her relatives prevailed upon her to accept the proposal as it might mean freedom for Dejazmatch Wube and his family. She reluctantly agreed to marry Tewodros, but was swiftly disappointed when neither her father nor her other relations were freed. The conditions of their imprisonment were vastly improved, but they remained prisoners. Empress Tiruwork may have been the younger aunt of his first wife Empress Tewabech, but she had nothing of Tewabech's temperment or her affection for Tewodros. Empress Tiruwork was every inch a Solomonic Princess, haughty and proud, decendant of Emperors and Queens, a true daughter of Solomon. That she was forced to marry what she regarded as the son of a kosso seller, a minor noble who had usurped the throne, and who kept her father prisoner and her brothers fugitives, galled her to no end. She found Tewodros to be coarse and common, and he found her cold and unfeeling. The marriage was tempestuous and unhappy, but they did manage to bear a son, Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros, whom the Emperor loved very deeply, and whom he recognized as his heir. For affection, Tewodros turned increasingly to other women, even refering to a certain Woizero Yetemegnu as "Itege" (Empress)Yetemegnu, although she was never his wife, and the church never recognized her as Empress. She was simply a favorite mistress ("Iqubat" as she was refered to). Empress Tiruwork bore the humiliation with her characteristic haughty and cold demeanor, and although they often quarelled and separated, they were always eventually reconciled and settled down into a tense truce. Due to his now being his father-in-law, Tewodros eased the conditions of Wube's imprisonment. During the long campaigns that Tewodros led across the land to put down the now frequent rebellions and govern far flung provinces, he insisted that Empress Tiruwork accompany him. This seems to have affected her health which was frail to begin with. During these constant campaigns accross the Empire, he forbade the mourning of those who were bereaved in his huge traveling court and army as it was not practical in his eyes to do this while on the move. However, upon the death of his father-in-law and enemy, Dejazmatch Wube, he allowed the Empress to sit in mourning and for all to join her in weeping. It is said that everyone then sat and wept for those whom they had lost over the years and been forbidden to mourn. The dirge singers are said to have thanked Dejazmatch Wube "Dejazmatch Wube always kind always giving, Thank you for giving us the opportunity to grieve".
Towards the end of his reign, Emperor Tewodros became increasingly unpredictable and brutal in his behavior. It is said with his unhappy marriage had come increasing consumption of alchohol. Constant rebellions also took their toll on his patience. In pursuit of a band of rebelious nobles, Tewodros entered the city of Gondar on one occasion and as was customary, the women of the city came out to ulultate and clap in greeting as he rode into the capital. However, Tewodros became enraged, accusing the women of ulultating loudly to alert the rebles of his approach so that they could make their escape. He thus accused the women of cooperating with his enemies and had dozens of them slain right there. When Merid Azmatch Haile Michael rebeled against him in Shewa, Tewodros was very angry. Abeto Seyfu had continued in rebellion for years, and Tewodros suspected that Merid Azmatch Haile Michael had purposly neglected crushing the rebellion of his brother. When Seyfu died, his cause was continued by his son Meshesha Seyfu. Merid Azmatch Haile Michael was after all a Shewan member of the House of Solomon, and he was unlikely to agressively hunt down his brother or his nephew for the sake of a man that he must have secretly regarded as a userper and an upstart. The rebellion of the Merid Azmatch confirmed all of Tewodros's suspicions. The Emperor replaced the Prince by a commoner, Ato Bezabih, as the governor of Shewa. Bezabih had been among the Shewans that had tried to resist Tewodros' take over of Shewa under the banner of the young Prince Menelik. Tewodros had admired Bezabih a great deal commenting that except for the crown of Ethiopia, Bezabih was Tewodros' equal in bravery. When this news reached Magdalla, the Shewan royal prisoners there were deeply upset. They had remained at Magdalla quietly, on fairly freindly terms with the Emperor in the thought that one of their own still held Shewa. Darge Sahle Sellassie had become a favorite of the Emperor, who admired his bravery and his forthrightness. Young Menelik had in fact married Tewodros's daughter Alitash Tewodros. Although many believed that Menelik was the rightful ruler of Shewa, they could live with his uncle ruling Shewa for the time being. Now however, the royal house was being replaced by a commoner, an event that they couldn't stand for. While they were angrily contemplating this, further news arrived from Shewa. The new governor, Bezabih had also rebeled, and proclaimed himself "king" of Shewa. Tewodros was enraged, but because of the deteriorating situation in Beghemidir and Wollo, he was not in the position to act. It was the last straw for the royal Shewans at Magdalla. After careful planning with the cooperation of Menelik's good freind Meshesha Tewodros, the elder son of the Emperor himself, the Shewans threw a huge banquet for all the nobles at Magdalla and for their guards. A large amount of alchohol was consumed. Soon the guards and the other guests began to pass out from over indulgence in food and drink. At midnight, Dejazmatch Meshesha Tewodros made sure that the gates to the citadel were unlocked, and Menelik of Shewa, his mother Ijigayehu, and most of the Shewan nobles stole down the side of the mountain, and entered the nearby camp of the Wollo queen Werqitu, an avowed enemy of the Emperor. They left behind Darge Sahle Selassie, Menelik's much loved uncle, who they believed would not arouse the vengence of the Emperor, as Tewodros had great affection for him. In the morning the Emperor awoke to find most of the Shewan prisoners gone, and his daughter Alitash, abandoned by her husband, in tears. In a rage, he mounted a watch tower and through field glasses, was able to ascertain that the Shewans were in the camp of the Wollo queen. He deduced that the Wollo camp and the Shewans must have been in previous contact, his rage turned on the Wolloye prisoners in Magdalla. Several years earlier, Tewodros had seized Werqitu's son, Imam Amede, one of the two young claimants to the leadership of the Mammadoch clan of Wollo (the other being the son of the rival queen Mestawat). The young Imam had been imprisoned at Magdalla, and forced to be baptized into Christianity (Tewodros stood as his godfather), with several of his nobles. Werqitu had tried in vain to engineer the rescue of her son from Magdalla, and had camped with a large force nearby in hopes of being there when it happened. When Menelik entered her camp, the queen shrewdly realized she had a bargaining chip, and sent emissaries up Magdalla to offer the Emperor a bargain, the return of the Shewan Prince and his followers in exchange for the freedom of her son and his nobles. Her emissaries were too slow. The Emperor was in an uncontrolled rage directed at the Wollo queen. Tewodros committed an act which is regarded as one of the most cruel and heartless acts of his entire reign. He had the young 12 year old Imam and his nobles brought before him, and ordered that their hands and feet be cut off. He then ordered that the Imam and his nobles be dragged to the edge of the Magdalla plateau, and thrown over the escarpment into the plain far below. None of the Shewans who had remained behind were molested in any way. When the news of the brutal murder of the little Imam spread, the population recoiled in horror. The murder of a young boy and his retinue was something that few in the empire could accept as justified. When the emissaries that had come to betray Menelik realized what had happened, they rushed back to their camp to tell their queen that her cause was lost. Werquitu was beside herself with grief. With the death of her son, his rival, Abba Wattew, son of Queen Mestawat was now most likely to be universally recognized as Imam and leader of the Mammadoch. Her world had shattered, and her son was dead. Contemplating the betrayal that she had been about to commit against the Prince of Shewa, she is said to have said of Menelik. "Allah must love Menelik very much." Menelik mourned the Wollo nobles with her, and then proceeded to Shewa, where he recieved a tumultuous welcome from the population. He deposed the usurper Bezabih, and was crowned king of Shewa at Ankober. In a more sober mood, Tewodros II, who had always loved Menelik as a son, was heard to comment that he himself would probably have escaped to claim his patrimony in the same circumstances, and didn't blame Menelik at all for that. What he could not forgive was the abandonment of his daughter Alitash. Why couldn't the Shewans have taken her with them he asked. Deep down, Tewodros suspected that the Shewan royals had never considered the daughter of a usurper, and the granddaughter of a kosso seller, to be good enough for their Solomonic king. The insult was deeply felt. What is inexplicable is why the brunt of his rage fell on the unfortunate Wollo prince who was his godson, rather than the remaining Shewans at Magdalla. These acts helped to make Tewodros less and less popular and more and more feared. He was deeply resented in Shewa and Wello as an opressor, and even his native Dembia and Kwara smarted with his angry vengance. He had sacked the city of Gondar in a fit of anger, and the Tigreans maintained a smoldering rebellion that would wax and wane, but never disappeared. The clergy was united in it's resentment of him, and the aristocracy hated him. Across the Empire which he had re-united after an era of upheaval and disintigration, he was regarded as a cruel tyrant. The ground was ripe for a strong external enemy to come in and distroy Tewodros, and that enemy came. Interestingly enough, the one district that consistantly remained loyal to Tewodros was Hamasien, the heart of modern day Eritrea.
As stated earlier, Emperor Tewodros II had sent a letter to Queen Victoria requesting amaments and artisans and military advisors. The officials at the foriegn office had rather contemptuously tossed the letter aside without ever showing it to the queen as some African monarch, in their view, could hardly be taken seriously. Tewodros II however was eagerly awaiting her reply. When the British Consul, Captain Cameron traveled to Massawa, and returned without a reply, the Emperor was furious. He was also deeply suspicious because the Consul had arrived back in the Empire via Mettema, and so had traveled through Turkish held territory. Tewodros was suspicious that the English were consorting with his Turkish enemies. He was deeply insulted the the British queen had not deigned to reply to him, so he siezed Consul Cameron and imprissoned him. He declaired that the Consul would not be freed until he recieved an answer to his letter. To emphasize his seriousness, Tewodros arrested all the Europeans in Ethiopia at the time and held them hostage demanding a response from Queen Victoria. They included besides Captain Cameron, and Italian named Pietro, the Englishman Dr. Henry Blanc who would write a facinating book on his travails in Ethiopia, the German missionary Henry Stern, who had angered the Emperor with his gossip about the Emperor's ancestry, the Frenchman Prideaux, the Swiss born Kerans, and Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal with their baby son, who were also German Protestant missionaries, as well as a few others. When news of these happenings reached Whithall, a hurried search was conducted for the letter which was located with some difficulty. Queen Victoria was made to pen a quick response, which failed to satisfy Tewodros. In 1864, the British sent Hormuzd Rassam to negotiate freedom for the European prisoners. Unsatisfied with what Rassam had to say, Tewodros arrested him also and imprisoned him with the rest of the European prisoners. London had had enough. After a lengthy parliamentary debate, it was decided that something forcefull had to be done to rectify this insult against Queen and realm, so an expiditionary force was authorized to crush Tewodros and free the hostages. General Sir Robert Napier led 32,000 British and Indian troops and landed at Zula on the Red Sea coast, and marched into the Ethiopian highlands. They built a rail line to help them carry supplies inland as they marched, and sent messages to the nobles of the land saying that they were friends, that they did not come to conquer Ethiopia but to free their compatriots and crush the oppressor. Ethiopians had a reputation of dropping their disputes and uniting to fight invading outsiders, and the British wanted to assure that this did not happen. Wagshum Gobeze Gebre Medhin and Menelik of Shewa sent cautious messages of support, but they were suspicious of long term British intentions, and did not commit to any concrete assistance. Dejazmatch Kassa Mercha of Tembien and Enderta did not have any such qualms. He met with Sir Robert in an elaborate ceremony, and provided provisions and guides to the British expedition. Napier had impressed the Ethiopian Prince by appearing at the meeting place, riding an elephant, and having his multitude of cannon fired in salute. Dejazmatch Kassa was confident that Emperor Tewodros, weakened and unpopular as he was, didn't have a chance against this huge well equiped and determined force. He was determined to make the British his allies. The Emperor in the mean time, had taken his captives to Magdalla, and fortified the citadel and awaited Napier and his forces. He had his huge canon, Sebastopol dragged up the escarpment to his fortress town and prepared to fight the forces of the English Queen. On April 10th, 1868, the British forces battled Tewodros II's army, led by his beloved childhood friend and general, Fitawrari Gebriye at the Battle of Aroge. The Ethiopian army was beaten badly, and Gebriye was killed. Tewodros realized, after watching the battle from the heights of Magdalla, that he was out gunned and didn't have a chance against Napier. Even though he had been urged by some to massacre the Europeans, and thwart the enemy, the weary Emperor took a different course this time. He sent General Napier a letter the next day, along with a gift of cattle to celebrate easter, and also, all the hostages. He wrote a sad letter in which he discribed to Napier his lost dreams of improving his country and liberating the Holy Land from the Turks, how he had been defeated because of the insubordination of his own people, and how Napier was victorious because he led a force from a land where "the people were in a state of disipline and order". He even admitted that "thinking myself to be a great lord, I gave you battle, but..." his great canon that he had hoped would rain death on his enemies had exploded and cracked on it's first firing, and was useless. Tewodros realized that his cause was lost, and that his doom was close. On Easter Monday, 1868, the British assaulted the mountain fortress of Magdalla and stormed the citadel. The Ethiopian forces fought valiantly but in vain, they were soon overwhelmed. The British began to sweep through the citadel and the Emperor's residence on Magdalla looking for Tewodros. What they found would stun them. Seeing that all was lost, and that he was about to face the humiliation of captivity, Tewodros II, King of Kings and Emperor of Ethiopia had picked up the pistol sent to him years earlier by Queen Victoria, placed the barrel in his mouth and had shot himself. The English soldiers who found his body at first began to rip his clothing for souveniers, horiffying the Ethiopian captives as barbaric and un-Christian. Napier arrived on the scene and angrily ordered the soldiers to halt the desicration of the Emperor's body. He ordered a guard of honor to guard the body, and ordered another guard of honor to stand attendance on the widowed Empress Tiruwork and her little son Alemayehu Tewodros. All remaining prisoners at Magdalla were freed, and order restored. Napier than earned the respect of the Ethiopians by ordering a full military funeral for Emperor Tewodros at the Church of Medhane Alem (Savior of the World), complete with canon being fired and soldiers saluting the body as it passed. The Empress and the Emperor's relatives were kept away from the funeral, because of the British fear that Tewodros's enemies, prevented by his death of exacting revenge upon him, might attack his family. Tewodros's houshold and followers wailed and wept for "the Lion of Magdalla" and the dirge singers praised him for choosing a proud death over the humiliation of captivity. News of the death of the Emperor spread quickly. In Shewa where Tewodros was widely hated as an opressor, there was said to be much rejoicing. The Shewan King however, in spite of his message of support to the British, is said to have shut himself away in his rooms and wept for three days. Politically, Menelik was Tewodros's avowed enemy. Personally however, Tewodros had practically raised Menelik from childhood, and had shown Menelik deep affection. Menelik wept for Tewodros as if it was his own father who had died. Over the years, the harsh reality of Tewodros II's rule over the empire would fade, and instead, his role in re-uniting a fragmenting country, his dreams of modernization and progress, and his valiant last stand would replace any other negative image of him. Above all, his choice of death over humiliation seemed to epitomize the attitude of Ethiopians and their pride. He became the symbol of national pride by his act of suicide, and to this day, he is regarded as a national hero and a great Emperor. He had left a big mark on his country, and changed it for the better.
Canon of Emperor Tewodros II as it appears today at Magdalla
The aftermath of the death of Emperor Tewodros was chaos. After the Emperor was buried, the young heir, Dejazmatch Alemayehu, his mother Empress Tiruwork, her mother Woizero Lakiyaye (widow of Dejazmatch Wube), and other members of the Imperial household were removed from Magdalla and taken to General Napier's camp "for their safety". Promptly the British soldiers engaged in an act of barbarous distruction unequalled in Ethiopia since the time of Gragn. They totally pillaged all the homes in Magdalla including the Emperor's. They looted even the Churches, and act of desecration that was truely horrifying. Tewodros had brought all the great treasures from the churches and palaces in Gondar and Debre Tabor, from Shewa and Tigre and horded them at Magdalla. Great processional crosses of silver and gold, chalices, vestments, prayer staffs all glittering with precious metals and jewels, priceless parchment manuscripts from various centuries, Tewodros's three crowns and the great Kurate Re'esu Icon ( depicting Christ wearing the Crown of Thorns) which had been carried into battle by all the Emperors of Ethiopia, and before which people swore alliegance to the crown, were all looted. This act of theivery was carried out by the regular troops, but after they had carried their loot from the mountain top town, they were paid small amounts for the items by the regiment, which organized a huge auction on the plain below. Agents bid for various private and institutional collectors in Europe, including the German Kaiser, and the British Museum. Ethiopia's patrimony was thus carried off in a scandalous manner. Napier then ordered the citadel and town of Magdalla to be torched. Although he specified that the churches were to be left alone (even though they had been emptied by the looters of even their relics and arcs), they also caught fire, and Magdalla was erased from the map. With the Church of the Savior burned to the ground, the Emperor's remains were later disentered and moved to Dembia where he was re-buried at the Mahidere Mariam monastery. The British then began their return trip to the coast. It was decided that a large amount of weaponry would be handed over to Dejazmatch Kassa Mercha as a reward for his help. This aid would help him in his bid to eventually seize the throne as Emperor Yohannis IV. In the mean time, Wagshum Gobeze had proclaimed himself Emperor Tekle Giorgis III, and Menelik of Shewa had laid claim to the throne as well. The British showed little interest in what happened in Ethiopia after they had accomplished their goal of crushing Tewodros and freeing the captives. As far as they were concerned, rival claimants and threats of civil war were not their business. Discrete letters were sent to the nephews of the late Dejazmatch Wube asking what they prefered for their cousins, Empress Tiruwork and her son. Their callous response was "Do what you like with her." They had come to regard her as the wife of their enemy rather than their kinswoman, and did not care what happened. When asked, the Empress had expressed her desire that her son be allowed to go to Britain and be educated in modern methods. The British decided that they would take the young heir of Tewodros, Alemayehu, and the widowed Empress initially wanted to retire with her mother to Simien or Tigrai. However, as the days passed, the thought of being seperated from her little boy was too much for her, and she decided to accompany her son to England. Empress Tiruwork, had not had an easy marriage to Tewodros. His cruelty to her father and family, his many women and his temper had clashed with her pride and haughtiness. In spite of everything though, she had stood at his side loyaly at the end, and his death had devastated her. Years of being dragged around the Empire in her husbands traveling court had taken it's toll on her health, used to the life of a pampered noblewoman, rather than the rough life of a soldiers wife that Tewodros provided. Being Empress had not provided Tiruwork Wube with comfort and ease. Now, as the British took her and her son off to life in a strange and distant land, she took ill and weakened further. During her illness, she was harrassed by Captain Speedy about the future of her son and who should be his guardian if she were unable to care for him. The question angered and disturbed the Empress greatly. Speedy had a long history in Ethiopia, and the Empress knew that Emperor Tewodros had once had a very deep dislike of Captain Speedy. Speedy was so persistant and unrelenting, that the Empress summoned General Napier and begged him to keep Speedy away from her. Although the doctors of the British army made every effort, they were unable to save her, and Tiruwork Wube, Empress of Ethiopia died on the road to Zula. The English, always respectful of royalty, beleived she was entitled to great deference. Napier authorized that from among the things looted from Magdalla, the richest and most magnificently embroydered cloth be chosen to cover her coffin as a pall. A large piece of velvet cloth that was heavily embroydered in gold was taken from the loot and placed on the coffin. Then a huge crowd of Ethiopians assembled to carry their queen to her final rest. Amid a throng of weeping and wailing people, priests carrying processional crosses and great embroydered umbrellas, with trumpets being sounded and drums beaten, the British and little Dejazmatch Alemayehu watched as the body of Empress Tiruwork, followed by her mother, Woizero Lakiyaye and various other relatives, was carried off. Empress Tiruwork's body was carried to the Monastery of The Holy Trinity (Selassie) at Cheleqot in Tigrai, where she was buried next to her great-grandfather, Ras Welde Selassie of Simein. The magnificent pall that had covered her coffin remains at the monastery to this day. It was the first item looted from Magdalla to be returned. The tragedy of Tewodros's family was not over however. Little Alemayehu Tewodros was now an orphan. What his feelings were as he watched his mothers coffin carried away escored by his grandmother and other relatives that he would never see again can only be imagined. Within the span of weeks, this little prince had not only lost the possibility of one day becoming Emperor, but also both parents and almost every familiar face from his entire life. The English were determined that he go to England, and there was no possibility that they would allow him to remain in Ethiopia with his relatives. He was accompanied by a small Ethiopian entourage led by a priest, Aleka Zenebe who had been Tewodros' chronicler. Empress Tiruwork's mother had accompanied her daughters body to Cheleqot for the burial. Before she had left her grandson for the last time, she wrote a pitifully heart breaking letter to Queen Victoria entrusting Alemayehu to her care. It translates in part "May this reach Victoria, Queen of the English. The Lord magnify your kingdom and distroy your enemies. I am Woizero Lakiyaye, mother of Empress Tiruwork. I have lost my three Dejazmatches (her husband Wube and her two sons) and the Empress. Dejazmatch Alemayehu is all that I have left. As I will no longer be able to see him, I too should be counted among the dead. I ask you to care for him in my stead, as he will call you mother now, as I am lost to him." Queen Victoria recieved this letter, and apparently was very touched and took it to heart. Although Captain Speedy would claim to be the boy's legal guardian and responsible for his upkeep, the queen and the government forcefully argued that he had been entrusted in her personal care by his next of kin. Captain Speedy however had assumed the care of the Ethiopian Prince, and was acting as Alemayehu's guardian, and even took him to India briefly (where he very well may have contracted the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him). However, it was the Queen who would pay for the Prince's upkeep and education at Rugby School, from her private funds. Unfortunately, Alemayehu would not live very long. During his voyage from Ethiopia, the priest Aleka Zenebe and the rest of the Ethiopians that accompanied him had disappeared from his entourage. Speedy charged that Alemayehu was afraid of Aleka Zenebe who he believed had the evil eye. Speedy arranged for the Ethiopians to be put off the ship in Egypt from where they made their way back to their homeland. It is entirely likely that the British and Captain Speedy in particular found the cleric to be an obstacle to their efforts to turn the Prince into a little Englishman. Alemayehu would grow increasingly lonely as the years went by, and his compromised health made things even harder. He developed a very strong attachment to Captain Speedy and his wife. A few years later, he would recieve a letter from his grandmother asking him when he would return, and stating "your country awaits you". However, Woizero Lakiyaye would never see her grandson again. Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros died in England at the age of 19 of "consumption". Richard Pankhurst in his article "Ethiopia's Image Abroad, Ethiopian Place Names and Statues in Britain, Rasselas and Aida" quotes the entry made by Queen Victoria in her diary, the day of Dejazmatch Alemayehu's death. The Queen of Great Britain wrote " ...very grieved and shocked... to hear that good Alamayou had passed away... It is too sad. All alone in a strange country, without seeing a relative..., so young and so good". The queen went on to write "...his was no happy life, full of difficulties of every kind, and he was so sensitive, thinking that people stared at him because of his colour, that I fear he would never have been happy." The son of Tewodros II had left a warm impression on Queen Victoria who seems to have been truely saddened at his untimely death. He was buried at St. George's chapel at Windsor Castle, among British royalty. Emperor Haile Selassie commisioned a plaque in St. George Chapel at Windsor in his memory, and it can be seen there today. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi laid a wreath at the chapel plaque upon his visit to Britain in 2002. Proffesor Pankhurst states that Queen Victoria had a bust of Alemayehu made, and that this bust is currently kept at Sadringham, the British Royal family's country home in Norfolk.
The several children and relatives of Tewodros lived quietly through the brief reign of Tekle Giorgis III and the longer reign of Yohannis IV, neither of whom were kindly disposed towards them (particularly Tekle Giorgis who was the son of Wagshum Gebre Medhin whom Tewodros had ordered hung from a tree). Emperor Menelik II however had warmer personal feelings towards Tewodros and his family, and granted the title of Ras to his good friend Meshesha Tewodros, as well as the territory of Dembia as his fief. Emperor Tewodros II's elder son would serve Emperor Menelik loyally, and was counted among the Emperor's good friends. As for Menelik's first wife, Alitash Tewodros, whom he had abandoned, she had beem re-married to Dejazmatch Bariaw Paulos of North western Tigrai. However, stories persist that shortly after Menelik had been proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia while in Wello, Woizero Alitash had arrived to pay homage and pledge her alliegance as was required of the nobility. It is said that the Emperor asked her to stay and dine with him, and that she spent the night with him. It is said that his ex-wife soon found out that she was pregnant by him, and that shortly thereafter, she died under mysterious circumstances. Whispered rumors stated that Empress Taitu had arranged for the poisoning of this woman from her husband's past who threatened her position, as she herself was unable to bear children. These stories have never been proven, nor are they likely to be. The family of Emperor Tewodros were regarded as members of the upper aristocracy of Beghemidir from that time, till the fall of the monarchy in 1974. General Sir Robert Napier retured to Britain in triumph and lionized as a great hero. He was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal, and the hereditary noble title of "Lord Napier of Magdalla" was granted to him by the Queen. His decendants continue to bear this title. A statue of Lord Napier of Magdalla stands in Prince's Gate London, only steps from the Ethiopian Embassy today. He would carry on a friendly correspondence with Dejazmatch Kassa Mercha, who eventually became Emperor Yohannis IV, for many years. In 1923, when the then Prince-Regent and Heir to the throne, Ras Taffari Makonnen visited Britain, the British government arranged to return one of the three looted crowns of the Emperor Tewodros II to Empress Zewditu in honor of the visit of her heir to the Court of St. James. The crown returned in 1923 was of silver plated with gold, and was later looted again by the Italians in 1936. Later, in the 1960's, during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ethiopia, she returned another crown (actually a cap richly embroydered in gold and jewels). The most valuable of Tewodros's crowns, one made of solid high karat gold remains in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on display. It is misidentified as the crown of the Archbishop Abune Selamma II. Many other items looted from Magdalla remain at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Royal Library at Windsor, and in many other public and private collections across Europe and elsewhere to this day. The most lasting legacy of the reign of Tewodros II however was the fact that the Empire of Ethiopia which had once been headed to disintigration was firmly reunitied under a rejuvinated and strengthened monarchy. No longer was the old structure of a powerless monarch who was dominated by a series of powerful warlords tolerated. Thanks to him, Tewodros II's successors ruled in the manner that the pre-Zemene Mesafint Emperors had, over a nation that recognized them as the source of power and legitimacy. This would protect Ethiopia from the coming scramble for Africa by the powers of Europe, and the specter of colonialism by providing the necissary unity to withstand it. Tewodros had done his country a huge service.
Back to Imperial Ethiopia Homepage
Web page of Association For the Return Of the Magdalla Tresures (AFROMET)
BBC story on the recovery of a Magdalla Looted Church Relic in Scotland
ARTICLE ON THE RETURN OF THE LOOTED TABOT TO THE ORTHODOX CHURCH OF ETHIOPIA BY THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF SCOTLAND
Second Article on the return of the tabot
The return of the Tabot brings further results