His Imperial Majesty Emperor Yohannis IV, Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Zion, with his son and heir, Ras Araya Selassie Yohannis
Emperor Yohannis IV was born Kassa Mercha, son of Dejazmatch Mercha, Shum of
Tembien, and his wife Woizero Silass. Dejazmatch Mercha was the hereditary Shum Tembien, and claimed primacy over the lords of Tigrai. His mother was a
decendant of the Ras Michael Sihul, who had became Enderase of the Empire during the reign of Emperor Eyoas. Ras Michael would later order the murder of that Emperor and rise to such power that some date the begining of the Zemene Mesafint to this event. Ras Michael Sihul was married to Woizero Aster Eyasu, daughter of Empress Mentewab and her lover Milmal Eyasu. Milmal Eyasu was a first cousin of Mentewab's late husband, the Emperor Bekaffa, and thus a Solomonic prince. Dejazmatch Mercha's mother was therefore a member of the House of Solomon, and it is through her that Kassa
Mercha based his claim on the Imperial throne. However, Kassa Mercha could also claim a link to the House of Solomon in his Enderta ancestry as well through his mother Woizero Silass. Kassa became Shum of Tembien upon
the death of his father, with the title of Dejazmatch. However, Dejazmatch Kassa
was in constant rebellion against Emperor Tewodros II, a man of relatively low birth
who had risen as a great warlord, to unite the fragmenting empire under his rule.
Tewodros had usurped the Imperial crown from the hapless Emperor Yohannis III, the last of
the Solomonic Emperors of the Gondar line. Dejazmatch Kassa was one of several
rebellious nobles that refused to recognize Tewodros as their ruler.
Tewodros II, however sealed his own fate by imprisoning all the European diplomats
missionaries and merchants at his court in a fit of anger when Queen Victoria failed
to reply to a letter he had sent her. The British launched an expeditionary force led by
Brigadier General Sir Robert Napier (later Field Marshall Lord Napier of Magdalla).
General Napier took great care in proclaiming upon his arrival that the British forces
had no intention of remaining in Ethiopia, and that their sole mission was to free the
hostages. He asked the rebellious nobles of Ethiopia to help him. Dejazmatch Kassa
Mercha was one of the few who actually met with Napier as well as provide provisions for
the British forces and guides as well. The British marched to the citadel at Magdalla and
fought the Emperor's army at Aroge, just below the escarpment of the cliff surrounded
fortress. The Ethiopian force was defeated, and a stunned Emperor Tewodros had freed the hostages. It did not prevent the British from continuing their quest to punish Tewodros, and a few days later, on Easter Monday, 1868,
the British stormed Magdalla. Rather than face the humiliation
of defeat and capture, Tewodros II, Emperor of Ethiopia, shot himself with a pistol sent to him years earlier by Queen Victoria herself, and died.
The British looted and burned Magdalla, before withdrawing and taking Tewodros' son
and widow with them (the Empress Tiruwork died on the journey to the coast, and the prince,
Dejazmatch Alemayehu died a few years later in England and is buried at Windsor Castle). As
they left, they made sure that their friend Kassa Mercha was rewarded with many modern weapons.
Immediately, the Wagshum (Shum of Wag) Gobezze, who was decended from the Zagwe Emperors on
his father's side, and the Solomonic Emperors on his mother's side, proclaimed himself as
Emperor Tekle Giorgis II. Tekle Giorgis II was married to Dejazmatch Kassa Mercha's sister,
Empress Dinkinesh. This did not however gain Kassa's acceptance of the proclamation. Emperor
Tekle Giorgis tried to appease Dejazmatch Kassa with the title of "Re'ese Mekwanint" or "Chief
of the Nobles", and although Kassa used the title, he refused to recognize his brother-in-law
as Emperor. Tekle Giorgis tried to gain the acceptance of two other rival claimants to the throne by force and by marriage ties. He deposed the reigning prince in Gojjam and replaced him by a rival, Balambaras Adal who had aknowledged him and whom he rewarded with the title of Ras. He then tried to consolidate his claim further with
Ras Adal of Gojjam and King Menelik of Shewa through marriage ties. Ras Adal married Tekle Giorgis'
sister, while the daugher of Menelik's uncle Ras Darge, Woizero Tisseme, married the half-brother of
Tekle Giorgis, Hailu of Lasta. These marriage ties did not help Tekle Giorgis II, who could not
be crowned because a new bishop had not arrived from Alexandria. Before this could happen, his forces
were crushed at the Battle of Assam just outside Adowa, on July 11th, 1871, after fighting for only two
hours. Tekle Giorgis's army had outnumbered Kasa Mercha's by two thirds. However, Kassa's forces had the benefit of the advanced artillery left to them by the British, and training by foriegn military experts. Emperor Tekle Giorgis was deposed and imprisoned, and his rival and brother-in-law, Kassa Mercha was proclaimed Emperor. On January 21,1872, at the Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion at Axum, Kassa Mercha
was crowned Emperor Yohannis IV, King of Kings of Ethiopia. The deposed Emperor Tekle Giorgis II and his sons were imprisoned on Amba Abba Gerima. His wife Empress Dinkinesh lived there until his death, and then moved to Mekele where she continued to bear the title and dignity of Empress, even after her eventual re-marriage. She remained in the favour of her brother, Emperor Yohannis.
Emperor Yohannis IV was at a great military advantage over his remaining internal rivals. It was therefore
not suprising that King Menelik of Shewa would re-evaluate any claims he may have
had. Ras Adal submitted dutifully, and was rewarded with the title of King. He became King Tekle Haimanot,
and was given his hereditary fief of Gojjam as his kingdom, along with the Kingdom of Kaffa. By giving Kaffa to Tekle Haimanot, Emperor Yohannis was trying to cut into King Menelik's hegemony over the south. The Gojjames were already deeply involved commercially among the Oromo monarchies of Wellega and the Gibe river area. There was considerable reluctance however on the part of Menelik of Shewa to submit, as he continued to assert that his claim on the Imperial throne was the strongest of all other pretenders. His arguement was that he was a direct decendant of Emperor Libne Dingil in the male line, while both the Houses of Tigrai and Gojjam were decended in the female line. Moreover, the Shewans had invested much effort and blood in their military and missionary campaigns in the south, bringing this area under their direct hegemonic rule, so the awarding of the title "King of Kaffa" to the Gojjame King was widely regarded as an insult to Menelik. However events in the north would be decisive in making Menelik step back from his claims.
There were very serious external threats, namely Egypt under Khedive Ismael. The Khedive had extended his sway far down the Nile Valley, and saw the source of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia as vital to his interests. He is said to have had ambitions of a new Egyptian Empire that would dominate most of North-East and Eastern Africa. The ease in which the British had swept into the Ethiopian highlands to defeat Emperor Tewodros had given the world a false impression on the strength and cohesion of the Ethiopian Empire. Outsiders did not have a clear picture as to how hated Tewodros had become in his later years, and thought that Ethiopia might be ripe for an easy conquest. Tewodros had managed however to instill the belief that Ethiopian identity and loyalty to the Emperor should be foremost before regional interests and feudal alliegence to princelings. The first opportunity to begin the preparations for these designs came shortly after Yohannis IV ordered all Roman Catholic missionaries out of Ethiopia upon his coronation as Emperor. The Jesuits had been banned since the fall of Emperor Susneyos, but the French Lazarists had been increasingly active in Ethiopia since the early 1800's. The Swiss-born J.A. Werner Muzinger, who was serving as French consul in Massawa sent an insulting letter to the Emperor threatening him with the same fate as Emperor Tewodros unless he treated the Catholic missionaries with more dignity. Muzinger turned to the Egyptian rulers of Massawa to protect the interests of the Catholics, and the Khedive was only too willing to take up this cause as a pretext for his further adventures in Ethiopia. Muzinger was granted the Egyptian title of Pasha, and began to strategize about Egyptian expansion in the Horn of Africa. First, he engineered the capture of the district of Bogos, and claimed that it was a rebelious Egyptian posession to begin with, even though it had long been paying taxes to the Ethiopian governor of Hamasien. Emperor Yohannis promptly wrote letters of protest to the crowned heads of Europe and to Khedive Ismael himself protesting this action. He called on France, Germany, Austria, Russia and Great Britain to join him in a Christian front against the Islamization and enslavement of his people by the Khedive. The Emperors of Austria, Russia and Germany did not even reply to his letter. Queen Victoria did reply, but only to "assure your majesty of the good intentions" of Egypt and the Khedive. The Egyptians had inhereted the Red Sea and Indian Ocean costal posessions of the Ottoman Empire and were now ready to make a bid for the interior. Although a careful courtship was begun between the Egyptians and the King of Shewa, the Egyptians would earn Menelik's anger with their next move. Mohammed Rauf Pasha led a "scientific expedition" from the port of Zeila and marched unopposed to Harrar, laid seige to the city and seized it bringing the rule of the Emir of Harar to an end on October 11th 1875. Muzinger then summoned all the elders and chiefs of the Kottu Oromo tribes that surrounded Harrar to a meeting outside the city-state walls, and proceeded to massacare them, ending any posibility that they might support the remnants of the Emirate with whom they had been living in peace for centuries. Menelik of Shewa had long regarded Harrar as his own, and had seen his plans of re-conquest of Harrar thwarted by the Egyptians and Muzinger Pasha. Simultaniously, Muzinger Pasha himself, architect of the Khedive's dream of Empire, led another force west from the port of Tajura towards the Shewan highlands. He hoped that the rivalry between Emperor Yohannis and Menelik of Shewa would make both ripe for defeat at the hands of the Egyptian army. He calculated badly. Muzinger Pasha and his entire force was anihilated by Afar tribesmen who seldom alowed foriegners to cross their lands into the highlands. His death near Awsa marked a serious setback for Egyptian designs. However they continued to encroach into the territories that neighbored their costal holdings. As the Egyptians advanced, Yohannis IV continued to plead for European intervention, hoping that Khedive Ismael could be stopped without bloodshead. He even ordered the governors of Hamasein and Serai to withdraw in order to demonstrate his peaceful intentions in September of 1875. When the Egyptians reached Hamasein in October however, Yohannis IV had his negarit war drums beaten and ordered a general mobilization. Within two weeks he had assebled over 20,000 troops and had begun to march to meet the enemy. The Egyptians on the other hand numbered 2,000 and were led by the Danish Colonel Arendrup. The two armies marched towards each other and finally met in battle at Gundat (also called Guda-gude)on the morning of November 16, 1875. The Egyptians were tricked into marching into a narrow and steep valley and were virtually wiped out by Ethiopian gunners surrounding the valley from the heights. The Egyptians were well armed, well trained, and
employed officers from the former Confederate Army of the American civil war, as well as many Danes and Germans who were military experts. However, the manuvers of the Ethiopian army tricked them into a situation in which their weapons and modern training became useless. News of this huge defeat was suppressed in Egypt for fear that it would undermine the government of the Khedive. Instead, Khedive Ismael quickly raised a new 15,000 man army, armed it to the teeth and sent it off to exact revenge. This new army was led by Mohammed Ratib Pasha who was assisted by a veteran of the Confederate army of the American Civil War, General Loring. The Egyptian and Ethiopian armies met at Gura on March 7th, 1876 and fought a long and bitter battle that didn't end till March 9th. Although the Egyptians were able to fight longer and better than they had at Gundat, they were again defeated and suffered vast losses. This finally nailed the lid on the coffin of Egyptian ambitions in East Africa. Yohannis IV had shown he could lead his country to victory against invasion, and his stock was raised considerably, not only in Egypt, but all over the Ethiopian Empire.
These victories added even more captured modern armaments to the Emperor's army. In addition, a large amount of Turkish gold was captured. Emperor Yohannis sent this gold to Jerusalem to help support the impoverished monks who lived difficult lives at the Dur Sultan Ethiopian Monastery on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher. This act endeared him even further to the adherants and heirarchs of the Orthodox Church all over Ethiopia. Yohannis IV was now widely regarded as militarily without equal in the Empire, and the valiant defender and supporter of his faith. Menelik of Shewa now recognized that he had little choice but to submit to the Emperor. Although several of his nobles, such as Ras Gobena Dachi urged the Shewan king not to drop his claim on the Imperial throne, his much trusted uncle Ras Darge advised patience and pragmatism. When news tht the Emperor had begun to march on Shewa arrived, and that an advance force had actually entered Shewa, Ras Darge (whom Emperor Yohannis respected) sent a message of submission to Yohannis with Menelik's full knowledge, and offered to mediate between the Emperor and the King of Shewa. A delegation of priests from Shewa was sent to the Emperor and he recieved them honorably. Negotiations went well, and the King of Shewa agreed to submit to Emperor Yohannis IV, and recognize him as his liege lord. They agreed to meet in Wollo, and met at
Boru Meda. Yohannis sat on a throne wearing his crown, and Menelik and his leading nobles entered carrying stones on their shoulders as a mark of remorse. Guns were fired in salute as the Shewan King and his nobles bowed to the Emperor and he accepted their submission while the women of Yohannis IV's court ulultated. Emperor Yohannis recognized in return, the hereditary right of Menelik and his heirs to the throne of Shewa. He also
recognized him as overlord of Wollo.
King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam
Menelik, King of Shewa
Emperor Yohannis IV was a very deeply religious man. His devotion to the Orthodox Church was absolute and uncompromising. A relatively liberal monarch in most aspects, he was inflexible and very conservative when it came to religion. One of his first acts following the submission of the King of Shewa, was to order the adherents of the scismatic Sost Lidet doctrine to appear before him at Boru Meda for a church council. The Sost Lidet doctrine taught that Christ had three births, the first at Creation from the Father, the second at the Nativity, from the Holy Virgin
and the third from the Holy Spirit at the Baptism. This implied that Christ recieved his divinity at the Baptism, and that previous to that he was not completely divine. The Sost Lidet doctrine was thus in direct violation of the Tewahido
doctrine which stated that Christ had two births, at the Creation from the Father, and at Nativity from the Holy Virgin. Tewahido maintains that the divine and human natures of Christ were united from the womb of the Virgin, and that they formed
a single unique nature, which was both divine and human, and that could not be separated or divided. The Sost Lidet also called into
question the complete unity of the Holy Trinity. Thus the Patriarch of Alexandria had declared the Sost Lidet to be heretical
as well as the Tsega and Qibat doctrines which were closely related to it. The Sost Lidet doctrine was taught widely
in Shewa, and was strongest at the Debre Libanos Monastery. The Sost Lidet Monks appeared at the Council of Boru Meda, and
were ordered to recant their teachings. Those that did were restored to their posts, but those who did not had their
tounges cut out to prevent them from disrupting the unity of the Church with their teachings. Yohannis ordered Menelik to
suppress the Sost Lidet vigorously and stringently. Menelik, although a fairly religious man, was not very interested in doctinal disputes, and it made little difference to him either way, so he had little personal problem enforcing the Imperial edict in Shewa over the objections of many important Shewan clerics. Emperor Yohannis IV was also, as previously seen, very anti-Roman Catholic, and couldn't abide the existance of Catholic missionaries in his Empire. He compelled Menelik to expell them all from Shewa, including Menelik's good friend Father Massias (later Cardinal). Menelik was much more reluctant to execute this particular order since the Catholics had been rendering valuable medical service, and many had become his personal friends. Yohannis'
most repressive act however was reserved for the Moslems of Wollo. All the moslems of Wollo were given six months to convert
to Christianity or lose their property. Mohammed Ali, the ranking Moslem leader in Wollo did so promptly, and was Baptised as Michael Ali and granted the title of Ras(later King Michael of Wollo). The Emperor stood as his godfather. His rival, Abba Watew also converted and Menelik of Shewa stood as his godfather.
In most matters other than religion, Emperor Yohannis was much more flexible. His approach to the unity of the Empire was much more federal than the vision of Tewodros II. He allowed the regional princelings a great deal of autonomy, even to the point
of allowing them to recieve diplomatic missions from abroad and correspond with foriegn heads of state, as long as they recognized his overlordship, and paid their annual tribute. Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam was initially closer to the Emperor than Menelik of Shewa, but Yohannis' approach to a loose federal structure for his Empire would eventually encourage the ambitions of both these two vassal kings. He was known as a man who trusted others easily, and who was very charitable and generous in his personal life. He was even known to have not only forgiven a man who had been an avowed enemy of his father's, but had appointed this man to high office, earning his undying loyalty. These traits did not save him from rebellions and difficulties with nobles and Princes however. In fact his own nephew, Dejazmatch Dabbab Araya would rebel against him and join the Egyptians in Massawa and would allign himself firmly in their camp. Others such as the ruler of Hamasein, Ras Wolde Michael Solomon, clashed with the Emperor and also fled to Egyptian held territory, although not necissarily to help them (although he was present with Egyptian forces at Gura). The family of the Shum Agame, decendents of Dejazmatch Sabagadis, a great warlord of the early Zemene Mesafint period were also resentful of Emperor Yohannis and his Tembien/Enderta relatives and had a difficult relationship with him.
The first challenge to the new order was Menelik's refusal to aknowledge Tekle Haimanot as king of Kaffa. Menelik claimed the entire south for himself, and did not regard the King of Gojjams title as king of Kaffa to be legitimate nor enforceable by either the King of Gojjam or the Emperor himself. The challenge to this title resulted in the Battle of Embabo (in northern Wellega) in which the King of Gojjam and his sons were all captured by the Shewans and carried off as captives to Entoto, Menelik's capital. During the trip to Entoto, Menelik insisted that Tekle Haimanot recieve all the respect and dignity due to a king. He went out of his way to be freindly to him, even as he held him prisoner. What developed was a firm personal freindship between the two men that would last to the end of their lives, a rarity in the ruling circles of the day. As the two kings developed a strong relationship at Entoto, the Emperor steamed in rage at Adowa. That the two vassals had fought over a title that he believed was his and only his to grant angered him to no end. Both the Kings were summoned to Wollo to explain their conduct. Menelik was made to hand over all captured weapons and valuables to the Emperor. He was also told that he would be stripped of his overlordship of Wollo as punishment. Menelik was not the only one who was on the recieving end of the Emperor's anger. The King of Gojjam was punished by the Emperor recognizing that Menelik King of Shewa was the true ruler of Keffa. Tekle Haimanot was summoned by the Emperor so that Yohannis could return the crown of Gojjam that Menelik had captured, and then surrendered to him. In an act of contempt he had the crown handed back to Tekle Hamanot in a bread basket, an insult that the King of Gojjam took to heart and aparently never forgave. Yohannis did not want to alienate the two kings too much however, so he resupplied Tekle Haimanot with some new weapons, and arranged for the marriage of Menelik's daughter Zewditu to his own son Ras Araya Sellassie, and gave them Wollo to rule. These gestures did not appease the two kings, and it is probably these acts that encouraged them to enter into a secret pact to rebel against Yohannis simultaniously when the opportunity occured.
Emperor Yohannis favoured the town of Adowa, and spent much time there. However, he built a large castle at Mekele, and it was there that he established his capital. He spent most of the begining of his reign at Debre Tabor, where the ruins of his castle still stand. Although he was a Tigrean, and used Tigrigna as his first tounge, Amharic remained the official language of the Imperial court, and all official business and correspondence was conducted in this language. He conducted a correspondence with Lord Napier, whom he considered a friend from the Magdalla campaign, and with other Europeans. Yohannis IV, deeply impressed with the British keeping their pledge to withdraw from Ethiopia following the defeat of Emperor Tewodros II, trusted the British over all other foreign powers. However, he was hurt by the manner in which they had looted Magdalla, particularly the burning of the town and the churches. He wrote to Queen Victoria to appeal to her for the return of two particular objects looted by the British from Magdalla. These were a copy of the Kibre Negest manuscript that Tewodros had seized from Axum, and which was highly valued by the monks of the monastery of St. Mary of Zion, and the Kurate Re'esu Icon. The Kibre Negest Manuscript was returned, but the Queen replied that no trace could be found of the Icon and stated that she didn't think that the Icon had made it to Britain. The Icon, which depicted Christ wearing the crown of thorns, was probably the most revered icon in the Ethiopian Empire. Emperors traditionaly had the Icon accompany them into battle, and when oaths of loyalty were made to the Emperors in front of them, it was always done in the presence of the Icon. Tewodros had brought it to Magdalla, and it had disappeared after the looting of the citadel. Unknown to Queen Victoria, Sir Richard Holmes, a director of the British Museum who had accompanied the British forces to Magdalla, had purchased the Icon and kept it for himself. Ironically, Sir Richard was working as the Queen's librarian at Windsor while an exhaustive search was being conducted for the icon, and kept quiet. He did not reveal his ownership until after the death of Emperor Yohannis. The Icon was never returned to Ethiopia, and is often refered to as the "Lost Icon".
Emperor Yohannis IV, was a fiercely loyal and honest man. He therefore placed a great deal of faith in the assurances of British friendship that he had recieved in exchange for his aid to them during their war against the Emperor Tewodros II. He could not understand how Britain, a Christian Empire like his own, could possibly firmly ally itself with a moslem enemy of Ethiopia's like Egypt. His complaints of Egyptian incursions into his domains, and pleas for assistance against them fell on deaf ears in London. The Egyptians had inherited Massawa from the Turks, and had later occupied Harrar as stated above. Both cities had long been claimed by Ethiopia. In addition to Massawa, the Egyptians had occupied the district of Bogos, and encouraged the rebelion of Ras Wolde Michael Solomon of Hamasein against the Emperor. Hamasein was a source of trouble for the Emperor after he replaced the local ruling noble family of Ras Welde Michael with his loyal general, Ras Alula Aba Nega. The nobles of Hamasein had a record of loyal submission to Emperor Tewodros, so Yohannis distrusted them deeply. Alula Engeda was a humble born soldier who had risen to the title of Ras through his fiercly loyal service to Yohannis. Appointed ruler of Hamasein in the place of Ras Welde Michael, given the title of Ras and the nom-du-guerre of Aba Nega, he founded the city of Asmara, and favoured trying to force the Egyptians from Bogos and eventually Massawa. Yohannis however believed that he could get the English to pressure their ally, Egypt, out of these territories. With it's new Suez Canal, Egypt was by far the more valuable ally to Britain, so Yohannis was basically ignored by Whitehall. Following the two attempts by Egypt at Gundat and Gura at invading Ethiopia from their outposts,it became apparent to Yohannis that the English would not come to his aid against Egypt at all. Although somewhat disappointed, Yohannis still had deep faith in the assurances of Lord Napier that Britain was his friend. Suddenly, in 1881, the Mahdist rebelion swept through the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. One by one, the Egyptian garrisons in the Sudan were falling to the forces of the Mahdi, and it was swiftly turning into a complete military disaster over the following two years. Cut off from retreating north from the Sudan into Egypt, the Egyptian forces realized that their only hope was to retreat to Massawa through Ethiopia. The British, who as the true rulers of the Sudan through their Egyptian surrogates, were truely alarmed. They realized that Yohannis would not be very freindly towards the desires of the Egyptians having fought them twice in the previous years. Therefore,in order to avert a total disaster in the Sudan, the British dispatched Admiral Sir James Hewitt to Adowa to negotiate with the Emperor of Ethiopia. Yohannis recieved the emissary of the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, with as much pomp and lavish display he could muster. After much discussion, agreement was reached and the Emperor and Admiral Hewitt (acting as official proxy for Queen Victoria) signed the Hewitt (or Adowa)Treaty of June 3rd, 1884. The treaty provided that Ethiopia would allow the Egyptian army to retreat from the Sudan through Ethiopian territory, and allow them to pass through to the Egyptian colony at Massawa. In exchange, the Egyptians would immediately scede the district of Bogos and the lowlands they occupied, to the Emperor of Ethiopia, "to whom they rightly belonged". This was to be guaranteed by the British government. Furthermore, Yohannis was given to understand that if Egypt were to withdraw from Massawa, his rights and interests would be guaranteed by the British. To him, this meant that they would recognize his claims to the port. Yohannis allowed his erstwhile enemy Egypt to salvage what was left of it's Sudanese forces by giving them safe passage through Ethiopia. This earned Yohannis the everlasting hatered of the Sudanese Mahdists that would eventually cost him his life. Egypt was indeed planning to withdraw from Massawa to consolidate it's forces in order to keep the Mahdist movement from spilling north into Egypt itself. Egypt was prepared to cede the port to the British, or whomever the British designated. Unwilling to overextend themselves in the region, the British however where afraid that France would take advantage of a vacuum and seize the port from Ethiopia if Massawa were returned to Yohannis. Therefore, following secret communications with the Italian government, a ship bearing a unit of Italian troops was secretly passed through the Suez canal without the French knowing, and docked at Massawa. The Egyptians handed over the fortress to the Italians who had been sent in by the British, and withdrew. The Italians raised their flag over Massawa, and the long confrontation between Italy and Ethiopia began.
Emperor Yohannis IV Recieves an Italian DelegationNote that the lower portion of the Emperor's face is covered, a sign of Imperial displeasure.
When the news of the Italian occupation of Massawa reached the Emperor, he was stunned. He couldn't believe that his friends the British could betray him in this way. Menelik of Shewa, who was cultivating a friendship with the Italian government in hopes of gaining their aid in his secret planned rebelion against Yohannis, was equally aghast when the Emperor informed him of this news. Menelik immediatly asked for an explanation of this event from the Italian envoy in Shewa, Count Pietro Antonelli, who himself was unaware of this development. The seizure of Massawa was not looked at kindly by anyone in the Ethiopian establishment, and would earn the Italians wide spread suspicion. Menelik tried to half heartedly convince the Emperor that Italy would be a friendly neighbor at the behest of Count Antonelli, but it was only the begining of the long trail of blood that continues to this day. Menelik remained Italy's friend, but he was now a bit more wary about their long term intentions. Menelik's wife Taitu however was enraged by the Italian action, and her deep suspicion and of Europeans and Italians in particular dated to this event. The angriest was Ras Alula, who from his seat at Asmara, was the figure closest to the theater of action. A few years earlier, the Afar Sultan of Ausa, Mohammed Hanferi had sold the port of Asab to an Italian missionary, Father Guissepe Sapeto, who in turn sold it to an Italian commercial shipping company when he along with all other Catholic priests were expelled by Yohannis IV. Now, the Italian government had taken it over, and was consolidating itself on the Red Sea Coast. With the new aquisition of Massawa, the Italians were gaining a foothold on the coastal lowlands. After an initially frigid reaction from the Emperor, he grudgingly accepted the seizure of the ports as something he could do little about. However, the Italians found the port of Massawa to be extremely inhospitable. The sea port is the hottest on earth, and at certain times of the year the heat is unbearable. The Italians decided to establish an outpost in the highlands for them to retreat to when the port got too hot. They seized Saati and quickly connected it to Massawa by rail, road, and telegraph. They also expanded along the coast, seizing the port of Zula. They had crossed the line at Saati however, and came into direct conflict with Ras Alula. Ras Alula complained to the Emperor and demanded that the Italians "go back to where they came from." The Emperor asked for explaniations, but the Italians simply stressed their need for cooler environs. They decided however to expand these environs and began to widen their area of control. Ras Alula by now had had enough. His army suprised the Italian forces at Dogali and crushed them in battle. The Italians called it a massacre. Yohannis scolded Alula for fighting without his permission, but did not punish Alula further. Instead he mobilized his troops and marched north, demanding that the Italians withdraw form Saati. His vast army encamped near Saati and laid seige to the Italian garrison for days. Suddenly however, the huge Ethiopian army rose up and left much to the suprise of the Italians. The Mahdists had decided to seek vengance and had attacked Ethiopia in the west.
The Mahdists had begun to raid Dembia, and the Emperor, occupied with events in the north, had instructed King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam to march against them. The King of Gojjam faced the Mahdists, was badly beaten and fled the battle. The King's daughter was taken captive and later died, and the Sudanese had free reign over much of western Begemidir. The Emperor ordered Menelik of Shewa to come to Tekle Haimanot's aid, which he did. The two kings met and decided to openly announce their rebellion against the Emperor. Yohannis was enraged. Much to the relief and suprise of the besieged Italians, his army left Saati, swept south through Begemidir into Gojjam and he launched a brutal campaign against Tekle Haimanot, distroying all in his path. Even Yohannis was struck by his own brutality in Gojjam, for he would comment "I don't know if it was the sins of the Gojjames or my own sin that brought this wrath down on them, but I distroyed Gojjam." Totally crushed, Tekle Haimanot pleaded for forgiveness, and blamed the rebellion on Menelik. Once the submission of Gojjam was achieved, Yohannis sent a message to the Shewans. It ominously stated simply, "Wait for me, I am coming." Without the Gojjami support, the Shewans, although well armed after years of shrewd arms purchases and accumulated wealth from thier southern possesions, were not quite confident that they could face the Emperor and the Imperial Army. It was then, at this key moment that shocking news arrived in Yohannis' camp. The Mahdists had marched into Gondar and sacked the city, setting fire to all of it's grand churches and looting the castles. Only the Debre Birhan Selassie (Trinity) church escaped unharmed (legend says the Archangel Michael himself stood before the main gates and a huge swarm of bees prevented the Mahdist approach to the church walls). The city was burned and it's inhabitants raped and slain. The distruction was complete. Aroused by his deep devotion to his Orthodox Church, Yohannis abandoned his plans to protect his throne by invading Shewa, and instead marched north to avenge his faith. Yohannis together with his leading nobles marched against the Mahdist Sudanese at Mettema and clashed on March 10th, 1889. The Ethiopians were able to breach the outer walls of the fortress, and were fiercly fighting to overcome the citadel. Yohannis insisted on fighting at the head of his troops against the advice of his generals. It was a key mistake. A Mahdist sniper shot and wounded him badly. Quickly, the wounded Emperor was taken from the battle field to his tent. It was realized that he was dying. Several years before, Yohannis' son, Ras Araya Selassie had died, with only a young illigitimate child, Gugsa, whom Yohannis had never aknowledged as a possible heir. Now on his deathbed, the Emperor summoned Ras Mengesha, a man known to his subjects as the son of his brother Gugsa. Yohannis IV, revealed that Mengesha was actually his own son, and named him as his successor and heir. In the mean time, realizing that their Emperor was mortally wounded, the Ethiopian forces had begun to falter. One by one, Yohannis' generals and various relatives began to squable over whether or not to recognize Ras Mengesha Yohannis as their ruler, and their infighting helped to accelerate the disintigration of Yohannis' great army. Emperor Yohannis IV, Elect of God, King of Zion, King of Kings of Ethiopia died at Mettema on March 11th, 1889. The Mahdists, noticing the disarray in the Ethiopian ranks, broke out and began to chase the Ethiopians from the field. In their hasty retreat, the Ethiopians fled without the body of their King. The Mahdists reached the abandoned camp and found a coffin containing the body of a man, accompanied by a few priests. On the coffin however was a magnificent Bible encrusted with gold and jewels. This was a big hint, and they were soon able to confirm that this was indeed the body of the Emperor of Ethiopia, Yohannis IV. The Mahdists were jubilant. In an act that would horrify even his recent enemies Menelik and Tekle Haimanot, the body of Yohannis IV was beheaded and carried off to Khartoum, where his severed head was paraded through the streets, along with the heads of other Ethiopian nobles and generals who had died at Mettema with him. His body would not be returned for forty years. Upon it's return, Yohannis IV was buried at Axum. He was hailed accross Ethiopia as the great martyr King, and even his enemies are said to have wept for him, calling him "Yewah" (innocent) and "Jegna" (brave hero).
His Imperial Majesty Yohannis IV, Emperor of Ethiopia
Upon the death of Yohannis, northern Ethiopia sank into chaos. Tigrai was rent asunder as various of the Emperor's relatives began to vie for the throne, refusing to recognize Ras Mengesha as his heir. His long rebellious nephew Debab Araya made a bid to seize power, as did others. Some nobles voiced a preference for the young Gugsa Araya. Only Ras Alula, loyal to the bitter end, agressively championed the right of Ras Mengesha Yohannis to the throne. Taking advantage of the civil war that exploded in Tigrai, the Italians swept out of their enclave and seized all of the higlands of Hamasein, Serai, Akale Guzai and all of the lowlands north of the Mereb River. This was the region known before this as the Mereb Melash. They proclaimed this new entity to be their new colony of Eritrea, conjuring the name from the Erythrean Sea (an old name for the Red Sea). To the south, Menelik of Shewa seized the moment. He was promptly proclaimed Emperor Menelik II, Elect of God, Conquering Lion of Judah, and King of Kings. Through Count Antonelli, he negotiated for Italian recognition of his claim to the Imperial throne, in exchange of his recognition of their new land seizures which had the effect of weakening the north in his favor. One by one, the nobles across the Empire began to flock to Entoto to pay homage to the new Emperor. The trickle of nobles headed to Entoto to kiss the feet of the new Emperor turned into a flood as more and more of them realized that the tide had turned in his favor. Even some of Emperor Yohannis' relatives that refused to aknowledge Ras Mengesha went to pledge alliegence to Menelik. Partly because he needed to guarantee that Ras Mengesha and the north would remain weakend, and partly because the Italian colony of Eritrea was now an established fact that he could do little to change, Menelik agreed to recognize the establishment of the Italian colony. The reign of Yohannis IV had come to an end, and the Crown had moved from Tigrai into Shewa. Emperor Yohannis IV is the last monarch in the world to fall in battle.
Ras Mengesha Yohannis,designated Heir to Yohannis IV, Hereditary Prince of Tigrai.
Following the ascendance of the House of Shewa to the Imperial throne, the decendents of Emperor Yohannis IV continued to rule the province of Tigrai by hereditary right until 1974. At first, Menelik II recognized Ras Mengesha Yohannis as ruler of all Tigrai. To keep the Prince appeased, Empress Taitu arranged for Ras Mengesha to marry her neice, Woizero Kefey Welle. However, Menelik refused to crown Mengesha King of Zion, which caused Mengesha to eventually rebel against Menelik. Menelik imprisoned him at Ankober and briefly replaced the House of Tigre with Ras Makonnen, his cousin and Shewan Prince (father of Emperor Haile Sellassie). Eventually, Tigrai was devided between Ras Mengesha's son Seyoum Mengesha (made a Ras during the reign of Lij Eyasu), and Gugsa Araya Sellassie (made a Ras during the reign of Empress Zewditu, his one time step-mother), who was Yohannis' grandson by Ras Araya Selassie Yohannis. Gugsa was given Eastern Tigrai with Mekelle as his seat, while Western Tigrai was given to Seyoum at Adowa. Following the death of Ras Gugsa, Eastern Tigrai passed on to his son Dejazmatch Haile Sellassie Gugsa, who was married to Empror Haile Selassie I's daughter Princess Zenebework. However, in 1935, Dejazmatch Haile Selassie became the first member of the Ethiopian nobility to cross over to the Italians and support the Fascist occupation of Ethiopia. He was made a "Ras" by the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuelle who was proclamed "Emperor of Ethiopia" by Musollini. After the restoration of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1941, this title was not recognized as legitimate, and Dejazmatch Haile Sellassie was declared a traitor. He briefly a British prisoner of War in the Scychelles, but was later placed under arrest at Ambo in Ethiopia. Ras Seyoum Mengesha was recognized as the hereditary Prince of all of Tigrai by the Emperor. Ras Seyoum Mengesha was killed in the massacre of the Green Salon during the 1960 coup attempt against the Emperor. He was succeeded by his son, Ras Mengesha Seyoum. Ras Mengesha Seyoum ruled Tigrai until 1974, when the revolution toppled Emperor Haile Sellassie. The Derg released Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa from his arrest, but he died soon after, still widely regarded as a traitor by communist and non-communist alike. Ras Mengesha Seyoum formed the first resistance movement against the Derg regime, the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), and fought for many years. He went into exile, with his children. His wife, Princess Aida Desta, graddaughter of the Emperor Haile Selassie by Princess Tenagnework, was imprisoned for 14 years by the communists with the other women of the Imperial family. She joined him in exile after her release. Ras Mengesha Seyoum has four sons, Lij Michael Sehul, Lij Yohannis, Lij Stephanos, Lij Jalliye and a daughter, Woizero Menen. His children are not only the heirs to the House of Tigre, but also members of the House of Shewa through their mother, as they are the great-grandchildren of Emperor Haile Selassie. Ras Menghesha Seyoum's elder sisters also have decendants who are members of both the Houses of Tigrai and Shewa. Woizerit-Hoy Kebedech Seyoum, was married to Dejazmatch Abera Kassa, son of Ras Kassa Hailu, who was the grandson and heir of Ras Darge Sahle Selassie. Thus her sons, Dejazmatchs Amha Abera, Amde Abera and Tariku Abera are members of the House of Shewa. Woizerit-Hoy Kebedech was a valiant warrior woman, who upon hearing that her husband had been executed by the Italians, had gathered his army under her personal command and battled the facist forces 14 times before retreating into the Sudan. This inspite of the fact that she had only given birth days before she assumed command. Another older sister of Ras Mengesha was Princess Wolette Israel Seyoum. Initially married to Dejazmatch Gebre Selassie Baria Gabr, she had a son, Dejazmatch Zewde Geber Selassie, a current member of the House of Tigre, and a noted Ethiopian historian. He served as mayor of Addis Ababa and as briefly as the last Imperial foriegn minister under Emperor Haile Selassie, and was known for his strong reformist sympathies during that reign. He was helping to draft the 1973 constitution that would have made Ethiopia a constitutional monarchy when the Dergue siezed power and ended that enterprise. Princess Wolette Israel however was later married to Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen, to whome she bore a daughter, Princess Ijigayehu, before they were divorced in 1940. Princess Ijigayehu would later marry Dejazmatch Fikre Selassie Hapte Mariam, heir to the Oromo ruling family of Leqa Neqemt in Wollega. Princess Ijigayehu Asfaw Wossen died from medical neglect while a prisoner of the Dergue in 1974. She had six children, Princes Samson, Bekere,and Yisaq, and Princesses Rahel, Aster and Meheret, who are members of both the Houses of Tigrai and Shewa, as well as the Oromo ruling family of Leqa Neqemt. Prince Bekere Fikre Selassie is the current Viceroy of the Crown Council in exile. The House of Tigrai is a large branch of the dynasty, but most of it's ranking members closest to it's head are also members of the House of Shewa, thanks to the policy of marriage between members of the two branches of the Solomonic dynasty.
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