Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Kings of Haiti

From 1791-1859, the island of Haiti made three separate attempts at establishing monarchical government.

Slaves rose against their French masters on the colony of St. Dominique in 1791.  After a pro-longed period of struggle, the French abandoned the colony.  On January 1, 1804, the ancient Carib name of Haiti was restored to the colony and French rule renounced forever.  Haiti became the first nation in Latin America and the second in the New World to win its independence.  The decision to make Haiti an empire came in July after Napoleon Bonaparte was offered the Imperial crown of France.  A proposal that General Jean Jacques Dessalines should be nominated as Emperor of the Haitians circulated among the leading generals.  Thus, on October 8, a Breton missionary anointed Jean Jacques Dessalines as “The Avenger and Deliverer of his fellow citizens”, Emperor of Haiti.  Dessalines’ reign lasted two years and ended in his murder.

The establishment of two separate republics, in the north and south, followed the collapse of the empire.  By 1811 the northern republic had turned into the Kingdom of Haiti, ruled over by King Henri I.  (“Henri, by the Grace of God and the Constitutional law of the state, King of Haiti, Ruler of the islands of La Tortue and Gonave, and other adjacent, Destroyer of Tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haitian nation, Creator of its moral, political and military institutions, First crowned monarch of the New World, Defender of the Faith, Founder of the Royal and Military Order of St. Henry.”)

Many of the institutions of the new kingdom were copied from the monarchies of Europe.  The court ceremonial was designed to exalt the person of majesty in the style of Louis XIV.  Of the numerous royal castles and palaces, the palace of Sans Souci, at Millot, near the foot of the Pic de la Ferrier, was the favorite residence of Henri I.  It was at the palace of Sans Souci, named in honor of Frederick the Great’s palace, that Haitian opulence reached its apex.  San Souci, the Versailles of Haiti, with its delicately carved cornices, dancing fountains, marble floors, arcades, terraces, sumptuous furnishings and perfectly drilled troops, was the king’s crowning glory.

The ruins of Sans Souci

The ruins of San Souci

Henri I struggled for a decade to modernize the country, while simultaneously fending off the encroachments of his neighbor to the south.  In 1820 the king suffered a stroke and was soon battling his own ambitious generals.  As a rebel army and thousands of scavengers descended on the Palace of San Souci, the king killed himself.  The kingdom collapsed and was incorporated into the Republic of Haiti.

Haiti’s last experience with monarchy came in the person of General Faustin Soulouque.  After seizing power in a bloody coup, Soulouque invaded the neighboring Dominican Republic in 1849, where his army was totally routed.  To distract attention from this military fiasco, Soulouque decided to create the second Haitian Empire.  On August 26, 1849 Soulouque proclaimed himself Faustin I, Emperor of Haiti.  The second empire lasted ten years before Faustin I was overthrown and forced into exile.

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