|The World's Sovereigns 1889 (photomontage)|
The one in the center is Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, seated to his left on a chair is Queen Victoria.
King Leopold II of Belgium is the second man on his right (long dark beard), while the two men standing right next to him are; Left: Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria; Right: Tsar Aleksandr III
While in London in 1887 to attend the celebrations for his cousin Queen Victoria’s 50 years of reign, Belgium’s second King, Leopold II (who later became infamous for his role in the Congo massacre), wrote the following to his chief of state:
Europe’s political future remains rather uncertain […]. If we wish to remain independent, we need to strengthen ourselves and prove ourselves worthy of our independence.
As you can tell, he was already quite worried about what was fomenting behind the curtains within Europe’s highest political spheres.
Upon his return, King Leopold II desired to have a true Belgian army raised instead of their current conscription system which mainly allowed richer folks to pay poorer ones to take their spot in this army. Unfortunately, these changes were voted down by the Chamber of Ministers in July.
So the King decides to play a little game: pretend that he doesn’t want to uphold his obligations (such as attending an important party in Bruges in August) to show his displeasure with his government, then finally accede to their entreaties upon the condition that they let him hold a speech (WARNING: it is quite a long read). The maneuver works, and on August 15, 1887, King Leopold II says the following to a large crowd: