Vission of King Tewodros II

Tewodros II (1820-1868), also called Theodore II, was a visionary emperor of Ethiopia who tried unsuccessfully to reconstitute and modernize traditional institutions by emulating European technological achievements.Emperor Tewodros has come to occupy a high regard amongst many Ethiopians. Examples of his influence are seen in plays, literature, folklore, songs and art works (such as a 1974 book by Sahle Sellassie). Emperor Tewodros has come to symbolise Ethiopian unity and identity.

  • Tewodros, or Kassa, as he was baptized, was raised by his half brother Kinfu, a reckless and ruthless warlord whose military and political struggles throughout the 1830s provided training in military skills and small-scale warfare for young Kassa. After Kinfu’s death in 1839 Kassa himself became a legendary outlaw during that period of Ethiopian regionalism and disregard for centralized authority as he plundered caravans, sacked villages, and collected booty; but unlike most renegades he then redistributed this wealth to peasants.
  • Attracting many devoted followers, Kassa easily defeated local rivals, captured much of central Ethiopia, and made a temporary yet wise peace with the national clergy. In February 1855 he overpowered his last rivals in the north and sealed the victories by getting himself anointed and crowned emperor of Ethiopia. He chose as his throne name Tewodros, after a prophetic figure whom many Ethiopians believed one day would provide a rule of righteousness, peace, and prosperity.
  • He moved the capital city of the Empire from Gondar, first to Debre Tabor, and later to Magdala. Tewodros ended the division of Ethiopia among the various regional warlords and princes that had vied among each other for power for almost two centuries. He forcibly re-incorporated the regions of GojjamShewa and Wollo under the direct administration of the Imperial throne after they had been ruled by local branches of the Imperial dynasty (in Gojjam and Shewa) or other warlords (Wollo). With all of his rivals apparently subdued, he imprisoned them and their relatives comfortably at Magdala. Among the royal and aristocratic prisoners at Magdala was the young Prince of Shewa, Sahle Mariam, the future Emperor Menelik II. Tewodros doted on the young prince, and married him to his own daughter Alitash Tewodros. Menelik would eventually escape from Magdala, and abandon his wife, offending Tewodros deeply.

Modernization of the Country Tewodros’s ambition to initiate a political reformation in order to restore Ethiopian greatness required national unification as a precondition for peace and order. Accordingly he tried to break the feudal pattern of local government by personally appointing salaried provincial governors and judges. He also ordered the integration of regional forces into a national army organized and disciplined under his command, and he called for a restoration of the Christian faith to involve a rededication of moral standards, encouragement of mission work, and an end to petty and debilitating doctrinal differences. Furthermore Tewodros actively recruited instructors, engineers, and artisans of all kinds from Europe to provide the technical assistance deemed necessary for his active domestic and foreign policies. These expatriates constructed roads, bridges, and houses and even assisted in the local manufacture of some crude firearms and cannons. But impressive as these efforts were, Tewodros ultimately failed to fulfill his dream because of his inability to come to terms with either the powerful landed aristocracy or the Church. For instance, for financial support the Emperor relied heavily on provincial taxation while he strived simultaneously to end the tax-exempt status of the Church and to reduce its landholds; he adamantly refused, however, even to consider any reduction in the size of his army. Tewodros was unable to compromise or give concessions to crucial institutions of the old system; his rift with the Church eventually deteriorated into overt hostility that deprived him of the support and backing among many traditional farmers and peasants who unfailingly aligned with the Church. Increasingly dependent on an army that spent most of its time fighting rebellious leaders from traditional ruling families, Tewodros further alienated those peasants who themselves were pushed to a point of near starvation when forced to feed and quarter his 50, 000-man army. Despite incessant uprisings and his escalated reprisals, Tewodros remained confident of ultimate success – provided he lived. By the mid-1860s northern Ethiopia had once again fallen to local princes, and the national army under Tewodros was racked by desertions that reduced it to less than 5, 000 men. When the monarch asked the governments of Britain and France for additional aid, assistance, or at least moral support against foreign enemies, including the Moslem states of Turkey and Egypt, the European failure to respond seemed to imply a marked indifference and diplomatic disrespect; disparaging remarks and imprudent intrigues on the part of certain Europeans within Ethiopia only served to deepen Tewodros’s suspicion of all foreigners. Conflict and Failure When suspicion turned into anger, the incensed emperor imprisoned the consuls, artisans, and missionaries in his domain at the mountain stronghold of Magdala and retreated there with his meager military following. Alarmed but unable to effect the release of these “captives, ” the British government in 1867 reluctantly sent a large force to Ethiopia to free the prisoners; when the force stormed Magdala on April 10, 1868, the proud Tewodros committed suicide rather than surrender. The reign of Tewodros II opened a new era and closed an old one. His vigorous policies involved a commitment to break local traditions and adopt the trappings of modern technology. But an unwillingness to share responsibility and an underestimation of the social consequences of his reforms within the context of mid-19th-century Ethiopia proved his undoing. Tewodros probably left Ethiopia as disunited as he had found it; yet, as the first emperor to conceive the idea of a united, strong, and progressive Ethiopian state equal to any in the world, he deserves the title of father of modern Ethiopia.   Heirs of KING Tewodros The widowed Empress Tiruwork and the young heir of Tewodros, Alemayehu, were also to be taken to England. However, Empress Tiruwork died on the journey to the coast, and little Alemayehu made the journey alone. The Empress was buried at Sheleqot monastery in Tigrai among her ancestors. Although Queen Victoria subsidised the education (atRugby) of Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros, Captain Tristam Speedy was appointed as his guardian. He developed a very strong attachment to Captain Speedy and his wife. However, Prince Alemayehu grew increasingly lonely as the years went by, and his compromised health made things even harder. He died in October 1879 at the age of 19 without seeing his homeland again. Prince Alemayehu left an impression on Queen Victoria, who said of his death: “It is too sad! All alone in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him… His was no happy life”. Emperor Tewodros had an elder son born outside of wedlock, named Meshesha Tewodros. Meshesha was frequently at odds with his father, especially after it was learned that he had assisted Menelik of Shewa in his escape from Magdala. When Menelik became Emperor of Ethiopia, Meshesha Tewodros was raised to the title of Ras and given Dembia as his fief. Ras Meshesha would remain a loyal friend of Emperor Menelik II until his death, and his descendants were regarded as among the highest nobility and the leading representatives of Tewodros’ line. Tewodros II’s much loved daughter, Woizero Alitash Tewodros, was the first wife of Menelik of Shewa who eventually became Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia. Woizero Alitash was abandoned by her husband when Menelik escaped from Magdala to return and reclaim his Shewan throne. She was subsequently remarried to Dejazmatch Bariaw Paulos of Adwa. When Menelik II was proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia at Were Illu in Wollo shortly after the death of Yohannes IV, Woizero Alitash was among the first of the nobility to travel to Were Illu to pay homage to her former husband as the new Emperor. Rumors persist that Woizero Alitash and Emperor Menelik may have rekindled their relationship and that Woizero Alitash found that she was pregnant by the Emperor in the following months. The rumors continue that upon hearing about this pregnancy of the Emperor’s first wife, the childless and barren Empress Taytu Bitul had Woizero Alitash poisoned. Regardless of the veracity of these rumors, Woizero Alitash Tewodros, daughter of Tewodros II, died within the first few months of the reign of her ex-husband Menelik II. Tewodros II has numerous descendants by his many children, but none by the two women to whom he was legally married. In his efforts to keep skilled Europeans in Abyssinia, Tewodros arranged a marriage between one of his daughters and a Swiss military engineer. That branch of Tewodros’s family ended up in Russia. The late British actor Peter Ustinov claimed to be Tewodros’s great-great-grandson. (Source & British Encyclopedia )


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