HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia
  • February 28, 2013
  • Posted In: Royal

Haile Selassie I (1892-1975), Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930-1975, could trace his dynasty back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Rastafari movement (named after Selassie’s birth name Ras Tafari) deified Selassie as the Messiah though the Emperor was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Selassie rose to power as co-regent of Ethiopia when the corrupt and licentious Emperor Lyasu V was deposed in 1916 and his aunt Empress Zweditu acceded the throne.

Selassie travelled extensively in Europe and the Middle East observing other cultures and political systems that could benefit Ethiopia. Selassie, who dressed in exotic court costume when visiting King George V in England, caused a sensation. He travelled with a pride of lions and gave two to the king. In return, George V returned the crown of Emperor Tewodros II (captured by Robert Napier during the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia) for safe return to Empress Zewditu. The Empress, somewhat jealous of Selassie’s international profile, attempted to have him arrested and tried for treason on his return to Addis Ababa. But the plot backfired. Her husband Gugsa Welle raised an army but was defeated and killed in battle. The Empress mysteriously died days later with rumors of poisoning rumbling around the throne.

Selassie declared himself Emperor in 1930 and invited foreign dignitaries from around the world to witness his spectacular coronation. In 1931, Selassie introduced Ethiopia’s first written constitution and promised a transition to democratic rule. But in 1934 Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and deployed chemical weapons to defeat the Emperor in a move that shocked the civilized world. Selassie was forced into exile in 1936; admonishing the League of Nations in Geneva with a speech that concluded ‘God and history will remember your judgment’. Time magazine named Selassie its man of the year and he became an icon for anti-Fascist movements.

Selassie lived out his exile in England at Fairfield House in Bath until 1941 when British and Commonwealth troops supported by the Ethiopian resistance movement defeated Mussolini and restored him to the throne. Selassie led his troops under the standard of the Lion of Judah. Though a constitutional and religious reformer in spirit, Selassie was an absolute ruler. He celebrated his Silver Jubilee in 1955 and survived an attempted coup by his Imperial Guards in 1960. While pursuing a policy of decolonization in Africa, Selassie retained strong, close bonds with Western democracies. By the 1970s he was the longest serving head of state in power.

The famine of 1972-4 killed 80,000 people in Ethiopia and shone a less than complimentary light on the Selassie regime, undermining the Emperor’s image as a progressive dictator. In 1974, Addis Ababa rioted and Prime Minister Aklilu Habte led a mutiny against Selassie. He was deposed on 12th September 1974 and placed under house arrest in the Grand Palace. The imperial family was later moved to Addis Ababa’s notorious Kerchele prison nicknamed ‘Alem Bekagne’ (goodbye, cruel world). Sixty high officials were executed without trial including Selassie’s grandson and two Prime Ministers. On August 28th 1975 it was announced that ex-monarch Haile Selassie had died of respiratory failure though in all likelihood he was strangled.

Henry Poole: Founders of Savile Row records head cutter Edward Mitchell and Hugh Cundey paying court to Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa in 1953 where the Emperor commissioned a lounge suit and a Field Marshal’s uniform to be made in a specially kitted-out workshop on Churchill Boulevard. The firm earned the Emperor’s Royal Warrant in 1959. However, the company ledgers list Haile Selassie as early as 1948 with orders including a blue superfine Field Marshal’s tunic, overalls, six gold stars, a gold sash with solid gold buckle and gold bullion tassels as well as a sword, sword knot and case engraved with the Lion of Judah. In 1950 the Ethiopian court asks Poole to ship a cloth order for herringbone, black hopsack, black velour, grey tropical suiting, grey Saxony and grey and red striped Saxony.

Selassie’s orders in June 1952 add up to £2130. Poole is supplying his entire personal and ceremonial wardrobe with listings for brown leather slippers, shoe trees, Field Marshal’s khaki caps, Wellington boots, gilt box spurs, a pair of gold wide shoulder cords with screw buttons, six white shirts, six pairs of white shoes, white shoelaces, 24 white linen collars, four sets of medal ribbons, two white drill SB (single breasted) uniforms and a blue evening cape with Field Marshal’s gold embroidered patent leather peak cap. Henry Poole & Co also served Haile Selassie’s Empress, Menen Asfaw, and Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen.

(c) James Sherwood

Photo © (c) Wiki Commons