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10 Historical Figures Who Were Leaders in More Than One Country

Leading a country is a very involving affair. Not everyone can do it. With diversity in opinions and competing interests, a nation’s leader has a lot to do. He/she will have classes of people to appease, an economy to manage, a population to rule while balancing international relations. Nowadays, modern communications and vastly improved governance systems have lessened this burden. Most of our presidents, prime ministers, and monarchies have inherited systems that work. This is a far cry to their predecessors, especially those who were there before the 20th century.

With that difficulty in mind, imagine there were leaders who not only led a country but had an opportunity to lead another! The multiple countries they led were independent of each other and in some instances located in vastly different corners of the planet. A number of these nations were kingdoms and duchies. Their leaders either inherited, were appointed, given or elected to those positions by their family dynasties. Some chose to relinquish their previous thrones and take the new ones while others ruled their multiple states simultaneously.

Simón Bolívar (24 July 1783 – 17 Dec 1830): President of Gran Colombia, President of Peru, President of Bolivia

Leaders in More Than One Country Simón-Bolivar

He is widely regarded as the “El Libertador” in much of South America. George Washington of Latin America.  This is because he is considered one of the greatest heroes, if not the greatest, of Latin American wars of independence from Spanish rule at the beginning of the 19th century. Coming from a wealthy Venezuelan aristocratic family, he was a brilliant military leader who helped several South American states secede from Spanish rule. These states are Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, and Bolivia, who adopted his name in his honor.

Due to his efforts, he was named the president of Gran Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. Gran Colombia encompassed the present states of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. He was the president of Gran Colombia between 1819 and 1830, president of Peru between 1824 and 1827 and president of Bolivia in 1825 (August to December)  His dream was to have a united South America able to meet any emerging threats like the United States. This was not to be because civil war broke out between nations under his command. He died a disappointed man.[1][2]

Henry III (19 Sept 1551 – 2 Aug 1589): King of Poland, King of France, Grand Duke of Lithuania

Henry III

He was the third and favorite son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Médicis of the prominent House of Médici. Being the favorite son meant great opportunities were made available to him the courtesy of, among others, his mother’s influence.[3] One of those opportunities was the Polish throne. It had fallen vacant following the death of Sigismund II Augustus. A French diplomat, Jean de Monluc, was sent to negotiate for Henry III to be elected king instead of a candidate fronted by the House of Habsburg, another of the distinguished royal houses in Europe then. In exchange for Henry III’s election to the throne, the French agreed to provide military and diplomatic support to the Polish to help in dealing with the Russians and the Ottoman Empire respectively. This was on top of financial subsidies.[4] He became king of Poland in 1573, which also made him automatically the Grand Duke of Lithuania and head of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

In 1574, his only remaining older brother, Charles IX King of France, who had succeeded to the throne through a series of unfortunate deaths, also died. He had no surviving heirs so Henry III, at only 22 years old, abandoned his Polish throne and went back to France to become king.[5] He was crowned king in 1575. During his reign, France was being wrecked by Wars of Religion. The consequences of these wars were to cost him his life as a Catholic fanatic assassinated him in 1589. Having no heirs either because his young brother had died young, the reign of the House of Valois ended with him.

James I and VI (19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625): King of Scotland, King of England & Ireland

James I and VI

James was born of Queen Mary of Scotland and Lord Darnley. He became King James VI of Scotland after his mother was forced to abdicate when he was just a year old in 1567.[6] As he was too young, the kingdom was ruled on his behalf by a succession of regents while the king was being educated. Most historians consider this education to have positively impacted his rule of Scotland later. He became a nominal ruler in 1576 when he was 12 and took complete control of Scotland in 1581. Like King, he was able to successfully navigate the conflict between the Catholics, and the Protestants by playing them off each other. This gave him space to rule Scotland.

While he was King of Scotland, he dreamt of being the ruler of England instead.[7] This fantasy made him befriend Queen Elizabeth I, the queen of England and Ireland at the time. As she was childless, he hoped his friendship would put him in an excellent position to succeed her. He was able to achieve this in 1603 when Elizabeth I died, becoming King James I.  After he became King of England and Ireland, he ignored Scotland with only one recorded visit in 1617.[8] One of his contributions you might recognize is the Authorized King James version of the Bible which he commissioned in 1611.

Pedro I and IV (12 Oct 1798 – 24 Sep 1834): Emperor of Brazil, King of Portugal

Pedro I and IV

Pedro, I was the founding emperor of the Brazilian empire, where he ruled between 1822 and 1831. He was the fourth son of King João of Portugal and Queen Carlota Joaquina.[9] When the French, led by Napoleon, invaded Portugal, the family fled to Brazil. His dad returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving him behind to be in-charge of Brazil as the regent. Tensions between Brazil and Portugal led to the regent to side with Brazil by declaring its independence in 7th Sept 1822. Subsequently, he became its first emperor at just 24 in December as Pedro I.

In 10th March 1826, while still emperor of Brazil, his father died, and he inherited the Portuguese throne as King Pedro IV. This only lasted for two months. In Francisco de Aragão Morato’s memoirs, it is claimed that the king, aware of the bad blood between Brazil and Portugal, realized his new position was untenable. He, therefore, relinquished the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter, Maria da Glória. However, this did not hinder him from getting involved in Portuguese politics as his daughter’s position was shaky. Eventually, he abdicated the Brazilian throne for his son and returned to Portugal to bolster his daughter’s claim to the throne.[10]

Joseph Bonaparte (7 Jan 1768 – 28 July 1844): King of Naples, King of Spain

Joseph Bonaparte

Joseph Bonaparte was a French lawyer, diplomat, and soldier.[11] He was also the elder brother of Napoleon. After the death of their father Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph became the head of the family, where he helped his mother to look after his siblings and their farm. Together with Napoleon, they worked together on family businesses as well as being part of the French revolution. Napoleon used his brother’s skills in diplomacy to negotiate several treaties, conventions, and negotiations like the Treaty of Lunéville with Austria in 1801 and the Treaty of Amiens with the British in 1802.[12]

In 1806, Joseph was installed by Napoleon as the King of Naples after the expulsion of the Bourbon dynasty. As the king, Joseph is credited with transforming the kingdom from a backward state to a state with functioning systems like courts, banks, and schools. In 1808, Napoleon made him king of Spain. His tenure there was markedly less successful despite his considerable effort. The Spanish were absolutely against his rule. They forced him out of the capital after just three months. He was only able to return with the help of French troops.[13] After Napoleon’s defeat, Joseph fled to America, where he settled in New York and Philadelphia.[14]

Adolphe (24 July 1817 – 17 Nov 1905): Duke of Nassau, Grand Duke of Luxembourg


He was the eldest son of Duke of Nassau William and his first wife. Following the death of his father, he inherited the Duchy of Nassau in 1839.[14] The Seven Weeks’ War of 1886 was a war between Prussia and Austria in which Austria was defeated.[15] Because the duke had sided with Austria during the war, Prussia annexed Nassau and forced the duke to abdicate. This he did formally in 1867.

Luxembourg in those days always found itself as part of one nation or another. Between 1815 and 1839, it was part of The Netherlands as a Grand Duchy under King Willem III. In 1839, the Treaty of London brought about the Kingdom of Belgium and a new independent Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This grand duchy, although independent, was still connected to the Netherlands. King Willem III was also the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. When the king died in 1890, he had no male heirs. The Salic law, which prevented females from inheriting a throne, was active in the Grand Duchy but not in the Netherlands. Therefore, the king’s daughter, Wilhelmina, could only ascend to the Dutch throne. Another agreement called the Nassau Family Pact meant the Grand Duchy throne passed on to Adolphe. He became the Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 1890, and the union between Netherlands and Luxembourg came to an end.[16]

Stanislaw I Leszczynski (20 Oct 1677 – 23 Feb 1766): King of Poland, Duke of Lorraine

Stanislaw I Leszczynski

He was born to a prominent and influential family in Poland. When the King of Sweden, Charles XII, invaded Poland in 1702, he forced the abdication of Augustus II, the then King of Poland. Charles XII then installed Stanislaw as the new King of Poland in 1704. During that period, Poland was a weak country that became a proving ground for foreign militaries. They marched, plundered and ravaged it at will. In 1709 Battle of Poltava, the Russians defeated the Swedish army, and Charles XII withdrew from Poland.[17] This meant Stanislaw was unprotected and Augustus II retook his throne. Stanislaw fled the country and settled in France.

In 1733, Augustus II died, and Stanislaw with the help of the French was elected as Polish king in the Diet, Polish parliament. Austria and Russia, however, thwarted attempts to crown him by invading the country and forcing the Diet to elect Frederick Augustus II as the new king instead, to be known as King Augustus III. They had feared Stanislaw would try to ally with France and Sweden.[18] He fled Warsaw, waited for the French to help him retake his throne but help did not come. He then decided to engage in guerilla tactics against the Russians and their allies. These efforts culminated to the Peace Treaty of Vienna in 1738 which recognized Augustus III as the Polish King. As a consolation, Stanislaw was given Duchies of Lorraine and Bar to rule for life.[19] Among his achievements there included promoting economic development, creating a great cultural center in Lunéville and founding of science academy in Nancy.

Francis I (8 Dec 1708 – 18 Aug 1765): Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Duke of Lorraine

Leaders in More Than One Country Francis-I-Holy-Roman-Emperor

One thing to note about Francis I is that most of his titles came due to his marriage. His wife was Maria Theresa, the Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and heiress to the Roman Empire. Together with his wife, they founded the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty.[20] As the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI accepted the Duke of Lorraine, his marriage to Maria on the condition, he helps to end the Polish succession war between Augustus II and Stanislaw I by ceding Lorraine to Stanislaw. He in return succeeded Gian Gastone as the Grand Duke of Tuscany. These arrangements formed part of the Peace Treaty of Vienna of 1738.[21]

After the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740, there was a war of succession as France tried to, among others, support Charles Albert’s claim to the throne.[22] Charles Albert was the elector of Bavaria. When Charles Albert, now emperor Charles VII, died in 1745, Francis was elected the Holy Roman emperor. As the emperor, he did not do much because it was his wife, who held the powers.

Sigismund III Vasa (20 June 1566 – 30 April 1632): King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, King of Sweden

Sigismund III Vasa

Sigismund was the son of King John III of Sweden and his first wife, the Polish princess Catherine Jagellonica. He was elected King of Poland in 1587 after the death of his uncle, King Stephen Báthory. The throne came with an agreement to reduce the powers of the crown and increase powers of the Diet.[23] At the time, Poland was part of Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Having the successor to the Swedish throne as the King of Poland, it was hoped, would help settle the territorial issues the Commonwealth had with Sweden.[24]

In 1592 when his father died, Sigismund sought and was permitted by the Diet to succeed him as the King of Sweden. He became king in 1594 and afterward appointed his uncle Charles to run the country on his behalf as regent.  As the king of both countries, he tried to create a Polish-Swedish union, but it ultimately failed. His uncle, the regent, rebelled and succeeded in deposing him in 1599 to become King Charles IX. Sigismund now obsessed with the lost throne, went to war with Sweden on several occasions trying to get it back. His efforts only made things worse. He never regained the Swedish Kingdom, and Poland lost significant territories and international standing as a result.[25]

Charles III (20 January 1716 – 14 December 1788): King of Spain, King of Naples and Sicily

Leaders in More Than One Country Charles-III-of-Spain

He was widely regarded as one of the enlightened rulers in the 1700s. Son of King Philip V of Spain and his second wife Elizabeth Farnese of Pharma, he inherited the Duchy of Pharma due to his mother’s influence in 1731. She did not see how her son could be king of Spain as her husband had older sons with his first wife. She schemed some more and had Charles become king of Naples and Sicily in 1736. His rule was a success, and he was hugely popular with his subjects.[26]

When his father died, the Spanish crown passed on to his only older brother alive at the time Ferdinand who became Ferdinand VI in 1746. Ferdinand died in 1759 leaving behind no children making Charles the heir apparent. Charles stepped down from the throne of Naples and Sicily and took up the Spanish throne as King Charles III. His reign was marked by economic as well as administrative reforms.[27]

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