King Henry I of Haiti

Born in Grenada and brought to Haiti as a slave, Henri Christophe (06 October 1767–08 October 1820) joined the 1791 slave uprising, rising through the revolutionary ranks, and becoming a protagonist of the war that culminated in Haiti's independence from France. The year 1804 saw the birth of the New World’s second independent nation, and the first engendered by a war of emancipation from slavery. Christophe then participated in the 1805 invasion of Santo Domingo, notorious for its civilian massacres. When Jacques I was assassinated in 1806, the First Empire of Haiti was dissolved, and Christophe took control of the Northern part of Haiti, becoming its President a year later.

In 1811 he proclaimed himself King Henry I, becoming Haiti’s first King. The Kingdom of Haiti was the second monarchical polity established in that nation, succeeding the short-lived Empire of Jacques I (born Dessalines) and preceding that of Emperor Faustin I (Soulouque). 

Henry I was an Anglophile and an admirer of King George II of England, upon whom he modeled key aspects of his monarchy. He created chivalric orders and a titled hereditary nobility, and founded a College of Arms to design and regulate armorial bearings. Although of English inspiration, his peerage — like Napoleon’s nobility — lacked marquessates and viscountcies. Crucially, land was allocated along with the titles, and the nobles were responsible for establishing plantations and managing their laborers. 

The King constructed many palaces, including the opulent Sans-Souci Palace (his principal residence) with its Royal Chapel of Milot, and the massive Citadelle Henry, the largest fortress in the Americas; the last three are now World Heritage Sites. He modernized the civil service and the military and founded a navy. An enlightened monarch, he also founded several learned societies and a public education system, and greatly enriched Haiti's cultural life.

Unfortunately, the northern Kingdom was perpetually at war with the southern Republic of Alexandre Pétion. At the same time, a transversal racial divide was ever-present, with Henry I representing the Black majority and Pétion the mixed-race elite. Compounding such destabilizing forces was King Henry's policy of forced agricultural labor, which made him deeply unpopular. Faced with armed insurrections, debilitating strokes, and an imminent invasion from the south, King Henry shot himself in 1820. In the ensuing chaos, his teenage son — the unproclaimed new king — was assassinated whilst the Queen and the two princesses fled into exile. The dictatorial Jean-Pierre Boyer conquered the north, abolished the monarchy, and consolidated the two states into a new Republic. 

Continuity

Rules of Succession

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Whilst the 1811 Constitution established a hereditary monarchy, it limited the succession to legitimate direct male descendants of King Henry I, through primogeniture, to the perpetual exclusion of females. Otherwise, the succession would pass "into the family of the Prince nearest akin to the sovereign, or the most ancient in dignity." The King, however, could select his successor by adopting the son of any such Prince.

There are no known descendants of King Henry I claiming the throne of the Kingdom of Haiti today, although there have been pretenders to the Empire of Haiti. The last continuous claimant was Joseph II (1856-1922). He was the son of Joseph I (1830-1875) — formerly Crown Prince Mainville-Joseph — the successor of his sonless uncle Emperor Faustin I. 

Henry II (1804-1820)

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The youngest son of King Henry I, HRH Jacques-Victor Henry, Prince Royal of Haiti reigned as the unproclaimed King of Haiti for ten days, from 08 to 18 October 1820. His two older brothers, both sons of King Henry and Queen Marie-Louise, died before the Kingdom of Haiti was proclaimed, rendering him the heir apparent. The 16-year-old King was bayoneted to death by insurgents at the Palace of Sans-Souci ten days after his father committed suicide. He died without issue, survived by his mother and his two sisters who died childless in exile in Italy. 

Thierry Jean-Baptiste Soulouque Nord Vil Lubin (b. 1971)

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Thierry Jean-Baptiste Soulouque Nord Vil Lubin, “a great-great-great-grandson of Emperor Faustin I of Haiti" claims to be "the only descendant of any Haitian monarch to actually lay claim to the throne.” As a descendant of the Count of Léogane —  whose wife was a cousin of Henry’s Queen Marie Luisa — Vil Lubin considers himself a member of the Christophe family who should be accorded the dignity of Royal (in addition to Imperial) Highness. In that sense, he can be considered a pretender to the throne of Henry I's Kingdom of Haiti.

Regarding any claims from potential successors of King Henry Christophe, whose Kingdom only comprised the northern part of the country, Vil de Lubin rationalizes that his three children died without issue, and that “that line is obsolete.” 

A resident of Canada and graduate of the Université du Québec à Montréal, Vil de Lubin uses the titles His Imperial Highness Prince Thierry of Haiti, Count of Léogane, Count of Petionville, Baron of Jean-Baptiste, and Knight of the Kingdom of Hayti. The Chancellor of the Imperial House is Carmelo Currò Troiano, Count Mirto.

The coat of arms of King Henry I of Haiti was identical to that of his son the Crown Prince (pictured above) excepting the three-pointed label that is used in heraldry to denote the first-born son. The image is from the Armorial Général du Royaume d'Hayti, now in the possession of the College of Arms in London. 

The luxurious Baroque Royal Palace of Sans-Souci, in Milot, was built by King Henry I in 1813 and served as his main residence. Its ruins were declared a World Heritage Site in 1982. The above rendering is a digital restoration.

Painted by an unknown artist in the early 1800s, this oil on canvas depicts the children of King Henry I of Haiti: Prince François-Ferdinand, Princess Françoise-Améthyste, and Princess Anne-Athénaïre. Formerly owned by the Alexander Gallery of New York, it was purchased by the Haitian state in a 2018 auction and is exhibited at MUPANAH

Armorial bearings of the Haitian nobility. King Henry founded a College of Arms and had armorial bearings designed for the peers of the realm. They were recorded in the Armorial Général du Royaume d'Hayti, now in the possession of the College of Arms in London, who published a book reproducing and analyzing them.

Reigned as

King Henry I of Hayti

Full Title

Henri, par la grâce de Dieu et la Loi constitutionelle de l’État Roi d’Haïti, Souverain des Îles de la Tortue, Gonâve, et autres îles adjacentes, Destructeur de la tyrannie, Régénérateur et bienfaiteur de la nation haïtienne, Créateur de ses institutiones morales, politiques et guerrières, Premier monarque couronné du Nouveau-Monde, Défenseur de la foi, Fondateur de l’ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Henri.
 

(Henry, by the grace of God and constitutional law of the state, King of Haiti, Sovereign of Tortuga, Gonâve, and other adjacent islands, Destroyer of tyranny, Regenerator and Benefactor of the Haïtian nation, Creator of her moral, political, and martial institutions, First crowned monarch of the New World, Defender of the faith, Founder of the Royal Military Order of Saint Henry.)

Reign

28 March 1811 – 08 October 1820

Coronation

02 June 1811

Polity

Kingdom of Haiti (1811–1820)

Objects in our Collection

Letter signed by King Henry of Haiti requesting a receipt from his goldsmith for gold used for commissioned works, 1813.

Signed Letter, 1813

Letter signed by King Henry of Haiti requesting a receipt from his goldsmith for gold used for commissioned works, 1813. 

"Phoenix Button" of King Henry Christophe of Haiti

Phoenix Button, early 19th c.

Button — known later as a "Phoenix Button" — intended for use on the uniforms of the Palace of Sans-Souci 30th Regiment of the Royal Haitian Army, early 19th c.

Armorial Military Button King Henry Christophe of Haiti

Military Button, early 19th c.

Armorial military button for the uniforms of Officers of the Kingdom of Haiti, 1811-1820.