by R Harris

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Iconography of Published Portraits of Ras Mäkonnen




The Wuchalé Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship, signed in 1889, one of the first acts carried by the newly acclaimed Emperor Menilek II,(1) was intended to guarantee the integrity of the recently unified territory of Ethiopia. Egypt, even though nominally beholden to the Grande Porte in Istanbul, had long had designs on Ethiopia and the greed of Khedive Ismail had led to Egyptian forays into the north of the country until their decisive defeats in 1875 and 1876.(2)

Italy, also in search of an African empire, had annexed Massawa in 1885 and in the Treaty of Wuchalé, Menelik ceded Eritrea to the Italians and sent his cousin, Ras Mäkonnen,(3) Governor of Harar, to Italy to negotiate military support for his new regime. The Treaty, however, proved to be the source of no little misunderstanding due to the different meanings of Article XVII in Amharic and Italian. The Amharic version stated that Menilek should have the power to avail himself of the good offices of the Italian authorities for all communications he might have with other Powers. The Italian version, on the other hand, made this obligatory.(4) When Menilek, aware that the Italians were interpreting the Treaty as permission to make his country an Italian protectorate, abrogated the Treaty, Italy responded by sending an invasion force under General Oreste Baratieri. The Emperor issued a summons to his people to repel the invaders:

'My countrymen - until today I do not believe that I am guilty of having wronged you and you, to this day, have never done me any injury. Today you who are strong, help me according to your strength, and you who are weak, thinking of your children, your wife and your faith, help with me with prayers.'(5)

The Italians had marched south from their colony of Eritrea into the Ethiopian province of Tegré. By the time Menilek sent his men north, they had been well-equipped with French and Russian arms. For almost three months the opposing armies postured and dug in positions in the mountainous country around Adwa. General Baratieri delayed starting battle in the hope that Menilek's generals would desert him, while Menilek delayed in the hope that he might yet reach some accord with Italy. Finally, the Italian Prime Minister, Crispi, sent his General a scathing telegram: 'This is a military phthisis, not a war... We are ready for any sacrifice to save the honour of the army and the prestige of the monarchy.'(6) On 1 March 1896, more than 70,000 Ethiopian troops met 9,000 Italian soldiers and 10,000 Ethiopian mercenaries.(7) Italian losses were huge(8) and their defeat was a blot on the Italians' pride up to the time of Mussolini, who used the call to avenge the massacre at Adwa as one of his rallying cries.

The Battle of Adwa, won in great part by leadership of Ras Mäkonnen,(9) can rightly be termed one of the greatest victories of an African army over a European since the time of Hannibal.(10) The Treaty of Addis Ababa, signed by the Italians and Ethiopians on 26 October 1896 recognized the absolute independence of Ethiopia.(11)

Within two years, the young British Agent at the Court of Menilek II, Lieutenant-Colonel John Lane Harrington was suggesting to the Foreign Office that Ras Mäkonnen be invited to visit England immediately.(12) According to Harrington's intelligence, 'it would be... of inestimable advantage to our relations with Abyssinia that Makunan [sic], who will probably be the next King of Kings, and who is by far the most intelligent chief in Abyssinia, should... make acquaintance with Her Majesty's Government. If the Ras's expressed desires are to be believed, he is most anxious to visit England, and there is a possibility that the Emperor may be induced to let him make such a visit.'(13) The British had good reason for wishing to cultivate the centres of power. The French were trying to make inroads in Ethiopia, and the crucial issue of the Somali Coast railway could not go ahead without a guarantee that the French would not interfere in any turmoil which might arise upon the present Emperor's death. 'For one thing, this line will give the French the power of making a dash on Harrar [sic] the moment that a revolution in Abyssinia or a change of dynasty gives them the required opportunity... Ras Makunan [sic], whose opinion with the Emperor carries much weight, has very considerable interests in coffee in Harrar and the surrounding country... and whatever his views may be with regard to the railway as an Abyssinian Statesman, there can be no question but that he would profit considerably by it as a trader.'(14) French machinations to win the railway concession were inevitably interpreted by the British as an act of hostility. The French were supposedly arming the Abyssinians to be 'a thorn in the side of England and Italy' in the hope of promoting 'French commerce in competition with that of other nations.'(15)


The coronation of King Edward VII provided Lieutenant-Colonel Harrington with an opportunity to repeat his request that Ras Mäkonnen be invited to England. In an audience with Emperor Menilek on 10 March 1902, Harrington noted that the names suggested by the Emperor as potential representatives of Abyssinia at the coronation were lower in rank than protocol demanded. 'I strongly advised him [the Emperor] that as it was an occasion on which reigning monarchs sent representatives of the blood royal, if he sent a representative of low rank, his action might be misinterpreted in England, and the interest taken by our King in Abyssinia would be considerably weakened..'(16) It took seven days for the Emperor to make his decision:(17) 'The coronation representation was settled, Ras Makunan [sic] was chosen, he is to be accompanied by four officers and five servants...'(18) To his great disgruntlement, the Emperor told Harrington that he must travel with the Ras: 'I tried every possible excuse that I could think of to avoid going with the Ras to England, said the political situation was such that I could not well leave, that my duty was to represent my country here and not to accompany a Ras to England... that I could not afford the expense that such a journey would entail in the way of a new uniform, etc...'(19)


Ras Mäkonnen arrived at Victoria Station on 23 June 1902,(20) where he learned of Edward VII's attack of perityphlitis and the postponement of the Coronation. The Ras went immediately to Westminster Abbey to pray for the King's recovery.(21) The Ras spent his time in Britain sightseeing, visiting, inter alia, the Woolwich Arsenal and the residence of the British magnate Sir Henry Meaux, whose wife was a collector of oriental antiquities.(22) The Times has an entry in the Court Circular, dated 4 July 1902: 'To-day the Prince of Wales received His Highness Ras Makunan [sic], special Envoy from the Emperor of Ethiopia...'(23) By 8 July, The Times was reporting on his visit to 'industrial etablishments' in Birmingham and a trip to Glasgow.(24) On Sunday, 13 July, the Ras left for Paris, where he stayed at the Elysée Palace Hotel, (25) to hold talks with the French government,(26) and returned to England on 3 August.(27) On 5 August, the Ras visited St. Thomas's Hospital with his suite and was given a tour of the wards and the medical school,(28) in appreciation of which the Ras later sent the hospital a donation of £100.(29)

Two days later, the Ras left for a visit to Windsor Castle. Referring to this visit, Sir Lionel Cust writes in his King Edward VII and His Court, London, 1930, p 156: 'More interesting in August 1903 [sic] was Ras Makonnen, the Envoy from Abyssinia; he came with a suite of jolly black men who consumed a great deal of fruit at tea. Ras Makonnen had paid a special visit to St. George's Chapel, to see the burial-place of Theodore [sic - actually Alamayou, RH], the little Ethiopian prince, to whom Queen Victoria had extended her protection.(30) Ras Makonnen had disturbed Dean Eliot very much by saying that the inscription was wrongly written.' The Times was more circumspect in referring to the visit to the burial place of the little Prince Alamayou(31) who died having been made a ward of the British government, merely mentioning that he 'placed a wreath near Queen Victoria's tomb.'(32)


The Coronation of King Edward VII(33) took place on 9 August, and the press noted the 'illustrious strangers, such as Ras(34) Makonnen from Abyssinia, gorgeous in the state dress of his rank and country...'(36) Three days later, The Times, quoting The London Gazette, reported that the King 'has been graciously pleased' to appoint Ras Makonnen to the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. The receipt of honours continued; on the Royal Yacht at Spithead, where the Ras received the Coronation Medal.(37) He finally set sail for France and Abyssinia on 21 August, bearing King Edward's 'assurances of friendship for the Emperor Menelek.'(38)

The dates of the award of the Order of St Michael and St George and of the Coronation Medal narrow down the date of the portrait, by Lafayette of Bond Street, of Ras Mäkonnen, negative number (L)3452B (and possibly the other portraits in the series) to the period August 12 to 17, as the Ras is seen wearing the Order of St Michael and St George but not the Coronation Medal. Research on other, dated, portraits in the Lafayette Collection of glass plate negatives in the archives of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and press reports, shows that in many cases sitters who were awarded an Order went directly from palace to photographer's studio to be recorded in their Court attire.

Iconography of Published Portraits of Ras Mäkonnen

Listed chronologically by date of publication.
Photographs, unless otherwise stated.

The Illustrated London News, 19 July 1902, p 89, (photograph by Lafayette) captioned "The Abyssinian Coronation Envoy, H.E. Ras Makonnen, Now Returning Home [sic]."

Chic, 27 September 1902, p 166, captioned "Ras Makonnen, The Special Envoy of Emperor Menelik of Abyssinia" (Photograph by Lafayette, London - Reproduction of (L)3253).

Vanity Fair, 12 February 1903, "Spy" Cartoon of Ras Makonnen, Number DCCLXVI of the series "Men of the Day"

Pétridès, S. Pierre., Le héros d’Adoua: Ras Makonnen, Prince d’Ethiopie, Paris, 1963, p 63, captioned "Ras Makonnen towards 1904."

Pétridès, op cit, p 80, captioned "Ras Makonnen, at the age of twenty-two (sketch by G. Garcia, made at Ankober in 1876).

Pétridès, op cit, p 81, lithograph based on photograph of Ras Makonnen (see Encylopædia Africana Dictionary of African Biography below), captioned "Ras Makonnen upon his arrival in Naples in 1889."

Pétridès, op cit, p 128, captioned "Ras Makonnen towards 1901."

Pétridès, op cit, p 240, captioned "Ras Makonnen in London in 1902".

Pétridès, op cit, p 241, captioned "The victor of Adoua and the Heros of Fashoda meet in Paris, July 1902."

Pétridès, op cit, p 256, captioned "Ras Makonnen and his son Taffari [sic] at the age of 6."

Pétridès, op cit, p 304, drawing captioned "First model by Afaworke Teklé for a statue of Ras Makonnen in 1959."

Sellassé, Gbr, Chronique du regne de Ménélik II, roi des rois d’Ethiopie, Paris, 1930-1, plate XXVII.

Sellassé, Gbr,  Tarikä Zämän kä Kägmawi Menilek Negusä Nägäst zaltyopya, Addis Ababa, 1959 (Ethiopian calendar), p 240.

The Encyclopædia Africana Dictionary of African Biography, New York, 1976, Vol II, p 101, captioned "Ras Makonnen".


Darrell Bates, "The Abyssinian Boy" - article in History Today, December 1979 (pp 816-823), 1979
John Edward Courtenay Bodley, The Coronation of Edward The Seventh: A Chapter of European and Imperial History, London, 1911
EA Wallis Budge, The History of Ethiopia, London, 1928
Chic, 27 September 1902
Sir Lionel Cust, King Edward VII and His Court, London, 1930.
L De Castro, Nella terra dei Negus, Milan, 1915
Jean Duchesne-Fourchet, Mission en Ethiopie, 1901-1903, Paris, 1908
The Encyclopædia Africana Dictionary of African Biography, New York, 1976
Ethiopia Observer, 1971, XIV
FO 1/36/20
FO 1/36/137
FO 1/38/102
FO 1/39/198
FO 1/40/68
FO 1/40/97
FO 1/40/194
FO 1/206.
FO 1/206
Count Gleichen, With the Mission to Menelik 1897, London, 1897
Richard D Greenfield, Ethiopia: A New Political History, London, 1965
WC Harris, The Highlands of Aethiopia, London, 1844
Hayla Giyorgis Belete, Zénahu Le-Leul Ras Makonnen, Addis Ababa, 1972-3;
The World Coronation Visitors' Supplement to The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1902
The Illustrated London News
The Journal of the Orders and Medals Research Society, Volume 18, Summer 1979, No. 2(163), article "B.R. James and His Foreign Honours."
AR Litherland & BT Simpkin, Spinks Standard Catalogue of British and Associated Orders, Decorations & Medals, London, 1990
Harold Marcus, The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopa 1844-1913, Oxford, 1975
Hugh Montgomery Massingberd, ed, Burke's Royal Families of the World, Vol II, London, 1980
Richard Pankhurst, "Menilek and the Utilisation of Foreign Skills in Ethiopia", Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 1967, V, No 1
Richard Pankhurst, "Linguistic and Cultural Data on the Penetration of Fire-Arms into Ethiopia", Journal of Ethiopian Studies, 1971, IX, No. 1
Professor Richard Pankhurst in a letter to Russell Harris dated October 1991
Report prepared in 1992 by Professor Richard Pankhurst, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Abba University
Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethiopia: A Cultural History, Woodford Green, 1955
M Parkyns, Life in Abyssinia, London, 1853
Stephen Patterson, Royal Insignia: British and Foreign Orders of Chivalry from the Royal Collection, London, 1996
N Pearce, Life and Adventures of Nathaniel Pearce, London, 1831
Marjory Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, London, 1948
S Pierre Pétridès, Le héros d'Adoua: Ras Makonnen, Prince d'Ethiopie, Paris, 1963
H Rassam, Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King of Abyssinia, London, 1869
Felix Rosen, Eine deutsche Gesandschaft in Abessinien, Leipzig, 1907,
Hughes le Roux, Ménélik et Nous, Paris, 1901
Gäbrä Sellassé, Chronique du regne de Ménélik II roi des rois d'Ethiopie, Paris, 1930-1
Gäbrä Sellassé, Tarikä Zämän kä Kägmawi Menilek Negusä Nägäst zaltyopya, Addis Ababa, 1959 (Ethiopian calendar)
The Times
E Ullendorff, The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I, 'My Life and Ethiopia's Progress.' Oxford, 1976
Vanity Fair, 12 February 1903, "Spy" Cartoon of Ras Makonnen, Number DCCLXVI of the series "Men of the Day"
Letter, dated 31 July 1991, from Adrian Weller of Sotheby's, West Sussex, to Russell Harris
Robert Werlich, Russian Orders, Decorations and Medals, Washington, 1981
Robert Werlich, Orders and Decoration of All Nations, Ancient and Modern, Civil and Military, Washington, 1990
Who's Who
August B. Wylde, Modern Abyssinia, London, 1900, p 217



1. Menilek II, baptised Sahlé Maryam (1844-1913), to Hailé Malakot, King of Shoa, and his first wife Ejigayehu (div 1845) (see Hugh Montgomery Massingberd, ed, Burke's Royal Families of the World, Vol II, London, 1980).

2. 'Though the Egyptians were fully equipped with the latest modern arms of the period and were trained and led by American and European officers, they were defeated... at Gundet in 1875 and Gura in 1876... The huge sums lavished by Khedive Ismail on the expeditions to conquer Ethiopia precipitated his downfall. The Sultan of Turkey replaced him by his son Tewfik in 1870.' Sylvia Pankhurst, Ethiopia: A Cultural History, Woodford Green, 1955, pp 510-511.

3. Ras Mäkonnen (Wäldä-Mika'él), (1852-1894) born to Dejazmatch Wäldä Mika'él and Tenagne Worq, sister of King Hailé Malakot (father of Emperor Menilek II) (see Massingberd, op cit.)

4. Marjory Perham, The Government of Ethiopia, London, 1948, p 56

5. Quoted in Perham, op cit, p 57.

6. Crispi to Baratieri, Rome, 25 February 1896, Libre verde XXIII, Avvenimenti, No 273, translation quoted in Harold Marcus, The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopa 1844-1913, Oxford, 1975, p 170. August B. Wylde, in Modern Abyssinia, London, 1900, p 217, comments that 'The real cause of the Italian defeat was, that General Baratieri was tied to the telegraph station and sacrificed his military duty, and most likely his better judgment for what might be called an electioneering cry to please his superiors in Italy, and foolishly obeyed what they telegraphed him. He must have known at the time that unless he could make a complete surprise he was risking the lives of the troops under his command... Here is an instance of the presence of the telegraph causing a disaster, and whatever may be its benefits it has also its drawbacks, and I am not an advocate for fighting battles that are carried on in uncivilised parts from civilised centres thousands of miles away.'

7. Numbers quoted by different sources vary great. However, Baratieri reported his side's strength to the Italian Minister of War on 19 January 1896 as 452 officers, 8,463 Italian troops and 10,749 mercenaries. (See: Marcus, op cit, p 168.)

8. After Menilek's cousin, Djedjatchmatch Besheer, died of his wounds, his own soldiers massacred all their prisoners including the Italians. Wylde adds 'Nearly all the Italian dead and some of the wounded also were mutilated, mostly by the southern Abyssinians. It is a custom that has existed for centuries and they justify it by the Bible; saying that David, the father of Solomon, proved his valour to King Saul in the same manner...' Wylde, op cit, p 214. (It seems obvious that the reference here is to David's bride-price for Michal, daughter of King Saul:

1 Samuel 18:27: "Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king's son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.")

9. This judgment seems to be disputed in only one source: 'Makonnen was not the hero of the Italo-Ethiopian war of 1895-6 that later sycophants of Haile Selassie tried to claim. He fought, however, in the advance guard, and was also in the forefront as a negotiator. Unfairly criticized by the empress and other conservatives as a defeatist, and mistakenly estimated by the Italian high command to be a potential traitor, he alone, shared with Menilek the understanding that victory on the battle field could not, by itself, halt the partition of northern Ethiopia.' Article on Ras Makonnen by Richard Caulk, in The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography, New York, 1976, vol II.

10. For a contemporary description of the Battle, see Wylde, op cit, chapter IX.

11. 'The war indemnity paid by the Italians was all taken by King Menelek, and I have not heard up till the present that any of the northern leaders received any part of the money, although they were the chief sufferers by the war, and bore the brunt of the fighting.' Wylde, op cit, p 220.

12. It should be noted that relations between the two Empires were apparently improving. The first Ethiopian Order to be created, the Order of Solomon's Seal and the Holy Cross had been presented by King John (Johannes) to Edward VII when Prince of Wales in 1874, and in 1897 Queen Victoria received an order, possibly the Order of Solomon, for her Diamond Jubilee. (Stephen Patterson, Royal Insignia: British and Foreign Orders of Chivalry from the Royal Collection, London, 1996, pp 175-6, with illustration of King Edward's Order on p 178.)

13. Mr Harrington to Viscount Cromer, FO 1/36/20.

14. Mr Harrington to the Marquess of Salisbury, FO/1/36/137

15. The Director of Military Intelligence to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, FO/1/38/102.

16. FO/1/40/68.

17. Harrington's argument carries more force if we remember that a previous perceived slight by Queen Victoria against a former Emperor, Tewodros II (c 1818-1868), caused a crisis which was solved by the despatch of a British expeditionary force to free the European nations held hostage at Magdala in 1868. The Emperor committed suicide and the British created the Barony of Napier of Magdala.

18. FO/1/40/68.

19. FO/1/40/97

20. 'There was only one contretemps, not of a serious character, but decidedly vexing, as it happened to one of the King's guests who is probably the least familiar with Western ways, and to whom, therefore, the most punctilious courtesy should be shown. Ras Makonnen, the Governor of Harrar and representative of the Emperor Menelek, arrived from Dover by an earlier train than was expected, and no carriage was ready to receive him.' Quoted from The Times of 24 June, by Professor Richard Pankhurst, in 'The Visit of Ras Makonnen to Europe in 1902 and the "Spy" Cartoon of him', in Ethiopia Observer, 1971, XIV, pp 295-7.

21. These details were provided in a report prepared by Professor Richard Pankhurst, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Abba University. The Times, 11 August 1902, p 7c, reported the following, in a report on the Coronation: 'Behind the choir was now borne the cross which Ras Makonnen brought from Abyssinia and gave to the Abbey as a votive offering for the King's recovery. This cross, of silver gilt, is of fine workmanship, and is inscribed with the Abyssinian characters [sic]... The cross presented by Ras Makonnen was afterwards taken through the sanctuary and placed at the head of the tomb of Anne of Cleves.' The World Coronation Visitors' Supplement to The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1902, p 5, adds in emotional terms: 'Ras Makonnen is accompanied by a Coptic priest, who is described as a very fine man, and the votive cross sent to Westminter Abbey for the King's recovery was probably offered at his suggestion. Our Abyssinian visitors have certainly established a claim on our gratitude by this mark of sympathy in our anxiety, and it would not be surprising if it became a tradition in the valleys of Abyssinia that the life of a great King of England was spared at the intercession of one of their Abounas.'

22. E.A. Wallis Budge, The History of Ethiopia, London, 1928, Vol II, pp 537-538 (quoted by Professor Pankhurst, see above.)

23. The Times, p 3, col f.

24. The Times, 8 July 1902, p 10a. It was perhaps during these trips to view the fruits of the industrial era that the Ras bought the items which he shipped home with him, which included: a balloon, a motor-car, two motor-tricycles, a timepiece with moving figures and a number of military weapons (listed in The Times, 22 August 1902, p 3c).

25. The Times, 22 July 1902, p 10b.

26. FO 1/40/194, from Harrington on the letterhead of the Westminster Palace Hotel, where the Ras was also staying.

27. The Times, 4 August 1902, p 4b.

28. The Times, 5 August 1902, p 7f.

29. The Times, 23 August 1902, p 8a.

30. For details of Prince Alamayou, see Darrell Bates, "The Abyssinian Boy" - article in History Today, December 1979 (pp 816-823), 1979

31. Of the 12 images of Prince Alamayou registered for copyright at the Public Record Office, it may be noted that 8 were made by JM Cameron.

32. The Times, 8 August 1902, p 3e.

33. John Edward Courtenay Bodley, The Coronation of Edward The Seventh: A Chapter of European and Imperial History, London, 1911, p 354, gives the list of Special Missions to the Coronation, as follows:

His Highness Ras Makunan
Lieutenant-Colonal John Lane Harrington, C.V.O.
Captain James

34. Ras = "title conferred on governors of provinces"; Fitawrari = "General"; Däjazmatch = "Keeper of the King's Door" or "Count" (Burke's Royal Families of the World, Vol II, London, 1980, p 45).

35. Fitawrari; later promoted to Däjazmatch. - - - -  

36. The Times, 11 August 1902, p 6b.

37. The Times, 18 August 1902, p 8a.

38. The Times, 22 August 1902, p 3c.