King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences

Henri Christophe, King of Haiti

Title page written in manuscriptTitle page written in manuscriptThe images shown in this section are from a collection of manuscript copies of letters written by Henri Christophe, president and later King of Haiti, 1807-20. The reproductions show the manuscript title page, one of the letters included in the volume and a coloured print of Sans Souci, the palace of Henri Christophe.

Christophe was a former slave and leader in the Haitian revolution, which led to independence from France in 1804. Many of the letters, like the one reproduced here, are to Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), emperor of Haiti from 1804 to 1806. The example shown is dated 20 November 1805 and is addressed to [Sa Majesté] ‘L’empereur’.

The subject of the letter gives an indication of the suspicion and internecine conflict engulfing the island in this period, with Christophe relating to Dessalines the details of an order he has given to arrest all Spaniards still at liberty, to prevent them from passing information to the enemy. 

An extract from a letter in the collectionAn extract from a letter in the collectionThough the shackles of French colonial government had been thrown off in the revolution, neither the reign of Dessalines nor that of Christophe saw widespread liberation from harsh working conditions. 

Coloured print of Sans Souci, the palace of Henri ChristopheColoured print of Sans Souci, the palace of Henri ChristopheChristophe instituted a semi-feudal regime of compulsory plantation corvée labour, backed by military force, which stopped just short of slavery. 

By these means he was able to maintain sugar production on the large estates and generate enough export trade to ensure a measure of prosperity.

He also embarked on a grandiose construction programme, building six châteaux and eight palaces, as well as the impressive citadel of Laferrière, to guard the country from French attack.

The ruins of Sans Souci, shown here, still stand in the north of the country.

In 1811 Christophe proclaimed himself king, taking the title Henri I. He established a Haitian peerage, with princes, dukes, counts, barons and knights (chevaliers), and a college of arms to regulate the award of coats of arms to the nobility.

In this exhibition

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