Theodore, Negus Hegyst, of Abyssinia


In 1868, The Illustrated London News commissioned the Scottish artist William Simpson (1823–99) to cover a military campaign launched by Britain against Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) to rescue several British officials and missionaries held by the Emperor Theodore (also called Tewodros II, ruled 1855–68). The commission was Simpson’s first major work for the Illustrated London News and the beginning of a long relationship with the paper that ended only with his death. This watercolor is Simpson’s depiction of Theodore. After the hostages were freed, the British forces launched a punitive attack on the emperor’s fortress of Magdala. Rather than face the ignominy of being taken prisoner, Theodore committed suicide, reportedly using a pistol that had been a gift from Queen Victoria. The watercolor is from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection at the Brown University Library.

Last updated: January 8, 2018