Haile Selassie I (23 July 1892 – 27 August 1975), born Tafari Makonnen, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.
At the League of Nations in 1936, the Emperor's condemnation of the use of chemical weapons against his people was a pivotal moment in the onset of World War II, as well as a foreshadowing of the "barbarism" which was to come. His internationalist views led to Ethiopia's becoming a charter member of the United Nations, and his political thought and experience in promoting multilateralism and collective security have proved seminal and enduring. His suppression of rebellions among the nobles (mekwannint), as well as what some perceived to be Ethiopia's failure to modernize adequately, earned him criticism among some contemporaries and historians.Haile Selassie is revered as the religious symbol for God incarnate among the Rastafari movement, the number of adherents of which is indeterminate due to the loose structure of the religion, but is estimated between 1 and 2 million. Begun in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Rastafarian movement perceives Haile Selassie as a messianic figure who will lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to a golden age of peace, righteousness, and prosperity.
Haile Selassie I was born Tafari Makonnen from a mixed Oromo, Amhara, and Gurage family on 23 July 1892, in the village of Ejersa Goro, in the Harar province of Ethiopia. His mother was Woizero ("Lady") Yeshimebet Ali Abajifar, daughter of the renowned Oromo ruler of Wollo province Dejazmach Ali Abajifar. Haile Selassie's father was Ras Makonnen Woldemikael Gudessa, the governor of Harar; Ras Makonnen served as a general in the First Italo–Ethiopian War, playing a key role at the Battle of Adwa. He inherited his imperial blood through his paternal grandmother, Princess Tenagnework Sahle Selassie, who was an aunt of Emperor Menelik II, and as such asserted direct descent from Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of ancient Israel.
Ras Makonnen arranged for Tafari as well as his first cousin, Ras Imru Haile Selassie to receive instruction in Harar from Abba Samuel Wolde Kahin, an Ethiopian capuchin monk, and from Dr. Vitalien, a surgeon from Guadeloupe. Tafari was named Dejazmach (literally "commander of the gate", roughly equivalent to "count") at the age of 13, on 1 November 1905. Shortly thereafter, his father Ras Makonnen died at Kulibi, in 1906.
Tafari assumed the titular governorship of Selale in 1906, a realm of marginal importance but one that enabled him to continue his studies. In 1907, he was appointed governor over part of the province of Sidamo. It is alleged that during his late teens, Haile Selassie was married to Woizero Altayech, and that from this union, his daughter Romanework Haile Selassie was born.
Following the death of his brother Yelma in 1907, the governorate of Harar was left vacant, and its administration was left to Menelik's loyal general, Dejazmach Balcha Safo. Balcha Safo's administration of Harar was ineffective, and so during the last illness of Menelik II, and the brief reign of Empress Taitu Bitul, Tafari was made governor of Harar in 1910 or 1911.
The extent to which Tafari Makonnen contributed to the movement that would come to depose Iyasu V is unclear. Iyasu V, or Lij Iyasu, was the designated but uncrowned Emperor of Ethiopia from 1913 to 1916. Iyasu's reputation for scandalous behavior and a disrespectful attitude to the nobles at his grandfather Menelik II's court damaged his reputation, and his flirtation with Islam was considered treasonous among the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian leadership of the empire, leading to his being deposed on 27 September 1916.
Contributing to the movement that deposed Iyasu were conservatives such as Fitawrari Habte Giorgis Dinagde, Menelik II's longtime war minister. The movement to depose Iyasu preferred Tafari, as he attracted support from both progressive and conservative factions. Ultimately, Iyasu was deposed on the grounds of conversion to Islam. In his place, the daughter of Menelik II ( the aunt of Iyasu) was named Empress Zewditu. Tafari was elevated to the rank of Ras and was made heir apparent. In the power arrangement that followed, Tafari accepted the role of Regent (Inderase) and became the de facto ruler of the Ethiopian Empire (Balemulu Siltan).
During his minority, the new Crown Prince developed the policy of cautious modernization initiated by Menelik II. He secured Ethiopia's admission to the League of Nations in 1923 by promising to eradicate slavery; each emperor since Tewodros II had issued proclamations to halt slavery, but without effect: the internationally-scorned practice persisted well into Haile Selassie's reign.
In 1924, Ras Tafari toured Europe and the Middle East with a group that included Ras Seyum Mangasha of western Tigre Province, Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot of Gojjam Province, Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu of Begemder Province, Ras Makonnen Endelkachew, and Blattengeta Heruy Welde Sellase. He and his retinue inspected schools, hospitals, factories, and churches. Although patterning many reforms after European models, Tafari remained wary of European pressure. To guard against economic imperialism, he required that all enterprises have at least partial local ownership. Of his modernization campaign, he remarked, "We need European progress only because we are surrounded by it. That is at once a benefit and a misfortune."
Throughout Ras Tafari's travels in Europe, the Levant, and Egypt, he and his entourage were greeted with enthusiasm and fascination. He was accompanied by Seyum Mangasha and Hailu Tekle Haymanot who, like Tafari, were sons of generals who contributed to the victorious war against Italy a quarter century earlier at the Battle of Adwa. Another member of his entourage, Mulugeta Yeggazu, actually fought at Adwa as a young man. The "Oriental Dignity" of the Ethiopians  and their "rich, picturesque court dress" were sensationalized in the media; among his entourage he even included a pride of lions, which he distributed as gifts to President Poincaré of France, George V of the United Kingdom, and the Zoological Garden of Paris. As one historian noted, "Rarely can a tour have inspired so many anecdotes".In this period, the Crown Prince visited the Armenian monastery of Jerusalem. There, he adopted 40 Armenian orphans (አርባ ልጆች Arba Lijoch, "forty children") who had escaped the Armenian genocide of the Ottoman Empire. The prince arranged for the musical education of the youths, and they came to form the imperial brass.
In 1928, the authority of Tafari Makonnen was challenged in when veteran General Balcha Safo went to Addis Ababa with a sizeable armed force. The general paid homage to Empress Zewditu, but snubbed Ras Tafari.[not in citation given] However, while Balcha Safo and his bodyguard were in Addis Ababa, Tafari had Ras Kassa Haile Darge buy off his army and arrange to have him displaced as the Governor of Sidamo Province.
Even so, the gesture of Balcha Safo empowered Empress Zewditu politically and she attempted to have Tafari tried for treason. He was tried for his benevolent dealings with Italy including a 20-year peace accord. Popular support, as well as the support of the police, remained with Tafari. Ultimately, the Empress relented and, on 27 October 1928, she crowned Tafari Negus (Amharic: "King").The crowning of Tafari as King was controversial. He occupied the same territory as the Empress rather than going off to a regional kingdom of the empire. Two monarchs, even with one being the vassal and the other the Emperor (in this case Empress), had never occupied the same location as their seat in Ethiopian history. Conservatives, including Balcha Safo, agitated to redress this perceived insult to the dignity of the crown, leading to the rebellion of Ras Gugsa Welle. Gugsa Welle was the husband of the Empress and Governor of Begemder Province. In early 1930, he raised an army and marched it from his governorate at Gondar towards Addis Ababa. On 31 March 1930, Gugsa Welle was met by forces loyal to Tafari and defeated at the Battle of Anchem. Gugsa Welle was killed in action. News of Gugsa Welle's defeat and death had hardly spread through Addis Ababa when the Empress died suddenly on 2 April 1930. Although it was long rumored that the Empress was poisoned upon the defeat of her husband, or alternately that she died from shock upon hearing of the death of her estranged yet beloved husband, it has since been documented that the Empress succumbed to a flu-like fever and complications from diabetes.
With the passing of Zewditu, Tafari himself rose to Emperor and was proclaimed Neguse Negest ze-'Ityopp'ya, "King of Kings of Ethiopia". He was crowned on 2 November 1930, at Addis Ababa's Cathedral of St. George. The coronation was by all accounts "a most splendid affair", and it was attended by royals and dignitaries from all over the world. Among those in attendance were George V's son Prince Henry, Marshal Franchet d'Esperey of France, and the Prince of Udine representing Italy. Emissaries from the United States, Egypt, Turkey, Sweden, Belgium, and Japan were also present. British author Evelyn Waugh was also present, penning a contemporary report on the event. One newspaper report suggested that the celebration may have incurred a cost in excess of $3,000,000. Many of those in attendance received lavish gifts; in one instance, the Christian Emperor even sent a gold-encased Bible to an American bishop who had not attended the coronation, but who had dedicated a prayer to the Emperor on the day of the coronation.
Haile Selassie introduced Ethiopia's first written constitution on 16 July 1931, providing for a bicameral legislature. The constitution kept power in the hands of the nobility, but it did establish democratic standards among the nobility, envisaging a transition to democratic rule: it would prevail "until the people are in a position to elect themselves." The constitution limited the succession to the throne to the descendants of Haile Selassie, a point that met with the disapprobation of other dynastic princes, including the princes of Tigrai and even the Emperor's loyal cousin, Ras Kassa Haile Darge.
Haile Selassie spent his exile years (1936–1941) in Bath, United Kingdom, in Fairfield House, which he bought. His activity in this period was focused on countering Italian propaganda as to the state of Ethiopian resistance and the legality of the occupation. He spoke out against the desecration of houses of worship and historical artifacts (including the theft of a 1,600-year old imperial obelisk), and condemned the atrocities suffered by the Ethiopian civilian population. He continued to plead for League intervention and to voice his certainty that "God's judgment will eventually visit the weak and the mighty alike", though his attempts to gain support for the struggle against Italy were largely unsuccessful until Italy entered World War II on the German side in June 1940.
The Emperor's pleas for international support did take root in the United States, particularly among African American organizations sympathetic to the Ethiopian cause. In 1937, Haile Selassie was to give a Christmas Day radio address to the American people to thank his supporters when his taxi was involved in a traffic accident, leaving him with a fractured knee. Rather than canceling the radio appearance, he proceeded in much pain to complete the address, in which he linked Christianity and goodwill with the Covenant of the League of Nations, and asserted that "War is not the only means to stop war":
With the birth of the Son of God, an unprecedented, an unrepeatable, and a long-anticipated phenomenon occurred. He was born in a stable instead of a palace, in a manger instead of a crib. The hearts of the Wise men were struck by fear and wonder due to His Majestic Humbleness. The kings prostrated themselves before Him and worshipped Him. 'Peace be to those who have good will'. This became the first message.
[...] Although the toils of wise people may earn them respect, it is a fact of life that the spirit of the wicked continues to cast its shadow on this world. The arrogant are seen visibly leading their people into crime and destruction. The laws of the League of Nations are constantly violated and wars and acts of aggression repeatedly take place... So that the spirit of the cursed will not gain predominance over the human race whom Christ redeemed with his blood, all peace-loving people should cooperate to stand firm in order to preserve and promote lawfulness and peace.
During this period, Haile Selassie suffered several personal tragedies. His two sons-in-law, Ras Desta Damtew and Dejazmach Beyene Merid, were both executed by the Italians. The Emperor's daughter, Princess Romanework, wife of Dejazmach Beyene Merid, was herself taken into captivity with her children, and she died in Italy in 1941. His daughter Tsehai died during childbirth shortly after the restoration in 1942.
After his return to Ethiopia, he donated Fairfield House to the city of Bath as a residence for the aged, and it remains so to this day.