Iyasu V, born Kifle Yako, bapized Iyasu and usually known as Lij Iyasu, was born in Abyssinia on February 4 1895; his father was Negus Mikael, King of Zion, and his mother was Woizero Shoa Reggad, elder daughter of Emperor Menelik II. He was educated at the Menelik II School in Addis-Ababa.
Heir to the throne
Late in his life, Emperor Menelek II of Abyssinia was confronted with the problem of his succession; if he did not explicitly name an heir before he died, the nation he had built would likely dissolved into civil war and be devoured by European colonial powers. He had two possible heirs: his younger grandson Lij Iyasu and his third daughter Zauditu, who was married to Ras Gugsa Welle, nephew of the Empress Taitu. At that time it was clear that the aristocracy would not have respected a woman as their leader so Zauditu was not seriously considered. After experiencing a stroke while on pilgrimage to the monastery of Debre Libanos, on June 1908 11 he informed his ministers that Iyasu would succeed him; due to Iyasu's youth, however, Menelik agreed to the suggestion to appoint a regent until the heir came of age.
During the last years of life of the gravely ill Menelik III, the Empress Taitu intrigued against his choice, intending to substitute either her daughter Zauditu or her husband Ras Gugsa for Lij Iyasu; in response, a number of nobles organized in an ever-closer alliance against her. After a massive stroke on October 28 1909, Menelik's choice of Lij Iyasu as his heir was formally proclaimed on October 30 1909, with Ras Bitwoedded Tessema Nadew as regent.
Because of the illness and inability to rule of the Emperor, the youth of the heir to the throne, the bad health of the regent and the interference of the Empress, the imperial government begin to falter: administrators were unwilling to make decisions and foreign affairs likewise suffered.
When the council met to appoint a successor on the death of Ras Tessema (April 10 1911), Lij Iyasu demanded the position and on May 11 he was appointed as the new regent. From the very beginning of his de facto reign, Lij Iyasu showed that he was bright, but also impulsive, cruel, lascivious, prone to depressions and egocentricities, and politically inept. In the first year, he was faced with several serious challenges and rebellions to his rule, which were effectively crushed by the Abyssinian Army.
At a certain point, Lij Iyasu decided to leave the capital, ostensibly on a military expedition against the Afar, but he simply traveled through eastern Shewa and into Wollo, meeting with the common people. He had promised to return to Addis-Ababa in May 1912, but instead visited Debre Libanos and Addis Alem, before joining Dajazmach Kabbada's expedition into southwest Ethiopia. Here Lij Iyasu took part in a series of slave raids, in which 40,000 people of both sexes were captured. Once he finally returned to the capital, Iyasu indulged in a lavish celebration, which led the European diplomats to conclude that he was purposely neglecting urgent business and impeding the ministers from carrying out their duties.
On the night of December 12 1913, the Emperor Menelik II finally died. By mid-January, the news had slipped through the official wall of silence and on January 10, the leading nobles of Ethiopia gathered to discuss their response to his loss and the future of Ethiopia. They opposed the immediate coronation of Lij Iyasu, although they did approve of his proposal to crown his father Mikael Negus of Wollo ("King of the North").
Lij Iyasu continued Menelik's program of modernization: he ended the practice of chaining plaintiffs in court and confiscating all the property of convicts, forbade the drugging of boys for supernatural purposes, established the first police force in Addis Ababa, updated many sections of the criminal code and promoted religious tolerance (with particular regards to the Muslim population).
However, Lij Iyasu showed a pronounced lack of interest in the day to day running of the government, leaving most of the work for the ministers to deal with. The cabinet of ministers remained largely unchanged from the days of his grandfather, and by now the ministers wielded much power and influence; however, he constantly spoke of his intention of dismissing them and appointing new officials and creating a new aristocracy of his own choosing. His essentially reformist orientation clashed with the conservatism of his grandfather's old ministers. All this, combined with his frequent absences from the capital, created the ideal environment for the ministers, led by the Minister of War, Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis, to plot his downfall.
Deposition and later life
In February 1915, Lij Iyasu traveled to Harar and went to the largest mosque of the city for a three hour service. Throughout his stay in Harar he was friendly towards the Muslims, an act which worried the priests of Ethiopia; when he remained in this Muslim community over Easter, they were scandalized. Reports on an alledged conversion to Islam brought the simmering discontent with Iyasu to a fierce revolt against him.
While at the city of Harar, Iyasu was excommunicated by the Abyssinian Orthodox Church (Coptic Church) and deposed on September 27 1916 in favor of his aunt Zauditu. Iyasu sent an army to attack Addis-Ababa but they refused to attack the capital and turned back. His father initially hesitated, then marched south from Dessie with 80,000 troops, but he was defeated at the Battle of Segale on October 27. On November 8 Iyasu appeared in Dessie where he vainly sought the support from the nobility of Tigray and then he moved to Wollo where he rallied the peasantry to revolt. However troops under Habte Giyorgis defeated the rebels on August 27, capturing many of his generals, and after this defeat Iyasu fled with a few hundred picked men to the desert of the Afar Depression, where he roamed for five years before being taken into custody by Gugsa Araya on 11 January 1921. He was handed over to the custody of his cousin Ras Kassa Haile Darge, who kept him in comfortable house arrest at his country home at Fikke.
Empress Zauditu, in spite of having been treated harshly by her nephew, seemed to have considerable sympathy for Iyasu's fate and is said to have tried to have him handed over to her personal custody in order to bring him back to Christianity under her guidance. While her plea to have her nephew moved to the Imperial Palace in Addis-Ababa was vehemently vetoed by both Fitawrari Habte Giorgis and the heir to the throne, Ras Tafari Makonnen, the Empress took care that Iyasu lived in luxury and supplied with whatever he desired. Ras Kassa also adhered to this policy for as long as Iyasu was in his custody, so the terms of Iyasu's imprisonment were not particularly harsh. However, Empress Zauditu died in 1930 and was succeeded by Emperor Haile Selassie who was considerably less sympathetic to Iyasu and revoked many of the privileges and luxuries that were granted to him in the past.
Because he was never crowned emperor, he is usually referred to as "Lij Iyasu", "Lij" meaning child, especially one born of royal blood.
Iyasu had an elder half-sister, Woizero Sehin Mikael, married to Jantirar Asfaw of Ambassel, whose daughter would eventually become Empress Menen Asfaw, wife of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and another half-sister, Woizero Tewabech, who married Ras Seyum Mengesha on May 31 1914 and later divorced him. While through his Imperial mother Iyasu could claim to be descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, through his father he claimed descent from the Prophet Mohammed.
Lij Iyasu married Romanework Mengesha, the granddaughter of Emperor Yohannes IV, in Addis-Ababa on May 16 1909, but they divorced in April 1910. As soon as he obtained the divorce, Iyasu married Woizero Sabla Wangel, daughter of Leul Ras Hailu Takla Haymanot, Governor of Gojjam and Damot, but again they divorced in 1916; however on February 22 1916 she gave birth to Iyasus's only legitimate daughter, Emmebet-hoy Alem Tsehai Iyasu. Moreover, Lij Iyasu seems to have had at least thirteen secondary wives and an uncertain number of natural children, several of whom have been Iyasuist claimants to the Imperial throne.