Tewodros II was born Kassa Hailu sometime around 1818. His father, Hailu Welde Giyorigis, was the ruler of Qwara district, located on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border. His military experience started when he served in his half brotherís army (Prouty and Rosenfeld 1982, 71). His half brother died in 1839 and Qwara was lost to the family and claimed by Empress Menen of Gondar. Kassa Hailu resorted to become a shifta, one who refuses to recognize his feudal lord. Kassa Hailu organized his own army in the plains of Qwara. When he became too powerful to ignore, as a way to deal with him with out using force, he was named dajazmach of Qwara and given the hand of Tawabach, the daughter of Ras Ali of Begemder, in 1845. (Zewde 2001, 28)
Kassa was very close to Tawabach and devoted to his marriage but his submission to Empress Menen was short-lived. In October 1846, he attacked and plundered Dembea, a city located due south of Gondar, and in January 1847 he went on to occupy Gondar. When Kassa unoccupied Gondar later that year, Empress Menen sent an army after him into north of Lake Tana. Kassa easily defeated the army and took the Empress as prisoner (Marcus 2002, 60). Her son, Ras Ali of Begemder, chose to negotiate with Kassa; he gave Kassa all lands west and north of Lake Tana and Kassa in return released his mother (Prouty and Rosenfeld 1982, 60). The reconciled relationship with Empress Menen led him to join up with Ras Ali and Ras Goshu Zewde of Gojam. However, when conflict reemerged yet again in 1852, Kassa retreated back to Qwara to re-strengthen his troops (Henze 2001, 134-5).
|Seal of Tewodros II (Pankhurst 1998, 145)|
When he became emperor, he set out to reunify and modernize Ethiopia. However, his ideals never materialized because he spent most of his time on military expeditions. After he established Dabara Tabor as his capital, located 60 miles south-east of Gondar, he went on to concur Tigray, Wallo, and Shawa, but only for a short time. The appointed leaders of those regions were either too weak or disloyal. When unable to bring all of Ethiopia under his control, and fearing a threat of an attack by the Egyptians from the north and Turks from the Red Sea, Tewodros attempted to ally himself with England. In October 1862, he sent a letter to Queen
|A painting depicting Tewodros's suicide. (Pankhurst 1998, 159)|
When the British first entered Ethiopia, they had received cooperation from Kassa Mercha and had promised that they would leave as soon as they dealt with Tewodros. When they left, they rewarded "Kassa for his cooperation by presenting him with six mortars, six howitzers, as well as 850 muskets, and a goodly supply of ammunition." (Pankhurst 2001, 160-1). This surprising gift from the British helped him to overcome Wag Shum Gobaze of Lasta and Menelik of Shewa to become the next emperor of Ethiopia. Upon his coronation, he became Yohannes IV (Marcus 2002, 42).