The Belgian people gets its seventh king today. Because I like trivia – quick biographies about the six previous ones
Leopold I (King: 1831-1865)
The first King of the Belgians. If his first wife, Princess Charlotte of Wales, had not died in childbirth, and the baby along with her, he would probably not have become King of the Belgians. In addition to that – as the only reason Queen Victoria was born was because of the lack of heirs to the British throne after Charlotte’s death – the world as we see it today would be vastly different.
Leopold I received a more than modest allowance from the British privy purse for as long as he lived. This resulted in the British politicians being a little less willing to dole out money to the next Prince Consort – Prince Albert.
Before being offered the Belgian throne, he, like several other princes in Europe, was offered the Greek throne.
His second marriage, to Louise Marie of Orléans, resulted in four children: the future Leopold II, Crown Prince Louis-Philippe, Prince Philippe and Charlotte, who wound up Empress of Mexico.
Allegedly, his last word was Charlotte.
Leopold II (King: 1865-1909)
The oldest surviving son of Leopold I and Queen Louise Marie. He married Archduchess Marie Henriette of Austria in 1853. They had four children, but the son, Leopold, died before reaching maturity.
Leopold II established the Congo Free State in 1885 as his private project, and was the sole owner. The atrocities that followed due to his (and his regime’s) demands on, and punishment and mutilation of, the local population around the extraction of ivory and rubber was legendary – and not in a good way.
(A throne in Brussels suggest that one of the reasons for Leopold II’s expansion abroad was that the funding from the British privy purse dried up with the death of Leopold I – and the Belgian monarchy was more expensive than the funding from the Belgian state could support.)
Because of the international scandal, the King had to cede control of the Congo Free State as Belgian Congo to the Belgian state in 1908, a year before his death.
Albert I (King: 1909- 1934)
The nephew of Leopold II, Albert I was born fourth in line to the throne – a shining example of why having more than one heir to the throne can be vital if one is determined to have a monarchy.
He married Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria in Munich in 1900. They had three children together, Leopold III, Prince Charles and Princess Marie-José, later Queen of Italy.
During WWI, he took command of the Belgian army and fought with them. He also stayed with them after the Battle of the Yser in October 1914. The result of the battle meant that there was a small slice of Belgium that was not occupied.
He died in a mountain climbing accident in Belgium in 1934.
Leopold III (King: 1934-1951)
For a long while, my main knowledge about Leopold III came from biographies about King Olav and Crown Princess Märtha, as he married Märtha’s sister, Astrid, who tragically died in a car accident in Switzerland in 1935 with Leopold at the wheel. They had just become King and Queen of the Belgians the year before after Albert I’s death.
The marriage had produced three children, Josephine-Charlotte (1927-2005,) Baudouin (1930-1993) and Albert (1934).
Leopold lived for a long while on the image of the tragic widower.
The second world war did little for Leopold III’s popularity, as he remained in Belgium whilst the government went abroad and continued the war effort from London. He also personally surrendered to the Germans, and continued to work with them, despite the image that he was in “house-arrest at Laeken”.
It was revealed in 2011 that he also had an illegitimate daughter, Ingeborg Verdun (1940) with Olympic skater Liselotte Landbeck. Apparently, his mother put her foot down on the affair.
He remarried in 1941. With the new wife, Lilian Baels, he had three children, Alexandre (1942-2009), Marie-Christine (1951) and Marie-Esmeralda (1956). The marriage was the dynamo that tarnished his image with the Belgian people – if the king was in house arrest, how could he get married?
He and his family was deported by the Germans to avoid the Allied invasion. His brother, Prince Charles, was the acting regent of Belgium from 1944 to 1950 during which Belgium also had a referendum on The Royal Question.
Upon his return to the throne, Leopold was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Baudoin, in 1951.
(I realize I am only skimming the surface here)
He became king when he was 21 years old. His father and stepmother therefore coloured his early reign, despite his father’s abdication.
It was seen as somewhat of a political problem to have a King that was still living at home with his parents, neither of which were particularly popular with the Belgian people.
Belgian Congo became independent during his reign.
He was a very devout Catholic, and when the time came to find someone to marry, he allegedly spoke with an Irish nun to find candidates for marriage. One of the candidates was Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón, and they married in 1960. The Queen went through at least five miscarriages, and they did not have children together.
Baudouin was a very devout Catholic and this (possibly in combination with the miscarriages of the Queen) led to a conflict for him when it came to the legislation on abortion. The solution was that he was declared unable to reign for a day in 1990, to avoid having to sign the Belgian abortion law. Apparently, unlike some other countries, when the Belgian King is unable to reign – the power goes to the government automatically, and not to a regent.
Since Baudouin and Fabiola were unable to have children, he considered Prince Philippe a natural successor for the monarch position and started training him early. His brother Albert had long been seen as some sort of playboy prince.
When Baudouin died, though, the crown went to Albert.
He was awarded the title Prince of Liège by his grandfather, King Albert I, a day old in 1934. Once he became the King, it merged into the throne. In 2001, it was decided that courtesy titles such as Prince of Liège, Count of Flanders and Count of Hainaut would no longer be awarded to avoid linguistic issues within Belgium- and Albert is thus the last one to have held the title. (Unless something changes in the future.)
He is the godfather to Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg.
He married Paola Ruffo di Calabria in 1959, and the couple have three children together. It was a stormy relationship, including affairs on both sides, and there was talk of a marriage in difficulty and possible divorce in the late 60s. One of his alleged indiscretions, Delphine Boël, is fighting in the Belgian courts to be acknowledged as his daughter.
Albert became King of the Belgians in 1993, and signed a coordinated version of the Belgian constitutions in early 1994 after the fourth Belgian state reform.
In 1996 after the case of the kidnapped and raped children came into light, King Albert advocated very strongly for them – and their parents, he was also a vital force in getting the European centre for missing and sexually exploited children up and running.
He has actually (to an outsider) been a gathering force in Belgium, especially in light of the political crisis in 2010-2011 when the country received a world record for the longest without an elected government.
It is perhaps especially his handling of the latter that resulted in the Belgian people’s positive feedback on him as a king, when he declared that he was abdicating.