Leopold married Marie Lilianne Baels, later created Princess de Rethy, in a religious ceremony on September 11, 1941, during the German occupation. The civil ceremony took place on December 6, 1941 at Laeken Castle. Her father was Henri Baels and her mother
was Anne Marie De Visscher. This marriage was kept a secret and was not popular in Belgium when it was announced. His wife was a commoner and there were unsubstantiated rumors that she was pro-NAZI. We note that there was no legal action taken against her after the War and some believe that the rumors were absurd. Probably the love of the Belgian peple toward King Leopold's first wife Queen Astrid was a factor. Other Belgians probably thought that hile the Belgian people suffered under occupation, it was no time for the King to marry. King Leopold had three children with Princess Lilianne.
Mary Liliane Baels was one of six daughters and two sons of Hendrik Baels. He was a self mase man. He began as a prosperous fish salesman who had risen to the posts of Minister of the Interior (police) and of Agriculture. He also became the governor of Western Flanders. Her mother was Anne Marie De Visscher. Liliane was actually born at Highbury, London, in 1916 during World War I. Flanders had been occupied by the Germans and the family apparently fleed to England. She was educated at the College of the Sacred Heart at Ostend, but returned to England to attend a finishing school in Cavendish Square, London. She was by all accounts an excellent pupil. She was fluent in English, French, German, and Dutch (the language spoken in Flanders). She was also very athletic, who liked to swim and play golf.
Baels apparently met King Leopold in 1938, about 3 years after Queen Astrid's death. It is said that they met on the Knokke-le-Zoute golf course. King Leopold was apparently smitted by the beautiful, athletic young lady. One observer reports that it was the King's mother, Queen Elisabeth, who some time later brought the two together. The NAZIs after the King Leopold surendered the Belgian Army in 1940 held him under house arrest in his palace at Laeken. He was of course extremely drepressed. His mother invited Baels to improve his spirits. [Raskin] The two became very attached to each other. Liliane, a good Catholic, refused to be a mistress and insisted on marriage.
Leopold and Lilianne married secretly and morganatically (no rights of accession for the children) in a religious ceremony on September 11, 1941. She became a princess of Belgium, and a royal highness. Lilianne was given the title of Princesse de Rethy.
The civil ceremony took place on December 6, 1941 at Laeken Castle. The Princess was soon pregnant and as a result thevmarriage became public knowledge. King Leopold aroused considerable criticism by this marriage.
This marriage was not popular in Belgium. The Belgian people were generally unhappy with the King when they learned in December 1941 that he had secretly remarried. Many felt betrayed. A major Belgian newspapers scolded the King: "Sire, we thought you had your face turned towards us in mourning. Instead you had it hidden in the shoulder of a woman." I am not sure how the newspaper learned. Perhaps the NAZI-occupation Government released the information in an attempt to discredit the King. Perhaps it ws just that the Princess was noticeably pregnant. Certainly the newspaper could not have printed the news or commented thusly if the NAZIs objected. We are also unsure why Princess Lilianne was so unpopular. She ws a commoner, but I do not believe that was a major factor. Perhaps it was too difficult to forget the King's first wife, Queen Astrid. Or perhaps it was just the idea of the King marrying during a time that country was occupied and the people suffering. Her unpopularity only grew when the public learned her father had legt Belgium and set up in unoccupied Vichy France for the duration of the war. Then her brother
Walter was prosecuted for evading the "call-up". (I'm not sure just what "call-up" this refers to.)
Not only was his wife a commoner, but some Belgians viewed her as pro-NAZI. We have little information on this, as best we can determine the rumors were unfounded. Hopefully our Belgian readers will provide us some information on the Princess. We know of no actual evidence to substantiate that she collaborated and there was no legal action taken against her after the War. One Belgian source believes that the negative feelings towards Leopold from his own people really came when he decided to marry Baels. He objects to even mentioning that these rumors existed and reports, "Lillian Baels was no more pro Nazi than you are!" [Wybo]
Liliane returned some happiness into King Leopold's life. The Royal couple had a son, , Alexander, in July 1942. She was also a kind stepmother Princes Baudouin and Albert and Princess Josephine-Charlotte (later to become Grand Duchess of Luxembourg). She devoted herself to helping Leopold raise his children. Although there was discension in latr life, at this time the King's children were apparently devoted to her, accepting her as their new mother.
The Allies landed in France during June 1944. Himmler ordered King Leopold deported to Germany. Princess Lilianne followed with the family in another car the following day. They were guarded by a 200-man contingent of the Waffen SS. The NAZIs held the family in a fort at Hirschstein an der Elbe in Saxony during the winter of 1944-45, and then at Strobl, near Salzburg in Austria. They were freed by the U.S. Army in May 1945.
After liberation, Leopold and Lwas unable to return to Belgium because of the controversy concerning his performance as commander of the Belgian Army. His brother Charles was appointed Regent. The family moved to Switzerland and spent their summer holidays in southern France. Princess Liliane is said to have enjoyed golfing with another royal exile--the Duke of Windsor.
King Leopold never was able to return to the Belgian throne. He was unable to even return to Belgium until July 1950. A majority of the Belgian people voted in a plebecite to accept the King afain. The intensity of leftist rioting, however, persuaded him to abdicate when his son Baudouin came of age in July 1951. After Baudouin became king, Leopold and Liliane continued to live a Laeken with their son who apperas to have continued to be devoted to Princess Lilianne.
Princess Lilianne and King Leopold attended the Brussels Exhibition of 1958, bur afterwards led an esentially private life.
King Baudouin married Dona Fabiola Mora y Aragon, making her Queen Fabiola, in 1960. It is unclear how King Leopold and Princess Lilianne viewd the marriage. After the marriage, however, King Leopold and Princess Lilianne left Laeken Place. The two couples became deeply estranged.
Princess Liliane and King Leopold set up a new home at Argenteuil, located near the forest of Soignes, at Waterloo. They lived there with their son, Alexander, and two daughters. Leopold continued to be devoted to Princess Lilianne throught the many years at
Argenteuil. There were endless rumors about them. They jeaously guarded their privacy.
Princess Lilianne created a cardiology foundation in 1958 to develop new treatment procedures. Her interest was the result of an operation in Boston, Massachusetts during 1957 that saved Alexander's life. A symposium was held at Argenteuil annually. Princess Liliane financed operations in America for several Belgian children. She opened a cardiac research laboratory at the Hospital Saint-Pierre in Brussels.
King Leopold had three children with Princess Lilianne. Prince Alexander de Rethy was the younger half-brother of Baudouin and Albert. He was the son of King Leopold and his second wife, Marie Lilianne Baels, Princess de Rethy. Alexander was dressed very swwetly as a younger boy. We have little information about the family, but available photographs suggest that his older half brothers were very caring toward him. Princess Lilianne's relationship with Marie-Christine has been most unhappy. Marie-Christine became very upset with her parents. She emmigrated to America and squandered her money. She gas married twice and publicly criticized her mother. The relationship with their younger daughter has been more positive. Marie-Esmeralda has become a journalist. She has worked for both Vogue and Le Figaro, an important Paris newspaper. She was friendly with Sarah, Duchess of York. She married a British scientist and has had two children.
Before her death she published Leopold's memoirs on the 18-day campaign of 1940.
Princess Liliane was last seen in public in Brussels at her husband's funeral in September 1983. She was veiled and supported between King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola. She was not at King Baudouin's funeral in 1993. Princess Liliane died in 2002 at age 85. Daniel A Wybo reports, "Princess Lilian of Belgium was buried next to her late husband, King Leopold III,
in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken. The private funeral was
attended by the Belgian royal family, a delegation of the Belgian government, army
veterans who fought under King Leopold III and friends. Among the mourners were
also Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, his wife Marina, Princess Maria Gabriella of
Savoy, Elisabeth de Balkany, Laetitia Spetchinsky and the Countess Esterházy. The
funeral train left the Castle of Argenteuil, where Princess Lilian died one week ago, at
10:30 followed by two of her three children - Prince Alexander and Princess
Marie-Esmeralda and their spouses, while Princess Marie-Christine stayed away -
and her two surviving stephchildren King Albert II of the Belgians and Grand
Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte of Luxembourg with their spouses, and Queen Fabiola
of Belgium, widow of the late King Baudouin. The service was held at the Church of
Our Lady in Laeken from 11:00 to 12:15 and was led by Cardinal Danneeels in
Dutch and French. He remembered Princess Lilian as 'a woman who followed her
heart' and praised her for her work for her Cardiological Foundation. The service
ended with the Belgian national anthem."
Wybo, Daniel A. National League of Veterans of King Leopold III, E-mail message, October 20, 2002.
"A wife loved by a king but not her people," The Daily Telegraph, June 20 2002
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