European Royalty: Belgium

Figure 1.--Prince Leopold of Belgium here wears a sailor and wide-brimmed hat, probably about 1910-11 just before World War I. His father emerged a hero as a result of his valiant stand aganst Kaiser Wilhem and the invading Germany Army. Leopold fared less well, surrenderiing to the Germans. Unlike Queen Wilhelmna in the Netherlands, he stayed in Belgium during the occupation. After the war he was accused of colaboration. That is we think unfair, but he used poor judgement in surendering gtoi the NAZIs. He like much of the world did not understand just how evil Hitler and the NAZIs were.

The Belgans claim descent from the Celtic Belgica tribe living in the Lowlands north of modern France. Julius Caesar in 52 BC conquered the Belgae's territory, putting Belgium under Roman rule. Belgium and the Netherlands were part of the domains of the Austrain/Spanish Habsburgs during the 16th-17th centuries. The Spanish Netherlands was an area of conflict during this time as first Spain and then France tried to dominate the area and England interevening to try to prevent these countries from dominating an area so close to England. From 1792 until the end of the Napoleonic Wars Belgium was annexed by France. After the Napoleonic Wars, Belgium formed part of the new Kingdom of Holland. Dissatisfied with Dutch rule, the Belgians split away in 1830 and declared their own independent kingdom. The history of modern Belgium thus dates from 1831. The Belgian monarchy included one of Europe's most cruel kings. Leopold II. Despite this modern creation, Belgium has played a key role in modren European history. Britain which tried to disengage itself from Continental wars would act whenever the dominate Continental power tried to seize the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands). The brave resistance of the Belgians under Albert I to the German invasion of 1914 probably saved Paris and France, making the Miracle on the Marne possible. The German occupation of Belgian created a climate that eventually brought the United States into the War. Belgium was, however, to suffeer an even more brutal German occupation in World War II, tarnishing the rule of Albert I's son Albert III. He eventually abdigated and his son Baudouin I helped restore the reputation of the Crown.

Historical Background

Caesar described the Belgae as "the bravest of all the Gauls" ("horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae"). His Legions conquered them (54 BC). The Roman province of flourished. The two provinces include what would be come known as the Low Lands or Low Countries. The medieval history of the Low Lands in genral was complicated, but led to the development of an independent spirit which caused the Dutch to resist first Spanish and then French rule. Here they were assisted by both geography and the interests of the English in preventing a continental power from dominating the area. The Lowlands were inherited by the Hapsburghs which after the Protestanr Reformation set up a struggle between the indepent-minded Low Landers and the Hapsburgs leading the Counter Reformation. The Dutch (United Provinces) in the north managed to maintain their independence in the North, but the Spanish prevailed in the south which is why the Flemish are predominately Catholic. French Revolutionary armies conquered the province (1794). Austria formally ceded it to France (1797). After the Napoleonic Wars the Congress of Vienna combined it with the United Provinces to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815). The province revolted from Dutch rule and formed modern Belgium with a German monarchy (1830). The Kingdom combined Dutch speaking Flanders with French speaking Walonia. The independence and neutrality of the Kingdom was guaranteed by Britain. The Belgians were responsible for one of the most reprehensible activities during the "Scramble for Africa". Belgium was a bi-lingual country and during the 19th century the Flemish struggle for language rights. After the unifcation of Germany, Begium found itself between two hostile countries--France and Germany. The German war plan entiled attacking France through Germany. King ??? complained, "Belgium is a country not a road". The German invasion brought Britain into World War I and ultimately was a major cause in Germany's defeat. The heroic Belgian resistance and suffering under German occupation helped turn American public opinion against Germany. Germany invaded Belgium again in World war II. Belgium after D-Day was liberated by the Allies, but was the scene of the Horific Battle of the Bulge. Belgium participated in the movement toward European unification. Conflict between the Waloons and Flemish continue

Independence (1830)

A Provisional Government declared Belgium independent (October 4, 1830). At the national congress which followed, out of 200 votes only 13 were in favor of republican government (November 10). Only a few years after the French Revoution and Napoleonic Wars, republicanism was still seen as radical and dangerous. The American Republic was still seen as an experiment. The Great powers were all monarchies. Meanwhile the London Congress had assembled, and the representatives of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and England recognized the severance of the two kingdoms as a fait accompli (December 20).

Individual Monarchs

With independence, a new monary monarch was created. Its independence was guaranted by the Great powers. The first king was Leopold , a German prince. He is lso known in history as the match maker who helped arrange the marriage between Victora and Albert--the most important royal marriage of the 9th century. Both he and Leopold II had long reigns. Under Leopold II, Belgium participated in the Scramble for Africa and was responsible for terrible attrocities in the Belgin Congo. Albert I was noted for his valiant stand against the invading Germany Army which launched World War I. His son was less successful in ord War II, but probably unfairly criticised after the War. This could have meant an end to the monarchy, but it survived under Charles' regency. And the steady role of Baudouin I has helped to restore the monarchy's legitumacy. The monarch remains a force for nationl unity in a contry badly divided over ethnic nd linguistic lines.


Many of the images on the Belgian royal pages come from post cards which were very popular in the early 20th century. There was no television and movies were in their infancy. Thus these post cards were one way that Europeans could see what the royals look like. The honorifics on the Belgian cards are mostly in French. S.A.R. means "Son Altesse Royale" (HRH or His Royal Highness). LL. Alt. R. Royales les Princes Léopold et Charles de Belgique means "Leurs Altesses Royales les Princes Léopold et Charles de Belgique". (It is the plural form.) S.A.R. Mgr le Comte de Flandes means "Son Altesse Royale Monseigneur le Comte de Flandes" or "His Royal Highness the Count of Flanders". (Monseigneur is not translated into English.) Note the writing is very codified, the point and the capital letter must be respected.


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Created: February 26, 1999
Last updated: 5:39 PM 7/27/2008