European Royalty: Belgium

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.

Leopold I (1831-65)

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790-1865) was the first king of modern Belgium. He was the fourth son of of a German prince--Francis Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. I have no details on Leopold's boyhood or the clothes he wore as a boy. Leopold cut quite a dashing figure. He had fought in the Russian army during the Napoleonic wars. He lived in England from 1816 through 1830. Leopold married the heiress to the British throne, Princess Charlotte. He married Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent (who became George IV) and became a British subject. He planned to serve as the husband of the Queen. His plans were dashed when the Princess died a year later. He was 40 when a Belgian national congress on June 4, 1831, elected him to be the new nation's king, Leopold I. Leopold turned down the offer of the Greek throne in 1830, but accepted the Belgian crown. Leopold strengthened Belgium's position through skillful diplomacy. After the death of Charlotte, he maired Louise d'Orleans, daughter of the French King Louis Philippe. His reign was developed by peaceful development of the country, undisturbed by the uprisings that spread throughout Europe in 1848. Through wise administration, Leopold helped the nation survive its early stresses and contributed to its economic growth. Although revolutions broke out in many European countries in 1848, the Belgian monarcy remained secure. Belgium is so situated that, if controlled by a powerful state, she might endanger the safety of England, France, or Germany, and dominate the Rhine and the English Channel. With this in mind a special treaty had been signed April 19, 1839, renewing the original guarantee of 1831 by Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium. On August 9, 1870, Prussia reaffirmed its determination to respect the neutrality, as also did France. These assurances were formally embodied in an agreement called the Treaty of London, between England, France, and Prussia, in the same year. It was the violation of this agreement by the 1914 German invasion, and the valiant Belgian resistance that played a key role in the First World War, invoving Britain and helped create an image of Germany that eventually helped to involve America.

Leopold II (1865-1909)

Leopold II (1835-1909) was the son of Leopold I. He reigned from 1865 to 1909. I have no details on his boyhood or the clothes he wore as a boy. Leopold entered the Belgian Army. Up until the Second World War it was a tradition that the Crown Princes serve in the Grenadiers. The Duke of the Brabant, future King Leopold II, from his appointment as second lieutenant in 1846 until his promotion to General in 1855. He was then honorary commander of the Regiment until his accession to the throne in 1865. He married Marie Henrietta, daughter of the Archduke Joseph of Austria in 1853. He traveled widely before ascendeding the throne. He helped maintain strict neutrality during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Leopold II was interested in acquiring colonial possessions in Africa as were other European powers at the time. In 1876 he founded the International African Association to encourage exploration of the continent. After hearing the explorer Henry M. Stanley tell of the vast Congo region, Leopold eagerly commissioned Stanley to survey the area and sign treaties with the tribes. The king then claimed the territory and made himself sovereign of it. The excesses of the Belgians were brutal in an era that showed little sympathy with the native population of Africa. The abuses of the natives that developed under his administration were eventually brought to public attention. As a result the area was annexed by the government and made a Belgian colony in 1908. Even so, Belgium did little to develop the colony or educate the natives. Belgium continued to exploit the Congo's resources. Leopold had only one boy. He was disdraught when his son died, leaving him only with daughters who could not inhereit the throne. He was reportedly very image connscious and took great care with his own dress and that of his children. On his death, a nephew Albert inherited the throne.

Figure 1.--The three children of King Albert (Leopold, Charles, and Marie Jose) are pictured here in Fautleroy suits woth their mother, Queen Elizabeth. The photograph was probably taken about 1910. Note the ruffled collars.

Albert I (1909-34)

I have no infornation on Albert's childhood or the clothes he wore as a boy. He ascended the throne on the death of his uncle, Leopold II, in 1909, due to the death of the intended heirs. Leopold's son died, then his nephew, which left next in line. A studious, quiet young man, Albert was not the choice of heir that King Leopold II would have relished. As the only male member of his generation, Albert was guaranteed the crown of the Belgians upon the king's death. Albert married the Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria in 1900. He was no doubt seduced by beauty of the lovely and accomplished Bavarian princess. Elizabeth believed in dressing her three children very fashionably. The boys were often outfitted in Fautleroy suits and lacey blouses with frilly collars for dress occasions. Their mother liked to dress the boys in identical outfits. Albert and his wife were well-liked as a royal family. They had a model family and acted like real people. The valiant resistance of the King to the German invasion of World War I which launched World War I made the royal couple heros to the Belgian people. He died tragcally in a mountaneering accident in 1934. Elizabeth lived to see another, even more brutal German occupation.

Figure 2.--This is Leopold III. Like other European royals, he and his brother Charles often wore sailor suits, even though Belgium did not have a significant navy. Notice the floppy hats.

Leopold III (1934-44)

Leopold III (1901-1983) ascended the throne in 1934. He and his brother and sister had been dressed very fashionably by their fashiinable Bavarian mother, Queen Elizabeth. The photographic record provides considerable information on how they were dressed as children. Leopold and his brither may have been two of the best dressed European princes. Unlike the British princes of about the same period they did not just alternate between sailor suits and kilts. Leopold and Charles were often dressed alike. They had many different outfits. I am not sure what the boys thought of the fancy outfits their mother selected for them. In some of the photographs they do not seem to be all that happy. As they appear to have continued to wear the fancy, rather childish outfits until about 13 years of age, presumably they had begun to complain to their parents about it. Leopold married the beautiful Swedish Princess Astrid in 1926. She captured the hearts of the Belgian peoople. The two were deeply in love. Astrid gave birth to her first child in 1927, Princess Josephine-Charlotte. Baudouin an heir was born about 3 years later. Another son, Albert was born in 1934. I have relatively little information on how the boys were dressed, but we have begun to acquire some images. One photograph shows Prince Baudouin at about 6 or 7 years of age wearing a long pants sailor suit and strap shoes. Queen Astrid was killed in a tragic automobile accident. Leopold's reign was ruined by the 1940 NAZI invasion. The Belgian Army was devestated and Leopold not fully understanding the true character of the NAZIs decided to surrender to the Germans. When the Allies liberated Belgium in 1944, the Belgian people did not allow him to resume his reign. Rather his younger brother Charles was made regent.

Figure 3.--His Royal Higness Prince Charles of Belgium (Count of Flanders) in a photograph taken before World War I. Note the elaborately laced-trimed blouse.

Charles (Regency 1944-51

As Leopold's sons were minors, his brother Charles was elected as regent in 1944. The Government in 1945 extended the regency indefinitely. A commission of inquiry in 1946 exonerated Leopold on the grounds that he had not capitulated without first informing the other Allied powers and that following his surrender he had refused to govern under the Germans. The tragedy of the War, however, and the collapse of the Belgian Army was so disastrous that the Belgian people were unwilling to accept Leopold II back on the throne. The controversy concerning his loyalty continued and Leopoldremained in exile in Switzerland after the end of the war. Charles continued to act as Regent until Leopold's eldest son was ready to serve as king.

Figure 4.--A photograph of Leopold III with his son and future King Baudouin. I think the photograph was taken in early 1940 just before the German invasion.

Baudouin I (1951-93)

Baudouin lost his mother in a tragic accident. He was dressed less elaborately than his father as a child, often appearing in sailor suits before World War II. He lived through the the defeat of the Belgian and Allied armies and tragic NAZI occupation of his country. He was with his father Leopold III in Belgium during the occupation, except for a harrowing last few months in Austria. He followed his father in exile after the War. As an older boy he wore short pants suits. After his father abdicated in 1951, Baudouin was crowned king. He reigned for over 40 years until his death in 1993. Happily he encountering less tumultous times than his father and grandfather. He was highly respected as king and helped restore the reputation of the Crown. He left no heirs to succeed him.

Albert II (1993- )

Baudouin I left no heirs to succeed him so his younger brother Albert took the constitutional oath on August 9, 1993, and ascended to the throne of Belgium, becoming the sixth King of the Belgians. He was so young when his mother tragically died that he never really knew her. Albert like his brother was commonly dressed in sailor suits as a boy. He like his brother remained in Belgium during the War. King Albert married to Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria on July 2, 1959. The royal couple have two sons, Prince Philippe (born on April 15, 1960) and Prince Laurent (born on October 19, 1963), and a daughter, Princess Astrid (born on June 5, 1962). Princess Astrid is married to Archduke Lorenz of Austria-Este, and they have four children: Prince Amedeo (born on 21 February 1986), Princess Maria Laura (born on 26 August 1988), Prince Joachim (born on 9 December 1991) and Princess Luisa Maria (born on 11 October 1995).

Prince Philippe

The eldest son and heir of King Albert II apparent was born on April 15, 1960. Philippe and his brother wore rather plain clothes as boys. We do not note them wearing sailor suits like previous royals. They wore both long and short pants. Both boys were avid Cub Scouts. Prince Philippe, who lived as a bachelor for many years, thrilled Belgians when he mairred Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, a Belgian of nobel desent, in 1999. The marriage has proven extrodinarily popular in Belgium.


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Created: 6:09 PM 12/7/2007
Last updated: 6:09 PM 12/7/2007