Belgian Royalty: Leopold I (1831-65)

Figure 1.--The three children of King Leopold I are pictured here in a 1851 engraving appearing in the "London Illustrated News". The children were the Duke of Brabant, the Count of Flanders, and Princess Charlotte.

Dashing Prince Leopold found himself in the curious position of the younger son of a poor but noble German family who came close to three different European thrones. He mairred the English Princess Charlotte, but she died before inheriting the throne. He was offered, but rejected the Greek throne and fimally accepted the Belgian throne.


Saxe-Coburg is a small principality in central Germany. It was peopled mostly by peasanys and occupied and dismembered by Napoleon. The royal fanmily was, however, to play an important role on European royalty far beyound the importance of the their small principality.


Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (1790-1865) was the first king of modern Belgium. He was the fourth and youngest son of of a German prince--Francis Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. He was the uncle of Prince Albert, the younger son of his older brother who himself went on to marry his own English royal, the young but already crowned Queen Victoria. Leopold in fact took a great interest in the upbringing of his two nephews Ernest and Albert as he saw how terribly he had treated their mother and in many ways neglected them. It was Leopold that played a major role in bringing Victoria and Albert together.


I have no details on Leopold's boyhood or the clothes he wore as a boy. The ruling family was not a wealthy one, but the children certainly were brought up in comfortable curcumstances, despite the increasinly disruptions of the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic Wars.

Military Career

As the younger son in a impoverished German nobel famikly, Leopold relized that he would have to make his way in the world. Napoleon's victories at Jenna (1805) and Austerlitz (1806) smashed Austrian and Prussian power, leaving the smaller German states at the mercy of Napoleon. The young Leopold fought in the Russian army during the Napoleonic wars. As a result, he cut quite a dashing figure after the Wars. His image and family linage made him a sought after dynastic mairrage partner as well a candidate for the vacant European thrones following the Napoleonic Wars.


Leopold lived in England from 1816 through 1830. Leopold married the heiress to the British throne, Princess Charlottee, daughter of the Prince Regent (who became George IV) in 1816. He became a British subject in preperation for his role as consorft to the Queen. He planned to serve as the husband of the Queen. His plans were dashed when the Princess died a year later. The Princess was as strongly loved by the people of England as her father was disliked. She died on November 6th, 1817, at age 21, from complications of childbirth, after bearing a dead child. The loss of the potential queen and her heir was deeply felt by the British people. Leopold continued living in England for several years, but far from the center of affairs which he had anticipated as the wife of the Princess of Wales and heir to the throne. This tenire in England layed the groundwork for the mairrage of his nephew, Prince Albert to marry another young British royal--Queen Victoria.


Leopold turned down the offer of the controversial Greek throne in 1830.


Leopold was 40 years old when a Belgian national congress on June 4, 1831, elected him to be the new nation's king--Leopold I. King Louis Phillipe of France had wanted the crown for one of his sons, but the Belgians instead turned to the German Prince Leropold. He 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.

International Position

The Lowlands have played a key role in European history. Belgium is a relatively new nation, but afters it formatiin in 1830 has continued to play an important role. Belgium is so situated that, if controlled by a powerful state, the country 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 pledge 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 Germany's violation of this agreement through the 1914 invasion, and the valiant Belgian resistance that played a key role in World War IWar, invoving Britain and helped create an image of Germany that eventually helped to involve America in the War.

Second Marriage

Leopold in 1832, married Louise Marie d'Orleans. Her parents were King Louis Philippe I of France and Queen Marie-Amélie. This would appear to have been a wise diplomatic step. Located between France and Germany, a French-German royal family with ties to the British royal family would seem to be the perfect recipe for living between the two poweful countries.


Some authors have described Leopold as a cold father, especially concerning his son Leopold. HBC finds this confusing considering the attention and concern he showed his nephews. The Queen was apparently a much more concered parent. Although she supported her son Leopold, she reportedly prefered her other two children who had sunnier dispositions.


King Leopold had two boys die. The first was the son he had with English Princess Charlotte. The second who he named Leopold died after only a year. Leopold had three survivig children, two boys and a girl. His third son became Leopold II. We have little information at this time on family life, although some sources suggest that he was a not very ebgaged father.

Son (1817)

Leopold's first son with English Prncess Chasrlotte was stillborn and the pincess died as a result of complications. This tragic crcumstance led to the succession of Victoria to the English throne. Leopold naintained a close relationship with the English royals and played a major role in the marriage of Victoria and his nephew Albert.

Louis-Philippe, (1833-34)

One source reports that the royal couple's first child was Leopold. A reader tells us that this is incorrect. Leopold's first son with Queen Louise Marie d'Orleans was Louis-Philippe, named after the queen's father. The boy, however, died only 9 months after his birth. [Lezy]

Leopold II (1835-1909)

Leopold II (1835-1909) was considered by many to have been the most monstrous European monarch of the 19th century. He was the son of Leopold I. He reigned from 1865 to 1909. He was reportedly a very unhappy boy. I have no details on the clothes he wore as a boy. Leopold entered the Belgian Army. Up until World War II it was a tradition that the Crown Princes serve in the Grenadiers.

Philip (1837-1905)

There was another son Philip who was made Count of Flander when Leopold suceeded his father. We have virtuallu no information about Philip at this time. We do know that he married Marie Hohenzollern-Signaringen in 1867. They had five children. As his brother's only legitimate son died, Philip's fifth child, his son Albert (1875- ) succeded Leopold II as Albert I. Philip was next in succession to his older brother, but died before Leopold.

Marire Charlotte (1840-1927)

There was also a girl, Princess Marie Charlotte. She presumably was named after his first wife, the English Princess Charlotte who died in child birth.

Children's Clothing

I have no information on how the children were dressed, with the exception of the one illustration shown here showing the boys wearing military uniforms in 1851.


Lezy, Christiane. Historical and tourist guide in Belgium, E-mail message, February 27, 20005.

THe Illustrated London News published the drawing seen here along with a long article about the Belgian Royal family.


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Created: October 5, 2000
Last updated: 12:54 PM 2/27/2005