Belgian Royalty: Leopold III

Figure 1.--This is one of the earlir images I have of Albert I's children. Pictured with Queen Elizabeth are Leopold, his brother Charles, and their little sister Marie Jose. Queen Elizabeth liked to dress the boys in identical or matching outfits. Leopold wears a frilly outfit with kneepants, but Charles still appears to be wearing a dress similar to his older brother's outfit. Note the bangs and curls.

Leopold was the eldest son of King Albert I and Queen Elizabeth. He and his brother were emacualtely dressed, often in fancy outfits, as boys by their fashionable mother. He ascended to the throne in 1934 as Leopold III after the tragic death of his father. Although greeted with great warmth by the Belgian people, his reputation was tarnished by his surender of the Belgian Army in World War II after it had been mauled in the 1940 NAZI invasion. Unlike Queen Wilhimina in the Netherlands, he refused to flee to England, an act of some courage, but proably unwise given the circumstances. Thus when the Allies entered Belgium in 1944, Leopold was never returned to the throne. His brother Charles served as regent until 1951 when his son Baudouin was crowned.


Leopold's father was King Albert I (1909-34), probably the most beloved of all Belgian kings. His resistance to the Germans and the brave stand of the Belgian Army against the full force of the German Army during World War I (1914-18) made him a national hero. Charles' mother was beautiful and stylish Queen Elizabeth. While of German (Bavarian) birth, her resistance to the Germans and work during the war endeered her to the Belgian people.

Albert I

I have no information on Albert's childhood or the kind of clothes he was dressed in as a boy. Albert I 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 older nephew, Albert's older brother, which left Albert next in line. Albert at birth was third in line the line of succession behind his father and elder brother, Prince Baudouin. No one expected him to be king. The unexpected death of Baudouin in January of 1891 immediately raised Albert to prominence within his country. He was very young, only 16 years old, when Leopold II died. His heroic resistance to the Germans in World War I made him a national hero.

Queen Elizabeth

One interesting member of the Bavarian Wittelsbach royal family is the Princess Elizabeth. She maried Albert I of Belgium and became Queen of Belgium. The clothes she selected for her sons (Princes Albert and Charles) were some of the most fashionable I have noted for European princes. Despite the fact that she was German, her patriotic service to Belgium during the World War I made her as popular as her husband.


A little over a year after their felicitous mairrage, on November 3, 1901, Albert and Elizabeth were delighted with the birth of a little prince, the future King Leopold III of the Belgians. Two more children would join Leopold in the royal nursery in Brussels. Leopold He was about 2 years older than his younger brother Charles. Thus the two young princes, about the same age, grew up together. Their younger sister, Marie Jose was born on August 4, 1906. She was in 1930 to marry Prince Umberto of Italy and briefly reign as Queen in 1946.

Figure 2.--The three children of King Albert (Leopold, Charles, and Marie Jose) are pictured here in Fautleroy suits in a photograph taken about 1910. Note the ruffled collars and that Charles is dressed just like his older brother. Queen Elizabeth liked to dress them identically.

Leopold's Clothes

Leopold and his brother Charles were always smartly outfitted by their mother. They 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.Elizabeth believed in dressing her 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 matching or identical outfits. Presumably she was influenced in her fashion tastes by her chilhood in the Bavarian court.The boys when they were young were outfitted in dresses, as was still the fashion in the years before World War I. This seems to be the case, however, while they were still quite young. I have no written information on this, but available photographs suggest that Elizabeth appears to have breeched the boys by the time they were about 4 years of age. Elizabeth appears to have liked velvet Fauntleroy suits with ruffled colors. The boys appear to have worn them at least through about 10 years of age. They could have worn them longer. Photographs show them still outfitted in frilly blouses at about 12 or 13 years of age. While not quite Fauntleroy suits, the boys when they were younger wore light colored suits (I'm not sure about the color) trimmed in lace and ruffles. They appear to have been comfortable outfits with open collars. There were two versions of these suits. One with a skirt bottom and another as they got older with kneepants.Photographs show the boys wearing large, open collar blouses to a fairly advanced age. We believe that they are blouses--although it is possible that they could be pinned on collars. The boys also wore sailor suits, both blue and white ones. They were traditionally styled with the three stripes most often worn with sailor suits. And as with so many of their outfits, they often wore identical ones. Some of their sailor suits were worn with wide-brimmed sasilor hats. I'm not sure if they wore their sailor suits with long pants, kneepants or short pants. Possibly all three at different ages or seasonally.

Figure 3.--Studio portrait of King Leopold III as a boy. Note the large lacy collar. This was one of many identical outfits Leopold and his younger brother wore.

Hair Styles

Queen Elizabeth styled the boys hair identically. As younger boys they wore bangs and cuurly hair over their ears, but not to shoulder length. She seems to have had their hair cut shorter at about 6 years of age. As older boys Leopold's hair was domne differently. Some tomes the hair was combed upo in fromt a bit. Other times he wore formal bangs. In some styles there os a definitive left hair part.


Here is a formal portrait of Prince Leopold, Duc de Brabant, at the age of 12 years. The portrait was painted in 1913 by the famous Belgian realist and symbolist painter, Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921). Here Prince Leopold is wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy knee trousers suit similar to the one shown in the photograph of the prince or his Bavarian cousion Luitpold wearing a white knee trousers suit with white stockings. Here, obviously, the boy is wearing knee pants with black stockings.


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.

World War I

Crown Prince Leopold was only 12 years old when the Germand invaded (August 4, 1914). He turned 13 (November 3). He was permitted to enlist in the Belgian Army as a private (April 15, 1915). He reportedly fought in the trenches under fire. He was a boy soldier for 6 months. He joined the Belgium Twelth Line Regiment. The prince met his follow solders on the Northsea beach of De Panne . The king asked that he not be given preferential treatment. The king wanted Leopold to work in the trenches and experience the life of an ordinary soldier. Of course at age 13 Leopold was still a boy. I'm sure his time in the trenches must have been very carefully overseen. It must have been done primarily for public relations to show that the Royal family was making its share of sacrifices. Leopold took a position in the front line (May). Shells exploded in his trench but he was not harmed. After serving in the regiment for 6 months Leopold was sent off to England. He attended Eton Collage. The somewhat older lads in Britain rushed to the war. Prince Leopold went to war then to Eton!

After the War

The end of World War I also meant the beginning of a very happy period in the royal family's life. Charles' parents were regarded as heros by the Belgian people and Europe at large.


I have few details on Leopold's education. He attended Eton, but I have little informati at this time.

Military Training

The Duke of the Brabant, future King Leopold III,like his predecesors, from his appointment as second lieutenant served in the Grenadier Guards in 1922 until his untimely accession to the throne on February 17, 1934 .

Princess Astrid

Princess Astrid of Sweden was born on November 17, 1905. She was the youngest daughter of Prince Charles of Sweden, Duke of Vastergotland, and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark. Astrid's grandparents were King Oscar II of Sweden and King Frederick VIII of Denmark. Astrid's sister, Princess Martha, married the future King Olaf V of Norway. Her eldest sister, Princess Margaretha married Prince Axel of Denmark, while her only brother Prince Carl, Duke of Ostergotland, married morganatically. At an evening ball, Astrid, a ravishing Swedish princess, danced all night with one of Europe's best looking princes, Leopold of Belgium. A little timid, Astrid did not dare look into the eyes of her handsome companion. Leopold's furtive eyes only made Astrid feel that all control was being lost to the charms of her dance partner. And as the night progressed, Leopold and Astrid never left each other's side. Some months later, King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium invited the press to the royal palace in Brussels. "The Queen and I, declared Albert, would like to announce to you the impending marriage between Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant and the Princess Astrid of Sweden. We are convinced that the princess will bring joy and happiness to our son. Leopold and Astrid have decided to join their lives without any pressures or reasons of state. Theirs is a true union among people with the same inclinations." Queen Elisabeth, incorrigible romantic that she was, insisted in saying "It is a marriage of love...tell it to our people. Nothing was arranged. Not a single political consideration prevailed in our son's decision." Leopold and Astrid were married in Brussels on November 10, 1926. Astrid was immediately adopted by the Belgians. She was tender, understanding and profoundly human. Her public and official engagements irradiated enthusiasm. Leopold was her most fervent admirer. The love shared by the young couple was evident to all. In more than one occasion people could see them holding hands, even during official engagements. Astrid had a personal touch. She moved with the people in the parks and on the street. She very quickly chamed the Belgian people. She was tragically killed in an automobile accident in August 1935 while Leopold was at the wheel.


Astrid gave birth to her first child in 1927. Their first child, Josephine-Charlotte, was born in 1927, but as she was a girl was not a potential heir. The Belgian press in 1930 gave extensive coverage to the birth of the long awaited royal heir. Leopold was on his way to visit some areas away from Brussels when the Duchess of Brabant went into labor. The royal palace immediately sent him a telegram that reached Leopold at a stop during his journey. The royal palace's message announced the impending birth of the couple's second child. Without thinking twice about the day's engagements, Leopold returned to Brussels immediately. Prince Leopold and King Albert walked anxiously in the garden at Stuyvenberg Palace while the Duchess of Brabant began her labor. Next to Astrid were her mother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, and her mother-in-law Queen Elisabeth. At 4:15 pm the royal physicians proudly announced the healthy birth of a little prince. The sound of cannon silenced the general happiness expressed by the people of Brussels. Baudouin was named in memory of his deceased great-uncle who was supposed to have been king. He would eventually become king when his father abdigated in 1951. Astrid a few months after becoming Queen in 1934 gave birth to yet another little prince, Albert (Prince of Liege). He would also become king when his older brother did not have any children. Leopold had a three more children with his second wife Marie Lilianne Baels, Princess de Rethy, Alexandre, Marie-Christine, and Maria-Esmeralda.

Children's Clothing

HBC has some limited information on how the first two boys (Baudouin and Albert) were dressed. They were clearlily not dressed in the fancy styles that Leopold and Charles wore as boys. Rather we see them commonly wearing more practical clothes, especiallu saolor suits. The photographs we have found of the princes so far show them commonly dressed in short and long pants sailor suits done with traditional styling. Queen Astrid seems to have oreferred to dess the boys identically. They wore a variety of short pants outfits as younger boys, and long pants suits as older boys. One photograph of Prince Baudouin at about 8 or 9 years of age wearing a long pants sailor suit and strap shoes. More information is available on Alexander. Leopold's mother died tragically when he was about 5 years old. His father remarried when he was about 11 so his step mother presumably played an important role at an older age. Marie Lilianne Baels, Leopold's second wife dressed their child together, Alexabder, in very fashionable clothes as a younger boy.

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 is holding a cap, but I am unsure just what type of cap it is.

The Royal Family

At Stuyvenberg, not far away from Laeken Palace, the young Duchess of Brabant, raised in the simplicity of the Scandinavian courts, joyfully raised her growing family. At a small villa in the palace grounds, Astrid cooked for her family. And every time she could, Astrid would stroll along the Avenue Louise with her children. The Court Marshall vehemently protested against these promenades. "They break protocol," he would say. Yet in her simplicity, Astrid would retort by saying "But I'm just another mother, am I not?" She even went as far as joining the crowds during a military revue in an effort to see her promenading husband at the head of his regiment.


Albert died died in a tragic mountain climbing accident near Namur in 1934 and was succeeded by his son Leopold III, who would face the Germans Nazis in World War II. Albert's death was mourned universally.

Leopold Crowned

Leopold III (1901-1983) ascended the throne in 1934. On February 23, 1934, just days after the tragic climbing accident which claimed King Albert's life, Leopold and Astrid made their solemn entry into Parliament. The new monarchs were accompanied by rincess Josephine-Charlotte and Prince Baudouin. Leopold swore allegiance to the country's constitution while claiming that he "would give myself entirely to the country." Astrid, transported by the events she was witnessing lifted her young son and offered him to Belgian nation. A new reign had been inaugurated.

Popular Monarchs

The popularity of the Belgian royal family new no bounds. Astrid's only regret was not being able to spend more time with the children. In August, 1935, the royal couple, accompanied by their two eldest children, traveled to their villa Haslihorn, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The placid vacation allowed Leopold and Astrid to spend considerable time walking and climbing in the countryside. The day before their return to Brussels, Leopold and Astrid decided to go for one last excursion. Like his father, Leopold was an avid mountaineer, and had climbed the Dolomites several times. The children had already returned to Brussels.

Figure 5.--I am not positive about this photograph, but I think it is King Leopold and Queen Astrid about 1935 just before she was killed.

Another Tragedy

The monarchs on August 29, 1935, left their villa for a last fateful climb. Driving his sports car along the winding, narrow roads of the region, Leopold was looking forward to the day's events. Seated next to him, Astrid helped her husband with directions to their destination. Just a few minutes before arriving at the village of Kussnacht-am-Rigi, Astrid pointed out something to her husband. Leopold took his eyesight away from the road for an instant. Suddenly, the car plunged down a ravine. Queen Astrid was violently ejected from the automobile. Her lifeless body laid on the grass near the wreckage. Witnesses recalled a single scream, "Astrid," as a devastated Leopold held her bloodied body next to his chest. The King and the children as well as the Belgian people were devestated.

World War II

Much worse was in store for the Belgian people. An advocate of a more independent foreign policy for Belgium before World War II, Leopold twice urged mediation of the conflict between NAZI Germany and the Western Allies in the months immediately before and after the outbreak of war in 1939. Belgium remained strictly neutral, but was invaded by the Germans for a second time in the Spring of 1940. King Leopold before the War had promoted the construction of important defensive fortifications from Antwerp to Namur in front of the German border. His actions as Commander and Chief of the Army after the German invasion of 1940 were criticised by some Belgians and the Beitish and French. Leopold, with the bulk of the Belgian Army, was surrounded by the Germans, and capitulated. Leopold ordered his army to surrender and refused to flee with officials to form a government-in-exile in England. His actions were resented by many in Belgium. His surrender at a crucial point in the battle for the low countries left a critical gap in the Allied ring around Dunkirk and could have made the evacuation impossible if the Germans had pressed their attack. King Leopold aroused further criticism by his marriage in 1941 to a commoner, who some accused as being pro-NAZI. To many Belgians, Leopold's surrender to the NAZI's forces were in stark contrast to his father's gallant resistance to the Kaiser's Army during World War I. Other Belgians believe that the King has been unfairly criticized. King Leopold showed great courage by subsequently refusing to administer his country under German control and lend any appearance of legitimacy to the NAZI occupation government. Leopold was held prisoner by the Germans until the end of the war, first in his castle at Laeken, Brussels, and later deep in Germany itself.

Figure 6.--Prince Aleandre is seen here with his older half brothers (Baudouin and Albert--both future kings) in a photograph taken about 1948, he would have been about 5 or 6 years old. It looks like the brothers got on quite well together.

Second Marriage

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, incliding Alexander seen here with his older brothers (figure 6).


Despite Leopold's defiance of the Germans, the London-based Belgian government-in-exile refused to recognize his right to rule. This may have been, in part, because the Germans still held Leopold and his family. But the primary reason was undoubtedly the King's surrender to the Germans. The government-in-exile returned to Belgium with the Allied armies in late 1944. Leopold was liberated by American troops in Austria in May 1945. The King's return to Belgium after he was freed by the Allies was a burning political issue. The Liberal and leftist parties accused him of cooperation with Nazi Germany and of fascist sympathies. The charges were unfair, but it was true that the King's surrender put the Dunkirk pocket in jepordy and if the Germans had managed to surround the British there, the War might well have ended in the spring of 1940 with a resounding German victory. The ramifications are too terrible to contemplate.

Public Opinion

The King's main support came from the Catholic Conservatives. The Belgian Government in 1945 barred Leopold from returning without the permission of the parliament. In 1946 a commission of inquiry exonerated Leopold of treason, but the controversy concerning his loyalty continued. Left-wing groups continued to criticise the King. Even after the passgae of time, the King's conduct during the War continues to be controversial. Many believe that the King actd quite properly while other continue to find his conduct misguided. Still others are even more critical. A Belgian reader tells us, "The King's conduct IS controversial in the sense that even now the Belgians disagree openly and occasionally erupt in a vehement debate on the subject."

Charles (Regency 1944-51)

Leopold's brother Charles was elected as regent in 1944. The Government in 1945 ectended 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 controversy concerning his loyalty continued, however, and Leopold remained in exile in Switzerland after the end of the war.


King Leopold III attempted to return to Belgium in 1950 resume his role as king. The Government in 1950 held a plebecite. The Belgian people on March 12, voted in a plebiscite 57 percent in favor of the King's return. Leopold’s arrival in Belgium was, however, met with major demonstrations and disturbances. Left-wing groups led the protests, attacking Leopold because of his actions during World War II. These widespread protests forced Leopold to abicate. He transferred the royal powers to his eldest son, Baudouin. In July, 1951, Leopold formally abdicated. He died in Brussels on September 25, 1983.

Baudouin (1951-93)

King Leopold III returned to Belgium in 1950 and tried to resume his role as king. The Belgian people on March 12, voted in a plebiscite voted 57 percent in favor of Leopold's return. There were, however, major demonstrations against the King because of his actions during World War II. These widespread protests, especially by left-wing groups, forced Leopold to abicate in favor of his eldest son, Prince Baudouin. Baudouin was crowned in 1951 and reigned for 42 years. The longest period of any Belgian monarch. He did much to restore the prestige of the Belgian Crown. He died died of heart failure in Motril, in the south of Spain on July 32, 1993. As he had no children, he was suceeded by his brother Albert.


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Created: February 26, 1999
Last updated: 5:47 PM 4/3/2009