Leopold III of Belgium

Leopold III of Belgium

Infobox Belgian Royalty|monarch
name =Leopold III
full name =Leopold Philip Charles Albert Meinrad Hubertus Maria Michael
title =King of the Belgians

caption =King Leopold III with his first wife Astrid of Sweden
reign =23 February, 1934 – 16 July, 1951
(age|1934|2|23|1951|7|16 years)
coronation =
predecessor =Albert I
successor =Baudouin I
spouse =Astrid of Sweden
Lilian Baels
issue =Princess Josephine-Charlottte
Albert II
Prince Alexander
Princess Marie-Christine
Princess Maria-Esmeralda
royal house =Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
royal anthem =
father =Albert I
mother =Elisabeth of Bavaria
date of birth =birth date|1901|11|3|df=y
place of birth =Brussels, Belgium
date of death =death date and age|1983|9|25|1901|11|3|df=y
place of death =Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium
buried =|

Leopold III (born as "Léopold Philippe Charles Albert Meinrad Hubertus Marie Miguel" (French) or "Leopold Filips Karel Albert Meinrad Hubertus Maria Miguel" (Dutch) or "Leopold Philipp Karl Albert Meinrad Hubertus Maria Miguel" (German); 3 November, 1901 – 25 September, 1983) reigned as King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951, when he abdicated in favour of the Heir Apparent, his son Baudouin.

Leopold III was born in Brussels as Prince Leopold of Belgium, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and succeeded to the throne of Belgium on February 23, 1934 on the death of his father, King Albert I.

Early life and family

Crown Prince Leopold, while still a teenager, fought as a private during World War I with the 12th Belgian Regiment. After the war, in 1919, then-Crown Prince Leopold was enrolled first at Eton College in Britain, and then at St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, California. In Stockholm, on November 4, 1926, he married civilly Princess Astrid of Sweden, and religiously in Brussels on November 10, who later became Queen Astrid of the Belgians. She was born in Stockholm on November 17, 1905, the youngest daughter of Prince Carl of Sweden and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark.

The marriage produced three children:

*Joséphine-Charlotte, Princess of Belgium, born at the Royal Palace of Brussels on October 11, 1927, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. She was married on April 9, 1953 to Prince Jean, later Grand-Duke of Luxembourg. She died at Fischbach Castle on January 10, 2005.

*Baudouin, Prince of Belgium, who became the fifth King of the Belgians as Baudouin I, born at Stuyvenberg on the outskirts of Brussels on September 7, 1930, and died at Motril, Spain on July 31, 1993.

*Albert, Prince of Liège, Prince of Belgium, born at Stuyvenberg on June 6, 1934. He is the reigning King of the Belgians as Albert II.

On August 29, 1935, while the King and Queen were driving along the winding, narrow roads near their villa at Küssnacht am Rigi, Schwyz, Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lucerne, Leopold lost control of the car which plunged into the lake, killing Queen Astrid and her unborn fourth child.

On September 11, 1941 religiously and on December 6, 1941 civilly, King Leopold III married morganatically in Laeken, Lilian Baels, who was born in Highbury, London on November 28, 1916. Known as the "Princesse de Réthy", she died on June 7, 2002.

They had three children:

*Alexander, Prince of Belgium, born in Brussels on July 18, 1942. In 1991 he married Lea Inga Dora Wohlman, a marriage revealed only seven years later. She was created a Princess of Belgium in her own right.

*Marie-Christine, Princess of Belgium, born in Brussels on February 6, 1951. Her first marriage, to Paul Drucker in 1981, lasted 40 days (though they were not formally divorced until 1985); she subsequently married Jean-Paul Gourges in 1989.

*Maria-Esmeralda, Princess of Belgium, born in Brussels on September 30, 1956, a journalist, her professional name is Esmeralda de Réthy. She married Salvador Moncada, a noted pharmacologist, in 1998. They have a son and a daughter.

WWII and controversy

On May 10, 1940 the German army invaded Belgium. However, during the 1930s Leopold had made extensive preparations against such an invasion of his country, which historically had been used as a convenient battlefield in wars between France and Germany, but was unable to fully coordinate with the British Expeditionary Force or the French Army against the full force of the Blitzkrieg — due to having failed to make an alliance with them before the war started. As a result Belgium was probably the best prepared country in Europe against the Axis forces at the start of WW II and the Belgian artillery was particularly damaging to the Germans during the three weeks which it took them to overwhelm the little country. This perseverance also prevented the BEF from being outflanked and cut off from the coast, enabling the evacuation from Dunkirk. After his military surrender Leopold stayed on in Brussels to face the victorious invaders, while his entire government had already fled to Paris and later London. His action brought accusations of treason by French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud. King Leopold rejected cooperation with the Nazis and refused to administer Belgium in accordance with their dictates, probably saving many thousands of lives in the process.Facts|date=April 2008 Despite his defiance of the Germans, the Belgian government-in-exile in London refused to recognize his right to rule. The Germans held him under house arrest at the Royal castle in Brussels.

On September 11, 1941, the King secretly married Lilian Baels in a religious ceremony that had no value under Belgian law. Less than two months later, a legal marriage before a civil official took place. This was a strange situation since in Belgium a religious marriage is prohibited if it is not preceded by a civil marriage. The reasons are not clear but it seems that Leopold who at first should only have accepted Lilian as a "secret" unofficial wife must have changed his mind. It is quite obvious that Lilian was pregnant during the second ceremony, since a child was born seven months later.

The public announcement of the King's second marriage was made the day after the legal marriage, December 6, when Cardinal Jozef-Ernest van Roey, Archbishop of Mechelen, wrote an open letter to parish priests throughout the country. The letter revealed that the King's new wife would be known as Princesse de Réthy, not Queen Lilian, and that any children they had would have no claim to the throne (though they would be Princes or Princesses of Belgium). His new marriage damaged his reputation further in the eyes of many of his subjects.

In January 1944, Leopold wrote a "political testament", to be published in case he was not in Belgium when the country was occupied by the Allied forces. The testament, which mentioned allied "occupation" and not "liberation", and did not mention the resistance, would cause additional controversy: the Belgian government in London did not like Leopold's demand for public excuses from the ministers involved in the 1940 crisis, and the allies did not like Leopold's repudation of the treaties concluded by the Government-in-exile in London (the controversy mainly centred upon the economic treaty with the United States concerning the delivery of Congolese uranium for American atom bombs). Later that year, Heinrich Himmler ordered King Leopold deported to Germany. Princess Liliane followed with the family in another car the following day under an SS armed guard. The Nazis held the family in a fort at Hirschstein in Saxony from June 1944 to March 1945, and then at Strobl in Austria until the German capitulation. They were freed by the U.S. 7th Army in May of 1945. Due to controversy about his conduct during the war, Léopold III and his wife and children were unable to return to Belgium and spent the next six years in exile at Pregny near Geneva, Switzerland, a regency under his brother Prince Charles having been established by the Legislature in 1944. As for the political testament, the Belgian government did not publish it (partly for fear of an upsurge in communist support if they did) and preferred to ignore it.

In 1946, a commission of inquiry exonerated Leopold of treason. Nonetheless, controversy concerning his loyalty continued, and in 1950, a referendum was held about his future. A majority of ca. 57% voted in favour of his return. The divide between Leopoldists and anti-Leopoldists ran along the lines of socialists and Walloons who were mostly opposed (ca. 42% of favourable votes in Wallonia) and Christian Democrats and Flemings who were more in favour of the King (ca. 70% of the votes in Flanders). On his return to Belgium in 1950, he was met with strikes and other protests. The strikes turned violent and in clashes with the gendarmerie, several protesters were killed. With the country on the brink of civil war, and the communist banners in Wallonia being replaced by French tricolores, in order to avoid tearing his country apart, and to preserve the monarchy, King Léopold decided to abdicate on July 16, 1951 in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin.


* "His Royal Highness" Prince Leopold of Belgium (1901–1909)
* "His Royal Highness" Leopold, Duke of Brabant, Prince of Belgium (1909–1934)
* "His Majesty" The King of the Belgians (1934–1951)
* "His Majesty" King Leopold of Belgium (after abdication in 1951–death)

Post abdication life

In retirement, he followed his passion as an amateur social anthropologist and entomologist and travelled the world. He went, for instance, to Senegal and strongly criticized the French decolonization process.

King Leopold III died in 1983 at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert ("Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe"). He is interred next to Queen Astrid in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken. The princesse de Réthy is buried in the churchyard.



External links

* [http://pages.prodigy.net/ptheroff/gotha/belgium.html Royal House of Belgium]
* [http://pages.prodigy.net/ptheroff/gotha/sweden.html Royal House of Sweden]

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