Belgian Abdication: Profile of Leopold III
Our fourth profile on the Monarchs of the Belgians will focus on the reign and life of King Leopold III of the Belgians.
Leopold was born in Brussels on November 3rd, 1901, the eldest son of King Albert I and Elisabeth of Bavaria. Leopold had a younger brother, Charles, Count of Flanders, and a sister, Marie José of Belgium (later the last Queen of Italy). At the age of 14, the then Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant enlisted in the Belgian army as a private and fought during World War One. Following the war, Leopold studied at St Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, California.
In November 1926, he married the beautiful Princess Astrid of Sweden; the couple had three children: Princess Joséphine Charlotte (later Grand Duchess of Luxembourg), and the future Kings Baudouin and Albert II. Leopold became King following the death of his father in 1934.
A year later, tragedy struck when Queen Astrid was killed in Switzerland following a car crash, the King was uninjured in the accident. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 and invasion and surrender of Belgium in May 1940 caused a major constitutional crisis for the Kingdom.
The meeting between Hitler and Leopold III in November 1940 added to the King’s unpopularity. Leopold, while under house arrest in 1941, secretly married Lilian Baels which aroused much controversy and criticism. The King’s second wife was known as Lilian, Princess of Réthy and not Queen Consort. The couple had three children; a son, Prince Alexandre, and daughters Princesses Marie-Christine and Marie-Esméralda.
In 1944, the King and his family were deported to Germany and lived in very harsh conditions before being liberated by American forces in 1945. With the King out of the country, the Belgian government appointed the King’s younger brother, Charles Count of Flanders, as Prince Regent. Given his wartime unpopularity, Leopold lived in exile in Switzerland until 1950, and his return to Belgium in July of that year caused widespread opposition and civil unrest.
Leopold was forced to abdicate in July 1951 in favour of his eldest son, Baudouin. Leopold died on September 25th, 1983 at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert in Belgium; his second wife Lilian outlived him by 19 years, dying in 2002.
Leopold, Astrid and Lillian are all buried within the Royal Crypt of the Church of Our Lady of Laeken.Filed under Belgian Royals, Historical Royals
Tagged Belgian Abdication 2013, Biography, Leopold III of Belgium.