King Albert of Belgium is 75

  June 6, 2009 at 12:22 am by

Today, June 6, King Albert II of Belgium celebrates his 75th birthday. The King was born in 1934, only months after his illustrious grandfather, King Albert I of Belgium, died in Marche-Les-Dames. Albert was the second son of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid. The new King and Queen of Belgium already had two children: Princess Josephine-Charlotte, later Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, and Prince Baudouin, later King Baudouin I of Belgium. Baby Albert got the title “Prince of Liege”, by which he was known for most of his life.

The sudden death of grandfather Albert was not the only tragedy with which the life of the 6th King of the Belgians began.

In August 1935, Queen Astrid, born Princess of Sweden, died in a car accident in Kussnacht, Switzerland. This left the Royal family bereft of a loving mother and wife. The Prince of Liege was only one year old at the time of the tragedy.

But this was not the only dramatic event in his short life. At the ageof 6, he was taken out of the country, together with his sister and brother, to avoid the German invasion. The royal children were taken to France at first, then to Spain. When the invasion was well over, however, King Leopold had his children brought back to Laecken, where they were educated at court and at the Castle of Ciergnon. During the war, the Belgian King married again, to Lilian Baels, who was, at the time, pregnant with her first child.

When Prince Albert became 10, however, the Belgian Royal family was deported by the German troops, who were retreating after the defeats in Normandy on D-Day. At first they were braught to Germany, and later to Austria, where they would remain until they were liberated by the American troops in May 1945.

Due to the political turmoil following World War II, the Belgian royal family could not return home after their liberation. The King’s actions were severely questioned, and he deemed it better to remain on neutral ground. The Belgian royals moved to Switzerland, where Prince Albert went to secondary school.

In 1950, when Prince Albert was 16, the royal family was allowed to return to Belgium, where Albert saw his brother become King. From very early on, Prince Albert took up his responsibilities as prominent member of the Royal family. Boudewijn and Albert were a team, each doing what they did best. The King focused on politics, while Prince Albert represented Belgium in social functions, where the more reserved King Baudouin did not feel quite so at ease.

In in 1958, Prince Albert met the young Italian Princess, Donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria, at the coronation of Pope John XXIII. Probably this was one of the reasons that the couple planned to get married at the Vatican, at first. But political struggles resulted in a wedding in Brussels, so the Belgian people could feast with their popular prince, who married the most beautiful woman in Europe (or so it was said at the time).

Soon after the marriage, the couple had their first child, Prince Philippe (1960). Quickly after that, Princess Astrid (1962) and Prince Laurent (1963) were born. But however fairy-tale like the wedding might have been, the marriage of the Princes of Liege was not a happy one. Rumours circulated and still circulate about various affairs, which bothspouses had, and the divorce papers were allegedly written out at one point. However, King Baudouin strongly opposed a divorce. In fact, it is said that by the time the King and Queen had come to terms with the idea, the Princes of Liege had become closer again, and didn’t want the divorce any more.

One of the results of this unhappy period in the marriage is King Albert’s illegitimate daughter, Delphine Boël, born from Albert’s relationship with Baroness Sybille de Selys-Longchamps, whom he met on his various economic missions.

Prince Albert continued to perform his functions at the side of his brother King Baudouin, until the unexpected death of the King in 1993. Suddenly, at 59, Albert, Prince of Liege, became King of the Belgians. This was a little unexpected in Belgium, because Prince Filip, the eldest son of Albert and Paola, was always seen as his uncle’s successor.

King Albert II was not only the oldest of all Belgian Kings when he came to the throne, he now also is the oldest of all reigning Belgian Kings. King Leopold II died about a week for his 75th birthday.

After 16 years of reign, King Albert is still popular. His jolly laugh and grandfatherly behaviour endear him greatly in Belgium, despite all the political troubles and anti-monarchist movements the country is suffering from. And it is clear that, despite the marital problems they have had, King Albert and Queen Paola are now a very happy couple, enjoying the time they spend together, and with their large family.

For more information about King Albert, see here.

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