Princess Lilian of Belgium (2nd wife of King Leopold III)

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Thanks for posting such lovely and beautiful photos Cathérine :flower:
You're welcome Alisa,

here's some more info on princess Lilian:

Leopold III married Mary Lilian 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 more children with Princess Lilian.

Mary Lilian Baels was one of six daughters and two sons of Hendrik Baels. He was a self made man. He began as a prosperous fish salesman who had risen to the posts of Minister of the Interior (police) and of Agriculture. He also became the governor of Western Flanders. Her mother was Anne Marie De Visscher. Lilian was actually born at Highbury, London, in 1916 during World War I. Flanders had been occupied by the Germans and the family apparently fled to England. She was educated at the College of the Sacred Heart at Ostend, but returned to England to attend a finishing school in Cavendish Square, London. She was by all accounts an excellent pupil. She was fluent in English, French, German, and Dutch (the language spoken in Flanders). She was also very athletic, who liked to swim and play golf.

Baels apparently met King Leopold in 1938, about 3 years after Queen Astrid's death. It is said that they met on the Knokke-le-Zoute golf course. King Leopold was apparently smitted by the beautiful, athletic young lady. One observer reports that it was the King's mother, Queen Elisabeth, who some time later brought the two together. The Nazi's after King Leopold surendered the Belgian Army in 1940 held him under house arrest in his palace at Laeken. He was of course extremely drepressed. His mother invited Baels to improve his spirits. [Raskin] The two became very attached to each other. Lilian insisted on marriage.

Leopold and Lilian married secretly and morganatically (no rights of accession for the children) in a religious ceremony on September 11, 1941. She became a princess of Belgium, and a royal highness. Lilian was given the title of Princess de Rethy. The civil ceremony took place on December 6, 1941 at Laeken Castle. The Princess was soon pregnant and as a result the marriage became public knowledge. King Leopold aroused considerable criticism by this marriage.

This marriage was not popular in Belgium. The Belgian people were generally unhappy with the King when they learned in December 1941 that he had secretly remarried. Many felt betrayed. A major Belgian newspapers scolded the King: "Sire, we thought you had your face turned towards us in mourning. Instead you had it hidden in the shoulder of a woman." I am not sure how the newspaper learned. Perhaps the NAZI-occupation Government released the information in an attempt to discredit the King. Perhaps it ws just that the Princess was noticeably pregnant. Certainly the newspaper could not have printed the news or commented thusly if the NAZIs objected. She was a commoner, but perhaps it was too difficult to forget the King's first wife, Queen Astrid. It was also the idea of the King marrying during a time that country was occupied and the people suffering. Her unpopularity only grew when the public learned her father had left Belgium, while his duty was to stay in his province, and set up in unoccupied Vichy France for the duration of the war. Then her brother Walter was prosecuted because he tried to escape from having to go to war.

Not only was his wife a commoner, but some Belgians viewed her as pro-NAZI. We have little information on this. During their honeymoon in Switzerland, they did stay with friends of Lilian who were pro-Nazi.

Lilian returned some happiness into King Leopold's life. The Royal couple had a son, , Alexander, in July 1942. She was also a kind stepmother Princes Baudouin and Albert and Princess Josephine-Charlotte (later to become Grand Duchess of Luxembourg). She devoted herself to helping Leopold raise his children. Although there was discension in later life, at this time the King's children were apparently devoted to her, accepting her as their new mother.

The Allies landed in France during June 1944. Himmler ordered King Leopold deported to Germany. Princess Lilian followed with the family in another car the following day. They were guarded by a 200-man contingent of the Waffen SS. The NAZIs held the family in a fort at Hirschstein an der Elbe in Saxony during the winter of 1944-45, and then at Strobl, near Salzburg in Austria. They were freed by the U.S. Army in May 1945.

After liberation, Leopold was unable to return to Belgium because of the controversy concerning his performance as commander of the Belgian Army. His brother Charles was appointed Regent. The family moved to Switzerland and spent their summer holidays in southern France. Princess Lilia is said to have enjoyed golfing with another royal exile--the Duke of Windsor.

King Leopold never was able to return to the Belgian throne. He was unable to even return to Belgium until July 1950. A small majority of the Belgian people voted in a plebecite to accept the King again. The intensity of leftist rioting, however, persuaded him to abdicate when his son Baudouin came of age in July 1951. After Baudouin became king, Leopold and Lilian continued to live a Laeken with their son who apperas to have continued to be devoted to Princess Lilianne.

Princess Lilian and King Leopold attended the Brussels Exhibition of 1958, but afterwards led an esentially private life.

King Baudouin married Dona Fabiola de Mora y Aragón, making her Queen Fabiola, in 1960. It is unclear how King Leopold and Princess Lilian viewed the marriage. After the marriage, however, King Leopold and Princess Lilian left Laeken Place. The two couples became deeply estranged.

Princess Lilian and King Leopold set up a new home at Argenteuil, located near the forest of Soignes, at Waterloo. They lived there with their son, Alexander, and two daughters. Princess Lilian created a cardiology foundation in 1958 to develop new treatment procedures. Her interest was the result of an operation in Boston, Massachusetts during 1957 that saved Alexander's life. A symposium was held at Argenteuil annually. Princess Lilian financed operations in America for several Belgian children. She opened a cardiac research laboratory at the Hospital Saint-Pierre in Brussels.

King Leopold had three children with Princess Lilian:

Alexandre (1942- )
He survived a serious heart condition as a teenager. He surprised everyone in 1998 when he announced that he had married in 1991. he revealed a wife married seven years earlier. He pursues a career in science.

Marie-Christine (1951- )
Princess Lilian's relationship with Marie-Christine has been most unhappy. Marie-Christine became very upset with her parents. She emmigrated to America and squandered her money. She gas married twice and publicly criticized her mother.

Maria-Esmeralda (1956- )
The relationship with their younger daughter has been more positive. Marie-Esmeralda has become a journalist. She has worked for both Vogue and Le Figaro, an important Paris newspaper. She was friendly with Sarah, Duchess of York. She married a British scientist and has had two children.

Before her death, Lilian published Leopold's memoirs on the 18-day campaign of 1940.

Princess Lilian was last seen in public in Brussels at her husband's funeral in September 1983. She was veiled and supported between King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola. She was not at King Baudouin's funeral in 1993. Princess Lilian died in 2002 at age 85. Daniel A Wybo reports, "Princess Lilian of Belgium was buried next to her late husband, King Leopold III, in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken. The private funeral was attended by the Belgian royal family, a delegation of the Belgian government, army veterans who fought under King Leopold III and friends. Among the mourners were also Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, his wife Marina, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, Elisabeth de Balkany, Laetitia Spetchinsky and the Countess Esterházy. The funeral train left the Castle of Argenteuil, where Princess Lilian died one week ago, at 10:30 followed by two of her three children - Prince Alexander and Princess Marie-Esmeralda and their spouses, while Princess Marie-Christine stayed away - and her two surviving stephchildren King Albert II of the Belgians and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte of Luxembourg with their spouses, and Queen Fabiola of Belgium, widow of the late King Baudouin. The service was held at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken from 11:00 to 12:15 and was led by Cardinal Danneeels in Dutch and French. He remembered Princess Lilian as 'a woman who followed her heart' and praised her for her work for her Cardiological Foundation. The service ended with the Belgian national anthem."
Why are her children not considered major royals? As the children of a king, and half-siblings to two more kings, you would think that they would be mentioned more often. Also, why was she never given the title, Queen of Belgium after her marriage? As the wife of a king, you would think that she would be entitled to it. I thought that you basically took the title of your husband after the marriage?
Her children (well Alexander and Esmeralda) have chosen themselves for a private life.

She didn't become queen because it was clear from the start people were not going to accept her (being a commoner, replacing the venerated Astrid, secret mariage during the war).
Question about Princess Lillian's marriage

I recently read somewhere that Princess Lillian's marriage to the King was "illegal". I know very little about the Belgian royals other than their descent from Queen Victoria's beloved Uncle Leopold. Can anyone tell me if the marriage was in fact not legal and why.

I had wondered if it was simply a case that the public were not consulted and his late wife was so beloved by the Belgian people. If this is the case then it would appear that the King found himself in a similar situation to that which the Prince of Wales now finds himself with the British public (and the americans) sanctifying Diana.
I suppose those things can be arranged for a king...certainly in those days.

The children he had with Lilian Baels have no right to the throne though.
Princess Lillian

I'm Belgian and always have been very fond of Lilian.
I've never really understood why people didn't accept her.
Astrid died in a car accident, Léopold had three children and was still young, very normal and healthy of him to fall in love with a beautiful smashing woman like Lilian.
I'm 35, for me second marriages are part of life.
I often wonder how people would react to such a second marriage now.
The problem wasn't that Leopold remarried (well of course it was very insensible of him to marry during the war when his people were suffering so much).

The problem was that he married the daughter of a highly controversial man (he was governor of a province and fled as soon as the war broke out, while his duty was to stay in his province an put people into safety - he was never punished for this-guess why...)

Lilian was a real golddigger and influenced Leopold to make certain political decisions wich led to his abdication.

I do agree she was a very beautiful and elegant woman. Just not fit to be royal :(
1. Lilian with Princess Maria Pia of Savoye and her husband Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia. 2. Leopold III and Lilian with Eddy Merckx


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Why is she supposed to be a golddigger?
And isn't it normal that a wife always is a bit influencing her husband, whether he's King or not? Léopold seemed quite capable of taking his own decisions.
She really was a golddigger. Before Leopold, she was engaged to a Hungarian aristocrat. His family didn't want him to marry Lilian, they moved heaven and earth to get what they wanted. His family ended by agreeing, if he was to give up his title. Lilian wasn't intrested anymore and immediately broke of the engagement.

With Leopold III, Lilian behaved in a similar way, she never really was happy with her title of princess, she wanted to be a queen.At the 60th birthday of queen Elisabeth, she wanted to be the center of attention and parade herself around. The governement had to stop her.

She hated Fabiola because she was the queen she never was.

Lilian didn't just influence her husband a bit (I agree with you that all couples influence each other). When they were in exile in Swiss, important members of the Belgian government had come to debate with Leopold about a solution in the royal question. Each time there was a break through at night, but when he returned from lilian in the morning, he said the whole idea of the night before was impossible. This led to his abdication. Leopold III was a weak person and Lilian very dominating.

She also made Leopold write a 'political testament' that gave exorbitant freedom the Flemish political power Lilian's father was part of. Luckily this was discovered in time and prevented, else Belgium woudn't exist anymore today...

If you want to know more about, there's a very good (reliable, with excellent sources and starting from objectf points of view) book, written by Evrard Raskin.
Leopold and Lilian did have a civil marriage ; a few months after the religious one. So eventually they were "legit"
Photos from ANP


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Hannelore said:
If you want to know more about, there's a very good (reliable, with excellent sources and starting from objectf points of view) book, written by Evrard Raskin.

I have this book in my collection but totally disagree that it is objectif.
Don't forget that Lilian was really a good mother for Leopold's children with Astrid, they were very fond of her.....
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