Birthday: November 3, 1901
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born Country: Belgium
Born in: Brussels, Belgium
Famous as: King of Belgium
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Mary Lilian Baels (m. 1941), Princess Astrid of Sweden (m. 1926)
father: Albert I of Belgium
mother: Elisabeth of Bavaria - Queen of Belgium
children: Albert II of Belgium, Baudouin of Belgium, Ingeborg Verdun, Prince Alexandre of Belgium, Princess Joséphine Charlotte of Belgium, Princess Marie-Christine of Belgium, Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium
Died on: September 25, 1983
place of death: Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium
Cause of Death: Complications During Surgery
Who was Leopold III of Belgium?
Leopold III was the King of Belgium from 1934 until his abdication in 1951. His controversial actions during World War II resulted in the political crisis, Royal Question. The son of Albert I and his queen consort Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, he studied at Eton College. Leopold served as a soldier during the final campaign of First World War. He married his first wife Princess Astrid of Sweden in 1926 and had three children. After he became the king upon his father’s death in 1934, he withdrew Belgium from the Pact of Locarno, a peace agreement among a few countries, including Germany and France. Leopold was forced to surrender his forces after World War II and was held captive by the Germans until 1944. In 1941, he secretly married for the second time. Leopold then remained in Switzerland from 1945 to 1950, awaiting the resolution of the “Royal Question” regarding his pending return to the royal throne. Although he won 58% of the votes in his favor, the opposition led him to renounce his sovereignty and eventually abdicate in 1951. He was succeeded by his son Baudouin.
Childhood & Early Life
Prince Leopold was born on 3 November 1901, in Brussels, Belgium, to Albert I and Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria.
He acquired the title of Duke of Brabant in 1909 when his father became “King of the Belgians.” In 1914, he was allowed to be enlisted as a private and fight in defense of the kingdom in the Belgian army. However, a year later, he was advised to study at the Eton College after Germans occupied Belgium.
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A Parliamentary System in Crisis
After the death of his father, Leopold III succeeded to the throne of Belgium on 23 February 1934. Between 1934 and 1940, King Leopold saw the establishment of at least nine national governments.
He favored an independent foreign policy, though not strict neutrality. He withdrew Belgium from the Pact of Locarno, a peace agreement formerly forged among Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, and Great Britain after Germany occupied the Rhineland in 1936.
He eventually pulled Belgium out of Franco-Belgian agreements as well and received much criticism from the citizens, especially from the French speaking section.
On 10 May 1940, the armed forces of Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, France, Netherlands, and Luxemburg. Following the invasion, Leopold, without any direct consent of his government, went to Breendonk in order to command the Belgian army.
He refused to join the government in exile in France and decided to remain in Belgium with his armed forces. This resulted in a tiff between him and Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot who wanted Belgium to side with the allied forces. Eventually, the delegation left Leopold and joined the rest in exile in France.
Belgian, French, and British troops were encircled by the German army at the Battle of Dunkirk. On 25 May 1940, Leopold notified King George VI about the state of their army. Two days later, he decided to surrender the Belgian forces to the Germans to prevent further bloodshed.
After his surrender, Pierlot addressed the nation and said the king's decision went against the Belgian Constitution. The British press labeled him as "King Rat" and "Traitor King".
The king was eventually captured by the Germans. He spent about four years in imprisonment in Laken and was finally deported to Germany in June 1944. In September, his brother Prince Charles was made the regent.
After the fall of France
Upon the king’s surrender, his ministers left for exile in France. They sought to return to Belgium after France fell in June 1940.
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Pierlot and his government’s ministers tried to make amends to Leopold. The latter, however, showed his stubborn nature and decided not to reconcile with them, eventually leaving no other option for them than to move to London.
Prime Minister Pierlot and his team could reach London only via neutral Portugal and Spain. Upon their arrival in Spain, they were arrested and detained for some time before finally arriving in London.
Meeting with Adolf Hitler
On 19 November 1940, Leopold met Adolf Hitler. He wanted to persuade the latter to release Belgian prisoner of wars and also issue a statement about Belgium's future independence.
In December 1942, he wrote to the chairman of the Red Cross about the matter. In return, he received a threatening letter from Hitler.
Hitler made Leopold engage in treasonous acts with Germany which would likely lead the latter to abdicate upon Belgium’s liberation.
The Political Testament
During the war, the government ministers made numerous efforts to work out an agreement with their king. In January 1944, Pierlot's son-in-law was sent to Leopold, carrying a letter of reconciliation. The letter never reached the king and the ministers assumed that the king was ignoring them.
In January 1944, Leopold also wrote his “Political Testament.” Bearing a negative tone, the testament clarified that he didn’t regret his abdication. It also didn’t give any credit to the active Belgian resistance.
The Belgian government did not publish Leopold’s testament and ignored it. In September 1944, when Pierlot and his team members learned of its contents, they felt deceived by the king.
Exile & Later Life
In May 1945, Leopold and his team were liberated by the United States 106th Cavalry Group. He alongside his wife and children spent the subsequent six years in exile at Pregny-Chambésy in Switzerland.
On his return to his country in 1950, the former king met with one of the most violent strikes in the history of Belgium.
On 1 August 1950, Leopold decided to withdraw in favor of his son, Baudouin. A year later, his abdication officially took effect.
After resignation, he continued to advise his son, King Baudouin, until 1960. He spent his post-abdication years travelling, as an amateur social entomologist and anthropologist.
Leopold died on 25 September 1983, in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, following emergency heart surgery. He was 81.
Family & Personal Life
On 4 November 1926, Leopold III married Princess Astrid of Sweden. They had three children, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium, Prince Baudouin of Belgium, and Prince Albert of Belgium.
On 29 August 1935, Leopold and Astrid were travelling in a car that he was driving in Switzerland. Leopold lost control while driving on a narrow road and the queen died in the ensuing accident.
In 1941, Leopold secretly married his second wife, Lilian Baels, who was expecting their first child. Their marriage produced three children in total, Prince Alexandre of Belgium, Princess Marie-Christine of Belgium, and Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium.