Leopold III of Belgium
Overview
 
Leopold III reigned as King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951, when he abdicated in favour of the Heir Apparent
Heir apparent
An heir apparent or heiress apparent is a person who is first in line of succession and cannot be displaced from inheriting, except by a change in the rules of succession....

, his son Baudouin.

Leopold III was born in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 as Prince Leopold of Belgium, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and succeeded to the throne of Belgium on 23 February 1934 following the death of his father, King Albert I
Albert I of Belgium
Albert I reigned as King of the Belgians from 1909 until 1934.-Early life:Born Albert Léopold Clément Marie Meinrad in Brussels, he was the fifth child and second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, and his wife, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen...

.

He was invested as the 1,154th Knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

 of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Order of the Golden Fleece
The Order of the Golden Fleece is an order of chivalry founded in Bruges by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430, to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese princess Infanta Isabella of Portugal, daughter of King John I of Portugal. It evolved as one of the most prestigious orders in Europe...

 in Spain in 1923, the 355th Grand Cross
Grand Cross
The phrase Grand Cross is used to denote the highest grade in many orders of knighthood. Sometimes the holders of the highest grade are referred to "knights grand cross" or just "grand crosses"; in other cases the actual insignia itself is called "the grand cross".Alternatively, in some other...

 of the Order of the Tower and Sword
Order of the Tower and Sword
The Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit is a Portuguese order of knighthood and the pinnacle of the Portuguese honours system. It was created by King Afonso V in 1459....

 in 1927 and the 833rd Knight of the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

 in 1935.
Crown Prince Leopold fought as a private during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 with the 12th Belgian Regiment while still a teenager, but was sent by his father to Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, in 1915.
Encyclopedia
Leopold III reigned as King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951, when he abdicated in favour of the Heir Apparent
Heir apparent
An heir apparent or heiress apparent is a person who is first in line of succession and cannot be displaced from inheriting, except by a change in the rules of succession....

, his son Baudouin.

Leopold III was born in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 as Prince Leopold of Belgium, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and succeeded to the throne of Belgium on 23 February 1934 following the death of his father, King Albert I
Albert I of Belgium
Albert I reigned as King of the Belgians from 1909 until 1934.-Early life:Born Albert Léopold Clément Marie Meinrad in Brussels, he was the fifth child and second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, and his wife, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen...

.

He was invested as the 1,154th Knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

 of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Order of the Golden Fleece
The Order of the Golden Fleece is an order of chivalry founded in Bruges by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430, to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese princess Infanta Isabella of Portugal, daughter of King John I of Portugal. It evolved as one of the most prestigious orders in Europe...

 in Spain in 1923, the 355th Grand Cross
Grand Cross
The phrase Grand Cross is used to denote the highest grade in many orders of knighthood. Sometimes the holders of the highest grade are referred to "knights grand cross" or just "grand crosses"; in other cases the actual insignia itself is called "the grand cross".Alternatively, in some other...

 of the Order of the Tower and Sword
Order of the Tower and Sword
The Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit is a Portuguese order of knighthood and the pinnacle of the Portuguese honours system. It was created by King Afonso V in 1459....

 in 1927 and the 833rd Knight of the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

 in 1935.

Early life and family

Crown Prince Leopold fought as a private during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 with the 12th Belgian Regiment while still a teenager, but was sent by his father to Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, in 1915. After the war, in 1919, he enrolled at St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is the county seat of Santa Barbara County, California, United States. Situated on an east-west trending section of coastline, the longest such section on the West Coast of the United States, the city lies between the steeply-rising Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean...

, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. He married Princess Astrid of Sweden
Astrid of Sweden
Astrid of Sweden was Queen of the Belgians as the wife of King Leopold III.-Early life:Princess Astrid of Sweden was born in Stockholm on 17 November 1905...

 in a civil ceremony in Stockholm
Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

 on 4 November 1926, followed by a religious ceremony in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 on 10 November. The marriage produced three children:
  • Joséphine-Charlotte, Princess of Belgium, born at the Royal Palace of Brussels
    Brussels
    Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

     on 11 October 1927, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg
    Luxembourg
    Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

    . She was married on 9 April 1953 to Prince Jean
    Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg
    Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg ruled Luxembourg from 1964 to 2000. He is the father of the current ruler, Grand Duke Henri, and the son of Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma...

    , later Grand-Duke of Luxembourg
    Luxembourg
    Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

    . She died at Fischbach Castle
    Fischbach Castle
    Fischbach Castle is a castle in Luxembourg. It is situated near the town of Fischbach, in central Luxembourg.-History:...

     on 10 January 2005.
  • Baudouin, Duke of Brabant, Count of Hainaut, Prince of Belgium, who became the fifth King of the Belgians as Baudouin I, born at Stuyvenberg on the outskirts of Brussels
    Brussels
    Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

     on 7 September 1930, and died at Motril
    Motril
    Motril is a town and municipality on the Mediterranean coast in the province of Granada, Spain.Motril is the second largest town in the province, with a population of 59,163 as of 2008...

    , Spain on 31 July 1993.
  • Albert
    Albert II of Belgium
    Albert II is the current reigning King of the Belgians, a constitutional monarch. He is a member of the royal house "of Belgium"; formerly this house was named Saxe-Coburg-Gotha...

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


On 29 August 1935, while the King and Queen were driving along the winding, narrow roads near their villa at Küssnacht am Rigi, Schwyz
Schwyz
The town of is the capital of the canton of Schwyz in Switzerland.The Federal Charter of 1291 or Bundesbrief, the charter that eventually led to the foundation of Switzerland, can be seen at the Bundesbriefmuseum.-History of the toponym:...

, 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.

Leopold married Lilian Baels
Lilian Baels
Princess Lilian of Belgium best known as Lilian, Princess of Réthy, was the second wife of King Leopold III of the Belgians.-Background and education:...

 on 11 September 1941 in a secret, religious ceremony, with no validity under Belgian law. They originally intended to wait until the end of the war for the civil marriage, but as the new Princesse de Réthy was soon expecting their first child, the ceremony took place on 6 December 1941. They had three children in total:
  • Alexander
    Prince Alexander of Belgium
    Prince Alexander of Belgium was the eldest child from the second marriage of King Leopold III of Belgium. His mother was Lilian, Princess of Réthy...

    , Prince of Belgium, born in Brussels on 18 July 1942. In 1991, he married Lea Inga Dora Wohlman
    Princess Léa of Belgium
    Princess Léa of Belgium is the widow of Prince Alexander of Belgium, younger half-brother of King Albert II of Belgium, King Baudouin, and the Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte of Luxembourg....

    , a marriage revealed only seven years later. She was created a Princess of Belgium in her own right. He died on November 29, 2009.
  • Marie-Christine, Princess of Belgium, born in Brussels on 6 February 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 Maria-Esmeralda of Belgium
    Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium is a member of the Belgian Royal Family.-Family:...

    , Princess of Belgium, born in Brussels on 30 September 1956, a journalist, her professional name is Esmeralda de Réthy. She married Salvador Moncada
    Salvador Moncada
    Sir Salvador Enrique Moncada, FRS, FRCP, FRCS is a Honduran-British physician and pharmacologist. He is the husband of Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium, who is a member of the Belgian Royal Family.-Background:...

    , a noted pharmacologist, in 1998. They have a son and a daughter.

World War II

When World War II broke out in September 1939, the French and British governments immediately sought to persuade Belgium to join them. Leopold and his government refused, maintaining Belgium's neutrality. Belgium considered itself well-prepared against a possible invasion by Axis forces, for during the 1930s Leopold had made extensive preparations against an invasion of his country, historically a battlefield in wars between French and Germans.

On 10 May 1940 the German army invaded Belgium. On the first day of the offensive the Belgian fortifications were penetrated before any French or British troops could arrive and the country was overwhelmed by the numerically superior Germans.

Nevertheless, the Belgian perseverance prevented the British Expeditionary Force 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 civil government fled to Paris and later to London.

Surrender and constitutional crisis

On 24 May 1940, Leopold, having assumed command of the Belgian army, met with his ministers for what would be the final time. The ministers urged the king to leave the country with the Government. Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot
Hubert Pierlot
Hubert Marie Eugène, Count Pierlot was a Belgian Walloon politician and jurist, the 32nd Prime Minister of Belgium between 1939 and 1945 .-Biography:He was a representative of the Catholic Party Hubert Marie Eugène, Count Pierlot (23 December 1883, Cugnon (Bertrix) – 13 December 1963, Uccle)...

 reminded Leopold that capitulation was a decision for the Belgian government, not the king. The king indicated that he had decided to remain in Belgium with his troops, whatever the outcome. The ministers took this to mean that he would establish a new government under the direction of Hitler, potentially a treasonous act. Leopold thought that he might be seen as a deserter when he left the country: "Whatever happens, I have to share the same fate as my troops." Leopold had long had a difficult and contentious relationship with his ministers, acting independently of government influence whenever possible, and seeking to circumvent and even limit the ministers' powers, while expanding his own.

Along with the Belgian troops, French and British troops were encircled by German forces at Dunkirk
Battle of Dunkirk
The Battle of Dunkirk was a battle in the Second World War between the Allies and Germany. A part of the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation of British and allied forces in Europe from 26 May–4 June 1940.After the Phoney War, the Battle of...

. The King notified King George VI by telegram on 25 May 1940 that Belgian forces were being crushed, saying "assistance which we give to the Allies will come to an end if our Army is surrounded". Two days later (27 May 1940), Leopold surrendered the Belgian forces to the Germans.

Prime Minister Pierlot spoke on French radio, saying that the king's decision to surrender went against the Belgian Constitution. The decision, he said, was not only a military decision but also a political decision, and the king had acted without his ministers' advice, and therefore contrary to the Constitution. Pierlot and his Government believed this created an impossibilité de régner:
But, at this time, in France (and further in Great-Britain), it was impossible to summon the Chambers. It was also impossible to appoint a Regent. Accordingly, the Government would ask Leopold's brother Prince Charles to serve as Regent but only after the Liberation of Belgium in September 1944.

Leopold's action brought accusations of treason by French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud
Paul Reynaud
Paul Reynaud was a French politician and lawyer prominent in the interwar period, noted for his stances on economic liberalism and militant opposition to Germany. He was the penultimate Prime Minister of the Third Republic and vice-president of the Democratic Republican Alliance center-right...

. Although French troops continued to fight the Germans, Flemish historians Valaers and Van Goethem wrote that Leopold III had become "The scapegoat of Reynaud" because the French Prime Minister was likely already aware that the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 was lost.

Leopold's surrender was also decried by Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

: in the House of Commons on 4 June 1940 he said:
In 1949, Churchill's comments about the events of May 1940 were published in Le Soir
Le Soir
Le Soir is a Berliner Format Belgian newspaper. Le Soir was founded in 1887 by Emile Rossel. It is the most popular Francophone newspaper in Belgium, and considered a newspaper of record.-Editorial stance:...

(12 February 1949). Leopold's former secretary sent a letter to Churchill saying that Churchill was wrong. Churchill sent a copy of this letter to the King's brother, the Regent Prince Charles, via his secretary André de Staercke. In the letter Churchill wrote,
De Staercke replied that Churchill was right: "The Prince, Monsieur Spaak and I read your text which is saying the precise truth, which seems perfect to us."

André de Staercke was one of the most important witnesses to the Belgian government's internal crisis of 1940. At his request, his memoirs about Prince Charles (which he wrote at Churchill's suggestion) were only published after de Staercke's death in 2003, with the help of and a preface by Belgian historian Jean Stengers
Jean Stengers
Jean Stengers was a Belgian historian.A precocious and brilliant student, Stengers entered the Free University of Brussels in 1939, at the age of 17. He published his first scholarly article two years later in the Belgian Review of Philology and History...

. The memoir underlines the fact that while King Baudouin of Belgium generally did not like the people who were opposed to his father at the time of the Royal question, de Staercke had become a friend of his. At the meal following the funeral of Prince Charles in June 1983, Baudouin placed de Staercke at his right.

Belgian historian Francis Balace wrote that capitulation was inevitable because the Belgian Army
Belgian Army
The Land Component is organised using the concept of capacities, whereby units are gathered together according to their function and material. Within this framework, there are five capacities: the command capacity, the combat capacity, the support capacity, the services capacity and the training...

 was not able to fight any longer against the German army. Even Churchill admitted that their position was perilous: in a telegram to Lord Gort on 27 May, only one day before the Belgian capitulation, he wrote, "We are asking them to sacrifice themselves for us."

After the fall of France

Upon Leopold's surrender, the government ministers left for exile, mostly in France. When France fell at the end of June 1940, several ministers sought to return to Belgium. They made an overture to Leopold but were rebuffed:
Because of the great popularity of the king, and the unpopularity of the civil government from the middle of 1940, the government crisis persisted. The Royal Articles state:
On 2 August 1940, several ministers conferred in Le Perthus
Le Perthus
Le Perthus is a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France. Inhabitants are called Perthusiens and, as of 2006, inhabitants were 582.-Geography:...

 near the Spanish border. Prime Minister Pierlot and Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak
Paul-Henri Spaak
Paul Henri Charles Spaak was a Belgian Socialist politician and statesman.-Early life:Paul-Henri Spaak was born on 25 January 1899 in Schaerbeek, Belgium, to a distinguished Belgian family. His grandfather, Paul Janson was an important member of the Liberal Party...

 were persuaded to go to London; but they were able to start only at the end of August, and could travel only via neutral Spain and Portugal. When they reached Spain, they were arrested and detained by the Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 regime; they arrived finally in London on 22 October.

Meeting with Hitler

Leopold rejected cooperation with the Nazis and refused to administer Belgium in accordance with their dictates, and the Germans implemented a military government. Leopold attempted to assert his authority as monarch and head of the Belgian government although he was a prisoner of the Germans. Despite his defiance of the Germans, the Belgian government-in-exile in London maintained that the king did not represent the Belgian government and was unable to reign. The Germans held him at first under house arrest
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 at the Royal Castle
Royal Castle of Laken
The Royal Castle of Laeken is the official residence of the King of the Belgians.-History:...

 in Brussels. Having desired a meeting with Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 since June 1940, Leopold III finally met with him on 19 November 1940. Leopold wanted Hitler to issue a public statement about Belgium's future independence. Hitler's vision of a united Europe did not include independent countries within its borders. Hitler refused to speak about the independence of Belgium or issue a statement about it. In refusing to publish the statement, Hitler unintentionally preserved the King from being seen as cooperating with Germany, and thus engaged in treasonous acts, which would have likely meant he was forced to abdicate after the war. "The [German] Chancellor saved the King two times."

Second marriage

On 11 September 1941, while a prisoner of the Germans, Leopold secretly married Lilian Baels
Lilian Baels
Princess Lilian of Belgium best known as Lilian, Princess of Réthy, was the second wife of King Leopold III of the Belgians.-Background and education:...

 in a religious ceremony that had no validity under Belgian law, as Belgian law required a religious marriage to be preceded by a legal or civil marriage. On 6 December, they were married under civil law. The reason for the out-of-order marriages was not made public, but they had a child seven months later in June 1942. It would have been unacceptable for a King of the Belgians to have maintained an "unofficial" relationship with Lilian.

Cardinal Jozef-Ernest van Roey
Jozef-Ernest van Roey
Jozef-Ernest van Roey was a Belgian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Mechelen from 1926 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1927.-Biography:...

, Archbishop of Mechelen, wrote an open letter to parish priests throughout the country announcing Leopold's second marriage on December 7. 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 with the style Royal Highness). Leopold's new marriage damaged his reputation further in the eyes of many of his subjects.

The Political Testament

The ministers made several efforts during the war to work out a suitable agreement with Leopold III. They sent Pierlot's son-in-law as an emissary to Leopold in January 1944, carrying a letter offering reconciliation from the Belgian government in exile. The letter never reached its destination, however, as the son-in-law was killed by the Germans en route. The ministers did not know what happened to either message or messenger, and assumed Leopold was ignoring them.

Leopold wrote his Political Testament in January 1944 shortly after this failed attempt at reconciliation. The testament was to be published in case he was not in Belgium when Allied forces arrived. The testament, which had an imperious and negative tone, considered the potential Allied movement into Belgium an "occupation", not a "liberation". It gave no credit to the active Belgian resistance. The Belgian government in London did not like Leopold's demand that the government ministers involved in the 1940 crisis be exonerated. The Allies did not like Leopold's repudiation of the treaties concluded by the Belgian government-in-exile in London. The United States was particularly concerned about the economic treaty it had reached with the Belgian government in London that enabled them to obtain Congolese uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 for America's secret atom bomb program.

The Belgian government did not publish the Political Testament and tried to ignore it, partly for fear of increased support for the Belgian Communist party
Communist Party of Belgium
Communist Party of Belgium was a political party in Belgium. The youth wing of KPB/PCB was known as the Communist Youth of Belgium. The party published Le Drapeau Rouge in French and De Roode Vaan in Dutch.- History :It was formed at a congress in Anderlecht on September 3-4 1921...

. When Pierlot and Spaak learned of its contents in September 1944, they were astonished and felt deceived by the king. According to André de Staercke, the Regent's Secretary, they were dismayed "in the face of so much blindness and awareness".

Churchill's reaction to the Testament: "It stinks." In a sentence inspired by a quote of Talleyrand about the Bourbons after the restoration of the French monarchy in 1815, Churchill declared: "He is like the Bourbons, he has learned nothing and forgotten everything."

Deportation and exile

In 1944, Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

 ordered 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
Hirschstein
Hirschstein is a municipality in the district of Meißen, in Saxony, Germany.The following villages belong to Hirschstein: Althirschstein, Bahra, Böhla, Boritz, Heyda, Kobeln, Mehltheuer, Neuhirschstein, Pahrenz, Prausitz and Schänitz....

 in Saxony
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

 from June 1944 to March 1945, and then at Strobl
Strobl
Strobl is a municipality of the Salzburg-Umgebung District , in the northeastern portion of the Austrian state of Salzburg, right on the border with Upper Austria...

, Austria.

The British and American governments worried about the return of the king. Leopold III was prisoner of the Germans. Though all knew in March 1945 of the future capitulation of Germany, nobody knew Leopold's location in Germany. Charles W. Sawyer
Charles W. Sawyer
Charles W. Sawyer was United States Secretary of Commerce from May 6, 1948 to January 20, 1953 in the administration of Harry Truman....

, US Ambassador to Belgium, warned his government that an immediate return by the king to Belgium would "precipitate serious difficulties." "There are deep differences even in the Royal family and the situation holds dynamite for Belgium and perhaps for Europe." "The Foreign Office feared that an increasing minority in French-speaking Wallonia would demand either autonomy or annexation to France. Winant, the American Ambassador to the Court of Saint James's, reported a Foreign Office official's concern regarding irredentist propaganda in Wallonia." and that "the French Ambassador in Brussels... is believed to have connived in the spreading of this propaganda."

Leopold and his companions were freed by members of the United States 106th Cavalry Group in early May 1945. Because of the controversy about his conduct during the war, Leopold III and his wife and children were unable to return to Belgium and spent the next six years in exile at Pregny-Chambésy
Pregny-Chambésy
Pregny-Chambésy is a commune in the canton of Geneva in Switzerland. It is located directly north of the city of Geneva, on the south-western shore of Lake Geneva....

 near Geneva
Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

, Switzerland. A regency under his brother Prince Charles
Prince Charles of Belgium
Prince Charles, Count of Flanders, Prince of Belgium was the second son of Albert I, King of the Belgians and Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria. Born in Brussels, he served in lieu of his older brother King Leopold III from 1944 until 1950 as Prince Regent until Leopold could return to Belgium and...

 had been established by the Legislature in 1944.

Resistance to Leopold's return

Van den Dungen, the rector of the Université Libre de Bruxelles
Université Libre de Bruxelles
The Université libre de Bruxelles is a French-speaking university in Brussels, Belgium. It has 21,000 students, 29% of whom come from abroad, and an equally cosmopolitan staff.-Name:...

 wrote to Leopold on 25 June 1945 about concerns for serious disorder in Wallonia, "The question is not if the accusations against you are right or not [but that...] You are no more a symbol of the Belgian unity."

Gilllon, the President of the Belgian Senate, told the king that there was a threat of serious disorder: "If there are only ten or twenty people killed, the situation would become terrible for the King.".

The President of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, Frans Van Cauwelaert
Frans Van Cauwelaert
Frans van Cauwelaert , was a Belgian Roman Catholic politician and lawyer.Van Cauwelaert was born at Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Lombeek...

, was concerned that there would be a General strike
General strike
A general strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region, or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants...

 in Wallonia and revolt in Liège. He wrote, "The country is not able to put down the disorders because of the insufficient forces of the police and a lack of weapons."

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. Fifty-seven per cent of the voters favoured his return. The divide between Leopoldists and anti-Leopoldists ran along the lines of socialists and Walloons who were mostly opposed (42% favourable votes in Wallonia) and Christian Democrats and Flemings who were more in favour of the King (70% favourable votes in Flanders).

General strike of 1950

On his return to Belgium in 1950, Leopold was met with one of the most violent general strikes
General strike against Leopold III of Belgium
The Royal Question refers to the 1950 political conflict surrounding the question whether King Leopold III should return to Belgium after World War II. A referendum was organised, in which the majority voted in favour of his return...

 in the history of Belgium
History of Belgium
The history of Belgium, from pre-history to the present day, is intertwined with the histories of its European neighbours, in particular those of the Netherlands and Luxembourg...

. Three protesters were killed when the gendarmerie
Gendarmerie
A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. Members of such a force are typically called "gendarmes". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a gendarme as "a soldier who is employed on police duties" and a "gendarmery, -erie" as...

 opened automatic fire upon the protesters. The country stood on the brink of civil war, and Belgian banners in Wallonia were replaced by Walloon flags in Liège and other municipalities of Wallonia. To avoid tearing the country apart, and to preserve the monarchy, Leopold decided on 1 August 1950 to withdraw in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin. His abdication took effect on 16 July 1951, though in reality the government had already forced the issue on 1 August 1950. In this postponed abdication the king was, in effect, forced by the government of Jean Duvieusart
Jean Duvieusart
Jean Pierre Duvieusart was a Belgian Catholic politician of the PSC-CVP and minister of economy . After two months as the 36th Prime Minister of Belgium , he resigned after the abdication of King Leopold III...

 to offer to abdicate in favour of his son. Leopold and his wife continued to advise King Baudouin until the latter's marriage in 1960. Some Belgian historians, such as Vincent Delcorps, speak of there having been a "dyarchy" during this period.

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
Senegal
Senegal , officially the Republic of Senegal , is a country in western Africa. It owes its name to the Sénégal River that borders it to the east and north...

 and strongly criticized the French decolonization process, and he explored the Orinoco and the Amazon with Heinrich Harrer
Heinrich Harrer
Heinrich Harrer was an Austrian mountaineer, sportsman, geographer, and author.He is best known for his books Seven Years in Tibet and The White Spider .-Athletics:...

.

Leopold died in 1983 at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert
Woluwe-Saint-Lambert
Woluwe-Saint-Lambert or Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe is one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium...

 (Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe). He is interred next to Queen Astrid (and also later his second wife, The Princess de Réthy was interred with them) in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady of Laeken
Church of Our Lady of Laeken
The Church of Our Lady of Laeken is a neo-Gothic Roman Catholic church in Laeken, Brussels. It was originally built in memory of Queen Louise-Marie, wife of King Leopold I to the design of architect Joseph Poelaert....

.

Titles

  • 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)

Ancestry



See also

  • Crown Council of Belgium
    Crown Council of Belgium
    The Crown Council of Belgium is composed of the King of the Belgians, the Ministers and the Ministers of State. The King chairs the Crown Council...

  • Kings of Belgium family tree
    Kings of Belgium family tree
    This is a family tree of the kings of Belgium....

  • Royal Trust
    Royal Trust (Belgium)
    The Royal Trust was proposed in a letter by king Leopold II of Belgium on 9 April 1900, in addition some properties were added to the donation in a letter of 15 November 1900. The Belgian government accepted the donation by law on 31 December 1903...


External links


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