Leopold III of Belgium
King Leopold III with his first wife Astrid of Sweden
|King of the Belgians|
|Reign||23 February 1934 – 16 July 1951|
|Born||3 November 1901|
|Died||25 September 1983 (aged 81)|
|Burial||Church of Our Lady of Laeken|
|Consort||Astrid of Sweden |
|Issue||Josephine Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg |
Baudouin of Belgium
Albert II of Belgium
Princess Marie Christine
Princess Maria Esmeralda
|House||House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha|
|Father||Albert I of Belgium|
|Mother||Elisabeth of Bavaria|
Leopold III (born as Léopold Philippe Charles Albert Meinrad Hubertus Marie Miguel; 3 November 1901 – 25 September 1983) was King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951. He left the throne and his son Baudouin became King.
Leopold III went to the throne of Belgium on 23 February 1934 following the death of his father, King Albert I.
Early life and family[change | change source]
Crown Prince Leopold fought as a private during World War I while still a teenager. He was sent by his father to Eton College in the United Kingdom, in 1915. After the war, in 1919, he went to St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, California. He married Princess Astrid of Sweden in Stockholm on 4 November 1926.
On 29 August 1935, the King and Queen were driving along the winding, narrow roads near their villa at Küssnacht am Rigi, Schwyz, 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 on 11 September 1941 in a secret, religious ceremony. It was not valid under Belgian law.
In 1944, Heinrich Himmler ordered Leopold deported to Germany. Princess Liliane followed the next day under an SS armed guard. The Nazis held the family in a fort at Hirschstein in Saxony from June 1944 to March 1945, and then at Strobl, Austria.
Leopold was freed by the United States 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. They spent the next six years in exile at Pregny-Chambésy near Geneva, Switzerland. A regency under his brother Prince Charles had been made by the Legislature in 1944.
On his return to Belgium in 1950, Leopold was met with one of the most violent strikes in the history of Belgium. The country stood on the edge of civil war. Belgian banners were replaced by Walloon flags in Liège and other municipalities of Wallonia. To avoid tearing the country apart, and to keep the monarchy, Leopold decided on 1 August 1950 to withdraw in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin.
In retirement, he followed his passion as an amateur social anthropologist and entomologist and travelled the world. He went, for instance, to Senegal and he explored the Orinoco and the Amazon with Heinrich Harrer.
Leopold died in 1983 at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert.