Monday, 27 January 2014

The heirs of 1914: Belgium

The heir to the throne of Belgium in 1914 bore the name of his dynasty and the hopes of his country but war would make and then break his royal career.  Leopold, Duke of Brabant was thirteen in 1914 and an integral part of the new monarchy being forged by his parents, Albert I and his consort, Elisabeth.  A century ago, Prince Leopold was an eyewitness to the way in which his mother and father changed the image of the Belgian royals through determination and hard work.  He played his own part too but his own royal story would have a less successful ending.

Prince Leopold of Belgium as a teenager.  In 1914, as heir to the Belgian throne, he was helping his parents reshape the monarchy's image after the controversial reign of his great uncle, Leopold II

The young Duke of Brabant entered his teenage years in 1914 but just before he marked that big birthday, World War One began and he and his siblings were sent to England for safety.  The war would be a turning point for the Belgian royals and their dedicated to their people and to sharing the consequences that the war brought with it hugely increased their popularity.  Leopold played his part in that.  The stay in England that began in 1914 ended within months when he returned to Belgium to join the army.  

Leopold of the Belgians on the day of his engagement - he grew into a popular prince with great hopes for his kingship

Prince Leopold did become his country's king, in 1934, after the death of his father in a climbing accident.  By then he had made a hugely popular marriage to Astrid of Sweden but she died in a car accident just a year after they acceded the throne.  Leopold's later life and kingship were dominated by his role in the surrender of Belgian troops at the start of World War Two.  His reputation never recovered and despite remaining king, it was deemed unwise for him to return to Belgium after the end of the war and his brother, Charles, ruled as regent.  The king eventually returned in 1950 but widespread protests soon made his rule untenable and he handed over power to his son, Baudouin, in 1951.  But that was all to come.  In 1914, Leopold - like the other heir who would abdicate, Edward VIII - was a hugely popular royal with hopes of greatness ahead of him.  

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