Today marks the 75th anniversary of the accession of King Leopold III to the Belgian throne. On February 23, 1934, still grieving over the tragic death of his father, King Albert I, only 6 days earlier, the 32-year-old Sovereign made his "Joyous Entry" into Brussels and swore his accession oath before Parliament. He then delivered his accession speech in French and Dutch, concluding with the solemn promise: "I give myself entirely to Belgium." His wife, Queen Astrid, transported by the occasion, lifted up her little son, Baudouin, the new Crown Prince, to offer him to the country.
Above, we see a photograph of the accession ceremony. Interestingly, there are no coronations in Belgium; the new monarch simply swears to "observe the Constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to maintain national independence and the integrity of the territory."
Here, we see King Leopold and Queen Astrid mourning the death of King Albert. I think the photograph admirably conveys their grief; and, at the same time, their dignity and courage in assuming their difficult new role.
What sort of man was Belgium's new King? His father, shortly before his death, had confided to his entourage:
"Léopold est bien préparé pour me remplacer. Il a ma pondération et l'énergie de sa mère. Ce qui forme un métal dont la force de résistance est bien grande.""Leopold is well prepared to take my place. He has my thoughtfulness and his mother's energy. This forms a very tough metal."
Albert, in fact, had been so convinced of his son's readiness for rulership that he had, at times, considered abdicating in his favor.
Leopold's former secretary, Robert Capelle, writes in his memoirs:
L'affection qui unissait le père et le fils, leurs entretiens constants avaient contribué à assurer au pays une continuité de vues à la direction de l'État. Élevé dans les sentiments de devoir, désireux d'accomplir sa tâche avec conscience, profondément attaché aux institutions nationales, le roi Léopold, dès son avènement, redouble d'activité et de travail. Son caractère et sa maîtrise impressionnent ceux qui l'approchent. Esprit pondéré et réflechi, il rejette les décisions hâtives. Ses idées personnelles, il désire les éprouver, en les communiquant, à l'appréciation de personnes de confiance....The affection that united father and son, and their constant discussions, had helped to assure the country a continuity of views regarding the direction of the State. Raised with the sense of duty, desirous of accomplishing his task conscientiously, deeply attached to the nation's institutions, King Leopold, from the moment of his accession, doubled his activity and his work. His character and his mastery impressed those who came into contact with him. He had a thoughtful, reflective mind, and rejected hasty decisions. As for his personal ideas, he wished to test them, by offering them to trusted individuals, for their consideration...
In his excellent work on Leopold's activities during World War II, Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation, Jean Cleeremans cites Alfred Willemart, a friend of the King during his youth, in describing Leopold's character. According to Willemart, Leopold's main moral and intellectual traits were:
...(L)'admiration qu'il vouait à son père et son désir de l'imiter, une extrême loyaute qui sautait aux yeux dans tous ses propos et ses actes... une volonté réfléchie... la recherche de la perfection, la domination de son extraordinaire force physique, et sa mâitrise de soi. D'une grande simplicité, le prince faisait également preuve d'une extrême bonté. Il était doué d'une intelligence dépassant de loin la moyenne... Sa charité chrétienne le poussait à se pencher sur le sort des humbles, des ouvriers notamment......The admiration he felt for his father, and his desire to imitate him; an extreme loyalty, which was immediately evident in all his words and deeds... a reflective willpower... the search for perfection, the mastery of his extraordinary physical strength, and his self-control. A man of great simplicity, the prince also evinced an extreme kindness. He was gifted with an intelligence surpassing, by far, the average... His Christian charity impelled him to concern himself with the fate of the poor, especially the workers...
King Leopold III, in short, was a very capable man, endowed with rare qualities of mind and heart.