On December 10, 1865, the first King of the Belgians, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, died after a lingering illness. Although he had ruled a predominantly Catholic country for over 30 years, he remained firmly Protestant to the end. Charles d'Ydewalle, biographer of Leopold's grandson, King Albert I, gives a melancholy account of Leopold's passing:
The death-bed of Leopold I was a sad one, with something puritanical and cold about it. In his death agony, he called: "Charlotte...Charlotte..." but no one knew whether he was calling to his daughter, the Empress of Mexico, or to that first Charlotte of Claremont and those enchanted years whose happy memories once more unfolded before his darkening eyes.
"Do you regret the sins you have committed, Sire?" asked his daughter-in-law. He sighed heavily, and answered: "Yes..."
"In the name of the love you bear for the Queen's memory," went on the wife of Leopold II, "will you not be converted to her religion so that you may meet her again in Heaven?"
"Nein..." he whispered.
Thus died the first King of the Belgians.The same day, the Monitor eulogized the deceased Sovereign, whose political and diplomatic abilities had secured Belgium's place among the independent nations of Europe and had won him the title "Nestor of Kings."
Brussels, December 10, 1865.
An immediate mourning is about to spread over Belgium.
The first of our kings, the founder of our national dynasty, his Majesty Leopold I, died this morning at the Palace of Laeken, at a quarter before twelve o'clock, surrounded by his august family, whose grief we will not attempt to portray.
History will tell what was the sovereign who, in the times of grave uncertainties, did not hesitate to respond to the wish of the nation, by coming to strengthen and fix its destinies ; who, during a reign of nearly thirty-five years, at an epoch so troubled as was ours, knew how to call to himself the love and veneration of the Belgian people, and to win the high esteem and respect of sovereign monarchs and peoples ; who, true to his solemn pledges, was minutely scrupulous in the observance of our constitutional compact, and in reward for this duty, so religiously fulfilled, and the services which he did not cease to render to the country, carries with him the gratitude of a whole nation united to bless his memory; who, finally, leaves to the august heir of the crown, with his great and noble example, a free, happy, and prosperous kingdom, which has acquired its place among the family of European nations.
Belgium will long weep the loss she has sustained ; she will ever preserve the remembrance of a King who was for her a devoted friend, a constant support; but her too just regrets will not cause her to forget her legitimate hopes.
The country does not die, and if on all sides is raised the doleful cry—
The King is dead! —
All Belgians, mastering their affliction, and rallying round the throne, will re-echo the shout
—Long live the King !