Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 25, 1983: The Death of Leopold III

On September 25, 1983, Leopold III, King of the Belgians from 1934 to 1951, died suddenly, at the age of 81, after a heart operation at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, in Woluwé-Saint-Lambert. His loss was a great grief to his family, particularly to his loyal wife, Princess Lilian, and to his beloved youngest daughter and confidante, Princess Esmeralda, who was only 26 at the time. Although his old enemies, the socialists, boycotted the ceremonies held in his honor, his death was also a deep sorrow to many of his people, especially his veterans, who had fought and suffered with him in World War II. 

By a sad coincidence, the King passed away only three months after his younger brother, Prince Charles, Regent of Belgium from 1944 to 1950, with whom he had never truly been reconciled since the tragic divisions of the Royal Question. Despite their long estrangement, Charles' death had deeply affected Leopold, as noted by Princess Esmeralda in a recent television documentary. For the first time since his abdication, he had returned to the Royal Palace, the scene of so many of the most painful memories of his troubled reign, to pay his last respects to Charles privately, at his lying-in-state. (Neither Leopold nor Lilian would attend Charles' state funeral; Alexandre and Esmeralda represented their father on this occasion). An aide-de-camp, Colonel Guy Weber, saw the King praying before his brother's bier, pale, deeply moved, his hands trembling. Leopold returned to Argenteuil sad and tired. The death of a younger family member also seems to have reminded him all the more keenly of his own mortality. Always an avid photographer, he took a picture of Alexandre and Esmeralda in mourning, explaining he wanted to be able to imagine how they would appear the day of his own funeral...

Only a few months later, Leopold would follow his brother into eternity. His widow, however, would survive him for nearly two decades, piously cultivating his memory at Argenteuil. Her passing, on June 7, 2002, exactly one year after publishing her husband's account of the crises of his reign, Pour l'Histoire, would signify the end of an era; in a sense, the closing of the chapter of the Royal Question.


Anonymous said...

What did Esmeralda tell about her father's relationship with his brother, if I may ask? (as the documentary is in french)

Thank you.

Matterhorn said...

I don't recall that she says much about their relationship, except in discussing Leopold's emotional reaction to Charles' death and all the childhood and later memories, both tender and painful, that the event stirred up in Leopold. The historians consulted in the film, however, mention the tensions between the brothers, Charles' envy of Leopold and the fact that they never seem to have been fully reconciled.