King Leopold III, Queen Astrid, and Princess Lilian

King Leopold III was the most unfortunate of Belgian monarchs.  He ascended the throne on February 23, 1934, barely a week after his beloved father, King Albert I, died tragically in a mountaineering accident.  The very next year, while vacationing in Switzerland, Leopold lost his beautiful, young Swedish wife, Astrid, in a car accident. In the aftermath of these private sorrows, Leopold had to struggle alone with an increasingly threatening political situation in Europe, menaced by the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.  Meanwhile, Leopold had to parent his three young children, Joséphine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert, traumatized by their mother's death. Following Hitler's invasion of Belgium on May 10, 1940, Leopold took personal command of the Belgian army, as his father Albert had done before him, in 1914. Unlike Albert, who was lionized for his heroic stance during World War I, however, Leopold was excoriated for surrendering to the Nazis on May 28, 1940, after eighteen days of desperate fighting.  His actions were defended by a number of informed witnesses, such as Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, a British liaison officer who had observed the Belgian campaign in detail. The accusations of cowardice and treason, however, continued.  Although he remained a prisoner of war throughout the German occupation of Belgium, and repeatedly intervened for more humane treatment of his conquered people, Leopold was accused of collaborating with the enemy. He was also blamed for his clandestine second marriage, in 1941, to Miss Mary Lilian Baels, the daughter of a Flemish politician. After the war, a commission of inquiry exonerated King Leopold of treason. Nonetheless, civil unrest, fomented in large measure by left-wing elements, forced his abdication in 1951. He was succeeded by his eldest son, King Baudouin. Leopold, Lilian, and their three children, Alexandre, Marie-Christine, and Marie-Esmeralda, continued to live with Baudouin at the royal palace of Laeken until the young King's marriage in 1960. Subsequently, Leopold and his second family moved to a government estate, Argenteuil, near Waterloo. There, Leopold and his wife dedicated themselves to intellectual and humanitarian pursuits. The former King of the Belgians passed away on September 25, 1983.  His widow, Princess Lilian (she was never titled Queen), died on June 7, 2002. Below are a few of this blog's articles on Leopold, Astrid and Lilian.