Saturday, June 6, 2009

Birthday of King Albert II

Today, Belgium's reigning monarch, H.M. King Albert II, celebrates his 75th birthday. He was born June 6, 1934, the second son and third child of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid of the Belgians. He was named after his illustrious grandfather, King Albert I, tragically deceased in a climbing accident only a few months before. At the age of 14 months, Prince Albert (titled "Prince of Liège") lost his mother, equally tragically, in a car crash. He would know no mother until his father's re-marriage, amidst World War II and Nazi occupation, with Lilian Baels, a lovely young Flemish commoner. Leopold and Lilian were married in a secret religious ceremony in September, 1941, and later, in December, in a civil wedding. After the second ceremony, the royal children were introduced to their step-mother, and welcomed her with open arms. In July, 1942, Lilian gave birth to a son, Alexandre. Albert was pleased to no longer be the youngest...

The royal family's captivity in Germany and Austria from 1944-1945 was a terrible ordeal for Prince Albert. The lack of food caused him to develop hunger edema. A leg injury treated perfunctorily by an SS guard turned into gangrene, but, fortunately, Lilian's vehement insistence on obtaining proper medical attention saved the leg of the future King. 

After the war, false accusations of treason would delay King Leopold's return to Belgium for five years. Prince Albert shared his family's Swiss exile from 1945-1950, attending high school in Geneva. In 1950, he accompanied his father and older brother, Baudouin, on the return journey to Belgium. Sadly, however, in 1951, further political agitation compelled King Leopold to abdicate. He was succeeded by Prince Baudouin.

On July 2, 1959, Prince Albert married a reigning beauty, Donna Paola Ruffa di Calabria, of mixed Italian and Belgian descent. The couple have three children, Prince Philippe, Princess Astrid, and Prince Laurent. After a long conjugal crisis, Albert and Paola were reconciled in the early 1980's.

During the reign of his brother, King Baudouin I, Prince Albert performed many official duties. From 1958 to 1993, he served as the President of the Belgian Red Cross. In 1962, he became Honorary President of the Board of Directors of the Belgian Foreign Trade Office. In this capacity, he presided, during the next few decades, over many trade missions throughout the world. To honor his achievements in this field, the Prince Albert Fund was established in 1984 to train foreign trade specialists. The Prince also took an active interest in urban planning, housing, nature conservation, and the preservation of historical monuments and sites. In 1969, he became President of the European Ministerial Conference on the protection of the cultural and architectural heritage. 

On August 9, 1993, after the death of King Baudouin, Prince Albert was sworn in as sixth King of the Belgians.

I wish His Majesty every blessing on his birthday, and many more to come!


Lucy said...

Happy Birthday!

Elisa said...

Thanks for sharing this!