Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 1934: The Accession of Leopold III

On February 23, 1934, a day after the funeral of his tragically deceased father, Albert I, Leopold III, fourth King of the Belgians, ascended the throne. I have gathered a few contemporary descriptions of this sombre, but magnificent occasion. It was a moment of mingled joy, sorrow, wonder and hope.
Albert, King of the Belgians, warrior, statesman and sportsman, now belonged to history. And King Leopold III, in his turn, now belonged to the people of Belgium. Before middle age he was called upon to succeed a father who had set a standard of kingship of immaculate realism and democracy. That call had been so sudden, the circumstances surrounding it so tragic, that he could well have been forgiven a tremor of hesitancy. But the Royal stock of Belgium is sturdy. Leopold, in those critical days, acquitted himself with grace and honour. The boy who had "fagged" at Eton for the Duke of Gloucester now became the man prepared to serve a nation. His grief did not outstrip his courage or his sense of duty or his regal bearing. Behind him, he knew, was the trust and love and inspiration of his Queen, the friendship and confidence of his subjects. ~Michael Geelan

One of the most noble and touching sights of contemporary times was that of the young, handsome, forthright Leopold, head and hand raised, taking the Oath of Accession before his Throne in the Chamber of Deputies. In his first speech as king he said: "According to a solidly established tradition, the Belgian dynasty is at the service of the nation, and I am firmly resolved never to forget it." He glanced towards Queen Astrid - a stately figure in deep black, seated with her children in virgin white - and their eyes met. Then and there he told the august gathering of State that both he and they could depend upon the love and loyalty of the Queen. These were no idle words dove-tailed into the pattern of a formal and picturesque ceremony. They were sincere. They came, not only from his manuscript, but from his heart. All who heard them knew them to be true. ~Michael Geelan

The young and handsome couple were well fitted to be the protagonists in this deeply moving pageant. The new Queen was soon to become a mother again. Seated between her two children, who were as lively as crickets, she drove round the capital in the state coach. The new King, followed by the Count of Flanders, rode to the Chamber on horseback, as his father had done before him, and delivered his speech with quiet dignity. His next action had no precedent: he mounted his horse and rode round the city, only pausing once- before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

When the new King and Queen appeared on the balcony of the Palace in the dazzling sunlight, she in black, he in the uniform of a Lieutenant-General, the people, still subdued by the sorrow of the previous day, felt as though they were gazing at a reincarnation of the spirit of spring. ~Charles d'Ydewalle

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