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Royal Wedding Rewind: King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium

They were an unexpected king and queen and their royal romance has weathered several storms but today King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium will mark their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  The couple, who married on July 2nd 1959 in Brussels, will celebrate surrounded by family and friends. As they become the first Belgian monarchs to reach a Diamond wedding anniversary, Royal Central looks back at the wedding which would put a shy young couple on the path to a throne.

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Their marriage became a very public celebration for a monarchy  in need of a boost. Albert had become heir to the throne in 1951 when his older brother, Baudouin, took power following the hastened abdication of their unpopular father, King Leopold III. Baudouin was proving popular and the controversies around the crown were beginning to settle as the 1950s came to an end. Albert went to Rome in November 1958 for the coronation of Pope John XXIII and at a reception during the celebrations, he met Paola Ruffo di Calabria. The couple fell in love and their engagement was announced in 1959.

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Albert and Paola had wanted to marry in the Vatican City but pressure from the Belgian government saw their plans switch to Brussels. On July 2nd 1959 the bride, daughter of the late Fulco, Prince Ruffo di Calabria, was accompanied by her mother, Luisa, as she prepared for her royal wedding. Paola had a very special memento of her father’s family for her marriage as she wore a Brussels lace veil first used by her Belgian born paternal grandmother. It was secured with orange blossoms for the wedding celebrations which began with a civil ceremony at the Royal Palace in Brussels.

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From there, the bride and groom moved on to their religious wedding which was held at the Cathedral of St Michel and St Gudula in Brussels. The royal wedding that the Belgian authorities had so wanted became a glittering reality as the couple made their way in a flower festooned car through large crowds who had turned out to cheer them. Their church ceremony was conducted by Cardinal Jozef-Ernest van Rooey who read out a message from Pope John XIII for the couple.

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There were more large crowds to greet the newlyweds as they made their way back from their religious ceremony. The bride had chosen a simple dress of heavy white sating featuring three quarter length sleeves, a fitted waist adorned with a bow and a long full skirt with a five metre train. The wedding reception was held at Laeken while the couple headed to Spain for their honeymoon.

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On their return, they soon gave the Belgian monarchy more cause to celebrate as their son, Philippe, was born in April 1960. A daughter, Astrid, named after Albert’s late mother, followed in 1962 with another boy, Laurent, completing the family in 1963. The sad realisation that Albert’s brother, King Baudouin, and his hugely popular wife, Queen Fabiola, who married in 1960, would most likely never have a family of their own turned Albert from stop gap heir into monarch in waiting. Baudouin’s early death, on July 31st 1993 at the age of 62, saw Albert and Paola become King and Queen of the Belgians.

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Albert’s reign was hailed as a success but came to a somewhat unexpected end in 2013 when the king announced his tention to abdicate just weeks ahead of the twentieth anniversary of his accession. He was succeeded that year by his elder son, Philippe on Belgium’s national day, July 21st. The years since have brought ill health and controversy as Albert continues to contest a paternity claim by Delphine Boel. However, the couple are also celebrating the news that they are to be great grandparents for a second time. The royal wedding that took place sixty years ago today in Brussels was never meant to be the start of a monarchical marriage but it ended up having a far greater impact than anyone could have expected at the time.

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