Joséphine Charlotte of Belgium was born in the Royal Palace in Brussels on 11 October 1927 as the daughter of King Leopold III of the Belgians and his first wife, Astrid of Sweden. Her godmother was her future mother-in-law, Charlotte, the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. Her godfather was her uncle, Prince Charles, Count of Flanders.
She spent her childhood at Stuyvenberg Palace outside of Brussels, and her father became King of the Belgians on 17 February 1934 when her grandfather King Albert I died in a mountaineering accident. Another tragedy was to follow as her mother, Queen Astrid, died just over a year later in a car accident – Joséphine Charlotte was still only seven-years-old. During the Second World War, her father and his second wife Lilian – whom he married in 1941 – were essentially kept as prisoners of war in Belgium. In May 1940, her father surrendered the Belgian forces to the Germans, and he was denounced as a traitor King. His subsequent marriage also made him very unpopular. The family – including Joséphine Charlotte – were kept under house arrest at the Royal Palace of Laeken.
The day after the allied landings in Normandy – 7 June 1944 – the family was deported from Luxembourg to Germany, where they kept under house arrest at Hirchstein-on-Elbe. Conditions were apparently appalling, and Joséphine Charlotte was reduced to eating dandelions in the park. They were finally liberated by American troops on 7 May 1945, and upon receiving a tin of peanut butter, Joséphine Charlotte ate the whole thing and became violently ill as a result. They moved to Prégny near Geneva in Switzerland where Joséphine Charlotte could continue her studies as the Belgians decided if her father could return. She took child psychology courses at Geneva University as the family awaited their return, and once back in Belgium she devoted herself to charity.
On 9 April 1953, Joséphine Charlotte married the future Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, becoming the Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. They were second cousins once removed, through their mutual descent from King Miguel I of Portugal. A civil ceremony was held at the Grand Ducal Palace, followed by a religious service at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Luxembourg City. The newlyweds settled at Betzdorf Castle.
They went on to have five children together: Princess Marie Astrid of Luxembourg (born 17 February 1954), Henri, the current Grand Duke of Luxembourg (born 16 April 1955), Prince Jean of Luxembourg (born 15 May 1957), Princess Margaretha of Luxembourg (born 15 May 1957) and Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg (born 1 May 1963).
Her husband succeeded his mother as Grand Duke of Luxembourg upon her abdication on 12 November 1964, and the family moved from Betzdorf Castle to Berg Castle. Joséphine Charlotte undertook many royal duties during her time as Grand Duchess; she also became the President of the Luxembourg Red Cross in 1964 and the head of the Grand Duchy’s guides movement as Chief Guide in 1990. She was the patron of the Union of Voluntary Blood Donors and the Luxembourg Paediatrics Society. In her free time, she liked to go hunting, fishing, skiing and undertaking water sports.
Her husband abdicated in favour of their eldest son, Henri on 7 October 2000, and they moved from Berg Castle to Fischbach Castle. It was announced in 2003 that Joséphine Charlotte had lung cancer, and she died on 10 January 2005 at her home at Fischbach Castle at the age of 77.
Her funeral was held at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where she had married her husband 52 years earlier. Her remains were cremated, and the ashed were placed Grand Ducal Crypt in the Cathedral. Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said that her death was “a huge loss to the country and its people.”