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YEAR IN REVIEW: Belgium’s 2022 gives the country hope for the future

Belgium’s royal year was filled with joy, grief, and historic firsts. 

2022 was opened with the death of Prince Lorenz’s mother, Princess Margherita of Savoy-Aosta, Archduchess of Austria-Este, aged 91, on 10 January. Princess Astrid’s mother-in-law was laid to rest almost 20 days later, on 29 January, in a ceremony in Switzerland that also saw King Philippe present. 

In between, the country’s newest Princess also lost the person who, for many years, she believed was her biological father. Jacques Boël, a Belgian businessman, passed away on 21 January at the age of 92. 

The month of February saw King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, who had recently celebrated her 49th birthday, travel to the Middle East, in Oman and the UAE, for an official visit. 

There was also the airing of a tv show focusing on the life of Queen Paola, which opened up a lot of discussions, both about her marriage and the offspring that her husband’s out-of-wedlock relations had, namely the birth of Princess Delphine. Queen Paola and King Albert also revealed that it was entirely their choice to try and give their marriage another chance, as their lawyers had already prepared all the papers for a potential divorce. 

The next major announcement came in the form of a planned visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which generated a lot of chatter and speculation about the words King Philippe would choose to use in the country. The visit should have taken place at the beginning of March, but due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, it was postponed last minute to allow both heads of state to focus on the imminent dangers to their respective countries that the war created. 

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde then welcomed a state visit from the President of Austria before Princess Elisabeth made her way back home for the Easter holiday and was called to duty to visit injured and first responders following a tragic car crash which left six people dead. 

Her second duty for this period was attending a roundtable on the Ukrainian crisis on 23 March before returning to Oxford to continue her academic studies. 

The photo released for Princess Eléonore’s birthday. Photo: Bas Bogaerts/Belgian Royal Palace

April is always a happy month in the Belgian Royal Family, as both King Philippe and Princess Eléonore celebrate their birthdays only one day apart. But the month ended on a sad note when the Palace announced that Queen Mathilde had tested positive for COVID-19 and had to cancel her agenda “until further notice.”

She recovered just in time to travel to Greece, where the royal couple undertook a three-day state visit from 2 to 4 May. Shortly after, Princess Astrid undertook an economic mission to the UK upon request of her brother King Philippe, during which she met with then-Prince Charles. She was also joined by her niece Princess Elisabeth for an event at Oxford University. 

Princess Astrid then flew to the US as her son, Prince Joachim, celebrated his graduation from Harvard Business School; he graduated with an online ceremony in 2021, so the university offered the opportunity to those who only had the online celebrations to join those who graduated in 2022 to have an in-person experience. 

June was a month that the Belgian Royal Palace would remember forever, as it was the month that saw King Philippe and Queen Mathilde travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo for an official visit. The King had words of “profound sorrow” for the past that connects the two countries, but in some people’s eyes, this wasn’t enough, as they expected a formal apology and, most importantly, reparations. 

One of those voices was his aunt, Princess Esmeralda, who gained some international recognition throughout the year as she used the weight of her title and position to support causes that she is passionate about: from voicing her worries about what King Philippe did in Congo wasn’t enough, to throwing her support behind climate activists who deface art pieces. The monarch’s half-aunt has made the public aware of her opinions. She is a half-sister to King Albert II, born from King Leopold III’s second marriage. 

The month of June was also crucial as it saw Princess Elisabeth make her tiara debut at Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway’s 18th birthday gala dinner. On her head was an antique piece that was purchased and gifted to her by her parents for her 18th birthday in 2019.

NRK screen grab/ fair use

And, to close the month off with a bow, the heir to the throne undertook her first two solo engagements: one, on 25 June, was to christen the research vessel RV Belgica; the other, on the 30th, was to open a 3D research lab named after her at KU Leuven. 

The Royal Palace then announced at the end of July that Prince Gabriel was to follow in his older sister’s footsteps and undertake one year of military training at the Royal Military Academy (École Royale Militaire, ERM). Princess Elisabeth, who trained at the same school between 2020 and 2021, also undertook a one-month course to improve patrol techniques while also putting to the test the cadets’ resistance to stress and fatigue. 

The month of September was a bittersweet one for the Belgian royals. On the one hand, they managed to celebrate the wedding of Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz’s daughter Princess Maria Laura; on the other, the festivities were darkened by the death, two days prior, of Queen Elizabeth II in the UK. Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz were put in charge of organising the ceremony, and a few days before, they gave a candid interview that gave the public a rare insight into their marriage. 

Princess Elisabeth made a surprise visit to the residence of the UK ambassador to Belgium just a few days after the wedding to sign the book of condolence on behalf of her family – a sweet tribute not only because she represents a new generation of royals paying homage to an “inspirational” figure, but also because the two are connected by the name they share. 

October was busy, with King Philippe and Queen Mathilde travelling to Germany for an economic visit and Prince Gabriel giving his first public speech to open the new academic year at ERM. 

There was also the sad note of Queen Paola experiencing the second fall in just one year, the first in February. 

November was relatively quiet and business as usual, with the major event being the welcoming of the President of Switzerland to Belgium for a state visit. The traditionally neutral country shares deep ties with Belgium, especially when it comes to languages; not only do both countries have German as one of their official languages, but they also both know well the issues and richness that come from being a multicultural country. 

The month also closed off on a high note for Queen Mathilde, as she travelled to London for the UN’s “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” campaign. She was welcomed at Buckingham Palace by Queen Camilla and had the opportunity to be reunited with many other royals supporting this cause, including Queen Rania of Jordan and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, as well as Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. 

Photograph by Ian Jones; Copyright 2022, Royal Hashemite Court

The month of December saw another economic mission for Princess Astrid, this time in Japan, where she met with several members of the Imperial Family. The last item on the agenda for the year was King Philippe’s speech on Christmas Eve, which was broadcast all across Belgium, as well as on social media. 

This year has been full of highlights for the family but has also very much been business as usual, with all working members continuing to support the causes they care about and working on new projects and topics. 

It will be interesting to see what 2023 will bring, especially when it comes to the younger members of the family, as they explore their potential interests and carve their own paths to serve their country.