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Remembering King Baudouin, the beloved monarch whose loss shocked Belgium

Thirty years ago, Belgium was rocked by the news that the hugely popular king, Baudouin, had died during a holiday with his beloved wife, Queen Fabiola. Royal Central looks back at the life and reign of a man who shaped a modern monarchy.

Baudouin, King of the Belgians

The young Belgian king’s reign began only months before Queen Elizabeth II’s, under much more political circumstances. King Baudouin began his reign on 17 July 1951 following the abdication of his father, Leopold III, whose reputation and conduct during the Second World War never recovered in peacetime.

As Belgium became involved in the Second World War, Leopold III took it upon himself to lead the Belgian Army and refused to leave the country alongside the other Belgian government officials to set up a government-in-exile. While in Belgium, he worked under house arrest at one of his castles, and negotiated a surrender to the Germans. He was later deported to Germany by the Nazis, and could not return to Belgium after the end of the war.

His actions sparked a constitutional crisis, leading to the ‘Royal Question’ about whether or not he should be able to return and rule following his conduct. The ‘Royal Question’ was debated for six years, with a referendum held in 1950 that determined that the king could return. However, by the summer, strikes and protests against Leopold III meant that his reign was effectively over, and he announced his intention to abdicate in favour of his 21-year-old son, Baudouin, on 11 August 1950. Baudouin held his oath of office ceremony on 17 July the following year.

The then-Prince of Liège, later King Albert II, attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on his brother’s behalf. Queen Elizabeth II paid one state visit to Belgium during King Baudouin’s reign, from 9–13 May 1966; King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola paid a state visit to the United Kingdom from 14–17 May 1963.

King Baudouin was a popular and beloved monarch who was noted for his strong religious convictions, his declaration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an independent country in 1960, his love for his wife, Queen Fabiola, and for the one day in 1990 that he was not the king of the Belgians (owing to his refusal to give Royal Assent to an abortion bill and the government declaring him unfit to reign for one day while they assumed the powers of the head of state to pass the legislation).

King Baudouin married the Spanish Fabiola de Mora y Aragón, a noblewoman and nurse, on 15 December 1960. Though they both held hopes for a large family, sadly Queen Fabiola had five miscarriages.

On 31 July 1993, King Baudouin passed away at the age of 62 from heart failure. His death plunged Belgium into mourning for their beloved king. Notably, The Queen attended her first and only foreign royal state funeral for King Baudouin.

King Baudouin was succeeded by his younger brother, King Albert II.

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About author

Jess Ilse is the Assistant Editor at Royal Central. She specialises in the British, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Royal Families and has been following royalty since Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Jess has provided commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Jess works in communications and her debut novel THE MAJESTIC SISTERS will publish in Fall 2024.