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The day Philippe became King of the Belgians

As King Philippe celebrates ten years on the throne, we look back at the day he became King of the Belgians, July 21st 2013.

Prince Philippe was born 15 April 1960, the eldest son of Prince Albert and Princess Paola in the reign of his uncle, King Baudouin. Albert succeeded to the throne in 1993 when his older brother died without an heir. Philippe was now first in line to the throne, a position he would hold for almost twenty years exactly.

On 3 July 2013 in a televised address, King Albert II announced his plans to abdicate the throne, citing his age—he was 79 years old at the time—and health as the major reasons why he decided to step down.

“I realise that my age and my health are no longer allowing me to carry out my duties as I would like to. Prince Philippe is well prepared to succeed me.”

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The date was set for Belgium’s National Day, 21 July. On that day, Philippe would become the seventh monarch of Belgium; his wife, Princess Mathilde, would become the first Belgian-born queen consort; and his eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth, would become the first female heir apparent to the Belgian throne due to new succession laws that meant she could not be displaced by younger brothers.

Princess Elisabeth officially became the Duchess of Brabant upon her father’s accession, and after finishing her schooling—she is currently studying in Wales to finish her post-secondary education and will likely attend university in the coming years—will begin taking up royal duties on behalf of her father. When she ascends to the Belgian throne, she will be the first queen regnant in Belgian history.

On 21 July, the official events surrounding King Philippe’s accession began with a Te Deum at the Saint Michael and Saint Gudula Cathedral in Brussels.

Following the church service, the Belgian royals returned to the Throne Room at the Royal Palace of Brussels for King Albert II’s official abdication ceremony. The royals in attendance included King Albert II, Queen Paola, Queen Fabiola (the widow of King Baudouin), Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz, Prince Laurent and Princess Claire, and the soon-to-be king and queen, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde.

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In his final act as monarch, Albert II delivered a speech that praised his son’s capabilities, saying, “”You have all the emotional and intellectual qualities to serve our country well.”

King Albert II praised his wife, saying, “As for Queen Paola, who constantly supported me in my work during these twenty years, I just want to say thank you…and a big kiss.”

Following King Albert II’s speech, Prime Minister Elio di Rupoalso delivered a speech and initiated the Deed of Abdication, which was read out by the Minister of Justice and signed by King Albert II and witnesses.

An hour later across the street at the Palais de la Nation, Belgium’s Parliament building, King Philippe arrived for his accession ceremony. This time, he was accompanied by his children: Princess Elisabeth, Prince Gabriel, Prince Emmanuel, and Princess Eléonore.

King Philippe swore an oath as part of the Belgian constitution, reading Article 91: “I swear that I will observe the constitution and laws of the Belgian people, preserve the country’s independence and guarantee its territorial integrity.”

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Following this oath, King Philippe gave a speech:

“I am beginning my reign with the determination to place myself at the service of all Belgians. I shall therefore work in perfect understanding with the government and consistent with the Constitution.

“Over the years I have been able to build ever-stronger ties with a great many of my fellow citizens. I intend to intensify this dialogue.

“The wealth of our country and our institutional system resides notably in the fact that we have turned our diversity into a strength. Each time, we succeed in striking the balance between unity and diversity. Belgium’s strength is precisely its ability to give meaning to our diversity.”

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The new King Philippe then appeared on the balcony at the Royal Palace of Brussels with his wife, Queen Mathilde, his children, and his parents to welcome his new reign.

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.