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Why exactly is King Albert’s illegitimate daughter now titled ‘princess’?

The daughter born outside of marriage to the man who ruled Belgium for almost twenty years now shares the royal status of her half brothers and sister. Delphine Saxe-Coburg, illegitimate daughter of King Albert II of Belgium, has been made a princess by a court and can use the style of HRH. But why has this king’s illegitimate child been granted royal status?

For centuries, illegitimate children of royals had little chance of a regal title. While some might be made dukes or duchesses, it was rare for them to become HRH. That’s why Delphine’s new status as HRH has surprised many. Perhaps even more surprising is the news that her children, Josephine and Oscar, are also now a princess and a prince.

This shock move goes back to a law change that took effect in 1991. Until then, the title of prince or princess could only be taken by male line descendants of King Leopold I who became King of the Belgians in 1831 after being invited to take the throne. The new laws passed in 1991 gave the title of princess or prince and the style of HRH to all descendants of Albert but it didn’t specify that they had to be born within marriage. In 2015, the 1991 rules were changed and the title of princess or prince was reserved for the children and grandchildren of ”the king”. The children and grandchildren of the heir to the throne are also entitled to the style. At no point was it stated that those children had to be legitimate.

That is why Delphine is now known as a princess. She has been fighting to be recognised as the daughter of King Albert II for many years. The case came to a head in 2019 when the former King was finally forced to undergo a DNA-test under threat of a 5,000 euro a day penalty for refusing to take the DNA-test. In January 2020, he confirmed that he was her natural father.

Delphine was born in 1968 as the daughter of Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps and was officially recognised by her mother’s husband Jonkheer Jacques Boël. However, rumours that she was in fact Albert’s daughter began to surface and in 1999, he made reference to a a crisis ‘thirty years ago’ in his Christmas speech. In 2013, Delphine began court proceedings, always maintaining that her focus was recognition as her mother’s husband was far richer than King Albert. However, now she has been acknowledged as his child, she will be entitled to part of his estate and to some form of allowance.

The Belgian Royal Family is yet to comment on the issue.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.