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Granny knows best: the grandparents of Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg


© Cour grand-ducale / Claude Piscitelli

Henri is the current Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Of the remaining monarchies in Europe, Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy with the House of Nassau reigning since 1890. Grand Duke Henri’s include a Grand Duchess, a Prince Consort, a King and a much loved Queen Consort.

Felix, Prince Consort of Luxembourg

Felix was the son of the last Duke of Parma and the brother of Zita, the last Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.

He was born on 28 October 1893, one of twenty four children of Robert I Duke of Parma. His mother was the Duke’s second wife, Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal, daughter of Miguel I, King of Portugal.

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On the 6 November 1919, he married his first cousin, Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, having been admitted to the nobility of Luxembourg and granted the title Prince of Luxembourg the day before. The couple had six children.

Prince Felix died on 8 April 1970. He was the longest serving consort of Luxembourg.

Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg

Charlotte reigned as Grand Duchess of Luxembourg for 45 years. She was the mother of Grand Duke Jean who succeeded her and so is the paternal grandmother to Grand Duke Henri.

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She was born on 23 January 1896, the second daughter of Grand Duke William IV and Infanta Marie Anne of Portugal, daughter of King Miguel I of Portugal. In 1912, her father died without a male heir so her older sister, Marie Adelaide, became the first reigning Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. She proved to be an unpopular monarch due to her interference in government affairs and her perceived friendliness to the occupying German forces during World War One. At the end of the war, she was asked to abdicate. However, it was decided by referendum to retain the monarchy but greatly reduce its powers, so Charlotte came to the throne on 14 January 1919.

On 6 November 1919, she married her first cousin, Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma. The union produced six children, 27 grandchildren, 78 great-grandchildren and 35 great-great-grandchildren – so far. When the German army invaded Luxembourg in 1940, Charlotte went into exile with her government and returned at the end of the war. She worked hard to raise the international profile of her small country. She abdicated in favour of her son, Jean, on 12 November 1964 and died on 9 April 1985.

Leopold III, King of the Belgians

Leopold was born in Brussels on 3 November 1901. He was the son of Albert, Duke of Brabant (later King Albert I) and Elisabeth of Bavaria (later Queen Elisabeth). When his father came to the throne in 1909, Leopold became Duke of Brabant. He married Princess Astrid of Sweden in Stockholm on 4 November 1926 in a civil ceremony and on 10 November 1926 in Brussels in a Catholic ceremony. They would have three children: a daughter, Josephine-Charlotte (later Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) and two sons, Baudouin (later King of the Belgians) and Albert (who succeeded his childless brother as King Albert II).

Leopold succeeded to the throne in 1934 on the death of his father in a mountaineering accident. The following year Queen Astrid was killed while on holiday in Switzerland in a car accident. The popular young Queen was deeply mourned by the Belgian people.

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At the outbreak of World War Two, Belgium sought to remain neutral; however, the Germans attacked. Without consulting with his government, Leopold surrendered the Belgian army – a deeply unpopular decision. While the government went into exile, Leopold remained in Belgium under house arrest. He secretly married Lilian Baels in 1941 in a religious ceremony which was not valid under Belgian law. Lilian was not made queen and their three children were given royal titles but had no rights to the throne. This marriage further alienated him from the Belgian people, some feeling it disloyal to Queen Astrid.

In 1944, the Germans moved him into Germany where he was liberated the following year; however, he would not return to Belgium until 1950. Strikes and civil unrest greeted his return, and he agreed to abdicate on 16 July 1951 in favour of his son, Baudouin. He died on 25 September 1983.

Astrid, Queen of the Belgians

Astrid was born on 17 November 1905 in Stockholm, the youngest daughter of Prince Carl of Sweden and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark. Her older sister, Märtha, became Crown Princess of Norway.

In 1926, she married Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant, the heir to the Belgian throne and became Duchess of Brabant. The couple were clearly in love and were sometimes seen holding hands in public. The Belgian people immediately warmed to their new princess. They had three children: a daughter, Josephine-Charlotte (who became Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) and two sons, Baudouin and Albert who would both reign as Belgium’s kings.

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As Duchess of Brabant and then as Queen, Astrid worked to alleviate all forms of adversity. She showed great concern for the situation of women, children and the disadvantaged.

In August 1935, the King and Queen went on an incognito holiday to Switzerland. On 29 August, they decided to go for one last hike and drove up the winding road. Leopold took his eyes off the road for a moment and veered off the road, down a steep slope and into a pear tree. Astrid, who had been thrown from the car, was killed instantly. The public grief which followed for the popular young Queen has been compared to a more recent royal tragedy of similar circumstances – the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.