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Royal Wedding Rewind: King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of the Belgians

By Liesbeth Driessen - UHasselt, CC BY 3.0,

It was the last major royal wedding of the 20th century and it began a new chapter in a royal story that would lead to a throne. On December 4th 1999, the then heir to the Belgian throne, Philippe, married Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz before a host of regal guests. The couple became King and Queen of the Belgians in 2013. On the twentieth anniversary of their marriage, Royal Central rewinds to the wedding of Philippe and Mathilde of Belgium.

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The wedding took place in Brussels just months after Philippe, first in line to his country’s throne, had surprised just about everyone with the announcement of his engagement to Mathilde. Their relationship had remained a secret until they revealed they were getting married but news of the nuptials was greeted warmly, not least because the bride to be was born in Uccle, making her the first Belgian woman to be in line to become her country’s queen consort.

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On December 4th 1999, tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Brussels to celebrate as the wedding events unfolded. By law, the couple had to marry in a civil ceremony as well as a religious one and so, on a cold and frosty morning, Mathilde arrived at the Town Hall in Brussels with her father, Patrick d’Udekem d’Acoz, for a short ceremony that turned her into a princess. She wore a gown by Edouard Vermeulen (Natan) while her veil was a family heirloom belonging to her new mother-in-law, Queen Paola, who loaned her the Brussels lace for the day. It was held in place with a tiara named for another famous Belgian consort, the diamond bandeau of Queen Elisabeth.

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From there, the royal couple made the short journey to the Cathedral of St Michel and St Gudule in the heart of Brussels for their religious wedding. The famous church was packed with 1200 guests. Among the royals in attendance were many of Europe’s rulers – Queen Margrethe of Denmark, the then Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, King Harald of Norway, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and Prince Hans Adam of Liechtenstein. Heirs to thrones packed out other parts of the cathedral with all of them watching as the couple exchanged vows in front of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.

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Despite the cold weather and concerns from some commentators that political division in Belgium would lead to a lack of interest in the royal wedding, there was a huge turnout for the newlyweds and they were driven back to the Royal Palace in Brussels amongst cheering crowds. In the early afternoon, they made an appearance on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Brussels, sealing this royal love story with a discreet kiss in front of thousands.

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The reception was held at the Royal Palace in Brussels with a further celebration at the Chateau of Laeken that evening. Philippe and Mathilde have since enjoyed a famously happy marriage and have welcomed four children – Elisabeth (2001), Gabriel (2003), Emmanuel (2005) and Eleonore (2008). Earlier this year, they watched proudly as their first born, now Duchess of Brabant, took centre stage at events marking her coming of age. Six years into their tenure as King and Queen of the Belgians, they remain popular and dedicated. It’s a path that can be traced all the way back to that royal wedding that took place twenty years ago today.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.