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The royal wedding that turned a nurse into a beloved queen

King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians

The marriage of King Baudouin of the Belgians and Fabiola de Mora y Aragon, on December 15th 1960, gave a country a new queen and began a royal partnership that would become one of the most successful in modern regal history. The discreet monarch and his equally dignified bride went on to enjoy a long and happy union that would help stabilise the Belgian monarchy after years of turbulence. Their wedding day was a party enjoyed by thousands. Royal Central rewinds to the wedding of King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola.

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The young King of the Belgians had faced plenty of questions about when he would choose a bride following his dramatic accession to the throne in 1951 on the abdication of his father, Leopold III, after months of political and public protest. Baudouin had been King of the Belgians for nearly a decade when he surprised many by announcing his engagement to an unknown Spanish aristocrat who was working as a nurse. Fabiola de Mora y Aragon had been introduced to Baudouin by mutual friends and they had much in common, including a deep religious faith. Their romance was kept under wraps until their engagement. They made visits to each of Belgium’s nine provinces in the run up to their wedding while in the days before the celebrations, several gala dinners were held to mark the monarchical marriage.

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As Belgian law dictated, the couple went through two wedding ceremonies. On the morning of December 15th 1960, Baudouin and Fabiola were married according to civil law in a ceremony in the Throne Room at the Royal Palace in Brussels. They then travelled to the Cathedral of St. Michel and St. Gudula in Brussels for their religious wedding which was conducted by Cardinal Jozef-Ernest van Roey. They were watched by hundreds of guests including members of ruling houses from across Europe, many of them related to the groom. Sovereigns King Olav of Norway, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg were joined by monarchs who had lost their thrones including the last King of Italy, Umberto, and King Michael I of Romania. The reception was held at the Royal Palace in Brussels.

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The Spanish bride chose a Spanish designer for her wedding gown. Cristobal Balenciaga created a dress in white silk, featuring a high neckline and three quarter length sleeves with a fitted waist and bell shaped full length skirt that was topped with a train measuring seven metres. The gown has continued to attract controversy as it was trimmed with white ermine. Fabiola chose one of the most significant tiaras in the Belgian royal collection for the day she became a queen consort. The all diamond diadem, known as the Nine Provinces Tiara, had been presented to Baudouin’s mother, Astrid, on her own wedding day back in 1926 on behalf of the people of Belgium. It has only ever been worn in its full form by the country’s queens. It was a nod to her new role and to the mother in law she would never know (Queen Astrid had died in a car crash in 1935) and it held in place a dramatic tulle veil.

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The new King and Queen of the Belgians were cheered through the streets of Brussels by the huge crowds that had turned out to see them. They made an appearance on the balcony of the Royal Palace and, as they headed for honeymoon in Spain, a recorded message from them was played on national radio. Queen Fabiola was at her husband’s side for the rest of his reign. The couple never had a family, something which caused them great sadness with Fabiola speaking of her pain over losing several babies to miscarriage, but they became very close to the children of Baudouin’s brother, Albert. They also remained a hugely popular royal couple. Baudouin died of a heart attack in 1993. Fabiola died in 2014.

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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.