There have been seven Kings of Belgium since the country was established in 1830. Their wives are technically described as queen consorts, meaning they were married to the king but did not themselves rule. Each queen has left her own mark on the monarchy and has been remembered for her individual contributions and impact. Following my article on the Kings of the Belgians, here are profiles of the Queens of Belgium.
Louise-Marie of Orléans (1812-1850)
In 1832, Louise-Marie of Orleans, born in Coburg, Germany, became the inaugural Queen of the Belgians, after being selected for both political and religious reasons. A daughter of the French King Louis-Philippe I, she bridged the gap with France and ensured Catholic representation in a predominantly Protestant monarchy. She married Leopold I in 1832. She supported her husband, the first King of the Belgians, in his efforts to establish a constitutional monarchy and a neutral foreign policy for Belgium.
Queen Louise was a dutiful queen and wife, and an active and influential intermediary between Belgium and France. She bore the king four children, including Leopold II who became the next King of the Belgians. And she remained devoted to a husband who was, by many accounts, unaccustomed to fidelity.
Most of all, Queen Louise was much loved for her charitable and compassionate nature. She paid regular visits to the poor and offered them relief and financial support. Her benevolent pursuits set an example of royal charity for the succeeding queens of Belgium.
Marie Henriette of Austria (1836-1902)
Marie Henriette was the second queen of Belgium and the cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Born in Austria, she married Leopold II in 1853. The marriage was difficult from day one. As the story goes, Leopold II was sick on their wedding day – a stand-in groom had to take his place at the altar.
Marie Henriette was an avid horsewoman and patron of the arts, but had a strained relationship with her husband, who was notorious for his exploitation of the Congo Free State. She spent most of her time in the Ardennes, where she built the Royal Villa of Spa. Her marriage was generally not happy; she faced difficulties adapting to Belgian society; but was known for her charitable work, particularly in the field of healthcare, and maternal and child welfare.
Elisabeth of Bavaria (1876-1965)
Born in Bavaria, Germany, Elisabeth (also known as “Sisi”) married Albert in 1900 and was the third queen of Belgium and the granddaughter of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. She was a cultured and compassionate woman, who supported her husband Albert I in his role as a wartime king during World War I. Elisabeth worked as a nurse on the front and established a hospital for wounded soldiers and civilians. Based on her experiences during the First World War, particularly in the four hospitals on the Belgian front, Queen Elisabeth created the Queen Elisabeth Medical Foundation in 1926 with the aim of encouraging laboratory research and fostering contact between researchers and clinical practitioners.
After the war, Elisabeth was deeply involved in cultural and social activities and was passionate about music and the arts. She became a widow in 1934 when King Albert I died, and continued her involvement in various charitable and cultural endeavours until her death in 1965.
Apart from the medical foundation, her legacy is also remembered through the annual Concours Reine Elisabeth, an international classical music competition held in Brussels every spring.
Astrid of Sweden (1905-1935)
Astrid was the fourth queen of Belgium and the daughter of Prince Carl of Sweden. She married Leopold III in 1926. Their marriage is often described as a fairy tale marriage, born of pure love and no political consideration.
Astrid was greatly admired for her beauty. elegance, and endearing character. She was a popular and beloved figure among the Belgian people who found her warm and approachable. She brought joy and modernity to the Belgian court. Queen Astrid was also a champion of disadvantaged women and children, and sponsored programmes for maternal and child welfare. In 1935 she launched a nationwide relief campaign to help the poor.
Tragically, she died in a car accident in Switzerland in 1935, leaving behind three children, including the future King Baudouin. Her sudden death at the age of only 30 brought an outpouring of grief throughout Belgium.
Lilian Baels (1916-2002)
I have included Lilian as she was the second wife of Leopold III. However, she technically did not have the title of queen consort. She was a commoner and a former golf champion, who married the king in a secret ceremony in 1941, during the German occupation of Belgium.
Lilian was widely resented by the Belgian people, who saw her as a usurper and a collaborator. She was forced to leave the country with her husband after his controversial abdication in 1951.
Fabiola de Mora y Aragón (1928-2014)
Fabiola was the wife of King Baudouin, whom she married in 1960. The fifth queen of Belgium, she was the daughter of a Spanish nobleman. Fabiola was a devout Catholic and a humanitarian, who founded several charitable organizations, such as the King Baudouin Foundation and the Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital. She was also a patron of culture and folklore, and wrote several children’s books.
The queen initiated several projects to support women and children, and promote the integration of mentally handicapped people. In 2001 she received the Ceres medal from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for extending aid to poor women in developing countries.
Before her death in 2014, Queen Fabiola bequeathed all her private assets to the mutual assistance fund she built during her early days as Queen of the Belgians. She had no children of her own, but was a loving aunt to her nieces and nephews.
Paola of Calabria (born 1937)
Paola was the sixth queen of Belgium, the daughter of an Italian aristocrat, and married Albert II in 1959. She is a stylish and elegant woman, who brought glamour and grace to the Belgian court. She is also a mother of three children, including the current king Philippe. She had a turbulent marriage with her husband Albert II, who admitted to having an illegitimate daughter in 2020.
In 1992, she launched the Queen Paola Foundation to support integration and education programmes for socially disadvantaged young people. The queen also supported the protection and preservation of Belgium’s heritage, and the advancement of the local artisanal industry. A patron of the arts, Queen Paola paved the way for local contemporary artists to display their works in the halls of the royal palace.
Health issues have meant the queen has become less active, but she apparently still enjoys collecting art, going on nature walks with Albert II, and spending time with her grandchildren.
Mathilde of Belgium (born 1973)
Queen Mathilde is not only the first Belgian-born queen of Belgium, but also a woman of many talents and passions. Born in Uccle to a noble family, she married Prince Philippe in 1999 and became his queen consort in 2013, when his father King Albert II abdicated.
Queen Mathilde is a tireless champion of human rights, especially for children and women. She leads and supports various initiatives in health, education, and good governance, both in Belgium and abroad. She is an Honorary President of UNICEF Belgium, among other organizations, and an ambassador for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She was honoured with the German Sustainability Award in 2017 for her efforts. Every year, the Queen Mathilde Fund supports dozens of initiatives in Belgium that focus on vulnerable children and young people.
But Queen Mathilde is not all work and no play. She is also a lover of art, music, dance, and sports. She plays the piano, rides a bike, swims, and plays tennis. She is a modern and elegant queen, who brings joy and grace to her role.
Having brought you up to date with the Kings and the Queens of Belgium, you are now fully armed to try the Belgian Monarchy Quiz!