Leopold III was born, on 03-11-1901 in Brussels as Prince Leopold of Belgium, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and succeeded to the throne of Belgium on 23-02-1934 following the death of his father, King Albert I. Crown Prince Leopold fought as a private during World War I with the 12th Belgian Regiment while still a teenager. After the war, in 1919, he enrolled first at Eton College in the United Kingdom, then at St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, California. He married Princess Astrid of Sweden in a civil ceremony in Stockholm on 04-11-1926, followed by a religious ceremony in Brussels on 10 November . The marriage produced three children. On 24-05-1940, Leopold, having assumed command of the Belgian army, met with his ministers for what would be the final time. The ministers urged the king to leave the country with the Government. Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot, he died age 79, on 12-12-1963,
reminded Leopold that capitulation was a decision for the Belgian government, not the king. The king indicated that he had decided to remain in Belgium with his troops, whatever the outcome. The ministers took this to mean that he would establish a new government under the direction of Adolf Hitler (did you know), potentially a treasonous act. Leopold thought that he might be seen as a deserter when he left the country: “Whatever happens, I have to share the same fate as my troops.” Leopold had long had a difficult and contentious relationship with his ministers, acting independently of government influence whenever possible, and seeking to circumvent and even limit the ministers’ powers, while expanding his own. Along with the Belgian troops, French and British troops were encircled by German forces at Dunkirk. The King notified King George VI by telegram on 25-05-1940 that Belgian forces were being crushed, saying “assistance which we give to the Allies will come to an end if our Army is surrounded.” Two days later (27-05-1940), Leopold surrendered the Belgian forces to the Germans.Leopold’s surrender was decried by Winston Churchill
: in the House of Commons on 04-06-1940 he said:At the last moment when Belgium was already invaded, King Leopold called upon us to come to his aid, and even at the last moment we came. He and his brave, efficient Army, nearly half a million strong, guarded our left bank and thus kept open our only line of retreat to the sea. Suddenly, without prior consultation, with the least possible notice, without the advice of his ministers and upon his own personal act, he sent a plenipotentiary to the German Command, surrendered his Army and exposed our whole flank and means of retreat. Leopold rejected cooperation with the Nazis and refused to administer Belgium in accordance with their dictates, and the Germans implemented a military government. Leopold attempted to assert his authority as monarch and head of the Belgian government although he was a prisoner of the Germans. Despite his defiance of the Germans, the Belgian government-in-exile in London maintained that the king did not represent the Belgian government and was unable to reign. The Germans held him at first under house arrest at the Royal Castle in Brussels. Having desired a meeting with Adolf Hitler since June 1940, Leopold III finally met with him on 19-11-1940. Leopold wanted Hitler to issue a public statement about Belgium’s future independence. Hitler’s vision of a united Europe did not include independent countries within its borders. Hitler refused to speak about the independence of Belgium or issue a statement about it. In refusing to publish the statement, Hitler unintentionally preserved the King from being seen as cooperating with Germany, and thus engaged in treasonous acts, which would have likely meant he was forced to abdicate after the war. On 11 September 1941, while a prisoner of the Germans, Leopold secretly married Lilian Baels,
she died age 85, on 07-06-2002, in a religious ceremony that had no validity under Belgian law, as Belgian law required a religious marriage to be preceded by a legal or civil marriage. On 6 December, they were married under civil law. The reason for the out-of-order marriages was not made public, but they had a child seven months later in June 1942. It would have been unacceptable for a King of the Belgians to have maintained an “unofficial” relationship with Lilian. In 1944, Reichsfùhrer SS Heinrich Himmler
ordered Leopold deported to Germany. Princess Liliane followed with the family in another car the following day under an SS armed guard. The Nazis held the family in a fort at Hirschstein in Saxony from June 1944 to March 1945, and then at Strobl, Austria. Leopold and his companions were freed by members of the United States 106th Cavalry Group in early May 1945. Because of the controversy about his conduct during the war, Leopold III and his wife and children were unable to return to Belgium.
Death and burial ground of Leopold III, Leopold Filips Karel Albert Meinrad Hubertus Maria.
Leopold died in 25-09-1983, age 81 at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. He is interred next to Queen Astrid in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady of Laeken. The princesse de Réthy is buried in the churchyard.