As I write this post it was announced that HM King Albert II of Belgium will abdicate the throne on July 21 due to health. The king is 79 years old and his 53 year old son, Prince Philippe, the Duke of Brabant will take the throne. I wonder if the abdication by the Dutch monarch in April is what started Albert II to think of abdication?
Albert came to the throne 20 years ago in 1993 when his brother, King Baudouin died at the age of 62. Many were surprised that Albert to the throne because it has been assumed for years that Prince Philippe, the Duke of Brabant, would succeed his childless uncle, King Baudouin. Albert did become king and it has been a difficult 20 years on the throne.
Belgium has seen political crises and ethnic and cultural strife. Like all of the constitutional monarchs Albert doesn’t have any real political power and his role is mostly ceremonial, he did, at one point in his reign exercised some political authority. In 2010-2011 the Belgian Parliament was at a stalemate unable to form a government for 541 days after elections failed to find a clear winner. The king took an advisory role with the political leaders helping to resolve the stalemate. Although it was a difficult time for him he demonstrated the positive role a neutral head of state can play in the daily running of the government.
Respect for the royal family seems to be one of the forces holding the country together. There has often been tensions between the two main language communities of Flemish and French in Belgium. This issue divisive issue has brought down several governments, creating frequent political instability.
This will be the second abdication of a Belgian monarch. Albert II was the 6th Belgian monarch since the creation of that throne in 1831. In 1830 a revolution in the Netherlands happened and the Southern Provinces separated from the Netherlands forming the state of Belgium. In 1831 they selected Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as their king. Leopold was the uncle to both Queen Victoria of Great Britain and her husband Prince Albert. For a time Prince Leopold was married to Princess Charlotte of Wales who was second in line to the British throne until her death in childbirth in 1817.
In 1951, King Leopold III abdicated shortly after his return from exile which occurred during World War II. Many in Belgium felt his actions during the war were treasonous so in an effort to avoid tearing the country apart, and to preserve the monarchy, Leopold decided on August 1, 1950 to withdraw in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin. The abdication went into effect on July 16, 1951.
This will be the third abdication this year following Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. I have softened my view on abdication. I f you look at the list of any monarchy in Europe you will see that people are living much longer than they used to. With that in mind I am beginning to see that there is no valid reason why a monarch should carry the burdens of state when their health declines. Now some may prefer that the monarch retire, keep the title, and allow the hier to take the throne as regent. This is similar to how the future George IV took over for his ailing father. This makes the regent king…or queen…in all but name.
I still like that arrangement and prefer it actually, but I do not feel so rigidly attached to it as I have in the past. I have no problem when a monarch feels the need to step down and pass the crown to the next in line.