King of the Belgians
Leopold III, Leopold Philippe Charles Albert Meinrad Hubertus Marie Miguel (November 3, 1901 - September 25, 1983) reigned as King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951, when he abdicated in favour of his Heir Apparent, his son Baudouin.
Leopold III was born in Brussels as Prince Leopold of Belgium, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of Saxony, and succeeded to the throne of Belgium on February 23, 1934 on the death of his father, King Albert I of Belgium.
Crown Prince Leopold, just a teenager, fought as a private during World War I with the 12th Belgian Regiment. At the end of the War, in 1919, the Crown Prince Leopold was enrolled at St. Anthony Seminary in Santa Barbara, California.
In Stockholm, Sweden, on November 4, 1926, he married Princess Astrid Sophie Louise Thyra, Princess of Sweden who became Queen Astrid of the Belgians. She was born in Stockholm on November 17, 1905, the youngest daughter of Prince Charles of Sweden and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark.
On August 29, 1935, while the King and Queen were driving along the winding, narrow roads near their villa at Küssnacht am Rigi, Schwyz, Switzerland on the shores of Lake of Lucerne, Leopold lost control of the vehicle and the car plunged down a ravine, killing Astrid.
On September 11, 1941, King Leopold III married a second time to Mary Lilian Baels, who was born in Highbury, London, England on November 28, 1916. Known as Princess de Rethy, she died on June 7, 2002.
During World War II, the German army invaded Belgium and King Leopold, along with the majority of the Belgian army, was surrounded by the Germans and quickly surrendered. His action incurred the violent disapproval of the Belgian people and brought accusations of treason. King Leopold rejected cooperation with the Nazis and refused to administer Belgium in accordance with their dictates. Despite his defiance of the Germans, the Belgian government-in-exile in London refused to recognize his right to rule. The Germans held him under house arrest at the royal castle in Brussels.
Heinrich Himmler ordered King Leopold deported to Germany. Princess Lilianne 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 an der Elbe in Saxony during the winter of 1944-45, and then at Strobl, near Salzburg, Austria. They were freed by the U.S. Army in May of 1945.
On his return to Belgium after the war, he was met with bitter opposition because of his wartime conduct and the legislature elected Leopold's brother Prince Charles (1903-1983) as Regent. Leopold went into exile in Switzerland while a 1946 commission of inquiry exonerated him of treason. Nonetheless, controversy concerning his loyalty continued and on his return to Belgium in 1950, he was met with strikes and other protests. To avoid tearing his country apart, and to preserve the monarchy, King Leopold III abdicated on July 16, 1951 in favour of his 20-year-old son Baudouin. After his abdication, he retained the personal title and style of H.M. King Leopold III.
King Leopold III died at Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe. He is interred with his wives in the royal vault at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken.