Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Possible Belgian Kings

When Belgium was first becoming independent of the Netherlands there were several ideas of who should become the king of the new country. There had been some, less supportive of total independence, who had wanted to keep with the Dutch Royal House of Orange-Nassau and make the prince, William II, as King of the Southern Netherlands but the refusal of his father King William I to accept Belgian independence did not make this possible. A foreign prince would have to be elected King of the Belgians. Several candidates were considered before the choice ultimately fell on Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. These are the men considered:

Prince Louis, Duke of Nemours was the second son of King Louis-Philippe I of the French and Queen Marie Amalie. The French had been very supportive of the Belgian cause and the ‘popular monarchy’ of King Louis-Philippe I was something of a model for the new Kingdom of Belgium so it is only natural that Prince Louis was a potential candidate for King of the Belgians. Like King Leopold I also he had been suggested as a potential King of Greece as well. He had a place in the French army that intervened in the Belgian Revolution and he was at the siege of Antwerp. However, opposition from the British meant that King Louis-Philippe I would refuse the offer for his son. He later served in Algeria with the army and undertook diplomatic missions to various countries. After the fall of the monarchy he tried to reconcile the two branches of the Bourbon family and adopted legitimist principles but they would not support him in his efforts at restoration (though they did want the restoration of their own line). He later returned to France and was reinstated in the French army and was head of the Red Cross Society until 1881. He died in 1896.

Auguste de Beauharnais was another choice. He was the son of Napoleon Bonaparte’s stepson Eugene de Beauharnais by Princess Augusta of Bavaria. His royal family links were extensive. Aside from his connection to the Bonaparte dynasty, one of his sisters was a Queen of Sweden, another was Empress of Brazil and his brother Maximilian married the daughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. He was born in Milan and in 1817 his grandfather, King Maximilian I of Bavaria, made his father Eugene Duke of Leuchtenberg. In 1824 Auguste became second Duke of Leuchtenberg when his father died. His connections to the Bonaparte family were the primary reason for his consideration as a possible King of the Belgians. Many Belgians had fought for Napoleon but more important was that his being a Bonaparte would assuage the fears of those that saw the new Belgium as an extension of the Orleans of France in a new sort of Catholic, revolutionary movement. However, in the election by the Belgian National Congress he came in second to the Duke of Nemours as to who they would offer the Belgian throne. In 1834 he married Queen Maria II of Portugal but he died not long after that.

Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen, is one candidate not many people talk about but he was very famous in his time. He was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother of Emperor Francis I of Austria and became a Field Marshal in the Austrian army. Interestingly, he had this military career even though he suffered from epileptic fits. However, historians military consider him one of the greatest enemies on the battlefield of Napoleon Bonaparte alongside the famous British commander the Duke of Wellington. He was born in Florence and spent his youth there and in Vienna. Unlike other candidates he had already a real connection with Belgium as he had been the last Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands as Belgium was known during the era of Hapsburg rule. His military service in Belgium was also the occasion of his first battles with the French revolutionary forces. He was a great general and considered one of the most brilliant military commanders of his time. His connection to Belgium as being their last Austrian Governor-General and being married to a woman who was a distant relative of the House of Orange as well were likely reasons for his consideration. He was not chosen though and did not live much longer anyway since he died in 1847.
Some interesting possibilities here were considered but in the end I think the correct choice was made with King Leopold :-)


  1. Of these three Archduke Charles would probably have been my choice, both for legitimacy and simply because I am an admitted Hapsburg partisan. In all I've read about him though I never knew he had epilepsy. However, that might not be such a handicap for a military man as one would think. Even the great Julius Caesar suffered from such an ailment.

  2. It would be difficult for me to decide. All three had good qualities but I think all three had detriments also. Leopold I was the correct choice for a new start I think. Of these three I could not choose.

  3. I heard something about the Prince de Ligne being considered at one point. Do you have more information on this?

  4. I have heard that, Prince Eugene de Ligne being offered the throne, here I was looking at the foreigners who were voted on, but from what I heard the Prince said no to the suggestion. He still of course was very important doing diplomatic jobs that he had to pay for himself because the state could not afford it! He was very liberal but became I think more moderate with time when they started going more against the Church. I don't think he favored that.