Our Great Kings, Part I, Introduction and Leopold I
I have always thought Belgium is fortunate to have our monarchy. We have been fortunate because all of them have been great leaders in my opinion. Belgium is fortunate, not better than anyone else, I understand, because countries with longer histories and a greater number of leaders, any country, there will be some good and some not so good but Belgium has had only six kings but we are fortunate I think that in my view all have so far been good, not causing any terrible kind of crisis or been horribly cruel or so incompetent to ruin things for the country. I think all of our kings have done a pretty good job. It is unfortunate though that some people always want to blacken the reputation of anyone in a position that is high. Who can say the reason for this? Those outside the country may be motivated by envy or jealousy, perhaps bigotry and I can say without question those inside the country are often motivated these days by selfish political ambitions, to divide the people to advance themselves at the expense of the whole country. No matter the reason, I know every king has had to endure slander and unfair criticisms. In some cases this is so much ridiculous it is difficult to even take seriously, in other cases the criticism is so intense many prefer to not talk about this and let the critics win without answering back to them. I will not do that.
King Leopold I is not often criticized in a very open or direct way but I have still found that he is often unfairly portrayed. This is mostly, I think, by those who are prejudiced against the very existence of Belgium and so try to demean the first King of the Belgians, holding him in some way responsible. This is absurd because Belgium was already existing when he was invited to accept the position of King. But I have often seem him portrayed unfairly as a cold, hard figure. The image given is of a man self-centered, unfeeling and rather arrogant. This is, however, totally untrue. King Leopold I was a very brilliant man, a very brave man and well respected in his time in Belgium and internationally. He was a practical man whose demands for preliminary agreements for security and financial support was not motivated by selfishness but because he realized what difficulties a new country would face and wanted to ensure the Kingdom of Belgium would be able to go through the formative period in peace and stability. He was an ambitious man but only in the way that he desired Belgium to be a great country, as any patriot would want the same. His conditions for accepting the throne show he was not ambitious personally also the way he offered to resign his position in the revolutions of 1848 if that is what the people desired but naturally no one wanted this because he had been a good king and a wise and fair national leader. We know he was not a cold-hearted man because we can see what pain in his heart he endured the difficult times in his life. We see that in his naming his daughter Charlotte after his first wife who died tragically early and even though he naturally wanted sons he transferred his affection for his late wife to the daughter with her name and Charlotte, his only daughter, was his favorite child, obvious to everyone. His deep feelings for his second wife and mother of his children can clearly be seen by anyone in the moving tribute to her after her also untimely death. Leopold I also tried to pass laws to prevent the exploitation of women and children, which he could not do on his own as a constitutional monarch but the effort shows his compassion.