Monday, March 12, 2012

Our Great Kings, Part IV, Leopold III

King Leopold III may be the most unjustly criticized of all our kings and yet there was no one who did more to demonstrate that his selfless devotion to his people than King Leopold III. He is most often attacked because of his actions during World War II when the facts show that his every action was influenced by his love for his country and dedication to his people. King Leopold III was a veteran of the First World War when he fought for his country while still in his teens, he had toured the country and the Belgian Congo to see the issues his people faced so he could find ways to correct them, he was devoted to unifying his people and to hopefully keep Belgium out of World War II. That was not possible though since the Germans invaded anyway and King Leopold III did his duty and took command of the army to fight for Belgian independence. He led to the troops in a desperate struggle across the country for eighteen days with little support from the other powers who really let the Belgians sacrifice themselves to buy time for their own armies to retreat. Finally, cut off, outnumbered and outmatched, King Leopold III did the responsible thing and surrendered his army so they would not be needlessly slaughtered. It is disgusting that other Allied leaders blamed him for not fighting hard enough when it was his struggle that gave them the time to save their own armies.

It is also criticized today that Leopold III remained with his troops and became a prisoner, staying in Belgium, rather than fleeing to London to join the Belgian government-in-exile which directed the Free Belgian résistance. This is a charge ridiculous to make because, as a soldier, he would not abandon his brave men to save himself. King Christian X of Denmark did not leave his country and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands did not want to either but had to be, basically, tricked into leaving by her own attendants. Leopold III knew it was his duty to stay in Belgium to endure the occupation with his people and not abandon them so he could try to shield them from the worst excesses of the Nazi conquerors. The politicians invented the lie that this somehow made Leopold III a collaborator because they had fought with him from the very beginning because the King was always a problem for them because he put the interests of Belgium as a whole first whereas the politicians always put themselves or their narrow interest group before the national good. During the occupation the fact is that Leopold III refused to collaborate with the Germans, refused to carry out their wishes and remained under house arrest as a prisoner of war. His only meeting with Hitler was an effort by King Leopold III to preserve the unity and independence of Belgium which the actual Nazi collaborators wanted to divide and subordinate to the Netherlands or Germany.

The Nazis forced the King and his family out of the country and put them in prison until they were liberated by American forces at the end of the war. However, by that time, the government-in-exile had returned and they were still being spiteful and refused to let the King return so he had to go to Switzerland. The people had always loved the King more than his ministers but anti-monarchy agitation was also being instigated by Marxist revolutionaries and those who wanted to divide and destroy the country. Because of the unrest, the issue was put to a referendum, asking if the King should come back or not. The result was a clear majority in favor of Leopold III returning but the enemies of the monarchy refused to accept the result and threatened violence, even civil war, if they did not get their way. Although it was very painful, King Leopold III decided he could not continue as king if it would risk the lives of his people so even though he won the vote he abdicated his throne to spare his country further suffering, leaving it to his son Baudouin to heal the wounds of Belgium. Leopold III was clearly a devoted patriot who always put his country and his people first. He was really a great king.


  1. I am greatly enjoying this series and looking forward to the next installments. Who is your favorite King of the Belgians?

  2. Merci! Who is favorite? You can see my problem with that question because I think all have been great, which is not a bad problem to have. It is easier to admire the earlier kings because they were able to do more than the King today. It is hard to consider King Baudouin and King Albert II the same way as the others. Of course, without King Leopold I there would not be the others, so there is that, King Albert I would be an easy choice because he was such a good man and then also defended the country and won his war, like Leopold III was not as fortunate to do.

    I really like the "gloire" of Leopold II, big ideas, big aspirations, all the great buildings he left always has me the impression of greatness associated with Leopold II. Of course, his personality is a problem. I really like the person of Leopold III, I think he also was maybe the greatest intellect, great ideas and a great vision too and I think if he had been given a fair chance to prove himself he would have been maybe the greatest king ever.

    Think like this: Leopold II earned greatness for single-minded determination and being very tough, he got things done even if he do it himself but this also made him somewhat insensitive and unpopular. Leopold III had a great mind and great ideas but was very innocent, he acted sometimes in a naive way I think because he was so good he could not always understand how people not so good could twist things against him, and he was too kind-hearted to be very forceful. very difficult to name a favorite but maybe if I could combine the best qualities of Leopold II, his vision and strength with the best qualities of Leopold III, his mind, his ideas and his goodness you have what I think would be a perfect king.

    Am I understandable?

  3. I understand what you are saying. Personally, my favorites are Albert I and Leopold III.