Yesterday a memorial service was held in the Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule in Brussels to mark the twentieth anniversary of the sudden death of the much-loved King Baudouin. His widow, Queen Fabiola, was joined by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, King Albert and Queen Paola, Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz, and Prince Laurent and Princess Claire.
King Baudouin died suddenly from a heart attack while staying at his holiday home, Villa Astrida, in Montril, Spain, in the evening of 31 July. He was only 62, but had been in delicate health for some years.
Belgium being the only kingdom in Europe where the heir does not succeed automatically on the death of the monarch, it was only on 2 August that the Belgians got to know that the late King’s brother, Albert, would be their new head of state.
Many outsiders had believed that Prince Albert would renounce his rights to the throne in favour of his son, Philippe, who was being groomed as future monarch by King Baudouin. But Prince Albert himself was unwilling to renounce his rights, and when King Baudouin underwent heart surgery in 1992 an understanding had been reached that Albert would indeed succeed him if the King did not survive.
Prince Philippe was not yet considered ready for the throne, and on the night King Baudouin died the senior members of the cabinet met with the late King’s chief of staff and agreed to encourage Albert to accept the crown. King Albert II was sworn in on 9 August 1993, two days after his brother’s funeral. He abdicated on 21 July this year.