Nostalgia 1941: Shock as King Leopold of the Belgians marries a commoner

editorial image
Share this article

IN an event that left official Belgian circles in London in state of shock, 40-year-old King Leopold had married a commoner.

The bride was Mary Libia Baels, a daughter of a former Belgian Minister of Agriculture, and who was about 10 years her husband’s junior.

The marriage, as reported by German radio, had taken place in Brussels on September 11.

But Belgian government officials in London knew nothing of the wedding, and one said: “We cannot accept it as a fact until we have received sufficient evidence of it.”

It was King Leopold’s second marriage – his first wife was Princess Astrid of Sweden. She lost her life in a motor accident in August 1935 in which Leopold was also injured.

Baels was described as a beautiful, vivacious brunette, with dark, flashing eyes and the figure and fresh complexion of a girl who led a healthy outdoor life.

During the 1914-18 war, she had been a refugee schoolgirl in England. A source who knew her back then said she was as “an excellent horsewoman, a good tennis player and an expert ski-runner”.

“It is difficult to believe she is not an English girl for she speaks without a trace of accent,” they added.

Leopold himself was a refugee in England at the outbreak of the Great War, but in 1915 pleaded to be allowed to join his father. He was granted leave of absence from Eton, and at the age of 13 was enrolled as a private in the Belgian army.

It was reported that King Leopold’s new bride had renounced the title and rank of queen and would be known as Princess of Rethy. Baels herself made the renunciation a condition of the marriage.

Any children from the marriage were to have no claim to the throne.