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Nation marks 25th anniversary of death of King Baudouin

King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola

This week (Tuesday) marks the 25th anniversary of the death of King Baudouin, the present king’s uncle, who died suddenly of heart failure while on holiday in the south of Spain. Baudouin was the fifth king of his country, succeeding Leopold III in July 1951 at the age of only 20. He reigned for 42 years, and his death caused an outpouring of grief across the country.

In 1960 he married the Spanish noblewoman Fabiola di Mora y Aragon, but the couple remained without issue for the rest of the king’s life. On his death, the throne passed to his brother Albert, who became Albert II, who continued to reign until 2013, when on National Day he abdicated in favour of the present king, his son Philippe.

Baudouin – like Fabiola – was a strict Catholic, and a mentor to Philippe, whose own father had been considered something of a playboy in his younger days. Baudouin’s religious views led to the odd decision to abdicate the throne in 1990, after he had refused to give the Royal Assent to a bill liberalising the country’s abortion laws. During his absence, the bill was passed and became law, and Baudouin resumed the throne a day later.

“I was in the south of France,” recalls priest and theologian Gabriel Ringlet. “I could see what was going on thanks to the French newspapers and TV news: the crowds who were gathering, the file-past. I could feel how the whole country was getting ready to mark the passing of Baudouin. It was the first time in my life that I had the feeling of being excluded from a public ceremony. It was hard, having to experience from afar all that emotion sweeping the country.”

“I was packing my things and going through some last-minute papers at my desk getting ready to go on holiday when the telephone rang, late in the evening,” remembers Leuven mayor Louis Tobback, who was minister of the interior in 1993. “I immediately recognised the familiar voice of Jacques van Yperzele, the king’s chief of staff. In those days we didn’t have mobile phones, just some sort of contraption in the ministerial car. But prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene had gone to a football match that evening in his daughter’s car, which is why they contacted me first.” The government soon gathered, he explained, to take the necessary decisions, while Dehaene, now in touch with his colleagues, immediately took a private plane, first to Grasse to speak to Albert, and later to Spain to visit Fabiola and take stock of the situation.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times