King Albert I (born 8 April 1875) is the exiled King of the Belgians. He currently resides in exile in Canada with the other members of the Belgian Royal family.
Having bravely defended Belgium with his army against the invading Germans during the Weltkrieg, Albert was forced into exile after his country and throne were abolished and replaced by the Kingdom of Flanders-Wallonia. Since then, Albert has become a key symbol of resistance towards the new German regime, and is the head of the Exiled Belgian Military Corps.
He is still regarded as a national hero to many Belgians today, who commend him for his unwavering dedication and loyalty to the Belgian state.
Albert was born in Brussels, the fifth child and second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders. Albert grew up in the Palace of the Count of Flanders, initially as third in the line of succession to the Belgian throne as his reigning uncle Leopold II's son had already died. When, however, Albert's older brother, Prince Baudouin of Belgium, who had been subsequently prepared for the throne, also died young, Albert, at the age of 16, unexpectedly became second in line (after his father) to the Belgian Crown.
From there, he prepared himself for the heavy burden of kingship.
King of the Belgians
After the death of his uncle, King Leopold II, Albert ascended to the Belgian throne in December 1909, taking the oath in both Dutch and French. Unlike his uncle, he and his wife became popular monarchs in Belgium due to their unassuming, simple and Catholic lifestyle.
From the beginning of Albert's reign, he gave particular attention to reforms in the Belgian Congo and the Belgian military, believing that Belgium's position in the world had to be strengthened if it wished to survive. As tensions in Europe grew after the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria, Albert sought to ensure that Belgium remained neutral and unviolated if war came. One of his efforts was to send a personal letter to Kaiser Wilhelm, in which he asked the Emperor to respect Belgian neutrality.
On the second of August 1914, the German government sent an ultimatum to Belgium, citing that they were to give free passage to the German armies which were going to invade France from Belgian territory. The next day, the 3rd of August, King Albert officially refused the German demands, and the Belgian government severed all diplomatic ties with the German Empire.
While the Belgian army under King Albert were able to slow down the German armies considerably, it became apparant that it could stand little resistance against the overwhelming German forces. By 12 October, the remaining Belgian forces took up defensive positions behind the Yser river. Albert, fearing for a German breakthrough, ordered the sluices of the Nieuwpoort to be opened which resulted in a large chunk of the coastal plains to be flooded. The German armies their advance was halted as a result. The Belgian front would remain quasi static for the next four years, up until 1919. 'The Great Offensive' struck through the defensive lines of the Western Front, which caused the remaints of the Belgian army to collapse and have the last bit of it's territory occupied by the Germans.
Despite voices being raised to capitulate, King Albert staunchly refused and ordered the government to flee to London, which they subsequentely did. Joining the government in exile, Albert continued to lead the small Belgian operations that remained.
After the French capitulation on the 4th of October, the remaining pro-war voices within the Belgian government were silenced, and the Belgian government capitulated the day after. While Albert realized that the war had been lost, he was much less keen on the defeatist mindset that most of his Ministers had. As a result, Albert sought the support of the United Kingdom to ensure that Belgium's interests were defended in the peace treaty that was to follow. Despite having various successful meetings with King George V and members of the British government, the fate of Belgium and it's throne remained uncertain.
During a period of negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, Albert was reached out to by German diplomats, who offered him and his government a set of demands and terms that were to be included within the Treaty if they accepted. The terms allowed for Albert to keep the throne but transformed Belgium into a rump state and de facto protectorate of the German Empire. Albert, citing that he would not allow Belgium to become a protectorate of Germany, refused the proposed terms. Kaiser Wilhelm, who had hoped that Albert would accept, then quickly ended all diplomatic negotiations with King Albert and the Belgian government and sought to establish an entirely new puppet regime in the region instead.
As a result of the Treaties of Versailles, the Belgian state and throne were abolished and replaced by the new Kingdom of Flanders-Wallonia, headed by King Adalbert, who was the third son of Kaiser Wilhelm. The Belgian government soon fell apart, with several Ministers and politicians resigning and leaving to join the new Kingdom. Albert and the remaining loyalist government denounced the Treaty, and stated that the new Kingdom was illegitimate. While resistance towards the new German regime was strong in the beginning, most was swiftly crushed when German forces arrived to quash any dissent. Albert continued to lead the exiles that remained, hoping that the United Kingdom would book military successes.
By 1921, however, fighting spirit in Britain had disappeared. The British government finally ended the small-scale proxy war and signed the Peace with Honour with the German Empire and it's allies. This effectively made the United Kingdom recognize the new state of Flanders-Wallonia and no longer saw Belgium as a legitimate nation. Due to this, the morale of the Belgian Exiles was crippled evermore, with many now finally submitting to an attitude of defeatism. Albert, however, refused to acknowledge the new Kingdom and proclaimed that he would not abdicate the Belgian throne or renunciate his titles.
When the 1925 British Revolution scoured through the United Kingdom, Albert and his family quickly followed the British Royals into exile in Canada. While believing that the stay in Canada was only temporary, it quickly became clear that the revolution in Britain had been permanent, which made Albert doubt the Entente's strength even more. Despite these major setbacks, Albert established a warm friendship with the now exiled King George V, who saw that Albert was residing in the same predicament as him. As a result, Albert was given the assurance that when they retook the British isles, Germany would be petitioned to re-instate the Kingdom of Belgium with Albert at it's helm.
With these promises and hopes, Albert forms the head of the Belgian Exiles, hoping that one day he may reign over his beloved Kingdom once more.
Albert was married in Munich on 2 October 1900 to Bavarian Duchess Elisabeth Gabrielle Valérie Marie, a Wittelsbach princess whom he had met at a family funeral. Becoming the Queen of the Belgians in 1909, she was widely beloved along with her husband. The couple, who are deeply in love, had three children:
- Léopold, Duke of Brabant, Prince of Belgium, (3 November 1901)
- Charles, Count of Flanders, Prince of Belgium, (10 October 1903)
- Marie-José, Princess of Belgium, (4 August 1906)