King Philippe

Philippe of Belgium was groomed from childhood to succeed his childless uncle King Baudouin. But on Baudouin's death in 1993, it was decided that because of the country's linguistic and ethnic divide, a more experienced hand was needed than that of the Prince, who was then 33. As a result, the role went instead to his father, Albert.

The son of King Albert II and Queen Paola, Prince Philippe Leopold Louis Marie was born in Brussels on April 15, 1960. His place in the line of succession meant he received an appropriately rigorous and diverse education at the College Saint-Michel in the Belgian capital and the Abdijschool van Zevenkerken in Sint-Andries-Brugge.

This was followed by a four-year stint, from 1978 to 1981, at the Royal Military Academy, and training in the Belgian Armed Forces as both a pilot and paratrooper.

He later studied constitutional history at Trinity College, Oxford, and went on to receive a graduate degree in political science from California's Stanford University.

When Philippe entered his late 30s, seemingly a perennial bachelor, there were calls for him to step aside in the line of succession in favour of his younger sister, Princess Astrid. However, just before he turned 40, the Prince gave the Belgian people their longed-for Crown Princess.

Prince Philippe met 23-year-old aristocrat Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz while playing tennis in 1996. After an extremely discreet three-year courtship, the heir to the throne and the pretty young speech therapist declared they were ready to tie the knot in an engagement announcement which came as a complete surprise to many.

It was not long before she had won the hearts of the Belgian people. Beautiful and glamorous, she also bridged the country's difficult divisions having been raised in the French part of the country, but coming from a noble Flemish family.

With his lovely wife at his side, Philippe enjoyed a boost in popularity following the couple's wedding, and enthusiasm for the pair further increased with the arrival of their first child, a daughter, in 2001.

When she eventually ascends to the throne, Princess Elisabeth will become the only female Belgian monarch in 171 years, thanks to a law in 1991 ending exclusively male succession.

"I hope that my daughter will be a great Queen," said Philippe not long after Elisabeth's arrival, "and more importantly, a great woman." More children followed, with Prince Gabriel arriving in 2003, Prince Emmanuel in October of 2005 and Princess Eleonore in 2008.

In 2013, the couple took on the ultimate responsibility when King Albert abdicated in his son's favour on 21 July.

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