Belgium Belgium's royal family coat of arms

The Belgian royal family

Standing, from left: Prince Laurent, Princess Claire, Prince Amedeo, Prince Lorenz, Princess Astrid, Princess Maria-Laura, Prince Joachim, Prince Philippe. Seated from left: Queen Fabiola, King Albert II, Queen Paola with Princess Laetitia-Maria, Princess Mathilde. Front row from left: Prince Gabriel, Princess Elisabeth, Princess Louise and Princess Louise-Maria.

"Unity is strength" is the official motto of Belgium - and it's small wonder the nation puts a high value on its cohesiveness as it's seen a succession of invaders come and go over the years.

The country's name actually comes from a Celtic tribe, the Belgae, who settled the area around 900BC, but in the years since everyone from Julius Caesar to Napoleon and Charles I of Spain has taken control of the territory. At one point it was ruled by the Dutch monarch William of Orange, but the current royal family - the House of Wettin -came to power in 1830 after religious differences and unpopular economic reforms provoked a revolution.

With its newfound independence, the country took pride in its neutrality, but things were to change dramatically in 1914 when German troops breached Belgian borders to invade France. Despite a valiant struggle by its armed forces, the nation fell to the invaders and the monarch at the time, King Albert, was forced to flee with his government to Le Havre in France. They remained there until the conflict ended in 1918.

Two decades later the war clouds once again gathered across Europe and Brussels fell to the Nazis in 1940. This time the government-in-exile was established in London, although Leopold III, who had ascended to the throne upon the death of Albert in 1934, remained in Brussels for the duration of the war. His decision to do so was not well-received by his ministers who, when they regained control in 1951, forced him to abdicate in favour of his son, Baudouin.

The new king and his wife Queen Fabiola remained childless, and when - on July 31, 1993 - Baudouin's 42-year-rule came to an end, there were doubts over who would follow him. His young nephew Philippe was expected to accede to the throne, but with the problems arising from the country's linguistic and religious differences, it was decided a more experienced hand was called for. In the end Baudouin's crown passed to his brother, Albert, who remains sovereign to this day.
The official royal website can be found at