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Leopold III

Leopold III, 1901–83, king of the Belgians (1934–51), son and successor of Albert I. In 1936, Leopold announced a fundamental change in foreign policy; Belgium abandoned its military alliance with France in favor of a return to neutrality. In May, 1940, Germany—which in 1937 had guaranteed Belgian neutrality—invaded the Low Countries. Leopold led the Belgian army in resisting the invaders. After the defense became hopeless, Leopold, over the opposition of his cabinet, surrendered unconditionally (May 28), thus provoking accusations of treason. A prisoner of war at his castle at Laken, Leopold refused to exercise an active rule under German tutelage. After his first wife, Astrid, was killed in an automobile accident while Leopold was at the wheel, he married (1941) a commoner, whom he later created princess of Réthy. Removed (1944) to Germany, Leopold was freed by Allied troops in 1945. His return to Belgium was a burning political issue. The Liberal and leftist parties accused him of cooperation with Nazi Germany and of fascist sympathies, and his main support came from the Catholic Conservatives. In 1945, Leopold was barred from returning without the permission of the parliament. He spent his exile mostly in Switzerland while his brother, Prince Charles, acted as regent. A referendum held in 1950 favored the king's return by a slight majority. However, Leopold's arrival in Belgium was followed by such unrest that he transferred the royal powers to his eldest son, Baudouin. In July, 1951, Leopold formally abdicated.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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