On July 21st, 1831, a forty-year old German prince from the Saxe-Cobourg-Saalfeld duchy stood on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Brussels and was sworn in as Leopold I, King of the Belgians. After several months of skirmishes between revolutionary forces in the southern provinces —present day Belgium— and the army of king William I of the Netherlands, Belgium became independent.
Most European powers were against the creation of an independent Belgium and Leopold’s arrival gave hope to the people, so 21st July was chosen as a National Day.
The country was established as a constitutional monarchy covering the Flemish Region of the Southern Netherlands and Wallonia. For centuries, Belgium has been a crossroad in Western Europe and many cultures have been blended in a relatively small area: French, German and Dutch are the official languages.
When the state was first established, a monarchy was considered more stable than republic; the experience of a republic in France made some conservatives feel unease.
The current king is Philippe, who came to the throne in 2013 after the abdication of his father, Albert. Many see him as poised and reflective, a figure that brings stability to a country that has, for complex historical reasons, felt divided. On July 21st, he and Queen Mathilde cast an image of unity over a country as diverse as Europe in 2023 can be.