Albert I of Belgium

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Albert I (8 April 1875 – 17 February 1934) reigned as King of the Belgians from 1909 until 1934.


Early life

Born Albert Léopold Clément Marie Meinrad (in German Albrecht Leopold Clemens Marie Meinrad) in Brussels, he was the fifth child and second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, and his wife, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Prince Philippe was the third (second surviving) son of Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, and his wife, Marie-Louise of France, and the younger brother of King Leopold II of Belgium. Princess Marie was a relative of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and a member of the non-reigning, Catholic branch of the Hohenzollern family. Albert grew up in the Palace of Flanders, initially as fourth in the line of succession to the Belgian throne. When, however, the only legitimate son of his uncle, Leopold II, died as a child, and 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.

Retiring and studious, Albert prepared himself strenuously for the task of kingship. In his youth, Albert was seriously concerned with the situation of the working classes in Belgium, and personally traveled around working class districts incognito, to observe the living conditions of the people (Bronne). Shortly before his accession to the throne in 1909, Albert undertook an extensive tour of the Belgian Congo, which had been annexed by Belgium in 1906, finding the area in poor condition. Upon his return to Belgium, he recommended reforms to protect the native population and to further technological progress in the colony (Graham).

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