First published December 2, 1999.

The Belgian Succession 


Historical Background

The territories composing modern Belgium emerged in the Middle Ages under the rule of autonomous lords (count of Flanders, duke of Brabant, count of Hainaut, count of Namur, duke of Limburg, bishop of Liege, etc) some of whom were French vassals (Flanders), some vassals of the Emperor (Liege), and some of whom were already deemed without superior lord (Brabant).  These territories, by a succession of marriages and inheritances, belonged to the Capetian dukes of Burgundy until 1477 and then passed to the Habsburgs.  Charles V divided his inheritance in 1555 and gave the Low Countries to his son Philip II, king of Spain.  The Low Countries revolted against Spanish rule in the late 1560s.  The northern provinces of the union of Utrecht of 1579, mostly Protestant, more persevering and successful, saw their independence  recognized at the treaty of Westphalia in 1648.  The southern provinces of the union of Arras of 1579, mostly Catholic, remained under Spanish rule and, in 1713, passed under Austrian rule.

  • Treaty of Plessis-lès-Tours, 19 Sept 1580
  • Grant of the Low Countries to the Infanta Isabel, 6 May 1598

    In 1598, Philip II granted the Low Countries to his daughter the Infanta Isabel, on condition that she marry her cousin archduke Albert of Austria.  The Low Countries were to be inherited by their issue, by mixed primogeniture.  Any female successor was obliged to marry the king of Spain or the person whom the king of Spain would choose.  The marriages of  the children of the ruler were to be approved by the king of Spain.  In case of extinction of the issue of the marriage the Low Countries reverted to Spain.  If Albert died before Isabel without children she would cease to rule; if she died before him without children he would remain as governor in the name of the king of Spain.

    After their marriage they used the style: "Albert et Isabel Clara Eugenia, Infante d'Espaigne, par la Grâce de Dieu, archiducqz d'Austrice, ducqz de Bourgoigne, de Lothier, de Brabant, de Lembourg, de Luxembourg et de Gueldres, contes de Habsburch, Flandres, D'Arthois, de Bourgoigne, de Thirol, palatins et de Haynnau, de Hollant, de Zéellande, de Namur et de Zutphem, marquis du St Empire de Rome, seigneurs de Frise, de Salins et de Malines, des cités villes et pays d'Utrecht, d'OVerissel et de Groeninge." (ordonnances des Pays-Bas, 2e série, t. 1, p. 67).

Revolted against Austria in 1789, conquered in 1793 and annexed in 1795 by France, these provinces became part of the kingdom of the Netherlands created by the congress of Vienna in 1815.  A revolt in August 1830 against the autocratic rule of king William I turned into secession on October 4, 1830, recognized by the foreign powers in November 1830 and by the Netherlands only in 1839; Belgium was born. 

A national congress convened in November 1830 drafted and promulgated a constitution on February 7, 1831.  A few days earlier, on Feb. 4, an election had taken place in the congress for a new sovereign. The first round of voting produced The archduke had been governor of the Autrian Low Countries.

None having obtained a majority, a second ballot produced:

Duke of Nemours (younger son of king Louis-Philippe) 89
Auguste, Duke of Leuchtenberg (son of Prince Eug\350ne):67
Archduke Charles of Austria, duke of Teschen: 35
Duc de Nemours: 97
Duke of Leuchtenberg: 74
Archduke Charles: 21
The king of the French declined for the duke of Nemours under British pressure on Feb. 17 ( see a depiction of the event). The congress chose a regent, baron Surlet de Chokler, and voted again on June 4, with the main candidate being Leopold Georg Christian Frederic of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha (1790-1865), former son-in-law of George IV of Great Britain, who would have become king-consort had his wife not died in 1817, and who the year before had turned down the Greek crown. The results were:
For declaring the Prince of Saxe-Coburg king: 152
Against his election: 10
For declaring the Regent king: 14
Abstaining: 19
null: 1
Leopold arrived on Belgian soil at the beach of De Panne on July 27, 1831.  He took the constitutional oath on July 21, 1831 (Belgium's national holiday).

The constitution was revised several times: in 1888, 1893, 1899, 1921, 1970, 1988, and 1991.  A major revision of 1993 redefined Belgium as a Federal state.

Leopold I was succeeded 

  • by his son Leopold II (1835-1909) who married on 22 Aug 1853 Maria-Henrietta of Habsburg; 
  • the latter's nephew Albert I (1875-1934) who married on 2 Oct 1900 Elisabeth of Bavaria; 
    photo of Albert c.1909 with his wife and their three children the future Leopold III, Charles, and Marie-José, later queen of Italy
  • the latter's son Leopold III (1901-83), who married on 4 Nov 1926 Astrid of Sweden, and on 11 Sep 1941 (religious: ?) and 6 Dec 1941 (civil) Lilian Baels (1916-2002); Leopold III abdicated in 1951
  • the latter's son Baudouin I (1930-93), who married on 15 Dec 1960 Fabiola de Mora y Aragon
  • the latter's brother Albert II (b. 1934), who married on 2 July 1959 Paola Ruffo di Calabria.
By his first wife, Leopold III had three children:
  • Josephine-Charlotte (1927-2005), grand-duchess of Luxemburg
  • Baudouin I (1930-93), childless
  • Albert II (b. 1934), who has three children:
    • Philippe (b. 1960), married on Dec 4, 1999 to Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, of which
      • Elisabeth (b. 2001)
      • Gabriel (b. 2003)
    • Astrid (b. 1962), married to Lorenz of Austria-Este and mother of four
    • Laurent (b. 1963), married to Claire Coombs.
By his second wife, he had three children:
  • Alexandre (b. 1942) m.1991 Léa Wolman 
  • Marie-Christine (b. 1951); m. 1981 (div 1981) Paul Druker; m. 1989 Jean-Paul Gourgues
  • Marie-Esmeralda  (b. 30 Sep 1956), m. 5 Apr 1998 Salvador Moncada (b. 3 Dec 1944 Honduras)
    one daughter Alexandra Léopoldine, b. Nov 1998

The reign of Leopold III

When Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, Leopold III stayed as commander-in-chief and signed the surrender on 28 May.  That same day, the Belgian government, installed in France, implicitly repudiated the king's decisions by declaring the king unable to reign (dans l'impossibilité de régner), and assumed his powers in the name of the Belgian people (Foreign and State Papers, 144:226):
Limoges, 28 mai 1940
Au nom du peuple belge, vu l'article 82 de la constitution, considérant
que le Roi est sous le pouvoir de l'envahisseur, les Ministres, réunis en
conseil, constatent que le Roi se trouve dans l'impossibilité de régner.
Ainsi fait, le 28 mai 1940.

Leopold III remained in Laeken most of the war, but spent June 1944 to May 1945 imprisoned in Germany and Austria.  When the Belgian government returned from London, the houses of parliament were summoned. On 20 September 1944, they applied article 82 of the Constitution, declared the king to be unable to reign due to the enemy, and established a regency under Leopold's only brother Charles, count of Flanders (1903-83). Freed on 7 May 1945, the king went to Switzerland to await the resolution of "the royal question": should his war-time conduct prevent him from returning to the throne.

The situation was awkward from a legal point of view, because the reason for the regency had come to an end (since the king was no longer under enemy power), yet the Constitution had no mechanism for putting an end to a regency. The constitutional gap was filled by law of 19 July 1945, according to which, after an application of article 82, a joint meeting of both houses was required to recognize that the "impossibility of reigning" had ended. Years of wrangling followed. Leopold's wartime conduct, not only his surrender in May 1940, but his later refusals to work with the government in exile, and his attitude toward the German occupants, were the subject of bitter debate. Finally, a national referendum in March 1950 decided for the return of the king. The regent called a meeting of the houses of Parliament on July 4, and on 20 July 1950 they declared that Leopold III's inability to reign had come to an end. Two days later, Leopold III returned to Belgium.

But the referendum had revealed a rift along linguistic and political lines.  Riots broke out in Flanders.  The king declared on August 1 his wish to appoint his son Baudouin as lieutenant-general, and a law was passed to that effect on 10 August 1950, devolving "the exercise of the king's constitutional powers" to "the heir presumptive, who shall be titled Prince royal." Then, on July 16, 1951, Leopold III solemnly "put an end to his reign and permanently renounced the exercise of his constitutional powers." He stayed at Laeken with his wife until 1969.

It was during the wartime period, in 1941, that Leopold III, a widower since 1934, remarried with Lilian Baels (daughter of the governor of Western Flanders from 1933 to 1940).  He married religiously first, thus violating article 16 of the Constitution (currently article 21) which requires that the religious marriage take place after the civil marriage (it does not follow, however, that the marriage is void for that reason alone). In his recent biography of Leopold III, however, Antoine Giscard d'Estaing doubts that the religious marriage took place on any other day but December 6: in his opinion, the announcement by cardinal van Roey that the religious marriage had taken place on 11 September was "a pious lie" to cover the pregnancy in progress of Lilian Baels (she delivered in July). The first deputy burgmeister of Brussels witnessed the civil ceremony in Laeken.

Interestingly, the announcement was made to the country by the means of a letter of cardinal Van Roey, primate of Belgium, to all parish priests. The letter stated that Lilian Baels had expressly asked not to be titled queen; that the king had titled her princesse de Réthy, and had also declared that the issue of this marriage would have no dynastic rights. The Belgian government in exile noted that the dynastic renunciations were of dubious validity. No one seems to have considered them to have any legal value. They place, however, this second marriage in the tradition of German morganatic remarriages of sovereigns (such as that of Friedrich-Wilhelm III of Prussia).

Leopold III had by Liliane Baels three children (a son and two daughters). The son's birth was announced officially, and the First President of the Court of Cassation (Belgium's highest judicial court) signed the declaration of birth.

The question of the validity of Leopold III's second marriage, and of the dynastic status of the children, is examined further.

The Belgian Succession Law

The succession law was laid down in 1831 as part of the Constitution, of which it now forms article 85. It made the Belgian throne (more exactly, "the King's constitutional powers") hereditary in the direct, male, legitimate issue of the body of Leopold I, by order of primogeniture.

It was modified only twice: 

  • on September 7 1893, the second and third sections of article 85 requiring royal consent for the marriages of princes were added; by virtue of article 106, such consent must be countersigned by a minister;
  • in 1991, the succession was changed from male primogeniture to undifferenced primogeniture, with the old provision remaining in effect up to and including the succession to the present king (transitory disposition).

I examine these changes in turn.

The requirement of royal consent (the 1893 revision)

The original constitution of 1831 had no such requirement, although Leopold I established house laws that contained one, as did most German house laws at the time. During the National Congress, in which the constitution was drafted, an article was proposed by the central section of the Congress, stating: "The king cannot marry without the assent of the Houses; in the absence of such assent, his issue by thast marriage cannot succeed to the throne. The members of the royal family, in line to succeed to the throne, cannot marry without the authorization of the legislative power. Marriage of a member without such authorization results in the loss of all rights to the throne for the member who entered into the marriage as well as for his descendants." But the article was rejected on a motion by the very committee that had submitted it (Pasinomie belge, 1831, p. 192).

The present text was introduced by amendment on Sept. 7, 1893. It makes royal consent a condition for marriages of princes, and deprives those who contravene of their rights to the throne.  The article does not explicitly say that the issue of such unauthorized marriages are also excluded.

The consent is granted by the king: it is a constitutional power (by article 105) hence subject to the requirement of article 106 that it be countersigned by a minister who thereby becomes responsible.  This gives the legislature, to whom ministers are responsible, an indirect control over princely marriages.

Is any consent required for the king's own marriage? Three kings married: Leopold I in 1832, Léopold III in 1941, and Baudouin I in 1960.  The first took place before the 1893 amendment, the second took place under circumstances discussed below; as for the third, I do not believe that formal consent was given by the king to himself. Article 85 requires consent only for marriages of princes: the king is not a prince, he is the king. In fact, when the 1893 amendment was discussed in Parliament, a representative asked the government minister what was intended to apply to the king, and the minister replied jokingly: "the king cannot ask of himself his own consent."

The article rejected in 1830, and the jocular reply of the government minister in 1893, prove that the issue of control over the king's marriages was explicitly brought up in the course of drafting the constitution and its amendments. Therefore, if the constitution is silent on this point, it is by design, not oversight. One cannot reintroduce into the document a clause that its drafters explicitly rejected. No consent is required for the king's own marriage.

Several authorities can be cited in support of this thesis:

  • Paul Errera (Das Staatsrecht des Königsreichs Belgien, Tübingen 1909, p. 41) states that the clause does not apply to the king or to princesses;
  • Oscar Orban (Le droit constitutionnel de la Belgique; Liége, Dessain, 1906-08,; vol. 2, p. 209) mentions the discussions at the National Congress in 1830 over article 60 and states: "Des débats assez confus, qui eurent lieu à ce sujet au Congrès national, résulte d'abord la conclusion que le Roi lui même peut se marier librement; il ne peut être question, en effet, de l'astreindre à demander son propre consentment";
  • Victor Boon (Het Belgisch Staatsrecht, Ghent 1948, pp. 208-10) notes that the constitution does not require the king's consent to his own marriage, and explains that this omission is voluntary (see the passage);
  • François Perin (Cours de droit constitutionnel, Liège, 1986; vol. 1, p. 144) holds Leopold III's second marriage to be valid and Alexandre to be a full dynast;
  • Pierre Wigny (Droit Constitutionnel: principes et droit positif; Brussels, E. Bruylant, 1952; vol. 2, p. 602) is more cautious when he asks: "Quelle sera la valeur juridique d'un mariage contracté sans contreseing? La question a été débattue à la Chambre en sa session du 6 février 1950. Des thèses différentes ont été avancées. Une loi interprétative sera vraisemblablement nécessaire."

We thus have four constitutional scholars, writing before and after the Leopold III crisis, who are of the same opinion; and one who takes no stand, but presents both positions as arguable. The same opinion, that the marriage was fully valid, was also expressed by representative Van Remoortel in the debates of July 1950 over the end of the regency (see Pasinomie Belge, 1951, p. 663-7). Interestingly, Van Remoortel presented a motion asking that a commission be formed to determine the legal status of Leopold III's second marriage and that of his son Alexandre. The motion was rejected on the grounds that this was not the Assembly's business (since the joint meeting of both houses had for sole purpose to put an end to the regency), but could only be decided by the Houses in the exercise of their legislative functions. This, of course, never happened.

Why this intentional silence on the part of the framers of the constitution? Their motivation was most likely the desire to adhere to the theory of the irresponsibility and inviolability of the king (article 88).  Placing such controls over the king's marriage meant that the king could do wrong, undermining the theory of inviolability.  That, at least, is the opinion of the constitutional writer V. Boon.

Male versus undifferenced primogeniture (the 1991 revision)

The law makes the throne (more exactly, the constitutional powers of the king) hereditary by primogeniture in the issue of Leopold I.  The issue must be direct, legitimate and natural, excluding collateral claims, illegitimate births and adopted children.  The descent had to be male until the revision of 1991.  The new clause "will be for the first time applicable to the issue of" Albert II.  This presumably means that it will first be applied to decide the succession of Albert II: under present circumstances (2005), Philippe is heir apparent, followed by his children Elisabeth and Gabriel, followed by Astrid and her children, followed by Laurent.  Note that the transitory disposition deems Astrid's marriage to have received the royal consent required by article 85 (probably because, since she had no rights at the time of her marriage in 1984, no such consent was sought or granted).

What if the issue of Albert II becomes extinct?  Since the text says "for the first time", it presumably means that undifferenced primogeniture continues to apply to the rest of the descent of Leopold I.  As of 1991, the only male-line descendants were king Baudoin I, Albert, Philippe and Laurent; followed (possibly: see below) by Alexandre, son of Leopold III's second marriage with Lilian Baels.  After 1991, others became eligible.  After the issue of Albert, comes:

  • Albert's sister the grand-duchess of Luxemburg and her issue (with Marie-Astrid, wife of Carl Christian of Austria, the eldest, and fourteen others), 
  • Leopold III's children by Lilian Baels (possibly: see below), 
  • the descendants of Leopold III's sister Marie-José (wife of Umberto II of Italy), 
  • the descendants of Leopold III's aunt who married a Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, 
  • the descendants in female line of Leopold II (including the Bonapartes).
However, one can presume that none of these marriages were entered into with formal royal consent countersigned by a minister (since none was necessary at the time).  Thus, a constitutional revision similar to the one bestowing retroactive consent on Astrid's marriage would be necessary to make all these lines capable of succeeding.  (Incidentally, by article 87 of the constitution, the king of Belgium cannot be head of another State without the consent of both houses of the legislature).

The lack of royal consent to their marriages is what, in the end, excludes all three children of Leopold III's second marriage (married in 1981, 1991 and 1998).  But, until 1991, Alexandre was unmarried, and thus, in principle, eligible to succeed.

The validity of Leopold III's second marriage

The validity of that marriage, and the status of its issue, is debated.

Actual status of the children of Lilian Baels

Some argue that the children of Leopold III and Lilian Baels have never been treated as dynasts in Belgium. It is sometimes mentioned that they were not called to sit in the Belgian Senate by virtue of article 72 of the Constitution. That does not appear to be a good proof of their status as non-dynasts. Arguably, only the children of then-prince Albert were covered by the clause "the line called to succeed" in the absence of any children of Baudoin. Also, while prince Albert sat in the Senate, none of his children did while Baudoin was alive, even though Philippe could have taken seat in 1978 and Laurent in 1981. Even now, Philippe took his seat in 1994, Astrid in 1996, and Laurent will do so in 2000. In earlier times, Leopold III's brother the count of Flanders never took a seat in the Senate. Hence, Alexandre's absence in the Senate is not a good proof of his status as non-dynast.

I do not know for sure what the styles of Lilian Baels and her children are: Leopold III intended to make her princesse de Réthy, but he appears never to have issued an arrêté royal to that effect (see Stéphane Guiot's page on Belgian royal titles). One can note, however, that the official Belgian government web site calls her by that title. The royal decree of 1991 reserves the style of prince of Belgium to the issue of the current king: thus, the children of Leopold III's second marriage are not princes and not entitled to the style of Royal Highness. But what was or is their legal status?

Two arguments against the dynastic status of the children of Lilian Baels

Two arguments are made against the status of Lilian Baels' children as dynasts. Both hinge on the validity of the marriage of Leopold III and Lilian Baels. The first argument claims that the marriage did not receive the consent required by article 85. The second argument claims that the marriage was simply null and void.

The first argument is as follows:

  • article 85, paragraph 2 applies to the king as well as to princes;
  • any act of the king, including his own consent to his marriage, must be countersigned;
  • Leopold III's marriage of 1941 was not approved by any minister (since the lawful government was in London at the time);
  • hence Leopold III ran afoul of this provision and lost his rights to the throne.

The argument doesn't stand because:

  • as seen above, article 85 does not apply to the king's own marriage;
  • article 85 does not explicitly exclude the issue of the contravening marriage;
  • Leopold III did not cease to reign in 1941, which would have been the case had he lost "his rights to the throne" upon marriage;
  • the recall of the king by the two houses on 20 July 1950 would in any case fulfill the third paragraph of article 85, thus restoring Leopold III's rights and those of his issue (if they were in doubt).

The second argument is as follows:

  • Leopold III's "marriage" to Liliane Baels was null and void in law,
  • thus, their children are illegitimate;
  • therefore, they are excluded from the succession to the Belgian throne by article 85, paragraph 1 (restriction to the legitimate descent of Leopold I).

Why was the marriage void?  Because article 106 (current numbering) of the Constitution states: "no act of the king can have any effect unless countersigned by a minister who, by that alone, takes responsibility for that act".  The king's signature on his acte de mariage was not countersigned by a minister (since the legal government was in London at the time), hence the act was void.  Without the act, no civil effects of the marriage can exist, in particular the children are illegitimate.

Note the difference between the first and second argument: although both rely on the absence of counter-signature of a minister, in the first argument the counter-signature is missing on a royal consent to the marriage, in the second argument it is missing on the marriage itself.

I proceed to rebuke the second argument as follows:

  1. marriage is not an act of the king within the meaning of art. 106;
  2. marriage does not require a signature;
  3. the "acte de mariage" does not require a signature;
  4. a void, defective, or missing "acte de mariage" does not invalidate a marriage;
  5. the issue of a putative marriage without "acte de mariage" is still legitimate.

(1) Marriage is not an act of the king within the meaning of art. 106

It cannot be claimed that every single act of the king needs to be countersigned (he can breathe, for example, on his own).  Nor can it be claimed that every signed document needs a countersignature: I am sure his private correspondence is free of ministers' signatures.  Is it that every legal document signed by the king must bear a minister's signature?  That means a member of government must be present every time the king writes a check, signs a credit card slip, makes a deed.  Such strictures on his private life (and waste of government's time) are unthinkable.

So what defines an "act of the king" within the plain meaning of article 106?  The article immediately preceding, article 105: "the king has no powers other than those formally bestowed on him by the constitution of specific laws passed by virtue of the self-same constitution."

What are those powers? Searching through the constitution, one finds that the king: summons and closes sessions of the legislative, dissolves both houses, carries out the census and reapportionment, consents to marriage of princes, restores dynastic rights of those who married without consent, appoints and dismisses ministers, commissions officers of the armed forces, appoints civil servants and diplomats, judges and prosecutors, sanctions laws, issues regulations for their application, reduces or annuls sentences, mint coins, confers titles and decorations, carries out foreign policy, is commander in chief, declares state of war and peace, signs treaties.

An "act of the king" is just that: the king as king exercising his constitutional powers.  No legal action of the king described, required, mandated, or allowed in the constitution can have any effect without countersignature.  Signing a check is not an act of the king; it is an act of the citizen who happens to be king but is also a private individual (e.g., he owns property in his name, is paid a civil list, spends it as he pleases).

Is marriage an "act of the king"?  It has dynastic, therefore political consequences.  But is it described anywhere in the Constitution?  No (no more than signing checks).  There can be only two conclusions:

  • the king cannot marry (or sign checks)
  • the king can marry (and sign checks), without countersignature.
The first is absurd, so the second follows.

But let's suppose that the marriage could be construed as falling under article 106.  Does the absence of countersignature make it void?

(2) Marriage does not require a signature

Marriage is a civil contract, described in Book I, Title V of the Belgian Civil Code (arts. 144 to 227).  Chapter I deals with the prerequisites, chapter II with the formalities, chapter III with opposing claims, chapter IV with annulments.  Title II deals with acts of the Etat Civil, and Chapter III describes the way a marriage takes place (arts. 63 to 76).  In particular, article 75 says: "on the appointed day, the public officer in the townhall and before two witnesses receives from each party successively the statement that they want to become husband and wife, he declares, in the name of the law, that they are united in marriage, and he draws up the act immediately".

It is the exchange of consent before witnesses and following the requisite steps that makes the marriage contract.  The "acte" which the officer then writes out is a document that attests to the existence of the marriage, but does not make it.  The marriage is perfected once the public officer has spoken, the act is nothing but evidence (see Répertoire pratique du Droit Belge, s.v. mariage). Invalidity of that document does not void the marriage.

(3) The act of marriage does not require a signature

Article 39, part of the general dispositions on how acts of the etat civil are to be drawn up, says: "these acts shall be signed by the public officer, by the parties and the witnesses, or mention shall be made of the cause that prevents parties and witnesses from signing."

(4) A void, defective, or missing "acte de mariage" does not invalidate a marriage

How do we know that?

  • invalidity of the document is not a ground for annulment listed in chapter IV.  Therefore, the marriage of Leopold III and Liliane Baels cannot be declared void on that basis.
  • the existence of the act is not essential to the marriage, because article 46 states: "If there were no registers, or if they have been lost, proof will be given by documents and witnesses; and in those cases, marriages, births and deaths shall be proven by the registers and documents coming from deceased parents, and by witnesses."

But what of article 194, which says: "no one can claim the status of spouse and the civil effects of marriage, if he does not present an act inscribed on the register of the etat civil," except in cases described in article 46. To this one can oppose article 196 which means in substance that neither spouse can have the act declared null when there is a recognized de facto situation of marriage (possession d'état). The interpretation of that clause (Répertoire pratique du droit belge, vol. 7, p. 841) is that a de facto situation of marriage (where the spouses have publicly lived as husband and wife and taken as such by everyone) is sufficient to overcome any formal defect of the act of marriage, such as being drawn on a loose sheet instead of on the official registers, or the absence of the signature of the public officer. If the lack of that signature (prescribed by law) can be compensated by the notoriety of the marriage, so can the lack of any other signature.

(5) The issue of a putative marriage without act is still legitimate

And what of article 195 says: "A de facto situation of marriage cannot dispense the alleged spouses who shall cite it to present the act of marriage to the public officer"?  Even if it is well known that the two are married, and are considered as such and behave as such, they still must cite the original act in order to claim the "civil effects" of their marriage.  Do such "civil effects" include the legitimacy of the issue?

Article 197 says: "If, however, in the cases of articles 194 and 195, there are children born of the individuals who have lived publicly as husband and wife, and who are both dead, the filiation of the children cannot be contested under the sole pretext of a lack of presentation of the act of marriage whenever that filiation is proven by de facto recognition and is not contrary to the statements of the act of birth."

So the issue can be legitimate even in the absence of an act of marriage.


The king's marriage is not an "act of the king" that falls under article 106.  Even if it were, a signature is not needed, either for the marriage itself, or for the act of marriage, so no countersignature is needed.  Even if it were, the marriage is not void.  Even if it were without effect, the issue is legitimate.


The Constitution

Click on the article number to access an English translation.

Titre III : Des pouvoirs

Chapitre I : Des chambres fédérales

Art. 72

     Les enfants du Roi ou, à leur défaut, les descendants belges de la branche de la famille royale appelée à régner, sont de droit sénateurs à l'âge de dix-huit ans. Ils n'ont voix délibérative qu'à l'âge de vingt et un ans. Ils ne sont pas pris en compte pour la détermination du quorum des présences.

Chapitre III: Du Roi et du gouvernement fédéral
Section Ière: Du Roi

Art. 85

     Les pouvoirs constitutionnels du Roi sont héréditaires dans la descendance directe, naturelle et légitime de S.M. Léopold, Georges, Chrétien, Frédéric de Saxe-Cobourg, par ordre de primogéniture.

     Sera déchu de ses droits à la couronne, le descendant visé à l'alinéa 1er, qui se serait marié sans le consentement du Roi ou de ceux qui, à son défaut, exercent ses pouvoirs dans les cas prévus par la Constitution.

     Toutefois il pourra être relevé de cette déchéance par le Roi ou par ceux qui, à son défaut, exercent ses pouvoirs dans les cas prévus par la Constitution, et ce moyennant l'assentiment des deux Chambres.

Art. 86

     A défaut de descendance de S.M. Léopold, Georges, Chrétien, Frédéric de Saxe-Cobourg, le Roi pourra nommer son successeur, avec l'assentiment des Chambres, émis de la manière prescrite par l'article 87.

     S'il n'y a pas eu de nomination faite d'après le mode ci-dessus, le trône sera vacant.

Art. 87

     Le Roi ne peut être en même temps chef d'un autre État, sans l'assentiment des deux Chambres.

     Aucune des deux Chambres ne peut délibérer sur cet objet, si deux tiers au moins des membres qui la composent ne sont présents, et la résolution n'est adoptée qu'autant qu'elle réunit au moins les deux tiers des suffrages.

Art. 88

     La personne du Roi est inviolable; ses ministres sont responsables.

Art. 95

     En cas de vacance du trône, les Chambres, délibérant en commun, pourvoient provisoirement à la régence, jusqu'à la réunion des Chambres intégralement renouvelées; cette réunion a lieu au plus tard dans les deux mois. Les Chambres nouvelles, délibérant en commun, pourvoient définitivement à la vacance.

Section III: Des compétences

Art. 105

     Le Roi n'a d'autres pouvoirs que ceux que lui attribuent formellement la Constitution et les lois particulières portées en vertu de la Constitution même.

Art. 106

     Aucun acte du Roi ne peut avoir d'effet, s'il n'est contresigné par un ministre, qui, par cela seul, s'en rend responsable.

Titre IX : Entrée en vigueur et dispositions transitoires

Art. I. - Les dispositions de l'article 85 seront pour la première fois d'application à la descendance de S.A.R. le Prince Albert, Félix, Humbert, Théodore, Christian, Eugène, Marie, Prince de Liège, Prince de Belgique, étant entendu que le mariage de S.A.R. la Princesse Astrid, Joséphine, Charlotte, Fabrizia, Elisabeth, Paola, Marie, Princesse de Belgique, avec Lorenz, Archiduc d'Autriche-Este, est censé avoir obtenu le consentement visé à l'article 85, alinéa 2.

Jusqu'à ce moment, les dispositions suivantes restent d'application.

Les pouvoirs constitutionnels du Roi sont héréditaires dans la descendance directe, naturelle et légitime de S.M. Léopold, Georges, Chrétien, Frédéric de Saxe-Cobourg, de mâle en mâle, par ordre de primogéniture et à l'exclusion perpétuelle des femmes et de leur descendance.

Sera déchu de ses droits à la couronne, le prince qui se serait marié sans le consentement du Roi ou de ceux qui, à son défaut, exercent ses pouvoirs dans les cas prévus par la Constitution.

Toutefois, il pourra être relevé de cette déchéance par le Roi ou par ceux qui, à son défaut, exercent ses pouvoirs dans les cas prévus par la Constitution, et ce moyennant l'assentiment des deux Chambres.

The Civil Code

All citations from the Belgian Civil Code courtesy of WebLex. Any use of these citations is subject to WebLex's approval.

Livre I : Des Personnes

Titre II : Des actes de l'état civil
Chapitre I : Dispositions générales

Art. 39. Ces actes seront signés par l'officier de l'état civil, par les comparants et les témoins ; ou mention sera faite de la cause qui empêchera les comparants et les témoins de signer. 

Art. 46. Lorsqu'il n'aura pas existé de registres, ou qu'ils seront perdus, la preuve en sera reçue tant par titres que par témoins; et dans ces cas, les mariages, naissances et décès, pourront être prouvés tant par les registres et papiers émanés des pères et mères décédés, que par témoins. 

Chapitre III : Des actes de mariage

Art. 75. [ Loi du 7 janvier 1908 : Le jour désigné par les parties après le délai des publications, l'officier de l'état civil, dans la maison commune en présence de deux témoins, parents ou non - parents, fera lecture aux parties, des pièces ci-dessus mentionnées, relatives à leur état et aux formalités du mariage, et du chapitre VI du titre "Du mariage", sur les " Droits et les devoirs respectifs des époux ". Il recevra de chaque partie, l'une après l'autre, la déclaration qu'elles veulent se prendre pour mari et femme; il prononcera, au nom de la loi, qu'elles sont unies par le mariage, et il en dressera acte sur-le-champ . ] 

Titre V : Du mariage
Chapitre I : Des qualités et conditions requises pour pouvoir contracter mariage
Chapitre II : Des formalités relatives à la célébration du mariage
Chapitre III : Des oppositions au mariage 
Chapitre IV : Des demandes en nullité de mariage 

Art. 194. Nul ne peut réclamer le titre d'époux et les effets civils du mariage, s'il ne représente un acte de célébration inscrit sur le registre de l'état civil; sauf les cas prévus par l'article 46, au titre "Des actes de l'état civil". 

Art. 195. La possession d'état ne pourra dispenser les prétendus époux qui l'invoqueront respectivement, de représenter l'acte de célébration du mariage devant l'officier de l'état civil. 

Art. 196. Lorsqu'il y a possession d'état et que l'acte de célébration du mariage devant l'officier de l'état civil est représenté, les époux sont respectivement non recevables à demander la nullité de cet acte. 

Art. 197. Si néanmoins, dans le cas des articles 194 et 195, il existe des enfants issus de deux individus qui ont vécu publiquement comme mari et femme, et qui soient tous deux décédés, la [filiation] * des enfants ne peut être contestée sous le seul prétexte du défaut de représentation de l'acte de célébration, toutes les fois que cette [filiation]* est prouvée par une possession d'état qui n'est point contredite par l'acte de naissance. 

Art. 201. [Loi du 31 mars 1987 : Le mariage qui a été déclaré nul produit néanmoins ses effets à l'égard des époux lorsqu'il a été contracté de bonne foi. 

Si la bonne foi n'existe que de la part de l'un des deux époux, le mariage ne produit ses effets qu'en faveur de cet époux.] 

Art. 202. [ Loi du 31 mars 1987 : Il produit également ses effets en faveur des enfants même si aucun des époux n'a été de bonne foi.]

V. Boon: Het Belgisch Staatsrecht.  

V. Boon, professor at Ghent U.: Het Belgisch Staatsrecht.  1948.  pp. 208-10.

The passage discusses article 60 of the 1831 constitution, now article 85 (with male restriction removed).  The book says that the second and third section of the article were added in 1893.  It also says that a different draft of the second section, whereby any prince born of a marriage contracted without the assent of the legislative House was prevented from succeeding to the throne (elke prins, die geboren wordt uit een huwelijk dat aangegaan werd zonder te toestemming der wetgevende Kamers, van de troon vervallen te verklaren).  That draft was rejected after much debate.

Quid wat betreft het huwelijk van de Koning zelf?  De grondwetgever heeft niets voorzien voor het geval de Koning een huwelijk zou aangaan dat door de Kamers niet wordt gewenst.

De onstentenis van enige bepaling over zulk belangrijk onderwerp is niet toevallig.  In 1930 [sic; 1830] heeft het National Congres het vraagstug grondig onderzocht, vermits het zelfs, na heftig debat, een voorstel van de midden-afdeling heeft verworpen, waarbij elke prins geboren uit een huwelijk dat zonder de toestemming der wetgevende Kamers werd aangegaan van de troon vervallen werd verklaard.  Voorts heeft het Congres beslist zich te houden aan de algemene voorschriften van de Grondwet.

Toen in 1893 bij de erste grondwetherziening artikel 60 aangevuld werd met de bepaling dat de prinsen die zonder toestemming van de Koning in 't huwelijk zouden treden, van hun rechten op de troon vervallen verklaard worden maar dat deze vervallen-verklaring door de Koning kan opgeheven worden mits toestemming van beide Kamers, waren de argumenten die deze bepaling hadden ingegeven, nog met meer aandrang van toepassing in het geval de Koning een huwelijk mocht aangaan dat de belangen van het Land zou schaden. Deze argumenten konden dus aan de grondwetgevers niet ontsnappen. Men mag dan ook kiese zaak gewild werd.  Zij hebben geen maatregelen getroffen voor het geval de Koning in het huwelijk zou treden tegen de wil of de wens van de Kamers omdat zij de Koning "onschendbaar" hadden verklaard, wat betekent dat de Koning boven de wet staat, dat Hij niet kan misdoen.

De grondwetgevers hadden immers de Continuitet van de Monarchie voor ogen, en deze bestendigheid kon onmogelijk verzekerd worden zonder het invoeren van het stelsel der onschendbaarheid van de person van de Koning.

Kon het gebrek aan bepaling in deze dan geen onoverkomelijke bezwaren meebrengen voor het Land?

Geenszins.  Inderdaad de volksvertegenwoordiging blijft toch altijd de "Souvereine macht." "Alle machten gaan uit van de Natie," zegt artikel 25 van het grondwettelijk statuut.

De herziening van de Grongwet, zoals de grondwetgever deze heeft vastgelegd, is het grondwettelijk middel om elke gewenste hervorming door te voeren.  Indien er dus tussen Koning en Volksvertegenwoordiging een onoverbrugbare kloof ontstaat kan pe Koning de Kamers ontbinden of kan de Volksvertegenwoordiging beslissen dat er aanleiding bestaat om bepaalde artikelen van de grondwet te herzien en deze herziening kan zelfs tot een hervorming van het regime leiden.  Juist omdat de parlementsleden in de omstandingheid kunnen geplaatst worden dat zij tegen de Koning of tegen de Monarchie partij moeten kiezen, wordt van de parlementairen de
eed van trouw aan de Koning niet geeist.

In laatste instantie zal het kiezerkorps zich hebben uit te spreken en partij hebben te kiezen.

Dat is ware demokratie.


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François Velde

Last Modified: Apr 28, 2005