King Albert I

King Albert I

Albert, the younger son of Philip, Count of Flanders, was born in 1875. Albert succeeded his uncle, Leopold II, as king of Belgium, in 1909.

As Belgium occupied the only wide open space between France and Germany, its neutrality was a vital component of the European balance of power. The king's foreign policy was to maintain a neutral stance between its two powerful and antagonistic neighbours and therefore did not join either the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente.

After the warlike statements made after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June, 1914, the Belgian Army was placed on its borders. The German ultimatum to Belgium on 2nd August gave King Albert and his government the choice of fighting or being conquered. Albert responded by taking personal command of the armed forces and although outnumbered, decided to resist the German invasion that began on 4th August.

The German Army quickly overwhelmed Belgian defences and King Albert was forced to move his government to Le Havre in France. However, the Belgian Army resisted more than the Germans expected and this help to frustrate the Schlieffen Plan. By the end of September 1914, Germans ruled most of Belgium and over the next few years was accused of carrying out atrocities against the civilian population.

Albert took command of the Belgian Army in the Courtrai offensive against the Central Powers during the autumn of 1918 and on 22nd November he entered Brussels in triumph.

After the Armistice Albert took an active part in the industrial reconstruction of Belgium. This was reflected in the Albert Canal that linked Liege with Antwerp. He also introduced constitutional reform that gave equal rights to Flemish citizens.

King Albert was killed in a climbing accident in 1934 and was succeeded by his son, Leopold III.