The Belgian royal question, 1940-1950


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The Belgian royal question, 1940-1950 cleavage and consensus in society and politics
Physical Description:
v, 283 leaves : illus. ; 28 cm.
Arango, Ergasto Ramon, 1929-
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Subjects / Keywords:
World War, 1939-1945 -- Belgium   ( lcsh )
Politics and government -- Belgium -- 1914-   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: leaves 271-281.
Statement of Responsibility:
By Ergasto Ramon Arango.
General Note:
Manuscript copy.
General Note:

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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notis - ACW6807
oclc - 13098655
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Full Text


University of Florida



M fr, 31 m n Aram o

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

has submitted,

- aakF of Phl 3afto

in the College of

t. Md M a thesis entitled

The Belgian lr=a1 Qlmatr.i Crlm M d rma naWm in OeINt P a

PoUlitins. gag_19h0.fgr

This thesis has been examined by all members of the candidate's special supervisory committee and has been

approved re!f!Eg (delete one). The committee has examined the candidate in accordance with the regulations gov-

erning the Final Examination and has adjudged his performance satisfactory % t y (delete one). Exceptions

or qualifications are noted as follows:




Departme t ead

Dean of the College

Dean of the Graduate School

DIRECTIONS: Two copies of this form are signed by all members of the special supervisory committee and by the Dean
of the College or his representative, and one copy thus signed is sent to the Dean of the Graduate School.






January, 1961

Copyright by
Ergasto Ramo n Arango


The study which follows is documented not only
with material found in Belgian libraries but also with
information gathered during formal interviews and during
informal conversations. The royal question could not
have been adequately studied away from Belgium; for most
every Belgian played some part in the solution of the
question and still has strong feelings about it.
The author warmly thanks Dr. Manning Dauer and
Dr. Alfred Diamant who patiently and kindly guided the
writing, and thanks, too, the Graduate School of the
University of Florida whose generosity made the doctoral
program possible.


Caroline and Ergasto Arango


Alfred Diamant





FUNCTIONS ..... ..... *


SUMMER OF 1940 . .









. ii

.. v

. 1

.. 10

* 45

.. 63

. 111

* 137

* 0

* 9

* 9

* 9

* S







Table Page
1. The Distribution of Seats after the
Elections of June, 1949 225

2. The Consultation of March, 1950 235

3. "Yes" Vote in Consultation of March, 19501
P.S.C. Vote in 19491 Liberal Vote in
19491 Combined P.S.C. and Liberal Vote
in 1949 . 236

4. Actual Votes and Percentage of Total Vote
Cast for the House of Representatives
by Each of the Parties in the Elections
of June, 1950, Compared to the Figures
for the Elections of June, 1949 245

5. Distribution of Seats in the House of
Representatives after the Elections of
June, 1950, Compared to the Distribu-
tion after the Elections of June, 1949 245

6. Percentage of Total Votes Secured by the
Various Parties in Each Province in
the Elections of June, 1950 246


On May 10, 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium.

Fifteen days later, when defeat appeared certain, the

Belgian government fled into exile so that it might carry

on the war from France and later from England. Contrary

to the pleadings and advice of his Ministers, the Belgian

king, Leopold III, chose to stay in Belgium and share the

fate of his army and his subjects. Three days later, on

May 28, Leopold, acting in his capacity as Commander-in-

Chief of the armed forces, capitulated to the enemy and
was taken prisoner. He remained a captive until May,

1945. The separation of King and Cabinet on May 25, 1940,
marked the beginning of what the Belgians call the royal

question which came to an end on August 1, 1950, when

Leopold III abdicated in favor of his son, Prince Baudouin.

Essentially the royal question is the final epi-

sode in a long-developing constitutional dispute over con-

flicting interpretations of monarchical power under the

Belgian constitution. The Constitution divides power gen-

erously between the King and Parliament, yet as Belgian

political life evolved from 1830 until 1940, particularly

with the growth of political parties and responsible party

government, power came to lie increasingly in Parliament.

Belgium's first two monarchs, Leopold I and Leopold II,

resisted this evolution and used their full constitutional

power. The third king, Albert, who reigned from 1909

until 1934, either because of his personality or because

he understood the political changes taking place, acqui-

esced in the pre-eminence of the legislature. He ruled,

however, during a period of relative stability and died

before the events of the second half of the 1930os could

test his continued forbearance. He was succeeded by his

son, thirty-three-year-old Leopold III. The mid-1930's

were an inauspicious time to come to the throne. Emile
Canmaerts wrote that one could rummage in vain through

history to find a young constitutional monarch confronted

with more pressing and anxious problems from the very

first days of his reign. The world depression and the

economic policies of France and Germany threatened Belgium

with financial ruin. The military strength of Nasi

Germany was growing to frightening proportions while

Belgium's historic allies, England and France, did nothing

to stop it.

In Belgium, the parliamentary process was unable
to handle the crisis situations. Fascist parties in both

Flanders and Wallonia menaced national stability while

divisions within the major parties hampered the normal

parliamentary process. Cabinets followed one another with

dramatic regularity, and King Leopold was forced to act in

order to maintain governmental continuity. As a conse-

quence, he was compelled to make decisions which

identified him with specific policies. In 1935, at-

tempting to rescue Belgium from economic collapse,

Leopold called Paul Van Zeeland from outside Parliament

to head a tripartite national government. Van Zeeland,

identified with Leopold, was granted extraordinary power

in economic affairs. In 1936, after Hitler had marched

into the Rhineland, it was Leopold who called for a new

Belgian foreign policy. He made his proposal privately

at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, but the members

of the Cabinet requested that the proposal be made public.

The King agreed, and the Government assumed responsibility,

but Leopold and neutrality became synonymous. Thus

Belgians identified their sovereign personally with the

two most important events of the immediate prewar years,

a situation which went counter to the present concept of

the position of a constitutional monarch. More signifi-

cantly, Leopold identified himself with these policies and

what he considered to be the "greater good of Belgium."

What took place during the brief fighting war,

May 10 to 28, 1940, was the last of the series of events

Paul Van Zeeland, prior to entering the government,
had been a vice-governor of the Banoue Nationale. He was
considered one of Belgium's great economists and had taught
at the Catholic University of Louvain.

which had started in 1935 and 1936. On May 25, 1940,

when his Ministers advised Leopold to leave Belgium and

accompany them into exile, the King had other ideas re-

garding what he thought would be best for Belgium. He

chose to stay behind to share the fate of his troops and

his people. This decision and the events that resulted

from it during the occupation make up the royal question,

a constitutional issue containing this paradox: before

the war, the constitution was vague enough to permit a

variety of discrepant interpretations regarding the limits

of monarchical power. Convention was eroding the personal

prerogatives of the sovereign so that constitutionally he

had authority no lon-er recognized by current usage. Yet

events compelled Leopold to act with full constitutional

power contrary to evolving custom, and this brought into

the open the discrepancy between what Leopold considered

.o lie within his constitutional authority and the

evolving "rules of the game." The separation on May 25,

1940, was the final dramatization of this discrepancy.

After the war, both the Government which had been

in exile and King Leopold sought from the Belgian people

vindication of their respective decisions. The Ministers

believed that they had been right to continue the war from

beyond the borders of Belgium; the King believed that he

had been right to surrender his troops in order to prevent

their annihilation by what appeared to be an invincible

enemy. Vindication of these decisions and their conse-

quences carried with it, however, vindication of a

particular interpretation of monarchical authority under

the constitution. Can the King make and execute a de-

cision contrary to the advice of responsible ministers?

To answer the question affirmatively would vindicate the

King. To answer the question negatively would vindicate

the Government and relegate the King and his successors

to a position of authority comparable to that of other

modern constitutional monarchs. The future relationship

between Belgian sovereigns and their ministers--in fact,

the future of the constitutional monarchy in Belgium,

depended upon the outcome of the dispute.

The royal question was more than this, however.

No such technical constitutional issue could have captured

and sustained the interest of the people, yet the royal

question was the most personal and the most violent public

issue ever to occur in Belgian history because it touched

the weakest element in Belgian society, its unity. There

are two ethnic groups within Belgium, the Flemish and the

Walloon. During the years of the debate over the royal

question, the Flemish (Flemish-speaking) provinces of the

Kingdom contained 50.19 per cent of the population

(4,272,000) while the Walloon (French-speaking) areas had

34.54 per cent (2,912,000). The Brussels metropolitan
region (l'agglomeration bruxelloise) held the remainder

(1,298,000) containing both Flemings and Walloons. But
because French is the dominant spoken language of Brussels,

the region has a predominantly Walloon appearance. In

recent years the French-speaking elements of the Brussels

area have grown rapidly as Flemish families moving into

the "big city" change their daily spoken language to French,

thereby adding to the number of French-speaking in the


These groups differ not only in language but also
in culture and outlook one might even say they differ in

religion. Most Belgians are Catholic, but the Flemings are

devout, loyal, and conservative, while the Walloons are

often lukewarm and anticlerical, influenced strongly by the

intellectual currents coming from France. The Flemings and

the Walloons exist in the artificial entity called Belgium,

a state created by international design in 1815, and they

react centripetally in relation to national unity. These

centripetal forces have shaped the country's history and

have caused serious strain on national cohesion even in

times of peace; in times of war the forces react even more

violently. The reaction is violent due primarily to the

extraordinary attachment of Wallonia to France. The pro-
German and pro-Dutch sympathy of Flanders is much less

intense in comparison and often appears to be a reaction
against Walloon attraction to France rather than a deep-

seated emotion in itself. The Walloon is passionately

devoted to France and is often prouder of his adopted

French culture than of his Belgian birth. During war-

time this devotion is magnified, and the average Walloon

thinks that anyone who is not pro-French is automatically


The behavior of King Leopold III during the

German occupation could not be called pro-French or even

pro-Allied. As a result of his policy, Leopold brought

down upon himself the animosity and eventually the hatred

not only of the Walloons but also of most of the citisena

of Brussels. Those who would not venture to say that

Leopold had collaborated were convinced that he had

believed that the Germans would be victorious and had

courted their favor, behavior which Leopold's enemies con-

sidered only slightly less repugnant than collaboration.

Less biased observers think that King Leopold neither

collaborated nor believed in a German victory, but he did

not discount the possibility. If the Germans should be

victorious Leopold hoped to gain the maximum advantage for

Belgium, and his behavior during the occupation was

designed to accommodate himself to this eventuality. One

can imagine that Leopold reasoned like this: the Belgian

government fights with the Allies while the King is a

prisoner of the Germans. He will do nothing to aid the

aggressor, but he will do nothing to offend him. Irre-

spective of who is the victor, that victor will have a

Belgian friend, or, in the case of Leopold, if not a

friend, at least not an avowed enemy. This was the policy

of attentisme, "wait and see," "wait and profit."

Whether it was called collaboration, attentisme,

or what Victor Larock described as "supple accommodation,"

the Walloons and the people of Brussels considered

Leopold's behavior to be immoral, and after the war they

sought through political action to repudiate their King.

At this point, the two elements of the royal question,

i.e., the constitutional and the political, or what the

average Belgian would call moral, merged and found their

spokesman in the Socialist party. The Socialists in

Belgium have been historically opposed to a strong mon-

archy. In theory, Socialists are republican, but because

the monarchy is essential to Belgian national existence,

the Belgian Socialists have always defended the monarchy,

while at the same time they have fought for the reduction

of monarchical power. Therefore, in the constitutional

dispute between the King and the Government, the Socialists

supported the Government against the King, and because the

Socialists are predominantly Walloon, their political or

moral opposition to Leopold III strengthened and became a

part of the constitutional dispute.

The purpose of this study is to show the monarchy
as it existed before the royal question (1935-1940)1 to

present the events that made up the question itself

(1940-1944); to describe the battle between the King and

the government as each sought to win the approval of the

people (1945-1947)1 to reveal the solution of the royal
question (1949-1950); and finally to speculate on the
nature of the monarchy after 1950, on the significance of

the ten-year affair on the future relationship between

Belgian sovereigns and their governments, and on the

relevance of the Belgian experience for an understanding
of the role of a constitutional monarch in modern
democratic society.



The Nature of the Belgian Monarchy

It has been said that in Belgium the monarchy is

as necessary as bread. It is unfortunate that a modern

democracy, such as Belgium, should find itself dependent

upon a single institution. This dependence makes national

life precarious and seems to indicate a flaw in the

composition of the body politic. By contrast, in England,

as closely as one identified the Crown with the nation, it

would not be fanciful to assume that Britain would continue

to exist without her sovereign. The same would be true of

Holland and the Scandinavian countries. This is so be-

cause the monarchy is today an adornment without which

national life would be more complicated, in whose absence

readjustment would have to be made, but whose demise would

not occasion the collapse of the national state.

Yet, even though not essential to national ex-

istence, the British monarchy has survived and flourished.

Ernest Barker has said that the secret lies in the

monarchy's willingness to change and in its ability to

offer stability amid this changes


The continuity of our monarchy inspires us with
a sense of the continuity of our national life
through a long and storied past. But it is
far, very far, from being a merely conservative
institution. It does not prevent change. On the
contrary, it has helped and fostered change, and
it has changed itself in the process. This is
the cause of its long survival. It has survived
because it has changed and because it has moved
with the movement of time. It has survived be.
cause our kings, for the last 250 years. .
have been wise enough to forget past pretentions,
to learn new lessons, to change their positions
with changing time, and to join with the subjects
in bringing about change in other institutions.

In Belgium, this was the lesson that Albert I learned but

did not teach to his son, Leopold III. The latter's lack

of flexibility was in large part responsible for the

royal question.

There is yet another factor which has contributed

to the success of the British monarchy, a factor more

fundamental than the personal willingness of individual

monarchs to change with the times. The absence of this

factor in Belgium accounts most significantly for the

difficulties suffered by its monarchy. The British

monarch, like the Dutch and the three Scandinavian

monarchs, is the embodiment of historical continuity and

national self-identification, but he functions in this

capacity only because there already exists a tradition

common to each of his subjects and because the people,

1Ernest Barker, Essays on Government (Oxford:
At the Clarendon Press, 1951), pp. 2-3.

of which he is the reflection, are whole and able to be
mirrored in a single, undistorted image. In short, the
monarch is the result, not the cause, of consensus and
homogeneity, and consequently is not essential to their
continuance. This was not always true. Western European
monarchies existed historically where these two factors were
missing, but those monarchies were powerful institutions
with wide discretion and far-reaching influence. It was the
function of the monarch personally to maintain that unity
which would be nonexistent without him. As monarchies
evolved, however, and the power of the sovereign was cir-
cumscribed, monarchical institutions continued to flourish
only in those countries which were or became homogeneous
and unified--socially, politically, religiously, and
psychologically. The sovereign then lost his active func-
tion as a unifier and assumed the passive role as symbol
of an established unity, a symbol whose stability is in
direct proportion to its dispensability.
In Belgium, the monarchy is indispensable to
national unity, a maxim which commands the faith of
Catholic, Liberal, and Socialist. It is the king who
stands above the provincial conflicts of Wallonia and
Flanders, and it is through him alone that the Fleming and
the Walloon identifies himself as Belgian. But the Crown
violates thereby the two postulates upon which it is
claimed a viable constitutional monarchy rests, consensus

and homogeneity. It violates them because the Belgian
monarchy is not truly constitutional (as is the British
after which it was patterned but with which it had little
in common except nomenclature). It is a hybrid designed
to reconcile two concepts of monarchy each of which
answers a peculiar Belgian need: it is a constitutional
monarchy whose sovereign is granted power disproportionate
to that of a constitutional monarch in order that he
accomplish an authoritative function, the maintenance of
national unity. This hybrid creation functions smoothly
so long as the elements of national division in which the
king is forced to find the common denominator remain
quiescent. If the divisive elements do become active,
the monarchy continues to operate effectively only so
long as the king's power is maintained.
It should be observed that all monarchies have
suffered periods of change as a result of which the power
of the sovereign was reduced, but for the most part those
periods occurred before the development of the system of
constitutional monarchy and were steps leading to its
establishment. Once the system is entrenched, little
significant change takes place in the power of the
monarch. In other words, in a constitutional monarchy the
sovereign occupies an evolved not an evolving position.
One finds the most characteristic evidence of this
in Great Britain. From the beginning of the modern

monarchy, which may be said to date from the first Tudor
monarch in 1487, the history of the British monarchy might
be considered as an evolution from personal royal pre-
rogative to what is described today, and has been so
described since the reign of George IV, as "the Crown
in council"; or, in other words, an evolution from the
time when kings ruled through the agency of ministers to
that time when ministers began to govern through the
instrumentality of the Crown. This change took centuries
to come about. The conflict reached a climax after the
Stuarts came to the throne in 1603. They claimed the
right to rule as divine right monarchs, but this claim
was challenged in a revolution which came about in 1642.
While the first attempt to limit royal power produced
the Commonwealth, parliamentary institutions were not
easily established. The Stuarts were restored, only to be
again overthrown. The final solution took power from one,
the king, and distributed it among many, the ministers.
This distribution was codified with the passage of
the Bill of Rights in 1689 and the Act of Settlement in
1701. Beginning with the reign of William and Mary
(1689-1694), whom Parliament invited to reign, the pace of
the restriction of royal power was increased. It was
Anne (1702-11714) who learned that sovereigns must rule
with the favor of one or the other of the two great
political parties, and she was the last British ruler to

veto an act of Parliament. She was also the last monarch

to attend a meetinE of the Cabinet because by the end of

her reign the Cabinet had ceased being the personal

adjunct of the monarch and had become the spokesman of

the dominant political power in Parliament. The pressure

of parliamentary majorities upon the Crown's choice of

ministers had become irresistible by the time the

Hanoverians arrived, and the situation was aided im-

measurably by the inability of George I to speak English.

This inability forced him to rely upon his ministers in

order to rule, and this reliance set a precedent hence-

forth impossible to ignore or undo.

By the beginning of the reign of George I, royal

prerogative had already been brought into legal bounds.

The only authority which remained to be checked was that

which involved the King's discretionary power, above all,

the right to appoint and retain his own personal ministers.

Considering the distribution of power between Parliament

and King as it evolved during the 18001s, at the end of

the reign of George IV in 1830, the monarch no longer had

this discretionary power. Thus by the time Victoria came

to the throne in 1837, the constitutional monarchical

system had evolved to what it is today, and the extent of

the political power of the Crown was no longer an issue.

True enough, Victoria in her later years meddled a great

deal, and her ministers listened to her with the courtesy

that age, experience, a measure of wisdom, and affection
are able to command. But she never carried the day on
any major political issue, and she reigned in strict
compliance with Bagehot's observation that constitutional
monarchs may warn, advise, and encourage but do nothing

Broadly speaking since the death of Queen Victoria
royal intervention has been used only to advocate
the unity of the nation, at times when party and
group warfare have threatened to cause violent dis-
sention, and to promote "national" and imperial
interests in international affairs* All depends
upon personality and talent but the hereditary,
symbolic and. social status of the Crown
enable it to exercise a unifying influence in
cabinet counsel. It is not a power behind the
cabinet but b and with the cabinet, and, of
course, never againstt-ts determined will.2
In Belgium, the monarchy underwent a belated
evolution (one coming after the establishment of the
constitutional monarchical system) complicated by the
duality of its function. As the lower classes became
socially and politically articulate, their demands became
increasingly more stubborn, and their intransigence
threatened to disrupt the political process; this was
particularly true between 1920 and 1940. At the same time,
these classes demanded a larger share in this process. As
they entered Parliament it was logical that this share

Herbert Finer, The Theory and Practice of Modern
aGo nent (New York: Hen Holt & Co., The Dial Press,
1949Y TP

would take the form of increased parliamentary authority.

In the reapportionment of a predetermined whole, in this

case the entirety of governmental power set forth in the

Constitution, an increase in one share results in an

automatic decrease in another. An increase in the power

of the popularly elected parliament would therefore indi-

cate a decrease in that of the monarchical executive.

After the First World War, the Socialists took the in-

itiative in pressing for this redistribution, not through

constitutional amendment but by political attrition

utilizing the party and the workings of the cabinet system.
Belgian Socialists have always supported the monarchy (the

reality of Belgian political existence demands this), yet

theoretically Socialists are republicans. Therefore, the

closer the monarchical system approaches the republican

in function, the easier it is for the Socialists to

reconcile theory with practice. But the Socialists failed

to understand the dual nature of the Belgian monarchy;

that is to say, that one could not weaken the executive

powers of the monarch without weakening his capacity to

serve as the source of national unity.

Elements of Division in Belgium

Although Belgium came into existence as an inde-

pendent nation in 1831, the Belgian provinces which

formed the nation had belonged to the dukes of Burgundy

from the reign of Philip the Bold to that of Charles the

Bold, i.e., from 1384 until 1477. After the abdication

of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor, the area was ruled

first by Spain, next by Austria, then by France, and

finally between 1815 and 1830 by Holland. Throughout

these centuries the two major ethnic groups, i.e., the

Flemings and the Walloons, maintained their identity, and

at the time of the revolution against Holland in 1830

these groups were still separate. The Walloons trace

their ancestry to the original Belgic tribes of Celtic

origin, and the Flemings to the Franks who later settled

the same general area but who were prevented by the forests

of Brabant and Flanders, and by the Roman soldiers, from

penetrating into what would be today Walloon territory.

This separation has been maintained in part even to the


The revolution against Holland in 1830 and the

establishment of the Belgian state in 1831 had been

brought about by the combined efforts of Catholics and

Liberals who buried their differences long enough to

create a nation and see it through the difficult years of

infancy.3 From 1815 to 1830 the Catholics had suffered

3For a detailed account of this period and of
Belgian history in general, see Frans van Kalken,
Histoire de Belgioue des Origines a 1914 (Bruxellest
Office de Publicite, 1944); and Henri Pirenne,
Histoire de Belgique. (Bruxell-ss H. Lamertin,
6 vols., 1909-1926.)

what they considered the intolerable educational policies

of the Dutch king, Willem I, who wished to establish

state control over all religious activity including edu-

cation. The Liberals, on the other hand, had suffered

what they considered intolerable regulations regarding

civil liberties, particularly freedom of the press. The

unwillingness of the Dutch to make concessions provoked

the Catholics and Liberals to create the Union for the

peaceful redressing of their grievances.4 Hollandts

continued failure to respond changed the Union into a

revolutionary organization. This Catholic-Liberal alliance

was successful for approximately fifteen years after the

revolution in 1830 but began to break apart over the

problem of state support for Catholic schools; it finally

collapsed in 1846. From that date until 1884 governments

alternated between Catholic and Liberal until the

Catholics came to power in 1884 and governed without

interruption until the First World War.

This split between Liberals and Catholics, though

a significant division in Belgian society, was a division

along one dimension only. The ruling class, whether

4Unionism was the name given to the cooperation
of Liberals and Catholics from the years immediately
preceding the Revolution until 1845.

Catholic or Liberal, remained socially and economically
unified and shared a common outlook.

During the 1860's a new group came into being--the
Socialists. Because of voting qualifications the great
majority of the lower classes was diafranchised, thus con-
fining Socialists to nonpolitical activity. But their
demands began to increase iL volume and their voice w&a
heard through the trade unions and workingments associa-
timon cooperatives, and atual societies. Even before the
rise of the Socialiats, however, the Catholic lower classes

had begun to voice their discontent. Conferences were held
at Malines in 1884 and 1887 and in Liege in 1886 which
resulted in reluctant approval by the Catholic oligarchy of
social and economic, but not political, concessions to the
manses. However, these concessions were minimal because
the philosophic dispute between conservative and progressive
Catholics remained unresolved until 1891.

After the promulgation in 1o91 of SM i IJAflj the
charter of Catholic workers which sanctioned progressive
special and economic theory, the Catholics in power began to
move slowly toward the social and political democratization
of Belgium. The electoral law of April 18, 1893, the first
since the adoption of the Constitution it 1830, established

male suffrage. Each man over twenty-five years old was
given the vote, but a married man paying a minimum property
tax, a widower with a child, a business man, a man living

on his invested capital, or a man with a university

diploma received one or two additional ballots. As an

outgrowth of the liberalization of the franchise the last

decade of the nineteenth century saw the beginnings of

social legislation, but change continued at a gradual

pace. The new electoral law continued to discriminate in

favor of the man of means and stable position so that the

Socialists and the lower-class Catholics remained politi-

cally weak. On the eve of the First World War the

political balance of power was more or less as it had been

since the 1880's. Nevertheless, new social divisions

became apparent. The socioeconomic split between upper

and lower classes (always existent but now beginning to

widen) had been added to the religious division among the

upper classes, a division which had been compounded by the

philosophic differences among Catholics themselves. And

among the lower classes, too, religious differences in-

creased as Catholic workingmen abandoned their church for


After the First World War universal manhood

suffrage was established which gave the vote to all the

lower classes.5 As a result of the first elections held

under the broadened franchise, the Liberal party was

eclipsed by the Socialist as the second major party, and

the Catholic party was forced to reorganize in order to

allow the lower classes a share in the party's organi-

sation and management. The prewar economic and social

divisions were now solidified politically.

Parallels for these social and political cleavages

may be found throughout Western Europe. In particular the

divisions resembled those of France where the religious,

socioeconomic, and political issues formed a grid of

interacting forces. They were in contrast, however, to

those of England, where major changes had come about one

by one and had allowed time for national adjustment

between the alterations in society. The Reformation

settled the religious issue comfortably before the question

of regime demanded an answer, and this in turn was settled

before the economic fractures resulting from the industrial

5This change in the franchise did not come about
through legislative action but as the result of a promise
made by King Albert (with ministerial approval) in his
address from the throne on November 22, 1919, in which he
commented that it would be unjust to allow the profiteers
of the war to continue to enjoy the privilege of plural
voting while those who had fought in the trenches could
cast only a single ballot.

For a thorough discussion of these divisions in
France see David Thompson. Democracy in France (New York.
1949)| and in particular Philip Williams, Politics in
Postwar France (London: Longmans. Green and Co. 1954)*

revolution had to be mended. In France, on the other
hand, the first two issues, i.e., the religious and that

of regime, erupted with the revolution in 1789 and were

still unsettled when the country split economically be-

cause of industrialization. For this reason, the economic

Left and Right in France were not necessarily congruent

with the classic Left and Right of the religious vocabulary,

and until recently the question of regime could still make

and break politicians.

The situation in Belgium was analagous to that in

France but not as complex. The question of regime has not

divided the Belgians in the same manner as it has the

French. The Belgian constitutional monarchy grew out of

a revolution which found the Catholic Right and the

Liberal Left fighting on the same side. As in France, the

religious issue was embodied in the combustible question

ecolaire, but the socioeconomic issues in Belgium did not

result in the same political fragmentation so character-

istic of France. The Liberals, conservative economically

but politically Left, i.e., anticlerical, had their

counterpart in the French Radicals, but the Catholic Right

in Belgium differed from the Catholic Right in France.

In France, the Catholic Right was conservative politically

as well as economically and therefore afforded no voice

for the radical Catholic working classes. In Belgium,

both elements were accommodated, admittedly with strain

and imperfectly, in the Catholic party. After the

promulgation of Rerum Novarum in 1891 the Catholic Right

began to make concessions to the left-wing in the party

because the conservative Catholics feared concessions less

than the creation of a labor party which would unite

Socialists and radical Catholics. Perhaps the most con-

spicuous difference between France and Belgium was the

language split, a geographic, cultural, and linguistic

fissure which cut across all the other divisions in

Belgian society.

During the 1920's the Flemish-Walloon antipathy

was rekindled. Throughout the nineteenth century the

Flemings had remained second-class citizens within their

own country. The free use of both Flemish and French had

been guaranteed by the constitution, but a reaction against

former Dutch rule and especially against the linguistic

policies of Willem I resulted in French becoming the

official language.7 The civil service, the army, the bar,

education, the Court, the higher clergy, the aristocracy

became French-oriented. Even the Flemish nobility and

upper bourgeoisie spoke French exclusively, so that with-

in Flanders itself those who would have formed the

nucleus of a provincial culture abandoned their linguistic

Flemish is a dialect of Dutch. The well-educated
Fleming speaks pure Dutch, however.

heritage. Throughout Belgium a change in social status

was geared to a knowledge of French and the cultivation

of a French "esprit"; to be identified with things Flemish

was a mark of cultural inferiority. But among Flemish

intellectuals and among the minor Flemish clergy a

reaction set in against this inferiority during the last

quarter of the nineteenth century. On August 16, 1873 a

law was passed which required criminal trials in Flanders

to be conducted in Flemish. In 1898 the De Vriendt-

Coremans law granted Flemish equal status with French.

This law required official government publications to be

written in both languages and required both languages to

appear on stamps, currency, public buildings, and early in

the 1900's other laws were passed which regulated the use

of both languages in Parliament, in the civil service, in

the courts, and in secondary education.

Beginning with the 1920's the Flemings, taking

inspiration from the same reasoning which had condemned

the undemocratic electoral laws, demanded full equality

in all other aspects of national life. The law of

July 31, 1921, compelled cabinet ministers to exchange

communications with provincial authorities in the language

8In the army where French was the official language,
a story made the rounds about a Flemish peasant drafted
into the service who was later court martialed and
sentenced to death without ever fully understanding the
nature of his crime. His accusers, his defenders, and his
judge spoke only French.

of the region. In 1932 laws were passed which required

the use of both languages in all ministries. An edu-

cation law stipulated that in primary schools the parent

no longer had the right to choose the language of

instruction, thereby delivering a serious blow to the

snob appeal of French. Moedertaal-Voertaal (mother tongue-

instruction tongue) was replaced by Landstaal-Voertaal

(regional tongue-instruction tongue). Another law required

all defendants to be tried and judged in their mother

tongue; the army was made bilingual, and a Flemish military

school was created for the training of Flemish officers.

But the most important step toward cultural equality was

the creation of an all-Flemish university by converting

to Flemish the French-speaking state university at Ghent.9

Education could now be obtained exclusively in Flemish

from primary through professional school. At long last

the Flemings felt they were free of the seduction of

French culture, at least officially.

It has been necessary to dwell at length on this

cultural-social-linguistic estrangement because it gives

depth to the division between Flanders and Wallonia over

the Leopold question. The Flemings were still on the

Following this, many courses at the private
universities of Louvain and Brussels were offered in
Flemish, particularly at Louvain where today the majority
of classes in all faculties is offered in both languages.

defensive at the time of the royal question. As often

happens with "minority" groups, the reaction against the

former "oppressors" came not during the years of dis-

crimination but during the first years of newly-won

equality. Unfortunately Leopold III became identified as

the Flemish king by the Walloons who, by the time of the

royal question, had begun to fear the encroachment of the

Flemish language and culture. Since it is the Flemings

who voluntarily learn French and not, in general, the

Walloons who learn Flemish, the laws which require all

government personnel to be bilingual were working to the

advantage of the Flemings. The French-speaking Belgians

feared a flamandisation of Belgian life.

The sensitivity of the French-speaking Belgians

regarding their inherited culture can be fully understood

only by living among the Belgians. There exists a contempt

among the Walloons for their Flemish brothers that can

best be demonstrated by recalling French contempt for non-

French culture and then multiplying this contempt several-

fold. The French at least are secure in their culture

the Walloons never relax their vigilance. It is important

to know this about the Leopold affairs if the Catholic

Flemings had succeeded in returning Leopold III to his

throne, it would have been the first time in Belgian

history that Flanders had imposed its will upon Wallonia

and Brussels. Given the recent cultural, social, and

linguistic renaissance of Flanders, this political
phenomenon might have been more than Wallonia could have


King Leopold III and his Relationshio to the Monarchy

The first section of this chapter has attempted to

show why a monarchy is needed in Belgium and the type of

monarchy that was created to meet these needs, in par-

ticular the need for national unity. Section two gave a

brief account of the divisions in Belgian society for

which the sovereign was called upon to act as a unifier.

This last section will attempt to show the status of the

Belgian monarchy at the time of Leopold III. Then it will

examine his role against the background of domestic

political developments from 1935 until 1940.

The power of the king is set forth in the
Constitution in articles 26, 27, and 29, and the enumer-

ation of these powers appears in articles 60 through 78.

Of these, those most pertinent to this study are the


Article 26--The Legislative power is exercised
collectively by the King, the House of Representa.
tives, and the Senate.

In the houses of Parliament there are representa-
tives from Flanders and Wallonia. The capital is con-
sidered a unit apart, agglomeration bruxelloie.g and
elects either French-speaking or Flemish-speaking

Article ?7--Initiative belongs to each of the
three branches of legislative power.

Article 29--To the King belongs the executive power
as it is regulated by the Constitution.

Article 63--The person of the King is inviolable;
his ministers are responsible.

Article &t--No act of the King can have effect
unless it is countersigned by a minister, which
minister, by his signing, becomes responsible.

Article 65-The King appoints and dismisses his

Article 68--The King commands the forces on land
and sea, declares war, makes treaties of peace,
alliance, and commerce. He informs the Chambers
as soon as the interest and safety of the State
permit, presenting to them pertinent communica-
tions. *. *

Article 69--The King sanctions and promAlgates the

Article 71--The King has the right to dissolve the
Chambers, either simultaneously or separately.. .

Article 78--The King can adjourn the Chambers..* ..

Article 80--The King comes of age at eighteen
years inclusive. He takes possession of the
throne only after having solemnly sworn before the
Chambers sitting in Joint session the following
"I swear to observe the Constitution and the
laws of the Belgian people, to maintain national
independence, and the integrity of the territory."

Artie 6.2.--If the King finds it impossible to
reign, his ministers, after having established
this impossibility, immediately convoke the
chambers .

Article 83--The Regency can be conferred only upon
one person.

The Constitution grants the monarch extensive

power. In theory he is able to refuse to approve

legislation, to appoint and dismiss his personal ministers,
to adjourn Parliament, or to dissolve it either in whole
or in part.11 He is commander of the armed forces and
responsible for the maintenance of the nation's inde-
pendence and its territorial integrity. His power would
be almost total if it were not for Articles 63 and 64.
Yet, even considering these articles, the king occupies a
position of great authority, far in excess of the
nineteenth century British model. The British monarch,
according to Bagehot, has only three rights the right to
be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to
warn. The first two Belgian monarchs, Leopold I and
Leopold II, did not hesitate to use their constitutional
powers even though a gradual evolution was already taking
place in the conception of authority under Articles 65,
71, and 72.12 The evolution was delayed, however, for
several reasons. The first was the personality of
Leopold II who reigned from 1864 until 1910 and saw him-
self as a king in the grand manner. Even Belgians say,
and they despise him still today, that he was born out of

11The cabinet is responsible to both houses of
12The best biographies of the first two Leopolde
have been written by Count Louis de Lichtervelde.
Leopold lr (Bruxellest Librairie Albert Dewit, 1929);
ipol_ (Bruxellea: Editions Universitaires, 1926).

his time; they liken him in spirit to Louis XIV.3

Second, the conservative Catholics who governed un-

interruptedly from 1884 until 1914 were not philosophically

opposed to a strong monarch. Third, the Socialists who

rejected a strong monarchy did not become a political

power until after 1920.

It was during the reign of King Albert, 1910-1934,

that the position of the monarch was noticeably altered.

Albert discontinued several practices by which Belgian

sovereigns had historically identified themselves publicly

with policy. The New Year's reception and address at the

palace, the political banquets, the personal speeches

delivered on important public occasions were abandoned so

that the people lost "political" contact with their

sovereign. He became the beloved symbol of national unity,

visible yet aloof, a living legend which had started to

grow during the war and which Albert chose never to mar.

The people became accustomed to an apparently passive

king. He was the first Belgian monarch to rule in the

manner described and accepted as constitutional by modern

13The Belgians have never forgiven Leopold II for
having forced the Congo on them. Whether rightly or
wrongly, they have always considered it a drain rather
than a source of profit. But what the author thinks the
Belgians have really never forgiven Leopold II in regard
to the Congo is the fact that he was in Paris visiting his
mistress on the day the transfer took place, dramatizing
once again the aphorism he coined to describe his people
and his land: petit Kens, petit pays.

theorists.14 Events during the second half of his reign

were of a nature peaceful enough not to demand his active

and overt participation. Albert died in 1934 only months

before Belgium entered into a period of crisis which did

not end until 1950, the year of Leopold's abdication.

It is impossible to say whether Albert would have

met the crises which began in 1935 any differently than

did his son. We do not know if Albert reigned as he did

because of disposition alone or because events were aus-

picious. We do know that when his successor was forced by

circumstances to act as the Constitution allowed, he was

denounced as an autocrat and repudiated by his people. We

cannot deny that Leopold III acted as he did largely be-

cause of his personality. To him the power of the monarch

should be as it appeared in the Constitution: strong and

positive. Leopold was unrealistic in his condemnation of

the course of political evolution and the workings of

party government, yet we cannot ignore the contribution of

events which nourished his bias.

In 1935 the failure of the Catholic-Liberal
government under Theunis to cope with the economic crisis

compelled Leopold to call Paul Van Zeeland from outside

For an excellent discussion of this manner sees
Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution (New York$
D. Appleton & Co., 1884), Chapter IV.

Parliament to become Prime Minister.15 The extent of

Van Zeelandfs success and the gratitude which Belgians

felt toward him were demonstrated in April, 1937, when he

became the candidate supported by the Catholic, Liberal,

Socialist, and Communist parties in a special election in

Brussels. In May, 1936, the Rexist party, a fascist

organization under the leadership of Leon Degrelle, won

twenty-one parliamentary seats in its first national

election. By early 1937, however, the attitude of the

Belgians toward the Rexist party had begun to sour, due

primarily to an anti-Rexist campaign organized and

sustained by the Government. In April, 1937, as a test of

strength, Degrelle himself chose to run for a Brussels

parliamentary seat. The four major parties asked Van

Zeeland to campaign against him. The Prime Minister's

triumph surpassed expectation, yet in October of the same

year he was compelled to resign because of a scandal in

the Banque Nationale, a scandal in which it is conceded

that he had played an innocent part. His enemies,

primarily the Rexists and their parliamentary ally, the

National Flemish Party, used this incident to force him

out of politics. This repudiation of a public servant who

had come to the nation's rescue only two years before gave

1See Carl-Henrik Hojer, Le Regime parlementaire
belge de 1918-1940 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksells
Bokryckeri AB, 1946). This is the single best account of
parliamentary history for the prewar period.

a sharp blow to Leopold's already waning faith in

parliamentary procedure. The events which took place

during the following two years further darkened his view

and led him increasingly to equate governmental stability

with the strength of his own position.

From October 28 until November 30, 1937, Leopold

labored to find a prime minister acceptable to Parliament

where the use of exclusives6 was leading to total govern-

mental paralysis. First, Leopold called two Socialists

successively to form a cabinet. At this time, the

Socialists were the largest party, although lacking a

majority. Emile Vandervelde, the "grand old man" of

Belgian Socialism refused to try; Henri de Man, the presi-

dent of the Socialist party, failed because the Liberals

feared his economic policies which actually differed very

little from Van Zeeland's. Leopold then asked two

Catholics successively, Cyrille Van Overbergh, who begged

off because of health, and Hubert Pierlot who was unable

to overcome the opposition of the Socialists. Next,

Paul-Henri Spaak, a Socialist, was summoned by the King,

but the Catholics turned him down because the Socialists

A6n exclusive was the means whereby a party
refused to consider a particular man for a particular
ministry. It was primarily a retaliatory measure. As
each of the three major parties increased its list of
exclusives, the function of government came to a halt.
No one would agree with anyone else.

had turned down Pierlot. Leopold was forced to call a

meeting of the leaders of the three major parties. After

long consultation, a Liberal candidate was agreed upon,

Paul-Emil Janson. This compromise Prime Minister lasted

until May 12, 1938, when he was forced to resign because

he found himself without a cabinet. One by one four of

his Catholic ministers left the Cabinet because of a

split in Catholic ranks over the remedies to be taken to

solve the economic problems which had begun in September

and October, 1937.17 In addition, one other Catholic left

because of illness and another died. The failure of the

coalition occurred without the Cabinet being either

repudiated by Parliament or dismissed by the King.

Leopold then turned to Spaak to form a government.

The latter's skill and Parliament's reluctance to repeat

the cat and mouse politics which had left Belgium without

a government for thirty days four months previously

enabled him to create a viable government; but it lasted

only until February, 1939. The new crisis had begun in

January when the Government appointed Dr. Maertens, a

Fleming, to the Flemish Academy of Medicine. Maertens

had been a collaborator during the First World War, had

1During this period of parliamentary confusion,
Hitler had moved into Austria (March 13, 1938), and
France had devalued the franc, once again threatening
Belgium's economic stability.

been condemned to death, but was pardoned in 1920. There

is no more delicate issue in Belgium than incivisme, the

term applied to the activity of pro-German Belgians

during the two world wars. The '-alloons claim that the

Flemings have a monopoly on treason, while the Flemings

counter with the proverb of the mote and the beam and

protest that collaboration laws discriminate against them.

The Flemings, therefore, interpreted the Iaertens ap-

pointment as a partial vindication of their claims. The

;Jalloons, on the other hand, used it to renew their anti-

Flemish charges. Spaak sought to defend his appointment

by stating that he never would have appointed the doctor

had he had any reason to doubt his loyalty. This defense

notwithstanding, ppaak paid for his indiscretion by

being forced to resign.

Once again Leopold was compelled to enter the

political arena in order to find a prime minister. On

February 23, Hubert Pierlot, a Catholic, formed a govern-

ment which collapsed four days later because of the

Maertens affair. On March 6 Leopold dissolved Parliament.

Elections were held on April 2. Elsewhere in Europe,

between late February and early April, 1939, while Belgium

indulged in internal petty bickering, Slovakia had

proclaimed her independence from Czechoslovakia, and on

March 14, the German armies had moved into Prague and

installed themselves in Bohemia-Moravia. On March 22,

Germany acquired Memel.

On February 2, at a meeting of the Council of

Ministers, King Leopold took the Government to task for

the condition of Belgian political life:

Postwar circumstances and events have modified
our political parties by weakening their unity.
Their fragmentation has had serious conse-
quencesa the very principles of parliamentary
government have been threatened. The majority
system has been upset by the forced collabo-
ration of several parties to form a govern-
ment and by the suppression of a normal and
necessary opposition.
Having become a miniature of Parliament,
where all political nuances of the majority must
be represented and proportioned, the ministries
are becoming more and more ephemeral and difficult
to form.
The growing influence of political parties
is being substituted for constitutional power.
IVinisters become the agents of their party;
governments break up and sign without being
turned out by Parliament.16

Leopold commented further, pointing out that ministers

once appointed are "agents of the executive power" and

not party representatives. He then raised his voice

against the growing practice of the government of

submitting decrees, appointments, and enabling legisla-

tion for his signature after they had already been made

public or leaked to the press. He stated;

18 %
Contribution a tlEtude de la Question royale
(Bruxellest Groupement national beige en collaboration
avec la Centrale beige de Documentation, n.d.), p. 79.
This will be cited henceforth as the Contribution.

Article 64 of the Constitution stipulates
that no act of the king can take effect until
countersigned by a minister. That stipulation
guarantees that no one shall ever uncover the king.
More and more, certain practices are being under-
taken which are diametrically opposed to that
principle. Those practices no longer permit
the Chief of State to fulfill his constitutional
role; he is no longer covered by his ministers
it is he, on the contrary who covers them.
I can no longer permit the Government to
demand my urgent signature for important decrees
without allowing me the time to study them, to
reflect upon them and to formulate an opinion
concerning them. Those who drew up the Consti-
tution certainly did not wish that the role of
the Head of State should be reduced to that of the
servile legislator of decisions taken without him
by members of his government.19

On the day Leopold signed the order of dissolution,

March 6, 1939, he wrote a letter to Hubert Pierlot, the

Prime Minister, in which he reiterated his criticism of

party politics but denied the allegation that he wanted

to impose his own will on the Governments

If the principles of our national charter are
thus forgotten, the Head of State is no longer
able to play the role which falls to him and,
highly improperly, the Crown is implicated when it
should be solely the ministers who are responsible
before the Houses of Parliament for the acts
carrying the signature of the king. As for wishing
to superimpose upon the political and legal re-
sponsibility of the king himself, that is a false
conception which will only confuse public opinion.
Those who on certain occasions echo malicious or
simply tendentious statements risk, without perhaps
suspecting it, committing an injustice regarding
the only citizen in the kingdom to whom are for-
bidden the means given every man to defend his
opinions and his acts.20

1Ibid., p. 80.

20Lbi.., p. 85.

The elections resulted in a return to partial

stability resting upon the three major parties. The

Rexists now numbered only fourth the Communists, nine; and

the National Flemish, fifteen. Yet the three major

parties still found it impossible to agree upon a prime

minister. Once again Leopold was forced to speaks

Constitutional monarchy is based upon the
principle of a rigorous separation of power. It
supposes alongside a Parliament which legislates
and controls, an executive which governs. The
executive power belongs to the king (Article 29
of the Constitution) who appoints and dismisses
his ministers (Article 65) who alone are
responsible before Parliament.
Now as the executive power has been weakened
the role of the state has not ceased growing. Thus,
by a paradoxical contradiction, the more the state
is obliged to act, the less it is capable of doing
so. .*
The first necessary condition, that upon which
depends, I do not hesitate to affirm, the very
fate of our regime, is the restoration, in all its
independence and in all its capacity of action, of
a truly responsible executive power--that is to
say, formed by men who are able to assure the
governing of the country throughout an entire
legislative period, without finding themselves
hindered in their action by the orders from
parties, by decisions of political groups and sub-
groups or by electoral preoccupation.
Of all the reforms that must be realized, the
most important is that of the mentality of the men
in power, the ministers. Without this reform,
which demands no new2 legislation, the rest are
vain and impossible.

On April 17, 1939, the Catholics and Liberals

formed a coalition government, the Socialists going into

Ibid*. p. 86.

opposition. On September 5, following the outbreak of war

in Poland, Leopold took steps which led to the formation

of a tripartite cabinet which governed until war came to

Belgium in May, 1940, but even then not without a mishap.

On April 25, 1940, sixteen days before the German invasion,

the Government offered its resignation to the King. The

cause of the crisis? The refusal of a handful of Liberal

members of Parliament to approve the public school budget

because of the operation of certain language laws. With-

out even losing parliamentary support, Pierlot offered the

Cabinet's resignation to Leopold who refused its

At the moment when the army stands vigilant
guard at our frontiers and when the international
situation makes it imperative for all Belgians
to draw more closely together in union, it is
certainly not the time for a ministerial crisis
involving questions of internal politics.
I would go counter to the superior interest
of the country in accepting the resignation of
the Government following a recent vote in the Senate
confirming that our foreign policy mets with the
approval of almost the entire nation.

"I would go counter to the superior interests of
the country"--these were indeed prophetic words. Exactly

one month from the date he wrote to Pierlot, Leopold cut

relations with his Government and within another three days

22ibd, p. 115. The author has let the King speak
at length in order to show in the latter's own words his
ideas and feelings. The extensiveness of quotation does
not necessarily indicate endorsement on the authors part.

surrendered his army and himself to the Germans, guided

in his actions by the same philosophy which prompted him

to refuse the resignation and which had shaped his actions

since 1935: his personal notion of the greater good of


Leopold's Philosophy of KingehIp

This last section has attempted to show how

Leopold sought to justify his decisions and his authority

in terms of the nation's domestic welfare. The next

chapter will discuss his role in the shaping of Belgian

foreign policy and indicate how Leopold sought to equate

his decisions and his authority with Belgium's inter-

national welfare as well.

But before doing so, it might be well to analyse

what Leopold conceived to be the true function of the

monarchy; for it is there that one must search for the

rationale that motivated and governed his personal inter-

ference in Belgium's domestic and international affairs.

Leopold never publicly developed this rationale, but

Louis Wodon, the King's chef de cabinet from 1934 until

1940, on various occasions expressed his opinion regarding

what he considered to be the true function of the

monarchy. It should not strain credulity to assume that

men who have been intimately associated for many years

should share common opinions, particularly when one of the

men is a king and the other his servant.2 It is

legitimate to assume that the peculiar theories of Wodon

reflected the thoughts of Leopold himself concerning the

monarch and his relation to the state.

Wodon distinguished between the function of the

monarch as executive and that as head of state. He

based this distinction on the oath taken by Belgian kings

upon accession to the throne "I swear to observe the

Constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to main-

tain national independence and the integrity of the

territory." Wodon reasoned that the oath implied a

position over and above the Constitution, a position which

could be understood by reading the document as a whole.

That which in reality establishes and
consecrates the royal pre-eminence is the title
of Head of State which belongs to the king and in
which are concentrated and synthesized the
allocation of duties which fall to him over and
beyond the legislative and executive. These
result from a combination of constitutional texts
intelligently understood, of the spirit of the
whole which flows from it and finally of the

3The word "servant" is eminently valid, for the
chef de cabinet is the personal choice of the king, not
subject to ministerial approval.

24This distinction, a standard one made by authors
on constitutional monarchy (see Herbert Finer, The Theory
and Practice of Modern Government) has a meaning unique to
Wodon. He does not see the monarch as the Head of State
impersonating the state on gala occasions as do other
authors, including Finer. Wodon sees the Head of State as
a position embodying the state and speaking for it on a
higher plane than the constitutional or parliamentary.

traditional unwritten rules which form a very
notable part of our public law. Every
constitution supposes essential elements which are
anterior and superior to it. Such is the case of
the existence of the state and its independence.
The latter implies the former. These would be
sustained in vain by a strict and literal in-
terpretation of certain texts scrupulously
interpreted it is reasonable that it would lead
to conclusions and results which would go counter
to that independence and that existence.
If the oath alludes to objections other than
the Constitution and the laws, it is exactly be-
cause these objectives are not revealed by the
texts of the charter which presupposes them and
which go beyond that document. From this it
follows that it is only by condemnable sophistry
that one would be able to understand these texts
in a sense destructive to the elements at the
base of the Constitution itself. It should be
noted that the oath is a personal act of the king,
and there is no question of ministerial counter-
signing. 5

Wodon makes this further comment comparing the king to a

father, to the head of a family

Regarding the moral mission of the king it is
permissible to point to a certain analogy between
his role and that of a father, or more generally,
of parents in a family. The family is, of course,
a legal institution as is the state. But what
would a family be where everything was limited
among those who compose it to simply legal
relationships? In a family when one considers
only legal relationships one comes very close to
a breakdown in the moral ties founded on reciprocal
affection without which a family would be like any
other fragile association.0

25Louis Wodon. "Sur le role du Roi come Chef de
l'Etat dans les cas de defaillances constitutionnelles."
Bulletin de I'Acadaemi Rovale de Bselgiue- 1941, pp. 211-
Louis Wodon. "Du recourse pour excess de pouvoir
devant la Constitution belge," Bullin d 1-Aadmi"
Royal de Belgiaue. December 5, 1938, p. 542.

It is not difficult to grasp Leopold's opinions

regarding the monarchy. He understood its purpose; he

understood its indispensability to national unity. It is

difficult, however, to accept his outdated philosophy, one

which for all its good intention contained the seeds of

disastrous consequences. One cannot read Wodon without

the shock of realization that he wrote not for the seven-

teenth but for the twentieth century. Leopold seemed to

have dismissed an unavoidable reality-the gradual

evolution that had taken place in the concept of monarchi-

cal power. This evolution had been delayed in Belgium

because of the several factors which were discussed above.

However, by the 1930's these delaying factors had been

removed and the evolution could continue, this time more

rapidly. Yet, the very factors that allowed the evolution

to move forward released completely the divisive elements

which only a strong monarchy could keep in check. King

Leopoldts behavior before, during, and after the war can

be understood only by keeping in mind this paradox.



The policy of "independence-neutrality" has been

identified by the opponents of King Leopold as his

personal policy imposed by him on an unwilling Government.

During the royal affair this opinion was given wide

publicity and was used to strengthen the case against the

King. It is the purpose of the first half of this chapter

to show that the policy was the natural consequence of

the interplay of two phenomena: the first, the failure

of collective security and of international agreements

(i.e., the failure .of the League of Nations and of the

Locarno Part) to assure Belgium's safety; the second, the

internal divisions peculiar to Belgium. The policy,

though introduced by Leopold and identified with him, was

accepted by the Government and remained the policy of

each succeeding government until war came to Belgium in

May, 1940. The second half of the chapter will attempt

to document this fact.

The Collapse of Collective Security and International

The workings of European politics which had forced

a policy of neutrality upon Belgium from 1830 until 1914


compelled her after the First World War to find guarantees

for her safety in collective security and international

alliance. The bases of this security were the League of

Nations and the Locarno Pact.1 The obligations assumed

by Belgium under the League and Locarno were out of pro-

portion to her size and strength, but they were supportable

so long as the conditions established by the Versailles

Treaty remained stable. They would have dangerous conse-

quences in the event that the status quo were altered.

By the mid-1930's one of the bases for Belgian
security had collapsed. The collective protection

afforded by the League of Nations had been a dead letter

since the Sino-Japanese dispute in 1931, and events in

Europe and Africa since that time marked the final dis-

integration of the organization's power and authority. In

January, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor and in the follow-

ing October took Germany out of the League and out of the

Disarmament Conference. On March 16, 1935, Germany

repudiated the military, naval, and air clauses of the

Treaty of Versailles and announced that conscription would

In 1920 Belgium had signed a treaty with France
which fixed the details of military cooperation in the
event of fresh aggression on the part of Germany. The
treaty for all practical purposes had been absorbed into
the more encompassing Locarno Pact; however, until March 6,
1939, the day before the German reoccupation of the
Rhineland, the Franco-Belgian treaty was a binding obliga-
tion upon the nations and so might be considered a third
base of security.

be reintroduced. At the same time Hitler began to build
a military air force. Belgium watched uneasily as the
armed strength of Germany increased across an all too
narrow Rhineland, yet, though the League could no longer
be relied upon to maintain European order, the Locarno
Pact made this sone inviolable and Belgium felt relatively
On March 7, 1936, Germany reoccupied the
Rhineland.2 The Locarno powers failed to act. Shortly
afterward Prime Minister Van Zeeland went to London to
meet with the representatives of France, Italy, and Great
Britain and ask them what they intended to do in order to
keep their word and to protect Belgium while protecting
themselves, and with themselves the whole civilized world.
Eden made it clear that British opinion would never
sanction military action whose purpose it was to expel
Germans from the Rhineland, their historic soil. On this
question Flandin represented a divided government and a
nation ill-prepared to go to war. Italy would not call
Germany to task only six months following the beginning of
her own Ethiopian campaign. As a result, Van Zeeland was
forced to return to Belgium and inform his nation that the

The Franco-Belgian pact was dissolved by France
on March 6, 1939.
'Emile Cammaerts. The Prisoner atLaok. act
and Legend. (London: The Cresset ress, 1941), p.96.

great powers would do nothing for the time being but that

negotiations would be entered into whose results would be

binding upon Belgium. He had agreed at London to follow

the initiative of Great Britain and France in opening

negotiations with Germany for the creation of a new Rhine

pact and had promised Belgian military aid in the event of

further German hostility.

In the meantime Belgium lay exposed and committed

beyond her strength--committed by the military agree-

ments made at London and by Locarno which still bound her

to France, Great Britain, and Italy, but exposed because

her geographic position was no longer protected by German

participation in Locarno. All that remained was the word

of Britain and France to renegotiate with Germany and the

pledge of Britain alone made on April 1 that she would

guarantee Belgian territorial integrity, sources of little

comfort to Belgium in the light of what had recently

happened along the Rhine.

Belgium had not allowed this situation to find her

totally unprepared militarily. Already in the early

1930's the Belgian government had seen the direction in

which European politics was moving. From 1932, Albert

Deveze, the Liberal Minister of Defense in the de

Broqueville Cabinet,4 had taken steps to improve the

4The de Broqueville Cabinet was a Catholic-
Liberal coalition.

nations military position. He had mechanized the

artillery and the cavalry, introduced modern weapons, and

in 1934, created frontier guard units, including the

Chasseurs Ardennais, motorcycle cavalry. But his policy

of conscription had met insurmountable opposition. He

had wanted to lengthen the period of service in order that

the army receive better training, but the Catholic party

was opposed and unwilling to make concessions. Its

opposition was not based upon moral ground it was a

purely political issue. The strength of the Catholic

party lay in Flanders. The Flemings have been historically

opposed to all things French5 and had resented the treaties

which bound Belgium to France, particularly the Franco-

Belgian treaty of 1920, following whose stipulations

Belgian and French troops hac marched together into the

Ruhr in 1923. Flanders was less opposed to Locarno be-

cause this treaty parcelled out responsibility more

broadly, but the Flemish population had never been happy

with any of the agreements to which France was a partner.

Thus the proposal to change the conscription laws met

Flemish resistance so long as there remained the possi-

bility that Belgian soldiers should fight for the benefit

of France. Flanders could do nothing to alter the

5This was in large part a reaction against that
condition of inferiority spoken of in Chapter I.

fait accompli of Locarno, but it was determined to

obstruct any policy which would have as its possible

result further military cooperation with France.

In November, 1935, the Eelgian Army General Staff,

alarmed by German rearmament and convinced that Britain

and France did not take these developments seriously,

laid before King Leopold a program for national defense,

a program which received his complete approval as

Commander-in*Chief of the armed forces. The program was

next presented to Parliament, but, once again, because of

the provisions for conscription, the Catholic party refused

to approve it. To impress upon Parliament the seriousness

of the situation, the Government suggested that a Mixed

Military Commission be created to study Belgian defense

needs. The Commission came into being by royal decree on

March 25, (two weeks after the Rhineland reoccupation) and

met thirty-seven times. 'While there was difference of

opinion as to application, there was unanimity on general

principles, and the Commission called for immediate

action on the purchase of materiel, anti-aircraft defense,

fortifications, and conscription. The Commission made it

clear that Belgium was not totally unprepared militarily,

but her strength was inadequate in the event that the

nation would find it necessary to rely exclusively upon

its own resources.

By late summer of 1936 this likelihood had become

an actuality. On March 9 Italy had annexed Ethiopial on

July 4 the League of Nations admitted that sanctions had
failed and discontinued them on July 16 civil war broke

out in Spain, and on July 24 Germany extended the draft to

two years. Still France and Britain continued to drift,

and Belgium, their reluctant partner, witnessed an out-

break of the historic national fears that Belgian blood

would fill Belgian soil for causes which had little to do

with Belgium. It was imperative, therefore, that the

Government adopt the program suggested by the Commission.

While the Government realized that, in the event of war,

the strength of the Belgian army would probably have

little influence upon the direction in which that war

would move, it realized, too, that weakness toward a

potential enemy was an encouragement to his aggression.

But the adoption of this program presented a dilemma. The

program called for an increase in the period of con-

scription, yet the Flemings remained intractable, even in

the face of national emergency, and refused to vote funds

for military expansion so long as the international

commitments under Locarno were outstanding. The Commission

had observed in its report that public opinion in Flanders,

the workers as well as the bourgeoisie and the intel-

lectuals, is hostile to any policy which would be based on

that of France.

Contribution, p. 40.

The Government had to choose: either to maintain the re-

lationship with France and Britain and gamble on an

eventual settlement of the Rhineland dispute, thus re-

establishing Belgian security through international agree-

ment; or to repudiate Locarno, creating her own defense

behind the walls of non-involvement. The possibility of

hedging the contingency and rearming at home while allowing

France and Britain to pursue negotiations abroad was

precluded by Flemish intransigence.

The Policy of Independence-Neutrality

The solution lay in a new foreign policy. Already

in April, Paul-Henri Spaak, the Socialist foreign Minister,

had suggested this possibility to Parliament. "Belgian

security cannot be achieved except by an immense military

effort under a policy of independence, the only solution

able to realize a perfect cohesion between Flemings and

Walloons."7 On July 20, at a banquet for the Foreign

Press Corps, Spaak elaborated upon the reasons for a change

in policy. The reality of European politics, he said,

compelled him to forget completely his preferences for one

or another political, economic, or social system. What he

wanted was only one things "an exclusively and wholly

Belgian foreign policy."8 Belgium could no longer afford

Sbid.# p. 40.
Ibid., p. 41.

the luxury of preferences, nor could she be expected to

fulfill international obligations which were now, through

no fault of her own, beyond her capacity of support: "A

people can only reasonably consent to war when its vital

interests are at stake, its independence, its territorial

integrity, the defense of its liberties."9

Spaak did not reject Belgium's participation in the

League or Locarno, however. He was compelled to limit his

comments to observations about the inadequacies of both

organizations without being able to present a policy which

would be a substitute for either. As Foreign Minister he

could make no public statement which would compromise

Belgium internationally, but there was another reason which

prompted his reticence. Within Belgium a second source of

opposition had arisen against the military policy proposed

by the Commission and supported by the Government. While

the Flemish Catholics were opposed to military expansion

unless Belgium's international commitments were dissolved

(particularly Locarno), the internationalists in the

Socialist party, on the other hand, were opposed to

military expansion unless Belgium maintained her inter-

national obligations, particularly toward the League. On

September 26, 1936, the Congress of the Parti Ouvrier Belge

(the Socialist party) issued the following resolution:

Sbid.* p. 41.

Deliberating about foreign policy, the Congress
declares that it has never been and that it will
never be a question of Belgium returning to
neutrality. that its policy is and must be
exclusive of all military alliance and within the
framework of the League of Nations, a policy of
complete independence without political
military or economic restriction. O

With this latest turn of events the Government's

efforts reached an impasse. The two most powerful

political units in Belgium were willing to sacrifice

national security for such slogans as "hatred for France"

and "internationalism."

On October 16 the King called a meeting of the

Council of Ministers with the intention of dramatizing the

seriousness of Belgiumts international position and of

prompting the Government into action. Leopold listed the

reasons why steps had to be taken: the rearmament of

Germany, Italy, and Russial the transformation in the ways

of waging war, particularly the developments in aviation;

the reoccupation of the Rhineland; and the breakdown in

the workings of international security. He then presented

a brief resume of the report of the Mixed Military

Commission and deplored the failure of the Government to

act on its recommendations. He continued:

Our military policy, like our foreign policy
which necessarily determines the former, should be
offered not to prepare for a more or less vic-
torious war following a coalition, but to keep war
from our land. .

10 p.
Ibid., p. 42.

Our geographic position commands us to maintain
a military apparatus of sufficient size to dissuade
any of our neighbors from using our territory to
attack another state. In carrying out this mission
Belgium cooperates eminently in achieving peace in
Western Europe and she creates for herself a right
to the respect and to the eventual aid of all states
which have an interest in peace. *
But our engagements should not go beyond that.
All unilateral policy weakens our international
position, and rightly or wrongly stirs up trouble
at home. Even an exclusively defensive policy
would not achieve its aim, because irrespective
of how prompt the aid of any ally it would only
come after the shock of invasion which would be
crushing. To battle against such shock we would
be alone in any case. It is for that reason
that we must, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs
said recently, follow a policy "exclusively and
wholly Belgian." Such policy should aim resolutely
at placing us beyond the conflicts of our
neighbors. ... I repeat, therefore, our policy
has a unique objective, to preserve us from war
from wherever it might come. And it is necessary
that public opinion be indisputably assured of
this. .

At the conclusion of Leopoldts speech, the Minister

of Public Health, the veteran Socialist leader, Emile

Vandervelde, asked the Monarch in the name of the Cabinet

that he allow his remarks to be made public. The request

came as a surprise to Leopold who nevertheless granted

permission.12 The words of the King thus became the policy

1Ibid., pp. 42-43.
1Meetings of the Council of Ministers are secret.
They afford the monarch an opportunity to speak his mind
on any topic without the necessity of ministerial approval.
Thus Leopold was surprised when he received the govern-
ment's request.

of the Government, and on October 28 Parliament gave a

massive vote of confidence to Van Zeeland.

Before accepting as its own policy the gener-

alities of the King's proposals, the Government attempted

to qualify them. The Senate's Committee on Foreign Affairs

used the word "independence" to describe the new policy!

"Belgium should practice an independent and autonomous

policy, but she should not think of backing out of past

commitments. She denounces no existing pacts, much less

does she withdraw from the League of Nations."13 In a

speech which preceded the vot; of cw.fidence on October 28,

Spaak declared: "I wish to repeat that our foreign policy

does not mean a return to neutrality; we designate our

foreign policy as one of independence."14

The limits of independence remained vague, however.

The Government never spelled out how independence would

differ in actual practice from neutrality, nor did it

reconcile independence with Belgiumts continued member-

ship in the League and her outstanding obligations under

1Contribution, p. 44.
14Ibi. p. 44.

Locarno.15 Yet for all its ambiguity the policy remained

the basis of Belgian international life from the fall of

1936 until the war. At each crisis in European politics

between 1936 and 1939, the Government reassured its nervous

population of the wisdom and strength of its foreign

policy, particularly its Socialist citizens who continued

to distrust the virtues of independence. Spaak defended

the Governmentfs policy to a General Council of the

Socialist party in February 1938t

It 3Tndependence, is a policy which gives back
to Belgium its traditional position. I believe
that it plays an essential role in Western
Europe, essential to European equilibrium. We
must have a position which will not constitute a
danger for any of our neighbors. If we have
alliances in the strict sense of the word we are
no longer an element of peace; we become a cause
of trouble. I wish to say that independence
is not a policy which follows the direction of
others. nor is it a policy of isolation. .
nor is it a policy which gives us new friends at
the expense of old; it is a policy which should
be followed in such a manner that we are permitted

15In 1937, one of the sources of ambiguity was
removed. On April 17, 1937, France and Great Britain
officially sanctioned Belgiumts policy of independence and
issued a joint declaration, not a treaty, by which they
relieved Belgium of her obligations under Locarno toward
them while maintaining their obligations toward her.
Belgium agreed in turn to strengthen her armed forces, to
defend her own territory in the event of aggression, and
to close her territory as a freeway or as a base of
operation for the troops of any aggressive nation. On
October 13 of the same year, Germany gave a similar
guarantee. The second source of ambiguity remained, how-
ever, and indeed was compounded by the stipulation of the
Franco-British declaration that Belgium maintain her
fidelity to the League of Nations.

to have good relations with all our neighbors.
It is a policy which should abound to our credit.16

The following month Spaak told Parliament

The policy of independence is not perhaps the
ideal policy, but it is, I become more convinced
each day, the best possible policy. Faced
with the debris of the Treaty of Locarno and the
failure of the League of Nations what should we
have done? It is necessary to keep in mind
above all preconceived theories of the indisputable
facts our geographic position, the relativity
of our forces, the existence in our country of
Flemings and Walloons; it is necessary above all
to keep in mind that decisive element: in Western
Europe, Belgim is an essential factor of European

On September 3, 1939, following the German in-
vasion of Poland, Belgium declared herself neutral (the

policy of independence had now become one of neutrality

pure and simple) complying with the stipulations of the

Franco-British and of the German declarations made in 1937.

On October 7 Prime Minister Pierlot remarked to the press

that nothing had yet obliged Belgium to take sides in the

war and that she enjoyed a deserved peace:

The position which we have taken today we
assumed long before the events it dates from
1936. It is not in contradiction with any former
commitments since all the neighboring powers
agreed to respect a neutrality which we expect to
uphold. Peace is the fruit of political 18
wisdom and also of years of military preparedness.

1Contribution, p. 65.
17Ibid., p. 68.

The Government's Defense of Independence-Neutrality

On December 19, 1939, following the first war-

scare in Western Europe, in Holland, Spaak sought to quiet

the fears of Parliament: "It suffices for me to repeat

here with force that Belgium is neutral and intends to

stay that way so long as her independence, the integrity

of her territory, and her vital interests are respected."19

During the parliamentary debates of April 16-17,

1940, a week following the German invasion of Norway and

Denmark, with war only two weeks away for Belgium, Spaak

continued to champion the logic of the policy of


As the rest of you, without doubt, I have often
thought, during the past months, about our foreign
policy for the past five years. Just the other
evening I reread the various diplomatic acts which
concern us and the declarations which accompanied
them. And I arrived once more at the comforting
conviction that our foreign policy has been
perfectly loyal and clear, perfectly honest.
Doubtless, few countries have so well defined
their objectives, limited their commitments to
those which they were sure of being able to support,
enlightened their neighbors regarding their in-
tentionsl with us there is neither abrupt change
or surprise; whatever happens, no one will bO
able to say that he was deceived by Belgium.

Following Spaak's speech, the debate closed with an

almost unanimous vote of reapproval of the policy of

independence-neutrality: 131 for, 2 abstentions, 3

19Ibid., p. 103.

20id., p. 112.

Communists against. "Never did foreign policy meet with

such general approval in Belgium."21

Unhappily for Belgium the policy of independence-

neutrality was not successful. It was too many things for

too many people. It had one meaning for the Belgian

government, another for the Belgian people, and yet another

for Belgium's neighbors. The Government had adopted the

policy in order to allow Belgium to rearm. The Government

hoped thereby to keep Belgium out of war but was prepared

to fight if it were necessary. The Belgian people, despite

the protestations of the Government, believed that the

policy had made Belgium into another Switzerland.

Belgium's former allies under Locarno, Britain, France and

Germany, had reluctantly acquiesced in the policy in 1937,

but their sentiments toward it were hostile. After the

war came, France and Britain accused Belgium of ingrati-

tude and lack of faith. Independence-neutrality had

balanced France and Great Britain on the same scale with

Germany. Had Belgium forgotten 1914? Had she forgotten

the years of peace between 1830 and 1914, years purchased

by British and French guarantee? Germany, on the other

hand, claimed that for all her neutrality, Belgian

sympathy remained pro-Allied. From most points of view

the policy miscarried. True enough, it had allowed Belgium

1Belgium. the Official Account of What Happened.
1939-19L (London: Evans Bros., Ltd., 1941), p. 24.

to rearm, but it was a vain and costly effort. Belgium

was crushed within eighteen days after the invasion the

French blamed Belgium for the subsequent fall of France,

and the British came close to annihilation in Belgium be-

cause of what they considered Belgian duplicty.

Failure of such dimensions cannot go unatoned.
Those who play a part in it must seek to disociate them-

selves from its responsibility or suffer the consequences

of their deeds. As we shall see in a later chapter the

recriminations over the policy of independence-neutrality

and the royal question became enmeshed, and the opponents

of King Leopold sought to shift responsibility for the

policy from the Government to the Monarch. Between 1936

and 1940, those who had been dissatisfied with independence-

neutrality had voiced the same accusations. Events

following 1940 caused the statements made to answer these

earlier charges to lose none of their vigor. On

December 26, 1936, Paul Van Zeeland, the Prime Minister,

had said before the House of Representatives.

Someone has dared, from this tribune, to
attempt, to establish a distinction, hew I dontt
know, between the attitude of the government and
the speech of the King. Has it been forgotten
that the publication of the discourse was an act
of the Government? We are a parliamentary regime,
a constitutional monarchy. The King acts through
the intermediary of his ministers, and it is the
Government which assumes responsibility, which

endorses, which applies, and which makes its own
the magnificent doctrine set forth in the royal

Two years later on March 16, 1938, Paul-Henri Spaak

addressed the House of Representativest

Belgium practices a policy called the
"policy of independence" which found its first
complete expression in the speech given by the
King to his Ministers on October 14, 1936, a
speech approved unanimously by them and published
with the approval of all of them, a speech whose
directive ideas have received many times the
warmest approval of Parliament. It is therefore
as absurd as it is inconvenient to pretend, as it
is done in certain publications and in certain
places that there exists a personal policy of the
King in opposition with that of the nation.23

And on December 19, 1939, Spaak, speaking once again to

the lower House, had this to say about King Leopold who

was leaving for The Hague to discuss with Queen Wilhelmina

the German threat to Hollands

Let me say that under these circumstances it
is not enough for me to cover the King consti-
tutionally. It is necessary that I thank him
publicly for his manificent efforts which for
several years now have spared our country the
horrors of war; for his wise counsel which he has
never ceased to lavish upon the various govern-
ments which have succeeded one another for the
firmness of spirit with which he fulfills his
difficult task, and for the example which he
constantly offers to those of us who approach him,
an example which brings forth respect, admiration,
and affection."

2Contribution, p. 46.

23Ibid. p. 68.

24IADP pp. 104-105.



The winter of 1939-1940 did not allow Europe

sufficient time to recover from the shock of Poland
and arm herself against a new kind of warfare. Germany

took Poland in September, 1939, after sixteen days of
blitzkrieg, a violent surprise offensive carried out by

mechanized ground forces preceded by saturation bombing

and covered by mass fighter attack. But Europe had

barely settled down to what the French and the Belgians

called the "drole de guerre" ("phony war") when Germany

used the same technique against Norway and Denmark in

April, 1940, and on May 10, 1940, invaded Belgium.

For all her preparation, Belgium was helpless.
Her defensive armor was inadequate, and her offensive armor
was almost nonexistent. She had few tanks| she had few

planes, and most of these were destroyed on the ground

during the first hours of war. The army of 650,000

Germany had conquered all of Western Poland by
September 16; the Russians invaded Eastern Poland on
September 17, and on the 29th the invaders signed a
treaty dividing Poland between them.


regulars and 250,000 reserves (more than 10 per cent of
the population) together with the armed forces of France
and Great Britain which came to Belgium*a aid fought well

but could not stop the Germans.

The Battle

The German attack began at 4 a.m. on May 10, 1940.
After meeting with the Prime Minister, Hubert Pierlot, the

Foreign Minister, Paul-Henri Spaak, and the Defense Minis-

ter, General Henri Denis, King Leopold left for his field
headquarters at Breendonk near Antwerp. Following a

tradition begun by the first Belgian monarch, Leopold I,

and continued by Albert during the First World War,
Leopold III assumed personal command of his army.

2Unlike his father, however, Leopold did not appear
before Parliament to announce his leavetaking. Irre-
spective of Leopoldts apparent breach of duty, later in the
day at the joint session of Parliament, Pierlot stated that
the King should be where the fight had broken out. This
appears to be sufficient evidence that the Government ap-
proved his behavior and weakens the case of those who ac-
cused the King of treachery, claiming that Leopold had
deliberately failed to appear before Parliament so that he
would have to make no public statement derogatory of
Germany, implying that his entire plan of action, including
the conduct of the military campaign, had been carefully
Perhaps Leopold considered it unnecessary to an-
nounce his leavetaking since he had taken command of the
army on September 4, 1939, following the outbreak of war in
Poland; with the outbreak of war in Belgium he moved this
command into the field. Perhaps, too, he considered the
element of time. The attack in 1914 had followed an ulti-
matum between which two events King Albert had the oppor-
tunity to appear before Parliament. In 1940, the attack
was sudden and unannounced.

Shortly after the attack, the Belgian government

called for the aid of Britain and France, basing its claim

for assistance on the agreement of April, 1937.3 The

Belgian plan, in the event of German aggression, allowed

three days for the Allied armies to take up their position

in Belgium along the fortified K-W line which ran from

Koningshoyckt (near Antwerp) in the north to Wavre in the

south. The Belgian High Command considered this their

Maginot line and based their defensive strategy on its

invulnerability.4 The Belgians had never considered holding

the Germans along the Dutch-German border; their strategy

was to delay the invader long enough to allow the

guarantors to assume position. The first days of the war

went according to Belgian plan, accelerated, however, by

the unsuspected strength of the Germans. As a result of

this acceleration the Belgians held only two days, not

three, in the area of the Albert Canal, and were forced to

fall back to the K-W line on the evening of May 11. The

See Chapter II, p. 57.

4This position, known as EW from the names of the
terminal points consisted of a number of works disposed on
several lines. They were protected in front by a con-
tinuous anti-tank barricade and by flooding, whilst anti-
tank traps were set deep in the position. An underground
telephone system and a planned road system completed the
equipment of the position. Belgium, the Official Account
of What Happened. 1939-1940 (Londons Evans Bros., Ltd.,
1941), Appendix 16, p. 99. Hereafter cited as Belgium.
the Official Account.

British and French, nevertheless, had had sufficient time
to take up their positions.
A description of the method of attack used against
the first enemy objective in Belgium gives evidence of the
quality of the aggressor's preparedness. The fort at
Eben-Emael is located close to the juncture of the Meuse
River and the Albert Canal which joins Antwerp with Liege.
Its artillery protected three bridges which crossed the
canal at Vroenhoven, Yeldwezelt, and Briedgen. The
Germans took this vulnerable outpost by an expertly executed
oup de main which landed troops transported by glider and
camouflaged by predawn darkness on the roof of the fort.
The raiders exploded the defensive armament of the fortifi-
cation, entered the breaches created thereby, and destroyed
the cannon which covered the bridges. This took place
while other German troops, transported in the same manner,
surprised the Belgian detachments guarding the three
bridges and captured them from the rear. Part of the
German army, waiting immediately across the border in
Holland, then moved easily into Belgium. This was di-
versionary strategy, however, the bulk of the German
military forces deployed to the south, east of the
In spite of the fall of Eben-Emael and the
loss of two bridges Lthe Belgians had recaptured
the bridge at Briedgein the Belgian army carried
out the only independent mission for which it was
responsible--it held on to the Liege and Albert

Canal position long enough to enable the bulk
of the Allied forces to occupy the Antwerp-Namur-
Givet Lthe K-W line.

As of May 12 the Belgian army ceased to operate as

an independent unit. King Leopold placed his troops under

the command of the French General Gamelin who became the

Generalissimo of all the Allied forces fighting in Belgium

and France. Leopold was following the example of Albert

who had subordinated himself to Marshal Foch in 1914.

This is significant for two reasons. The Belgian accusers

of King Leopold claimed that he failed to maneuver his

troops to the exclusive advantage of Belgium; the Allies,

on the other hand, and particularly the French, blamed the

collapse of France on Leopold's tactics.

The capitulation as a military act, however, lay

in the logical consequence of events which followed the

fall of Sedan on May 13. The German assault began on the

morning of the 13th when the German army east of the

5Belgium, the Official Account, p. 37.

The French have claimed that the failure of the
Belgians to hold the Germans at Eben-Emael permitted the
enemy forces to regroup in the south. However, the troops
which fought the 9th and the 2no French armies were not
those which took part in the attack on the Albert Canal.
The French thought that the Ardennes in 1940 were still the
same barrier they constituted in 1914. Marshal Petain had
told the Senate Army Commission that the sector was not
dangerous. But the Germans cut right through the forest
using fresh troops that had not been in combat in the

Ardennes moved against the French 9th Army in the vicinity

of Dinant where only advanced elements were in position.

Later in the day the main offensive was massed against the

French 2nd Army at Sedan. The city was abandoned by the

French that same afternoon at 5 o'clock. The drive of the

Panzer divisions thrown into the breach at Sedan threatened

to surround all the Allied troops in Belgium. The irre-

sistible German movement westward and northward began to

wedge the Allies between the French border and Holland.

Holland capitulated two days later on May 15. That same

day General Gamelin ordered the abandonment of the K-W line

and the withdrawal behind the Escault. This meant the

surrender of Brussels, Louvain, Lierre, Malines, Antwerp,

Tirlemont, Wavre, and Namur--in short, most of the major

Belgian cities. Leopold immediately saw the consequences

of such strategy. The Allies were abandoning the only

strongly fortified position in Belgium and retreating toward

the sea, but unless the ports could be kept in Allied hands,

the fate of the armies was sealed. Leopold's Kinisters

urged him to retreat southward, toward France, so that in

the event of defeat in Belgium the Belgian armies could be

regrouped to continue the war in France. Such action was

impossible. Not only were the French and British armies

deployed between the Belgian troops and the French border,

but General Gamelin had ordered a westward retreat, and

Leopold received his directives from the French


The Germans continued their enormous onrush toward

the sea. They attacked the British and Belgian units in

central Belgium, forcing their constant retreat westward,

but the German's concentrated attack was in the south

across northern France. From May 15 to May 20 they moved

closer and closer to the coast. On the 18th Peronne fell|

on the 20th Cambraig on the 21st the Germans entered

Amiens and Montreuil and Abbeville. On the 19th, in the

north, Walcheren Island lying in the mouths of the Scheldt

fell to the Germans. It had been hald by remnants of the

French 7th Army that had gone into Holland on May 10.

The pincer was now established. On May 19 General Weygand

was recalled from Syria to succeed General Gamelin as the

Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies. On the 21st he

called his first conference, at Ypres. There he decided

upon an offensive which would restore the line between

Arras and Albert and stanch the flow of Germans. The

offensive would move in two directions simultaneously!

the Allied armies north of the Germans would attack south-

ward while the French armies south of the Germans would

attack northward.7 The Belgians had no weapons for such

an offensive, so it was agreed that the British and French

would carry the offensive while the Belgians covered them

7dhen it was pointed out to General Weygand that
Abbeville had already fallen, thus making a northward
attack almost impossible, he proved to be ignorant of
the fact.

defensively to the north, extending their front over

ninety kilometers in order to do so.

The British and French in Belgium, attempting to
re-establish contact with the French armies on the Somme,

threw the bulk of their forces in the direction of Arras,

but by May 23 the Weygand offensive had collapsed. In the

meantime, the Germans were focusing their destruction on

the vulnerable Belgians--vulnerable not only from the east

, with the enemy relentlessly upon them, but vulnerable also

from the West; for by the 23rd, the Belgians were no

longer permitted by the Allied High Command to use the

bases at Gravelines, Dunkirk, and Bourgourg along the

North Sea. Only Ostend and Nieuport were left to them.

They were compelled to move their reserves of food,

ammunition, and fuel and to evacuate the injured along a

single railroad line. Leopold informed the British to

his right that the last hope for the Belgians was a

counterattack northward by the British Expeditionary

Forces. By that time, however, the British, after the

failure of the Weygand offensive, had cut themselves off

from the Belgians and had begun their retreat toward


"Planning for the evacuation via Dunkirk was
begun at G.H.Q. so far as I am aware, about the 21st of
May. Thereafter, Gort never wavered; he remained steady
as a rock and refused to be diverted from what he
knew was the only right and proper course." Field-
Marshal, the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, K. G.,

The Germans squeezed tighter. Between the 26th

and the 27th they broke the Belgian line at four places

and began to suffocate the Belgians in an area of 1,700

square kilometers into which three million people were

massed--soldiers, local population, and refugees. Food

was giving out; the army had long since lost its bread ovens

and was forced to bake haphazardly on the march the water

supply had become contaminated, and cases of typhus had

The Memoir (Cleveland and New Tork$ The World Publishing
Co, 1958), p. 61.
Winston Churchill, in his speech to the House of
Commons on June 4, 1940, claimed thatthe Belgian surrender
exposed the British flank and means of retreat. In his
second volume concerning the Second World War, Ther
Finest Hour (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, Co.) he states that
already on the 25th Lord Gort had decided to abandon com-
pletely the Weygand plan and, acting on his own initiative,
had begun the retreat toward Dunkirk. On May 26, the
British War Office approved his conduct.
Considering the sequence of events, it is not un-
reasonable to assume that Leopold thought he had been
abandoned by the British. According to Churchill, the
evacuation had begun already two days before Leopold's
surrender, and plans for it had been made almost a week
before if we are prepared to accept the word of Field-
Marshal Montgomery.
Let us consider further this passage from Weygand's
memoirs, Rappele au Service
On the 27th of May, the Belgian army found itself
in a perilous situation. Its equipment was too far from
the Yser to enable it to take position there in a reason-
able length of time. Its right wing, threatened by en-
circlement, could no longer be freed by either the French
or the English whose evacuation toward Dunkirk had already
begun. Without doubt, the Belgian command thought it had
been abandoned by its Allies. That is how I judge today
the decision on which time will bring the judgment of

already been discovered. To seed chaos among the troops,

the Germans dropped leaflets showing a map of the Allies

hopelessly surrounded. The legend read# "Comradeso

here is the situation. In any case the war is over for

you. Your leaders are going to escape by airplane. Lay

down your arms."9 The tract was close enough to the truth

to have its planned effects panic and suspicion. Over

two weeks of constant battle against what appeared to be an

invincible enemy had almost destroyed Belgian morale. To

counterbalance the German propaganda, Leopold issued an

Order of the Day on the 25th which declared "Officers and

Soldiers, whatever happens, my fate shall be yours."

On May 28, the French Generalissimo ordered the

Belgian army to retreat westward, from the river Lys to

the Yser, but Leopold refused to comply. 1 To do so would

have resulted in a massacres his soldiers would have had

to abandon their heavy equipment and take defenselessly to

roads already choked with civilians trying to avoid

9Belgium, the Official Account, Appendix 19, p. 102.

Recueil de Documents etabli par le Secretariat
du Roi concernant la period 1936-199 (Bruxelles .
Imprimerie et Publicit6 du Marais, n.d.), p. 47. Emphasis
added. Hereafter cited as Recueil.
11This was part of the plan designed at Ypres by
Weygand. It was to be put into effect in the event of
the failure of the offensive.

destruction. Those moving along the highways would have

made helpless targets for the German planes which had been
strafing continuously since the 25th.1 Leopold chose in-

stead to end the fighting and sent a plenipotentiary to

the Germans at 5 p.m. on May 27. At 11 p.m. the terms were

returned to hims "The Fuhrer demands that arms be laid

down unconditionally."13 The fighting war ended at 4 am.

on May 28.

At the time Leopold was accused by the Allies, but

particularly by the French, of surrendering without

notifying his guarantors. This charge was revived by his

opponents in Belgium after 1945. They asserted that he had

fought the war so that isolation in the northwest corner

of Belgium was deliberate and surrender an inevitable

12Belgians speak even today about the weather
during the eighteen days. The normally overcast Belgian
sky had been cloudless since the morning of the invasion.
The sky belonged exclusively to the Germans.
1Belgium. the Official Account, p. 51.

14The defenders of King Leopold claim that the ac-
cusations made by the French were an attempt to cover their
own desperate failure and lack of preparation. They blame
Paul Reynaud for initiating the anti-Leopold propaganda,
but they feel, too, that Winston Churchill is not without
fault. On May 30, Churchill told the House of Commons
that "I have no intention of suggesting to the House that
we should attempt at this moment to pass judgment upon the
action of the King of the Belgians in his capacity as
Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian army." (Churchill,
op. cit., p. 95) On June 4, however, Churchill announced
that new facts compelled him to speak. What makes his

The brief account of the war given in the above

objectivity suspect was the attempt to throw the onus of
the war itself on Belgium. "The King of the Belgians
called for our aid. If the Head of State and his Govern.
ment had not separated themselves from the Allies that had
saved their country from death during the last war, if they
had not taken refuge behind a neutrality whose fatality has
been shown by history, the British and French armies, from
the beginning, could have not only saved Belgium but
perhaps Poland as well. However, at the last moment, when
Belgium had been invaded, King Leopold called us to his
aid and we responded to his belated appeal. Suddenly,
without previous consultation, with the shortest possible
warning, without taking counsel with his Ministers, and
on his own initiative, he sent a plenipotentiary to the
Germany High Command, surrendered with his army and ex-
posed our entire flank and all our means of retreat."
(Recueil, p. 144)
It appears that Churchill had completely forgotten
the guarantee volunteered by England and France in April,
One cannot be sure of the influence that Reynaud
had on Churchill's decision, but William Grisar, a major
in the Belgian army, has testified to a conversation
which he had with Lord Roger Keyes, British liason officer
with Leopold III. Lord Keyes recalled a conversation
which he had had with Churchill during which the latter had
received a telegram from the French Minister of Information.
The telegram read: "At any price, prevent Admiral Keyes
from defending King Leopold." (Recueil, p. 141.)
On May 28, Paul Reynaud, the French Prime Minister,
addressed the nation by radio. "I must announce a serious
event to the French people. France can no longer
depend upon the aid of the Belgian army. It is that
army which has just capitulated unconditionally, in the
midst of battle, by order of its King, without warning his
comrades-in-arms, French or English, opening the road to
Dunkirk to the German divisions. It was just eighteen days
ago that that same King who until then had affected to
attach the same value to the word of Germany as to that of
the Allies, asked for our help. Then in the midst of
battle, without warning General Blanchard, without regard,
without a word for the French and British soldiers who
answered his anguished call, King Leopold III of the
Belgians lay down his arms. That is an event without
precedent in history." (Recueil, p. 115)

paragraphs was written to show that the Germans commanded

the direction of the war from the moment of invasion.

The northwestward thrust was relentless, executed with

skill and discipline. The Allied defeat was clear to

those who cared to look.15 Leopold told this to the French

and British as early as May 20. He had already warned his

Ministers on the 15th that a final breach of the Allied

front was probable and could easily lead to the isolation

of the Belgian army and part of the British and French

forces. Camille Gutt, the Belgian Minister of Finance,

had warned the French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud, when

the former was in Paris on May 19. On May 20, Leopold,

learning of the fall of Cambrai and the German threat to

Abbeville, informed London of his concern. On the 24th,

after the failure of the Weygand offensive, Gutt, this

time in London, told Lord Halifax what measures should be

taken to handle the critical situation in which the

Belgian army found itself. After the separation of the

Ministers and Leopold on May 25, the Ministers personally

informed both London and Paris of what to expect. On

1"Enough has been said to show that from the
point of view of command and control of the forces
available in France in May, 1940, the battle was almost
lost before it began. The whole business was a complete
dogs breakfast. Who must bear the chief blame?
Obviously General Gamelin. He was the Supreme Commander,
and, as such, was responsible." (Field Marshal, the
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, ong it., p. 54.)

May 26, the Belgian High Command warned General Weygand

that the Belgian army had "nearly reached the limits

of its endurance."16 On the following day, the King

sent a similar message to General Gort, the Commander-

in-Chief of the British forces in Belgium. Later in

the day, the French liaison authorities were told that

"Belgian resistance is at its last extremity our front

is about to break like a worn bowstring."18 Before

sending his envoys to the Germans at 5 p.m. on the 27th

to ask the terms of surrender, King Leopold informed

both the British and the French missions.19

The above paragraphs have attempted to show

that King Leopold did not deserve to be called a traitor

for his surrender. The French Ambassador to Belgium,

Albert Kammerer, in his book La Verite en Marche, empha-

sized that the communiques of General Weygand and Paul

Reynaud revealed their full knowledge of Leopold's

1Belgium. the Official Account, p. 46.
1bid., p. 48.

18Ibid. 49.

19The French mission was able to warn Weygand
in Paris, but General Blanchard, commanding the French
forces in the field, could not be contacted, and
General Gort could not be found.

decisions.20 Colonel Thierry, the head of the telephone

communication service in the French army, in a state.

ment to Jacques Pirenne, Leopold's private secretary,

corroborated Kammerer.21 Lt. Colonel Robert Duncan Brown,

the military attache to the Ambrican Embassy in Brussels

in 1940, said that "in capitulating May 28, the King of

the Belgians did the only thing he could do. Those who

speak otherwise saw neither the battle nor the German

air force."22 Joseph G. Davis and Hugh Gibson, former

American ambassadors to Belgium, William Philips, the

American ambassador to Italy in 1940, and Herbert

Hoover, without any doubt the American whom the Belgians

most respect, all defended the behavior of the King.23

Finally, Admiral Roger Keyes, in the preface to

Cammaerts' The Prisoner at Laeken, deplored the vin-

dictive abuse heaped on Leopold whom he considered the

scape goat for French failure! "I am glad to have this

opportunity of declaring that King Leopold was steadfast

20 Recueil p. 164.

217 h943p. 164-165. Statement made on
January 17, l943.

22bid., p. 160.

231bid., p. 163-164. See Herbert Hoover,
The Belgian Campaign.

in his loyalty to the Allies and did everything in his

power to help their armies."n2

The Separation of King and Government

Had the surrender been of military importance only,
the controversy that grew into the royal question would

have probably died away after the initial shock of defeat
had worn off. But the capitulation and its consequences

had primarily political and constitutional significance,

and the initial conflict between the King and his Govern-

ment over military strategy, i.e., the Government's in-

sistence that Leopold and the Belgian army retreat south-

ward toward France and Leopold's refusal to consider such

2Caammaerts, o. ci., Preface, vii. On May 10,
1940, Admiral Keyes, the British hero at Zeebrugge
during World War I, was sent to Belgium as liaison be-
tween King Leopold and the British government. He
remained until 10 p.m. on the night of May 27. He be-
came one of the strongest defenders of the King and of
his conduct during the eighteen-day campaign. His
opinions, considered above reproach because of his
reputation and war record, were quoted and requoted
during the royal affair by the pro-Leopold faction.

25In May, 1940, the King's right to capitulate
militarily was a debatable constitutional question.
Article 68 of the Constitution makes the King the
Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Leopold I,
the first Belgian monarch, interpreted this as personal
command and led his troops in the field. The tra-
dition was continued by King Albert during the First
worldd War and by Leopold III in 1940. The Consti-
tution does not specify, however, that this function
is subject to ministerial approval. Leopold I was
accompanied in the field by a responsible minister, and
directives were issued in the name of king and cabinet.
Albert, on the other hand, although accompanied by his
Prime Minister, who was also Minister of Defense, Baron

action, soon deepened into a conflict over political

policy which led to the separation of King and Cabinet on

May 25, 1940.

The capitulation and the events preceding it

revealed the personality of the King more sharply than

any series of events since his accession. An attempt will

be made, therefore, to explain why the King behaved as he

did during the eighteen days of battle.

Leopold was called upon to continue the tradition

of the soldier-king. He hoped to be worthy of the memory

of his father and secure a like place in the sentiments of

his people. Possibly for the first time he felt free from

what he considered the fetters of his ministers, particu-

larly remembering the strained relationship which had

existed between him and his various governments since 1934

and his opinion of parliamentary procedure which had grown

out of it. The glamour of battle is often strong for an

ordinary mango for a warrior-king it must have been irre-

sistible. The power to command, the strategy which manipu-

lates human life isn't this what kings are born for?

Those things which separate the prince from the

de Broqueville, issued orders in his own name, leaving
the impression that he alone made the final decisions
regarding military strategy and policy. This impression
was strengthened by Albert's statement made to Parliament
at the first session following the war that he was return-
ing to give account of his behavior. Parliament, by
approving the results, victory, approved tacitly the means
by which such victory was achieved.

people must have been uppermost in Leopoldt' mind. This

could explain the chilled and formal attitude toward his

Ministers when they questioned the wisdom of his decisions.

The eighteen-day campaign showed Leopold to be a man of

courage and honor, but it showed him also to be stubborn,

blind, and immature in the ways of a twentieth century


King Leopold saw early the near-inevitability of

defeat. The German blitzkrieg was unexpected. The

precision of German military planning implemented by a war

machine whose efficiency had no prototype only could be

appreciated by those taking part physically in the battle.

As a consequence, the Belgian Ministers who met with the

King during the course of the eighteen-day war accused

him of defeatism when he predicted what could be expected

they later described his awesome clairvoyance regarding

the disastrous progress of the war and its even more

disastrous outcome. The mutual lack of understanding which

resulted in the separation of Leopold and his Ministers on

May 25 began with the defeat at Sedan: the Ministers were

still convinced of the victory of the Alliesl the King

did not share their optimism. This statement must be

qualified, however. The Ministers believed that the

Germans could be stopped by the Allied armies in the

immediate future; King Leopold, on the other hand, be-

lieved that the Allies would win eventually. but he fore-

saw a war lasting ten or more years. At that time America

was neutral, and the prospects of her entrance into the
war were vague while the Soviet Union had made its peace
with Germany. The future for Western Europe appeared
hopeless. Leopold foresaw defeat and tried to salvage the
most from it for his country.
For this decision, Leopold was called a traitor
by his Ministers. Though they recanted soon thereafter,
an identification had been established which the King was
never able to throw off. The Ministers' accusation was
reprehensible even considering their highly charged emotions
during the days immediately following the separation on
May 25. Militarily Leopold had acted with intelligence.
But by surrendering his troops and refusing to follow his
Ministers into exile he acted unwisely politically when
one considers the relationship which should exist between
a king and his ministers under a constitutional monarchy.
Later on Leopold had to pay the price for the right to
judge, to have an opinion; he had to pay the price for
the lack of intelligence that blinded him to the limits
of his authority, his obstinate inability to distinguish
between his military and political capacities. His sur-
render of the army was not treachery, however, but his
confusion as to whether he was surrendering his country
and his permitting himself to be captured was the result
of his limited political vision. In short, action taken
with good intentions, i.e., the prevention of useless
bloodletting, had political consequences which he should
have foreseen. It is primarily this lack of foresight

and its consequences which should be taken into consider-

ation in judging the King.

The conflict between King Leopold and his Ministers

began on May 14, the day following the defeat at Sedan, as

a difference of opinion over military operations. Prime

Minister Pierlot urged the King to retreat southward

toward France. Leopold answered that such orders would

have to originate with his commanding officer, the Gener-

alissimo of the Allied armies. It must be said in favor

of the King that he saw the military conditions of the

Allied armies more clearly than Pierlot, and his refusal

to comply with the Prime Minister's demands was logical

and legitimate, for a southward retreat would only have

served to increase the probability of Belgian encirclement

and defeat. The problems of surrender were discussed at

the next meeting between King Leopold and his G3vernment

on the 16th. The King asked his ministers! "What has the

!ueen of Holland done?" Spaak answered that she had gone

to London with her government and had issued the statement

that she intended to continue the war. Leopold replied:

"Do you think that she has acted wisely?"26 Spaak com-

mented that from that Thursday (the 16th) an uneasiness in

26Recu 78
Recueil. p. 78.

regard to the personal capitulation of the King began to

grow in the minds of the Ministers.27

Following the meeting of the 16th, Pierlot sent to

the King a written summary of the Government's position

which allowed no room for conflicting interpretation. He

informed his Sovereign that at all cost the King had to

avoid captures

Regardless of the course of events and so long
as the Allied powers continue the fight, the fact
of the existence of Belgium must be affirmed by the
continuation and the activity of the essential
organs of state. The problem is not exclu-
sively a military one. It doe not concern solely
the conduct of operations but also the political
aspects of the war and all the consequences of the
decisions which will be taken.A

On the 20th, Pierlot, Spaak, and Denis, accom-

panied this time by Arthur Van der Poorten, the Minister

of the Interior, met with Leopold.29 Afterward, the Mine

sisters composed a memorandum of the conversation and sent

a copy to the King. The Ministers declared that the only

27bid. These quotations and those given in Foot*
notes 34 and 35 taken from Spaak come from the address
Spaak delivered to the Belgian legislators at Limoges on
May 31, 1940. His speech was given extemporaneously;
thus when he quoted others, his quotations were not ver-
batim but from memory.

28Recueil p. 67. The present author's emphasis.

290n the 16th the government had moved from
Brussels to Ostend; on the 18th, most of the Ministers
had been sent into Francel by the 20th, the above-
mentioned were the last four remaining in Belgium.

policy which they would support was that which required the

King, in the event of defeat in Belgium, to leave for

France in order to continue the war.30 They rejected the

conditions which Leopold had set down during the meeting.31

Pierlot, Spaak, and Denis met once again with the

Sovereign on the 21st, the last meeting before the separa-

tion on the 25th. The letter written by the King to

Pierlot suggests what took place

I do not think that I deserve the reproaches
which the government made against me of following
a policy which would have as its object the con-
clusion of a separate peace with Germany. In
accomplishing my constitutional mission as
Commander-in-Chief, my primary concern has been
to defend the country, while cooperating, as far
as possible, in the war commanded by the Allied
armies, and while seeking to avoid endangering
our army. The only difference of viewpoint
which has manifested itself between us is that in
any case it cannot be a question of my sharing the
fate of my army. I answered that it was impossible
to exclude a possibility justifying that attitude.32

Pierlot answered the Kingts letter on the following day,

May 238

30Recueil, pp. 68-69.
31Leopold had said that he would continue to fight
1) if the Belgian army remained in contact with the main
French force; 2) if the French and British continued to
fight in spite of a Belgian defeat. He qualified his
readiness to leave, however, by the notice that if France
and England appeared that they would be compelled to make
peace with Germany, his place would be with his troops in
Belgium. Leopold implied that he would interpret 1j and
yaln this contingency had arisen.

32Recueil pp. 69-70.

I have never kept from our Majesty that I
could not share his opinion concerning the extent
of the constitutional provisions which grant to
the Sovereign the command of the army. That text
does not depart from the general, absolute rule
following which the government alone carries the
responsibility for the acts of the Head of State.
In fact, the functioning of our institutions
does not permit an accounting froa anyone else
except the ministers.,
Spaak commented to the legislators at Limoges on the
anxieties of the Ministers between the 21st and the 25th
as they waited for the final decision of the King. He

spoke of the terror which accompanied the Ministerts
realisation that the King was going to accept a political

role under the occupations

The King had a certain number of radically
false ideas
1) The Belgian army should fight only on Belgian
8) The French and British Allies had been
defeated and the war was over. Peace is going to be
made and consequently it is necessary to change
cards and seek, as far as possible, the favor of him
who will be the victor.
As I have said these are completely false, ami-
taken ideas. .* We were aware of the reasons which
the King wanted to take advantage of. We found them
mad, stupid, mores criminal, because they indicated
in the King a total collapse of a certain moral sense
which shocked us. ,
Answering the King't contention that Belgium owed nothing

more to Britain and France, Spaak observed

331dA.* pp. 70-72.

34=g. pp. 87-68.

Sire, you could have done something else had
the country allowed you. You could have made a kind
of isolated defense like the King of Denmark. But
the moment you issued the request for aid, and
thousands of French and English soldiers came to be
killed for the defense of Belgium, you were bound.
If you abandon their cauge, you will be a traitor
and will be dishonored.39

By the 24th the Ministers had decided to leave
Belgium. They telephoned the King to determine his de-

cisions either to follow them into exile or to stay, but

he was not yet ready with an answer. The Ministers, pre*

pared to leave with a small entourage, went for a final

interview which took place at the Chateau de Wynendael,

near Bruges, where Leopold had transferred his head-

quarters. The following account of the interview, probably

the single most dramatic episode in Belgian history, was

written by Hubert Pierlot. It is too important and too

fascinating not to be quoted at length.36

Pierlota Many times already we have made known
to the King our conviction that if the Belgian army
were in whole or in part exposed to the imminent
danger of surrender, the King should do everything
possible to prevent his capture. We have told the
King the reasons for this. The capitulation, in
addition to its serious character as a military act,
would take on a political complexion if the King, p. 89.

36The following account is taken from the -
bution. pages 137 to 141. Pierlot wrote his account later
from memory there was no stenographic record of the
Wynendael meeting. Only the King and four ministers were
present--Pierlot, Speak, Denis, and Van der Poorten.
Therefore the quotations are not verbatim but reconstructed
after the event.
The term "couvrir"--to cover--used later by Pierlot

were to sign it or if he were at the head of the
Army when it took place. Moreover, if the Army
must capitulate, the military role of the King
would have finished, whereas he could continue to
function as Head of State alongside the Allied
governments. This is the duty of the King.,
The government unanimously shares this opinion.
As for the Ministers, their presence near the
King at the moment of an eventual capitulation could
only contribute to the political aspect of the event
which we would want to avoid at all costs.

The Prime Minister then explained to the King that the

three other ministers would leave immediately and that he

would remain until the last moment if only the King would

agree to leave with him. Pierlot wrote

After a moment of silence, the King answered
with visible effort: "I have decided to remain.
Over and above the most substantial considerations
from a logical or political point of view, there
are reasons of sentiment which one cannot dismiss.
To abandon my army would be desertion."

Spaak then spoke to the King. (Until this point, the King

had kept his Ministers standing, indicating a short,

formal meeting. Spaak asked that they be allowed to sit

down since there was much more to be discussed. The King

gave permission.)

Spaak: In the unanimous opinion of the Government,
the King is making a serious mistake. By falling
to the enemy he separates himself from the Allies.
He refuses to continue to fight at their side con-
trary to the moral obligations which he contracted
in calling for their aid. .. If the King remains,
what will he be able to do? Everything he

is the term used to indicate the action of a responsible
government when it assumes responsibility for the actions
of the monarch, who constitutionally speaking could only
act on the advice of responsible ministers.

attempts to do will compromise him and compromise
the cause of our independence because the King
will be acting under the control of the enemy. .
I would like the King to give us some idea of the
role to which he has alluded and which he will con-
tinue to play in Belgium.

Leopolds I do not know. I have no idea what it
will be possible for me to do. But I hope to be
able to continue to maintain a minimum economic
life in the country and thereby to facilitate its
provisioning and to spare my compatriots at least
the worst sufferings, such as deportation.
If I do not remain in Belgium I am convinced
that I will never return. The Allied cause is lost.
Within a short time, in a few days, perhaps, France
in turn will be forced to give up the fight because
the disproportionate strength Lof the enemhr does
not permit her even the hope of success. Without
doubt, Great Britain will continue the war--not on
the continent, but on the sea and in her colonies.
That war could be long. The intervention of Belgium
would be useless, and as a consequence her role is
finished. For a period which might last for many
years Belgium will have perhaps limited independence,
which will again permit her a certain national life
while awaiting that day when, in the wake of un-
imaginable difficulties, more favorable circumstances
will once again return for our country.
In these circumstances there is no longer a place
for the attempt to continue the war alongside the
The decision which I am taking is terribly diffi-
cult for me. Certainly I would have an easier life
if I retired to France, if I went to live there with
my children, awaiting the end of the torment; but I
believe that when two paths open themselves before
you, the path of duty is always the more difficult.
It is that which I have chosen.

The Ministerst In the opinion of the King, what should
we do?

Leopolds Man to man I say to you clearly, do what you
think fit, and if you reason that you must leave, I
will not try to stop you.

SPaaks We cannot be content with that answer from
the King. We ask for instructions, but first we must
make sure of the King's conception of the role which
he will yet be called upon to play in Belgium. Will
the King have a government?

Pierlot writes that before answering, the Sovereign

reflected, and the expression his face gave the impression

that he had never asked himself that question.

Leopold! Naturally, for I do not want to be a

Spaakt Could that government, in the Kingts opinion,
be the present one?

Leopoldt Doubtlessly not. It seems certain that the
occupant would never consent to it.

Pierlott But if the King forms a government, what will
be the position of the present Government, not only
the ministers here present, but those who are in
France? In the King's opinion, should they resign?

Leopold That appears to me in the logic of the

Sarskt It is necessary to foresee the reaction which
will occur among the Belgians in free territory and
to foresee the eventuality that the present Govern-
ment, or another which might take its place, decides
to continue the war alongside the Allies while...
the King would have already made peace or would
consider in any case that hostilities had ceased
between Belgium and Germany.

Pierlott If the present Government takes the attitude
indicated by Mr. Spaak and continues the war in
France, will that Government still be the King's

Leopolds No, the Government would necessarily be
opposed to me.

Pierlot again observed that the King's answers were

always given concisely but each time after a moment of

reflection which led the Ministers to believe that the

eventualities raised by them had not been previously con-

sidered by the Sovereign, or if they had, had not been

given thorough examination on his part. The Ministers

then wondered if perhaps they should stay with the King

in some unofficial capacity.

Leopold: It would be advantageous to have as many
persons as possible in Belgium having a moral
authority which they could employ to maintain the
cohesion and unity of the country. Moreover, even
if the ministers resigned and were unable,as a
consequence, to participate in the Government,
couldn't they continue to aid me by giving advice
and counsel which I might be led to ask of them?

The Ministers were not long in rejecting this hybrid


The Ministers! Our place would no longer be with the
King because, as we have already made clear, even if
we resigned our presence would help give to the
events a political complexion which we wish to avoid
or which we do not wish them to have by cur act. Our
place is with our colleagues with whom we could act
as a unit once the Government was completely re-
Whatever they be, the intentions of the King, the
conduct which he intends to follow, will be interpreted
in Belgium and abroad, and particularly in the Allied
countries, as treason to the cause to which the King
and Belgium have been linked since they appealed for
the guarantee of England and France. Far from being
a rallying point, the King would occupy a contra-
dictory position among his people. The monarchical
institution which has been the efficacious symbol
and means of our national unity would find itself
compromised--without doubt, irremediably.

All attempts to persuade the King to reconsider his

position proved futile. Before leaving the King, Pierlot

said to him:

Following the letter and spirit of the Constitution,
the ministers answer to all acts of the King either by
formally assuming responsibility by countersignature
or jby assuming responsibility for public acts done
by the Head of State in the exercise of his function.
Since the creation of the Belgian state in its
present form, all governments have considered that
their essential duty has been to "cover" the Crown.

None have ever failed in that obligation. In the
present case we are forced to say that our attitude
must be different. The King has adopted a line of
conduct contrary to the unanimous advice of the
Government; the latter has not ceased to voice its
reservations it would be too unjust te have weigh
upon us a responsibility of which we should have to
carry no part at all. It concerns a problem of
extreme gravity upon which depends the existence of
our institutions and of our country. We think that
the King's manner of acting compromises everything.
We have already said so. We do not want history to
record us as the cause of the catastrophe which is
about to take place. If the King persists in his
intentions, we shall be forced not only to refuse to
cover him but also publicly to break with him. We
know that such a thing is without precedent and
breaks with the traditions of public law. But we
see no other attitude possible than that which we
have just announced.

Leopold I understand your situation. You have a
conviction. I know that it is sincere. You do as it
tells you to do.

What began then as a dispute over military operations

ended in a political dispute which went to the heart of the

relationship between a king and his cabinet under a

constitutional monarchy. The Ministers had one policy, to

continue the war alongside the Allies, beyond the borders

of Belgium, while the King, it appeared, had formulated and

intended to follow another. The Ministers took their leave

of Leopold fully convinced that he would treat with the

Germans and continue to reign under German occupation.37

37They left knowing, however, the following passage
from the letter Leopold wrote to King George VII "By
remaining in my country, I realize full well that my
position will be difficult, but my essential preoccupation
will be to stop my compatriotes from being obliged to be
associated with any action against the countries which have
aided Belgium in the fight" (Recueil. p. 131.

This they considered to be unconstitutional because it

would go counter to the advice of responsible ministers

Leopold, on the other hand, was concerned lest he fail to

have a government with which to rule. To Leopold the

presence or absence of a government in Belgium was the only

significant factor in determining the constitutionality of

his actions. The Ministers believed that the link of con-

stitutionality would be broken from the moment of the


After the surrender, the Government issued an

official decree stating that the King no longer reigned

In the name of the Belgian people, under Article
82 of the Constitution, considering that the King is
under the power of the invader, the ministers united
in council state that the King is found unable to
reign (le roi se trouve dans limpossibilite de
regner) .3

On May 31, those members of Parliament who had

fled Belgium and were in France met with the Belgian

overnment-in-Exile at Limoges. The entire Cabinet was

present with the exception of Antoine Delfosse. There

were some present who wanted to vote a total repudiation

of the King.3 The leaders and in particular Pierlot had

Re8uei p. 117.
3Others wanted to go even further. Mr. Buset
was warmly applauded by certain members when he declared!
"I accept nothing from the defenders of the King; I
accept no extenuating circumstances. I say that the
situation demanded of him a precise and imperative duty.
He failed; let him be executed." (Recueil, p. 131.)

the discipline and good sense to remind the legislators,

many of whom in the confusion and heat of recent events

had lost perspective, that such action, even if possible,

could only be taken by all the national representatives

and not Just by those present in Limoges. He was forced

to remind them that the meeting at Limoges was not

official and that the legislators could make no binding

decisions.40 As a result, debate was limited to a state-

ment of the repudiatiation of the capitulation and an

interpretation of the words impossibilitye de regner."

Many of the legislators at Limoges felt that the words

were equivocal and failed to spell out the circumstances

of this "impossibility*" Was it merely a physical impossi-

bility or was it a moral and legal one as well? The

following resolution was voted unanimously by the members

of Parliament

0The Government's declaration regarding the
impossibility to reign was fully constitutional, however.
In fact, the Council of Ministers now held both legislative
and executive power. The King, under Article 27 of the
Constitution, became sole legislator in the event that
Parliament could not act. Under Article 82, the Council
of Ministers could assume the Kingts prerogatives under
certain conditions. Those conditions were fulfilled as
of May 28, 1940.
Pierlot, however, even considering his level head,
was partly responsible for the temperature of the debate
on May 31. On May 28, he had addressed the Belgian people
by radio
Ignoring the formal and unanimous opinion of the
Government, the King has just opened separate
negotiations and has treated with the enemy. Belgium
will be horror-stricken, but the fault of one man can-
not be imputed to an entire nation. Our army has not