Albert I, King of the Belgians: A ‘Neutral’ Sovereign and Commander

  • William PhilpottEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy book series (PSMM)


This chapter focuses on a different monarchical experience, one more in line (superficially) with the traditional expectations of monarchs in time of war. Albert I, King of the Belgians, was not the only sovereign Commander-in-Chief during the First World War. He was also a monarch who actually led his army in the field throughout the conflict. He did so in difficult circumstances, with Belgium largely occupied and his army and refugee people beholden to Belgium’s powerful allies, who constantly urged him to abandon Belgium’s neutral status and formally ally with them. The circumstances of the war obliged Belgium to fight, while the politics of Belgium enjoined defence of the country’s violated neutrality. Catholic, conservative and ‘bourgeois’ by temperament, Albert rose defiantly to the unexpected challenges of wartime, as diplomat, soldier and sovereign. An active leader and respected national figurehead, he managed the day-to-day politics of coalition and demonstrated a determined commitment to the integrity of his state and the welfare of his people. Neutrality meant careful negotiation with Britain and France over Belgium’s place in the coalition and future restoration, and a strict but solid military defence of the last area of national territory not under German occupation, until such time as the Allied armies could liberate occupied Belgium. Albert managed a difficult situation with aplomb, emerging on the winning side and with his reputation as a statesman and sovereign enhanced. This chapter examines Albert’s various wartime roles, and evaluates the effectiveness of his wartime leadership and contribution to Belgium’s ‘victory’.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.King’s College LondonLondonUK

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