origins of the dynasty
Old family ties with sovereigns who have reigned over what is now the territory of Belgium
Whereas the King of the Belgians descends in a direct male line from a Germany dynasty, its ancestry includes most of the sovereigns who reigned on what is now the territory of Belgium before 1831.
Through his grandmother, Queen Astrid, the King is a descendant of William I, King of the Netherlands, who was our sovereign from 1815 to 1830, and from Joséphine de Beauharnais, the wife of Emperor Napoleon I, who governed our lands at the very beginning of the 19th century.
Through Queen Elisabeth and Queen Louise-Marie, the King descends in several instances from all the dynasties that reigned over our lands through the centuries until the end of the Ancien Régime (1789). His ancestors include members of the illustrious Hapsburg dynasty, such as Empress Maria Theresa (18th century) and Emperor Charles V, born in Ghent in 1500. The latter was the grandson of Mary of Burgundy (born in Brussels in 1457, died in Bruges in 1482), the heiress in particular of the Duchy of Burgundy, the Duchies of Brabant and Limburg, and the Countries of Flanders, Hainaut and Namur. Thanks to the relations by marriage of the Dukes of Burgundy, all the medieval dynasties that made the history of our country figure in the ancestry of the King of the Belgians.
House of Wettin
The roots of the House of Wettin, of which the Royal Family of Belgium is a branch, stretch all the way back to the high Middle Ages. This dynasty rose to the investiture of the Duchy of Saxony, one of the vastest and most prestigious fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire, which had a seat in the college of prince electors tasked with electing the Holy Roman Emperor and filling the hereditary office of Archmarshall of the Holy Roman Empire.
The first known ancestor is Dedi, Count in Hassegau (Thuringia), cited as such in a charter of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 949. Thimo, first Count of Wettin († 1118), acquired the fortress of Wettin overlooking the Saale downstream from Halle. His son, Conrad, became Margrave of Misnia (1127), near Dresden. Conrad’s grandson, Thierry, strengthened his position considerably by marrying the heiress of the Landgraviate of Thuringia (1249). Frederick the III the Strong († 1381) married the heiress of Coburg.
The rise of the House of Wettin continued in the 15th century. In 1423, Emperor Sigismond conferred the electoral duchy of Saxony to Frederick I the Warlike, Margrave of Misnia and Landgrave of Thuringia. His and his descendants would from that time bear the title of Duke of Saxony. Following the death of Prince-Elector Frederick II the Good, the dynastic possessions were divided in 1485 (Treaty of Leipzig) between his sons Ernest and Albert, giving rise to the Ernestine and Albertine lines.
The elder, or Ernestine line, retained the Electoral Duchy of Saxony until the war between Emperor Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of Protestant cities and princes in the Holy Roman Empire. Headed by the Duke of Saxony, Johann Friedrich I the Magnanimous, the League was defeated in Mühlberg. Upon the signing of the Capitulation of Wittenberg (1547), the Dignity of Prince Elector and many possessions of Johan Friedrich passed to the Albertine line. The latter would produce kings of Poland and Grand Dukes of Lithuania and would obtain the title of King of Saxony in 1806.
The Ernestine line was gradually divided into many states, the “Saxon Duchies:” Saxe-Coburg, Saxe-Gotha, Saxe-Weimar, Saxe-Altenbourg, Saxe-Eisenach, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Saalfeld, etc., which united through legacies and treaties. One of these reorganisations occurred upon the death of the last Duke of Saxe-Gotha in 1826. Ernest III, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the elder brother of the future King Leopold I, exchanged the Saalfeld region for the Duchy of Gotha and became Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha under the name of Ernest I.
House of Saxe-Coburg
In the 19th century, this branch acquired a real European dimension. Descendants of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (father of King Leopold I) who died in 1806, ascended to the thrones of Belgium, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Portugal and Bulgaria. Thanks to his family ties (he was in particular the uncle and mentor of Queen Victoria of Great Britain), and as Head of State of a neutral country, King Leopold I exerted great influence on diplomacy in Europe from 1831 to 1865. He was one of the most respected statesmen of his age, known as the “Nestor of Europe.”