This Sunday will mark the start of the reign of Belgium’s new king. Pictured here in a recent photograph, Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant will formally ascend the throne when his father, King Albert ll, abdicates in Parliament. Long considered shy, diffident, and a poor substitute for his father, many a Belgian monarchist will undoubtedly brace themselves for the worst as His Royal Highness is sworn into office. The general lack of esteem in which the heir to the Belgian throne is held was not helped when late last year a book was published alleging to have uncovered the truth concerning the Duke of Brabant’s much speculated upon private life.
The book, written by investigative journalist Frederic Deborsu and entitled Question Royale, alleges that Philippe is secretly gay, was forced to marry a wife he’s never had sex with, conceived his children through in-vitro fertilization, and began taking estrogen as well as having himself castrated in preparation for a secret sex change that his father stopped at the last minute. His father also made him grow a beard.
Although he publicly denied the allegations and filed a complaint with a press regulatory commission, both unprecedented moves for a member of the Belgian House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, most of the books’s allegations are widely believed both inside and outside of Belgium. Even those European journalists who were clearly sympathetic toward His Royal Highness seemed to critique the book’s revelations more in regards to their pertinence to Belgian political life rather than declaring categorically that they weren’t true.
This leads the author to wonder if the soon to be King Philippe’s recent decision to shave off his beard, the very same that the book alleges his father made him grow, might be a prelude to other more private, sartorially concealed surgical changes the new king might be planning to make in the near future. His father, who’ll be unusually retaining his monarchical title after he abdicates, will no longer be in a position to stop him.
Although constitutional in nature, esteem for the Monarchy has long been considered the only real political linchpin that hold’s Belgium’s 6.5 million Dutch speakers together with its 4.5 million French speaking inhabitants. Should either group decide to break away, the Monarchy will become irrelevant. Esteem for the Royal Family, however, has been steadily on the decline since the early 90’s thanks to a series of sex scandals that range from various Royals being accused of patronizing a decades old child prostitution ring to King Albert ll all but admitting he fathered an illegitimate daughter early in his marriage. Only time will tell if the Belgian House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha will survive the reign of a man who already promises to be Europe’s most privately intriguing, controversial, and mysterious king.