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Albert I

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ALBERT I, King of the Belgians: Albert Leopold Clement Marie Meinrad, Duke of Sax ony, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, second son of Prince Philip Baldwin, Count of Flan ders, and Princess Marie of Hohenzollern: b. Brussels, 8 April 1875; married 2 Oct. 1900 to Elizabeth, Duchess of (in) Bavaria, daugh ter of the late Duke Karl Theodor, the phy sician and oculist. They have three children: (1) Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant, b. 3 Nov. 1901; (2) Prince Charles, Count of Flanders, b. 10 Oct. 1903; (3) Princess Marie Jose, b. 4 Aug. 1906.

King Albert succeeded his uncle, Leopold II (d. 17 Dec. 1909) and was crowned on 23 Dec. 1909. The condition of Belgium at that time was far from promising. Leopold II had gone to his grave "unwept, unhonour'd and un sung.° His profligate vices, ambitions and auto cratic magnificence, his domestic tyranny and private scandals had aroused almost universal indignation, nowhere stronger than in his own country. In addition, the Kongo atrocities per petrated in his name and with his knowledge had lowered the repute of Belgium. Hence the new King inherited sentiments of distrust, enmity and anger at home and abroad, besides a country saddled with enormous expenditures. A. barrier of estrangement and contempt had grown up between King and people; it was the task of Albert I to break down that barrier and replace it by a bond of democratic sym pathy and confidence. Like his uncle, he is a man of great stature and masterful will ; but there the resemblance ends. Before he had been two weeks on the throne his people re alized that something essential had been changed in Belgium; that the ((commonplace virtues' so constantly disregarded by the late King — love of children, of family and country, honesty and simplicity — had been restored, as it were by magic, into the scheme of national life. One of the King's actions was to allow — or rather, invite — Princess Louise, Leopold's eldest daughter, to return to Belgium, whence her father's wrath had expelled her. He also au thorized Leopold's youngest daughter, Princess Clementine, to marry Prince Victor Napoleon —a love romance which her father had sternly opposed. King Albert quickly gave proof of his genuine interest in the welfare of the people, in their labor and their pleasures ; in the sym pathetic encouragement he extended to art, lit erature, science and industry — all subjects treated with contemptuous indifference by his predecessor.. He reduced the royal court cere monials and etiquette to their lowest expres sion; with his consort he moved among his people with an easy, unpretentious friendliness, qualified by a natural modesty almost akin to bashfulness. He abolished Leopold's custom of driving through the streets surrounded by loaded rifles and pistols. The success of his endeavors to win public confidence was not, however, the result of mere tactful good nature, but of deep understanding, systematic study and first-hand knowledge. He had been trained in sociology and economics by his father; as heir presumptive for 18 years (since the death of his elder brother in 1891) he strove to learn facts for himself regarding the life and labor of the people. With this object he worked in

the mines, drove railway engines and generally mixed with the working classes in all their activities. In the guise of a newspaper reporter he had visited the principal ports and shipyards of Europe, and in 1898 traveled in the United States. where he made a study of our railroad methods with the assistance of the late James J. Hill. Some months before his accession he returned from an extensive tour through the Belgian Kongo and plainly opened his mind on the necessity for reforms to his royal uncle, who, it is said, never spoke to him again.

On his accession King Albert ordered the release of 2,500 prisoners detained for minor offenses. He attended the funeral of King Edward in London (May 1910) and a week later with the Queen was in Berlin and Pots dam, receiving expressions of the good-will of the German people and their ruler. As the Kaiser was indisposed at the time, the Imperial Crown Prince acted as host. In the official speeches peculiar stress was laid on the com mercial relations between the two countries and the absence of any desire on the part of Germany to annex Belgium. On 25 Oct. 1910 the German Emperor and Empress and their daughter visited Brussels. At the state banquet that night the Emperor, replying to the King's French speech, spoke in German—which few of those present understood— and said, in con clusion, a. . . that your Majesty's reign may spread happiness and prosperity in your Royal House and among your people, is the wish which arises from the deepest depth of my heart, and with which I cry, Long live the King and Queen of the Belgians. Hurrah!" Long before he was called to the throne, King Albert had resolved to remedy a serious defect in the equipment of his country : Belgium had a great overseas trade and the second port in Europe, namely, Antwerp; but its merchandise• was carried in foreign ships, mainly English and German, not only a source of commercial weakness, but also' a political menace. The Ger mans were gradually acquiring a predominant influence in Antwerp, capturing the chamber of commerce, the marine insurance business, the .J_ control of the banks, possession of the naviga tion companies, ship-broking, etc., etc. To alter this he had decided on a Belgian mercantile marine and during the first year of his reign a shipping scheme was put forward, by which a new service to South America and one to the Kongo were established with a capital of $2,000, 000, of which $800,000 was supplied by the Woermann Line of Hamburg and the British Elder-Dempster Company. In 1911 two new steamer services were started to Brazil — from Ghent to Rio Grande do Sul and from Antwerp to Brazilian and River Plate ports. Despite labor troubles, election riots and political strife, King Albert and his government introduced a number of useful reforms, including free and compulsory education, equal rights for the Flemish and French languages, and a scheme for the reorganization of the army.

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