On 5 June 1962, a day before her father’s birthday, Princess Astrid was born as the daughter of the then Prince and Princess of Liège, later King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians – with a grand total of seven names – Astrid Josephine Charlotte Fabrizia Elisabeth Paola Maria – and weighing 3,3 kilos. Her elder brother, the current King Philippe, lovingly nicknamed her Titine. Two weeks later, the infant Princess was baptised in Brussels.
At the time of her birth, Belgium still adhered to salic law, meaning that Princess Astrid was not in the line of succession. In any case, her uncle King Baudouin had just married Fabiola, and it was assumed that they would have children. This, unfortunately, would not be as Fabiola’s five pregnancies all ended in miscarriage.
Like her brother, Astrid was cared for mainly by nannies. Her parents’ marriage was already showing the first signs of a breakdown, which even the birth of a second brother – Prince Laurent – could not mend. Paola was often homesick for her native Italy and often travelled back there, with or without the children. Soon, Paola and Albert were going their own way. In 1968, Albert’s mistress gave birth to a daughter, who is now known as Princess Delphine. Astrid would later say that she found out about her half-sister at the same time as the rest of the Belgians. Meanwhile, at Belvédère Castle, Prince Albert lived on the first floor, while Princess Paola lived on the second floor.
Once a happy and vibrant child, Astrid suffered immensely because of her parent’s marital strife. She was enrolled in the La Vierge Fidèle school, where her classmates knew her as a quiet girl. She had trouble finding hobbies that kept her interested and also had to redo her first year of high school. She rebelled against the typical Princess image so embodied by her mother by wearing jeans and oversized sweaters.
As it was assumed that she would have no role in the Belgian succession, her studies were not a priority. She spent six years at the French-language La Vierge Fidèle school and then moved to the VAL institute for the 7th year. She then spent a year in Leiden in the Netherlands, studying art history before moving to Geneva to study at the Institut d’études européennes. On the advice of her uncle King Baudouin, she completed her studies in the US at the University of Michigan. While there, she stayed with a family who practised Pentecostalism, and she was fascinated by it. Religion would later play a big part in the reunion of her parents.
Astrid was just 15 years old when she first met her future husband. His name was Lorenz, Archduke of Austria-Este, a grandson of the last Emperor of Austria. As the Austrian Empire no longer exists, this title was merely a courtesy, and it held no rank in Belgium or elsewhere. Astrid was not initially taken with him, but after several meetings, including a boat tour, they got to know each other better. After Astrid’s grand 18th birthday party, to which Lorenz was also invited, they were in love. They managed to hide the relationship from the press for four years. And thus, they managed to surprise everyone when they announced their engagement on 12 May 1984.
The wedding was set for later that year on 22 September. Although it rained the entire day, it didn’t ruin their day. Astrid wore a gown by Louis Mis from Brussels. She didn’t wear a tiara and instead opted for a wreath of orange blossom and ivy. Her wedding veil was a family heirloom from her mother’s side. Upon marriage, Astrid gained the courtesy title of Archduchess, but Lorenz wouldn’t be created a Prince of Belgium until 10 November 1995.
The newlyweds moved to Basel, where Lorenz was employed at the Gutzwiller bank. Astrid was often homesick during these early months of marriage, and she knew little of running a household. She had only been there for two months when she was injured in a tram accident. She suffered a concussion and several cuts to her face. Luckily, she recovered quickly, and just a few months later, she found herself pregnant with her first child. For the birth of her child, Astrid went back to Brussels, and both Lorenz and her mother were by her side when she gave birth to a son – Amedeo – on 21 February 1986.
Amedeo wouldn’t be alone in the nursery for long. On 26 August 1988, Astrid gave birth to Maria Laura, followed by Joachim on 9 December 1991 and Luisa Maria on 11 October 1995. The family was completed on 23 April 2003 with the birth of Laetitia Maria. In 1991, Belgium decided to rid itself of the salic law that had regulated the succession. With the introduction of absolute primogeniture, Princess Astrid suddenly found herself third in the line of succession behind her father and elder brother Philippe, who was unmarried at the time. Because of her sudden close proximity to the crown, the family moved back to Belgium. Lorenz continued to work in Basel and thus lived away from home three days a week. Also, in 1991, her children were granted the title of Prince(ss) of Belgium, and they now followed their mother in the Belgian line of succession.
The death of King Baudouin in 1993 suddenly put Astrid more in the spotlight than before. Her father became the new King of the Belgians, and Astrid was now second in the line of succession. She became honorary president of the Red Cross, taking over for her father, and she took on a military education. In November 1996, both she and her two brothers were named senators by right, giving them a chance to get the know parliament better. However, her opening speech led to criticism of her Dutch language skills, which she immediately sought to improve.
Slowly but surely, Astrid took on more royal duties to support her father, and she became better known to the Belgian people. It wasn’t until 2002 that both she and her brothers were finally provided with funds by the civil list. Her royal duties also began to include international affairs. Just after her father’s abdication in 2013, her brother Philippe asked her to take on the foreign economic missions. At the end of 1999, Philippe married Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz, and the births of their four children put Astrid further down the line of succession. Her brother’s accession also meant that Astrid appeared less and less at official functions. Nevertheless, she suffered from a period of exhaustion in 2018 and was prescribed rest for four months.
In 2016, Astrid became a grandmother for the first time with the birth of Amedeo’s daughter Anna Astrid. A grandson named Maximilian followed in 2019. Her eldest daughter Maria Laura is set to get married in the second half of 2022.1