Princess Marie-Christine of Belgium was born on 6 February 1951 as the daughter of King Leopold III of Belgium and his second wife Lilian, Princess of Réthy. Her father’s second marriage during his time as a prisoner of war was badly received in Belgium, and he officially abdicated the throne on 16 July 1951 in favour of his eldest son and Marie-Christine’s half-brother, who became King Baudouin. From Leopold’s first marriage to Queen Astrid, Marie-Christine has one half-sister (the late Joséphine Charlotte of Belgium, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) and two half-brothers (the above mentioned Baudoin – now deceased – and Albert).
Marie-Christine also has two full siblings, Alexandre (now deceased) and Esmeralda. The children of this second marriage received the titles of Prince(ss) of Belgium with the style of Royal Highness, but they did not receive succession rights. Through her half-brother Albert, she is the aunt of the current King Philippe of the Belgians.
Marie-Christine was born at the Palace of Laeken, near Brussels, where she would spend the first ten years of her life. She usually went by her middle name Daphne and was seven years when she learned it was not her first name. There was little contact with two of her elder half-siblings. King Baudouin did visit her on a regular basis as he lived with them in the early years of his reign, and in her memoirs, she remembered him as “one in a million.” Joséphine Charlotte married the future Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 1953 when Marie-Christine was only two. She also saw little of her full brother Alexandre, who was nine years older than her. Her younger sister Esmeralda was born in 1956, but they were never close.
Marie-Christine was mostly raised by nannies in a wing of the palace, and these nannies were often fired if she became too attached to them. In her memoirs, Marie Christine described having had 24 nannies. At the age of nine, Marie-Christine was a bridesmaid at the wedding of her half-brother King Baudouin and Fabiola de Mora y Aragon. However, she fainted in church and spent much of the wedding behind the scenes. During the couple’s honeymoon, Marie-Christine’s parents were requested to move out of the Palace of Laeken and into the Castle of Argenteuil. While there, Marie-Christine and her family grew apart.
Lilian had an obvious preference for Marie-Christine’s younger sister Esmeralda whom she believed to be more intelligent and handsome. Of her mother, Marie-Christine wrote, “I was afraid of my mother until the day of her death. The day I found out she was gone forever, I didn’t shed a tear. I didn’t laugh either, but I sighed with relief. Peace at last.”1 After being schooled by private tutors, Marie-Christine was sent away for school – three schools in fact. She left the third one – a religious boarding school – just before graduation and without a diploma.
At the age of 17, Marie-Christine was reportedly raped by a cousin of hers. In her memoirs, she wrote, “Of course, I was more afraid of my mother than I was of him. So I said nothing. I thought I was going to die.”2 Her mother called her a liar, even though a doctor later confirmed injuries consistent with rape. Her mother locked her in her room for two months. After this traumatic experience, Marie-Christine ended up in a vicious circle of men who were wrong for her and completely spiralled out of control.
She could not find peace anywhere and finally ended up being sent to Canada where friends of her parents lived. She found a job there – first as a telephone operator but later as a production assistant with TV-Ontario. She soon found her way back to the nightlife and defied her parents’ orders to return by marrying a man named Paul Drake (Druckner). She later wrote, “I never loved Paul Drake. I was barely married when I realised I had been foolish. Paul Drake was a gay man who was still in the closet. And our marriage was not a generosity towards me…”3 Paul Drake sought out the publicity and Marie-Christine felt trapped. She eventually found the courage to leave – packed her bags and left a note. She moved to Montréal, where she took odds jobs to make money. While there, she began dating Jean-Paul Gourgues on and off. After five years, she and Paul were officially divorced after King Baudouin discretely paid the expenses.
After a fling with an Australian man, she found her way back to Jean-Paul – pregnant with the Australian man’s baby. Jean-Paul wanted her back but could barely support the two of them, let alone a baby, and so Marie-Christine had an abortion. She later wrote, “I had no mothering instincts, and I was constantly at odds with myself.”4 Jean-Paul became the love of her life. They lived in France for three years before settling in the United States.
In 1983, King Leopold died at the age of 81. Marie-Christine returned to Belgium briefly to say goodbye, but she did not attend his funeral. After several years, the inheritance was finally settled, and she was able to buy a house in Los Angeles. On 28 September 1989, she married Jean-Paul and began a restaurant with him. She tried to break through as an actress but never made it, though she was often seen at parties on account of her title.
Marie-Christine had to learn about Baudouin’s death via the media. None of the family had contacted her, and she did not attend his funeral. By then, she had not spoken to her family for many years anyway. A year after his death. Marie-Christine was interviewed by the Belgian media where she spoke openly about her relationship (or lack thereof) with the Belgian royals. She could use the money from the interview well after the inheritance had all but disappeared. She and Jean-Paul had moved to a rental property in Las Vegas where gambling debts haunted them. The media found her again several years later, and she openly admitted to having money problems. “My problem is that I was not born or raised to work. I have no diplomas. I know nothing. I have only my name.”5 After German media also showed an interest in her story, King Albert sent her a financial settlement.
Marie-Christine’s mother Lilian died on 7 June 2002 – they had not spoken for 24 years. She did not attend her mother’s funeral and remained out of touch with the royal family. In 2004, Marie-Christine published her memoirs called “De Breuk” (the fracture). With her mother’s inheritance, Marie-Christine’s managed to buy three homes and a campervan, but even that inheritance eventually disappeared with Jean-Paul’s gambling habit. The houses were sold, and the two settled in a wooden chalet in Sequim. They reportedly still live there and hardly ever venture out. No one in the family is in touch with her according to her sister Esmeralda, “That is her choice. It makes me sad, but I respect her decision.”6
“Even if my life as a Princess has served no purpose, I would wish that my life as a human has this meaning at least: to show those who suffer that there is always a way out of the tunnel, a harbour for a ship, a road to get away on, a reward after the sacrifice. Even if it hurts you, you will become stronger. A fracture may be painful and frustrating but the reward of that sacrifice is an additional trump card on the path of life.”78
- De Breuk by Marie-Christine van België p.19
- De Breuk by Marie-Christine van België p.19
- De Breuk by Marie-Christine van België p.72
- De Breuk by Marie-Christine van België p.82
- Prinsessen van België by Joëlle Vanden Houden p.151
- Prinsessen van België by Joëlle Vanden Houden p.153
- De Breuk by Marie-Christine van België p.164 -165
- See also VRT