Princess Marie-Esmeralda of Belgium – The activist Princess




marie esmeralda belgium
BRU News / Alamy Stock Photo

“Being the daughter of a King can be hard, but it can also be an exceptional opportunity.”1

Princess Marie-Esmeralda of Belgium was born on 30 September 1956 as the youngest daughter of King Leopold III of Belgium, who had abdicated in 1951, and his second wife Lilian, Princess of Réthy. From her father’s first marriage to Astrid of Sweden, she has three half-siblings: Joséphine-Charlotte (1927 – 2007), King Baudouin (1930 – 1993) and King Albert II (1934 – ?). From his second marriage, she has two full siblings: Alexandre (1942 – 2009) and Marie-Christine (1951 – ?)

Her father’s second marriage occurred while he was a prisoner of war, and the news was badly received in Belgium. After the war, he was eventually forced to abdicate in favour of Marie-Esmeralda’s half-brother Baudouin. At the end of the war, they had been taken to Austria, where they remained after controversy arose over his possible return to Belgium. Eventually, the family returned to Belgium, where they settled in the Castle of Laeken, where both Marie-Christine and Marie-Esmeralda would be born. None of the three children from Leopold’s second marriage have succession rights in Belgium.

“I was the last of my father’s six children. I arrived at a time when he was no longer involved in government affairs at all. In that period of serenity, he decided to dedicate himself to my education”, Marie-Esmeralda said. “My father called me his TP, his tout petit. I swore to him that I would never use the name “Papa” for anyone but him, not even for the future father of my own children. He laughed and said, ‘That will be difficult.’ It was never a problem; my children call their father ‘Daddy.'” 2

Marie-Esmeralda spent four happy years at the Castle of Laeken and remembered it fondly. She said, “We lived in a castle in a park with many animals. I was tutored at home. We lived homely, without protocol.”3 In 1960, the family moved out of the Castle of Laeken to make room for King Baudouin and his new wife, Fabiola. Their new residence was Argenteuil, where Marie-Esmeralda grew up to be a stubborn and lively young woman.

“My parents followed my studies diligently. Georges Gérardy, my tutor, came to teach me every day. French, Latin, literature and history”, she told VRT. Despite the close-knit family bond, it was lonely. She said, “As a child, I didn’t interact much with children my own age, except for the rare cousin. I was always together with people who were much older than me. It was very lonely. Homeschooling had its advantage because I could spend a lot of time with parents and travel with them, so I don’t mean to complain. But I missed having other children around, I missed sharing things with them.”4

In the mid-70s, it was time for Marie-Esmeralda to go to university, and she signed up to study law at the Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis in Brussels. It turned out to be not for her and she turned to journalism at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve. She told VRT, “My father knew I wanted to study journalism. Although the press had treated him very badly, he strangely did not mind, as long I, as a journalist, acted fairly and would strive to find the truth. I love writing a lot.”5 She was initially not well received at the university by the students and faculty, who often gave her dirty looks. She overcame this and graduated in 1980. She threw herself into jobs and internships with Figaro Magazine, La Libre Belgique, among others and wrote under the name Esmeralda de Réthy.

On 25 September 1983, her father Leopold died after heart surgery – Marie-Esmeralda lost not only her father but also one of her closest friends. However, it was her job as a journalist that kept her going afterwards.

Marie-Esmeralda met her future husband Salvador Moncada for the first time in 1981 before he reappeared in her life in the early 90s. In 1996, the two first went on a date and started a relationship. Her daughter’s choice did not amuse her mother – she would have preferred someone more well-to-do. She reportedly also disagreed with the age difference of 12 years, though Lilian herself had also been much younger than her husband. Nevertheless, they married on 5 April 1998 in London with her mother and brother King Albert II in attendance, and they settled in London.

At the time of her wedding, Marie-Esmeralda was already five months pregnant with her first child. Her daughter Alexandra Leopoldine was born on 4 August 1998, followed by a son named Leopoldo Daniel on 21 May 2001. For Lilian, they would be her only grandchildren, though they didn’t get to spend much time together. Lilian died at the age of 85 on 7 June 2002. Marie-Esmeralda’s husband was created a Knight Bachelor for Services to Science, and so she is also known as Lady Moncada.

As a journalist and a writer, she also spent time on works about her family, like books about her father, mother and grandparents. She also (co-)created two documentaries about her family. Marie-Esmeralda was close with her brother Alexandre until his death in 2009, but she doesn’t have any contact with her sister Marie-Christine, who has broken with the family and is currently living in the United States.

Marie-Esmeralda is a supporter of women’s rights, indigenous communities, and she is an advocate against global warming. She was even arrested during a 2019 protest of Extinction Rebellion. She told VRT, “I am lucky that I am not obligated to keep quiet.”6 Although she has lived in the United Kingdom for many years, she often returns to Belgium and remains in touch with her family in Belgium and in Luxembourg (through her elder sister, she is the aunt of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg). She has no plans to slow down and continues to make her voice heard.

  1. VRT
  2. VRT
  3. Tien prinsessen by Henri van Daele & Patrick Weber p.115
  4. VRT
  5. VRT
  6. VRT






About Moniek Bloks 2119 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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