Jonkvrouw Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz was born on 20 January 1973 as the eldest child of Jonkheer Patrick d’Udekem d’Acoz and Countess Anna Maria Komorowska. She was born in the Edith Cavell Hospital in Uccle. Her grandfather and uncle carried the title of Baron. Mathilde spent her childhood at the Castle of Losange with her three sisters and one brother. Despite it being a castle, she grew up without much luxury, and she was taught the value of money. Her family was a close one. Mathilde followed her grandmother’s religious example and went to mass twice a week.
She studied modern languages at the Institut Vierge Fidèle in Brussels and received a degree as a speech therapist from the Institut libre Marie Haps. She also has a psychology degree from the Catholic University of Louvain. From 1996, Mathilde taught at a school for children’s with speech impediments while travelling as much as she could. Tragedy struck the family on 14 August 1997 when Mathilde’s younger sister Marie-Alix and their grandmother Princess Sophia Sapieha were killed in a car accident Marie-Alix was only 22 years old.
After an unassuming youth, it was perhaps quite a shock to be thrust into the spotlight in September 1999 when she was presented to the world as the fiance of Philippe, the Duke of Brabant, and future King of the Belgians. No one knew who she was, and as the media descended on her, she was in the midst of exams for her psychology degree. She had known Philippe at least since before the tragic car accident, and he attended the funerals and comforted her in her grief. She would later say, “My grandmother and sister will never come back. Even though it’s been ten years, the suffering stays the same. Time doesn’t change anything.”
Mathilde would have to give up her job as a speech therapist, but her job was in good hands with her sister Elisabeth. On 29 October 1999, Mathilde visited the school with Philippe and Mathilde was presented with a model of her classroom made by the children. A young boy called after them as they left, “My teacher will be Queen!”
An engagement party would follow on 13 November 1999 at the Palace of Laeken with over 1800 guests. The wedding was set for 4 December 1999 and Mathilde dazzled in a dress by Eduoard Vermeulen at Natan. She also wore a veil belonging to her mother-in-law Queen Paola, which had also been worn by Paola’s grandmother and her daughter Princess Astrid. Her tiara had been given to Queen Astrid upon the birth of the future King Albert. The Mayor of Brussels told Mathilde, “You are the living proof of the future of this country.” Mathilde was now a Princess of Belgium and Duchess of Brabant.
Mathilde and Philippe had begun their Joyous Entrees into Belgian cities even before marriage and continued them as a couple early in 2000. They also started doing official royal duties. At the end of 2000, they travel to Korea on an economic mission. Barely a year after the wedding, Mathilde had conquered Belgium. On 1 December 2000, she founded the Princess Mathilde Fund, which awards an annual prize to a project aimed towards helping those less fortunate. During the official presentation, Mathilde said, “It’s been nearly a year to the day that I married Prince Philippe. I have used that first year to get to know my husband better, to learn more about my history and institutions, but I have learned the most from my meetings with ordinary people. As a speech therapist, I learned to listen, listen to people who have trouble expressing themselves. That also means listening to those who have no voice in our society.”
In early 2001, they travelled to Thailand, but after their return, Mathilde slows down her duties a bit to focus on her psychology exams. However, on 7 May 2001, Mathilde and Philippe announced that they were expecting their first child. Belgium had abandoned salic law in 1991 in favour of absolute primogeniture in 1991, and so whatever gender the child would turn out to be – they would be the heir. Mathilde finished her exams in June, and the couple took a well-deserved break in France.
A little earlier than expected and via caesarian section, because the cord had wrapped around the baby’s neck, Mathilde gave birth to a healthy baby girl. It was on 25 October 2001. Philippe announced his daughter’s birth, still wearing bright green scrubs. He said, “It’s a little lady!” A 101-gun salute followed the birth of the new heir; her name was Elisabeth. The new Princess was baptised on 9 December 2001. In September 2002, Mathilde graduated cum laude. She had admirably combined becoming a Princess and a mother with the writing of her thesis.
A son named Prince Gabriel was born on 20 August 2003, followed by Prince Emmanuel, who was born on 4 October 2005 and finally, Princess Eléonore, who was born on 16 April 2008. With a wish to raise the children as normal as possible, Mathilde and Philippe plan their time efficiently. Shortly after the birth of her fourth child, Mathilde’s father passed away. He was buried with his daughter Marie-Alix.
On 3 July 2013, Philippe’s father, King Albert, announced his intention to abdicate the throne. He officially did so on 21 July 2013 and Philippe succeeded him as King of the Belgians. Mathilde became the first Belgian-born Queen of the Belgians. Their daughter Elisabeth became the first Duchess of Brabant in her own right and is expected to succeed as the first Queen regnant of Belgium.1