Today, King Albert II of Belgium announced on Belgian television that he will be abdicating the throne effective July 21.
2013 is turning into the Year of the Abdication: this will be the third time a monarch has stepped down. Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands abdicated in April, and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani passed the Emirate of Qatar to his son Tamim in June. Benedict XVI also abdicated as pope in March (and the Pope is considered the head of state of Vatican City State).
Albert cited his age (he is 79) and ill health as his reasons for relinquishing the throne, but there is the shadow of scandal: Belgian artist Delphine Boël is alleging that she is Albert’s illegitimate daughter and has summoned Albert and two of his children to court to establish her paternity by DNA test.
Albert’s eldest son, Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, will take the throne on July 21, Belgium’s national day. His wife, Princess Mathilde, will become the first Queen of Belgium to be born in Belgium; his eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth, will become Duchess of Brabant (a title for the heir apparent, much like “Prince of Wales” in the UK) and be the first heiress apparent in Belgian history after the rules of accession were changed in to allow absolute cognatic primogeniture (that is, the first-born child succeeds regardless of gender).
After the abdication, Albert and his wife Paola will retain their titles of King and Queen, but hold no power. (Add in Queen Fabiola, widow of Albert’s predecessor King Baudouin, and there will be two Kings and three Queens in Belgium!)