by Scott Mehl
Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg
Princess Joséphine Charlotte Stéphanie Ingeborg Elisabeth Marie José Marguerite Astrid of Belgium was born on October 11, 1927 at the Royal Palace of Brussels. She was the eldest child, and only daughter, of King Leopold III and Princess Astrid of Sweden. Her two younger brothers were:
Christened a month after her birth, ironically her godmother would be her future mother-in-law, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg. Her other godparent was her paternal uncle, Prince Charles, Count of Flanders. The family lived at Stuyvenberg Castle, on the Royal Domain at Laeken. In 1934, her grandfather died and her father became King of the Belgians. The following year, her mother was killed in an automobile crash in Switzerland. Soon after, the family moved to the Royal Palace of Laeken where they would later be held under house arrest following the German invasion of Belgium in 1940.
Princess Joséphine-Charlotte was primarily educated at the palace, and also attended boarding school briefly before the war began. In 1941, while the family was confined to the Palace of Laeken, her father secretly remarried to Lilian Baels, who was given the title Princess de Réthy. Three more children were born from this marriage:
After the war, Joséphine-Charlotte finished her studies in Switzerland, where the family had settled after the war, pending the “Royal Question” of her father’s actions during the war. She was able to return to Belgium in 1949 and worked toward the restoration of her father’s reputation, and for his return to the Belgian throne. The following year, a referendum was held to determine if the King should return. With a winning percentage, King Leopold III returned to the country. However, he soon transferred his powers to his elder son, Baudouin, and then formally abdicated the following year.
On April 9, 1953, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte married Hereditary Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, the eldest child of Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg and Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma. The two were second cousins once removed, through their mutual descent from King Miguel I of Portugal. The two had become engaged in October the previous year, with the announcement made on December 26, 1952 Following a civil ceremony held at the Grand Ducal Palace, a religious ceremony was held at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Luxembourg City. The couple settled at Betzdorf Castle, in eastern Luxembourg, where they raised five children:
- Princess Marie-Astrid (1954) – married Archduke Carl Christian of Austria, 5 children
- Grand Duke Henri (1955) – married Maria Teresa Mestre y Batista, 5 children
- Prince Jean (1957) – married (1) Hélène Suzanna Vestur, four children; (2) Diane de Guerre
- Princess Margaretha (1957) – married Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein, 4 children
- Prince Guillaume (1963) – married Sibilla Weiller, 4 children
- Unofficial Royalty: Wedding of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg and Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium
On November 12, 1964, Grand Duchess Charlotte abdicated, and Jean and Joséphine-Charlotte became the new Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. The couple left Betzdorf and moved to Berg Castle, the traditional residence of the reigning Grand Duke. Both before and after their accession, Joséphine-Charlotte worked extensively with organizations focused on children and families as well as the arts. She served as honorary president of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, and president of the Luxembourg Red Cross, and oversaw the 5-year restoration of the Grand Ducal Palace from 1991-1996.
On October 7, 2000, Grand Duke Jean followed his mother’s footsteps and abdicated in favor of his elder son, Grand Duke Henri. The couple soon left Berg Castle and settled at Fischbach Castle in central Luxembourg. Sadly, in 2003 it was reported that Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte had been diagnosed with cancer and the planned ceremonies and celebrations for the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary were canceled. Just two years later, on January 10, 2005, Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte passed away at Fischbach Castle, surrounded by her family. She was 77 years old.
Her funeral was held at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, site of her marriage nearly 52 years earlier, and was attended by a large contingent of foreign royals. In accordance with her wishes, her remains were then cremated, and her ashes placed in the Grand Ducal Crypt at the Cathedral.