Yet another Benelux monarch abdicates in 2013

Less than six months after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced she was giving up the throne, the king in neighbouring Belgium today announced he was resigning after 20 years in the top job. Albert II is handing over the ultimate family job to his heir, Philippe, 53. In a nationwide broadcast, the king said his “age and health” prevented him from carrying out his duties.

Albert hasn’t had an easy time. His country has been increasingly divided between French-speaking Wallonia in the south and Dutch-speaking Flanders, which wants more autonomy. After a particularly bitter election in 2010, the country went 541 days without a government. In the end it was Albert who brokered a fragile coalition agreement, while the nation’s credit rating was downgraded by agencies worried that a nation at the heart of the European Union was crumbling.

And that political turmoil has been matched by Albert’s personal life, as the Associated Press reports:

“After he succeeded his devoutly Roman Catholic brother Baudouin in 1993, Albert became embroiled in a major royal scandal when he had to acknowledge the existence of an out-of-wedlock daughter, Delphine Boel, and suffered a major crisis in his marriage with Queen Paola. That issue came to the fore again this spring when Boel opened court proceedings to prove she is the king’s daughter.

At the same time, Albert brought some earthy charm and easygoing fun to the royalty after decades of stiff formality under Baudouin. But increasingly the years bore down on him as he turned from a king with a love of sleek motorcycles into a frail monarch sometimes relying on a walking stick.”

The future remains unclear for Philippe, his  wife Mathilde–who will be Belgium’s first native-born queen–and their four children. But like in the Netherlands, the crown prince and his wife are popular and have been groomed for the throne for years.

The handover will take place in three weeks on the country’s national day on July 21.

While both the Netherlands and Belgium will end the year with new monarchs, don’t expect the trend to extend to the third Benelux nation, Luxembourg. While Beatrix and Albert are senior citizens, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg is just 58 and shows no sign of slowing down. Yet his health, like that of Albert, has not been perfect. In 2011 he underwent an emergency angioplasty as rumours flew that he’d had a heart attack.

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