What was the first time I heard of Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz? I think it was on 9 September 1999, one day before the announcement of her engagement to the Belgian heir to the throne, Prince Philippe. They had managed to keep their relationship a good secret. However, the official presentation was held on my 26th birthday: 13 September 1999. A nice birthday present, especially since the bride-to-be had the same birth year as me, although she was born some nine months earlier: 20 January 1973. Maybe that’s why I still have a soft spot for Queen Mathilde of the Belgians. The marriage took place on 4 December 1999 in Brussels. In July 2013 she became the first Belgian born Queen of her country. I attended both events outside, the wedding day a very cold winter day, the day of the inauguration a very warm summer day.
On the occasion of her 50th birthday, I asked some Belgian (and Belgian-Dutch) royalty-watchers, bloggers and journalists for their opinions on Mathilde. It turns out several people who contributed to this blog article, like me, have already been following her since day one. Régine from Noblesse & Royautés remembers vividly: “From the outset, Prince Philippe’s fiancée made a strong impression with her appearance, style and poise.” Also Belgian Jeannick remembers thinking: “Finally a fresh, young wind in our somewhat stiff royal house”. He finds it a pity that Mathilde afterwards “had to conform to the stricter protocol and at first remained in the shadow of her mother-in-law Queen Paola”.
Her husband and children
“Married at the age of 26, Queen Mathilde has the most solid background (also because of our times) of the Belgian queens. She trained as a speech therapist and after her marriage she obtained a degree in psychology at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve”, says Régine, who adds: “It can be said that in 23 years of marriage, King Philippe has improved both because of the royal function he has held now for 10 years, but also because, thanks to Queen Mathilde – as he likes to point out -, he has founded a happy and united family with Elisabeth, Gabriel, Emmanuel and Eléonore.”
“For her somewhat timid husband she is a great support and inspiration. Because of her, he seems to have become much more confident and to make the right choices”, says Dutch-Belgian Joris. Also Eric, a Belgian, thinks: “She is really the rock for King Philip and really the woman behind him. A strong person who deliberately does not stand in front but behind her husband, but I think inwardly that she has a lot of influence on the King.”
Mathilde is also very much admired by Isabelle from the blog Queen Mathilde, who has been a huge fan .since the very beginning. She says about Mathilde: “She is no nine to five queen, always getting on with huge amounts of work. Combining this with the work (and joys of course, but still work) that goes into raising 4 children and having a relationship with a partner you also work with … It’s no mean feat. I hope that in future she can take the time to relax a bit more often, it’s essential for anyone’s health, also for a queen. I hope she can also enjoy the genuine warmth that many Belgians feel for her family.”
“Although the royal couple’s private activities are more than tightly sealed”, Régine says, “it is known that they enjoy visiting exhibitions as a family. Their travels have taken them to Armenia, Croatia or Egypt, always with a cultural objective. If Crown Princess Elisabeth is the best prepared heiress for her destiny with a perfect education, it is also thanks to Queen Mathilde who has always been very present for her children.
In connection with the children Joris says, that most Belgians seem to be satisfied with their King and Queen and is sure: “This will all rub off on Princess Elisabeth for whom Mathilde strikes me as a perfect mother. That upbringing is already paying off.” And according to Inge Mathilde seems to be “a very loving mum”. Jeannick too says: “The future of the Belgian royal family looks bright : a driven and enthusiastic Queen, at the King’s side, who will see to it that her children also do well in the future. Crown Princess Elisabeth could not wish for a better teacher.”
She is the Queen and also seems to be “a perfect wife and mother”, Jelka too says, who furthermore tells: “I greatly admire how she succeeds in everything at the same time.” Jelka already for many years runs the fashion blog “Garderobe Royale” (formerly Modekoningin Mathilde).
“It may be a cliché but I cannot put it better: if you search for the definition of Queen, you get Mathilde as a result”, is what Jelka says. She goes on: “She seems to get the maximum score in all areas: she is hugely committed to various socially relevant issues, just think of education, mental health, equality for women, poverty, and so on. And this both nationally and internationally”,
“I think Queen Mathilde is the right woman in the right place. No one is a better calling card than her. Queen Mathilde has not only style but also charm. She is super compassionate with the population and possesses the necessary dossier knowledge when she visits somewhere”, Kathleen from All About Royal Families (who actually inspired me to write this article) told me.
The same is what Joris says: “I think Mathilde is just the right person in her capacity as wife of a reigning monarch.” He adds: “Modest, not too much in the foreground but not too much either. She strikes me as a sociable and interested person, with impeccable taste.” Both she and her husband know what’s going on in the country.
To Eric “Queen Mathilde really adds value to the monarchy: she is professional; will never make a misstep and is aware that Belgium is a constitutional monarchy with all the limitation to the function. She comes across as royal and since becoming queen, in terms of appearance, dress style and behaviour, she comes across as a bit more reserved and a bit more aloof or lofty, without really being negative”. He concludes: “My conclusion is that Queen Mathilde is the perfect queen for the present time and aware of her role, but still closes herself off more privately and we may not really know her opinion on certain issues as much, whereas we have that much more with Queen Paola. Her daughter-in-law Princess Claire interprets that towards a non-conformism of Queen Paola. One of the reasons why Queen Paola is still one of my favourite Belgian queens and yet to some extent compares to Queen Astrid.”
Isabelle has seen Mathilde grown into her role and says: “Her candid smile and refreshing openness was a joy. Through the years she has showed herself to be the perfect princess, and later the most dedicated queen for her country: she’s not just taken on a job, but a whole life. Mathilde isn’t very comfortable on a stage but she’s great at talking to all kinds of people and she’s become a very skilled diplomat, solving problems and facilitating solutions behind the scenes. As a hard worker and perfectionist she will never put this forward, and I guess most of what she does goes without public praise but she certainly deserves it.”
“The number of times I had the opportunity to meet the Princess”, Jeannick remembers, “it did become clear to me that her interest in conversation is REAL and not fake. Unlike her mother-in-law, who absolutely cannot hide it when she is not interested. Princess Mathilde was obviously apprenticed to her aunt, Queen Fabiola. When Mathilde became Queen by the side of her husband, King Philippe she completely blossomed. The couple complement each other perfectly.”
Mathilde has a lot of qualities, Régine points out: “Queen Mathilde is undoubtedly our most professional queen, very much involved in international organisations such as UNICEF and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She has spoken out on a number of social issues such as bullying, and has been involved in promoting volunteerism, literacy and reading. In the run-up to her 50th birthday, she launched bike and walking tours for mental wellbeing, talking to members of associations and institutions active in this field. Queen Mathilde is also the best ambassador for culture with the Queen Elisabeth competition, of which she is the honorary president. After her marriage, she learned to play the piano. A musical, cultural, literary and artistic fibre passed on to her children.”
She continues: “Although the royal couple’s private activities are more than tightly sealed, it is known that they enjoy visiting exhibitions as a family. Their travels have taken them to Armenia, Croatia or Egypt, always with a cultural objective. If Crown Princess Elisabeth is the best prepared heiress for her destiny with a perfect education, it is also thanks to Queen Mathilde who has always been very present for her children.”
“At 50 years of age and 10 years as queen, Mathilde of Belgium can boast an impeccable record, as well as being the person who, since 1999, has given King Philippe the confidence he needed to blossom and assume the heavy royal burden with complete ease”, Régine continues and furthermore says: “Those who have met her during a field visit are unanimous: she knows her subjects perfectly and is very well prepared. Another important element is that in the company of the King, she never puts herself forward, even if one will obviously always focus on her clothes. The Belgian royal couple is a very beautiful pair.”
Only once Inge had the possibility to meet Queen Mathilde, and she says: “She was very friendly and attentive.” Clear to her is: “She strikes me as a strong woman who doesn’t let people push her around but she also has a soft side.” And she likes that Mathilde “stands up for children , elderly and weak in our society”.
Someone who actually met Mathilde professionally, is Sandra. The Belgian tells: “I once had the pleasure of spending 1,5 hours alone with her over a cup of coffee. She has a great sense of humour and can narrate very passionately. You hang on her every word. Each interlocutor also gets her full sincere attention. Unfortunately, when cameras are involved, the Queen puts on her professional ‘armour’. She obviously does not want to make any flaws or perhaps be misunderstood. This is to her credit in her role and her job. Still, it is a pity that the general public does not get that extra image of her – the spontaneous Mathilde.”
A comparison to Queen Máxima of the Netherlands
The two Dutch people I spoke to, have been living in Belgium for quite a number of years. As Thea remembers before her marriage Mathilde was introduced as a speech therapist working with Dutch-speaking children. She says: “But her Dutch was not that great. In that case, it is somewhat curious to teach children how best to pronounce Dutch”. Joris agrees her Dutch wasn’t fluent, but says Mathilde was raised as a French speaking aristocrat, so it didn’t really come as a surprise.
“In Belgium, Mathilde is often compared to Maxima”, says Thea also, who adds: “Maxima then is often praised for her fluency, her spontaneity and her good pronunciation of Dutch. Mathilde is typically Belgian in that respect: slightly more reserved.” Although they will probably never be as accessible as Queen Máxima and King Willem-Alexander, she thinks however Philippe and Mathilde “have become a bit more relaxed”. “They have considerably improved their image. Especially now that Filip is king, this helps: they have a certain favour factor”, Thea furthermore says.
Belgian Jeannick on the other hand thinks: “Mathilde’s reserve remains natural; a noble lady of Eastern European descent compares with nothing to her Dutch counterpart, Queen Maxima, a middle-class girl of South American descent.”
And with her mother-in-law
Her mother-in-law Queen Paola has a huge admirer in Eric, who compares Mathilde to her and says: “Mathilde hasn’t really made a personal mark on anything yet, whereas her mother-in-law Queen Paola was more involved, such as actively supporting modern art. I am thinking of Queen Paola’s bold approach to Jan Fabre to create his work “Heaven of Delight”, the artwork with the green dung beetles, at the royal palace in Brussels. The renovation of the royal greenhouses was also something Queen Paola pushed through and personally followed up and put in with her taste, as in the gardens of Belvédère Castle.”
He also thinks that Mathilde is not the person to let her “emotionas run wild” in public, but that’s likely because Paola is of Italian origine.
Is there really nothing negative to say about Mathilde? The opinion of Eric is that “in terms of personal fulfilment of her duties, she seems to me to be obedient, perhaps to avoid backlash within her role”.
Kathleen thinks she could “be a bit less modest and try out (as a calling card of Belgium) more and new Belgian designers”. And that is something Jelka agrees with: “She could just seek the spotlight a bit more. All the hard work she does could easily get a bit more attention. Belgians are sometimes told to be too ‘humble’, but our Queen should be the exception.”
2 thoughts on “Mathilde – The 50th birthday of a perfect Queen”
Very informative article. I did not know much about her.
I love knowing more about Queen Mathilde, thank you. She and HM always seem to be so lovely together. Her smile is so beautiful and it makes me happy to see it!