State Visit of King Leopold III of Belgium









03min 24sec







Digitised as part of Unlocking Film Heritage


British Film Institute, National Museums NI, Tourism NI

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National Museums NI, Tourism NI

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State visit from the former Belgian King. The dethroned King is treated to an impressive spectacle as he is given the Freedom of Enniskillen.

An impressive regiment of 120 guards and their regimental band greet the former King of Belgium as he arrives to receive the Freedom of Enniskillen. Leopold III inspects the guard of honour as their Colonel-in-Chief. Since Leopold I there have been close ties between the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and the Belgium royal family. These were rekindled when the 5th Dragoon fought to recapture Belgium from the remaining German forces during World War II. 

In these colour rushes by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board Leopold is wearing the regiment’s uniform with the sash of the Order of the Garter. On his return from Northern Ireland he visited the Queen and his close friend PM Sir Anthony Eden. Other famous visitors to Enniskillen include Charles Stratton better known as Tom Thumb in 1871.  


Leopold III (3 November 1901 – 25 September 1983) reigned as King of the Belgians from 1934 until 1951, when he abdicated in favour of the heir apparent, his son Baudouin. From 1944 until 1950, Leopold's brother, Charles, served as prince regent while Leopold was declared incompetent to rule. In 1950, the debate about whether Leopold could return to the throne provoked a political crisis known as the Royal Question

Leopold's reign as Belgian king was defined by his actions during World War II. Belgium had maintained a neutral stance in the conflict, but was invaded by the Wehrmacht on 10 May, 1940. Even after his ministers had left, Leopold remained in the country to lead his army in resistance against the invaders. Eventually the Belgian forces were overwhelmed. Leopold notified King George VI of the United Kingdom, by telegram on 25 May 1940 that Belgian forces were being crushed, saying "assistance which we give to the Allies will come to an end if our Army is surrounded". Two days later (27 May 1940), Leopold surrendered the Belgian forces to the Germans.

Prime Minister Pierlot spoke on French radio, saying that the King's decision to surrender went against the Belgian Constitution. The decision, he said, was not only a military decision but also a political decision, and the King had acted without his ministers' advice, and therefore contrary to the Constitution. Pierlot and his Government believed this created an impossibilité de régner:

Should the King find himself unable to reign, the ministers, having observed this inability, immediately summon the Chambers. Regency and guardianship are to be provided by the united Chambers.

It was impossible, however, to summon the Chambers at this time, and impossible to appoint a Regent. After the liberation of Belgium in September 1944, the Government would ask Leopold's brother, Prince Charles, to serve as Regent.

After Leopold's surrender, the British press denounced him as "Traitor King" and "King Rat"; the Daily Mirror published a picture of Leopold with the headline "The Face That Every Woman Now Despises'".

To avoid civil war in the midst of a violent general strike King Leopold III abdicated in favour of his son on 16th July 1951. He was Colonel-in-Chief of the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards. 



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