Fabiola (1928—)

views updated

Fabiola (1928—)

Queen of the Belgians. Name variations: Fabriola de Mora y Aragón; Fabiola of Aragon. Born Fabiola Fernanda Maria de las Victori Antonia Adelaide on June 11, 1928, in Madrid, Spain; daughter of Gonzalo Mora y Fernandez (d. 1954), count of Mora; married Boudewijn also known as Baudouin I (1930–1993), king of the Belgians (r. 1951–1993), on December 15, 1960 (died, July 31, 1993); no children.

When the engagement of Belgium's King Baudouin I to the 34-year-old Spanish aristocrat Fabiola de Mora y Aragón was announced in September 1960, the country breathed a collective sigh of relief, for it was only through marriage that the king would be released from the overwhelming influence of his father Leopold III, who abdicated in 1951 but continued to occupy the palace and advise his son. The young King Baudouin, who had once aspired to be a Trappist monk, took years to grow into a figure of authority and as much time to choose a wife. The bride-to-be was even more conservative than her fiancé. One of seven children of the Spanish count of Mora, she grew up in an orderly and disciplined household, which, following the count's death in 1954, took on the additional somberness of mourning. Fabiola, who at the time of her engagement was still living at home with her mother, was employed as a surgical nurse at a military hospital in Madrid and also shared her mother's interest in charitable work. Extremely religious, Fabiola attended daily mass and alternated with her mother in leading the 17-member household staff in evening prayers.

After some initial shock that the king was marrying a Spanish woman about whom nothing was known, the Belgians welcomed Fabiola warmly into their midst. (For a time, there was concern over Fabiola's colorful brother Jaime, marquis of Casasiera, a Latin American playboy with a flamboyant wardrobe and a "showgirl" wife, but neither he nor any other member of the Mora clan had much to do with the royal family.) Following the couple's wedding on December 15, 1960 (officiated by Cardinal de Malines, who had married Baudouin's father 30 years earlier), Queen Fabiola graciously embraced the people of her adopted country. "From now on my heart and my life are shared not only with my husband but with all of you," she said in a speech delivered after the nuptials.

Fabiola's reign was distinguished by her charitable work, which began immediately following her honeymoon when a series of crippling strikes brought the country to a standstill. Often traveling alone and driving her own small car, Fabiola visited destitute families, bringing hope and winning admiration. On the heels of the strikes came a landslide that buried one village and a flood that destroyed another. The queen was one of the first on the scene at both disasters, organizing first aid and giving solace to the victims. In addition to official duties that she tended to in well-ordered fashion, the queen frequently went out of her way to visit those who wrote to the palace with special requests. It was also rumored that she sometimes dipped into her own substantial fortune to assist her subjects. "It is customary to say that queens are good," write Laure Boulay and Françoise Jaudel , "but with Fabiola it's more than simple goodness; a royal and fraternal devotion to the whole of her people seem to govern her entire life."

Queen Fabiola also oversaw the palace with grace and ease, having been accustomed to a large home and staff since childhood. Breaking with tradition, she kept no official ladies-in-waiting, and her daily life very much revolved around the king. They breakfasted and lunched together daily and attended mass three times a week in the chapel of Laeken Palace. When not presiding over official functions, the couple enjoyed informal dinners with friends or going to a restaurant or the theater. (A popular late-night haunt was a self-service bookstore in Brussels.)

Since the king and queen had no children (Queen Fabiola suffered a miscarriage during her only pregnancy), the king's brother Albert (II) was next in line to the throne. Because Albert was only four years younger than Baudouin, it was assumed that the role of king would fall to Albert's oldest son, Philippe. Baudouin and Fabiola were said to have had a soft spot for Albert's children. When Albert's daughter Astrid (b. 1962) turned 18, they broke from their usual reserve and threw an extravagant party for her in the greenhouse of the palace.

King Baudouin, however, did die before his brother, succumbing to a heart attack in 1993, while vacationing in Spain. Though Albert was expected to stand aside for Philippe to rule, it was decided that his years of diplomatic and economic experience made him the better choice as king. His wife, European aristocrat Paola , known for her charitable activities as much as her beauty, succeeded Fabiola as queen.


Boulay, Laure, and Françoise Jaudel. There Are Still Kings: The Ten Royal Families of Europe. Translated by Linda Dannenberg. NY: Crown, 1981.

Europe. Issue 329. September 1993, pp. 26–28.

Graham, Judith, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1993. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts