Lilian, Princess of Réthy, the second wife of King Leopold III of Belgium, was an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. She was born in Highbury, north London, one of six daughters and two sons of Hendrik Lodewijk Baels, from Ostend, Belgium and Delphina Alexandra Baels née Mauricx, a member of the Belgian nobility from Dentergem. She was educated at the College of the Sacred Heart at Ostend and then at a finishing school in London, where she was presented at court to King George V and Queen Mary.
It is likely that she met the widowed King Leopold III on a golf course at Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, in 1938. They were married in a secret, morganatic ceremony on 11 September 1941, while the King was under house arrest by the German occupiers, and in a civil marriage on 8 December. A son, Alexandre, was born in July 1942 and Lilian became stepmother to Leopold’s children from his first marriage – Baudouin, Albert and Joséphine-Charlotte.
In 1944, when the Allied armies landed in France, Lilian and the rest of her family were taken to Germany on the orders of Himmler. They were held in a fort at Hirschstein-on-Elbe in Saxony during the winter of 1944 to 1945, and then at Strobl, near Salzburg. They were liberated by the US VII Army in May 1945.
After the war, Lilian, Leopold and their family moved to Switzerland, while the King’s brother, Prince Charles, served as Regent of Belgium. Ongoing political problems stopped Leopold from returning to Belgium until July 1950. Despite being endorsed by a referendum, he decided to abdicate in favour of his eldest son Baudouin, who came of age in July 1951. Lilian and her husband moved to a new home at Argenteuil near the forest of Soignes at Waterloo. They had two daughters, Marie-Christine and Marie-Esméralda.
After a life-saving operation performed on her son in Boston in 1957, Lilian set up a cardiology foundation in 1958 to promote new forms of treatment for cardiovascular diseases. Symposia were held every year at Argenteuil, and in 1961 Lilian established a cardiac research laboratory at the Hospital Saint-Pierre in Brussels. She also paid for a number of Belgian children to go to the United States for treatment. She was made an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1989.
[The Telegraph 10 June 2002 www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1396745/H-R-H-Princess-Liliane-of-Belgium.html – accessed 10 July 2020]