The Duchess reshaping what it means to be a princess in the 21st Century

Helen Chandler-Wilde
·3 mins read
Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth takes part in a military initiation training at Elsenborn Belgian army camp in Butgenbach
Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth takes part in a military initiation training at Elsenborn Belgian army camp in Butgenbach

Khakis, a machine gun, and not a tiara in sight: just-released portraits show Princess Elisabeth of Belgium in her first weeks at Brussels Royal Military Academy. 

In attending the academy, Princess Elisabeth, 18, is following in the footsteps of her father King Philippe, who spent a year there preparing to take the throne. But for a crown princess, not a prince, to do so is relatively new. 

Indeed, the life of Princess Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brabant, has in some ways been a tale of modern feminism.

 Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth takes part in a military initiation training at Elsenborn Belgian army camp in Butgenbach - BELGIAN ROYAL PALACE
Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth takes part in a military initiation training at Elsenborn Belgian army camp in Butgenbach - BELGIAN ROYAL PALACE

In 1991, ten years before she was born, the constitution was changed in Belgium to allow absolute primogeniture, meaning the first born child of a monarch succeeds them, regardless of their sex. 

Given that Princess Elisabeth is the eldest child of current reigning King Philippe, she is the next heir to the throne, coming before her younger brothers Princes Gabriel and Emmanuel in the line of succession, as well as her younger sister Princess Eléonore. 

If Princess Elisabeth succeeds her father, as expected, she will be the first reigning queen in the history of Belgium. 

Perhaps it should not be a surprise to see Princess Elisabeth pursuing outdoor pursuits at military college. She is a keen sportswoman and enjoys tennis, skiing and trekking. Over lockdown, the Belgian Royal Family released pictures of her passing the time with running. 

Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth takes part in a military initiation training at Elsenborn Belgian army camp in Butgenbach - BELGIAN ROYAL PALACE
Belgian Crown Princess Elisabeth takes part in a military initiation training at Elsenborn Belgian army camp in Butgenbach - BELGIAN ROYAL PALACE

In some ways, Princess Elisabeth is a typical teen. Just like millions of other young people on the planet, her education has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Before March, she was in the Upper Sixth at United World College of the Atlantic, a boarding sixth form housed in a 12th century castle in south Wales. The school has an international ethos, with less than a fifth of its students coming from the UK. Every student follows the International Baccalaureate, and is made to take part in community service every week. 

She is not the first royal to attend the school: its alumni include King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and Princess Raiyah of Jordan. Full fees for the school are up to $57,500 a year (£44,000), but four-fifths of the students are on a bursary or scholarship of some kind, due to the school’s belief that their education should be accessible to all. 

After the pandemic hit Princess Elisabeth was forced to leave the school and go home to isolate with her parents and siblings at the Palace of Laeken, their official residence in Brussels. She completed her studies virtually, while also spending time volunteering to help Belgians through the pandemic. 

Princess Elisabeth at her 18th birthday party - BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP
Princess Elisabeth at her 18th birthday party - BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP

But she does not shy away from the trappings of royalty, either. Her 18th birthday party wasn’t the usual gathering of drunk teenagers, but rather one fit for a future queen. She hosted an event in the Royal Palace in Brussels for hundreds of people, which was broadcast on national television. 

There were speeches from the King and Princess Elisabeth, as well as performances from ballet dancers and former Eurovision acts. She also invited 80 other Belgians born in 2001, showing her commitment to helping ordinary people.