Royal News: Meet Princess Mathilde of Belgium

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Royal News: Meet Princess Mathilde of Belgium
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Princess Mathilde, Duchess of Brabant, by Rafael Herremans.

With the abdication of King Albert II set for July 21, the country of Belgium is preparing to welcome a brand new king and queen.

Following in the footsteps of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, King Albert will voluntarily give up the throne and pass the crown to his eldest son, Prince Philippe, the Duke of Brabant, and his wife, Princess Mathilde.

For some royal lovers, the inauguration is less about ceremony and tradition and more about seeing their favorite members of the monarchy. In particular, the spotlight will be on the newly minted Queen Mathilde, whose enviable closet holds everything from Armani to Zara.

With Kate Middleton taking a break from the public eye to become a mom, fans of the Duchess of Cambridge could turn to the stylish Duchess of Brabant for their royal fashion fix. Here's a closer look at the fashion-forward, soon-to-be queen of Belgium.

1. Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz was born January 20, 1973, in Uccle, Belgium, the oldest child of Count and Countess Patrick d'Udekem d'Acoz. She and her three siblings grew up at their family home, Castle Losenge, which is located in Bastogne.

2. While many of Europe's future queens were born "commoners," such as the Duchess of Cambridge, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Crown Princess Letizia of Spain, and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Mathilde belongs to the hereditary nobility and comes from an aristocratic family. She will also be the first Belgian-born queen consort.

3. In 1994, Mathilde earned her degree in speech therapy from the Institut Libre Marie Haps, graduating magna cum laude. From 1995-99 she worked as a professional speech therapist, even opening her own practice in Brussels. Meanwhile, Mathilde continued to attend school, earning her master's degree in psychology from the Catholic University of Louvain in 2002.

4. While a student at the University, Mathilde reportedly met Prince Philippe while playing a game of tennis. They announced their engagement in 1999, but the pair had kept their courtship so quiet that the news came as something of a surprise, even prompting rumors of an arranged marriage.

5. The couple silenced their critics on December 4, 1999, saying "I do" in Brussels' Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula and looking very much in love. Appropriately, the bride's coat dress-style wedding gown was created by Belgian designer Edouard Vermeulen of Natan. Mathilde completed her wedding day look with a diamond bandeau tiara and Queen Paola's 1877 heirloom veil.

6. In 2001, the couple welcomed a daughter named Elisabeth, who follows Prince Philippe in line to the throne. Elisabeth has three younger siblings - Prince Gabriel, 9, Prince Emmanuel, 7, and Princess Eléonore, 5.

7. Since becoming a member of the royal family, Princess Mathilde has been involved with a number of charities and a wide variety of humanitarian work. In particular, the Princess has worked extensively with UNICEF and UNAIDS, traveling to such countries as Niger, Mali, Tanzania, China, India, and Senegal.

8. In 2000, she created the "Princess Mathilde Fund," which awards an annual prize of 10,000 Euros "in recognition of a specific initiative focused on strengthening the position of vulnerable people." The project was initially funded with donations the couple received as wedding gifts.

9. Given her country's varied cultures and language groups, Mathilde could be seen as the ideal future queen. In addition to Dutch and French - two of Belgium's three official languages - she is also fluent in English and Italian. Furthermore, she has ties to all three of the country's main regions, as she was born in Brussels, has Flemish ancestors, and was raised in Wallonia.

10. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde will be installed on Sunday, July 21, which is National Day in Belgium. The festivities will begin with a concert on Saturday evening, and Sunday's swearing-in will be followed by a military parade, Te Deum, fireworks, and balcony appearance by the new royal family.

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