Albert I, King of the Belgians (1875-1934), is remembered especially for his strong leadership during World War I. He married Elizabeth, daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, in 1900 and succeeded Leopold II, his uncle, to the Belgian throne in 1909.
He was born in Brussels and educated privately at the École Militaire. Before his accession to the throne he bore the title Count of Flanders. His democratic manner made him the most popular member of the reigning house. He travelled widely and was a student of politics and economics. In 1898 and again in 1919 he visited the U.S. In 1900 he made an extended tour of the Belgian Congo and on his return to Belgium urged the need of railroad development and of reform in the treatment of the Congolese; when he became King, he ordered many improvements in the administration of this colony.
While on a visit to Berlin in 1913, Albert was informed of Germany's plans for war by emperor William II. He immediately warned France and on 31 July 1914, sent a personal letter to the German emperor informing him that Belgium would remain neutral. When the letter was ignored, Albert assumed active command of his army and directed a successful delaying action against invasion. In August 1914, when the German armies demanded right of passage through Belgium, Albert refused the ultimatum and assumed personal command of the Belgian armed forces in resisting the German advance. He remained in the small, unoccupied area of Belgium throughout the war, and in September 1918 led Belgian and French troops in the final Allied offensive.
After World War I he played an active role in the reconstruction of his country and in 1919 made a plea to the Allies for the abolition of the Treaty of London, which made Belgium neutral ground and thus vulnerable to invasion. As a result, the abolition of the treaty was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. Albert supported general industrial expansion and the development of a strong merchant fleet as the best methods of national recovery. He also helped introduce a new monetary system in 1926.
In 1934 he was killed by a fall while mountain climbing and was deeply mourned by the Belgian people. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Leopold III.