It’s not exactly hard to see why people are making comparisons between the Duchess of Brabant and Kate Middleton. On the face of things, the two royal women have a lot in common. Not only do they both belong to European monarchies, but the stylish princesses have made waves in their own rights.
In winning the heart of Prince William, Kate also managed to steal the affections of an entire nation, if not the world. And over the years, the Duchess of Cambridge has been able to step out of her husband’s shadow with her enviable sense of style and charitable nature. But she’s not the only young royal to rouse the attention of the international media.
In recent years, there’s been a new royal on the block who may have the style and grace to rival even Kate. That individual is the Duchess of Brabant. “Who?” I hear you ask. Well, while she may not yet be as well-known as her British counterpart, the future looks bright for this young monarch-to-be.
While the British royal family is undeniably among the most famous in the world, they’re not the only regal dynasty that rules over a nation. In fact, there are a total of 26 monarchies across the globe that reign in 43 countries. This includes a network of queens, kings, emperors and sultans in the likes of Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and Thailand.
Of all the monarchies in the world, 12 of them are located in Europe. This includes not only the British royal family but those in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, to name but a few. Then, there’s also the dynasty that rules over Belgium and is headed by Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brabant’s father King Philippe.
Philippe became king in 2013 after his father, King Albert II, abdicated the throne. Announcing his decision to hand over the crown at the time, Albert cited his declining health. Even before these developments, Philippe had been preparing for the role his whole life. It had originally been anticipated that he would accede to the throne following the demise of his uncle King Baudouin – who had no children of his own – 20 years previously.
In order to prepare for the role of king, Philippe attended bilingual state schools, where he was educated in Dutch and French. He then attended the Belgian Royal Military Academy, training to become a paratrooper and pilot in the armed forces. He also studied abroad, at Trinity College, Oxford, in the U.K. and then at Stanford University in the U.S.
Returning to his native Belgium, Philippe threw himself into learning all he could about the country he would one day rule. But as previously mentioned, when the first opportunity came for him to ascend the throne following his uncle’s death in 1993, it was decided that the prince was not yet ready. Instead, the position of king went to his father, who it was believed had a better grasp on the nation’s ethnic and linguistic divide.
In the event, Philippe would have to wait another two decades before becoming king in 2013. He was a confirmed bachelor until his late 30s, when a meeting with Mathilde d’Udekem, a 23-year-old aristocrat, at a tennis match in 1996 changed everything. The heir to the Belgian throne kept his romance with the speech therapist secret for three years, before announcing their engagement in September 1999.
It didn’t take long for Mathilde to capture the hearts of the Belgian public. Not only was she elegant, chic and gorgeous, but she also personified the nation’s diversity by coming from a prominent Flemish family, yet growing up in the French part of the country. And the interest in the couple only grew when they welcomed their first child.
That child was, of course, Princess Elisabeth of Belgium. The young royal would also later become recognised as the Duchess of Brabant – a title reserved for the next person in line to the throne. She was born in Anderlecht, an administrative region lying southwest of Brussels, on October 25, 2001.
A decade prior to Elisabeth’s birth, Belgium had passed a new law of succession. This meant that the oldest child of the monarch – regardless of gender – would become heir to the throne. So, when Elisabeth finally takes the reins, she will be the country’s first Queen Regnant, ending a long line of kings.
In a statement following Elisabeth’s birth, her father Philippe said, “I hope that my daughter will be a great Queen, and more importantly, a great woman.” Given Elisabeth’s status, she’s been in the public eye from an extremely early age. In fact, the first photographs of the young royal were released when she was just three days old.
Elisabeth’s next public appearance came two months later, at her christening at Ciergnon Castle in December 2001. There were other press appearances throughout her formative years, including following the births of her brothers Prince Gabriel and Prince Emmanuel, and her sister Eleonore.
Along with her siblings, Elisabeth grew up in the Castle of Laeken, the official residence of the Belgian monarch. According to the official website of the Belgian royal family, she enjoys taking part in a range of sports and playing music, as well as spending time with her brothers and sister. Apparently she also plays piano and treasures spending free time in the great outdoors.
Elisabeth performed her first official royal duty at the tender age of nine. It was then, accompanied by her parents, that she attended the launch of Ghent’s new Princess Elisabeth Children’s Hospital. To mark the opening of the facility which was named in her honor, the youngster delivered her first public speech.
Away from her official duties, just like any youngster, Elisabeth’s life revolved around her schooling. She attended St. John Berchmans College, a Dutch-speaking high school in Brussels. That being said, the young princess is multilingual, speaking French, English and German, as well as Dutch.
After high school, Elisabeth attended UWC Atlantic College in Wales, where she obtained an International Baccalaureate. The private educational facility is set in St. Donat’s Castle, a grand and repeatedly-restored building that has been continuously occupied ever since its construction in the 12th century. What’s more, the exclusive school has previously played host to other royals, including Princess Raiyah of Jordan and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.
As part of her education, Elisabeth was also part of the Yale Young Global Scholars Program at Yale University. Furthermore, in the fall of 2020 she started studying Social and Military Sciences at the Belgian Military Academy in Brussels. Photos from the princess’ first days at the school showed her dressed in camouflage and wielding a gun – a marked difference from the Elisabeth the public were used to seeing by then.
That’s because, thanks to her increased public exposure in recent years, Elisabeth has earned praise for her style, elegance and grace. And while she may not be well-known outside of her native Belgium, the princess has been compared to another young royal who is world-famous – the Duchess of Cambridge.
It would be fair to say that Kate Middleton has been hailed as something of a style icon since her engagement to Prince William in 2010. Typically, after the duchess has been spotted in an item of clothing, the demand for said garment has been known to increase massively and often, even sell out. Indeed, the pattern has been dubbed “The Kate Effect.”
And while Kate’s impact on fashion sales is well documented, it seems that Belgium might be in the grip of an “Elisabeth effect” thanks to the influence of its own young princess. When photographs of the Duchess of Brabant running near her Brussels home circulated online in May 2020, there was a surge in demand for the leggings she was sporting at the time.
Liebaert Textiles later reported that its orders more or less doubled overnight after the photograph of Elisabeth wearing the leggings was published on the cover of a number of Belgian newspapers. But fans hoping to emulate the princess’ look would be disappointed. That’s because the sportswear was from an old collection and was no longer being made.
Still, following Elisabeth’s apparent endorsement of its brand, orders boomed at Liebaert Textiles. The demand was so intense that staff had to work extra-hard in order to keep up. And according to designer Camille Liebaert, the attention had come as a complete surprise.
In May 2020 Liebaert told the English-language Belgian news website The Brussels Times, “I woke up at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning and immediately had a few messages from people who had forwarded the front page of a number of newspapers. Everyone was very enthusiastic. I didn’t really realize the impact at the time, but at the end of the day I couldn’t get over it. It was all very overwhelming.”
Liebaert disclosed that the sportswear had been given to Elisabeth as a gift. She revealed, “We gave the leggings last year for the princess’s 18th birthday. We thought it would be nice to give the Belgian princess a 100 percent Belgian pair of leggings. We received a thank-you card for that, but we didn’t expect that she would suddenly be wearing them in a photo. It was a real surprise.”
Unsurprisingly given the frenzy the picture of Elisabeth wearing the Liebaert Textiles leggings had caused, the brand was eager to have the princess wearing more of its clothing. With that in mind, it hoped to capitalize on the attention it had already received by sending the young princess more sportswear, in a bid to replicate its success.
When asked by the Belgian broadcaster VRT Radio if Liebaert Textiles planned to send Elisabeth another birthday present, Liebaert replied, “Maybe.” Revealing what she had in mind, the designer then suggested, “We could complete the set, because the leggings go together with a sports bra and a T-shirt.”
The effect Elisabeth had on Liebaert Textiles’ business is following a very similar pattern to that which Kate has had on a number of brands she’s unintentionally endorsed over the years. For instance, the Issa London Sapphire dress that the Duchess of Cambridge wore while announcing her engagement to Prince William sold out at the British department store Harvey Nichols in less than a day.
In 2010 buying director for Harvey Nichols Averyl Oates told Vogue magazine, “Since the announcement of the royal engagement we have been inundated with requests regarding Issa. The dress worn by Kate sold out almost immediately. Issa is one of our best-selling brands and the versatility of the pieces mean that they can be dressed down for the day and dressed up for special occasions.”
But not only is Kate and Elisabeth’s effect on fashion comparable, it would appear that the two princesses have a similar sense of style. Both duchesses appear to prefer simple yet debonair items of clothing. For instance, as part of her 18th birthday celebrations, Elisabeth wore a white blazer dress. The outfit was uncannily reminiscent of one which Kate wore during a 2017 visit to Poland.
In May 2020 stylist Susie Hasler commented on Kate and Elisabeth’s similar dress senses in an interview with newspaper the Daily Mail. She said, “They both favour a simple, chic, yet feminine style. We have seen this develop with Kate over the years, into the look she wears today. She is formal, but not stuffy. She’s conservative but approachable. And each of these is apparent in her outfit choices. Overall, she’s very elegant – as is Princess Elisabeth.”
Hasler also pointed out that Kate and Elisabeth are also similar in their shapes. The stylist explained, “The two women both have slender figures, too, and choose styles that flatter, without making the outfit the talking point. Princess Elisabeth wears the Duchess’ staple nude heels with many of her outfits and she likes to add pops of colour, while keeping the overall look, simple, tailored and feminine.”
So, on the face of things, Kate and Elisabeth are both fans of elegant and timeless fashions. But it would seem that there are further comparisons to be made between the two royals that extend beyond the clothes they wear. For instance, both duchesses seem to take their duties extremely seriously.
In recent times, Elisabeth and her siblings have volunteered with the eldery, making phone calls and delivering baked goodies to care homes in a bid to combat loneliness. Other causes close to the young royal’s heart include support for those living on the streets, for kids who have fallen through the cracks in the education system and for people living with disabilities.
Kate, meanwhile, has become an advocate for causes dealing with the issues related to mental health over the years. She is particularly passionate about the emotional wellbeing of children and in 2017 – alongside Prince Harry – she and William launched the Heads Together mental health campaign, to encourage a wider public debate and awareness of the problem.
So it would appear that both Kate and Elisabeth are eager to use their influence as a force for good. But aside from their charitable endeavors both women also share an interest in sports. Elisabeth partakes in tennis, skiing, diving and sailing. Kate, on the other hand, has been known to enjoy a spot of field hockey, rowing and cross-country running.
Then, of course, there’s Kate and Elisabeth’s connection to Wales. While the Belgian royal attended school there, Kate lived on the Welsh island of Anglesey for three years between 2010 and 2013. At the time, William was working as a helicopter pilot in the RAF nearby. What’s more, William will become the Prince of Wales when his father Charles becomes king, meaning Kate will have the right to be known as the Princess of Wales.
Beyond that, Kate will ultimately become Queen Catherine of the United Kingdom once her husband William is crowned king. That being said, this may not happen for some time. After all, it is Kate’s father-in-law, Prince Charles, who will inherit the throne upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II, not William.
Elisabeth may also have a long wait before she becomes Queen of Belgium. It may be true that she’s next in line to the throne and has been legally old enough to rule since her 18th birthday. But her father is only in his 60s and in good health, meaning it’s unlikely that Elisabeth will inherit the throne any time soon.