According to an old 1993 wire report I found on Google, Buckingham Palace said at the time QEII "decided to break with tradition as a mark of respect to Baudouin."
Thank you, tgb. But my question remains: WHY would she break with tradition (which she never
does) for Baudouin? I'm not implying anything here. But this is something she never, ever did, either before he died, or after. What made him special?
This question is not easy to discuss briefly, because there were many many things that made Baudouin special. He not only had diplomatic relationships with other monarchs, he also had real personal friendships with various monarchs. He was an extraordinary man of faith, but not just piety, that of being truly a servant-leader. He had a wonderful dry sense of humour and he took action himself - not delegating things to secretaries. He was much more in the mode of an ordinary diplomat than a King. They lived in a smallish very plain apartment within Laeken Palace. They were a regular couple: Fabiola would cook them dinner and despite his slenderness, he really liked to eat and ate a lot. Neither of them smoked or drank much, although he did like a glass of claret every now and again. They drank always just water with their private meals.
He did not take to the trappings of royalty - he felt obliged to attend the official hunts at first, but quickly dropped that and only attended the luncheon. He flew commercial airlines and he and Fabiola would go out without escort in their Volkswagen Beetle. He liked Spain because he could be an average citizen there - on the day of his death, he had escorted Fabiola to a shoe store to buy shoes. He was an amateur astronomer and he often did that in Motril in Spain during their time there. He liked to read, look at stars and take walks or cycle with Fabiola. He had a couple real friendships with palace people who shared his passion for astronomy. Once when he and Fabiola were being driven somewhere (in the 1980's) they saw a group of religious pushing children in wheelchairs into a parish for a service of healing. The monk among them recounted the story where the car stopped and a couple got out and came over to the group. They asked if they could pray the decade rosary with the children. It was Baudouin and Fabiola. They have often been portrayed as religious zealots in the school of fundamentalism, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Both of them were squarely in the camp of the Roman Catholic Charismatic Movement that began in the late 50's. This movement is focused on co-responsibility within church hierarchy and fostering an openness within the church - moving towards the notion that it's possible to have a direct relationship with Jesus, rather than always an intermediary. This was a revolutionary concept away from the traditional teachings of the church. The cardinal through which Baudouin and Fabiola were introduced, Cardinal Seuens, saved the Vatican II from tanking by reorganizing the administration and setting the entire agenda.
More importantly, the charismatic movement was about empowering the laity which ran parallel to his beliefs about his citizens. He believed strongly in the empowerment of ordinary people - that is why during his reign the country so successfully went from a mainly federalized structure to one where each district was primarily responsible for maintaining infrastructure of courts, official languages and district regulations/laws. This included shepherding the creation and passage of dual constitutions, one French and one Flemish so that every citizen could be assured of being under a constitution which they could read and fully understand. That is why it is often said that the nation was unified in its grief over his passing as well as having a sense of worry over keeping the country together after his passing.
The reason why Emperor Akihito attended was because he had a personal friendship with Baudouin. Once when Baudouin was visiting the Belgian embassy in Japan, Akihito paid a very unexpected visit to the embassy and asked to see Baudouin. He told Baudouin of his dilemma of being discouraged from pursuing Michiko, who had been shuffled off to Europe in hopes that separation would kill the relationship. Baudouin helped Akihito by personally taking charge of Akihito's letters to Michiko and seeing to it that they were delivered to the Empress as well as interceding with Hirohito, explaining why having the right spouse is so important for a successful monarch. Akihito and Michiko were always personally indebted to Baudouin as the one who made it possible for them to be together.
I believe the particular reason why QEII attended was because she, too, had a personal friendship with the king. They had many similarities - particularly in assuming reign at an early age and in difficult times. Much is made of the "snub" he gave to QEII by not attending her father's funeral and by not attending her coronation, but she knew it was because of his father, not he himself.
In February 1952 Leopold's influence was detected when Baudouin refused to attend the funeral of George VI. Leopold still resented Churchill's accusation in June 1940 that he had betrayed the allies. (Ironically, the British king did not share Churchill's attitude. He merely thought Leopold had hopelessly confused his twin roles as commander-in-chief and head of state.) The rift between the Belgian and British royal families was only closed in 1956 when Leopold had a private meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Independent "Obituary: King Baudouin I of the Belgians" from Monday 02 August 1993
I have found many pictres of Elizabeth and Baudouin from various visits through all dates - many young, middle aged and older. They both were in lock step in the philosophy of dedicating their whole lives to the service of their nation and their people, particularly with a religius aspect of devotion.
He was a remarkably common and yet uncommon man. THAT'S why so many monarchs attended Baudouin's funeral.