Female royals in the spotlights

Crown Prince Filip's ascension to the throne in two weeks' time also means a more prominent role for two female members of the Royal Family: Princess Mathilde is to become queen, while 11-year-old Elisabeth becomes the first in line to the throne.

Contrary to his father Albert, Filip carries a reputation as a rather reserved, sometimes clumsy man who lacks spontaneity at official occasions. His wife Mathilde could make up for that. She displays more spontaneity than her husband. She has a degree in psychology and could maybe play a bigger role than some expect. One of the main challenges will be to bring the royal family closer to the people. And behind every strong man, is a strong woman, it is argued.

What could also help, is the fact that Mathilde will be the first queen who was born in Belgium. Her mother-in-law Paola hails from Italy, while Dowager Queen Fabiola has Spanish roots. The first 4 Belgian kings also found a partner abroad: France's Louise (Leopold I), Austria's Maria Hendrika (Leopold II), Germany's Elisabeth (Albert I) and Sweden's Astrid (Leopold III). Mathilde speaks both French and Dutch fluently, which can also help to conquer the hearts of the Belgian people.

Elisabeth (11) is already being prepared

Elisabeth is Filip and Mathilde's eldest daughter. She turns 12 on 25 October and is poised to succeed her father to the throne one day. She goes to school in the Sint-Jan-Berchmanscollege in Brussels, a Dutch-speaking Catholic school, which makes her the first heiress to the throne to follow classes in Dutch. Her parents want her to become perfectly bilingual.

Her public appearances are scarse, but the few she makes show that she is already being prepared for the throne at a very young age. As a 4-year-old girl, she assists the Te Deum celebration. As a 7-year-old, she says a couple of words at the inauguration of the Belgian base at Antarctica, which was named after her. Addressing a group of scientists and researchers and in front of the cameras, she said "I wish you good luck", both in Dutch and French.

At 9 years of age, she opens a new children's hospital of the UZ Gent, Ghent's University Hospital). This time, she gives a small speech. "I am happy to give my name to this hospital," she says in perfect Dutch. "The hospital will have a special place in my heart."

When visiting an exhibition about Antarctica (photo) with her class mates in May, she answers questions in Dutch. "What happens to water when the temperature rises?" is the question. "It melts", she answers. It seems that Elisabeth is developing an interest in science just like her father.