Did the Belgians resent him for surrendering or was it something he did during occupation? His decision to stay with his soldiers instead of flee seems extremely admirable.

Wikipedia says that after the war there were mass protests and a general strike to keep him from returning to the throne but I don't see anything he did that was bad. Were people just mad that he made the decision to surrender instead of the civilian government?

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    Can you explain what in his wiki page isn't clear? Dec 30 '19 at 19:49

Wikipedia has the answer, but it requires some assembly

Wikipedia: Leopold III contains the phrase,

Leopold's controversial actions during the Second World War resulted in a political crisis known as the Royal Question.

Royal Question is hyperlinked to another Wikipedia page, which explains,

The "Question" at stake surrounded whether King Leopold III could return to the country and resume his royal duties as King of the Belgians amid allegations that his actions during World War II had gone contrary to the provisions of the Belgian Constitution.

. . . .

The crisis emerged from the division between Leopold and his government, led by Hubert Pierlot, during the German invasion of 1940. Leopold, who was suspected of authoritarian sympathies, had taken over command of the Belgian Army at the outbreak of war. Considering his constitutional position as Commander-in-Chief to take precedence over his civil role as head of state, he refused to leave his army and join the Belgian government in exile in France.

So in short, Leopold felt that his obligations as Commander-in-Chief took precedence over his obligations as head of state. The Commander-in-Chief had to remain with the military; the head of state would have been obliged to follow the Belgian government into exile.

I am not a scholar of the Belgian constitution, but to my mind, the critical phrase is that the King "refused to obey the government". In a constitutional monarchy, this is very likely to generate a constitutional crisis; the protests you mention are the consequence of that crisis.

I just checked the Wikipedia page on the Belgian Constitution

The Constitution of Belgium (Dutch: Belgische Grondwet, French: Constitution belge) dates back to 1831. Since then Belgium has been a parliamentary monarchy that applies the principles of ministerial responsibility for the government policy and the Trias Politica.

Interpretation of the law requires a subtler mind than mine, but this confirms my hypothesis that Belgium is a parliamentary monarchy, which means that the monarch cannot/should not defy the parliament. The precise division of executive power seems to be governed by Articles 34 through 37, but if the King is subject to a foreign power while the government is in exile, that will introduce constitutional questions that make me glad I'm not a lawyer.

  • It's even worse than that. Leopold surrendered the Belgian Army, assigned to cover the left (North) wing of the Dunkirk perimeter, prematurely, in contravention of direction from the Belgian Parliament, and with inadequate notice to his British Allies. On the plus side, I guess, he didn't tell the Germans either. There is at least an argument to be made that he thus engaged in treasonous behaviour in this regard. Dec 30 '19 at 22:57
  • I get that this is the basic gist. He made several moves that indicated he didn't feel like the democratically-elected government had the last say in things, and he just kept on doing stuff like that. This made him deeply unpopular with those of left-wing sympathies, and popular in a rather scary way with those who didn't want a democracy at all.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 30 '19 at 22:57
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    @PieterGeerkens - ...and before that he refused to join the allies and let their troops come help defend his country even after the Germans had invaded. In isolation that looks like an ordinary dumb decision, but combined with his whole series of republic-unfriendly behavior, to many it looked a great deal more sinister.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 30 '19 at 22:59

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