Baroness Sybille de Selys Longchamps was the mistress of the future King Albert II of the Belgians from the mid-1960s until the early 1980s. Their child, Delphine Boël, now Her Royal Highness Princess Delphine of Belgium, is well-known to many for having pursued legal acknowledgment of her parentage. This was finally received in early 2020.
Sybille was born on August 28, 1941, in Uccle, Belgium, the second child of Count Michel François de Selys Longchamps and Countess Pauline Cornet de Ways-Ruart. Her father had served valiantly in the Belgian military and was active in the resistance during World War II. He later served as Belgian Ambassador to numerous countries, including the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, and the United States. She had five siblings:
- Michel (1938) – married Florence van den Perre
- Anne-Michèle (1942) – married Barn Henry van der Straeten Waillet
- Jean-Patrick (1944) – married Margaret de Brouwer
- Daniel (1946) – unmarried
- Nathalie (1951) – married Guy Verhaeghe de Naeyer
In 1962, Sybille married Jonkheer Jacques Boël, a wealthy industrialist. About four years later, Sybille first met the future King Albert (then Prince of Liège) in Athens, Greece, where her father was serving as Ambassador, and Albert and his wife were on holiday. Several months later, she was invited to a dinner and seated right next to him. Soon, the two began an affair that reportedly lasted until around 1982. In 1968, Sybille gave birth to a daughter – Delphine – who was registered as the daughter of Jacques Boël.
Despite their marriages, Sybille and Albert maintained their relationship for many years, and according to Delphine years later, Albert even considered divorcing his wife but Sybille talked him out of it. For reasons unknown, Albert reportedly ended their affair somewhat abruptly in 1982, ending all contact with Sybille and their daughter. By then, Sybille had divorced her first husband (in 1978), and in 1982 she remarried to the Honourable Michael-Anthony Rathbone Cayzer, a younger son of Herbert Cayzer, 1st Baron Rocherwick. Sybille and her daughter then lived in England until Cayzer’s death in 1990. Since then, she has split her time between Belgium and Provence.
In 1999, in a biography of Queen Paola, the first public allegation was made of Sybille’s affair with Albert and the subsequent birth of their daughter. The Belgian royal court quickly dismissed the report as “gossip”, but later that year, the King seemed to make reference to the situation. In his Christmas message, he spoke of a “crisis” in his marriage some 30 years earlier that they had overcome, but of which they had been recently reminded. That would be the last public statement on the matter for many years.
Having spoken publicly about the matter for several years, it was in June 2013 when Delphine filed a lawsuit asking that King Albert and two of his legitimate children provide DNA samples in order to prove her lineage. And in September of that year, Sybille appeared on a television program entitled “Our Daughter is Called Delphine”, in which she detailed her relationship with the King and the birth of their child together.
By March 2017, the courts had dismissed Delphine’s lawsuit. But she continued to pursue the matter, and after Jacques Boël was proven to not be her father, a Belgian court instructed the now-former King Albert to provide a DNA sample. Albert appealed the ruling, unsuccessfully, and was assessed with a fine of €5,000 per day until he cooperated. Soon, he did provide a sample, and in January 2020, it was made public that the test had proven that he was, in fact, Delphine’s biological father. In October 2020, the Belgian Court of Appeal ruled that Delphine is entitled to the title of Princess of Belgium as well as the style of Royal Highness. This also applies to her children. She is also entitled to inherit one-quarter of the former King’s estate – a share equal to those of his legitimate children.