BRUSSELS - Queen Fabiola, who was inseparable from her husband, the late King Baudouin, and popular across much of Belgium, died yesterday. She was 86.
The royal palace said she died at her Stuyvenberg castle in Brussels, and no cause of death was given. However, she had used a wheelchair, was increasingly frail-looking and limited her public appearances more and more.
King Philippe said he was left with "great sadness" when he heard of the death of his aunt.
Spanish-born Fabiola was very close with King Baudouin, and they shared a deep belief in Roman Catholic values. The couple was reclusive and remained childless following several miscarriages.
Still, Queen Fabiola was popular and often referred to as the "Queen of all Belgians." After the king died in 1993, she served as Belgium's dowager queen.
King Baudouin was enveloped in a major controversy in 1990 when he refused to give a parliament-approved bill legalizing abortion his royal assent, one of his constitutional duties.
Some partly blamed Fabiola's strong Catholicism for Baudouin's opposition. He stepped down for one day to allow the government to pass the law before he was reinstated as king.
Baudouin's brother and successor, King Albert II, praised Fabiola when he took the crown, days after Baudouin's death.
"The appeal of the king was just as much the appeal of a couple in which husband and wife supported each other in good as well as in bad times," said Albert.
Often Fabiola drew as much attention as the ruling queen, especially late in life when she became embroiled in a financial scandal concerning her heritage and was publicly rebuked by the prime minister.
During the European financial crisis, which began in 2009, Queen Fabiola, then in her early 80s, became involved in a tax scandal when she was accused of trying to shield from authorities some of her fortune, which had been amassed partly with taxpayer money.
In a rare public rebuke of the Belgian monarchy -- and Fabiola -- then-Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo told parliament that he "shared" the strong emotions the scandal had caused among ordinary citizens. He called the queen's plan to create a private fund for her inheritance ethically flawed, even if it was strictly legal.