Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Trials of Leopold III

From 1945 to 1950 Léopold, having been kept in Austria by his German captors since they lost control of Belgium, lived in Switzerland, while Brussels' politicians debated - with what conclusiveness could be predicted from their pre-war antics - the issue of whether he should be allowed to return. Those who argued that he be kept out included, unsurprisingly, Pierlot and Spaak, who (displaying a sheer balletic agility which deserved a nobler purpose) now maintained that the pro-Léopold pronouncements in 1941-1944 should be disregarded, and that their anti-Léopold pronouncements of 1940 should alone be believed. In their latest volte-face they burdened themselves with the same credibility problems faced by the constant liar invoked in first-year logic lectures, who admits to being a constant liar; but they at least ensured a state of limbo for Léopold himself, which threatened (or promised) to become permanent. After five years successive coalitions having risen and fallen on the specific issue of what to do about Léopold, and the Fleming-versus- Walloon rift having widened anew - the Flemings being predominantly pro-Léopold, the Walloons predominantly anti - a referendum could be put off no longer. 
At the polls on 12 March 1950, 57.7% of voters favoured Léopold's return with full kingly powers. Four months later Parliament itself voted on exactly the same subject, and sanctioned Léopold's return by a similar margin. Accordingly, Léopold made his way back to his kingdom. When he set foot on Belgian territory, his popular support vanished like a dream. Strikes broke out in essential industries, as Spaak threatened the King that they would; police firing on rioters in Liége, killed three men; and foreign reporters spoke in complete seriousness of civil war. Most alarmingly of all, an angry mob charged Laekens gates, demand that Léopold abdicate or face the punishment of any other collaborator. Leading this mob was (who else) Spaak.
After a week, the authorities concerned reached the type of mutually unsatisfying judicial solution that Esquire once unforgettably described as 'everyone gets to take home half the baby'. Léopold agreed, not only to resign the crown in a year's time - when his son and heir Baudouin would have turned twenty-one - but to forfeit all the rights of kingship on 11 August. Until Baudouin attained his majority, monarchial functions would repose in Léopold's younger brother Charles. Meanwhile Spaak would continue to control the Cabinet (as he had done de facto since 1937), in the role of either Prime Minister or Foreign Minister, and sometimes in both roles at once. In early 1969 Spaak gave a television interview of what the Evening Standard's Paris correspondent Sam White called 'almost embarassing frankness'. Spaak freely conceded that Reynaud, when accusing Léopold of deliberately concealing from Britain and France his intention to surrender, had not merely mistaken but actively mendacious; and that Léopold behaviour in l940 had Spaak's full approval. As White noted in the Evening Standard of 3 January 1969, 'Even though it comes a quarter of a century too late it is good of M. Paul-Henri Spaak ... to have finally come clean regarding the events of 1940'. Spaak died in 1972, nine years after Pierlot; Léopold lived till 1983; Baudouin survived his father by a decade.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Royal Family on Vacation

Here is some rare footage of the 19-year-old Prince Albert of Liège with his father, King Leopold III, and step-mother, Princess Lilian, on vacation in Panama.  Albert's half-sister, Princess Esmeralda, is interviewed regarding her father's scientific expeditions, and speaks in English.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Return of Old Friends

I am delighted that the wonderful website of the Cercle Léopold III is once more online.  For a long time, it seemed to have disappeared from cyberspace.  Founded on Belgian National Day, July 21, 2002, this Franco-Belgian association is dedicated to illuminating the controversial reign of Leopold III, and to preserving and defending his memory from false accusations.  "A fidelity to the honor of a man," is the motto of the organization.  Established in Prigonrieux, in Dordogne, and headquartered at the Château du Haut Pezaud, in Monbazillac, France, the Cercle Léopold III enjoys the patronage of Princess Marie-Esmeralda, the King's youngest daughter.  The late French writer Marcel Jullian, a friend of Leopold and his second wife, Princess Lilian, served as honorary president before his death.  Jacques Borgers, of the World Organization of the Periodical Press,  was given the presidency.  The association is open to membership by individuals of all nationalities.  The website is replete with many fascinating historical articles, book summaries, news updates, and beautiful photographs. Unfortunately, the texts tend to be only in French.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Roses and the Queen

Adrian Keppel features a stamp and miniature portrait, honoring Queen Louise-Marie, by the famous Belgian floral painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Note the inscription, "To Her Majesty Louise-Marie, First Queen of the Belgians," included in both French and Dutch, as well as the crown in the upper left corner with the Queen's monogram.

A Gentle Queen

She is extremely gentle and amiable, her actions are always guided by principles. She is at all times ready and disposed to sacrifice her comfort and inclinations to see others happy. She values goodness, merit, and virtue much more than beauty, riches, and amusements. With all this she is highly informed and very clever; she speaks and writes English, German and Italian; she speaks English very well indeed. In short, my dear Love, you see that I may well recommend her as an example for all young ladies, being Princesses or not. 
Now to her appearance. She is about Feodore's [Victoria's half-sister's] height, her hair very fair, light blue eyes, of a very gentle, intelligent and kind expression. A Bourbon nose and small mouth. The figure is much like Feodore's but rather less stout. She rides very well, which she proved to my great alarm the other day, by keeping her seat though a horse of mine ran away with her full speed for at least half a mile. What she does particularly well is dancing. Music unfortunately she is not very fond of, though she plays on the harp; I believe there is some idleness in the case. There exists already great confidence and affection between us; she is desirous of doing everything that can contribute to my happiness, and I study whatever can make her happy and contented.(Read entire post)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Greetings for Christmas, Epiphany and the New Year

I apologize for my extended absence in recent months, and through most of Christmas; I have been struggling with academic demands and emergencies of family and friends.  I do want to thank all my kind readers for their support throughout 2013.  May you all be granted a blessed and joyous Epiphany! All good wishes for 2014.  I hope to be able to blog more often in the new year.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Images of Leopold III

On his birthday, here is a collection of vintage postcards of King Leopold III and his family through the years. Above is an unusual image paying homage to Pope Pius XI and King Leopold III.  Proceeds from the sale of the postcards apparently contributed to missionary efforts.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tender Moments

Two pictures taken by the royal photographer Robert Marchand capture some moments of family tenderness.  Above, we see Queen Astrid with one of her children.  Below, Astrid's daughter, Josephine-Charlotte, and her half-brother Alexandre, play with their baby sister Marie-Christine.