Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In Memoriam: King Albert I of the Belgians

On February 17, 1934, King Albert I of the Belgians died tragically in an apparent mountaineering accident in the Ardennes. His daughter, Queen Marie-José of Italy, tells the famous story in her memoirs:
17 février 1934!


La nouvelle de l'accident fatal me parvint le 18 au matin, mais sans aucun détail. Accident de montagne en Belgique, comment était-ce possible?


Avec son affectueuse délicatesse, Umberto me fit comprendre que tout espoir était perdu. Frappée par la soudaineté du choc, je ne parvenais pas à réaliser l'étendue de mon malheur. L'immobilité m'était intolérable, je marchais de long en large. Umberto restait à mes côtés, cherchant à me reconforter.


La mort avait surpris mon père dans le site sauvage et solitaire des falaises de la Meuse. Afin de s'entrâiner pour ses ascensions d'été il escaladait, dans l'après-midi du 17 février, les rochers abrupts de Marche-les-Dames, plus précisément la roche dite du Bon Dieu. La crête à laquelle il avait accroché la corde céda brusquement, l'entrâinant dans une chute vertigineuse. Précipité en arrière, il se fracassa le tempe contre une arête douze mètres plus bas, mais roula encore une trentaine de mètres. On ne retrouva sa dépouille que tard dans la nuit, enfouie sous un amas de feuilles mortes.


Ma mère, surmontant son chagrin, m'écrivit: "Mon immense douleur ne m'empêche pas de penser à la tienne. Je sais combien tu es malheureuse. Papa t'aimait tant. J'espère que ce choc n'a pas nui à ta santé, doublement précieuse en ce moment (j'attendais mon premier enfant). Mon malheur est infini et le vide se fera sentir journellement plus grand."


February 17, 1934!


The news of the fatal accident reached me on the morning of the 18th, but without details. A mountaineering accident in Belgium, how was this possible?


With his affectionate delicacy, Umberto led me to understand that all hope was lost. Struck by the suddenness of the shock, I could not take in the extent of my misfortune. Immobility was intolerable to me; I walked up and down. Umberto remained at my side, trying to comfort me.


Death had surprised my father in a wild and solitary place, among the cliffs of the Meuse. To prepare for his summer ascensions, he was climbing, during the afternoon of February 17th, the steep crags of Marche-les-Dames; in particular, the one known as the "Cliff of the Good God." The rock to which he had attached his rope gave way unexpectedly, so that he fell from a dizzying height. Hurled backwards, he shattered his temple against a ledge twelve metres below the cliff, but rolled thirty metres further. His body was not found until late in the night, buried under a heap of dead leaves.


My mother, overcoming her grief, wrote to me: "My immense grief does not prevent me from thinking of yours. I know how unhappy you are. Papa loved you so much. I hope that this shock has not damaged your health, doubly precious at this moment (I was expecting my first child). My grief is infinite, and my loss, each day, will feel greater."

Photos:

above: Le Calvaire du Bon Dieu de Pitié, Marches-les-Dames
below: Commemorative cross, where Albert's body was found (credits and licensing information here)



2 comments:

radical royalist said...

He was a great King and his premature death was a shock for Belgium. Thank you for remembering His Majesty King Albert I.

Matterhorn said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes, it was a terrible shock for everyone. Very sad.