Thursday, June 4, 2009

Josephine-Charlotte, Princess of Belgium, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg

Princess Josephine-Charlotte was the eldest child and only daughter of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid of Belgium. She was the sister of Belgian kings Baudouin I and Albert II. While expecting her daughter, Astrid had been reading a biography of the Empress Josephine, the consort of Napoleon Bonaparte. She must have found Josephine very appealing, as she decided to name the little Princess, born October 11, 1927, after this distinguished lady. Josephine was also the name of one of the child's great-aunts, the dearest sister of King Albert I. Astrid was a devoted mother to her "little Jo."

This love was one of the reasons for Astrid's conversion to Catholicism. As a Swedish-born Princess, she had been raised as a Lutheran, but, upon marrying Leopold, had agreed to educate their children as Catholics. As little Josephine-Charlotte began to ask religious questions, it seemed increasingly wrong to her mother that they should not share the same Faith. Astrid pondered the issue deeply, seeking instruction in Catholicism, partly to enable her to better instruct her daughter, partly to satisfy her own need to find the true religion. In 1930, Astrid became a convinced Catholic, confiding to a close friend, the Swedish noblewoman Anna Sparre: "My soul has found peace."

Josephine-Charlotte would lose her mother tragically in a car accident in 1935. Only ten days earlier, Astrid, filled with strange premonitions, had asked Anna to "look after" her 8-year-old daughter, if she herself should die prematurely. At Astrid's funeral, Anna remembered these words and tenderly embraced the little Princess, a small, bewildered figure in white amidst a sea of black. Despite her distress, however, Josephine-Charlotte responded courageously to the situation, trying to take care of her younger brothers, Baudouin and Albert.

More tragedies would follow: the Second World War, the Nazi occupation of Belgium, the royal family's deportation to Germany, the post-war Royal Question. During the family's imprisonment in Germany (and later, Austria), conditions were harsh and food was scanty; the Princess was driven to gnawing wild dandelions. After the war, King Leopold III was falsely accused of collaboration with the Nazis, and prevented, in consequence, from returning to Belgium. A commission of inquiry exonerated him of all charges, but political agitation continued to delay his return. A cruel and vulgar campaign of calumny was launched against the King and his second wife, Princess Lilian (married in 1941). It must have been a very painful period for Josephine-Charlotte, deeply attached to her father and step-mother.

During the Royal Question, the King and his family lived in Prégny, Switzerland. Josephine-Charlotte studied at the Ecole Supérieure des Jeunes Filles, in Geneva, and later took courses in child psychology with the world-renowned Professor Piaget. In 1949, she returned to Belgium, to raise support for her father. She also voted in the plebiscite held in 1950 to end the Royal Question. On both occasions, her arrival sparked an outpouring of royalist fervor; the King's supporters welcomed her with cries of "Vive la princesse!"  and "Léopold!" The King won a majority in the popular consultation, and was able to return to Belgium. Continued agitation, however, would finally force his abdication in 1951. He was succeeded by his son, the 21-year-old Prince Baudouin.

In 1953, Josephine-Charlotte married Prince Jean, heir to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Although politically motivated, it was a happy match. The couple had five children: Princess Marie-Astrid, Prince Henri (currently the reigning Grand Duke of Luxembourg), Prince Jean, Princess Margaretha, and Prince Guillaume. In 1964, Prince Jean and his wife succeeded to the throne of Luxembourg. Josephine-Charlotte was a conscientious and popular Grand Duchess, particularly interested in youth, family, and health issues. From 1959 to 1970, she was President of the Red Cross of the Luxembourg Youth. In 1964, she became President of the Luxembourg Red Cross. In her spare time, she enjoyed the arts, gardening, hunting, fishing, skiing, and water-sports. A very accomplished and athletic lady!

On January 10, 2005, after a long battle with lung cancer, Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte died at Fischbach Castle. She is survived by her husband, children, and grandchildren.

May she rest in peace.



2 comments:

Ms. Lucy said...

This was lovely- Thank you:) I remember you mentioning that her name was chosen due to Josephine B...
She was truly beautiful- but so much sadness...

Matterhorn said...

A lovely woman. I think she really inherited her mother's grace and charm.