Saturday, July 11, 2009

Princess Clementine of Belgium

Princess Clementine was the youngest, steadiest, and happiest daughter of King Leopold II and Queen Marie-Henriette. Her birth on July 30, 1872, was a bitter disappointment to her parents, especially her father. Following the death of their son, in 1869, they had eagerly hoped for another male heir. Nonetheless, over time, Clementine became her father's favorite. As the Queen, in her later years, increasingly withdrew from public life, Clementine assumed many of her official duties, becoming the King's valued helpmate. Despite her privileged position, however, she must have suffered severely from her father's cruelty and infidelity to her mother, and must have felt deeply humiliated by the scandal arising from his conduct.

As a young girl, Clementine fell in love with her cousin, Prince Baudouin, heir-presumptive to the Belgian crown. Her choice showed good taste, as Baudouin was not only handsome, intelligent and accomplished, but also pious and virtuous. The King and Queen favored the match. Presumably, they were pleased by the idea of uniting the two branches of the royal family, and, through their daughter, enabling their own line to continue on the throne. Nonetheless, Baudouin did not return Clementine's affection, and his mother, the Countess of Flanders, firmly opposed the projected marriage. Furthermore, in 1891, the promising young prince died tragically of pneumonia, shattering the family's hopes.

Henceforth, despite the King's partiality for his youngest daughter, he frustrated her heart's inclinations on political grounds. She fell in love with Prince Victor Napoleon, the Bonapartist claimant to the French throne, living in exile in Brussels. Her father, however, afraid of arousing the ire of republican France, forbad the match. Leopold II was not a man whose will could be crossed with impunity, and Clementine, prudent and respectful, yielded to his wishes. Nonetheless, relations between father and daughter became considerably more strained. According to Charles d'Ydewalle, the King even instructed the police to keep a strict guard on Clementine to prevent her eloping with Victor-Napoleon. Yet, she waited patiently for years to marry her beloved. I always admire her forbearance and perseverance during this period. While firmly refusing any other match, she still remained loyal to her family, eschewing (in striking contrast to her sisters!) open rebellion and scandal.

After Leopold's death in 1909, Clementine asked her cousin, the new King, Albert I, for permission to marry her Prince. Albert gladly gave his consent, and the couple were married in 1910, at Moncalieri, near Turin. Clementine was 38 years old! It had certainly been a long wait, but the bride was overjoyed. Victor-Napoleon and Clementine settled in Brussels, and had two children: Marie-Clotilde (1912-1996) and Louis (1914-1997). Always prudent, Clementine wished to maintain a good relationship with the Belgian government, and avoided involvement in her sisters' lawsuit against the state over Leopold's inheritance.

In 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium, Clementine and her husband took refuge in England, with the former French Empress, Eugénie. The Princess entered the service of the Red Cross, assisting Belgian refugees. After the war, she continued to participate in charitable public works. In 1926, she lost her husband, and henceforth devoted herself mainly to the care of her children. During this period, she lived mostly in France. Her last years were spent alternately in Maillen, Belgium (where she owned property), Savoy and Nice. Unlike her sisters, she never wrote memoirs. In 1952, she was awarded the Legion of Honor for her charity work. Three years later, on March 8, 1955, she passed away.


References:

Gubin, Eliane, Dupont-Bouchat, Marie-Sylvie. Dictionnaire des femmes belges. 2006.

Weber, Patrick. Amours royales et princières. 2006.

D'Ydewalle, Charles. Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King. 2005.

2 comments:

MadMonarchist said...

Gracious she looks just like her father in that portrait. Being a profile shot probably adds to it; has that unmistakable Leopoldine nose.

Matterhorn said...

Yes, for sure! Princess Esmeralda, daughter of Leopold III and Lilian, makes the same comment in her memoirs.