Monday, August 17, 2009

An Idyllic Moment?

Here is a photograph, taken by Queen Elisabeth, of King Albert I, Prince Leopold, Princess Astrid, and one of the royal grandchildren. It conjures up images of an (0stensibly) happy, peaceful period, when Belgium seemed to have everything- a heroic King and Queen, a "fairytale" Prince and Princess...

An idyllic moment, but also a poignant one. Trouble and tragedy would mark the 1930's and 1940's. (I think Albert looks worried even here). Within a few short years, brutal blows of fate would sweep away Albert and Astrid, leaving a shattered Queen Mother, a grieving King, and forlorn royal orphans. Leopold faced World War II alone, setting the stage for the Royal Question.

What might have been, if the whole family had weathered the storm together? What if Albert had still been reigning in 1940? It is incredible enough that political enemies succeeded in painting Leopold as a traitor, when, in fact, from his earliest youth, he had shown himself to be a loyal and courageous patriot. But could anyone have accused Albert of being a Nazi collaborator? How could he be the hero of one war, the villain of another? Or what if Astrid, at least, had been alive? Her immense popularity would surely have been a precious asset to Leopold.

It is hard to say for sure. It is astonishingly easy to malign anyone. Yet, I am certain that the monarchy's position would have been far stronger, if Albert and Astrid had survived. What a pity the three generations in this tender picture could not remain together.

3 comments:

MadMonarchist said...

Some might have tried to paint Albert so. I think part of the problem is that Belgium seemed to be held to a different standard. Every other nation in both wars did what was in their own best interest and yet yelped to high heaven whenever Belgium looked to be doing or did the same. Other powers were quite content to let Belgium fight to the death buying time for them but when Belgium tried to make peace (first war) or surrendered (second) those same powers feigned outrage. Unfair doesn't begin to describe it.

Matterhorn said...

It's true that many of the accusations unfairly hurled at Leopold were also leveled (in a more attenuated form) at Albert, in analogous situations in WW1. Albert had conflicts behind the scenes with his ministers and the Allies, and Leopold would later have much worse ones, openly. Luck and extraneous factors, however, I think, ended up putting Albert in a much stronger position. For one thing, as it turned out he ultimately did not have to surrender/make peace, so he remained in the Allied camp, and the Allies sought to gain luster for their cause by claiming to be fighting only for the sake of brave little Belgium and her Hero King (however much the causes of the Allies and Belgium might have differed in reality). This, and the subsequent Allied victory, served to give Albert an aura of triumphant glory that clung to him in the decades after the war (although it contrasted markedly with his modest, realistic, and somewhat skeptical personality. I think he was certainly heroic, but in a different way from the mythical figure lionized in the press). As a result, I think by the time WW2 came around, he would have been harder to malign than his son. Leopold was also younger, less experienced, less well-known, and therefore more vulnerable in other ways. Add to this that he DID have to surrender, at a moment when the Allies needed a scapegoat, and one can see he was doomed.

Another thing: in WW1, the King and royal family returned to Brussels before the government. In WW2, the government returned before the King, who had conveniently been deported to Germany. Thus, Leopold's opponents had a free hand to intrigue to prevent his return, an opportunity Albert's enemies did not enjoy.

I hope that didn't sound too bitter...

MadMonarchist said...

lol -sorry to laugh, but I say go right ahead and BE bitter! I'm bitter about it myself and I'm not even a Belgian! I see no need to tolerate gross injustice with a smile.