Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wedding of Leopold & Lilian

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the religious marriage of Leopold III, King of the Belgians and Miss Mary-Lilian Baels. Early in the morning of September 11, 1941, the couple exchanged wedding vows in the chapel of Laeken Castle. Six years after the tragic loss of his first wife, Queen Astrid, Leopold's days of solitude were finally over. The ceremony was secret, witnessed only by Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines and Primate of Belgium, Queen Mother Elisabeth, Lilian's father, Henri Baels, and one of the King's old friends, the Abbé de Schuytenaere (several were smuggled in through a hidden door). Lilian was privileged to wear Queen Elisabeth's own bridal veil.

After the marriage, the witnesses celebrated with a quiet breakfast. The same day, Leopold and Lilian planted a weeping willow at Laeken. The tree was eventually transplanted to Argenteuil, where, tall and strong, it would continue to symbolize the permanence and endurance of a great love. Queen Elisabeth also gave the newlyweds her log cabin at Laeken. (It had originally been a Canadian gift to King Albert I). Leopold and Lilian would find refuge there throughout the dark years of the war.
At first, however, Lilian obviously could not spend all her time at Laeken, if the marriage was to be kept secret. In fact, a letter, dated October 6, 1941, exists from Elisabeth to Lilian, quoted by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil. The Queen (oddly enough, in broken English) pleads with her son's bride to pay a visit...
My dearest little Lilly,

I telephoned to L. he is still here...Don't leave him alone too long. I am sure you' be both start with renewed love clearer and stronger. I kiss you dear, with all my heart.
The King's second marriage would only become public knowledge in December, 1941, following the civil wedding of Leopold and Lilian. By this time, Lilian was expecting her first child, Alexandre, and, infamously, opponents of Leopold would later claim that the whole story of the September wedding was a lie concocted by the royal family and Cardinal van Roey to cover up the bride's pregnancy. Alternately, the King was blamed for reversing the normal order, prescribed by Belgian law, of the civil and religious ceremonies. For Leopold and Lilian, however, as for countless other Belgian Catholic couples, all that really mattered was the religious wedding...

References:

Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation.
Désiré, Claude and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête. 
Esmeralda, Princess of Belgium. Léopold III, mon père. 
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi. Léopold III, 1940-1951.
Verwilghen, Michel. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal.

2 comments:

Alex Engwete said...

Fascinating piece of history, of which I was unaware, though I am a Congolese and, as such, had my due dose of Belgian history at school. I think Queen Astrid also visited Belgian Congo, as witnessed by the many "Astrid" first names given to Congolese women of a certain generation.

The first visit to the Congo in 1955 (if I'm not mistaken) of the young King Baudouin I--to whom Congolese gave the moniker "Bwana-Kitoko" (a combination of two words from Swahili and Lingala meaning "Handsome Man")--also prompted many Congolese parents of the 1950s to name their newborns "Baudouin"...

Matterhorn said...

How interesting! I am hoping to do some posts on the royal visits to the Congo, but I need to gather more information.