Thursday, December 17, 2009

Accession of Leopold II

On December 17, 1865, a week after his father's death, Leopold II, King of the Belgians, ascended the throne. Leopold II is no favorite of mine. Nonetheless, here is his accession speech:
"Gentlemen: Belgium has, like myself, lost a father. The unanimous homage which the nation renders to his memory worthily responds to the sentiments which he cherished towards it during his life."
I am equally moved and grateful. Europe herself has not remained indifferent to this affliction. Foreign sovereigns and princes have wished to take part in the last honors which we render to him whom they placed so high in their confidence and friendship. I thank them for myself and for Belgium.
" On this day, succeeding to a father so honored during his life and so regretted after his death, my first engagement before the representatives of the nation is to religiously follow the precepts and examples which his wisdom has left me, and never to forget the duties imposed on me by this precious inheritance.  If I do not promise to Belgium either a great reign like that which founded her independence, or a great king like him whom we mourn, I at least promise her a king Belgian in heart and soul, whose whole life belongs to her.
"The first King of the Belgians to which Belgium has given birth, I have from my childhood shared all the patriotic emotions of my country. Like her, I have watched with happiness the national development which has fecundated in her bosom all the sources of strength and prosperity. Like her, I love those grand institutions which guarantee at the same time order and liberty, and are the most solid foundation of the throne.
"In my thoughts the future of Belgium has always been blended with my own, and I have always regarded it with the confidence inspired by the right of a free, honest, and brave nation, which wills its independence, which has won it, proved Itself worthy of it, and will know how to preserve it.
" I have not forgotten, gentlemen, the marks of kind feeling which I received on attaining my majority, when I came to take part in your legislative labors, and, some months later, on the occasion of my marriage with a princess who shares all my sentiments for the country aud instils them into our children.
"I have been gratified to recognize in these spontaneous manifestations the unanimous accord of the populations. On my part, I have never made any distinctions between Belgians ; all are devoted to their country, and I comprise them in one common affection.
" My constitutional mission places me apart from the struggle of opinions. Leaving the country itself to decide them, I ardently desire that their differences may always be tempered by that spirit of national fraternity which unites, at this moment, round the same flag all the children of the Belgian family.
"Gentlemen, within the last thirty-five years Belgium has witnessed the accomplishment of things which, in a country of the size of ours, have rarely been realized in a single generation ; but the edifice of which the congress laid the foundations may rise, and will rise, higher still. My sympathetic co-operation is assured to all who shall devote to this work their intellect and efforts.
"By persisting in this course of activity and wise progress, Belgium will more and more consolidate her institutions at home, and will preserve abroad that esteem which the powers guaranteeing her independence, and other foreign states, have always accorded her, and have again this day so kindly testified. On ascending the throne, my father said to the Belgians: ' My heart knows of no other ambition than that of seeing you happy.' These words, which his whole reign has justified, I do not fear to repeat in my own name.
"Providence has vouchsafed to hear the wish they expressed. May He hear it again this day, render me the worthy successor of my father, and, I pray from my inmost soul, continue to protect our dear Belgium."
Curiously, Leopold would die on the 44th anniversary of his accession, on December 17, 1909. Strange coincidence! May God have mercy on his soul.

6 comments:

MadMonarchist said...

Very interesting. One of these days I intend to do a write-up on Leopold II but his reign is a hard one to address. It is difficult to find a fair view of someone with so many contradictions and a man who has been vilified to the point of becoming a characterization; a sort of bogey man. He's one of those people feel so passionately about that any effort to be fair in assessing him is often responded to as a horrible act in itself.

Matterhorn said...

I know, the same issue prevents me from addressing his reign as thoroughly as I would like. I came across some information based on his personal papers showing that he *did* have painful crises of conscience over the Congo business, but then was all too willing to believe his entourage and others who told him the charges were malicious exaggerations. So it seems he was a more nuanced character than the stereotype of the *deliberately* genocidal murderer. Yet, I am sure if I tried to discuss the issue many would take it as an attempt to whitewash or justify atrocities.

MadMonarchist said...

I fully understand, though I wish I had as much information on him as you do. Every time I try to find anything on him you can guess what subject dominates the whole work, whether article or whole book, with scant little else about his actual life and personality. Well, maybe when I get around to it you can see how I survive before deciding to do something more thorough on the subject ;-)

Matterhorn said...

It's not just a matter of fearing to get nasty comments or something, I am genuinely concerned that if people interpreted it as whitewashing it would contribute to discrediting not only the whole idea of Belgian monarchism (you know: "ah yes, they're the sort of people who gloss over genocide in the Congo") but also the attempts to defend certain other Belgian kings (Leopold III, for instance) who, I really think, *were* good people.

MadMonarchist said...

I understand, and I didn't mean to come off that way. The criticism of Leopold III absolutely boggles my mind -I cannot understand for the life of me how such an impression came to take root. People do seem to take a very 'all or nothing attitude'. As if there is no room between understanding all aspects of a person, even a bad person, and justifying every despicable thing they may have done. Even before I knew anything at all about Leopold II I was inclined to dislike him for the way he cutt off support to my dear Carlota in Mexico. But I'm also a sucker for hard-luck cases and tend to be skeptical of anything that is presented as something you *have* to believe without question or your own character will be suspect.

Matterhorn said...

I wasn't offended, but I just wanted to clarify:)

You're right about people tending to take an "all or nothing" attitude. As a result, they sometimes seem not to even really hear/read what you are actually saying, as they jump to conclusions based on preconceptions.

Btw, one of the most interesting accounts I have found of Leopold II (in the sense of the person he was ) is that by Xavier Paoli in "Their Majesties As I Knew Them", 1911. As perhaps you've already seen, I excerpted it here:

http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2009/07/vignettes-of-leopold-ii.html