Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Death and the Queen

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium was legendary for her valor in wartime. Her husband's biographer, Charles d'Ydewalle, for example, describes her fearlessness (even recklessness) in visiting the trenches during World War I. When King Albert accompanied her, she took sensible precautions, but, left to her own devices, Elisabeth would think up all sorts of mad schemes. Shelling would start and the officers would desperately point out a dug-out where she would fling herself, laughing...

In view of all this, I was quite surprised at her daughter Marie-José's testimony of Elisabeth's terror of death in her old age. I don't mean to detract from her courage, but it is an interesting insight into the complexity of her personality.
Mia madre, nonostante la sua temerarietà e intraprendenza, aveva un sacro terrore della morte. Da quando aveva saputo di soffrire di cuore, bastava un piccolo raffreddore perché cadesse in panico. Le faceva paura sopratutto il fatto di affrontare la morte da sola; estremamente realista, s'impressionava di tutto ciò che riteneva inspiegabile e misterioso. Molte volte mi telefonò a Merlinge: Figlia mia, sento che sto per morire.  Poi veniva a casa mia ed era in perfetta salute. 
My mother, notwithstanding her daring and enterprise, had a holy terror of death. Ever since she had discovered she had a heart condition, a slight chill was enough to send her into a panic. What frightened her, above all, was the fact of confronting death alone; extremely realistic, she was awed by everything she found inexplicable and mysterious. Many times, she telephoned me at Merlinge: My child, I feel I'm dying. Then, she would come to visit me, and was in perfect health. (Quoted by Luciano Regolo in La regina incompresa: tutto il racconto della vita di Maria José di Savoia, 2002, p. 358)

3 comments:

Ms. Lucy said...

This is so interesting..you would think that battle and such would be most terrifying yet for her a simple "raffredore" could send her in major panic mode. I suppose it can make sense when you think of health as being sdomething that one does not aways have a plan or strategy for and death can be a possibility where it's no longer in your hands; whereas in battle sometimes leaders feel invincible due to the strategies they believe in. Wow- heavier than I thought. Lovbed this post. Thanks:)

Matterhorn said...

I think it depends on different kinds of death, also. She was a very energetic, active person, full of life (As King Albert used to say, "Isn't it beautiful to see my wife live?") and with high ideals. As such, dying in a heroic, national effort was probably easier for her to contemplate. At any rate, at the time, when she was living near the front lines, working as a nurse in hospitals apt to be bombarded, and visiting the troops in the trenches, she said: "I do not know what it means to be afraid. The people I admire are those who feel afraid and do their duty anyway." Dying of a heart attack though, or some illness, the idea of one's life coldly slipping away, was probably much more unnerving for such a woman, who was naturally so passionate and full of life...

Ms. Lucy said...

Yes exactly- it seems, like you say, to die heroically or for worthy cause seemed justifiable to her and much more acceptable. Perception means a lot.