Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sissi

A few portraits of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (1837-1898), the aunt and godmother of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. 
With her brother, Karl Theodor, father of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.



Friday, March 27, 2009

The Queen & Her Son

In his later years, Leopold III rendered a fervent homage to his mother, Queen Elisabeth (1). While others, he said, might remember her as a war heroine, or a great patroness of the arts, he would always think of her, above all, as a true mother. For Leopold, Elisabeth was a mother "in the noblest sense of the term, one who, throughout her entire life, would assist, protect, and love me." 

Elisabeth, indeed, deeply loved and cared for her eldest son. She was devastated by the loss of her husband, King Albert, but forced herself to rally, after Queen Astrid's death, in order to support her grieving son and assist his motherless children. Leopold would later recall: "Following the tragedy of Marche-les-Dames, my mother seemed shattered, as if she had been struck dead. She only came back to life after I, myself, was touched by fate. I returned from Switzerland, frightfully affected by a death which followed, by barely a year and a half, that of my father. My mother came to me and said she would make herself live again. She felt, once more, that she was needed." (2)

Elisabeth must have suffered tremendously to see Leopold so cruelly attacked during the Royal Question. Her grief and indignation at the calumnies Leopold endured appear clearly in the letter she addressed to French Premier Paul Reynaud, on May 29, 1940, the day after his virulent broadcast blaming the King for the Allies' desperate military situation:

Monsieur le Président du Conseil,

Vous avez accusé le roi Léopold d'avoir commis un acte de trahison et de félonie!

Pareille injure m'a profondément indignée, et je ne puis taire le ressentiment que cette blessante injustice provoque en moi.

Vous l'ignorez sans doute; l'armée belge s'est héroïquement battue aux côtés des admirables soldats français et britanniques. 

Subissant un sort dont elle n'est pas responsable, encerclée, acculée à la mer, épuisée, elle était arrivée aux dernières limites, quand le Roi, son chef, a donné l'ordre de cesser une résistance affreusement meurtrière, qui n'avait plus d'utilité pour personne.

Vous avez affirmé que mon fils traite avec les Allemands.

Cette affirmation est fausse, le roi Léopold, qui entend partager le sort de ses officers et de ses soldats, est leur prisonnier. 

Il subit leur loi. 

Aucune négotiation n'est en cours.

Voilà la vérité!

Voilà la vérité que vous connaissez maintenant, et que vous aurez à coeur de faire connaître aux Français- si vous êtes un honnête homme!

En opposant le roi Albert au roi Léopold, on porte atteinte à la mémoire de l'un et à l'honneur de l'autre. Comme son père, mon fils a été courageux dans la bataille. Il est digne et loyal dans la défaite.

Votre attitude si profondément inique à son égard m'est d'autant plus pénible qu'elle vient d'un Français, parlant au nom de la France, amie de la vérité et de la justice, cette France à laquelle m'unissent tant de liens de sympathie et d'admiration.

Recevez, Monsieur le Président du Conseil, l'expression de mes sentiments douloureux.

Elisabeth


Mr. President of the Council,

You have accused King Leopold of committing an act of treason and felony!

Such an insult has deeply outraged me, and I cannot silence the resentment that this wounding injustice provokes in me.

You are doubtless unaware that the Belgian army fought heroically beside the admirable French and British soldiers.

Enduring a fate for which it was not responsible, encircled, driven back upon the sea, exhausted, it came to end of its resources, whereupon the King, its commander, gave the order to cease a resistance, which was frightfully murderous and of no further use to anyone.

You have asserted that my son is negotiating with the Germans.

This assertion is false, King Leopold, who intends to share the fate of his officers and soldiers, is their prisoner.

He is subject to their law.

No negotiation is underway.

This is the truth!

This is the truth, which you now know, and which you must have at heart to make known to the French- if you are an honest man!

By opposing King Albert to King Leopold, you assault the memory of the one and the honor of the other. Like his father, my son was courageous in battle. He is dignified and loyal in defeat. 

Your attitude - so profoundly unjust - in his regard is all the more painful to me since it comes from a Frenchman, speaking in the name of France, friend of truth and justice, that France to which I am joined by so many ties of sympathy and admiration.

Receive, Mr. President of the Council, the expression of my sorrowful sentiments.

Elisabeth.

After World War II, while Leopold and his family were in exile (first in Austria, and then in Switzerland), Elisabeth wrote her son many letters overflowing with maternal affection. In one, dated December 14, 1945, after passing on political information, Elisabeth wrote:

"...J'ai été il y a deux jours, à Louvain, à un concert dans l'aula de l'université. Quinze cents étudiants et étudiantes m'ont reçues aux cris de Léopold. C'était très émouvant. J'ai dit que je te l'écrirais...Je vous embrasse tous avec le coeur si gros de ne pas être avec vous. Je pourrais peut-être venir vous voir plus tard, le printemps, mais je vais te téléphoner plus souvent, au moins entendre ta voix, mon si cher petit Léop."

"...Two days ago, I was at Louvain, at a concert in the university hall. Fifteen hundred students, men and women, welcomed me with cries of 'Leopold!' It was very moving. I said to myself I would write to you about it...I kiss you all with a heart that is so heavy not to be with you. I could, perhaps, come to see you later, in the spring, but I will 'phone you more often, at least to hear your voice, my very dear little 'Léop.'"

On another occasion, for Leopold's birthday, Elisabeth wrote him a poignant letter:

"Mon cher Léop. Encore une fois je ne serai pas avec toi pour ton anniversaire. Je penserai tant à toi. Quel souvenir! Un des plus beaux de ma vie d'entendre le premier cri du premier enfant. Tu étais si joli et plus tard si beau! Mais cela, tu n'aimes pas qu'on te le dise, ou au moins pas trop crûment. Depuis cela, tant de joies, tant de tristesses!"

"My dear Léop. Once again I will not be with you for your birthday. I will be thinking of you! What a memory! One of the most beautiful of my life, hearing the first cry of my first child! You were so pretty, and later, so handsome! But you do not like people to say this, or, at least, not too bluntly. Since then, so many joys, so many sorrows!"

(recorded by Jean Cleeremans in Léopold III, de l'exil à l'abdication)

Elisabeth loved Lilian, too, very tenderly, calling her "my dear little Lilly." The Queen, in fact, had played a major role in arranging the marriage of Leopold and Lilian.

Elisabeth evidently had a very loving heart, and a gift for comforting those in anguish. She used these qualities to great effect in supporting her son during the darkest moments of his life. 
The royal family in exile. Despite the political anxieties, their home life was happy.

(1) recorded by Gilbert Kirschen in L'éducation d'un Prince: entretiens avec le Roi Léopold III.
(2) in an interview  on the life of King Albert, which Leopold granted to the Révue Générale, in 1975

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Revolutionary Rhetoric

On September 17, 1949, while Leopold III and his family were in exile in Switzerland, a Socialist demonstration took place in the main square in Huy, in the Walloon region of Belgium. Virulent speakers agitated for revolution, civil war, and regicide. In the aftermath of World War II, Leopold had already been exonerated, by a commission of eminent jurists, of all charges of treason and collaboration with the Nazis. Yet the King's enemies stubbornly persisted in their attacks.

I find it particularly interesting how demonstrators during this period hearkened back to the French Revolution. Such rhetoric was not, however, limited to street agitators. Roger Keyes, in Echec au Roi: Leopold III, 1940-1951, records that Paul-Henri Spaak, one of the King's former ministers, who played a central role in his downfall, proudly compared himself to the French revolutionaries.  "I am with Danton against Louis XVI," he said. In response to the charge that his agitation might violate Belgian law, Spaak asked: did the revolutionaries of 1789 have the law on their side? He added that he was ready to follow a similar path: "Do not think you frighten me when you pronounce the word "revolution."'

At the Socialist demonstration on September 17, 1949, the deputy Arthur Gailly, rose to speak. After hurling calumny and abuse at Leopold III, he called for violent insurrection:

Les ouvriers sont prêts...ordre à tous...d'inonder les charbonnages, de s'emparer des hôtels de ville, des maisons communales, des usines, des grands magasins de la réaction. La classe ouvrière aux armes. Il faut tuer le capitalisme en éxecutant tous les réactionnaires, Léopold III en tête. On s'emparera des armes. Imitant 1789 et 1848, on conduira à l'échafaud tous les réactionnaires et que Léopold III et ses descendants n'oublient jamais que dans une révolution populaire les têtes couronnées et leur familles laissent la couronne sur les degrés de l'échafaud. Comme les Romanov et les Bourbons de 1789, Popol de Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha verra un jour tomber sa tête couronnée sous les coups de l'Internationale...Après la grève insurrectionnelle, le peuple considérant qu'il n'a tout de même pas fait couler le sang pour retrouver sur le trône le fils du traître, instaurera définitivement la république populaire et nettoiera tous les rebuts du capitalisme et leurs séides....

The workers are ready...we order all to flood the coal mines, to seize the city halls, the factories, the department stores of the Reaction. To arms, workers! We must kill capitalism, executing all the reactionaries, Leopold III first. We will get weapons. Just as in 1789 and 1848, we will lead to the scaffold all the reactionaries, and may Leopold III and his descendants never forget that, in a popular revolution, crowned heads and their families leave the crown on the steps of the scaffold. Like the Romanovs and the Bourbons of 1789, Popol of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha will one day see his crowned head fall under the blows of the International...After the insurrectional strike, the people, considering that they have not shed blood in order to find the traitor's son on the throne, will install, definitively, a popular republic and will clean up all the capitalist scum and their partisans...

(Recorded in Un royaume pour un amour: Léopold III, de l'exil à l'abdication, by Jean Cleeremans)

Gailly's speech was followed by a similar bloodthirsty diatribe from Louis de Brouckère, former President of the Socialist International.

The threats of revolution and regicide were not empty words. Although Leopold's abdication, in 1951, prevented large-scale violence, he would later assert, in one of his last letters to his brother Charles, that the country had, indeed, been brought to the brink of civil war during the Royal Question.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A New Blog

I welcome all my readers to visit my new blog, devoted to the history of Scandinavia and the Baltic region, entitled The Sword & The Sea. I hope to see you there! 

The Annunciation

The Annunciation & Two Saints, by Simone Martini, 1333

Today is the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. God Bless!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Un Sogno"

In his biography of Marie-José, Luciano Regolo, who had many interesting conversations with the Queen during her last years, tells a touching story of a dream she related to him one day:

La regina mi disse che aveva fatto un sogno. "Era bellissimo, un astronauta veniva a prendermi e mi portava sulla luna. Vedevo i crateri, le distese desertiche dagli strani riflessi...Tutto sembrava così vero, comprese le mie cadute. Non riuscivo a stare in piedi per l'assenza di gravità. E inciampavo di continuo...Poi di ritorno da quel viaggio, incontravo mio fratello Charles e gli raccontavo tutto. Allora lui mi diceva: "Perché ti meravigli? Tu hai sempre vissuto sulla luna!" Poi, però, mi chiedeva il numero di telefono dell'astronauta: "Quasi, quasi ci vado anch'io lassù."

The Queen told me she had had a dream. "It was so beautiful, an astronaut came to take me and brought me to the moon. I saw the craters, the desert wastes, through strange reflections...Everything seemed so real, including my falls. I could not stand on my feet, because of the absence of gravity. And I tripped constantly... Then, on my return from this trip, I met my brother Charles and told him everything. And he said to me: "Why are you amazed? You have always lived on the moon!" But then, he asked me for the astronaut's telephone number. "It just may be that I, too, will go there."
Marie-José's dream is especially poignant given the tragic story of Prince Charles (1903-1983), second son of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. As a child, Charles troubled Albert and Elisabeth with his disobedience, unwillingness to work, tantrums, and rages. As a young man, his caustic ways and irregular private life would be a continual source of anxiety for his parents, and, later, for his older brother, Leopold.

Charles harbored bitter resentment against his family, and, in particular, against Leopold. Charles' close friend, the Belgian painter Alfred Bastien, described him as "constantly in rebellion against his father, his mother, his whole family..." He also portrayed Charles' feelings of rivalry with Leopold as "beyond all imagination." This enmity would have grave consequences during the "Royal Question," when Charles served as Regent of Belgium.

Many Belgians credit Charles with "saving the monarchy" by assuming the Regency and complying with Leopold's opponents. Charles is portrayed, in consequence, as a great benefactor of Belgium. Referring to the monarchy, Charles reportedly claimed: "C'est moi qui ai sauvé le brol." ("It was I who saved the lumber"). Such a contemptuous way of referring to his country's leading civic institution would hardly seem to be the mark of a laudable public servant. Furthermore, it might have been better to refuse to exercise the Regency once Leopold was liberated from German captivity. This would have sent a clear message to the Belgians that the actions of Leopold's enemies, aimed at artificially prolonging the King's "incapacity to reign," and preventing his return to Belgium, were unlawful. As it was, Charles' regency provided these revolutionary measures with a screen of legitimacy. The regency, thus, served to seriously undermine the monarchy.

Charles evinced a disloyal attitude towards Leopold during the Royal Question. He behaved coldly towards the King, on the occasion of their official meetings, in Austria and Switzerland, after Leopold's liberation. Charles did not defend Leopold from the many calumnies launched against him during his regency. He even tried to suborn the King's wife, Princess Lilian, by offering her (in concert with one of Leopold's leading opponents, Prime Minister Achille van Acker) a lavish civil list, and other sumptuous advantages, if she left Leopold in exile and returned to Belgium with Prince Baudouin. Scandalized by this insulting proposal (doubtless intended to make her appear selfish and mercenary), Lilian indignantly rejected it. In 1950, after a plebiscite called for Leopold's return from exile and resumption of his royal function, Charles reacted with rage and grief. According to Bastien, soon after hearing the results of the plebiscite, the Prince came to visit him and collapsed, sobbing, upon his shoulder. Such was his hatred of his older brother!

What was the origin of this bitterness? Leopold, who maintained a surprisingly charitable attitude towards Charles, provided some sensitive insights, shortly before his abdication, in a conversation with Jacques Gautier, a close friend. According to Leopold, Charles suffered, from childhood, from a severe inferiority complex, which, Leopold believed, had been fostered by Marie-José's English governess. According to Leopold, she continually told Charles that he was less loved, less admired than Leopold, and that even his parents neglected him. (Very strange, I must say, it was not at all the governess' place to make such comments). Charles, apparently, was so afflicted by feelings of inferiority that his short stature as a child reduced him to despair. At age 16, when he finally caught up with his siblings in height, he viewed it as a major triumph.

The accounts of Charles' behavioral problems as a child make me wonder if, today, he would have been diagnosed as suffering from some disorder. If so, it may be that an unidentified condition was treated as a moral problem by his family, sowing the seeds of resentment and bitterness.

Charles never admitted that he had wronged his brother; nor did he defend him, in the decades after Leopold's abdication, against the continual repetition of old slanders. As a result, although relations between them varied over the years, Leopold and Charles were never truly reconciled. Leopold, nonetheless, was terribly shaken by Charles' death, only a few months before his own, in 1983. He privately visited Charles' lying-in-state, and remained for a long time by his casket, trembling, obviously deeply moved. He made the sign of the Cross...

Perhaps Marie-José's dream represents a hope for her brother?


(The photo of Marie-José is from this source, where more images of the Queen can be viewed)

References:

Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, homme libre. 2001.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi: Léopold III, 1940-1951. 1986.
Regolo, Luciano. La regina incompresa: tutto il racconto della vita di Maria José di Savoia. 2002
Verwilghen, Michel. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal. 2006.

The Queen & Her People

Astrid at a military review in Brussels. She admired her husband so much that she joined the crowds to see him parading at the head of his regiment. 
Visiting a school. 
Showing her love to a Belgian child. 

Astrid was famous for her naturalness and simplicity. While still Crown Princess, she used to stroll her children up and down the street in their carriages, incurring the disapproval of court officials. "These promenades break protocol," they protested. Astrid merely replied: "But I'm just another mother, am I not?" Complaints were even made to King Albert, but, informal and natural himself, he took his daughter-in-law's part.

In any case, Astrid's straightforward, tender disposition won the hearts of the Belgian people. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Moi aussi, je servirais avec plaisir"

Another story from Le Roi Albert et les Missions illustrates King Albert's admiration for the Catholic missionaries in the Belgian Congo, and sheds light on his own spirituality. 

...(N)on contente de s'exprimer en des circonstances solennelles, cette admiration reconnaissante se traduisit également, combien de fois! en des audience privées...

Ne citons qu'une conversation avec le Père Prieur d'Orval... On parlait du dévouement. 

'L'année passée,' rappela le Roi, 'j'étais au Congo. Le Frère Gillet, de la Compagnie de Jésus, nous avait fait les honneurs de son magnifique jardin botanique. Et, à midi, étant coadjuteur, il servait à table.

Le Gouverneur Général se penche à mon oreille: "Cela doit bien humilier le Frère Gillet de remplir cet office?" 

Je lui réponds: "Mais pourquoi? Moi aussi, je servirais bien... Vous verrez. Après le dîner nous le lui démanderons."

Nous allons donc le trouver. "Est-ce que cela vous à gêné de nous servir?"

Il réplique: "Mais non, je n'y ai même pas pensé... - "Vous voyez," dis-je au gouverneur....

Moi aussi, je servirais avec plaisir. Quand le monde s'éloigne de l'Evangile, il fait fausse route, retournant aux erreurs de la civilisation romaine où tout était basé sur l'orgueil et la force, tandis que la doctrine de Christ repose sur l'humilité et la charité.' 

...Not content with expressing this grateful admiration on official occasions, he also did so - how many times! in private audiences...

Let us take one example - his conversation with the Prior of Orval (a Benedictine monastery in Belgium)... They were discussing abnegation.

'Last year,' the King recalled, 'I was in the Congo. Brother Gillet, of the Society of Jesus, had done us the honors of his splendid botanical garden. And, at noon, being coadjutor, he served at table.

The Governor-General bent over my ear: "It must be humiliating for Brother Gillet to perform this service?"

I replied: "But why? I, too, would gladly serve... You will see. After lunch, we will ask him."

So we went to find him. "Did it irritate you to serve us?"

He answered: "No, I did not even think about it..." - "There, you see," I said to the governor.

I, too, would serve with pleasure. When the world distances itself from the Gospel, it takes the wrong path, returning to the errors of Roman civilization, where everything was based on pride and force, whereas the doctrine of Christ rests upon humility and charity.' 

 "He who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all." King Albert seems to have made this injunction the rule of his life. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Courage, courage, vous êtes encore soldat!"

In 1925, to celebrate their Silver Wedding, King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium traveled to India. There is a touching account, by a Belgian missionary priest, Father Jacquemotte, of his meeting with the King at the Jesuit College in Darjeeling. The priest had formerly been a soldier in World War I. The story is related in the lovely book, Le Roi Albert et les Missions, (1935), by Joseph Masson, S.J. Albert and Elisabeth were always staunch supporters of the Catholic missionaries; this account reveals the King's deep admiration for their heroism. 

Sous ma soutane de missionaire, écrit le Père, mon coeur de soldat bat plus fort que jamais. Comme autrefois à l'Yser, je suis en position devant mon général en chef qui me serre cordialement la main...

"Vous étiez à l'artillerie?" 

"Oui, Sire, à Ramscapelle, un jour... en septembre 1918; vous êtes venu nous serrer la main dans notre abri... depuis ce jour-là, je ne vous avais plus revu."

Silencieux, on se regarde, on se comprend... Ramscapelle!

"Puis, vous êtes passé à l'aviation comme pilote?"

"Oui, Sire...et puis, après cela, j'ai mal tourné... je me suis fait Jésuite."

Le Roi rit de bon coeur: "Continuez, continuez, la cause que vous défendez et si belle."

"Sire, il n'y a, je crois, que deux causes sacrées: Dieu et la Patrie."

"Mais votre vie doit être bien dure. Comment supportez-vous le climat. J'ai vu dans la plaine de vieux missionaires, aux Indes depuis cinquante ans...Quel courage...c'est admirable!.. L'éloignement ne vous est-il pas si pénible?"

"Sire, c'est un sacrifice. Aussi vous devinez notre joie de vous revoir. Jamais, on ne l'avait éspéré... "

"Vous ne revenez pas en Belgique?"

"Non, Sire, jamais."

A cette réponse brève, où se révèle la donation, le Roi reste un instant rêveur: puis, il conclut avec force:

"Courage, courage, vous êtes encore soldat!"

"Under my missionary's cassock," the Father writes, "my soldier's heart beats faster than ever. Just as before, on the Yser, I am standing before my commander-in-chief, who is cordially shaking my hand..."

"You were in the artillery?"

"Yes, Sire, at Ramscapelle, one day... in September 1918, you came to shake our hands in our shelter ... since that day, I had never seen you again."

In silence, they gaze at each other, they understand... Ramscapelle!

"Then, you entered the air force, as a pilot?"

"Yes, Sire... and then, after that, I turned out badly... I became a Jesuit."

The King laughed heartily. "Continue, continue: the cause you are defending is so beautiful."

"Sire, there are, I believe, only two sacred causes: God and Country."

"But your life must be very hard. How do you endure the climate! I have seen, in the plain, old missionaries, in India for fifty years...What courage... it is admirable!.. Is the distance from home not too painful?"

"Sire, it is a sacrifice. So you can imagine our joy at seeing you again. We would never have hoped for it..."

"You are not returning to Belgium?"

"No, Sire, never."

At this brief response, which revealed the gift of self, the King remained thoughtful for a moment: then, he concluded, forcefully:

"Courage, courage, you are still a soldier!" 

Fathers & Sons

King Albert I, with his two sons, Leopold and Charles, during the First World War.
King Leopold III with his sons, Baudouin and Albert. During the Second World War, a version of this picture was sold for the benefit of children of Belgian POW's.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Inside the Royal Palace


Clocks from the royal collection. 
The Empire Room.
The Salon de Goya. 

(Photographs from the Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of the Belgian Royal Household. Credits and licensing information here, here, and here)

La Grande Guerre des Soignants


Dr. Patrick Loodts, author of the splendid site, Médecins de la Grande Guerre,  has written a book, in collaboration with his daughter, Isabelle Masson-Loodts, on Belgium's medical personnel during the First World War. Faced with an appalling lack of equipment at the beginning of the war, these heroic men and women struggled against tremendous odds to care for its victims.

From the book description: 

Durant la Première Guerre Mondiale, au milieu d'un continent tombé par l'oeuvre des nationalismes exacerbés, dans la plus grande des barbaries, des hommes et des femmes, isolés dans des abris ou des baraquements signalés d'un croix rouge, ont fait preuve d'une merveilleuse imagination pour soigner le mieux possible les victimes de la guerre. Grâce à eux, la médecine fit, en quatre ans, des progrès considérables. Jamais ces soignants ne perdirent foi en leur idéal, malgré les moyens dérisoires à leur disposition et le peu de considération dont ils joussaient au début des hostilités. 

Au travers du récit des progrès médicaux réalisés durant ce conflit et des témoignages de médecins, infirmières et brancardiers ayant pour la plupart oeuvré en Belgique, les auteurs nous expliquent pourquoi La Grande Guerre des Soignants ne doit pas être oubliée!

During the First World War, in the midst of a continent fallen prey to exacerbated nationalisms, surrounded by the worst barbarities, men and women, isolated in shelters or camps marked with a red cross, demonstrated amazing ingenuity in their efforts to care, as best they could, for the victims of war. Thanks to these people, in four years, medicine made considerable progress. These caretakers never lost faith in their ideal, despite the laughable means at their disposal, and the lack of consideration they experienced at the outset of hostilities.

Through the discussion of the medical progress achieved during the conflict, and through the testimonies of doctors, nurses, and stretcher-bearers, who worked, for the most part, in Belgium, the authors make clear to us why the Great War of the medical personnel must not be forgotten!

From the preface by Dominique Hanson, director of Belgium's Royal Museum of the Army and Military History:

...C'est le premier mérite de cet ouvrage. Il jette un éclairage sur différentes facettes de la problematique médicale au sein de l'armée belge durant le premier conflit mondial. Il suit tout d'abord l'organisation ou plutôt la réorganisation de son service médical au fur et à mesure des opérations militaires jusqu'à la stabilisation du front, puis, au fil des grands épisodes conduisant à l'Armistice... Son deuxième mérite et de présenter une iconographie non seulement variée mais remarquable et originale. 

...(I)l est heurex que l'auteur soit un médecin. Ses propos et commentaires sont moins désincarnés et plus humains que ne risquent de l'être ceux d'un historien maniant le scalpel froid et méthodique de la critique historique. 

...This is the first merit of this work. It sheds light on the different facets of medical issues within the Belgian army, during the first worldwide conflict. It follows, first of all, the organization, or, rather, the reorganization of Belgium's medical service, alongside the development of military operations, up to the stabilization of the front; then, in the context of the major episodes leading to the Armistice...Its second merit is to present illustrations which are not only varied, but remarkable and original.

...It is fortunate that the author is a doctor. His comments and discussions are less abstract and more human than those of a historian, coldly and methodically wielding the scalpel of historical criticism, might be...

I encourage anyone who understands French to listen to this interview with Dr. Loodts and his daughter; they discuss their topic with such warmth and passion! 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mystical Brussels



Views of the medieval church of Laeken from Historic Brussels' photostream at Flickr.

A little-known remnant of the mystical and religious mediaeval past of Brussels, Belgium, dating from approximately the year 1275, still stands today in the middle of the Laeken Cemetery (Cimetière de Laeken - Begraaftplaats van Laken).

A place of history and pilgrimages, visions and miracles, this remnant of a great mediaeval church is only a few dozens of metres behind one of the grand sights of Brussels- the relatively new but impressively gothic-styled Our Lady of Laeken Church (Notre-Dame de Laeken - Onze Lieve Vrouw van Laken) with its origins in the 1850s. It is also not far from the palace residence of the Belgian royal family.

The origins of the churches in this locale are shrouded in legend and myth. 

The Laeken neighbourhood is part of modern Brussels, but it is a couple of kilometres north and a little west of the old city centre. When the first city walls were being built around 1000 years ago, the Laeken area would have been a village a number of hundreds of metres beyond those Brussels defensive ramparts.

According to legend, the first church on this spot, dates from the personal consecration of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo III (c. 750-816, elected pope in 785). Leo III was the same Pope who crowned Charlemagne (c.747-814) to be the new Emperor of a new Western "Holy Roman Empire." Charlemagne's throne was at Aachen in what is now Germany, not far from the modern Belgian border, and thus not very distant from Brussels.

It is not known if this legend is correct, that the Pope himself had come to honour this place in the time of Charlemagne. But it is very clear that by about 1000 years ago, this was a place of pilgrimage and religious devotion, focused on Mary the mother of Jesus.

Pilgrims and travellers came to pray here. People had religious visions. Miracles were said to take place here. With all the traffic and attention, the early places of prayer gave way to larger construction, until a quite substantial church was built in the later 1200s. What you see here in the photographs, is the portion of the original church that still stands today... (more)

King Albert Rock-Climbing

This picture is one of my favorites; the King seems so calm and steady. 

The Royal Nursery

Queen Astrid with her youngest son, Prince Albert.
Princess Josephine-Charlotte and Prince Baudouin with their new little brother.

I always find it very sad to think how these children must have suffered, between losing their mother at such a young age, living through war, deportation, and imprisonment, and, finally, during the "Royal Question," seeing their father so horribly attacked.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Elisabeth As A Child

The future Queen of the Belgians as a little girl. Even as an adult, she was so petite and delicate that her husband, Albert, protectively called her: "Das Kind." Here, however, she really is a child! 

Friday, March 13, 2009

"If"

On his seventh birthday, Prince Leopold of Belgium received a copy of Kipling's If as a present from his father, Albert. Leopold later related the scene to his friend, the French writer and director Marcel Jullian. I found Jullian's retelling of the story on the website of the Cercle Leopold III.

3. novembre 1908. 

La mer du Nord, ourlée d'écume blanche, roule ses vagues sous un ciel gris. Sur la plage, de dos, une haute silhouette. C'est Albert, le futur Albert 1er de Belgique. 

Du bout de sa canne, il trace sur le sable le contour de la Belgique devant un enfant de sept ans, en costume marin blanc, culotte courte. C'est Léopold, son fils ainé.

"Tu vois, Léopold, c'est ça la Belgique! Deux langues: le français et le flamand!"

Albert inscrit l'emplacement des neuf provinces.

"La Belgique, vois-tu, s'est déclarée indépendante le 4 octobre 1830 et c'est ton arrière-grand-père, Léopold, comme toi, prince de Saxe-Cobourg qui l'année d'après, le 21 juillet 1831, en est devenu le Roi.

Aujourd'hui, c'est son fils, ton grand-oncle Léopold II qui est Roi des Belges."

L'homme et l'enfant se regardent. Albert sourit, attendri par l'immense émotion qu'il lit sur le visage du petit prince.

"Maintenant que tu es grand et que tu t'intéresses aux choses sérieuses et qu'aujourd'hui tu as sept ans, je vais te faire un cadeau que je te demande de ne jamais égarer ou oublier. C'est important pour toi, pour la Belgique aussi."

De la poche de son grand manteau, Albert sort un petit cadre qui contient un court poème et le tend à l'enfant.

"Lis-le, souvent. Apprends-le par coeur. Il t'aidera dans les circonstances graves de ta vie. Quel que soit ton destin, tu auras recours à lui."

L'enfant se saisit du petit cadre et, d'abord muettement, puis à voix haute commence à lire.

"Si tu peux voir détruire l'ouvrage de ta vie et, sans dire un seul mot, te mettre à rebâtir ... tu seras un homme, mon fils...' 

Il reste fasciné.

November 3, 1908. 

The waves of the North Sea, swirling with white foam, toss under the grey sky. On the beach, seen from behind, a tall figure. It is Albert, the future Albert I of Belgium.

With the end of his walking stick, he traces, on the sand, the outline of Belgium, in front of a seven-year-old child, dressed in a white sailor's suit, in shorts. It is Leopold, his eldest son.

"You see, Leopold, that's Belgium! Two languages: French and Flemish."

Albert outlines the nine provinces.

"Belgium, you see, declared independence on October 4, 1830, and it was your great-grandfather, Leopold, like you, Prince of Saxe-Coburg, who, the next year, on July 21, 1831, became its King. 

Today, it is his son, your great-uncle Leopold II who is King of the Belgians."

The man and the child gaze at each other. Albert smiles, touched by the immense emotion he sees on the little prince's face.

"Now that you are big and interested in serious things, and that, today, you are seven years old, I will give you a present which I ask you never to lose or forget. It is important for you, and for Belgium." 

From the pocket of his big coat, Albert gets out a little frame which contains a short poem, and gives it to the child. 

"Read it, often. Learn it by heart. It will aid you in the grave circumstances of your life. Whatever your destiny, you will have recourse to it." 

The child seizes the little frame, and, at first, silently, then aloud, begins to read: 

"If you can see your life's work destroyed, and, without a word, begin to rebuild... you will be a man, my son..."

He remains fascinated. 

If  is a poignant call to personal integrity, prudence and perseverance in the face of calumny, hatred, and reversals of fortune. Given Leopold's destiny, Albert's recommendation of the poem to his son seems almost prophetic! Here is the entire poem: 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think- and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss,
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And- which is more- you'll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tribute to Princess Lilian


Searching for a video clip of Queen Elisabeth, I instead stumbled upon this tribute to Princess Lilian, second wife of Leopold III. The photos definitely capture Lilian's glamor, dynamism, charm, and humor.

 A very strong personality, Lilian endured decades of violent personal attacks (in reality aimed at her husband, King Leopold, and at the monarchy in general) with remarkable courage and resilience. At one point, her step-son, King Baudouin, complained that the attacks were so vicious that other people, in her position, would have committed suicide.

Practically anything Lilian did was interpreted negatively. Even the deep affection between herself and her step-children, King Leopold's children by Queen Astrid, was turned against her. In her later years, she had to face rumors, fomented by one of Leopold's old political adversaries, Achille van Acker, that she had had an incestuous affair with her step-son, Baudouin, during his youth!  Lilian's response to this outrageous accusation reveals the strength and dignity of her character. With an ironic smile, she said: "Now they will not be able to invent anything else, because they could never fall any lower" (quoted by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil). 

I do think that King Leopold looks rather ravaged in the later photos, which is no surprise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review: Trianon A Novel of Royal France

Lucy has written a beautiful review of Elena Maria Vidal's novel, Trianon. To quote: 

'It is the story of the martyred King Louis XVI and his Queen.'

Be prepared for a re-introduction to two remarkable human beings whose fate can only be compared to that of the holiest martyrs. You will forever banish any previous perceptions or accounts which you believed to be true. Be prepared to learn history as it should have been told. You will experience their life, their love, their faith, for you have never known them as you will after reading this book...Be prepared to be moved beyond belief.

This absolutely beautifully written novel details the life of the Royal couple by capturing the very essence of their being. Faith is the fiber that binds them to a relentless love for each other and their country. The book is filled with magnificent scripture that is there not for the embellishment of the story, but rather as an ever present part of their daily life. The story is told in minute details and the love, the hardship, the loyalty and the suffering are all equally intense. There isn't a part of the book that can be read lightly. It is extremely deep in terms of love, sorrow, faith, and revelation... (more)

Many thanks to Lucy for this lovely review, and, of course, to Elena Maria Vidal for the novel! 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Louvain


An old market street in Louvain. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Queen Marie-José Through Her Daughter's Eyes

Here, we see Queen Marie-José of Italy with her four children: Maria Pia, Victor Emmanuel, Maria Gabriella, and Maria Beatrice. 

Marie-José's youngest daughter, Maria Beatrice, paid this lovely tribute to her mother: 
Di mia madre ammiro molte cose: il suo spirito indipendente, l'amore per la cultura, l'abilità con cui, anche avanti negli anni, ha continuato a condurre le sue ricerche storiche. Ma sopratutto ne ho sempre apprezzato la capacità di astrarsi, ossia di andare oltre le gioie e i dispiaceri, i luoghi e le situazioni, per essere sempre se stessa.

In my mother, I admire many things: her independent spirit, her love of culture, the ability with which, even in her later years, she continued to conduct her historical research (Marie-José wrote many outstanding works on the history of the house of Savoy). But, above all, I have always appreciated her capacity to abstract herself, to go beyond joys and sorrows, places and situations, to be always herself.

(Included in Luciano Regolo's biography of Marie-José, La Regina Incompresa)

Inghels Farm

Inghels Farm in Leisele, Alveringem, West Flanders. A preserved 16th century farm in the timbered building style. 

Credits and licensing information here.

Le Roi Albert Alpiniste


A lovely book by René Mallieux on the mountaineering life of King Albert I. Published in 1956. 

L'auteur reste fidèle à la promesse de son titre en deux cents pages d'une belle présentation, il dit l'essentiel, avec une sobriété d'expression qui respecte la grande mémoire de son personnage. De nombreuses photographies, pour la plupart tirées des albums privés du Roi, des reproductions de lettres autographes, une documentation précise puisée aux meilleures sources, donnent à l'ouvrage un ton émouvant d'intimité et de vérité. Le lecteur y trouvera la liste de très beaux exploits sportifs, et aussi des précisions qui ne manqueront pas de le frapper: celle, par exemple, du temps consacré par le Roi à la montagne et à l'entraînement: près d'un mois et demi sur douze dans les cinq dernières années.

The author remains faithful to the promise of his title in a beautiful presentation of 200 pages. He says what is essential, with a sobriety of expression which respects the great memory of the person in question. Numerous photographs, taken, for the most part, from the King's private albums, reproductions of handwritten letters, a precise documentation drawn from the best sources, all give the work a moving tone of intimacy and authenticity. The reader will find, here, a list of splendid athletic achievements, and, in addition, details which will not fail to strike him; for instance, the time devoted by the King to mountaineering and training - nearly a month and a half out of every twelve -during his last five years. 
My favorite part of the book was the story of the King's discussion with the famous Italian alpinist, Tita Piaz, a fierce republican, during a climb in the Dolomites. Since, at the moment, I do not, unfortunately, have a copy of Mallieux's book on hand, I will quote Marie-José's account of the same incident. 
... Tita déclare au roi: "Je suis républicain et je le dis franchement." Albert répond: "C'est votre droit." Piaz stupéfait: "Comment, vous êtes roi et vous trouvez que c'est mon droit d'être républicain?" "Oui, parce que chacun a le droit de penser politiquement comme il lui semble le mieux," affirme mon père. Piaz ne s'estimait pas satisfait de cette explication et se lança dans d'acerbes critiques auxquelles le roi, souriant, répondit non sans humour: "Si vous permettez, monsieur Piaz, je connais cette question probablement mieux que vous, étant donné mon métier." Et la conversation se poursuivit amicalement.

... Tita declared to the King: "I am a republican, and I say it frankly." Albert answered: "That is your right." Piaz was amazed: "What, you are a King and you think it is my right to be a republican?" "Yes, because everyone has the right to think, in political matters, as seems best to him," my father asserted. But Piaz, dissatisfied with this answer, launched into bitter critiques to which the King, smiling, replied, not without humor: "If you will forgive me, Mr. Piaz, I probably know this question better than you do, given my profession." And the conversation continued amicably.

Astrid On Her Wedding Day

A beautiful bride. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Queen Astrid's Premonitions


Strangely, not long before the tragic car crash in Küssnacht, Queen Astrid had a definite premonition of her death. She confided her forebodings to her friend, Anna Sparre, who was traveling with the royal couple in the Alps. Anna tells the story in her book, Astrid, mon amie. 
One afternoon, Astrid and I were drinking coffee in front of a mountain hut... It was our last stop before returning to the village where we had left the car.

I believe it was the 18th of August. The weather had suddenly changed, and the cold gave us the impression that it was October. The clouds had suddenly gathered around the hut and we could see no further than a metre ahead; it was grim, and both of us were suffering slightly from altitude sickness... We wanted to return to civilization, we had had enough of the mountains. 

Astrid was not completely herself; she seemed serious and was not in a mood to joke. I remember a few snatches of our conversation. 

The tragic death of her father-in-law, King Albert, in a mountaineering accident, only a year and a half earlier, had been a terrible shock to Astrid; she feared that her husband, King Leopold (also a passionate alpinist) would meet a similar fate. 
"Do you understand I am often terribly afraid that something will happen to Leopold, and that I will be left alone with the children?"

I understood her very well, but I realized that it would be impossible to persuade him to give up this sport, which, although dangerous, was so important for his well-being.

"Also, Annisen, you do not realize how much I fear, at times, that I will die. It would be even worse for the children, and terrible for Leopold. My dear, can you promise me something?"

"What is that?"

"If I die while the children are still little, will you look after Joe-Joe (her daughter, Princess Josephine-Charlotte)?" 

"We have to pull ourselves together, dear. With this bad weather, we are not quite ourselves and that is the reason why you are thinking of horrible things. Why should anything happen to you...?"

"I am serious. Look after Joe, promise me."

"No, my dear, right now we must be reasonable. How could I come and say: 'I promised Astrid that I would take care of Joe in my apartment at Västerås...It is not realistic! Please, do not ask me to make this promise. Chase away these black thoughts."

"But I promised I would look after my god-daughter, Christina, if something happened to you," she answered, trying to smile.

"That is a completely different matter, and very kind of you. It is reassuring to know you will look after her." 

That was the end of the conversation, but her melancholy persisted until we entered the car. Ten days later, she was dead. 

Political Testament: Part VII

In the seventh section of his Political Testament, King Leopold III addressed the problem of the punishment of Nazi collaborators. 

Il faut craindre que la fin des hostilités ne s'accompagne du déchaînement de la vindicte publique et de l'assouvissement d'innombrables rancunes publiques et privées.

Les détenteurs provisoires de l'autorité auront à maintenir les manifestations de l'opinion dans les limites légales. Ils auront aussi cependant à provoquer et à éxécuter les sanctions que comportent les attentats commis par d'aucuns contre la défense du Pays et contre l'unité de l'État. 

Les auteurs de ces crimes contre la Nation ont assez proclamé, voire célébré, leur trahison pour que les répressions nécessaires ne s'en prennent qu'aux véritables et grands coupables.

Il convient que les châtiments soient prononcés et infligés sans délai, mais selon les procédures régulières.

It is to be feared that the end of hostilities will be accompanied by the unleashing of public vengeance, and by efforts to satisfy public and private hatreds.

Those who will be exercising authority in the interim period will have to keep demonstrations of opinion within legal limits. They will also, however, have to insist upon and carry out the punishments called for by the crimes which some have committed against the safety of the country and the unity of the state. 

The authors of these crimes against the nation have proclaimed, or rather, celebrated, their treason, sufficiently to enable the necessary retribution to apply only to the genuine, major offenders.

Sentences should be pronounced and carried out without delay, but according to regular procedures.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blankenberge

The beach at Blankenberge, West Flanders, ca. 1900.