Saturday, April 25, 2009

Videos of Marie-José

Engagement and wedding of Princess Marie-José of Belgium and Prince Umberto of Savoy, in 1930.

Marie-José as Italian Crown Princess, and later, Queen. (Her parents, Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium, and brothers, Leopold and Charles, can be seen near the beginning).

In 1979, the exiled Queen Marie-José discussed World War II and her contacts with anti-fascists. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Favorite Belgian Royals?

A survey just for fun...

Who are your favorite members of the Belgian royal family? Why?

I'm very interested to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Queen Astrid Memorial

The chapel erected in memory of Queen Astrid in Küssnacht-am-Rigi, Switzerland, the site of the tragic car accident in 1935. The Swiss government gave the land to Belgium in 1936 and the chapel is built of Belgian materials, in the style of a Walloon country church.
Coat of arms with Belgium's motto: "l'union fait la force" ("union makes for strength").
Inside the chapel. The windows illustrate different scenes from Astrid's life.
"The King's Cross," made of Swedish granite, where the Queen died in her husband's arms. In 1992, a hail storm destroyed over 2000 trees in the area, including the one the royal car had crashed into; only the stump remains.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Empress Carlota

The Mad Monarchist has a fascinating and informative article on Empress Carlota of Mexico (1840-1927), daughter of King Leopold I of the Belgians. To quote: 

She was born Princess Charlotte of Belgium but became famous the world over as Carlota, Empress of Mexico. From her earliest childhood she displayed the characteristics she would be known for throughout most of her life. She was extremely hardworking, despised idleness, very driven, very intelligent, very courageous and very independent while also being very devoted to those she loved. On July 27, 1857, she married Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg, younger brother of Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria. For a time they were the viceregal couple of the Austrian territory in Italy but found their hands tied there and unable to have much of an impact. When the French Empire and leading Mexican Catholics offered Maximilian the Crown of Mexico she urged her husband to accept. They were both young and idealistic and convinced they could make Mexico great and usher in a new era of monarchical glory in the New World...(more)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Palette

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians was devastated by the loss of her husband, King Albert I, in 1934. Yet, following the equally tragic death of her daughter-in-law, Queen Astrid, in 1935, she forced herself to rally, in order to support her grieving son, King Leopold III, and assist his motherless children.

Meanwhile, political tensions in Europe were mounting, as World War II swiftly approached. Belgium, devastated in World War I, would soon be hurled, yet again, into a disastrous conflict. For the second time, in less than 30 years, a German invasion would overwhelm the country. 

The itinerant, Russian-born sculptress, Catherine Barjansky, was a close friend of the Belgian royal family during the 1920's and 1930's. In her memoirs, Portraits with Backgrounds, she touchingly recalls Albert, Elisabeth, Leopold, Astrid, and their children. In Chapter 21, entitled "The Palette," she captures the atmosphere of the period immediately preceding Hitler's invasion of Belgium in May, 1940.

The war had already begun in France, but it was then in that strange quiescent stage which made people refer to it as the "sitting war." There was uneasiness in Belgium, but no sense of immediate danger. Nobody believed Hitler would repeat the tactics of Kaiser Wilhelm and send his troops marching through Belgium.

There was no place left in Europe where an artist could create undisturbed. Alexandre (her husband) and I discussed it over and over. I wanted to leave, but he preferred to remain. His friends were there and his public and his life. But for me, life is not static, it constantly renews itself; there is always a fresh canvass on which to create a new picture...

At length we came to the conclusion that he would stay in Europe... and I would go away...

I began to arrange for my passport, visas, and steamer tickets. The evening before my departure I walked for the last time with the Queen (Elisabeth) and we stood beside the lake (in the park at Laeken Castle) with its hundreds of black and white swans. During the war, all the swans disappeared. I do not know whether they were eaten by the Germans or whether they died of starvation.

That night there was a moon which made the whole park unreal, as though it concealed untold mysteries. And indeed, I never came to the end of its surprises in all those years. 

For instance, there was a little pavilion where long ago King Leopold II had lived. For many years the doors had been locked on its empty rooms. Then on one of her walks in the park, the Queen came across the pavilion and decided to make her home there. After the death of King Albert, she found it too painful to go on living in the palace rooms where she had been so exceedingly happy with her husband. 

The pavilion was a one-story building in the middle of the woods, wide and low, with a terrace from which there was a magical view of the lake and its swans. The big living rooms were furnished in simple, modern style, with deep armchairs drawn up to the fireplace. Everything was done in light green and pearl- grey. Beyond this were the Queen's personal rooms. There were two entrances, one from the park and one from the green-house, through which, in case of rain, she could make her way to the palace where her son, King Leopold, was living with his three children.

And once the Queen showed me a fairy-tale house in the depths of the woods. It was a house which she had planned for her grandchildren; a charming, imaginative world of play and make-believe that could have been created only by a poetic woman. It was a small cottage whose roof was made of turquoise-blue tiles. The living room was done in Swiss style and had a big Dutch oven. Each child had his own room, all of them decorated in an amusing way with the walls painted by a young Belgian artist. In every room there were birds in cages, and flowers and plants at the windows. Near by there was a small enclosed paddock for horseback riding.

Prince Baudouin, the oldest son- and the only one of the three who did not dislike the public appearances which they were all required to make from time to time- had a room whose walls were decorated with sketches representing all the sports: a man on horseback, someone skiing down a hill, people playing tennis. In little Prince Albert's room, there were reproductions of all his toys in a frieze around the walls: all sorts of animals and trains and games and playthings. Princess Josephine had a gay and cozy little room in which she could study, and a big kitchen where she learned to cook. 

I remember a funny scene. The Queen was seated near the window of the pavilion, drawing, when little Princess Josephine raced into the room, clutching in one hand her coat and in the other a toy electric iron which had been given her as a present. 

"It's a real iron!" she cried. "I can iron my coat!" 

She plugged in the iron which soon heated. The little girl was so excited that she hurled herself at the Queen who fell on the floor, her drawing flew out of the window, and all three of us laughed madly. 

During those last days before the catastrophe, I often met King Leopold in the park, dressed in blue dungarees, his collar open. He was sunburned, and with his golden hair and blue eyes he was a handsome man. He glowed with health, for he frequently played golf and he went swimming in the pool which he had constructed in an abandoned chapel in the park that had been built in the reign of Leopold II. As the old King had a mania for glass roofs, the chapel had been build with one, and sunlight flooded the pool...

Not long before I left Belgium, I met the King at the little pavilion. That day Hitler had made one of his hysterical speeches at a big gathering in Berlin, and all Belgium had listened in fear and disgust. King Leopold was white with rage.

"Those Germans!" he exclaimed hotly. "There's only one way to get rid of them- gas them!" 

Later, I remembered that when he returned to the palace at Laeken as a German prisoner, and the newspapers proclaimed that Leopold was a traitor who had been dealing with the enemy.

I find Queen Elisabeth's efforts to keep her own spirits high and cheer her grandchildren so touching, given the family's tragic background, and the atmosphere of impending disaster. Elisabeth's husband and daughter-in-law had, quite recently, died in ghastly accidents; a terrible war was fast approaching. The Queen must have been suffering severely, yet she could be so charming and cheerful, and plan so many lovely things for her family. What courage and generosity! 

Leopold's comment about the Germans is a bit harsh; we must remember he was speaking in anger, at a dark and desperate moment. But at least it proves he was no friend of the Nazis! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Romance of Leopold & Astrid

In memory of a great love.
Here, they look almost like brother and sister. Kindred souls, as Astrid's best friend, Anna Sparre, would later write...

Official wedding portrait, November, 1926. This is the civil wedding in Stockholm.
Leopold welcomes his bride to Belgium. Tragically, Astrid's arrival in Antwerp was marred by a stampede among the spectators; a number of people were trampled to death. The royal family were horrified. Astrid's father-in-law, King Albert, was furious at the insufficient security measures that had caused the disaster. The tragedy was viewed as an evil omen...

Another official wedding photograph. This is the religious marriage in Brussels.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leopold's Tribute To His Beloved Lilian

"She was a ray of sunlight for us all; captivity and anxiety brought us very close together, and I have a perfect family life" (1).  So the former King Leopold III of Belgium described his second wife, Princess Lilian, whom he married during the dark years of World War II. For her part, Lilian remembered the King, after his death, as "an exceptional man, with whom I had the happiness to live for forty-two years" (2). Letters, diaries, and accounts of close friends confirm this deep mutual attachment (3).

Nevertheless, during the "Royal Question," and for decades afterwards, many rumors of conjugal discord and infidelity were launched against Leopold and Lilian. During the royal family's post-war exile, for instance, stories circulated that the couple were on the verge of divorce. One of the King's leading political adversaries, former Prime Minister Achille van Acker, would later foment lurid tales of adultery and debauchery on the part of the royal couple, even suggesting that Lilian had engaged in an incestuous affair with her step-son, Baudouin, during his youth. To varying degrees, these rumors have persisted to this day.

In 1962, (eleven years after the King's abdication), the Belgian satirical journal, Pan, followed by two French tabloids, began a new assault upon the private life of Leopold and Lilian. As no public authority intervened to defend his honor, Leopold was obliged to submit a protest to the press. On December 31, the following text appeared in the papers (the emphases are mine):
Depuis 1951, ma règle de conduite fut toujours de me tenir à l'écart de la vie publique et officielle, sans pour autant négliger les occasions de mettre mon experience de certaines questions scientifiques et mes possibilités de certains contacts humains au service de mon pays, ce pays pour la paix et la prosperité duquel j'ai consenti dans le passé les plus lourds sacrifices.

En contrepartie, je croyais pouvoir légitimement bénéficier de la paix et de la protection que nos usages et nois lois démocratiques assurent à l'homme privé. Comme celui-ci, je croyais en particulier être désormais protégé de certaines campagnes de diffamation.

Cet espoir, vous le savez, a été constamment déçu. Spécialement depuis quelques semaines, prenant prétexte de mon absence, expliquée cependant par un voyage d'étude en Amazonie brésilienne, mon épouse et mes enfants étant restés en notre résidence d'Argenteuil, la presse à scandale, suivie bientôt par certains organes importants de la presse étrangère, déclencha contre moi-même et contre ma famille une campagne d'une violence inouïe, répandant sur ma vie privée des bruits les plus offensants et les plus scandaleux. Jusqu'à présent, je me suis tu. Mais aujourd'hui, en raison du caractère particulièrement odieux de la campagne en cours, et puisque aucune voix autorisée ne s'est spontanément fait entendre publiquement pour dénoncer la perfidie et le caractère intolérable de telles atteintes à l'honneur d'une famille, je me vois impérieusement contraint de sortir de ma réserve. Depuis plus de vingt ans, mon épouse a partagé mes joies et mes peines: elle m'a rendu un foyer, elle m'a aidé à elever les enfants que m'avait donnés la reine Astrid, et s'est consacrée à eux avec un dévouement et une tendresse qui ont fait d'eux ce qu'ils sont aujourd'hui.

Cette tâche accomplie, nous n'avons, mon épouse et moi-même, d'autre désir que de vivre en paix, dans l'intimité de notre foyer à Argenteuil, en nous consacrant aux activités d'ordre scientifique, philanthropique, et social, pour lesquelles nous éprouvons un intérêt très prononcé. 

Je ne m'attends pas pour autant à voir cesser brusquement et définitivement ces attaques personnelles et scandaleuses. Mais je devais publier cette déclaration. Je le devais à mon propre honneur et à celui de mon épouse et de mes enfants, à celui de toute ma famille, je le devais aussi à toutes les personnes de coeur qui placent encore le respect de la personne et de la vie privée au-dessus des éventuelles divergences d'opinions.

(Cited by Jean Cleeremans in Léopold III, homme libre, 2001, pp. 17-18)

Since 1951, my rule of conduct has been to maintain a distance from public and official life, without neglecting opportunities to place my experience, in certain scientific matters, and my ability to maintain certain human contacts, at the service of my country, this country for whose peace and prosperity I have, in the past, accepted the heaviest sacrifices.

In return, I considered I could legitimately enjoy the peace and protection which our customs and our democratic laws assure the private individual. As such, I considered, in particular, that I would be protected, in the future, from certain campaigns of defamation.

This hope, as you know, has been constantly disappointed. Especially in the last few weeks, using the pretext of my absence, (explained, however, by my study trip to the Brazilian Amazon), while my wife and children remained at home, in our residence at Argenteuil, the yellow press, followed by important organs of the foreign press, have unleashed a campaign of unheard-of violence, against myself and my family, spreading the most offensive and scandalous rumors regarding my private life. So far, I have kept silent. But today, due to the particularly odious character of the campaign underway, and as no authorized voice has made itself heard, to denounce the perfidy and the intolerable character of such attacks on the honor of a family, I find myself compelled to abandon my reserve. For more than twenty years, my wife has shared my joys and my sorrows: she has restored a home to me, she has helped me to raise the children Queen Astrid gave me, and she has consecrated herself to them with a devotion and a tenderness that have made them what they are today.

Now that this task is accomplished, my wife and I desire nothing else than to live in peace, in the privacy of our home at Argenteuil, devoting ourselves to scientific, philanthropic, and social work, in which we take a very keen interest.

I do not expect to see these personal and scandalous attacks cease, at once, or for good. But it was my duty to publish this declaration. I owed it to my own honor, to that of my wife and my children, to that of my whole family; I owed it, also, to all people of heart, who place the respect of the person and his private life above possible differences of opinion. 

The context was sad, but Leopold's tribute to Lilian, is very touching; it aptly expresses his gratitude to his second wife. Given his tragic past, Lilian's love and care must have been a great consolation to the King.

(1) taken from Leopold's confidences to his childhood friend, Jacques Gautier, quoted in Un couple dans la tempête: le destin malheureux du Roi Léopold III de Belqique et de la Princesse Lilian, (2004) by Claude Désiré and Marcel Jullian 

(2) quoted by Désiré and Jullian, ibid.

(3) for more quotes and information on the marriage of Leopold and Lilian, and their life at the country estate of Argenteuil, see especially Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal, (2006) by Michel Verwilghen. The daughter of Leopold and Lilian, Princess Marie-Esmeralda, also cites a very affectionate and touching letter from the King to his wife in her book, Léopold III, photographe (2006). 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Noli me tangere by Giotto di Bondone
And on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre. She ran, therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them: They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went out, and that other disciple, and they came to the sepulchre.  And they both ran together, and that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And when he stooped down, he saw the linen cloths lying; but yet he went not in.

Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulchre, and saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin that had been about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but apart, wrapped up into one place. Then that other disciple also went in, who came first to the sepulchre: and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. The disciples therefore departed again to their home.

But Mary stood at the sepulchre without, weeping. Now as she was weeping, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre. And she saw two angels in white, sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid. They say to her: Woman, why weepest thou? She saith to them: Because they have taken away my Lord; and I know not where they have laid him. When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, thinking it was the gardener, saith to him: Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Jesus saith to her: Mary. She turning, saith to him: Rabboni (which is to say, Master). Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. Mary Magdalen cometh, and telleth the disciples: I have seen the Lord, and these things he said to me. Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.

He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord. But he said to them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, I will not believe.

And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands, and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered, and said to him: My Lord, and my God. Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed. Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in his name.

(Douay-Rheims Bible, Gospel according to St. John, ch. 20)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Bonne-Maman Flandre"

Here, we see King Albert's revered mother, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1845-1912), the Countess of Flanders. Her grand-daughter, Marie-José, affectionately recalls her in her memoirs as "Bonne-Maman Flandre."

Princess Marie was a member of the non-reigning, Catholic branch of the Hohenzollern family; this made King Albert a relative of Kaiser Wilhelm II, his opponent during World War I. Marie's brother, Karl, was elected King of Romania, as Carol I, founding a new royal dynasty.

Marie spent her childhood in the austere castle of Sigmaringen; a strict sense of duty was inculcated in her at an early age. Queen Victoria of England arranged her marriage to Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, the second son of King Leopold I of the Belgians. The Count and Countess divided their time between the Palace of Flanders in Brussels, near the royal palace, and their country estate, Les Amerois, in the Ardennes.

Marie-José remembered the Countess of Flanders as a kind and loving grandmother:
Chez Grand-Maman, il y avait beaucoup de jeunesse, on pouvait rire et s'amuser en toute liberté. Myope et timide, la bonté même, elle nous laissait gambader, courir et faire des sottises sans jamais nous réprimander, même lorsque mes frères eurent l'idée saugrenue d'enduire de beurre un des trois loulous qui graissa tout sur son passage, jusqu'aux froufrous des dames d'honneur!

In Grandmother, there was a great deal of youth, we could laugh and enjoy ourselves with full freedom. Near-sighted and shy, kindness itself, she let us leap about, run, and do silly things, without ever reprimanding us, even when my brothers had the bizarre idea to coat with butter one of the three little dogs, who greased everything in its path, including the frilly dresses of the ladies-in-waiting!

Princess Marie was a gifted artist. At the Amerois, she would spend hours working on etchings and paintings of the countryside. Her love of nature was inherited by her son, King Albert. It is interesting to note that Marie's grandson, Prince Charles of Belgium, was also an amateur painter, his talent probably came from his grandmother.

One of the Countess' sketches

Princess Marie had a strong, upright, and devout character. She raised her children with a rigorous sense of the duties of their privileged position. Her charity and generosity towards the poor were proverbial. A deeply religious person, she was very concerned to preserve the moral purity of her children. Unfortunately, her brother-in-law, King Leopold II, was known for his irregular private life; it is said that the Countess would not allow his mistress' name to be mentioned in front of her daughters. Similarly, she disliked it when her son, Albert, associated with his uncle; she feared that Leopold would be a corrupting influence on the young Prince.

Preoccupied, from his youth, with questions of political and social progress, Albert regretted his inability to discuss these issues with his mother; it seems that the two generations held quite different views. Princess Marie's deep Catholic faith, and conservative opinions, placed her in opposition to Albert's very liberal tutors, whereas young Albert was interested in the new ideas.

Nonetheless, King Albert always spoke of his mother with veneration. Even in his last days, he would still recall the moral teaching she had given him, noting, especially, that she had taught him simplicity. Furthermore, despite his liberal education, Albert was always a practicing Catholic, and, in the years immediately preceding his accession to the throne, developed a very deep and tender piety. He surely derived this piety from his mother, as well as from one of his tutors, who was, actually, a fervent Catholic, General de Grunne. (The King's biographer, Charles d'Ydewalle, underscores De Grunne's religious idealism: "He came to the Machine Age clad in the spiritual armor of the thirteenth century, with the heart and mind of a crusader.")

Marie-José summed up the traits Albert derived from his mother:
De cette mère il avait... hérité les vertus dominantes: sens du devoir, droiture, modestie, tout comme la grande pudeur de ses sentiments, l'absence totale du souci de paraître, le mépris de toute coquetterie, à tel point qu'une personne de la Cour déclara un jour que mon père devait prendre des leçons de vanité!...De sa mère...quelque chose dans le regard de direct et doux: tous deux étaient myopes.

From this mother, he had...inherited his dominant virtues: sense of duty, integrity, modesty, as well as his delicate discretion in expressing his feelings, his total lack of concern for appearances, his contempt for all flirtation, to the point that a courtier declared, one day, that my father should take lessons in vanity!...From his mother....something direct and gentle in his eyes; both were near-sighted. 

A good mother is so important....

The Countess with her grand-daughter, Marie-José

Main references:

Bronne, Carlo. Albert 1er, le roi sans terre. 
D'Ydewalle, Charles. Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King. 
Gérard, Jo. Albert 1er insolite: 1934-1984. 
Graham, Evelyn. Albert King of the Belgians.
Maria José, Queen, Consort of Umberto II, King of Italy. Albert et Elisabeth de Belgique, mes parents.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday

May God bless everyone this Holy Thursday. The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses the celebration of this feast through the centuries: 

The feast of Maundy (or Holy) Thursday solemnly commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and is the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week. In Rome, various accessory ceremonies were early added to this commemoration, namely, the consecration of the holy oils and the reconciliation of penitents, ceremonies obviously practical in character and readily explained by the proximity of the Christian Easter and the necessity of preparing for it. Holy Thursday could not but be a day of liturgical reunion since, in the cycle of movable feasts, it brings around the anniversary of the institution of the Liturgy. On that day...the Church celebrated the Missa chrismalis of which we have already described (see Holy Oils) and, moreover, proceeded to the reconciliation of penitents. In Rome, everything was carried out in daylight, whereas in Africa on Holy Thursday the Eucharist was celebrated after the evening meal, in view of more exact conformity with the circumstances of the Last Supper. Canon XXIX of the Council of Carthage dispenses the faithful from fast before communion on Holy Thursday, because, on that day, it was customary to take a bath, and the bath and fast were considered incompatible...

Holy Thursday was taken up with a succession of ceremonies of a joyful character: the baptism of neophytes, the reconciliation of penitents, the consecration of the holy oils, the washing of the feet, the celebration of the Blessed Eucharist, and, because of all these ceremonies, the day received different names, all of which allude to one or another of its solemnities...(more)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Waterfalls at Spa

The Coo Waterfalls in Spa, Belgium. 

A Touching Letter

On September 8, 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Prince Leopold of Belgium wrote a poignant letter to his father, King Albert I. Leopold and his siblings had been sent to safety in England, and were staying with Lord Curzon at Hackwood; Albert was in Antwerp, under German siege. 

Mon bien cher Papa,

Je pense tant à vous. J'ai lu avec certaine frayeur qu'on bombarde la ville d'Anvers. Heureusement que les bon Anglais sont là, avec leur gros canons de marine.

Comme j'aimerais avoir dix ans de plus, pour être à côté de vous. Ma pensée cependant est toujours avec vous. Tous les soirs, je prie le Bon Dieu qu'il nous aide et nous fasse bien vite rentrer près de vous.

Cher Papa, c'est mon plus grand désir depuis que nous nous sommes quittés. 

Je vous embrasse bien cher Papa. 

Votre Léopold qui vous aime beaucoup, beacoup. 


My very dear Papa,

I think so much of you. I read, with real terror, that the Germans are bombarding the city of Antwerp. Luckily, the nice English are there, with their big navy canons. 

How I wish I were ten years older, to be at your side! Yet my thoughts are always with you. Every evening, I pray God to help us and bring us back to you very soon.  

Dear Papa, this has been my greatest desire, since we have been separated. 

I kiss you, dearest Papa.

Your Leopold who loves you very, very much. 

(Cited in Léopold III by Vincent Dujardin, Mark van den Wijngaert, et al., 2001)
Despite his wish that he were "ten years older," so that he could remain with his father during the war, it only, in fact, took one year, before Leopold insisted on returning to Belgium to join the army. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

Leopold III & Proust's Questionnaire

Here, we see the King Leopold III with his youngest daughter, Princess Marie-Esmeralda. Leopold and Esmeralda enjoyed an especially close relationship; it reminds me of Marie-José's strong bond with her father, King Albert I. 

In her memoirs, Léopold III, mon père, Esmeralda relates that she once gave Marcel Proust's famous questionnaire to her father. Here are some of his answers. They provide interesting insights into Leopold's personality, desires, and ideals. 

Quel est selon vous le comble de la misère?

L'amour de l'argent.

Quel est votre idéal de bonheur terrestre?

Ménage et famille.

Votre vertu préférée?

La droiture

Votre couleur préférée?

Le jaune.

Votre fleur préférée?

Le lilas

Vos héroïnes dans la vie réelle?


Vos héroïnes dans l'Histoire?

La grande Catherine

Vos prénoms favoris?

Lilian, Esmeralda, Daphné, Alexandre

Vos poètes préférés?

Ceux de l'époque romantique.

Les caractères historiques que vous méprisez le plus?

Ceux qui ont voulu se faire passer pour autre chose que ce qu'ils étaient...

Le trait principal de votre caractère?

La fidélité en amitié

La réforme que vous admirez le plus?

Le début de socialisme

Le fait militaire que vous admirez le plus?

La campagne d'Italie

Ce que vous detestez le plus?

A part l'ananas, le mensonge et l'hypocrisie

Comment aimeriez-vous mourir?

De mort violente, le plus tard possible

Etat present de votre esprit?


Votre principal défaut?

La paresse

Votre principale qualité?


Votre occupation favorite?

Les voyages en dehors des chemins battus

Votre devise?

Vivons cachés pour vivre heureux!


What is, in your eyes, the depth of misery?

The love of money

What is your ideal of earthly happiness?

Marriage and family

Your favorite virtue?


Your favorite color?


Your favorite flower?

The lilac

Your heroines in real life?

My mother

Your heroines in history?

Catherine the Great

Your favorite first names?

Lilian, Esmeralda, Daphne, Alexander (1)

Your favorite poets?

The Romantics

The historical characters you despise the most?

Those who tried to appear other than they were...

Your chief character trait?

Fidelity in friendship

The reform you admire the most?

The beginning of socialism

The military exploit you admire the most?

The Italian campaign

What do you hate most?

Aside from pineapple, lying and hypocrisy

How would you like to die?

By violence, as late as possible

Your present state of mind?


Your chief fault?


Your chief quality?


Your favorite occupation?

Traveling off the beaten path

Your motto?

Live hidden to live happily!

(1) the names of his second wife and their children

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Church of St. Charles Borromeo. (Credits)
Church of St. Paul. (Credits)
A map of the city from 1624.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gabrielle Petit

On April 1, 1916, the Belgian war heroine Gabrielle Petit was executed for espionage by the Germans. She was only 23 years old.  According to Wikipedia:

Gabrielle Alina Eugenia Maria Petit (20 February 1893, Tournai - 1 April 1916, Brussels), was a Belgian woman who spied for the British Secret Service during World War I. Executed in 1916, she became a national heroine after the war's end.

Gabrielle Petit was born to working class parents and was raised in a Catholic boarding school in Brugelette following her mother's early death. At the outbreak of the First World War, she was living and working in Brussels as a saleswoman. She immediately enrolled in the medical service of the Belgian Red Cross.

Petit's espionage activities began in 1914, when she helped her wounded soldier fiancé, Maurice Gobert, cross the border into the Netherlands to be reunited with his regiment.

She acquired information about the German army during the trip, which she passed to British Intelligence. They soon hired her, gave her a brief training, and sent her to spy on the German army. She proceeded to collect information about enemy troop movements under a number of false identities. 

She was also an active distributor of the clandestine newspaper, La Libre Belgique, and assisted the underground mail service Mot du Soldat. She helped several young men across the Dutch border. 

Petit was betrayed, captured by the German army in February 1916 and executed two months later. During her trial, she refused to betray her collaborators in order to gain clemency. She was imprisoned at Saint-Gilles, Brussels, and was brought before a firing squad on April 1, 1916. Her corpse was buried at the execution field in Schaarbeek.

Unlike her contemporary, the Englishwoman Edith Cavell, who was also shot as a spy by the German army in Belgium, her story was unknown during the war.

After the war, she became widely known and she became a martyr and a national heroine. In May 1919, after a national funeral in the presence of the Belgian Queen Elisabeth, Cardinal Mercier, and Prime Minister Léon Delacroix, her mortal remains... were transferred to the city cemetery of Schaarbeek.

A monument honoring her service to Belgium was erected in Brussels. In her place of birth, Tournai, a square was named after her.

Several books and films were made about her life after the war.

Her monument in Brussels 

Gabrielle was a woman of great courage and faith. Here are some of her last letters, written on the eve of her execution, to her loved ones.

To her god-mother, she wrote:

Ma chère marraine,

Ton recours en grâce est rejeté. Je te remercie de ta bonté. Adieu...c'est plein de courage. On te remettra de ma part une somme de 581 francs.

Veux-tu bien partager avec ma soeur Hélène?

Remerciements à cousin Bara.

Bon baisers et adieu. 

Gabrielle Petit.

My dear god-mother,

Your petition for clemency has been rejected. I thank you for your kindness. Farewell...a farewell full of courage. They will send you a sum of 581 francs on my behalf.

Would you please share it with my sister, Helene?

Thanks to cousin Bara.

I kiss you, farewell.

Gabrielle Petit.

To her sister:

Ma chère Hélène,

Je t'adresse mes adieux. Ne regrette rien, c'est tellement naturel! C'est la vie courante...Vois-tu, on part comme on est venu. Je ne regrette rien. Sois sage et courageuse, surtout. 

Veux-tu bien ne pas oublier l'indication que je t'ai donnée au sujet de ma grammaire anglaise. Tu diras qu'il faut qu'on la garde en souvenir de moi et tu remercieras la personne pour la bonté qu'elle a eue pour moi. Ne l'oublie pas, surtout, et si l'on te donne des conseils, suis-les en souvenir de 
Ta petite soeur,
Gabrielle Petit

My dear Helene,

I bid you farewell. Do not regret anything, it is so natural! This is the course of life... you see, we depart as we came. I regret nothing. Be good and courageous, above all.

Please do not forget the instructions I gave you concerning my English grammar. You will say that she (her former employer, Mme. Butin) must keep it in memory of me, and you will thank the person in question for her kindness towards me. Do not forget this, above all, and if you are given advice, follow it, in memory of 
Your little sister,
Gabrielle Petit

To her cousin and benefactor, Mr. Bara:

Cher cousin,

Au triple galop.

Je viens très brièvement vous adresser mes adieux.

Il est cinq heures du matin. J'en ai encore pour quelques heures. Je ne crains rien et suis d'un calme à toute épreuve. Je vous remercie de tout coeur de toute la bonté que vous avez eue pour moi. Jusqu'à mon dernier soupir, je vous en serai reconnaissante.

Puissiez-vout être heureux, cher bienfaiteur, et vivre encore de longues années.

Adieu, cher bienfaiteur.

Votre petite cousine protégée,
Gabrielle Petit.

Dear cousin,

At top speed.

I am going to bid you farewell, very quickly.

It is five in the morning. I still have a few more hours. I fear nothing and I am completely calm. I thank you, with all my heart, for all the kindness you have shown me. To my last breath, I will be grateful to you.

May you be happy, dear benefactor, and live for many long years yet.

Farewell, dear benefactor,

Your little cousin, your protégée,
Gabrielle Petit

Gabrielle spent part of her last night in conversation with a German guard, who treated her kindly. While finishing some embroidery, Gabrielle, with great serenity, recalled her life experiences, and, at the end of the discussion, the topic of death inevitably arose. Her companion asserted that he was a Freemason and did not believe in life after death. Gabrielle, however, a devout Catholic, affirmed her absolute faith in the immortality of the soul. 

Before dying, she made her Confession and received Communion; on the way to her death, she recited the Rosary. Upon arriving at the place of execution, she told one of the German soldiers:

"I will show you that a Belgian woman knows how to die." She refused the blindfold.

Her final words:

"Vive le Roi! Vive la Belgique!"