Sunday, May 31, 2009


Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ. 

And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost game them to speak. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 

And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because every man heard them speak in his own tongue. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans? And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born? ...

...And they were all astonished, and wondered, saying to one another: What meaneth this? But others mocking, said: These men are full of new wine. But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them: Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you, and with your ears receive my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.

But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass, in the last days (saith the Lord), I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And upon my servants indeed, and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest day of the Lord shall come. 

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God didst in the midst of you, as you also know: This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain. Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that he should be holden by it. For David saith concerning him: I foresaw the Lord before my face, because he is at my right hand, that I may not be moved.

For this my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced, moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life: thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Ye men, brethren, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David; that he died, and was buried; and his sepulchre is with us to the present day. Whereas therefore he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him an oath, that of the fruit of his loins one should sit upon his throne.

Foreseeing this, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ. For neither was he left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised again, whereof all we are witnesses. Being exalted therefore by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath poured forth this which you see and hear...

Therefore let all the house of Israel know most certainly, that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified. Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart, and said to Peter, and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost...

They therefore that received his word, were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls. And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all...

And continuing daily with one accord...and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat in gladness and simplicity of heart; praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved. 

(The Acts of the Apostles, ch. 2, Douay-Rheims Bible)

(Image: Pentecost by El Greco, ca. 1600. Courtesy of Olga's Gallery)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Belgian Capitulation, 1940

On May 28, 1940, after 18 days of courageous fighting, the Belgian army was compelled to surrender to the invading Nazis. King Leopold III became a prisoner of war. He issued the following Order of the Day to his officers and men:

Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Men,

Plunged unexpectedly into a war of unparalleled violence, you have fought to defend your country, step by step. 

Exhausted by an uninterrupted struggle against an enemy far superior in numbers and strength, we have been forced to surrender. 

History will relate that our Army did its duty to the full. Our Honor is safe. 

This violent fighting, these sleepless nights, cannot have been in vain. I enjoin you not to be discouraged, but to conduct yourselves with dignity. May your attitude and your discipline win the esteem of the foreigner.

I shall not leave you in your misfortune, and I shall take care to watch over you and your families. 

Tomorrow, we will set to work, with the firm intention of raising our country from its ruins. 

(French original cited by Col. Rémy in Le 18e jour: la tragédie de Léopold III, roi des Belges; translation based on that of Roger Keyes in Outrageous Fortune)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tragedy & the Queen

The life of Italy's last queen, Marie-José, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, was marked by many tragedies. She experienced two world wars, an unhappy marriage, political turmoil, and exile. From 1934-1944, she lost her father, King Albert, and her sisters-in-law, Queen Astrid of Belgium and Princess Mafalda of Savoy; in 1992, she lost her grandson, Rafael, and, in 1999, her son-in-law, Luis Reyna Corvalan. All died in an untimely and tragic manner.

Marie-José's first, and probably most traumatic, personal tragedy was the death of her father, King Albert I on February 17, 1934. The terrible news reached Marie-José the next morning. She and her husband, Prince Umberto, were enjoying a pleasant conversation over breakfast; the couple were exceptionally happy, as Marie-José, after four years of marriage, was finally expecting her first child. Suddenly, Umberto was called to the telephone. When he returned, grave and pale, he told Marie-José that her father had suffered a serious mountaineering accident. He did not, at first, dare to tell her that Albert had actually been killed. Faced, however, with her anxious, insistent questioning, Umberto finally let his wife know, with great tenderness, that all hope was lost (Regolo, p. 140). "Struck by the suddenness of the shock," Marie-José would later write, "I could not take in the extent of my misfortune. Immobility was intolerable to me, I kept walking up and down. Umberto remained at my side, trying to comfort me." Yet she was too shocked to attend to his words, or even to weep.

To many, it seemed incredible that King Albert, one of the most prudent and accomplished alpinists of his generation, a man who had conquered high peaks, should have been killed climbing the modest "Cliff of the Good God," at Marche-les-Dames. In her memoirs, Marie-José recalled her reaction: "A mountaineering accident in Belgium- how was this possible?" The inquest concluded that a rock grasped by the King had unexpectedly given way, hurling him into the void, and that he had shattered his skull against the rocks below.

Albert's death was a terrible human tragedy - the grisly destruction of a noble man. It was also a political tragedy. The Belgian royal house lost one of its most gifted and prestigious members. Only six years later, political figures would unleash a storm of calumny against Albert's son, the younger, less well-known, less experienced, and more vulnerable Leopold III, eventually forcing his abdication and permanently weakening the Belgian monarchy. Since the monarchy was one of the chief unifying strengths of the country, this seriously harmed Belgium.

While Marie-José surely appreciated the political aspects of Albert's death, she lost, above all, a father she had, from childhood, deeply loved and admired. Their relationship had been close; in addition to a tender family affection, they had shared a profound intellectual friendship rooted in common historical, political, and philosophical interests. For these reasons, the blow was especially cruel.

Another tragic aspect of the situation was the proliferation of malevolent (and surprisingly persistent) rumors concerning Albert's death. Suspicions of foul play rapidly arose, and these were turned against the dead King and his grieving family. The unfortunate lack of clarity in the judicial inquest gave rise to insinuations that the royal family had prevented a thorough investigation in order to suppress a damaging truth. What might this be? A host of theories sprang up. Some insidiously attacked Leopold, by contending, for instance, that Hitler had arranged Albert's assassination because he judged his son more pliable. Others subtly undermined, or openly assaulted, Albert's own reputation. For example, some claimed he had committed suicide in a fit of depression. Others suggested that the French secret service had murdered him, suspecting him of disloyalty to his French allies. Still others, without any proof, claimed he was a multiple adulterer, killed by a jealous rival.

Marie-José must have been deeply pained by the rumors, which repeatedly flared up through the decades. Leopold, for his part, was certainly annoyed, although he admitted, and regretted, the inadequacies of the inquest into his father's death (Verwilghen, p. 286). In her memoirs, Marie-José recalls the grief and indignation of her aunt, Princess Henriette, when scandalous stories were spread about Albert's (and Henriette's) older brother, Baudouin, following his own untimely death. "How could they launch... these tragic and painful lies?" Henriette had written. Marie-José must have been similarly outraged by the attacks upon her father's reputation.

In any case, they were certainly outrageous. No mere propagandist, but, rather, the heroic and saintly Abbot of Orval, an intimate of King Albert, praised him, in the highest terms, as a good head of the family, devoted to inculcating, in his children, integrity and abnegation, as a noble head of state, deeply concerned for justice, and, most importantly, as a great Christian, who strove, at all times, to maintain a clear conscience. To launch treacherous, cruel and vulgar attacks against such a man, especially after he had died so tragically, seems horrible.

Sadly, Albert's death was followed, on August 29, 1935, by that of his daughter-in-law, Queen Astrid, in a car accident in Switzerland. On a mountain road in Küssnacht, Leopold lost control of the vehicle, which plunged down a ravine. Both Leopold and Astrid were hurled out of the car, and the Queen's skull was shattered, just as King Albert's had been. Astrid's death, like Albert's, weighed heavily on the history of the Belgian monarchy. Again, the royal house lost one of its most beloved members. During her life, Astrid's popularity had been a tremendous asset to her husband; after her death, propagandists would manipulate her image to discredit him.

Her sister-in-law's tragic death, occurring so soon after that of her father, was certainly a terrible blow to Marie-José. She later told the touching story of her visit to the Italian mystic, Padre Pio, shortly before World War II. Still grieving over the loss of her father and sister-in-law, Marie-José was comforted by her meeting with Padre Pio. They spoke at length about Albert and Astrid, and the priest, "as if he could see them," said: "They are close to God" (Regolo, pp. 172-173).

Astrid was not the only sister-in-law Marie-José would lose tragically. During the fascist period, Umberto's sister, the lovely and kind-hearted Princess Mafalda, had been married to Prince Philip of Hesse, who served as an intermediary between Mussolini and Hitler (although it is said that he also aided Jewish friends to escape to the Netherlands). Mafalda, for her part, incurred Hitler's enmity by attempting to defend the Jews. During World War II, after Italy joined the Allies, Hitler took revenge on the unfortunate Princess. Deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp and fatally wounded in an air-raid, she died in August, 1944. Her family were devastated, and Marie-José was deeply grieved; Mafalda had been her dearest friend in the House of Savoy."What a cruel destiny!" she later recalled, "Poor Mafalda!" (Regolo p. 145)

Marie-José's old age was marked by more family sorrows. On April 24, 1992, she lost her favorite grandson, Rafael, who fell to his death under mysterious circumstances. The son of her youngest daughter, Maria Beatrice, and her husband, the Argentinian diplomat, Luis Reyna Corvalan, Rafael was a talented, intellectual young man, studying at the University of Boston. Marie-José and Rafael had enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship; they shared deep philosophical interests. "He was a unique boy, extraordinarily sensitive", the Queen sadly remembered, "like my father, he had an innate sense of the religious and the transcendent. Why did everything have to end? He was so young" (Regolo p. 186). According to Maria Beatrice, "(my mother) suffered greatly over my son's death...Perhaps, only when her father... died, did she suffer in the same way. With both, she had a deep, visceral bond. And, by a tragic destiny, my grandfather, too...died falling from a great height" (Regolo, p. 185).

Marie-José, too, bore many crosses; and, by all accounts, with great dignity and fortitude. May she, and her tragically lost loved ones, rest in peace.


Marie-José, Queen, Consort of Umberto II, King of Italy. Albert et Elisabeth de Belgique, mes parents. 1971.

Mallieux, René. Le Roi Albert Alpiniste. 1956.

Regolo, Luciano. La regina incompresa: tutto il racconto della vita di Maria José di Savoia. 2002.

Sparre, Anna. Astrid mon amie. 2005.

Vanwelkenhuyzen, Jean. Les gâchis des années 30: 1933-1937. 2008.

Verwilghen, Michel. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal. 2006.

Weber, Patrick. Amours royales et princières: mariages, liaisons, passions, et trahisons de la cour de Belgique. 2006.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prayer Request

Please pray for a relative of mine, who seems to be dying.  

God bless. 

Monday, May 25, 2009


Memorare, o piissima Virgo Maria,
non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia,
tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, 
esse derelictum.
Ego tali animatus confidentia,
ad te, Virgo Virginum, Mater, curro,
ad te venio, coram te gemens peccator assisto.
Noli, Mater Verbi,
verba mea despicere,
sed audi propitia et exaudi.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection,
implored Thy aid or sought Thy intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, 
I fly unto thee, Virgin of Virgins, my Mother;
to Thee do I come, before Thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful,
despise not my petitions, but in Thy clemency, hear and answer me.

The Belgians' Last Stand, 1940

On May 24-25, 1940, the last, desperate phase of the Belgians' 18-day campaign against the invading Nazis began. Despite rapidly diminishing resources, and (due to the Allies' own desperate situation), inadequate support, the Belgians mounted, on the River Lys, a valiant resistance to the final, brutal wave of German assaults. On May 28, the Belgians would be forced to capitulate, but their heroism had nonetheless played an important role in enabling the British to evacuate many of the troops through Dunkirk. 

As the Belgians prepared for their last stand, King Leopold III issued an inspiring order of the day to his army. It became famous, especially for the King's promise to share the fate of his troops. Although he foresaw the Belgians' imminent capitulation, Leopold refused to follow his government into exile. Rather, hoping to assist his army and people, he insisted on remaining in Belgium. 

La grande bataille qui nous attendait a commencé. Elle sera rude. Nous la conduirons de toutes nos forces, avec une suprême énergie. 

Elle se livra sur le terrain où, en 1914, nous avons tenu victorieusement tête à l'envahisseur. 

Soldats, la Belgique attend que vous fassiez honneur à son drapeau. 

Officers, Soldats,

Quoi qu'il arrive, mon sort sera le vôtre. Je demande à tous de la discipline, de la fermeté, de la confiance. Notre cause est juste et pure. La Providence nous aidera.

Vive la Belgique! 


The great battle that awaited us has commenced. It will be brutal. We will conduct it with all our forces, with a supreme energy. 

It will take place on the ground where, in 1914, we victoriously resisted the invader. 

Soldiers, Belgium expects you to do honor to her flag. 

Officers, Soldiers, 

Whatever happens, my fate will be yours. I ask of everyone discipline, firmness, and confidence. Our cause is just and pure. Providence will aid us. 

Long live Belgium! 

A day-by-day account of the Belgian campaign, by the British liaison officer, Admiral Roger Keyes, may be found here. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

War Stories of Albert I

Many anecdotes illustrate the noble and endearing personality of King Albert I. Here are a few, from 1914-1918.

In 1917, the heroic Flemish army chaplain, Father de Groote, wounded many times during World War I, was eagerly returning (without authorization) to the front after a period in the hospital. On his way, he met the King. Later, in 1934, the priest told the story: 

Après plusieurs mois passés à l'hôpital, nous nous en étions evadés pour rejoindre nos régiments. On nous porta en déserteurs pour avoir quitté sans permission! En passant devant le Quartier Général de la Division Jacques, nous y entrâmes tous joyeux. "Mon Général, me voilà rendu à la liberté!" quand nous aperçûmes le Roi dans un coin de la chambre. Confondus nous nous excusâmes et bien vite nous nous rendîmes dans le parc. Le Roi avec le Général nous y rejoignit et nous prenant familièrement par le bras fit avec nous quelques tours du jardin. "Mon Père, je vous défend d'être encore blessé, vous l'avez été cinq fois, cela suffit. Du reste, la reine doit vous l'avoir déja dit. Mais je voudrais vous demander quelque chose, me promettez-vous de me l'accorder?

Comme le Roi venait de parler de prudence nous nous disions interieurement: "si on me demandait de passer à l'arrière, de quitter le front... serais obligé de refuser."

"Cela dépend Sire, de ce que Sa Majesté me demandera. Si elle parlait d'abandonner le front..."

"Oh! Soyez tranquille, mon Père, vous pouvez m'accorder ce que je vous demande. Je suis du reste certain que déjà vous le faites. Je voudrais vous demander de dire tous les jours une prière spéciale pour moi, pour la reine, et pour les enfants.""Evidemment Sire, c'est accordé." 
After several months spent at the hospital, we escaped to rejoin our regiments. We were taken for deserters, for leaving without permission! As we passed by the General Headquarters of the Jacques Division, we went in, full of joy. "General, here I am, restored to liberty!" Suddenly we caught sight of the King in a corner of the room. Embarrassed, we excused ourselves and quickly withdrew into the park. The King, with the General, rejoined us there, and, taking us familiarly by the arm, took several turns with us about the garden."Father, I forbid you to be wounded again, you have been injured five times, that is enough. In any case, the Queen must have already told you so. But I would like to ask you for a favor, do you promise you will grant it to me?"

As the King had just been speaking of prudence, we thought to ourselves: "if I were asked to retreat, to leave the front...then... then... I would be obliged to refuse." 

"That depends, Sire, on what the King may ask. If he spoke of abandoning the front..."

"Oh! Rest assured, Father, you may grant me what I ask. In fact, I am sure you already do it. I would like to ask you to say, every day, a special prayer for me, for the Queen, and for the children." "Of course, Sire, that is agreed." 

In her diary, the Belgian nurse Jeanne de Launoy described a fire at the Ocean military hospital. A number of officers, including the King, arrived to aid in the evacuation of the facility. A comic incident occurred when a stretcher-carrier, his hands full, caught sight of Albert. In the rush and the darkness (the fire broke out during the night), he did not recognize the King, and, with the words: "You have nothing to do - take these," handed him a pile of plates! Albert kindly performed his task. 

Jeanne also told of a tragic Mass at La Panne, at a chapel near the Ocean hospital. A bombardment started during the liturgy. As people fled in panic, officers tried to maintain order. Jeanne turned instinctively to the King, who was present. Although pale, he remained immobile. 127 people were killed or injured in the bombardment; the ambulances and the hospital were filled to overflowing. I am always impressed by Albert's courage on this tragic occasion. 

Just a few stories illustrating his character...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Litany To St. Joseph

Here is a lovely litany to St. Joseph, who happens to be the patron saint of Belgium. 

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Illustrious descendant of David, pray for us.
Light of the patriarchs, pray for us.
Spouse of the Mother of God, pray for us.
Chaste guardian of the Virgin, pray for us.
Foster-father of the Son of God, pray for us.
Careful defender of Christ, pray for us.
Head of the Holy Family, pray for us.
Joseph most just, pray for us.
Joseph most chaste, pray for us.
Joseph most prudent, pray for us.
Joseph most courageous, pray for us.
Joseph most obedient, pray for us.
Joseph most faithful, pray for us.
Mirror of patience, pray for us.
Lover of poverty, pray for us.
Model of laborers, pray for us.
Ornament of home life, pray for us.
Guardian of virgins, pray for us.
Pillar of families, pray for us.
Solace of the miserable, pray for us.
Hope of the sick, pray for us.
Patron of the dying, pray for us.
Terror of demons, pray for us.
Protector of the Holy Church, pray for us.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
V. He hath appointed him master of his house.
R. And the ruler of all his possessions.

Let us pray.

O God, who by an ineffable providence hast deigned to choose Blessed Joseph as the spouse of Thy Most Holy Mother, grant, we beseech Thee, that him whom we venerate on earth as our protector, we may merit to have as our intercessor in heaven: who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.

"Mon devoir, mon métier est d'aider..."

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium was famous for her heroism during World War I. The tragedies of this period weighed heavily on her, yet she remained calm, courageous, cheerful. She was a splendid moral support to her husband, King Albert I, and spared no effort to relieve the sufferings of the war's victims. As she confided to an intimate friend and collaborator, the Countess van den Steen de Jehay: "My duty, my place is to help..." ("Mon devoir, mon métier est d'aider...")

The war was especially tragic for Elisabeth as it divided her from her Bavarian relatives. The strong, affectionate unity that had always characterized her family must have made the separation all the more bitter. Some of the Queen's close relatives, including her brother-in-law, Prince Wilhelm of Urach, were involved in the invasion of Belgium.. One day, when talking to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elisabeth sadly recalled her wedding in Munich in 1900. The officiating Archbishop had proclaimed: "Today, the hearts of Bavarian people beat in unison with those of the Belgian people..." "So far away- those happy days," the Queen remarked, with tears in her eyes. She reportedly told the French writer, Pierre Loti: "An iron curtain has fallen between my family and myself."

Elisabeth had a sensitive and sympathetic heart, and suffered terribly, quite independently of the familial divisions, from the tragedy of the war itself. Her son, Leopold, many years later, recalled her emotion, on the morning she woke her children with the news of the German invasion. The royal couple watched, in impotent horror, as the invading armies conquered most of Belgium, overwhelming the brave, but greatly outmatched, Belgian defenders. Elisabeth was especially distressed by the often brutal treatment of Belgian civilians. Tales of German atrocities, were, of course, greatly exaggerated in Allied propaganda, but undeniable crimes were committed. According to the American writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, who met the Queen during the war, Elisabeth cried in horror: "It is the women and children! ... It is terrible! There must be killing. That is war. But not this other thing."

Driven from city to city by the invading armies, the royal couple finally settled at La Panne, near the French border, on the sea, in the tiny part (5%) of Belgium free of German occupation. By means of extensive flooding operations, the Belgian army had managed to halt the German advance on the River Yser. In cooperation with the Allies, the Belgians now took up a war of position which would last four years.

 It was an agonizing period for the King and Queen. On the other side of the front, their people suffered under a harsh occupation; and, on their side, the horrors of trench warfare were constantly before their eyes. King Albert came to disapprove not only of German but also of Allied war aims; rather than the total victory sought by many in both camps, he favored a negotiated peace. Yet it was not to be. The King devoted himself to the war, while taking care to avoid unnecessary casualties. The Queen threw all her energy into his support, and into the care and consolation of war victims. The Belgian Chief of Staff, General Galet, praised the Queen's role in striking terms: 
We can admire her inventive zeal, which immediately discovered a field of initiative which was her very own, and from which she never departed, namely, that of providing care to the wounded and moral support to the combatants. 

But, in addition to this helpful activity of a general character, the Queen exercised upon the King, and upon us all, an influence of the most felicitous kind, above all, on bad days. She never lost confidence or good humor, and, however grim the situation was or the future appeared, she always found the words of encouragement capable of bringing comfort. 
After the Battle of the Yser, Elisabeth arranged for the renowned Belgian surgeon, Dr. Antoine Depage, to establish a surgical hospital at La Panne, at a former seaside resort, the Ocean hotel. In his later years, the Queen's father had become a ophthalmologist and opened a clinic, and, as a young girl, Elisabeth had assisted him in his medical practice. Her early training was put to good use at the Océan hospital, where she took an active part in the nursing (on one occasion, she made such an effort in the operating room that she collapsed from exhaustion; the incident only served to increase her popularity among the other nurses). Through her combination of gentleness and valor, Elisabeth became a wonderful support to the patients. She comforted them through her compassionate visits and tender attentions, and made a specialty of caring for the most severely wounded soldiers. She was a very competent nurse, with an exceptionally delicate touch; she became known as la reine aux mains de lumière (the Queen with the hands of light).

Fearlessly brave, the Queen refused, throughout the war, to take refuge far from the front lines. On the contrary, she often visited the trenches. Her life was in danger even at the hospital, exposed to enemy bombardments. Yet she was always impatient of attempts to hurry her out of danger. "I do not know what it means to feel afraid," she declared, adding that those she admired were people who felt fear, yet persevered in their task.

In addition to her work on behalf of combatants, Elisabeth strove to alleviate the sufferings of the children caught up in the war. At her personal expense, she created a children's refuge at Vinckem, where war orphans and other displaced children were welcomed. Down to the slightest details, she took great care over their living quarters, education, and health care. She insisted that they receive a religious education, that Flemish (rather than simply French) be spoken, and that the strictest hygiene be practiced. Orphanages in Belgium tended to dress children in black, because they were "in mourning," but the Queen insisted that the orphans at Vinckem be allowed to wear cheerful colors. Thanks to her, they could play happily.

These are only a few of the Queen's humanitarian initiatives during World War I. Wherever possible, she strove to help those in need and in anguish, and, by all accounts, she did so with rare modesty and simplicity. Belgium owes a great deal to this heroic woman.

The Queen on her way to the trenches

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sonian Forest

A view of the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes/Zonienwoud) , in the Brussels region. (Credits). 
A winter sunset in the forest. (Credits)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Queen Fabiola Murder Threat

The Royal Forums and The Mad Monarchist report on a letter sent last Tuesday to the Belgian newspaper, "La Derniere Heure," threatening Queen Fabiola (widow of King Baudouin I) with assassination by crossbow on the Belgian National Day, July 21. The rather incoherent letter, written in very poor French, was written using an old typewriter, and bore a stamp from the 1930's with an image of King Albert I. The author claimed to be speaking on behalf of a radical group. The case is under investigation. 

Very shocking and bizarre. I hope and pray for the safety of Queen Fabiola and the Belgian royal family.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Political Testament: Part VIII

In the eighth section of his Political Testament, King Leopold III insisted upon solemn reparation from his ministers, who had unjustly accused him of treason at the time of the Belgian capitulation in 1940. Leopold's demand has often been viewed as a sign of obstinacy and arrogance, and as a fatal political mistake. It certainly did arouse great opposition to the King among politicians unwilling to repudiate past errors. Nonetheless, I do not consider his tone in this passage to be arrogant, but merely firm and dignified. His concerns for the honor of the dynasty and country seem entirely legitimate.
Il n'est point de patriote que ne tourmente le souvenir de certains discours prononcés à la tribune du monde entier, par lesquels des ministres belges se sont permis, à des heures exceptionellement critiques, où la sauvegarde de la dignité nationale imposait une extrême circonspection, de proférer précipitamment des imputations de la plus haute gravité contre la conduite de notre Armée et les actes de son chef. 

Ces accusations qui, dans un aveuglement obstiné, attentaient à l'honneur de nos soldats et de leur commandant en chef, ont causé à la Belgique un préjudice incalculable et difficile à réparer.

On chercherait vainement dans l'histoire pareil exemple d'un gouvernement jetant gratuitement l'opprobre sur son Souverain et sur le drapeau national. Le prestige de la Couronne et l'honneur du pays s'opposent à ce que les auteurs de ces discours exercent quelque autorité que ce soit en Belgique libérée aussi longtemps qu'ils n'auront pas répudié leur erreur et fait réparation solennelle et entière. 

La Nation ne comprendrait ni admettrait que la Dynastie acceptât d'associer à son action des hommes qui lui ont infligé un affront auquel le monde a assisté avec stupeur.

There is no patriot who is not tormented by the memory of certain speeches, pronounced before the entire world, in which Belgian ministers permitted themselves, at exceptionally critical moments, when the safeguarding of national dignity required extreme circumspection, hastily to hurl accusations of the highest gravity against the conduct of our army and the acts of its commander.

These accusations, which, in their obstinate blindness, attacked the honor of our soldiers and of their commander-in-chief, have caused Belgium immeasurable harm, which is difficult to repair. 

One would search in vain for similar examples in history of a government gratuitously casting disgrace upon its Sovereign and the national flag. The prestige of the Crown and the honor of the country forbid that the authors of these speeches exercise any authority whatsoever in liberated Belgium until they repudiate their error and make solemn, full reparation. 

The Nation would neither understand nor accept that the Dynasty should agree to collaborate with men who have inflicted upon it an affront which the world witnessed with astonishment.

Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem (1161-1185)

An article from The Mad Monarchist on another King Baldwin. To quote: 

One of my favorite monarchs of all time was Baldwin IV of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. He was born in 1161 to King Amalric I of Jerusalem and Queen Agnes of Edessa. While playing as a child it was discovered that he had leprosy and thus could not be expected to live a long or happy life. However, even as a boy, he never let his terrible disease get the better of him. When he was only 13 he became King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem with Raymond of Tripoli as his regent. When he became old enough to rule, he ruled well, but even from day one this diseased young boy was a King to admire. In 1174 the barely teenage monarch led his troops in an attack on the Muslim forces threatening Damascus and Andujar. The following year when the great Muslim warrior Sultan Saladin of Egypt attacked Ascalon King Baldwin IV (better known as Baldwin the Leper) took a mere 500 men to march to the defense of the city...(more)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Baudouin I of Belgium: Part II

On December 15, 1960, 9 years after his accession, King Baudouin married the Spanish noblewoman, Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragon. The wedding was magnificent and the mood in Belgium was enthusiastic. Since the tragic death of Baudouin's mother, Astrid, in 1935, the Belgians had lacked a Queen Consort and they were delighted to welcome one again. Fabiola's personal modesty and charm won her great popularity. By all accounts, the marriage was a collaborative and devoted one. Sadly, however, the royal couple remained childless. As she recalled in a recent interview, the Queen suffered five miscarriages. At one point, rumors circulated that the King was seeking an annulment from the Vatican. This, of course, was nonsense, but it surely added to the royal couple's distress.

The wedding celebrations were, perhaps, all the more welcome given the political troubles in the months before the marriage. 1960 had been marked, first of all, by the Congo crisis. From January to February, meetings took place between Belgian government representatives and Congolese politicians. The colony was officially granted independence, and, on June 30, King Baudouin attended the hand-over of power in Kinshasa. The same year, Belgium suffered grave economic, social, and political crises. In Flanders, unemployment rates were high; in Wallonia, the closure of the coal mines provoked severe upheavals. The Belgian government developed a relief program to meet the specific needs of the different regions. The plan was submitted to Parliament in November. Despite these efforts, unrest continued. At the beginning of December, a general strike paralyzed the country. Violence broke out in Wallonia, where the strike was political, aiming at federal reform of Belgium's constitutional structure. Relations between Flanders and Wallonia had always been fragile; this incident, and subsequent events, increasingly amplified tensions. 

 In 1962, a linguistic frontier was drawn between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking regions. In 1963, laws confirmed the principle of unilingualism in regional administration and education. This principle gave rise to severe crises. In 1966, for example, hostility erupted at the University of Leuven, in Flanders. Flemish circles objected to the presence of a French-speaking section of the university, and agitated for its transfer to Wallonia (Walen buiten! or "Walloons out!" was one slogan during the upheavals). The transfer, to the French-speaking town of Ottignies, soon took place. More and more, Belgians were divided into two hostile camps. 

A trend towards "federalism" began. Power increasingly devolved, away from the national government, upon the regions. In 1970, Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens announced that the unitary Belgian state was obsolete and that the regions required greater autonomy. The same year, the Flemish and Walloon communities acquired "cultural autonomy," or the right to exclusive control over cultural affairs in their areas. In 1980, the regions gained sweeping powers over local economy and employment, land use, housing, town and country planning, the environment, and more. In 1988-1989, the prerogatives of the regions and linguistic communities were further increased. The communities acquired control over education and health policy; the regions obtained power over public works, and the right to sole supervision of local authorities. Regional tax-raising powers were continually increased. From 1991-1993, constitutional revisions and special legislation officially redefined Belgium as a "federal state," consisting of communities and regions. The latter's rights and responsibilities, especially in foreign relations, were further expanded. 

Although federalism has worked well in other countries ( eg. the United States, Germany), here it served the purposes of extremists on both sides of the ethnolinguistic divide. Disregarding the Belgians' shared history and political traditions, Flemish and Walloon separatists would continually denigrate their country as an "artificial state," inciting hatred between the communities. The growth of regional power at the expense of the central authority would feed the process of national disintegration. 

Maintaining national unity and harmony became a grave concern for King Baudouin. He constantly reiterated these themes in his speeches. In 1976, for example, he recalled Belgium's motto: "unity makes for strength," and promoted a constructive form of federalism: 

When the founders of an independent Belgium chose that motto, they were well aware of our diversity, and of the necessity to maintain cohesion. They considered that the regions, with their legitimate autonomy, constituted complementary parts of a whole, and should not be envious adversaries. They knew that federating was uniting with acceptance of differences, and not disbanding through confrontation. 

Yet, despite his popularity, (and, surely, the support of many Belgians for his views), Baudouin's ability to halt destructive trends was severely limited. The Belgian kings' freedom of action had always been gravely restricted by the constitution, and the monarchy had been further undermined by the post-war "Royal Question." Leopold III was, in practice, the last King of the Belgians to substantially impact the political process. His interventions, during the 1930's, in the politicians' sphere, have been cited as the underlying reason for his downfall. In an article published, in September, 1993, in La Libre Belgique, entitled "The political world did not forgive the King his concern for the common good and his great political morality," Thomas Maury wrote of Leopold: "The [politicians] did not accept that the King intervened too closely in their sphere of action, and that he reminded them, with insistence and intransigence, of their duties towards the country. And they certainly made him feel it, after the war." This tragic legacy definitively enforced the idea that Belgian kings must "reign but not rule." Baudouin's political role was largely restricted to that of a discreet counselor. 

Nonetheless, Baudouin accomplished a great deal of good. One royal initiative, meriting special attention, is the King Baudouin Foundation. Established in 1976, this organization aims at improving the living conditions of the Belgian people. It undertakes projects and publishes documents relating to fields such as poverty, social exclusion, the environment, the national artistic and architectural heritage, and education. 

Baudouin's politically weak position was highlighted by the abortion crisis in 1990. The Belgian legislature had approved a bill legalizing abortion, and the King was expected to sign it into law. Royal assent to laws passed by parliament had long been viewed as a mere formality, and, in fact, as a regal duty. Yet, Baudouin's religious faith and moral principles forbad him to approve the abortion law. Refusal to sign would provoke a storm of accusations of "undemocratic" behavior, and would risk unleashing a campaign to force his abdication and abolish the monarchy. In this situation, Baudouin's high principles, integrity, and courage shone through. Despite the political dangers of his action, he refused his signature, citing conscientious objections. The government found an expedient of dubious legality by declaring the King "incapable of reigning" for a day ( although "inability to reign" was supposed to refer to physical incapacity, not crises of conscience), assuming regal powers, and ratifying the law.  The episode revealed the monarch's inability to reverse the moral trends of a society which had increasingly departed from its Catholic traditions. 

Only three years after this tragic episode, King Baudouin I died, very suddenly, of a heart attack, while on vacation, with Queen Fabiola, in Spain. He was deeply mourned by the Belgian people; despite the political controversies of his reign, he had retained a high degree of popularity. His successor was his younger brother, Albert, who now reigns as King Albert II.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Baudouin I of Belgium: Part I

Baudouin I (1930-1993) was the fifth King of the Belgians. He possessed the patriotism and high principles of his predecessors, Albert I and Leopold III, yet his reign, tragically, saw Belgium's political and moral decline.

Born Baudouin Albert Charles Leopold Axel Marie Gustave at Stuyvenberg Castle, near Brussels, on September 7, 1930, he was the eldest son of Prince Leopold and Princess Astrid of Belgium. His sister, Josephine-Charlotte, had been born in 1927; his brother, Albert, would follow in 1934. The year of Baudouin's birth coincided with the centenary of Belgian independence. The arrival of the long-awaited royal heir was a joyful event for his family and people. Princess Astrid wrote to a friend proudly announcing the birth, underlining the words "our son" several times. "You understand how happy we are that it is a boy," she wrote,"it is a joy not only for us, but for everyone here in Belgium..."(Sparre, p. 130)

Yet this happy period was soon shattered. On February 17, 1934, Baudouin's grandfather, King Albert I, was killed while climbing the cliffs of Marche-les-Dames. Belgium was plunged into deep mourning, and for Baudouin's parents, this tragedy brought stark new responsibilities. On February 23, Prince Leopold swore his constitutional oath in Brussels, becoming King Leopold III of the Belgians. Queen Astrid attended the ceremony, accompanied by her two eldest children, Josephine-Charlotte and Baudouin (she was expecting her third child, Albert). Leopold concluded his accession speech with the words: "I give myself entirely to Belgium," and Astrid, deeply moved, lifted up 3-year-old Baudouin to offer him to the country. Baudouin was now Crown Prince, and acquired the traditional title of Belgian royal heirs: Duke of Brabant.

On August 29, 1935, another tragedy struck the royal family. Queen Astrid (with her unfortunate husband at the wheel) was killed in a car crash in Küssnacht-am-Rigi, Switzerland. Like King Albert, Queen Astrid had been immensely popular; for a second time, in a year and a half, the Belgians were overwhelmed with shock and grief. King Leopold was left a devastated widower; his children, motherless orphans. As Leopold found it too painful to continue living at Stuyvenberg, filled with memories of Astrid, he moved, with his children, to Laeken. The menacing international situation, in addition to the family tragedies, made the 1930's a very grim period for the royal house.

On May 10, 1940, when Hitler invaded Belgium, the 9-year-old Baudouin and his siblings were sent to safety in France, and, later, Spain. Under desperate circumstances, King Leopold was obliged to surrender to the Nazis on May 28. His action brought slanderous charges of treason from French Premier Paul Reynaud and even Leopold's own ministers, who had fled to France several days before the Belgian capitulation. Leopold effectively became a scapegoat for the Allied disasters in 1940, and French and British newspapers began to vilify him as the "Felon King." It must have been very painful for young Baudouin, who greatly admired his father, to see him so horribly attacked.

On August 2, 1940, Baudouin and his siblings returned to Belgium. Their father was a prisoner of war, held under house arrest at Laeken, but the royal children lived as normal a life as possible under the circumstances. They continued their studies, either at Laeken or at the royal family's country chateau of Ciergnon, until 1944. Meanwhile, in 1941, the King had married Lilian Baels, the daughter of a Flemish politician. Lilian declined the title of Queen, but was styled "Princess of Réthy" and "Princess of Belgium." "She was a ray of sunlight for us all," Leopold later recalled, and this was certainly true for his children, who now had a warm, affectionate, and vivacious step-mother. The royal couple encouraged the children to take part in various healthful activities on the family estates; in fishing, farm work, and riding. At one point, Lilian arranged a Christmas play for the children, with her infant son, Alexandre, in the role of the baby Jesus. Baudouin and his siblings developed a deep attachment to the Princess.

In June, 1944, the period of the Allied landings in Europe, the Nazis deported King Leopold to Germany. Almost immediately afterwards, they ordered the deportation of Leopold's wife and children. Princess Lilian and the Queen Mother, Elisabeth, protested vigorously, but in vain. It was a frightening moment; Baudouin left a letter to a friend discussing his family's imminent deportation."It is terrible," he wrote, "but circumstances require it... Farewell, until we meet again, I hope." Guarded by the SS, Lilian, the four royal children, and a few members of their entourage began a harrowing journey to Germany. They were kept in ignorance of Leopold's fate and their own destination. At one point, the Nazis wanted to separate Baudouin and Albert from the rest of the family. Lilian's vehement protests, however, finally prevailed, and the Nazis allowed the royal party to continue traveling together. They eventually reached their destination, the grim fortress of Hirchstein, where they found King Leopold. They would later be transferred to Strobl in Austria.

The prisoners' conditions were harsh, and their diet was insufficient. Leopold and Lilian homeschooled the royal children, and the family tried to remain calm and composed despite the constant fear that they would be murdered by the SS as a vindictive measure on Hitler's part. At one point, a Nazi official presented Lilian with a box of blue pills, claiming they were nutritional supplements, and encouraging her to distribute them to the whole family. Lilian was duly suspicious and did not take the pills or give them to anyone else. She kept them, however, and later, the pills were tested and found to contain cyanide.

The rescue of Leopold and his family by American troops, in May, 1945, ended the nightmare of captivity. Yet, another painful period began, that of the "Belgian Royal Question." Falsely accused of collaboration with the Nazis, Leopold was prevented from returning to Belgium upon his liberation. The royal family left Austria in October, 1945, and moved to the villa "Le Reposoir" in Prégny, Switzerland. They would remain there until July, 1950. During this period, Baudouin attended high school in Geneva. In 1948, he traveled to the United States. Meanwhile, in Belgium, a commission of inquiry had exonerated his father of treason, but agitation against the King continued. Leopold's "inability to reign," originally due to his captivity, was artificially prolonged by his political enemies.

On July 22, 1950, King Leopold, reinstated by plebiscite in his royal prerogatives, was finally allowed to return to Belgium. Baudouin and his brother, Albert, accompanied their father. Leopold's return, however, sparked further violent agitation and, to preserve the peace, the King asked the government and parliament to delegate his powers to Baudouin. On August 11, Baudouin assumed the King's powers and became known as the "Prince Royal." The following year, Leopold abdicated in his son's favor. It was a tragic moment for Baudouin. Deeply loyal to his father, he painfully felt Leopold's humiliation. Baudouin embraced him and promised: "I will do everything to show myself worthy of being your son." He swore his accession oath on July 17, 1951.

At 21, after a traumatic youth, and inadequate preparation, Baudouin became the fifth King of the Belgians. His reign would see the deterioration of relations between Flanders and Wallonia, increasing national disunity, and the loss of Belgium's traditional religious and moral values. Despite his high principles, Baudouin, hampered by severe political restraints, would be unable to halt these trends.


Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation. 1987.
Désire, Claude and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête. 2005.
Dujardin, Vincent, van den Wijngaert, Mark, et. al. Léopold III. 2001.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi: Léopold III, 1940-1951. 1986.
Sparre, Anna. Astrid mon amie. 2005.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Accession of Umberto II & Marie-José

Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the accession of King Umberto II and his Belgian-born wife, Queen Marie-José, to the Italian throne. On May 9, 1946, Umberto's father, King Victor Emmanuel III, discredited for his perceived compliance with the fascist regime of Mussolini, abdicated in his son's favor. Only weeks later, on June 12, 1946, the Italian monarchy would be abolished (following a plebiscite on June 2), and the House of Savoy would be on the road to exile. The brief reign of Umberto and Marie-José earned them the nicknames of "May King" and "May Queen." 

Upon her accession, Marie-José was highly skeptical about the monarchy's future, but hoped, nonetheless, to be able to assist her people, emerging from the devastation of World War II. With her husband's collaboration, she prepared a moving address to the Italian women; it reveals her ideals and goals during this period. Political circumstances prevented Marie-José from delivering the address, but it shows her great love of her people and her strong sense of royal duty. I think she would have made a wonderful Queen Consort; it is a pity her reign was so brief.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen

I have recently discovered a fascinating new blog, Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen by Little Miss Sunnydale. I encourage all my readers to take a look at this promising site!

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day

A May Queen in 1887. (Photo courtesy of New Westminster Public Library)

Happy 1st of May!

The Royal Mounted Escort

The Mad Monarchist has an interesting article on the Belgian kings' ceremonial guards. To quote:

Since independence the Belgian royals have been protected by a mounted escort during public outings and to this day the Royal Mounted Escort provides unmatched pomp and color on Belgian royal occasions. The ceremonial guard is today filled by members of the Federal Police General Reserves. The guard consists of 132 men and all ride home bred Belgian horses. Even horse color is kept uniform, varying with the duties each group of troopers is attached to. In the lead of the column is always the "front arrow" which consists of 3 detective inspectors who carry their lances horizontally to show that the monarch is present. 14 trumpet musicians come next, all on grey horses. The first company of two troops rides next followed by the standard-bearer of the Royal Mounted Escort who rides directly in front of the monarch flanked by two guards...(more)