Friday, July 31, 2009

In Memoriam: King Baudouin I of the Belgians

July 31, 2009 marks the 16th anniversary of the death of King Baudouin I (1930-1993). After reigning for 42 years, he died of a heart attack, while on vacation with Queen Fabiola in Motril, Spain. A national icon, widely admired for his integrity, devotion to duty, and unassuming ways, he was deeply mourned by the Belgian people.

May his soul rest in peace.

Defiant Queen

A hilarious story of Dowager Queen Fabiola's humorous and brave stand against repeated death threats on Belgium's National Day.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Talk With Princess Henriette

In her memoirs, Marie-José, daughter of King Albert I, quotes a letter from her father to his wife, Elisabeth, written during their engagement. "After you," he told her, "I love my sisters most." Both were certainly very lovable souls, devoted to religion, family and country. I came across a wartime interview with Albert's eldest sister, Princess Henriette, Duchess of Vendôme. Like her sister-in-law, Queen Elisabeth, Henriette worked valiantly during World War I to relieve the sufferings of combatants and noncombatants alike. I do encourage everyone to read the interview, Henriette seems so staunch, loyal, charming, maternal and tender. To illustrate her character, I wanted to include this message, from 1914. The Princess thanked the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, and pleaded for more aid for her people:
I gladly accept your invitation to become patroness of the Women's Section of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium. I know that I speak for every Belgian woman and child when I say that we thank God for what you are doing. Now that the extremity of our distress is becoming known, we feel sure that the tender hearts of the women of America will respond to our cry.

Food is terribly needed by millions of my brave brother's unhappy subjects, who still remain in their native land. Before Winter is over the need will become still more desperate. In the name of the suffering women and little children of Belgium, I ask the women of America to help us.

A few memories of a tragic yet heroic period in Belgian history, in anticipation of the upcoming 95th anniversary of the war...and a tribute to those refined, yet amazingly strong royal ladies of old.

Parents of Queen Marie-Henriette

I have posted before on Marie-Henriette (1836-1902), unhappy consort of King Leopold II of the Belgians. Here are portraits of her parents, Archduke Joseph of Austria, Palatine of Hungary, and his third wife, Maria Dorothea of Württemberg.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Anne Boleyn Files

A while back, I came across an intriguing blog, The Anne Boleyn Files by Claire Ridgway. The author describes herself as:
...a full-time freelance writer, closet history lover, armchair historian and champion of the underdog, from England - land of the Tudors, Shakespeare, green fields and yummy fish and chips.
Of course, as a Catholic, I take Catherine of Aragon's part in the divorce controversy, and she is one of my favorite historical heroines, a great and, ultimately, I  believe, saintly Queen. Yet, Anne was certainly a pivotal figure in English history. For all her faults, she was also an elegant, intelligent, witty and brave woman. Claire Ridgway has a talent for treating controversial topics in an engaging and entertaining fashion and stimulating lively discussions. While sympathetic to Anne, she is not blindly so, and I think her efforts to grasp the truth of an enigmatic character who has inspired such violently contrasting verdicts (monster? beauty? whore? witch? Protestant martyr?) are commendable. I encourage my readers to look at this site, it is a fascinating read.

Portrait of Prince Charles

A portrait of Prince Charles of Belgium (1903-1983), younger brother of King Leopold III.

A Tender Father

After the tragic loss of his wife, Queen Astrid, King Leopold III of the Belgians had to try to be both father and mother to his children... despite his many public obligations.

His eldest daughter, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, also attempted, courageously, to take care of her younger siblings, Baudouin and Albert. But she was only a child herself.

Queen Elisabeth did her best, lavishing affection on her grand-children, but it would take Leopold's remarriage with Lilian Baels, who proved to be a devoted step-mother to the royal children, to restore the family circle.

Yet, Leopold is reproached for marrying during the war, when the Belgians were suffering. He is accused of selfishly valuing his own happiness more than that of his people. Were there no other wartime weddings in Belgium? How did the marriage harm the people? Leopold and Lilian were married with great discretion, as befitted the somber and tragic times. It is not as though they indulged in feasting and revelry.

There is no doubt that the royal children would have suffered profound psychological damage, in the atmosphere of anxiety and insecurity during the Nazi occupation, and, particularly, in the traumatic period of captivity in Germany, without maternal care and affection. Lilian's vigilance, in fact, protected the family from many dangers, during their deportation by the SS and subsequent imprisonment under harsh conditions in an insalubrious German fortress (see HERE and HERE). Belgium owes her a great deal, since she played an essential role in safeguarding the lives and mental equilibrium of the King and the heirs to the throne.

The King's remarriage was not a selfish act, but an important one for the good of his family and country. He was a tender father and a responsible ruler.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Poem by Queen Elisabeth

As I have mentioned before, Einstein (perhaps surprisingly) was a close friend of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. He shared with the Queen a passion for classical music, and enjoyed discussing political and philosophical issues with the King. Many fascinating and touching letters between Einstein and the royal couple testify to the depth of their mutual regard (for example, see HERE). The King and Queen were both very anxious for Einstein's safety in the face of Nazi persecution. When he spent time at the seaside resort of Le Coq, Belgium, in 1933, Albert insisted on providing him with two bodyguards to protect him day and night.

Einstein and Elisabeth enjoyed exchanging rhymed greetings. Here is one, dated March 15, 1933, by the Queen. Playing on the scientist's name, (ein stein = "one stone") she alluded to her fears for his safety. Einstein had previously written her a poem, regretting his inability to visit the royal couple. He had compared himself to a tree:

It sends- its greetings to convey-
A twig, for it itself must stay.

The Queen's reply, I think, is very charming:

The twig the greeting did convey
From the tree that had to stay,
And from the friend, whose heart so big
Could send great joy by tiny twig.
A thousand thanks aloud I cry
Unto mountain, sea and sky.
Now, when stones begin to shake,
I pray ONE STONE no harm will take.

(cited in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, 1981, p. 49)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Videos of Queen Astrid

Slideshow of old photographs, beginning with Astrid's youth.

Newsreel of Astrid, the tragic accident in Küssnacht, and the Queen's funeral in Brussels. (With the Hail Mary sung beautifully in Latin).

It is terribly sad that she died so young, but, in a way, she was spared the evils to come (World War II, the Royal Question). I wonder, though, if Belgium's history would have been any different, if she had lived longer (the same question can be asked about King Albert I). Any thoughts?

Princess Elisabeth of Belgium

Here, we see HRH Princess Elisabeth of Belgium with her little sister, Princess Eleonore. Born October 25, 2001, Elisabeth Thérèse Marie Hélène is the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Brabant, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium. She was named after her great-great-grandmother, the talented and heroic Queen Elisabeth, consort of King Albert I. Due to the abolition of the Salic law in 1991, she is second in line to the throne after her father, heir of the reigning monarch, King Albert II. Thus, she takes precedence over her younger brothers, Gabriel and Emmanuel. When, (God willing!), she ascends the throne, Elisabeth will be Belgium's first Queen Regnant.

Although, as the heir of the Duke of Brabant, Elisabeth ought to have been titled "Count(ess) of Hainaut," the issue created political controversy (even before her birth), as the French "Hainaut" was not considered linguistically neutral. (In Dutch the county is "Henegouwen"). Due to the disputes, a royal decree (sadly, in my opinion) abolished the traditional title of the second-in-line to the throne. (I have to say I think it would have made more sense simply to use both Dutch and French versions of the title).

Since September, 2004, Princess Elisabeth has been studying (in Dutch) at the Sint Jan-Berchmans College in Brussels. It is the first time that a future Belgian monarch's education has begun in Dutch. The little girl has already been appearing at public functions, and a Belgian scientific base in Antarctica, inaugurated February 15, 2009, is named in her honor.

I wish this future Queen a happy, long life and reign.

More photos HERE.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Survey Results

I took down this week's poll early, as it was giving a strange error message, somehow Google was reading it as an automated malware function. I noticed the same problem with the poll at Wilson Revolution Unplugged. Some technical mix-up, undoubtedly, but I was worried Google might decide this whole site was infected with sinister software. The issue seems to be resolved at Mr. Baltzersen's blog, but now I have already taken my poll down, alas.

In any case, the question was: who is your favorite Queen of the Belgians? There were 3 total votes, all for Astrid (1905-1935), first wife of King Leopold III. I would have liked more votes, but I suspect they would have all been for Astrid. She was known to be the most beloved Belgian royal consort, the original "Queen of Hearts."

A Forgotten Queen

Catherine of Braganza, long-suffering wife of Charles II of England.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cléo de Merode

Cleopatra Diane de Merode was a famous Parisian dancer of Belgian noble descent. In the rumor mill, she was romantically linked with King Leopold II of the Belgians, but the gossip was unsubstantiated. She was born in 1875. At the age of 8, she entered the Opera School of Ballet in Paris, made her professional debut at 11, and soon became a rising star. She was also a reigning beauty, pioneering a new hairstyle that rapidly became the height of fashion (Belgian King Albert I later playfully joked about it). She attracted many admirers, and gained the reputation of a courtesan.

During the 1890's, rumors flared up that the aging Leopold II, who had many mistresses, had fallen in love with the charming young ballerina. Satirical drawings mocked the pair, and the King was dubbed "Cléopold." The Belgian monarch was fairly indifferent to scandal, but poor Cléo was mortified. She vehemently denied the allegations, even launching a court case to clear her name. Those familiar with the King's private life (such as Xavier Paoli, an agent of the French police who protected Leopold during his visits to France) likewise dismissed the gossip. In his memoirs, Paoli told an amusing story of Leopold meeting Cléo, (after the rumors had already circulated widely), for the first time. "Allow me to express my regrets," the King told her, " if the good fortune people attribute to me has offended you at all. Alas, we no longer live in an age when a king's favor was not looked upon as compromising! Besides, I am only a little king."

Unfortunately, the reputation of the royal mistress pursued Cléo for the rest of her life. Nonetheless, her career continued brilliantly, as she won acclaim for her performances across Europe and the United States. At the height of her popularity, she took the risk of dancing at the Folies Bergères, a taboo for elite dancers. She attracted a whole new audience. Meanwhile, her beauty inspired painters Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustav Klimt, Charles Puyo and Alfredo Muller, and the sculptor Alexandre Falguière. She was considered one of the most glamorous women of her time, even appearing on postcards and playing cards. In 1955, she published her memoirs, Le Ballet de ma Vie, again attempting to defend her reputation. She passed away in 1966.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Banners of France

A lovely new blog, Et Lux In Tenebris Lucet!, has kindly provided a fascinating history of traditional French flags.

Part I, HERE.

Part II, HERE.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Belgian National Day

On this day in 1831, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha swore his constitutional oath, becoming the first King of the Belgians. This anniversary has been commemorated as Belgium's national day ever since.

Long live Belgium!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Feminine Queen

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium was once described as "the most feminine female since Marie-Antoinette." Delicate and loving, devoted to home and family, she seemed a model of womanly refinement, domesticity and tenderness. Today, many portray these ideals as a way of enfeebling and enslaving women. Yet, here was a bold, independent spirit, a powerful mind, a daring horsewoman, an intrepid mountaineer and a valiant war heroine who was, nonetheless, intensely feminine, and, first and foremost, a wife and mother.

Countless testimonies bring to life a petite, refined, slender, nimble, youthful figure. Unlike her aunt, the famous Empress Sissi, Elisabeth of Belgium was never a stunning beauty. Yet, she achieved striking loveliness through her charm, dignity, and grace. With her intellectual interests, her poetic personality, her passion for art and music, she entranced her intimates. Lively and learned, she was blessed, in one contemporary's words, with "the charm of the mistresses of the famous French salons without their vice." Illustrious for her virtue, she combined blithe, unconstrained manners with pure morals. With her deep, innate sense of propriety and delicacy, she was offended by the slightest innuendo. Even Leopold II, notorious for his scandalous living, and no paragon of refinement in his own circle, took care to avoid any hint of coarseness in Elisabeth's presence.

Like all the Wittelsbachs, Elisabeth was a free spirit, imaginative, independent and unconventional. Yet she excelled in the traditional roles of a royal consort. There is no doubt that she viewed herself, first and foremost, as the wife of her beloved Albert. Shortly before his accession to the throne, she wrote to him: "You deserve to have a wife who lives for you, which is what I will try to do all my life." From her first meeting with the tall, handsome, modest and gentle young man, a passionate affection and admiration sprang up in her heart. Elisabeth had barely made Albert's acquaintance when she confided to her aunt, the Queen of Naples: "I will marry no one but him!" (Siccardi, p. 14). During their engagement, she showered him with letters of rapturous devotion. "If only I could enter this letter, and, when you open it, leap up to your neck and kiss you, "wild," passionately, my dearest Albert," she once wrote (Regolo p. 16). "...I adore you and I love you with my whole being...I would leap through fire and water for you." (Siccardi, p. 18) She was deeply impressed by his noble character. Mary Roberts Rinehart, an American reporter who visited the Queen during World War I, relates that Elisabeth, in response to German criticism of Albert's conduct at the beginning of the war, cried: "Anyone who knows King Albert knows he cannot do a wrong thing. It is impossible for him. He cannot go any way but straight!"

The royal couple's children, King Leopold III of Belgium and Queen Marie-José of Italy, testified that their parents' profound love endured throughout their marriage (see HERE and HERE). The Russian sculptress Catherine Barjansky, an intimate of the royal family during the 1920's and 1930's, recalled Albert and Elisabeth as a deeply devoted and happy couple (see HERE and HERE). Their love, in fact, endured even beyond death. Albert's tragic loss plunged Elisabeth into devastating, numbing grief. Refusing food and comfort, isolating herself from the world, she took to wandering outside on chilly, damp nights. Fearing for her precarious health, people tried to persuade her to come inside, but she impatiently responded: "Let me be. If I fall ill, so much the better. I want to die, I want to go to my Albert" (Regolo, p. 141). After the tragic death of her daughter-in-law, Queen Astrid, Elisabeth forced herself to rally, to support her grieving son, King Leopold, and assist his motherless children. Yet, throughout her life, Albert remained her inspiration. Many years after his death, she confided to her daughter, Marie-José: "Ever since the cruel separation from your father, I have not been able to live a single day, without his memory being present to me, and everything I have done, I have done out of fidelity to his memory."

Elisabeth's love for Albert also embraced his children. She was a devoted mother, especially to her eldest son, Leopold. While others, he recalled, might remember Elisabeth as a war heroine, or a great patroness of the arts, he would always think of her, above all, as a true mother. For Leopold, Elisabeth was a mother "in the noblest sense of the term, one who, throughout her entire life, would assist, protect, and love me." She fiercely defended him from the false accusations of treason during World War II and the Royal Question. During his post-war exile, she wrote him letters filled with tender maternal love. On one occasion, she sent him a poignant birthday greeting: "My dear Léop. Once again I will not be with you for your birthday. I will be thinking of you! What a memory! One of the most beautiful of my life, hearing the first cry of my first child! You were so pretty, and later, so handsome!" She was a loving mother to her people, too, working selflessly, during World War I, to alleviate the sufferings of combatants and noncombatants alike.

A tragic, yet deeply moving story epitomizes all Elisabeth's delicate, tender, yet valiant femininity. When King Albert's broken body, covered in blood and mud, was brought back to Laeken from the tragic cliffs of Marche-les-Dames, his entourage feared it would be too heartbreaking for Elisabeth to see him before his body had been washed and his wounds covered. So, at first, nobody dared tell the Queen of the King's death. Finally, a courtier arrived and broke the terrible news. Stunned with shock, Elisabeth froze and closed her eyes. At last, she rallied and asked to see the King. When she found that he had already been prepared for his lying-in-state, she was furious: "It was the last service I could render him!"


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

Dumont, Georges-Henri, and Dauven, Myriam. Elisabeth de Belgique, où les défis d'une reine. 1986.

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

Siccardi, Cristina. Maria José, Umberto di Savoia. 2004.

"The Solid Respectability of the New King of the Belgians," in Current Literature, v. 48, edited by Edward Wheeler, New York, 1910, pp. 158-162.

The Belgian Kings

In his memoirs, Robert Capelle, former secretary of Leopold III, quotes Paul Crockaert, a Belgian defense minister, in describing the first four Belgian Kings:
Si l'on voulait résumer chaque règne des souverains belges, on dirait que Léopold 1er personnifie la sagesse politique, Léopold II le génie créateur, Albert 1er le sens de l'honneur, Léopold III le sens du devoir.

If one wanted to summarize the reigns of the Belgian sovereigns, one would say that Leopold I personifies political wisdom, Leopold II, creative genius, Albert I, the sense of honor, Leopold III, the sense of duty.
Do you agree? What is the difference between "sense of honor" and "sense of duty?" And what qualities would Baudouin I and Albert II represent?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Survey Results

The results for this week's poll, asking who was the greatest King of the Belgians, are as follows:

Total votes: 12
  • Leopold I: 1 (8%)
  • Leopold II: 1 (8%)
  • Albert I: 4 (33%)
  • Leopold III: 1 (8%)
  • Baudouin I: 5 (41%)
  • Albert II: 0 (0%)
A new poll will be up next week.


A lovely country chateau, the Royal Castle of Ciergnon, near the village of the same name. The castle is a residence and summer retreat of the Belgian royal family.

Photo credits here.

There are touching stories associated with Ciergnon. One illustrates the piety and simplicity of Albert I. When he visited Ciergnon, he would go to Confession in the village church, taking his place in line, and declining to go before his turn.

Queen Astrid loved Ciergnon; after all, she had been raised, to a great extent, in the countryside herself, in Sweden.

Princess Marie-Esmeralda of Belgium, daughter of Leopold III and his second wife, Princess Lilian, recalls, in her book, Léopold III, mon père, visiting Ciergnon with her family and playing on the grounds of the chateau, with great enjoyment.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Beautiful Portrait

This is my favorite portrait of the first Queen of the Belgians, Louise-Marie of Orléans. I love the rich, contrasting colors and the Queen's expression; it seems to mingle gentleness, humor, intelligence and sadness.

Prince Albert Visits the Congo, 1909

In Albert, King of the Belgians (1929), Evelyn Graham provides an account of the expedition to the Belgian Congo undertaken by Prince Albert (future King Albert I) in 1909. A year earlier, the area, formerly the "Congo Free State," a private possession of King Leopold II, had been annexed by Belgium. The reports of atrocities and abuses suffered by the indigenous people under the Congo Free State had deeply distressed Prince Albert, and he was determined to embark upon a program of reform.
Probably the most notable event in the years following Prince Albert's becoming Heir- Apparent was his journey to the Congo in 1909. There is no doubt that the ceaseless agitations, and the unsparing criticisms of the administration of Congo affairs, had troubled Prince Albert considerably more than they had disturbed King Leopold. There was an entire contrast between their outlook on life, for whereas Prince Albert always recognized that his first duty was to his country, King Leopold seemed, in certain actions at all events, to consider his duty to himself paramount.

For several years previous to Belgium's annexation of the Congo, Prince Albert had studied with the closest attention all questions relating to the State. He was a frequent visitor to the Colonial Museum, reading everything of importance published on the subject of the Congo and its development. He lost no opportunity of meeting and conversing with all persons whose experience had put them in a position to enlighten him on any matter regarding affairs in the "Dark Continent," as it was called.

Being highly conscientious in his treatment of all men, the allegations regarding the treatment of Congo natives grieved and distressed him. He knew, of course, that many of the reports of wrong-doing were exaggerated, but he felt that any doubt at all as to the matter was a slur on the fair fame of Belgium, and something in the nature of a challenge to himself as its future ruler.

He had many conversations with King Leopold on the subject — one or two of them being of a very piquant nature. In these interviews the Prince spoke his mind with a freedom and courage that his uncle by no means relished. King Leopold was always impatient of criticism in any form, and, to the day of his death, he never admitted that there had been any defects in his administration of the wonderful colony which he had gained for his people.

Prince Albert welcomed the appointment of M. Renkin as Colonial Minister, for the reason that he had always shown himself zealous in all manner of reforms on the Congo. M. Renkin and the Heir to the Throne held lengthy discussions as to the best means of putting these reforms into practice. M. Renkin's first Budget surprised the country, for, with great boldness and a supreme faith in the future of the Congo, he sanctioned an outlay far in excess of any sum hitherto assigned to the administration of the colony. In this Budget there was allowed for administration in Africa over 7,000,000 francs ; for health, nearly 900,000 francs ; and for justice nearly 2,000,000 francs. It may be added that M. Renkin had his reward in seeing the price of rubber rise by over fifty per cent, by which rise Belgium was saved the necessity of raising another Colonial loan. His foresight and courage were therefore rewarded financially as well as in improving the condition of the Congo.

During M. Renkin's tenure of office, Prince Albert achieved what had been for several years his great ambition — he toured the Congo. Over and over again he had expressed his wish to make this visit in order that he might see for himself what truth there was in the constant charges against King Leopold's administration, and that he might consider what could be done to put matters on a more satisfactory basis. In Court circles, it was well understood that the only thing that had prevented the Prince hitherto from carrying out his desire was the attitude
of King Leopold himself.

Although Prince Albert was his direct heir, the King's grasp on the reins of government was tenacious to the very hour of his death. He knew and acknowledged — not only in public speeches made for the world's ears, but in private conversations not meant to pass beyond the walls of the room in which they were held — that his nephew had in him the makings of a successful ruler. He realized that the Prince was highly popular with his future subjects, and that he had qualities which would enable him to fill the throne with dignity, firmness, and courage. At the same time King Leopold seemed determined that Prince Albert should have no added opportunities of demonstrating his fitness for the position he was destined to fill.

In the end, however, the Prince had his way ; defeating his uncle's stubborn anger and mocking cynicism with unwearying persistence, he held to a firm resolve to further the ends of justice, and do what he considered his duty to his future African subjects.

In the spring of 1909 he set out for the Congo.

It was arranged that M. Jules Renkin should accompany him, but, in order that the survey might be thorough, it was decided that the Prince should traverse the country from east to west, while the Colonial Minister should start from the west. The Prince, accompanied by Baron de Moor, left Southampton on April 3rd, 1909, and spent the following four months travelling throughout the length and breadth of the Congo. He covered nearly 3,000 miles — partly by land, partly by river, and, in a lesser degree, by rail. Only the members of his suite can really appreciate the thoroughness of his investigations. He was not content with seeing things and asking questions. He had his staff supplied with notebooks, and saw that they used them, while he himself filled book after book with his own personal comments. These copious notes helped him greatly in the reforms which he inaugurated subsequently.

On foot, in a steamer, in a train, he passed day after day, seeing all that was to be seen. He inspected the hospital ; he attended service in the churches ; he visited the schools, and made friends with the scholars at once ; and called at several of the mission posts.

Prince Albert talked with everyone with whom he came contact. Often these conversations were of the most informs character. It was useless for officials to wait upon him with written reports, expecting him to accept them without further investigation. It was more than useless to attempt to put him off with ready-made information. Prince Albert had come to make his own discoveries in his own way, and he accomplished his task.

The European residents and officials were delighted with his visit for, tired though he might be, yet not so tired as certain members of his staff, he responded with characteristic courtesy to all their efforts to entertain him. Officials and their wives, many of them now retired and scattered in different parts of the country, still speak with pleasure of the tour when Prince Albert was among them, and made so gallant and gracious a figure at the receptions at which they were presented to him.

But it was to the natives that Prince Albert paid the greatest attention. When it was learned — and the news spread in the amazing way peculiar to native communities — that King Leopold's heir was coming among them, the chiefs of every tribe clamoured for an audience. They besieged him with the story of wrongs which demanded to be redressed. With untiring patience, the Prince listened, questioned, investigated the truth...and promised to see that just grievances should be put right and each man have his due. These promises he redeemed with scrupulous care on his return.

His fine stature and kingly bearing impressed greatly the Congolese. They conferred upon him a native title meaning "Tall Man, Breaker of Stones," There is no doubt that Prince Albert's tour of the Congo State did much to reconcile the natives to the new regime and to give them confidence in the future.

The Prince who, as has been mentioned, had been greatly troubled by the reports of Congo atrocities, was determined that he would take not merely European statements on these, but would get the natives to talk freely. To the consternation of his staff, he would often disappear, and be found later in the native quarters, surrounded by a group of Congolese, all intent upon pouring their life histories into his attentive ears.

On one occasion he was discovered squatting upon the ground before the hut of a native chief, vis-a-vis with his host, who, in somewhat peculiar English, was recounting his version of the history of the past decade. The Prince, with the unfailing notebook open on his knee, was endeavouring to translate the story into the kind of language that could be written down.

It was this eagerness to obtain first-hand information that deepened the respect which the natives had been prepared from the first to accord to one of Royal rank. They realized that he had a brotherly nature and was anxious to help them to the best of his ability.

The tour, interesting though it was, offered many discomforts and even hardships, not to mention the difficulties peculiar to tropical climates. M. Renkin's health suffered greatly from the trials of the tour, but Prince Albert faced it all unperturbed. His robust frame and excellent constitution enabled him to withstand the heat, to ward off the tropical fevers to which the white visitor succumbs so often, and to finish his tour in as good health as when he set out. Again and again he had to "rough it"...

The Belgian people and the Press had welcomed the prospect of Prince Albert's travels with enthusiasm. They had had no part in whatever malpractices had occurred in the Congo, but the world's criticism had been directed against Belgium, and they felt that Prince Albert's visit would do much to remove any grounds for the campaign of bitter criticism which was being conducted not only against their Sovereign but against his people.

When the date of the Prince's return was announced, Antwerp prepared a wonderful welcome for the Prince, on the occasion of his joyeuse entrée, as one Antwerp paper called it. The Congo steamer, the Bruxellesville, was due on Monday, August 16th, 1909, and from the earliest hour Antwerp was packed with sightseers from the surrounding district, anxious to greet their Prince. They desired to express their gratitude publicly for the labours he had undertaken...

Friday, July 17, 2009

St. Dymphna

Here is a fanciful image of St. Dymphna, a 7th century Irish virgin and martyr who became one of Belgium's most beloved saints. I have always been fascinated by her story. According to tradition, she was the beautiful daughter of Damon, an Irish king. Her father was pagan, but Dymphna and her mother were Christians. At the age of fourteen, Dymphna lost her mother. Insane with grief, Damon sent his messengers searching the land for another bride who matched his dead queen's beauty. When no other substitute could be found, the king's wicked advisers recommended he wed his own daughter! To protect her chastity, Dymphna fled abroad with her confessor, St. Gerebran. They sought refuge near the Church of St. Martin, in Geel, near Antwerp, Belgium. Damon, however, hunted them down, killed Gerebran and begged Dymphna to return to Ireland as his bride. When she steadfastly refused, the king flew into a rage, drew his sword, and beheaded her. She was only 15 years old. The young martyr of purity was buried in the church of Geel, and became a revered local saint.

Since medieval times, St. Dymphna has been invoked as the patroness of the mentally ill. Many cures of insanity and epilepsy have been attributed to her relics and intercession. Her cult inspired Geel's centuries-old tradition of charitably caring for the mentally ill. An infirmary was founded in the 13th century and today the city boasts a world-class sanatorium. Geel is famous for its early adoption of the "deinstitutionalized" mode of psychiatric care. For hundreds of years, patients have been placed with local families, taking part, during the day, in the life and work of the town. It is only at night that they return to the hospital. Thus, they benefit from a gentle, kind surveillance, while living as normal a life as possible.

Here is a prayer to St. Dymphna:

Hear us, O God, Our Saviour, as we honor St. Dymphna, patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness. Help us to be inspired by her example and comforted by her merciful help. Amen.

Accession of Baudouin I

On this day in 1951, Crown Prince Baudouin of Belgium swore his constitutional oath, becoming the fifth King of the Belgians. He was not yet 21 years old.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The King & His Daughter

Here we see King Albert I of Belgium with his daughter, Marie-José, the future Queen of Italy, during the First World War. The little Princess adored her father.

It is touching to see how the King, despite the innumerable preoccupations of war, took care to attend to his paternal role. In her memoirs, Marie-José quotes a few letters he sent her during this period. With gentleness, with the noble simplicity for which he was famous, he sought to assist her in her moral and religious growth.

In 1915, the King wrote to his daughter, then 9 years old, while she was in a convent school in England:
"Il faut être sage et bien travailler. Quand on fait ce qu'on doit, on sert le Bon Dieu et on est heureux dans la vie...Ici il n'y rien de nouveau. La guerre est terrible et dure longtemps. Il faut prier pour qu'elle cesse bientôt."

"You must behave well and do good work. When one does one's duty, one serves the good God and one is happy in life... Here there is nothing new. The war is terrible and drags on. We must pray that it end soon."
As the date of Marie-José's First Communion approached, in 1916:
"Prépare-toi avec soin pour ta Première Communion, c'est un grand jour de ta vie. Moi, je me rappelle toujours ma Première Communion comme un heureux événement de mon existence."

"Prepare yourself with care for your First Communion, it is a great day of your life. I still remember my First Communion as a happy event in my life."
Marie-José returned to Belgium for her First Communion. As the day of the ceremony drew near, the King, with great care, personally instructed her in the catechism. Yet, she later recalled, overwhelmed by the joy of seeing her father, she could not attend to his words.

During the tragic years of the war, Marie-José's tender affection was surely a great consolation to her father.

Abdication of Leopold III

Today marks the 58th anniversary of the abdication of King Leopold III of the Belgians.

I came across a clip of the first few lines of his abdication speech.

The full text of his speech may be found HERE.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vignettes of Leopold II

In Chapter VIII of his memoirs, Their Majesties As I Knew Them (1911), Xavier Paoli provides a fascinating portrayal of the controversial and paradoxical King Leopold II of the Belgians and his last mistress, Baroness Vaughan. A Corsican by birth, Paoli was employed for years in the French political police; his task was to guard foreign Sovereigns visiting France. Here are some excerpts from his account of Leopold II. (Interestingly, although I had always heard the King married Madame Vaughan in his last illness, Paoli suggests the secret wedding might have occurred earlier).
Of all the sovereigns with whom I have been connected in the course of my career, Leopold II is perhaps the one whom I knew best... and whose thoughts and soul I was nevertheless least able to fathom, for the simple reason that his thoughts were impenetrable and his soul remained closed. Was this due to excessive egotism or supreme indifference? To both, perhaps. He was as baffling as a puzzle, carried banter occasionally to the verge of insolence and cynicism to that of cruelty; and, if, at times, he yielded to fits of noisy gaiety, if, from behind the rough exterior, there sometimes shot an impulse of unexpected kindness, these were but passing gleams. He promptly recovered his wonderful self-control; and those about him were too greatly fascinated by his intelligence to seek to understand his habit of mind or heart. And yet, though fascinating, he was as uncommunicative as it is possible to be; he possessed none of the external attractions of the intellect which captivate and charm; but, whenever he deigned to grant you the honour of an interview, however brief, you at once discovered in him a prodigious brain, a luminous perspicacity and critical powers of amazing subtlety and keenness...

His habit of icy chaff made one feel perpetually ill at ease when he happened to be in a conversational vein. One never knew if he was serious or joking. This tall, rough-hewn old man had a trick of stinging repartee under an outward appearance of innocent good-nature and, better than anyone that I have ever met, understood the delicate art of teaching a lesson to those who ventured upon an improper remark or an unseemly familiarity in his presence.

One evening, at a reception which he was giving to the authorities in his chalet at Ostende, the venerable rector of the parish came up to him with an air of concern and drawing him respectfully aside, said:

"Sir, I feel profoundly grieved. There is a rumour, I am sorry to say, that your Majesty's private life is not marked by the austerity suited to the lofty and difficult task which the Lord has laid upon the monarchs of this earth. Remember, Sir, that it behooves kings to set an example to their subjects."

And the worthy rector, taking courage from the fact that he had known Leopold II for thirty years, preached him a long sermon. The penitent, adopting an air of contrition, listened to the homily without moving a muscle. When, at last, the priest had exhausted his eloquence:

"What a funny thing, monsieur le cure!" murmured the King, fixing him with that cold glance of his, from under his wrinkled eye-lids. "Do you know, people have told me exactly the same thing about you! Only I refused to believe it, you know!"

That was a delicious sally, too, in which he indulged at the expense of a certain Brazilian minister, who was paying his first visit to court, and who appeared to be under the impression that the King was hard of hearing. At any rate, he made the most extraordinary efforts to speak loud and to pronounce his words distinctly. The King maintained an impassive countenance, but ended by interrupting him:

"Excuse me, monsieur le ministre," he said, with an exquisite smile. "I'm not deaf, you know: it's my brother!"

Picture the diplomatist's face!

Lastly, let me recall his caustic reply to one of our most uncompromising radical deputies, who was being received in audience and who, falling under the spell of King Leopold's obvious intelligence, said to him, point-blank:

"Sir, I am a republican. I do not hold with monarchies and kings. Nevertheless, I recognise your great superiority and I confess that you would make an admirable president of a republic!"

"Really?" replied the King, with his most ingenuous air. "Really? Do you know, I think I shall pay a compliment in your style to my physician, Dr. Thirier, who is coming to see me presently. I shall say, 'Thirier, you are a great doctor and I think you would make an excellent veterinary surgeon!'"...

The fact is that Leopold II looked at everything from two points of view: that of practical reality and that of his own selfishness. The King had in his veins the blood of the Coburgs mixed with that of the d'Orleans, two highly intelligent families, but utterly devoid of sentiment or sensibility; and he treated life as an equation which it was his business to solve by any methods, no matter which, so long as the result corresponded with that which he had assigned to it beforehand.

He had an extraordinarily observant mind, was marvellously familiar with the character of his people, its weaknesses and its vanities and played upon these with the firm, yet delicate touch of a pianist who feels himself to be a perfect master of his instrument and of its effects. His cleverness as a constitutional sovereign consisted in appearing to follow the movements of public opinion, whereas, in reality, he directed and sometimes even provoked them...

He had idiosyncrasies, like most mortals. For instance, he used to have four buckets of sea-water dashed over his body every morning, by way of a bath; he expected partridges to be served at his meals all the year round; and he had his newspapers ironed like pocket-handkerchiefs before reading them: he could not endure anything like a fold or crease in them. Lastly, when addressing the servants, he always spoke of himself in the third person. Thus he would say to his chauffeur, "Wait for him," instead of, "Wait for me." Those new to his service, who had not been warned, were puzzled to know what mysterious person he referred to.

A strange eccentric, you will say. No doubt, although these oddities are difficult to understand in the case of a man who displayed the most practical mind, the most lucid intelligence and the shrewdest head for business the moment he was brought face to face with the facts of daily life. But, I repeat, to those who knew him best, he appeared in the light of a constant and bewildering puzzle; and this was shown not only in the peculiarity of his manners, but in the incongruity of his sentiments. How are we to explain why this King should feel an infinite love for children, this stern King who was so hard and sometimes so cruel in his treatment of those to whom by rights he ought never to have closed his heart nor refused his indulgence? Yet the tall old man worshipped the little tots. They were almost the only creatures whose greetings he returned; and he would go carefully out of his way, when strolling along a beach, rather than spoil their sand-castles. How are we to explain the deep-seated, intense and jealous delight which he, so insensible to the softer emotions of mankind, felt at the sight of the fragile beauty of a rare flower? How are we to explain why he reserved the kindness and gentleness which he so harshly refused to his wife and daughters for his unfortunate sister, the Empress Charlotte, whose mysterious madness had kept her for forty-two years a lonely prisoner within the high walls of the Chateau de Bouchout? And yet, every morning of those forty-two years he never failed, when at Laeken, to go alone across the park to that silent dwelling and spend two hours in solitary converse with the tragic widow. Each day, with motherly solicitude, he personally supervised the smallest details of that shattered existence.

Lastly, what an astounding contrast was offered in Leopold II, who was considered insensible to the weaknesses of the heart, by the sudden blossoming of a sentimental idyll in the evening of his life....

...(A) single and decisive love, which he preserved until his death was soon to fill his thoughts exclusively and graft upon his... heart a belated bloom of disconcerting youth. When Leopold II made the acquaintance of Mlle. Blanche Caroline Delacroix, whom he afterwards raised to the dignity of Baroness Vaughan, he had just reached his sixty-fifth year....The humbleness of her birth prevented her from raising her eyes to a throne. She was the thirteenth child of a working mechanic and was born at Bucharest, where her father had gone to seek his fortune. She was brought up, therefore, in courts which were very different from royal courts; and I need not say that her education had hardly prepared her for the brilliant destiny which her chequered life held in store for her...

To what did Blanche Caroline Delacroix owe her success with Leopold II: to her vivid conversational powers, to the dazzling youthfulness of the fair-haired divinity that she was, or to her genuine intelligence? I cannot tell; but this much is certain, that, at her first audience, she succeeded in arousing in the old man's heart a love which was manifested at first in a polite flirtation and consecrated later in a union the mystery of which was never fully solved. Both the King and Mme. de Vaughan carefully refrained from making the smallest confidence on the subject of their marriage even to those in whom they confided most readily. Nevertheless, I have always believed that a secret religious ceremony did take place, so as to regularise their situation, if not with regard to Belgian law, at least in respect to the Church and their consciences. This conviction on my part was strengthened by the pastoral letter which Mgr. Mercier, Archbishop of Mechlin addressed to the Belgian Catholics after the King's death and in which the primate declared that the sovereign had died at peace with the Church of Rome. Allowing for the legitimate susceptibilities of the royal family, it was impossible to confirm the existence of a morganatic union in a more diplomatic manner. Some have said that the marriage was celebrated at San Remo, during the time when the King and Mme. de Vaughan were staying at Ville- franche, near Nice. I cannot certify this. When I consult my recollection, I merely remember that, on a certain morning, some years before Leopold II's death, I saw the King and Mme. de Vaughan drive off together in a motor-car—a thing which they had never done before—he looking very nervous and she greatly excited. They forbade anyone to accompany them and did not return until evening, when they made no attempt to tell us where they had been. Marcel, the chauffeur, said that he had taken them to San Remo, on Italian territory; but, apart from this, he also showed a memorable discretion and we got no more out of him.

I noticed, however, that, from that day, the attitude of the couple changed: they showed themselves in public together, went openly to the theatre at Nice and to the carnival masquerade and abstained from taking the very childish and rather ridiculous precautions which the King had prescribed during the period of flirtation and "engagement" on the score of "saving appearances!"

Ridiculous and childish they were, as the reader can judge for himself. For instance, although the Baroness Vaughan shared all the King's journeys and accompanied him wherever he went, she was never to address a word to him in public or appear to know him. They took the same trains, got out at the same stations, put up at the same hotels in adjoining rooms, lunched and dined in the same dining-room, but ignored each other's existence, he with an imperturbable composure, she with a charming awkwardness...

The Baroness Vaughan was not a bad sort of woman on the whole. In the early days, she used to put up with the violent outbursts to which the King occasionally treated her: she would light a great, big cigar and think no more about it. Afterwards, when she grew accustomed to look upon herself as the King's morganatic wife, her ambition increased and she insisted on being treated with deference. She complained to me that the Princess Clementine, whom she had met on the road or in some path in a garden, had not condescended to return her bow; and she added, in a regretful tone:

"To think that, if I had lived in the days of Louis XIV, I should have had a stool at Court !"

In the absence of a stool, she managed to achieve a most luxurious existence. The King, who now never left her, had installed her, when he was in residence in Brussels, in a charming villa which communicated directly with the grounds of the Chateau de Laeken by means of a bridge that spanned the road and led into the Baroness Vaughan's garden. Every day, before paying her his visit, he sent her the choicest flowers from his hot-houses and the finest fruit in his orchard...

He was very thrifty in his personal expenditure and ended by imparting his habits of economy to his fair friend. Baroness Vaughan used to scrutinise the kitchen accounts as closely as any middle- class housewife. True, the housekeeping books sometimes took excessive liberties. I remember, one year at the Chateau de Lormois near Fontainebleau, which the King had hired for the season... there was a violent scene with the cook, who had had the temerity to charge for seventy-five eggs in six days. Mme. de Vaughan was justly annoyed, dismissed him on the spot and refused to pay him the usual wages instead of notice...

Great as was the influence which Mme. de Vaughan had gained over the King's mind, I am bound to confess that it was never exercised in political matters nor in any of Leopold's financial undertakings. The baroness knew nothing about those things and made no attempt to understand them. The King was grateful to her for this discretion, which in reality was only indifference, for he never allowed any outsider to interfere in his affairs, whether public or private. He discussed none of his schemes before they were completed or before he had drawn up his plan of execution down to the minutest details.

"It shall be so," he used to declare; and no one ever dreamt of opposing his will so plainly expressed.

It was in this way that he conducted his enormous Congo enterprise entirely by himself. The different phases of this business are too well known for me to recapitulate them here. One of them, however—the first phase—has been very seldom discussed and deserves to be recalled, for it throws a great light not only upon the king's conceptive genius, but also upon his diplomatic astuteness and his amazing cynicism.

In 1884, Leopold II, who had for years been obsessed by the longing to lay hands upon the Congo territory, promoted an international conference in order to frustrate the West African treaty which had lately been concluded between Great Britain and Portugal and which stood in the way of the realisation of his secret ambitions. The King of the Belgians now conceived the subtle and intelligent idea of inducing the congress to proclaim the Congo into an independent state, with himself as its recognised sovereign.

There was only one person in Europe possessed of sufficient authority to bring about the adoption of this daring plan; and that was Bismarck. Bismarck was the necessary instrument; but how was he to be persuaded? Faced with this difficulty, Leopold II hit upon the idea of sending to Berlin a mere journalist, whom he knew to be a clever and talented man, and instructed him to capture the Iron Chancellor's confidence. Leopold coached this journalist, a gentleman of the name of Gantier, to such good purpose that, as the result of a campaign directed from Brussels by the King himself, M. Gantier managed, within a few months, to insinuate himself into Bismarck's immediate surroundings, to interest him in the Congo question and to prove to him that Germany would derive incomparable benefits from proclaiming the independence of the Congo and entrusting its administration to a neutral sovereign like the King of the Belgians.

The stratagem was successful from start to finish. The Congress of Berlin, on the motion of the chancellor, proclaimed the Congo an independent territory with Leopold II, for its sovereign. We know the result: the Congo is at this day a Belgian colony. Leopold II, in a word, had "dished" Prince Bismarck...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Leopold & Charlotte

A painting of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield (1790-1865), later King Leopold I of the Belgians, with his beloved first wife, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, heir to the British throne. When Charlotte died in childbirth in 1817, Leopold wrote to Sir Thomas Lawrence:
...Two generations gone — gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the prince regent (her father, the later King George IV) My Charlotte is gone from the country — it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her. It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was also my delight...

Prince Philippe of Belgium, Duke of Brabant

Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, is the eldest son and heir of Belgium's reigning monarchs, King Albert II and Queen Paola. He was born April 15, 1960, in Brussels. After completing secondary school (in both Belgium's national languages, French and Dutch), he attended the Royal Military Academy. He graduated in 1981, later qualifying as a fighter pilot and as a paratrooper and commando officer. In 2001, he attained the rank of Major General in the Armed Forces. He has certainly had a thorough military training, in the tradition of Belgian kings. Prince Philippe also attended university in the UK, at Trinity College, Oxford, and, in the USA, at the Stanford Graduate School. In 1985, he obtained his MA in political science. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.

On August 6, 1993, the Belgian government appointed Prince Philippe Honorary Chairman of the Belgian Foreign Trade Board (BFTB). In this capacity, Prince Philippe has headed more than forty important economic missions throughout the world. In 1994, he entered the Belgian Senate, as senator by right (a privilege of the royal princes). In 1997, he became honorary chairman of the Belgian Federal Council for Sustainable Development. In 2003, he assumed leadership of the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries. Since 2004, he also heads the European Chapter of the International Polar Foundation.

On December 4, 1999, Prince Philippe married the lovely and elegant Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, a young noblewoman of mixed Belgian and Polish descent. Princess Mathilde, a speech therapist by profession, is popular and warm, definitely in the tradition of beautiful and altruistic Belgian royal consorts . The couple have four children: Elisabeth (b. 2001), Gabriel (b. 2003), Emmanuel (b. 2005), and Eleonore (b. 2008). It seems to be a very happy family.

Prince Philippe is keenly concerned with the problems of modern society, and takes a special interest in poverty, unemployment, youth and education. Belgium's national unity is also close to his heart. In 1998, the Prince Philippe Fund was established to foster exchange and promote understanding between the country's three ethnolinguistic communities (French, Dutch, and German-speaking).

In recent years, the Prince has been attacked in the media. His conservative political and social views are criticized, with some even suggesting a more liberal candidate should take the throne. Others claim the Prince is stiff and awkward. In my opinion, however, his conservatism is a good thing and if his supposed "stiffness" (more likely old-fashioned formality and rigor) is all his detractors can accuse him of, his people are lucky. Belgium ought to be grateful to have such a serious, dedicated, and upright royal heir.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Blanche Delacroix, "Baroness Vaughan"

Blanche Zélie Josephine Delacroix (1883-1948) was a young Parisian courtesan who became the mistress and, eventually, the morganatic second wife of King Leopold II of the Belgians. She was a woman of the people, dark, handsome in a coarse way, no raving beauty, but lively and charming. Leopold, nearly 50 years her senior, met Blanche, otherwise known as "Caroline", when she was 16 years old, and fell madly in love with her. It seemed to be the first time that the King, infamous for his disastrous marriage and long series of casual affairs, had become deeply attached to a woman.

Cold and miserly with his wife and daughters, he lavished endearments, gifts and properties upon the girl. To the great scandal of the Belgians and the court, he eventually titled her, unofficially, "Baroness Vaughan." To Blanche, the King was probably initially merely a conquest beyond her wildest dreams, but, on her side, too, genuine affection appears to have developed. In her memoirs, she lamented that she and Leopold's valet were the only ones to mourn the death of the violently unpopular King in 1909.

After the death of Queen Marie-Henriette, in 1902, the King gave his mistress a luxurious villa in Laeken. Strangely down-to-earth, she diligently looked after the books and accounts, presiding over her establishment like a bourgeois housewife. During this period, she bore two sons, Lucien (b. 1906) and Philippe (b. 1907). Although their paternity has never been definitively established, the King eagerly accepted them as his own. For decades, he had been tormented by his lack of a male heir, and now, in the evening of his life, he was overjoyed to have two boys in rapid succession. Abandoning his normally glacial, haughty stance, he doted on the children.

At some point, Leopold married Blanche in a secret, religious ceremony. The most widely accepted version is that the wedding took place at Laeken during the King's final illness. At the eleventh hour, Leopold wanted to save his soul by regularizing his union with Blanche and receiving the Last Rites. He was 74, his bride 26.

The King left much of his fortune to Blanche, providing for her for the rest of her life. Leopold's daughters, and, indeed, Belgian public opinion, were outraged by this settlement, but could do nothing to prevent it. The young woman departed Belgium in triumph, and began a new life. In 1910, she re-married. Her new husband was Antoine Durrieux, one of her long-standing admirers, who adopted her sons. Philippe (unofficially titled "Count of Ravenstein") died in 1914, Lucien ("Duke of Tervueren") in 1984.

Today, nothing remains of the notorious Madame Vaughan, once the talk of Belgium, except a few faded photographs...sic transit gloria mundi.


Charles d'Ydewalle. Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King. 2005.
Xavier Paoli. Their Majesties as I Knew Them. 1911.
Patrick Weber. Amours royales et princières. 2006.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Portraits of Princess Stephanie

Stephanie (1864-1945), born Princess of Belgium, as Crown Princess of Austria-Hungary.
Another painting of Stephanie.
A painting of Stephanie and her husband, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary, on a walk in the countryside.

Princess Clementine of Belgium

Princess Clementine was the youngest, steadiest, and happiest daughter of King Leopold II and Queen Marie-Henriette. Her birth on July 30, 1872, was a bitter disappointment to her parents, especially her father. Following the death of their son, in 1869, they had eagerly hoped for another male heir. Nonetheless, over time, Clementine became her father's favorite. As the Queen, in her later years, increasingly withdrew from public life, Clementine assumed many of her official duties, becoming the King's valued helpmate. Despite her privileged position, however, she must have suffered severely from her father's cruelty and infidelity to her mother, and must have felt deeply humiliated by the scandal arising from his conduct.

As a young girl, Clementine fell in love with her cousin, Prince Baudouin, heir-presumptive to the Belgian crown. Her choice showed good taste, as Baudouin was not only handsome, intelligent and accomplished, but also pious and virtuous. The King and Queen favored the match. Presumably, they were pleased by the idea of uniting the two branches of the royal family, and, through their daughter, enabling their own line to continue on the throne. Nonetheless, Baudouin did not return Clementine's affection, and his mother, the Countess of Flanders, firmly opposed the projected marriage. Furthermore, in 1891, the promising young prince died tragically of pneumonia, shattering the family's hopes.

Henceforth, despite the King's partiality for his youngest daughter, he frustrated her heart's inclinations on political grounds. She fell in love with Prince Victor Napoleon, the Bonapartist claimant to the French throne, living in exile in Brussels. Her father, however, afraid of arousing the ire of republican France, forbad the match. Leopold II was not a man whose will could be crossed with impunity, and Clementine, prudent and respectful, yielded to his wishes. Nonetheless, relations between father and daughter became considerably more strained. According to Charles d'Ydewalle, the King even instructed the police to keep a strict guard on Clementine to prevent her eloping with Victor-Napoleon. Yet, she waited patiently for years to marry her beloved. I always admire her forbearance and perseverance during this period. While firmly refusing any other match, she still remained loyal to her family, eschewing (in striking contrast to her sisters!) open rebellion and scandal.

After Leopold's death in 1909, Clementine asked her cousin, the new King, Albert I, for permission to marry her Prince. Albert gladly gave his consent, and the couple were married in 1910, at Moncalieri, near Turin. Clementine was 38 years old! It had certainly been a long wait, but the bride was overjoyed. Victor-Napoleon and Clementine settled in Brussels, and had two children: Marie-Clotilde (1912-1996) and Louis (1914-1997). Always prudent, Clementine wished to maintain a good relationship with the Belgian government, and avoided involvement in her sisters' lawsuit against the state over Leopold's inheritance.

In 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium, Clementine and her husband took refuge in England, with the former French Empress, Eugénie. The Princess entered the service of the Red Cross, assisting Belgian refugees. After the war, she continued to participate in charitable public works. In 1926, she lost her husband, and henceforth devoted herself mainly to the care of her children. During this period, she lived mostly in France. Her last years were spent alternately in Maillen, Belgium (where she owned property), Savoy and Nice. Unlike her sisters, she never wrote memoirs. In 1952, she was awarded the Legion of Honor for her charity work. Three years later, on March 8, 1955, she passed away.


Gubin, Eliane, Dupont-Bouchat, Marie-Sylvie. Dictionnaire des femmes belges. 2006.

Weber, Patrick. Amours royales et princières. 2006.

D'Ydewalle, Charles. Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King. 2005.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Lost Heir

Here, we see Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant (1859-1869), the only son of King Leopold II of the Belgians and his wife, Queen Marie-Henriette. (I must say he looks like a sweet little boy.) A child of hope and promise, the focus of all his father's dynastic pride and ambition, he was also the cherished playmate of his sisters, Louise and Stephanie. Sadly, at age 10, he fell into a pond at Laeken Castle, and developed pneumonia and heart problems. After a long illness, he died. His parents were devastated. King Leopold, normally cold, haughty, and imperturbable, broke down completely at his son's burial. Without caring who was watching, he fell sobbing on his knees. He always remained bitterly disappointed by the loss of his heir.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

King Albert & Queen Paola in Romania

The Royal Forums reports on the Belgian Sovereigns' 3-day state visit to Romania.
More photos of the trip HERE.

Queen Marie-Henriette Through Her Daughter's Eyes

In her memoirs, Princess Louise of Belgium recalls her mother, Queen Marie-Henriette. Despite her praise of her piety and virtue, Louise sadly did not follow her mother's example, leading a wild and scandalous life. She also became completely estranged from her family (including her mother). In view of this, Louise's tender account of the Queen is all the more striking and surprising.
I can still see the Queen as I saw her when I lay in her arms as a child, so long has my adoration for her survived, so long has my belief in another world remained sacred to her memory.

The Queen was of medium height and of slender build. Her beauty and grace were unrivalled. The purity of her lines and her shoulders merited the expression " royal." Her supple carriage was that of a sportswoman. Her voice was of such pure timbre that it awakened echoes in one's soul. Her eyes, a darker brown than those of the King, were not so keenly luminous, but they were far more tender; they almost spoke.

But how much less her physical perfections counted in comparison with her moral qualities. A true Christian, her idea of religion was to follow it rigorously in every detail, without being in the least narrow-minded. She had a philosophical and an assured conception of God, and the mysteries of the Infinite. This faith enlightened her doctrine and strengthened her piety.

People who cannot, or who will not, study the problem of religion, easily persuade themselves that it is absurd to subject themselves to the laws of confession and to its signs and ceremonies. The sincere Christian is the woman who is par excellence a wife and a mother, but to some bigots she is merely an inferior being, who has fallen into the hands of priests—but they would doubtless be very pleased all the same to have her as the guardian angel of their own home.

Religion did not in the least deter the Queen from her obligations to the State, or from her taste for Art, or from indulging in her favourite pursuit of sport.

She received her guests, she presided over her circle, she attended fetes with a natural charm peculiar to her, which I passionately admired from the moment when I was old enough to follow in her wake.

The Queen dressed with an inborn art which was always in harmony with her .surroundings. A woman in her position has to set out to please and win the hearts of people, and she is therefore obliged more than anyone else to study her toilette. The Queen excelled in this to such perfection that she was always held up as an example by the arbiters of Parisian fashion.

At any time fashion is peculiar, or at least it seems to be; if it were not so there would be no fashion; but la mode is not so varied as one thinks. Considered as novelties, her innovations are nothing more or less than little discoveries and arrangements with which the serpent, if not Eve, was already familiar in the Garden of Eden.

The Queen followed la mode without innovating fashions—that is the affair of other queens—queens of fashion, for which they have reasons, not dictated by Reason. But the Queen adopted and perfected fashions. It was miraculous to see how she wore the fairy-like lace which is the glory and charm of Belgium. I have always remembered one of her gowns, a certain cerise-coloured silk, the corsage draped with a fichu of Chantilly—one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

The Queen would often adorn the gowns worn by her at her receptions with garlands of fresh flowers. She knew how to wear them, and what a delight it was to my sisters and myself when we were told to go into the conservatories and prepare the garlands of roses, dahlias, or asters which our beloved sovereign was going to wear.

A perfect musician, the Queen was equally brilliant in her execution of a Czarda, an Italian melody or an air from an Opera, which she interpreted in a soprano voice, the possession of which many a professional singer would have envied her.

One of her great pleasures was to sing duets with Fauré, the illustrious baritone, a well-bred artist who never presumed on his position. The Queen and Fauré were wonderful in the famous duets from Hamlet and Rigoletto. ... I think of her singing even now with emotion. But all this belongs to the past; it is far away.

The Queen received the best artistic society on the same footing as the best Belgian society at her private receptions. She closely followed all the doings at the Theatre de la Monnaie and the Theatre du Pare. She interested herself in deserving talent. She was not ignorant of the anxieties and difficulties of a career of which four hours, so to speak, are lived in the realms of illusion, and the remaining twenty face to face with reality. She frequently showed her solicitude for artists in the most delicate and opportune manner. The memory of her kindness lives in many hearts. In the theatrical world gratitude is less rare than elsewhere. One can never speak too highly of the good that exists in the souls of these people, who appear so frivolous and easy-going on the surface. Corneille always had a good word for them.

The Queen loved horses with the appreciation of a born horsewoman; she liked to drive high-spirited animals, and I have inherited her taste. She knew how to control the wild Hungarian horses which were only safe with her. Refreshed with champagne, or bread dipped in red wine, they flew like the wind; one might have said that she guided them by a thread, but in reality she made them obedient to the sound of her voice.

She groomed her horses herself and taught them wonderful circus tricks. I have seen one of them ascend the grand staircase of Laeken, enter the Queen's room and come down again as though nothing had happened. What amused her most was to drive two or four different animals at once who had never been harnessed, and who were so high-spirited that no one dared to drive them. By dint of patience and the magnetic charm of her voice the most restive animal eventually became docile.

Her life was so ordered that she found time for everything—maternal cares were first and foremost with her; she looked upon these as sweet duties, of which I was her first burden...

My mother made me think deeply. Thought was my first revelation of a real existence. I began to look further than the throne and a title for the means of moral and intellectual superiority, I became a definite personality; I wished to form my own ideas so that in after life I could always be myself.

The Queen helped to mould my character by abundant reading, chiefly in French and English—principally memoirs. I was never, or very rarely, allowed to read a novel. The Queen read deliciously, giving the smallest phrase its full value; the manner in which she read aloud was not only that of a woman who knew how to read, but it also displayed a penetrating intelligence—in fact, it was more like speaking than reading, and it seemed to come from a heart which understood everything.

The Queen was gay and entrancingly charming with her intimate friends. She was always like this, in her excursions in the country, at croquet parties, at her own receptions, and in her box at the theatre. Her good humour was in accordance with the promptings of a generous and expansive nature...

The Queen took no part in politics except to discharge her duties as a sovereign. On a man like the King, feminine influence could not be exercised by a wife and mother.

It was impossible for the Queen to find in her husband the perfect union of thought, the intimacy of action and the entire confidence which, in no matter what household, are the only possible conditions for happiness, and the first deception which she experienced was followed by others which became more and more cruel.

The trial which caused the Queen to be inconsolable and which had such painful consequences, was the death of her son Leopold.

My mother could never be comforted for the loss of the heir to the Throne, this child of so much promise, who had been given and retaken by Heaven. This was the sorrow of her life. She even alluded to it in her admirable will.

From the day of his death, her health, always so robust, gradually changed little by little. Her soul began to break away from earthly things and lose itself more and more in prayer and contemplation. She lived only in the ardent hope of meeting her son in heaven.

The Queen was always a saint—and she soon became a martyr. She suffered immensely through the aloof greatness of the King, who existed solely for his Royal duties, although he would occasionally suddenly indulge in some unbridled pleasure after his arduous work. His was a nature of extremes which a tender soul could not understand, and hence arose misunderstandings and their tragic consequences. Against such a fate, which could only become more and more unhappy, there was nothing to be done. Earthly life is doomed to know implacable disillusions.

But however much the Queen suffered she never diminished her Heaven-inspired kindness. She would sometimes give way to her sorrow and allow the cries of her wounded soul to be heard! She would even attempt to defend herself by some action of which the public was cognizant but which it failed to understand. But she always returned to the feet of Christ the Consoler...