Monday, August 31, 2009

Remembering Diana, Princess of Wales

Strange...only two days after commemorating Queen Astrid's death, we have the anniversary of another young, beautiful, popular royal lady's tragic loss. Exactly 12 years ago today, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in Paris. Many have compared Astrid and Diana (both called "Queen of Hearts"). Despite some odd parallels, I think they were very different. In many ways, Diana's story is even more tragic than Astrid's. In any case, I pray that both may rest in peace.

PS: please leave a comment for Astrid, too!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Queen Astrid and...Chocolate!

This is charming. There is a renowned Parisian chocolate company named after the beloved fourth Queen of the Belgians. It was founded in 1935 by one Mlle. Fernande Gobert, a fervent French admirer of Astrid who (like most of the world) was deeply shocked and grieved at her tragic death. Mlle. Gobert wrote an ardent letter to the Belgian court, begging for permission to use the Queen's name for her new chocolate boutique. She was allowed to do so, on condition that her products be top quality, worthy of this admirable lady. Thus, "à La Reine Astrid" was born. You can learn more and investigate the company's products HERE (the site is in French but readable in other languages via Google Translate).

Is This True?

While searching for something on Google Books, I came across part of an account of the (then ongoing) Royal Question in a 1946 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. In passing, the authors (rather hostile to the King) claim that after Astrid's death, Leopold became so religious that he even contemplated retiring to a monastery. (It reminds me of the reports that Baudouin, during the early years of his reign, considered becoming a priest). I know Leopold was a man of deep faith, but I have never heard this before. I also do not see how Leopold could realistically have abdicated while his son and heir was a mere child. It would have led to his brother Charles (of questionable loyalties, in my opinion) serving as Regent for years and years. Furthermore, Leopold's children needed their father to remarry to restore the family circle. Surely the King would have seen these difficulties. So I am not sure whether this report is true or false. It is interesting, though, and if anyone has more information, please let me know.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Memoriam: Astrid, Queen of the Belgians

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the tragic death of Queen Astrid, consort of King Leopold III. Ironically, August 29, 1935 dawned bright and clear, promising an enjoyable alpine excursion to the royal couple. As Time reported:
For days it had been raining in Switzerland. Leopold of Belgium and Queen Astrid, vacationing in the Villa Haslihorn near Lucerne, sent their three small children back to Brussels. But next morning the sun came out hot and strong, with the promise of a fine day for a mountain climb, a sport of which Leopold was just as fond as his father. Hobnail boots, ropes and alpenstocks were piled into the back of the royal Packard touring car beside the chauffeur. In front Leopold took the wheel while Astrid sat beside him, holding a road map. They started down the lakeside road, keeping close to the curb because the pavement was slippery. In a second it was all over. Just before reaching Kussnacht, with the car rolling along at 50 m.p.h. Leopold turned his head to look at the road map. The right wheels of the car slipped through one of the 18-ft. openings in the concrete curb. For some 95 feet it careened along, the right wheels at times three feet lower than the left. Then it struck a young pear tree, swerved at right angles. The Queen and the chauffeur were thrown clear. The car rolled down the bank, caromed off another tree and into the shallow water of the lake.

With his hands sprained, his lower lip slashed and a rib fractured, King Leopold crawled from the car and over to the body of his wife. He could see that she was already dead, her skull fractured, her chest gashed with broken glass. Aides following in a second car rushed hastily back for an ambulance while King Leopold, dazed and bloody, stood looking down at his dead Queen.
Witnesses reported the devastated King crying "Astrid! Astrid!" and clasping his wife's body to his heart. Later, he would confide to the Queen's best friend, Anna Sparre: "My life is over." In a voice broken by sobs, he asked his secretary, Robert Capelle: "Why did the good God take her away from me? We were so happy!" The tragic death of his father, King Albert I, only 18 months earlier, had plunged Belgium and its royal family into deep mourning, and now all the sorrowful scenes would be repeated...
At 10:15 PM, in the Lucerne railroad yard, two funeral cars were added to the train that travels regularly between Milan and Brussels. Astrid's body, in a plain oak coffin, was placed in a baggage car that was quickly turned into a chapel. She was accompanied by two Catholic nuns. The king and his party were alone in the last car. As the funeral train crossed the Belgian frontier, the church bells in the nearest village began to toll in mourning and as the train progressed the tolling was taken up in the next village. After the train arrived in Brussels on Saturday morning, a simple black and silver hearse took the coffin from the train to the palace where the dead queen's body was removed and placed on a bed of white silk, covered with flowers and strewn with violets. Thousands of Belgians, of all stations in life, entered the Thinker's Hall of the palace and filed by to catch a glimpse of Astrid's pale, bandaged face. Only her face was visible to the visitors. The forehead and right cheek were covered with bandages giving her the appearance of a wartime nurse at rest.

The funeral services, held the following Tuesday, brought the people of Belgium to the streets of Brussels. Still stunned by the magnitude of the tragic event that had befallen them, the mourners wept openly in the streets for their queen. The bells of Sainte-Gudule, which rang for the royal marriage only nine years before, now tolled slowly and dismally. Crowds of people stood silently and bareheaded to watch and listen for the funeral procession to the burial site in Laeken, Belgium. Flags were at half-staff everywhere. There was an endless steam of people who made their way to the palace to express their sympathy (Things Happen in Threes, by Ray Hahn).

On the day of the crash, Belgian Premier, Paul van Zeeland, voiced the nation's grief:
Our queen is no more. We have lost her only for a few hours, but already the greatness of the void she left has caused a deep impression of anguish and consternation. It was hardly nine years ago that she came to us, like a fairy princess in an atmosphere of grace, love, youth and happiness. Who would not have envied her - beloved Queen, gifted woman, mother of three fine children? Yet a single moment was enough for a tragic accident to sweep away everything - both the reality of the present and the promises of the future. Is there really some mysterious law that insures that everything that is the greatest, the purest, the most beautiful should last only for a short time?
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Queen of Heaven

Coronation of the Virgin (ca. 1350) by Giacomo di Mino

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Birthday of Princess Maria Laura

Today Princess Maria Laura of Belgium, eldest daughter of Prince Lorenz, Archduke of Austria-Este, and Princess Astrid of Belgium, celebrates her 21st birthday. May God grant her every blessing.

The Idyll of Leopold & Astrid

I have quoted before from the memoirs of the Russian sculptress, Catherine Barjansky. During the 1920's and 1930's, she was a friend of the Belgian royal family. She did portraits of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, and taught the Queen the art of sculpting. She has left us touching portrayals of Albert, Elisabeth, Leopold and Astrid. Here is her description of the happy young love of Leopold and Astrid, in the early days before tragedies darkened their world...
It was during that first stay in Brussels that the Queen said to me one day, "I have a surprise for you. Tomorrow you are to start modeling my son and his wife. You know my daughter-in-law is Swedish, very tall and beautiful And my son is so handsome."

She laughed at her own maternal pride and then added; "They will expect you at eleven tomorrow in the palace in Brussels. They are very timid, so you must not wait for them to talk to you, just talk to them. They are terribly in love. We have given them an apartment in the right wing of the palace, where they are entirely alone except for one servant, Leopold's valet, who has been with them since he was a child. I didn't want to impose a lady in waiting on Astrid when she was just married."

The next morning a footman took me into a big corner room in the palace in Brussels, where Leopold and Astrid were waiting. He was an extraordinarily handsome man, and she was very young, very thin, kind and charming. They had been married only three months, and she was already extremely popular in Belgium.

Later they told me that after the wedding in Sweden Leopold returned to Brussels alone to prepare for a second wedding ceremony in Belgium. He and the royal family went to Antwerp to greet his bride. She arrived on a white steamer. She was dressed entirely in white, her suit, her furs, everything. A crowd of thousands of people were waiting to welcome her. Leopold, nearly running, went to meet her, and Astrid threw her arms around him and kissed him, a manifestation that the crowd had not expected but heartily approved. Leopold gave her a bouquet of white flowers, and she held one in her hand, waving.

Her features were not really beautiful, her nose was a little too long, her chin too short and prominent, but she had a beautiful body, almost as tall as Leopold, and a wonderful pink-and-white complexion.

She talked to us in English because she did not yet know enough French. She was obviously madly in love with her husband. The first few times I saw them, they were shy, but after that they always sat in the same chair, kissing each other all the time, except when Astrid, who was in the first stages of her pregnancy, would ring a bell, ask for a lemon, and eat it.

Once I asked her how she had met Prince Leopold.

"He came to see us with his mother," she said. "You know we lived in the country in a big house." She went on to talk about her father whom she loved deeply, her mother, her two sisters, her brothers. She was an artless girl of completely simple tastes. Her eyes shone as she spoke of Leopold.

"He came with his mother, and I did not know who he was. They told me he was Mr. Alexander. And then in a few days we fell in love, and now I am so happy."

Later she told me how much the Queen had helped her in her adjustment to a strange country and duties that were completely foreign to her. "She has never seemed like a mother-in-law," she said. "She has been a sister."

When the time came for her son to marry, the Queen of Belgium had gone from country to country with him, where he met the royal princesses. None of them made any impression on him. Astrid was not the daughter of the King of Sweden, she was his niece, and because she had few official duties she had led a quiet family life in the country. She and her sisters had walked alone through the streets of Stockholm, shopping, going to movies, like private individuals.

Belgium, however, did not approve of this informality. There were rules of etiquette that must not be broken, and that the simple Swedish country girl could not learn. Once while I was modeling her, I dropped one of my tools. Before I could reach it Princess Astrid had bent over to pick it up, and we bumped our heads together.

After the birth of her first child, Astrid, like any proud mother, wanted to show off her baby, and with her Swedish simplicity she walked through the streets of Brussels, pushing the baby carriage. The aristocracy was not amused. Complaints were made to King Albert who, informal and natural himself, sympathized with the daughter-in-law for whom he felt great affection. He gave Leopold and Astrid another palace out of town in Laeken where they were surrounded by trees and lawns, and not by houses filled with curious and observant eyes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Black Legend of Leopold III

It is incredible the way books and articles continue to denigrate King Leopold III. In a travel guide to Belgium and Luxembourg, I came across this tendentious passage:
Léopold III (1934-1951). In contrast to his father, Léopold III had the dubious honor of becoming one of Europe's least popular monarchs. His first wife died in a suspicious car crash; he nearly lost his kingdom by remarrying (then anathema in a Catholic country) and he was badly compromised during the German occupation of World War II. Many felt his surrender to the Germans was cowardly and his subsequent willingness to work with them treacherous; others pointed out his efforts to increase the country's food rations and his negotiations to secure the release of Belgian prisoners. His remaining in Belgium fuelled rumours that he was a Nazi collaborator- though his supporters maintained that he had prevented thousands of Belgians from being deported. After several years of heated postwar debate, during which the king remained in exile, the issue of Léopold's return was put to a referendum in 1950. Just over half the population voted in his favour, with opposition to the King concentrated in Wallonia. Fortunately for Belgium, Leopold abdicated in 1951 in favour of his son.

(The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, by Martin Dunford and Phil Lee, 2002, p. 416)
In discussing the Nazi invasion of Belgium in 1940, the authors tell us: "This time [in contrast to World War I] there was no heroic resistance by the Belgian King..." (p. 418). The tiresome old calumnies are repeated, as he is portrayed as betraying the Allies by surrendering in indecent haste. So many errors in a few short passages!
  • The death of Queen Astrid. Was the tragedy of Küssnacht a "suspicious car crash?" Certainly, like the death of Albert I in an apparent climbing accident, it aroused popular suspicions. Rumors circulated that secret agents had tampered with the King's vehicle, but no proof of foul play has ever come to light. In any case, the way this tragedy is presented, amidst an enumeration of Leopold's supposed failings, almost suggests that the "suspicious" accident was also his fault!
  • The remarriage with Lilian Baels. When was a widower's remarriage ever "anathema" in a Catholic country? Catholics are only forbidden to divorce and remarry, as the Sacrament of Matrimony is believed to endure as long as both spouses are still alive. Criticisms of Leopold's wartime marriage with Lilian centered instead on the question of whether or not it was appropriate for the King to consider his own happiness while his people and army, whose fate he had promised to share, were suffering, and to take a wife while his fellow Belgian prisoners of war, held in concentration camps, were unable to marry or see their families. Leopold was also blamed for reversing the normal order, prescribed by Belgian law, of the civil and religious weddings. The law required that the civil wedding take precedence. Due, however, to the unusual circumstances and the couple's initial desire for secrecy, they were first married in a private, religious ceremony and, only later, in a public, civil one. It is true that many also portrayed Leopold's second romance as a "betrayal" of his first wife's memory, but this idea has nothing to do with Catholicism.
  • Public reactions to the marriage. Did Leopold really "almost lose his kingdom by remarrying?" We often hear that, when the news broke, the Belgian people were shocked, outraged, disillusioned with their King. We are told that his popularity plummeted. In one TV documentary, the narrator compared the "stupefying" announcement of the marriage with the shocking news of the attacks on Pearl Harbor (with which it coincided). Certainly, the marriage took Belgians completely by surprise and sparked different reactions. Yet, these were far from being uniformly negative (see Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation, by Jean Cleeremans, Echec au Roi by Roger Keyes, and Un couple dans la tempête by Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré). The new couple at Laeken received flowers and marks of sympathy from the populace. Cleeremans cites letters, written by Belgians in captivity, taking a respectful and generous view of the marriage. According to Alexander von Falkenhausen, the German military governor of Belgium, the marriage did not, at first, substantially damage Leopold's reputation, except, perhaps, among aristocrats who would have preferred for him to choose one of their daughters (Lilian, of course, was a commoner). In explaining the ultimate inability of many Belgians to accept Lilian, we must take into account the relentless personal attacks, launched by Leopold's political enemies, against this unfortunate woman.
  • The King's capitulation in 1940. How was Leopold "badly compromised" during World War II? The slurs against his valor and loyalty to the Allies are extremely unfair. If Leopold was portrayed as a traitor by many Allied leaders, we have to keep in mind that they needed a scapegoat for their failures in 1940. The King was also defended by many others in high places (see Le 18e jour: la tragédie de Léopold III, roi des Belges, by Colonel Rémy). The testimony of the British war hero and liaison officer, Sir Roger Keyes, who had ample (one might say, unparalleled) opportunities to observe Leopold's actions during the Nazi invasion, is especially weighty. According to Keyes, Leopold "was steadfast in his loyalty towards the Allies and did everything in his power to help their armies." Keyes added: "The Belgians may well be proud of their King, for he has proved himself a gallant soldier, a loyal ally and a true son of his splendid parents." At this point, the Belgians were, in fact (contrary to what this passage suggests), generally "proud of their King." The Belgian government-in-exile joined in attacking Leopold, but his popularity within the country remained high (see especially Emile Cammaerts' account, The Prisoner at Laeken: King Leopold, legend and fact, for a description of how many Belgians, at the outset, took the King's part and viewed his ministers as the traitors. Cammaerts actually tries to maintain a balance between both sides).
  • Leopold's actions during the occupation. How did he "work with" the Nazis? Did he head a collaborationist government, or help the Gestapo round up Jews or resistance fighters? No, on the contrary, he refused to reign under Nazi occupation, and intervened strenuously and repeatedly on behalf of victims of repression, trying (as even the authors of this passage admit) to obtain better conditions for his army and people. He was certainly very brave (and, to some extent, successful) in attempting to protect Belgians from deportation to Germany. It is important to remember that he himself, together with his family, suffered harsh treatment by the Nazis, during his deportation by the SS and incarceration in Germany and Austria from 1944-1945 (not mentioned in the passage). Is this the way you would expect Hitler to treat an ally?
  • The Royal Question and Leopold's abdication. After the war, (as, again, the authors do not mention in this passage), Leopold was actually exonerated of all charges of treason by a commission of eminent public figures representing a considerable spectrum of political persuasions. Nonetheless, his enemies persisted in their attacks, both political and personal (see Léopold III, de l'exil à l'abdication, by Jean Cleeremans). All his actions and motives were portrayed negatively. For five years, he was consistently painted as a coward, a traitor, a fascist sympathizer, a playboy...It is, perhaps, not surprising, then, that, by the time the popular consultation was held in 1950, he had lost the love of many of his subjects. Yet, he still won a majority in the popular consultation! His opponents had to resort to violence in the streets to force his abdication. He accepted this sacrifice in a conciliatory spirit, hoping to see harmony restored in the country. It was, however, a tragic moment. I do not see why it was "fortunate" for Belgium to lose Leopold (although his heir, Baudouin, was also a great King).
As for his "unpopularity," Leopold may have lost the affection of many Belgians, but countless others continued to love him and many of his intimates have left touching testimonies of their deep affection and admiration for this unfortunate King.

St. Louis of France

Today is his feast.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The King at Marche-les-Dames

Here is a popular image of Albert I climbing the cliffs of Marche-les-Dames. Notice the rather naïve style. I am not sure whether this is supposed to be a representation of the day he died (if anyone knows, please tell me). If so, it would be part of the tradition of pious mementos that sprang up after the King's death.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Queen Fabiola on boxershorts??

Marie-Antoinette: A Reputation in Shreds

She is the queen who danced while the people starved; who spent extravagantly on clothes and jewels without a thought for her subjects’ plight. Such is the distorted but widespread view of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755-1793), wife of King Louis XVI. The recent Coppola film has further damaged the image of the much-maligned, beautiful and charming Austrian archduchess, sent to France at age fourteen to marry the fifteen-year-old Dauphin. Sadly, the picture many people now have of Marie-Antoinette is of her running through Versailles with a glass of champagne in her hand, eating bonbons all day long, and rolling in the bushes with a lover...
Incidentally, all this calumny, mockery and derision reminds me of the way Lilian Baels was later treated... but that is no surprise, as Leopold's enemies explicitly hearkened back to the French Revolution.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Tragic Cliffs

I may do a series of posts on popular representations of the Belgian monarchy. A case in point is the legend built up around the death of Albert I. This tragedy became one of the pillars of the "Myth of King Albert" and gave rise to a tradition of pious mementos. Here are a few old postcards illustrating the terrible event...
The caption reads: "A general view of the cliffs of the valley of the Meuse. The sign X marks the cruel peak, where the Sovereign fell, from a height of around 12 meters, hitting his head against a large rock."
"The place where the body of the illustrious alpinist was found. The rock, bearing the letter A, marks the location of his backpack."
"The crowd in meditation before the tragic cliff." In shock and disbelief, many Belgians came to grieve and pray.

Today, schoolchildren continue to visit the sombre place where, 75 years ago, the broken body of their beloved King was found...

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Once Joyful Family

Here, we see Leopold and Marie-Christine ("Daphné"), Lilian and Marie-Esmeralda, Baudouin, Albert, and Alexandre. (Josephine-Charlotte seems to be the only one missing). Leopold and Marie-Christine look so alike! This happy picture exemplifies the union and harmony that (according to many accounts) reigned in Leopold's family during the 1940's and 1950's.

Sadly, after Baudouin's marriage in 1960 and Leopold's departure, with Lilian and their children, to Argenteuil, relations cooled between father and son. The tensions opposing "Laeken" and "Argenteuil" have been the subject of much (often malicious) rumor and speculation. For instance, Leopold and Lilian were falsely accused (even by so prominent a public figure as Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens) of plundering all or most of the furniture from Laeken. Michel Verwilghen, in his well-documented book, Le Mythe d'Argenteuil (2006), refutes this calumny in great detail, but it continues to flare up all over the internet on forums and discussion boards. Verwilghen puts the "estrangement" down to personal conflicts (it is, apparently, true that relations between Lilian and Fabiola, two very forceful women, were often strained), and, more importantly, to political factors.

A number of Baudouin's close advisers were determined to distance the young monarch from his father and step-mother. Furthermore, close family ties provoked charges that Leopold was influencing and manipulating his son (see Echec au Roi by Roger Keyes). Political necessity, thus, obliged Leopold and Baudouin to maintain a certain mutual distance (see Léopold III, homme libre, by Jean Cleeremans). The sad result was that Leopold's two families rarely crossed paths. Lilian recalled that Baudouin, after many years' absence, discreetly visited his father, but was very anxious to meet him alone, without witnesses. Upon his arrival, he was alarmed to see a young woman in the room. He had to be reminded that she was none other than his half-sister, Esmeralda! (see Un couple dans la tempête, by Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré).

Verwilghen, however, notes that, during the 1970's, relations improved between Leopold and Baudouin, citing touching and markedly more cordial correspondence between father and son. Lilian, who had tenderly raised the young Baudouin, also continued, despite all the vicissitudes of their relationship, to love him, worrying about his health during his last years and deeply mourning his death in 1993.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Question

Some day I hope to do a post comparing/contrasting Albert I and Leopold III. I find it an interesting topic as Leopold always modeled himself on his father, yet was accused of betraying his memory... During World War II and the Royal Question, the King's enemies manipulated Albert's image (much as they did Astrid's) to attack Leopold, portraying him as a villain unworthy of his heroic predecessor. Of course, I don't think this. On the contrary, I even wonder if Leopold was actually the greater King, as he faced worse problems. What do you think? Who was greater, Albert or Leopold?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Act of Consecration

Some may remember my post on the Belgian mystic Berthe Petit. According to Berthe, Christ requested the consecration of the world to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. During World War I, she also reported that Christ desired the solemn consecration of Belgium and England to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. This was the formula she believed Our Lord had revealed to her:
O Lord Jesus, Who on Calvary and in the Holy Eucharist hast shown Thyself to us as God of Love and Mercy, kneeling humbly at Thy feet we adore Thee and beg once more for Thy forgiveness and Thy divine pity. And remembering that by Thine own act on Calvary, the human race, represented by Thy beloved disciple John, gained a Mother in the Virgin of Sorrows, we desire to honour the sufferings and woes of our Mother's Heart by devoting ourselves to it in solemn Consecration.

It is but just O Mary, that our souls should strive henceforth to venerate thee with special homage under the title of Thy Sorrowful Heart, a title won by sharing in the whole Passion of thy Son and thus co-operating in the work of our redemption - a title due to thee in justice, and dear, we believe, to Jesus and to thine own Heart, torn by the wound in His.

We consecrate therefore, O Mary, to thy Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart ourselves, our families, our country and those who are fighting for its honour. Have pity on us; see our tribulations, and the anguish of our hearts in the midst of the mourning and calamities that lay waste the world. Deign, O Mother of God, to obtain mercy for us that, being converted and purified by sorrow, and made strong in faith, we may henceforth be devoted servants of Jesus Christ and His Church, for whose triumph we pray. O Mary Immaculate, we promise to be faithful clients of thy Sorrowful Heart. Intercede for us, we beseech thee, with thy Son that, at the cry of thy Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, His divine Power may speedily bring to pass the triumph of right and justice.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have pity on us.
Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us and save us.

(The Art of Divine Love or Berthe Petit, Rev. I Duffer, M.S.C, 2003, p. 37)
Berthe was always highly respected by the church authorities, and England's Cardinal Bourne solemnly performed the consecration as she had urged. Belgium's Cardinal Mercier, however, did not. Apparently, he privately consecrated Belgium to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, but never in a public, solemn manner. What a pity. I do not see what harm it could have done, and it might have helped Belgium in the decades to come...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Queen Astrid's Premonitions

As we are approaching the anniversary of Queen Astrid's death, I wanted to re-post this haunting story. Strangely, not long before the tragic car crash in Küssnacht, Queen Astrid had a definite premonition of her death. She confided her forebodings to her friend, Anna Sparre, who was traveling with the royal couple in the Alps. In her memoirs, Astrid mon amie, Anna recalled:
One afternoon, Astrid and I were drinking coffee in front of a mountain hut... It was our last stop before returning to the village where we had left the car.

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

Astrid was not completely herself; she seemed serious and was not in a mood to joke. I remember a few snatches of our conversation.
The tragic death of her father-in-law, King Albert, in a mountaineering accident, only a year and a half earlier, had been a terrible shock to Astrid; she feared that her husband, King Leopold (also a passionate alpinist) would meet a similar fate.
"Do you understand I am often terribly afraid that something will happen to Leopold, and that I will be left alone with the children?"

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

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

"What is that?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2009

An Idyllic Moment?

Here is a photograph, taken by Queen Elisabeth, of King Albert I, Prince Leopold, Princess Astrid, and one of the royal grandchildren. It conjures up images of an (0stensibly) happy, peaceful period, when Belgium seemed to have everything- a heroic King and Queen, a "fairytale" Prince and Princess...

An idyllic moment, but also a poignant one. Trouble and tragedy would mark the 1930's and 1940's. (I think Albert looks worried even here). Within a few short years, brutal blows of fate would sweep away Albert and Astrid, leaving a shattered Queen Mother, a grieving King, and forlorn royal orphans. Leopold faced World War II alone, setting the stage for the Royal Question.

What might have been, if the whole family had weathered the storm together? What if Albert had still been reigning in 1940? It is incredible enough that political enemies succeeded in painting Leopold as a traitor, when, in fact, from his earliest youth, he had shown himself to be a loyal and courageous patriot. But could anyone have accused Albert of being a Nazi collaborator? How could he be the hero of one war, the villain of another? Or what if Astrid, at least, had been alive? Her immense popularity would surely have been a precious asset to Leopold.

It is hard to say for sure. It is astonishingly easy to malign anyone. Yet, I am certain that the monarchy's position would have been far stronger, if Albert and Astrid had survived. What a pity the three generations in this tender picture could not remain together.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lilian's Last Wishes

When Princess Lilian died in 2002, she was interred with King Leopold III and Queen Astrid in the royal crypt of Laeken. This had been the King's wish; perhaps, by honoring his second wife in this way, he wanted to compensate her for all the insults she had suffered through the decades. Lilian, however, longed to be buried in her chapel at Argenteuil. To an intimate, she confided:
This is the first and only time I will disobey the King's wishes, but I think I have given enough. Since my marriage, I have been a prisoner. The Royal Question dragged me through the mud. All my life, I have shut myself up in silence. At least, after my death- and, please understand, for reasons which are my affair alone- let me not be shut up in the royal crypt.

(Quoted in French by Jacques Franck in Souvenirs de la Princesse Lilian, an article published in La Libre Belgique, October 29, 2003).
In her will, the Princess wrote:
As for my funeral, I desire that it take place among my intimate family, enlarged only by the close circle of those who have manifested, to His Majesty King Leopold III, to my children, and to myself, fidelity and attachment, assistance and devotion. I intend that it be preceded by a sober and contemplative Eucharistic celebration, stripped of particular pomp, in my royal chapel at Argenteuil, in the absence of all representatives of the press...

Notwithstanding the desire of His Majesty King Leopold III to have me rest by his side in the crypt of Laeken, I permit myself, here, to express my very firm wish to be buried at the foot of my royal chapel at the Estate of Argenteuil. I thus consider myself authorized to depart, for the first time, from the King's will.

(Quoted in French by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil, 2006, p. 53)
As Argenteuil belonged to the Belgian state, the government had the final say in the matter, and did not respect Lilian's choice. Nonetheless, I find her last wishes very dignified and touching.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

May Our Lady intercede for us on her holy feast.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Children of Albert & Elisabeth

I think this is a beautiful photograph of Leopold, Charles, and Marie-José, the fruits of the first love-match in Belgian royal history. There was, in fact, a fourth child, stillborn during World War I. In her memoirs, Marie-José recalls: "(Towards the end of 1917), my mother had to take to her bed; the poor state of the roads of Flanders deprived us of the little brother we were expecting. They only told me my mother was ill, for, despite my eleven years, I still thought babies sprang up among the cabbages."

Very sad. I can only imagine the joy everyone (especially in those dark days) would have felt at the birth of a third prince. King Leopold III, in particular, might have greatly benefited from another brother- his relationship with Charles was marked by conflict and tragedy. The story of Elisabeth's wartime miscarriage reminds me of the fourth (unborn) child of Leopold and Astrid, reported by some to have perished along with the Queen at Küssnacht. Again, I wonder what this prince or princess (if he or she really existed) would have been like. Mysteries of Providence!

May this whole family rest in peace.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Banneux, 1933

God sent many graces to Belgium in the dark years leading up to World War II. Only 12 days after her last apparition at Beauraing, Our Lady visited Banneux, another Walloon village. Like Beauraing, Banneux was poor, socialist, and secularist. Like the Dégeimbre and Voisin children, 11-year-old Mariette Beco, the young girl chosen as Our Lady's instrument, came from a lapsed Catholic family. Mariette had ceased attending catechism classes and had never made her First Communion.
On the night of January 15, 1933, Mariette looked out the window for her younger brother, Julien, and saw a beautiful, luminous young lady beckoning to her. The figure was dressed in a long, white gown, with a deep blue sash and a white, transparent veil. Her right foot was visible, with a golden rose between the toes. On her right arm, the lady carried a Rosary with diamond-like beads and a golden chain and cross.

Mariette eagerly called her mother over to look, but Mrs. Beco saw only a mysterious light, and, fearing witchcraft, forbad her daughter to follow the figure outside. On the evening of the 18th, however, the beautiful lady re-appeared to Mariette, as she was leaving the garden, where she had been praying. Mariette knelt beside a nearby stream. "Put your hands in the water," the lady told her. Mariette obeyed and the lady continued: "This stream is reserved for me. Good evening, au revoir ('see you again')."

The next day, amidst terrible weather, Mariette prayed outside on her knees. The mysterious figure re-appeared and the little girl asked: "Who are you, my beautiful lady?" "I am the Virgin of the Poor," was the response (especially touching, in a poverty-stricken region!) Mariette persisted: "Yesterday, beautiful lady, you said: 'this stream is reserved for me,' why 'for me'?" She pointed at herself, thinking it was for her. Smiling, the Blessed Virgin replied: "this stream is reserved for all relieve the sick." Mariette thanked Our Lady, who added: "I will pray for you. Au revoir."

Mariette slept badly that night and had to rest for most of the next day. In the evening, she awoke and returned to the garden, and the Virgin appeared, yet again. "What do you wish, beautiful lady?" Mariette asked. Smiling, Our Lady replied: "I would like a little chapel." She then gave Mariette a blessing, and departed. For several weeks, no further apparitions occurred, but, every evening, Mariette prayed faithfully in the garden. On February 11, the Blessed Virgin returned and told her: "I come to relieve suffering" (1).

The visions were initially met with skepticism and disbelief, and, Mariette was accused of inventing fanciful tales to imitate Beauraing. The local priest urged her to ask the Virgin for a sign, to confirm the truth of the apparitions. At Our Lady's sixth visit, on February 15, Mariette told her: "Blessed Virgin, the chaplain told me to ask for a sign." Yet, Our Lady only answered: "Believe in me, I will believe in you." She entrusted Mariette with a secret and added: "Pray much. Au revoir."

At the last two apparitions, on February 20 and March 2, in striking contrast to her previous smiling demeanor, Our Lady was grave and sorrowful. "My dear child, pray much," she urged Mariette, and, finally: "I am the Mother of the Savior, Mother of God. Pray much." In parting, she blessed Mariette and bid her adieu ('until we meet in God').

In 1935, the Church began investigating the Banneux apparitions, and, by 1949, they had been officially approved by Rome. The cult of the Virgin of the Poor spread widely, both in Belgium and abroad, renewing people's faith. Today, pilgrims still flock to the shrine of Banneux and many cures have been attributed to its healing waters.

Here is a short video on the shrine:

(1) Mariette did not initially understand the meaning of the word "relieve" but she knew it must be something good, as the Blessed Virgin had smiled!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Beauraing, 1932-1933

Yesterday, I linked to an article on the infamous Belgian child-murderer, Marc Dutroux, and his horrific career of kidnapping, rape and murder of young girls in the 1990's. Today I want to talk about God's grace to children....the apparitions of Our Lady of the Golden Heart to five children in Beauraing, Belgium, from 1932-1933.

The 1930's were a dark period. Communism, fascism and Nazism were on the rise in Europe, the Great Depression spread misery through many countries and humanity spiraled towards a new world holocaust. In Belgium, the tragic and untimely deaths of two beloved monarchs- King Albert I and Queen Astrid- brought further grief. Yet, the decade had begun with a message of grace and hope.

Beauraing was a farming village, home to around 2000 souls, near Namur. By 1932, the influence of the Marxist labor party had eroded the inhabitants' once vibrant Catholic faith, and the churches were almost empty. Even the five young visionaries- Andrée and Gilberte Dégeimbre, and Fernande, Gilberte and Albert Voisin, came from respected but not particularly devout families.
Yet, it was here that over 30 Marian apparitions occurred, between November 29, 1932, and January 3, 1933, rekindling people's religious fervor. At the convent of the sisters of Christian Doctrine, in a rose bush near a replica of the Lourdes grotto, the children saw a beautiful, luminous lady dressed in white, looking like an 18-year-old girl, with deep blue eyes. She wore a belt, her dress radiated a blue light and she carried a Rosary on her arm.

During the apparitions, the visionaries were struck to their knees by an unseen force, but suffered no harm. They prayed in high voices and appeared to be in total ecstasy. Doctors experimented by pricking, slapping and pinching them, and shining bright lights in their eyes, but the children made no response and were impervious to pain and injury.

Questioned by Albert Voisin, the beautiful lady indicated: "I am the Immaculate Virgin." She showed the children her shining, Golden and Immaculate Heart. Here are some of her simple, yet touching messages:
"Always be good."
"Pray, pray very much."
"Pray always"
"Goodbye." (to Gilberte Degeimbre)
"I will convert sinners. Goodbye." (to Gilberte Voisin)
"Goodbye." (to Albert Voisin)
"I am the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven. Pray always, Goodbye." (to Andrée Degeimbre)
Our Lady requested that a chapel be built at the site of the apparitions and that Beauraing become a place of pilgrimage. She also entrusted each child with a secret, none of which have ever been revealed. At the last apparition, the Blessed Virgin asked 15-year-old Fernande, who was weeping at the thought of never seeing her again: "Do you love my Son? Do you love me?" Fernande replied, "yes," and Our Lady answered, "then sacrifice yourself for me." At this point, spectators reported, thunder crashed and a ball of fire appeared above Fernande. As the young girl attempted to ask, "what sacrifices shall I make?" Our Lady opened her arms in farewell, and bid her, one last time, adieu.

The visions were subjected to great skepticism and scrutiny (both ecclesiastical and secular). In 1935, the church began a formal investigation of the apparitions. In 1943, the local Bishop authorized public devotion to Our Lady of Beauraing. In 1949, the visions were officially approved by Rome. In obedience to Our Lady's request, a chapel was built at Beauraing and consecrated in 1954. Many cures and graces have been attributed to the intercession of the Virgin of the Golden Heart, and her cult, to this day, remains a focal point of Belgian Catholicism.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Dutroux Affair

Belgium's most infamous scandal (warning: graphic content). It is appalling to think this could happen in a once Catholic country.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Romantic Marie-José

I came across some excerpts from the youthful journal of Marie-José, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. She kept a special "diary of the heart" under lock and key where she recorded her innermost thoughts and emotions. At 18, under the title "Impression," she spoke of her longing for her future husband, Prince Umberto ("Beppo") of Savoy. Marie-José and Umberto are often described as a couple united merely by reasons of state, completely opposed in character. Yet, they had alot in common- inner dignity, concern for social justice, sympathy for art and literature. Raised to love Umberto, Marie-José came to view him as the perfection of a young man...As she confided to her diary:
I do not know why life sometimes seems boring, tiring, empty. Yet there are so many things that are interesting, beautiful, entertaining, good and useful. We meet so many people who are intelligent, good and sincere. But, in spite of this, we are always seeking something else. How stupid we are. Beppo, it's you I want, perhaps this is why everything seems boring, when you are not here. Come, come to me, and let me come to you, and let's always remain together. I don't want to live without you, I cannot, I love you. There's the reason for all my ill-humor. Only you can give me the true joy of this world.

When I see black eyes in the street, an impulse of some sort, an inexplicable energy passes through me. A second's excitement. There's an elegant man walking swiftly by, and I gaze at him. All this because of a distant resemblance to Beppo. I will never love anyone as I love you.

(cited in Italian by Luciano Regolo in Il re signore, 1998, p. 126)

What a romantic young lady! Sadly, she was rarely able to find the conjugal intimacy and happiness she desired, but that's a story for another day...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Glory and Charm..."

A mini-fashion show today...I always love these old photos of Queen Elisabeth in lace dresses. In her memoirs, Princess Louise-Marie, eldest daughter of King Leopold II, recalled the "fairy-tale lace which is the glory and charm of Belgium." Some of these pictures seem almost like an advertisement for the national art! They also illustrate Elisabeth's elegance and refinement.

I especially like her grave, dignified expression in the photo above. And the hat is incredible! She often wore large hats. It was probably very fashionable but, I suppose, it also lent her extra height? Being a very petite woman, she must have needed to compensate...especially considering she had to look imposing (and balance her very tall husband) on official occasions.
A striking contrast, here, between the white dresses of Elisabeth and Marie-José and the black suits of Leopold and Charles.

This one is so tender!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Equestrian Portrait of Leopold I

A striking (and quite romanticized) painting of the young Leopold. I love the colors, especially the shades of blue.

Leopold's Tribute to Louise-Marie

I have posted before on the holy death of Louise-Marie of Orléans, first Queen of the Belgians. Here is a speech delivered by her husband, King Leopold I, on this occasion. The Belgian Senate and Chamber of Representatives had presented their condolences to the monarch. He answered the Chamber in a voice full of emotion:
From the bottom of my heart I thank the Chamber of Representatives for this address, wherein it expresses in so touching, exalted, and tender a manner its regret for the queen, and its feelings towards me. The country has shared my sorrow as if it had lost all I have lost myself. I cannot tell you how this feeling on the part of the country has touched me, and how deeply grateful I am for it. You are right, gentlemen, to speak of the queen as you do. She was attached heart and soul to her new country; in you she found to love those qualities which she herself possessed in the highest degree—steadiness and constancy in your affections. I look to you, gentlemen, and to the country, its happiness and progress, for the consolation I have need of. The ideas I expressed even before my arrival in Belgium with respect to the future have been realized. The country has lived, and has grown. It now offers to our sight no longer the uncertain promise of infancy, but the florid and robust health of youth. All the most ardent desires of my heart are for your future prosperity. My children, who will be with you when I shall be so no more, will continue my task, and your interests will be their only thought. There will be between them and you the same sympathy which exists between us, gentlemen, and which every year as it rolls away renders still stronger and still deeper.

(Memoirs of Leopold I, King of the Belgians, 1868, Theodore Juste, pp. 242-243)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Belgian Enigma

The theft of the Just Judges.

Paul Claudel on Albert I

The King laughing with the Burgomaster of Brussels- I thought this photo captured Albert's spirit as described in this passage

The French Catholic poet, dramatist, and diplomat, Paul Claudel, was a close friend of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. I came across Claudel's beautiful tribute to Albert, dated February 18, 1934. The previous day, the King had died tragically while climbing the cliffs of Marche-les-Dames. His death was a terrible shock to Claudel.

Informé ce matin de l'accident, j'ai cru d'abord qu'il s'était produit loin d'ici, en Suisse. Le roi, grand alpiniste, faisait souvent des ascensions très perilleuses. Le site ou il devait trouver la mort, hélas! avait été récemment classé. Le souverain, qui le connaissait bien, a voulu le revoir à cette occasion. On suppose qu'un quartier de roche a cédé sous lui.

Je ne puis vous dire toute l'étendue de ma tristesse. Dans ma longue carrière, il m'a été donné d'approcher bien des hommes, il m'est rarement arrivé d'en trouver de cette qualité. Le roi était simple dans la grandeur. Il aimait les humbles. Il cherchait l'occasion de les approcher et trouvait pour chacun le mot gentil, la reflexion intelligente qui touche et qui frappe. Malgré tous les lourds devoirs de sa charge, il s'empressait à faire plaisir. Il y a une quinzaine de jours encore, il avait tenu à assister en personne à une representation de "l'Annonce faite à Marie," au Palais des Beaux-Arts, et m'avait parlé de ma pièce de la façon la plus fine et la plus simple, avec la plus grande bienvieillance.

Esprit très noble, très élevé, il avait cependant un sens très juste des réalités, trouvant et définissant parfaitement le sens concret de toutes choses.

...(J'ai vu le roi pour la dernière fois) à la dernière fête donnée à la cour. Je me rappelle aujourd'hui avec mélancolie combien le roi et la reine paraissaient heureux de la brillante réussite de cette soirée. Le roi souriait en me parlant et il semble que la Providence lui ait donné alors une dernière occasion de toucher le coeur de tous ceux qui l'aimaient et qu'il aimait, de prendre en quelque sort congé de ses amis et de son peuple.

Sa mort est une perte terrible, non seulement pour la Belgique mais pour l'Europe entière...


Informed, this morning, of the accident, I thought at first that it had happened far from here, in Switzerland. The king, a great alpinist, often did very dangerous climbs. The place where he would meet his death, alas! had recently been classified. The sovereign, who knew it well, wanted to see it again on this occasion. They suppose that part of the cliff collapsed under him.

I cannot tell you the full extent of my sorrow. In my long career, it has been granted to me to become close to many men, but it has rarely happened that I have found men of this quality. The king was simple in greatness. He loved humble people. He sought opportunities to become close to them and found, for each, the kind word, the intelligent reflection that touches and strikes. Despite all the heavy duties of his charge, he made strenuous efforts to please. Only fifteen days or so ago, he had insisted on attending, in person, a performance of "The Tidings Brought to Mary", at the Palace of Fine Arts, and he had spoken to me of my piece in the finest, simplest fashion, with the greatest kindness.

A very noble, very elevated spirit, he possessed, nonetheless, a very accurate sense of realities, finding and defining perfectly the concrete meaning of all things.

...(I saw the king for the last time) at the last celebration held at court. Today, I remember with sadness how happy the king and queen seemed with the brilliant success of that evening. The king smiled as he spoke to me, and it seems that Providence had given him, on that occasion, a last opportunity to touch the hearts of all those who loved him and whom he loved, to take his leave, as it were, of his friends and his people.

His death is a terrible loss, not only for Belgium but for all of Europe.

(Supplément aux oeuvres complètes, vol. II, by Paul Claudel, Maryse Bazaud, 1991, pp. 219-220)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Marie-José's Birthday

On August 4, 1906, the future Italian queen, Marie-José, youngest child and only daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, was born in Ostend. After two boys, Albert was delighted to have a little girl. Elisabeth, on the other hand, used to repeat, (partly in jest), "I would have preferred another boy." Yet, Marie-José was always a beloved daughter and princess.

Tragically, Marie-José's eighth birthday coincided with the German invasion of Belgium during World War I. It was the beginning of a wartime childhood which painfully marked this brave, yet sensitive young girl.

"The Guns of August"

August 4, 2009 marks the 95th anniversary of the German invasion of Belgium in World War I. On this day, King Albert I delivered a stirring address to the Belgian Parliament:

Never, since 1839, has a more solemn hour struck for Belgium: the integrity of our territory is threatened.

The very force of our righteous cause, the sympathy which Belgium, proud of her free institutions and her moral victories, has always received from other nations, and the necessity of our autonomous existence in respect of the equilibrium of Europe, make us still hopeful that the dreaded emergency will not be realized.

But if our hopes are betrayed, if we are forced to resist the invasion of our soil, and to defend our threatened homes, this duty, however hard it may be, will find us armed and resolved upon the greatest sacrifices.

Even now, in readiness for any eventuality, our valiant youth is up in arms, firmly resolved, with the traditional tenacity and composure of the Belgians, to defend our threatened country.

In the name of the nation, I give it a brotherly greeting. Everywhere in Flanders and Wallonia, in the towns and in the countryside, one single feeling binds all hearts together: the sense of patriotism.

One single vision fills all minds: that of our independence endangered. One single duty imposes itself upon our wills: the duty of stubborn resistance.

In these solemn circumstances two virtues are indispensable: a calm but unshaken courage, and the close union of all Belgians.

Both virtues have already asserted themselves, in a brilliant fashion, before the eyes of a nation full of enthusiasm.

The irreproachable mobilization of our army, the multitude of voluntary enlistments, the devotion of the civil population, the abnegation of our soldiers' families, have revealed in an unquestionable manner the reassuring courage which inspires the Belgian people.

It is the moment for action.

I have called you together, gentlemen, in order to enable the Legislative Chambers to associate themselves with the impulse of the people in one and the same sentiment of sacrifice.

You will understand, gentlemen, how to take all those immediate measures which the situation requires, in respect both of the war and of public order.

No one in this country will fail in his duty.

If the foreigner, in defiance of that neutrality whose demands we have always scrupulously observed, violates our territory, he will find all the Belgians gathered about their sovereign, who will never betray his constitutional oath, and their Government, invested with the absolute confidence of the entire nation.

I have faith in our destinies; a country which is defending itself conquers the respect of all; such a country does not perish!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Belgium Rejects the German Ultimatum, 1914

This note has made a deep and painful impression upon the Belgian Government. The intentions attributed to France by Germany (the ultimatum had claimed that Germany was only acting to preempt an impending French invasion of Germany through Belgium) are in contradiction to the formal declarations made to us on August 1, in the name of the French Government.

Moreover, if, contrary to our expectation, Belgian neutrality should be violated by France, Belgium intends to fulfil her international obligations and the Belgian army would offer the most vigorous resistance to the invader.

The treaties of 1839, confirmed by the treaties of 1870 vouch for the independence and neutrality of Belgium under the guarantee of the Powers, and notably of the Government of His Majesty the King of Prussia.

Belgium has always been faithful to her international obligations, she has carried out her duties in a spirit of loyal impartiality, and she has left nothing undone to maintain and enforce respect for her neutrality.

The attack upon her independence with which the German Government threaten her constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. No strategic interest justifies such a violation of law.

The Belgian Government, if they were to accept the proposals submitted to them, would sacrifice the honour of the nation and betray their duty towards Europe.

Conscious of the part which Belgium has played for more than eighty years in the civilisation of the world, they refuse to believe that the independence of Belgium can only be preserved at the price of the violation of her neutrality.

If this hope is disappointed the Belgian Government are firmly resolved to repel, by all the means in their power, every attack upon their rights.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fierce Elisabeth

I think this is a magnificent photograph of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians.

Poison Fog, 1930

A tragic episode in the Meuse Valley proved that industrial air pollution can kill.
...The area of Liège on the River Meuse, was once one of the most heavily industrialised areas of continental Europe, with steelworks, zinc smelters, glass manufacturers, and fertiliser and explosive plants established since the industrial revolution. Between December 1 and December 5, 1930, a thick fog covered a large part of Belgium. From Dec 3 onwards, hundreds of people in the villages situated in the narrow portion of the Meuse Valley between the towns of Huy and Liège...started to have severe respiratory signs and symptoms. More than 60 people died in the next few days. People in the entire country and abroad were deeply shocked and the deadly fog received considerable media attention. Many dignitaries, including Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, visited the affected area. The event was reported in medical and scientific journals in many countries...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Blue Garden

As Queen Astrid's best friend, Anna Sparre, recalls in her memoirs, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium loved horticulture and kept a special garden featuring a variety of blue flowers. She had a firm belief in the soothing effects of blue. So, in her honor, I present some lovely blue blossoms.

Anna Sparre remembered that after leaving the garden, everything seemed garish and she thought there might be truth in the Queen's theory. What do you think? Are blue flowers relaxing?

Loving Clementine

I have posted before on Princess Clementine (1872-1955), youngest daughter of King Leopold II. I am always in awe of her forbearance with an impossible father, notorious for his cold, harsh ways and scandalous private life. For years, the King prevented Clementine from marrying the choice of her heart, Prince Victor-Napoleon, Bonapartist claimant to the French throne. Meanwhile, despite her suffering, the Princess dutifully assisted her father in his public role. Her patience was rewarded, when, after Leopold's death, she was finally able (at age 38!) to marry her Prince. In her correspondence, Clementine's joy, as well as her wonderfully warm, affectionate heart, come to the fore. In glowing terms, she described Victor as "kind...sweet, adoring, loving, intelligent, knowledgeable..."

To her beloved sister, Stephanie, after her engagement, Clementine wrote:
You cannot imagine the depth of my happiness in answering to the love, the fidelity, and the happiness of the man who has remained at my side for many long years. God has looked upon my difficult situation and, in His power, has resolved everything.
After her wedding, she confided to Stephanie:
Napoleon, for Clementine, is a love, I adore him. During the day, I spend most of my time finding ways to please him, and the nights!... they are exquisite. I never thought this could be so good.
Clementine adored her children, too. Whenever she mentioned them, her profound maternal love (mixed with a gentle humor) shone through:
My daughter is happy, smiling, sweet. She is the image of her father. My son has a sweet nature, he is very endearing. He is intelligent and observant, he likes singing all day...but does not smile much when he has to study...
Given her parents' disastrous union, and her own glacial upbringing, Clementine's happy marriage and loving family life must have been all the more precious to her. In the light of this tragic background, her tender letters are especially touching.
(I found the excerpts from Clementine's letters HERE, the translations are mine).