Friday, October 30, 2009

Victoria & Charlotte

Paintings of the young Queen Victoria, intermingled with portraits of her cousin, Princess Charlotte of Belgium (the future Empress Carlota of Mexico) as a little girl. I was really struck by the family resemblance!


King Baudouin in the Congo

We now come to the most controversial era in the history of royal visits to the Belgian Congo- the first decade of King Baudouin's reign. The young monarch visited Belgium's prized colony three times in this period, amidst mounting political tensions and demands for independence- a goal finally achieved in 1960. Above, we see a sombre Baudouin, arriving for the celebrations to mark this occasion in Kinshasa.

The last years of Belgian colonial rule were a deeply troubled, violent time. Nonetheless, the King's first visit- in the summer of 1955- left happy memories. The King was enthusiastically welcomed and nicknamed Bwana Kitoko ("Handsome Young Man") by the Congolese. Queen Fabiola, in her open letter on the 10th anniversary of her husband's death, recalled the warm atmosphere of this tour, while evoking the tragedies to come:
His first visit to the Congo left the memory of a young king, relaxed and cheerful among the Africans, amidst mutual sympathy and attachment. For this reason, he suffered greatly from the murderous clashes later endured in the Congo by Belgians and Congolese.
The moment was already fast approaching when Belgium and the Congo would part ways. From 1955 on, the movement for self-determination, led by nationalists such as Joseph Kasavubu and Patrice Lumumba, became increasingly vocal. In 1958, Lumumba founded the National Congolese Movement (MNC) and was soon leading strikes and demonstrations against the Belgian régime. The climate became increasingly bitter; many Belgians, not surprisingly, were reluctant to relinquish their lucrative empire. 1959 (the year of Baudouin's second colonial tour) began tragically with riots in Léopoldville. What was Baudouin's view of the developments? According to David Wilsford's Political Leaders of Contemporary Europe: a biographical dictionary:
In 1959, King Baudouin addressed the Belgian nation and for the first time recognized that independence of the Congo was imminent. Black leaders continued to organize and criticize the colonial power; they envisioned a presidential, autonomous system of government for the Congo. Baudouin, however, still viewed the colony as an "inheritance" and favored a "Belgian-Congolese" community where he would be maintained as king both of Belgium and the Congo. Nonetheless, in the midst of great political turmoil (and haste, making it impossible for the country to prepare adequately for self-government), the colony was granted independence on June 1, 1960 (p. 30)
Are we to understand that Congolese leaders wanted a complete break with the colonial past, and a republican constitution, whereas Baudouin hoped for an arrangement analogous to the British Commonwealth?

The independence celebrations, according to one fervent nationalist author, began in an exalted atmosphere combining "the pain of separation and the intoxication of liberty." The Guardian, by contrast, reported that the crowd in Kinshasa was "as small, and as unenthusiastic as an independence crowd could very well be. There were only about four thousand there, due, perhaps, to the confusion caused by hasty arrangements." In any case, it was the occasion for a royal visit which, unfortunately, rapidly degenerated into a diplomatic disaster.

Ceremonial gunfire marked the solemn occasion. The King, after praising the Belgians' contributions to the Congo over the past 80 years (even declaring that independence was the "crowning of the work" initiated by the "genius" of his forebear, Leopold II, the founder of the colony, and continued by the Belgian pioneers who helped to build the country) and insisting that the Congolese owed Belgium a debt of gratitude, warned his audience of the heavy responsibilities of their newfound sovereignty:
...Your rulers will know the difficult task of governing. They will have to make the general interests of the country their first priority. They will have to teach the Congolese people that independence is not realized by the immediate satisfaction of facile enjoyment, but by work, respect of the freedom of others and the rights of minorities, by tolerance and the order without which no democratic regime can subsist...
Baudouin's speech has aroused sharp criticism to this day. His tribute to the colonial régime is portrayed as shameless whitewashing of decades of brutal exploitation; his words of warning, as arrogant paternalism. The praise of the Belgians' work in the Congo certainly contrasts with the critical portrayals of colonialism by Albert I and Leopold III. But surely Baudouin, like his father and grandfather, was aware of the sufferings of Congolese? His family (after Leopold II, that is) were actually quite sensitive to these issues, so it seems unlikely that Baudouin would be a blind partisan of the colonial régime. Perhaps, he only wanted to remind his audience that there had been positive aspects to Belgian rule, also (the negative aspects had probably already been stressed by those campaigning for independence)? In any case, the King's political advice, even if delivered in a rather superior tone, was, in itself, valuable.

Lumumba (by then, the Congo's first Prime Minister) responded with an impromptu, violent denunciation of the evils of colonial rule.
Our wounds are too fresh and too smarting (for us to ever forget the colonial régime of the past 80 years)...(We) have known ironies, insults, and blows which we had to undergo morning, noon and night because we were Negroes. We have seen our lands spoiled in the name of laws which only recognised the right of the strongest. We have known laws which differed according to whether it dealt with a black man or a white.

We have known the atrocious sufferings of those who were imprisoned for their political opinions or religious beliefs and of those exiled in their own country. Their fate was worse than death itself. Who will forget the rifle-fire from which so many of our brothers perished, or the gaols in to which were brutally thrown those who did not want to submit to a regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation which were the means the colonialists employed to dominate us?
Tempers ran high (which was especially unfortunate, as the mood of the festivities had, hitherto, been fairly amicable), and the King, mortally offended, decided to cut short his visit and return to Belgium immediately. He was persuaded to stay, but reportedly long retained bitter memories of the episode...

So, our series on royal visits to the Congo sadly ends on a troubled note.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Lil chérie..."


In Léopold III, photographe (2006), Princess Esmeralda of Belgium includes a touching letter from the King to his wife, Princess Lilian, dated April 22, 1952 (the year after his abdication). The royal couple had embarked together on an expedition to Central America, but Lilian had to leave early to return to the children in Belgium.
A ma petite Lil chérie, en traversant l'isthme, d'un océan à l'autre.

Dans quelques heures, tu vogueras sur l'Atlantique vers nos chers enfants, tandis que les flots du Pacifique me transporteront vers les Iles des Perles et le mystérieux Darién.

Nous serons physiquement séparés par d'innombrables kilomètres, mais pas un instant tu ne seras, ma petite Lil adorée, loin de mes pensées; rien ne peut couper les liens d'amour qui nous unissent.

Ne sois pas triste ma petite; pense à la joie que tu éprouveras en débarquant à Anvers. Tu seras entourée de l'amour de 5 êtres qui t'adorent. Ne sois pas inquiète sur mon sort; je serai très prudent et te rejoindrai en juin en bonne santé. Je suis, comme toi, affreusement malheureux de te quitter. Je le suis d'autant plus que je n'aurai plus à mes côtés, pour parcourir la jungle du Darién et la jungle du Haut-Orénoque, ma compagne intrépide de chasse et de pêche!

Lil chérie, je t'embrasse passionément, je te serre contre mon coeur.

Embrasse les enfants. A bientôt.

Ton Léo

***

To my dearest little Lil, while crossing the isthmus, from one ocean to another.

In a few hours, you will be sailing over the Atlantic, towards our dear children, while the waves of the Pacific will transport me to the Pearl Islands and mysterious Darién.

We will be physically separated by innumerable kilometers, but not for an instant, my adored little Lil, will you be far from my thoughts; nothing can break the bonds of love that unite us.

Don't be sad, my little one; think of the joy you will feel upon landing in Antwerp. You will be surrounded by the love of 5 people who adore you.

Don't be anxious about my fate; I will be very careful and I will rejoin you in June in good health. Like you, I am dreadfully unhappy to leave you. I am all the more so as I will no longer have, at my side, to cross the jungles of Darién and Higher Orinoco, my intrepid hunting and fishing companion!

Dearest Lil, I kiss you passionately, I press you to my heart.

Kiss the children. See you soon.

Your Léo
It is really sad that this romance is often portrayed in negative (and even vulgar) terms. The royal couple's own letters (see HERE for another example) evoke a genuinely noble love. It ought to be respected rather than mocked...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Prince Charles in the Congo

I never realized before that Prince Charles (younger brother of King Leopold III) made a visit to the Congo, in 1947, while serving as Regent of Belgium. Here are some interesting videos (courtesy of British Pathe) of this trip:





Sunday, October 25, 2009

Birthday of Princess Elisabeth


Today is the eighth birthday of Princess Elisabeth of Belgium. After her father, Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, she is second in line to the Belgian throne. May God bless this little Queen to be and grant her many long years!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Engagement of Umberto & Marie-José

On October 24, 1929 (ominously enough, the infamous "Black Thursday," the first day of the Wall Street Crash) the engagement of Princess Marie-José of Belgium and Prince Umberto of Savoy was officially announced. During the celebrations in Brussels, as Umberto was laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Ferdinando de Rosa, a young Italian, attempted to assassinate the Prince (it was supposed to be a symbolic act to protest the Italian monarchy's compliance with Mussolini). Fortunately, he failed and was arrested. It was all over so quickly that Umberto and Marie-José did not even notice what had happened. Later, when people praised the Prince for his calm and courage, the Princess misunderstood and was deeply hurt: "Do you really need calm and courage to marry me?"

Friday, October 23, 2009

The King's Appeal

On September 30, 1945, at St. Wolfgang, Austria, shortly after his liberation from German captivity, King Leopold III prepared a moving address to the Belgian nation. He expressed his gratitude and admiration for the Belgians' heroism during World War II, and protested his innocence of the charges of treason delaying his return to Belgium. On October 16, 1945, Baron Nothomb read the speech to the Belgian Senate. Here is a translation:
Belgians,

At the moment of leaving the soil where, after 11 months of captivity, I was liberated by the victorious American armies, and before reaching Switzerland, where I will await in silence the nation's pronouncement, I want to address myself to you in all sincerity, and from the depths of my heart.

Since my youth, I have lived among you. When I was 15 years old, I came to know the deep qualities of those magnificent soldiers whose simple, tenacious heroism saved our country and covered it with glory.

Later, when life put me in contact with the miners, workers and peasants of our provinces, I found again those same qualities of conscience, of heart, of will, of love of work and freedom which make the strength of our people, which have permitted it to overcome all the crises history has imposed on it, and which, I am convinced, will, this time, too, restore to it the place it has been able to earn among the most civilized nations of the world.

In 1940, when, for the second time, the German army invaded the sacred soil of our country, I took- as did my father- command of our troops. The fortune of arms was unfavorable to us. But our honor was saved.

The Belgian army and its commander have been covered with disgrace. But I know what was the conduct of our 600,000 soldiers, I who saw them under fire, without protection against the incessant attacks of the German air-force, I who saw them break themselves, for two whole days, against the front-lines of the Lys, the most fearsome armored units, I know what was their heroism.

Soldiers, when you return to your homes- some of you after five years of captivity- you will have the right to the gratitude of the country, for you have served it well. History will render you justice. Know that your commander does not forget you. Those of you who have fallen have not died in vain. For it is not only victory that makes a people great and forms a nation, it is the will to defend itself, to remain itself, to stay firm in the ordeal.

You have deserved well of your country. I am honored to have commanded you and you can be all the more proud of yourselves, as your courage and your sacrifice contributed to the final victory of the United Nations over the most ruthless of enemies. If you had not held the line so fiercely on the Lys, without any other hope than that of delaying the German onslaught, the English divisions who would form the core of the great and victorious British army, would probably not have been able to embark at Dunkirk. It is a glorious voice- that of Admiral Keyes, the hero of Zeebrugge- which, at the moment when, all over the world, you were unjustly held responsible for the defeat, made itself heard, with an admirable honesty, to render you this homage.

When, on May 28th, I understood that all further resistance was futile, I decided to lay down our arms. I considered that my conscience and my responsibility as the head of the army did not permit me to sacrifice in vain thousands of soldiers and refugees. Only those who are insensible to human misery and do not know how many sorrows the death of a loved one provokes will condemn me.

Conquered, I did not wish to leave you- I could not have done so- at the moment when a long agony was beginning for you. A number of Belgians then, who did not know the real situation, reproached me for it. Some even believed I was betraying them, and the echo of their voices, which has begun to resound anew, obliges me to relive the painful hours I knew after our defeat in 1940.

But I know that the great majority among you have conserved your faith in me. I thank you from the depths of my heart and I want to tell you- with all that this implies for me in terms of responsibility before history- that I am conscious of having served you as a man and a King.

Only those who did not live through the ordeals of enemy occupation can maintain that the sacrifice I made by becoming a prisoner to remain among you was not useful to the country.

I have the right to affirm- and the proof, one day, will be furnished to you- that the passive resistance I firmly maintained prevented Belgium from negotiating with Germany, momentarily victorious, and supported her in her refusal to let herself be seduced or enslaved by the enemy, aided by a handful of traitors and bad citizens whom we will refuse to consider Belgians any longer.

By remaining among you as your imprisoned sovereign, by not accepting to reign under the occupation, by refusing, despite the pressing offers of which I was the object, to treat with the enemy, I not only saved the country's honor, I maintained its right to independence and will to remain, despite the odious violence done to it, a sovereign nation.

Throughout the whole occupation, as I saw, with proud admiration, the Belgian nation rallying, organizing resistance and forming, in Belgium and in England, the new army to liberate the country, I held myself to the line of conduct I had fixed since the capitulation: to refuse all negotiation with the enemy, to do nothing...which could harm the military, political or economic interests of the noble nations whose armies had responded to our appeal...

People have told you, provoking German testimonies, that I was at Berchtesgaden to save the dynasty by selling my country. Those who have told you this have slandered me. They know- or they could have known, since I offered to show them my dossiers- that, if I agreed to visit Hitler who, a perjurer to his word, had invaded Belgium, it was only to try to stop that odious attempt to divide the nation, consisting in sending home only the Flemish prisoners, and also so that your children could have more bread.

People have told you that I arranged my own deportation, and that of my family, to avoid being among you at the moment of liberation. And they have not hesitated to accuse me of trying to deceive you by publicly protesting against the violence that was done to me.

The conscience of the nation will be able to judge the attitude of those who have taken upon themselves the responsibility for such defamation.

I did not have the happiness, which you knew, to be present at the liberation. And, alone today among the Belgians who endured the suffering of captivity and exile, I have been refused the joy of returning to my homeland.

I accept, for Belgium, this new sacrifice, with the ardent hope that I will see, from afar, concord and union re-established among the Belgians.

Respectful of the institutions and liberties of our parliamentary regime, upon which are based the independence and the prosperity of our country, I have recourse to the sovereignty of the people.

The Belgian monarchy is founded on the common will of the citizens. Whatever this will may be. Whatever the legal means by which it may be expressed, I accept, in advance, its verdict.

Since the start of my reign, serving my country was my only ambition. Tomorrow, like yesterday and today, despite everything, to this I will remain faithful.

(s) Leopold.

(Translated from the French version on the website of Le Vétéran. The document is also included in the annexes of the King's memoirs).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

King Albert & Queen Elisabeth in the Congo

The last decade of King Albert's reign was filled with a rapid succession of royal trips to the Congo...We have seen how Prince Leopold journeyed through Belgium's African possessions in 1925 and 1933. His parents did likewise in 1928 and 1932. Colonial issues were always close to the King's heart. In 1920, amidst the aftermath of World War I, while Belgian politicians were still focusing on the nation's recovery, Albert took the initiative of launching a Colonial Congress, the first in Belgian history. He emphasized the role the Congo could play in Belgium's economic development, while also inveighing against abuse of the native population. Plans for a royal visit were soon underway, and the first opportune moment came in 1928.

Accompanied by his wife, Queen Elisabeth, Albert arrived in Africa for the second time in his life. He had last seen the Congo as a young prince in 1909, and he would now retrace his steps. He wore a handsome white and gold uniform specially designed for the trip. Ordinarily, Albert was known for his royal indifference to externals ("Look for the worst dressed fellow of the bunch," he once told an official who asked how to recognize him when he was traveling incognito). Yet, the Congolese attached great importance to the outward trappings of rank and authority, so the King had to dress more grandly on his African visits.

According to a contemporary account of the trip:
The itinerary the King and Queen followed enabled them to visit the most interesting regions of our African colony. From Boma to Banana, the Sovereigns made the complete circuit of the Congo. Thanks to (modern transport), they were able, from Léopoldville, to reach Katanga directly, without having to make the long journey by river. From Elisabethville, where they arrived after a rapid journey by air and rail, the King and his entourage were able to retrace the route taken 20 years earlier by Prince Albert. It was a long...journey along the river, from Bukama to Banana, with many varied stops, with short trips by rail whenever the river ceased to be navigable, and a quick flight by air from Colquilhatville to Léopoldville and Boma (Boula Matari ou le Congo Belge, Jacques Crokaert, 1929).
Warmly welcomed throughout the trip, the King and Queen made detours to visit the agricultural enterprises of Mayumba, the diamond mines of Kasai, the rich lands of Rwanda, Urundi, Kivu and Uele. They met with colonial dignitaries, Christian missionaries and native chieftains alike. Crokaert describes the journey in rather complacent and triumphalist terms, eulogizing the genius of Leopold II in acquiring the colony, citing the vast technological progresses in the Congo since Albert's last visit, and stressing the natives' debt of gratitude for the benefits of European civilization. The King, however, told a different story. In a letter, he noted, with his customary caustic irony:
We have already seen many things, and, above all, many people. Very busy program, pathological insistence of public servants, private individuals, and even servants of God on being endlessly complimented on what they do or even do not do...

Boma has not changed in 19 years. The governor-general's house is a dirty box. Matadi: frightful. An insult to the majestic river. Léo-Kin cuts a good figure, could become a magnificent city....

To say the voyage is a pleasure would be a lie...The mentality of the big officials for the most part bad. The little ones are often worth more. Great greed everywhere, malice without bounds, few agreeable people. Some great potential in private enterprises (Léopold III, by Vincent Dujardin, Mark van den Wingaert, et. al. 2001.)
Quite critical, like his son! Yet, happier memories of Albert's Congo trips have also come down to us. Le Roi Albert et les Missions (1935) by Joseph Masson, S. J., for instance, provides a wealth of information on the royal couple's close and touching relationship with the Catholic missionaries in Africa. Despite the King's critical comments in his letter, he clearly admired their heroism, as many stories testify (see HERE). Once, for instance, he visited a convent school for young girls, future mothers of Christian homes. He was deeply moved by the experience and quietly told one of the nuns: "Continue, Sister, to devote yourself to this work, for the greater glory of God and for our country." To other missionaries, he confided: "I desire that, at my death, not a single pagan be left in the Congo." His concern for the spiritual welfare of his African subjects was matched by concern for their material prosperity too. He insisted on personally visiting the homes of ordinary people to see, with his own eyes, their living conditions. According to Masson, the indigenous people were very impressed by the kindness and piety of Albert and Elisabeth. Apparently, in religious controversies between Protestant and Catholic Congolese, the latter would even use the King's devout Catholic faith as a clinching argument: "You see the King belongs to our Church, so it must be the true one."

To the end of his life, King Albert was keenly preoccupied with Belgium's distant colony. In 1932, he would return for his third visit, traveling by air through the cotton farms of Uele and the national park bearing his name. As a final touching detail, his last day of work (according to Masson) was devoted to the Congo.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prince Leopold & Princess Astrid in the Congo

Some may remember my post on Prince Albert's visit to the Belgian Congo in 1909. His son, Prince Leopold (future King Leopold III), followed in his father's footsteps in 1925 and 1933. His first trip took place before his marriage, but his second was graced by the presence of his lovely Swedish bride, Princess Astrid.

Visiting the Congo was an important step in the training of the heir to the Belgian throne. In Leopold's case, it was also the start of a lifelong passion for tropical exploration. After his abdication, he would undertake many expeditions through Africa, Asia and South America, recording his experiences in his Carnets de Voyages and taking a vast collection of magnificent photographs (see Léopold III, mon père and Léopold III photographe by Esmeralda de Réthy).

In 1929, the Revue de Zoologie et de Botanique africaine published an article on the Prince's first voyage to the Congo. Here is an excerpt:
In 1925, HRH Prince Leopold of Belgium, Duke of Brabant, undertook a study trip, lasting many months, to central Africa, and, more particularly, to the Belgian Congo. The route he took led him from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. The Prince had an opportunity to traverse very diverse regions, with very different physical characteristics, flora and fauna. These regions...encompass widely varying types of forests and wildernesses, and sometimes reach very high elevations, notably north of Lake Kivu.

Despite his many occupations, the Prince, a fervent friend of Nature, was able, in the course of the trip, to find the time to gather specimens of the insect life of some of the regions he visited...Among a total of around 3300 specimens, there were found 1100 species and varieties: among these, many little known types, and over 40 new ones...The relatively high number of species reported and the number of new discoveries and rare forms, clearly shows the importance of the collection assembled by the Prince.
A hardy outdoorsman, Leopold trekked through the wilds on foot. He thoroughly investigated Congolese conditions, visiting mines, railways, hospitals, prisons and missions, interviewing local officials and questioning the humblest of his father's African subjects. He came away with a highly critical view of the colonial régime. He was very worried by the ill-health of the indigenous people, noting in his diary:
The population is weak and does not seem to increase much, its nutrition...is very insufficient, many terrible tropical illnesses are decimating it...an excessive and badly understood employment of labor aggravates the problems mentioned...bad recruitment, lack of care (lodging, clothing, return of sick workers to their villages, poor nutrition, etc.) bad hygiene in the camp clusters, low birth rate in the camps and urban agglomerations...
He noted the devastation caused, in particular, by the irresponsible policies of the palm oil industry:
These companies had obtained huge concessions of millions of hectares and were trying to expand them even further, by resorting to enclosures made to the detriment of the natives. Furthermore, to gather the palm nuts, the companies did not establish plantations, but limited themselves to harvesting the nuts produced by the palm trees in the forest. This forced upon the natives the hazardous task of climbing the tree trunks (which may reach) 20 or 30 meters in height. What is more, this harvesting policy obliged the natives to live with their families in insalubrious forests, where sleeping sickness often reigns. The result is a considerable mortality rate among the workers, and, above all, among their wives and children (L'education d'un Prince by Gilbert Kirschen.)
Despite his admiration for the heroism of the Christian missionaries, Leopold had some critical words for them, too:
The Catholic and Protestant missionaries have played so important a role in the Congo that it is impossible to pass an unmixed judgment on them... The idealism, the devotion, the self-sacrifice of the missionaries, men and women, must never be lost from view and deserve to be rendered homage. I am more hesitant when it comes to the concrete realizations of the missions. I was won over by the Brothers of the Christian Schools who determined...to promote the formation of carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, all knowing, of course, how to read and write and how to integrate themselves in industrial society, without having to break brutally with their milieu. Other missions....created....uprooted people, by forcing the natives to abandon their traditional values...this error never appeared so clearly to me as during that voyage in 1925 (L'éducation d'un Prince, by Gilbert Kirschen).
In 1933, the Prince would return to the Congo, further developing his grasp of the colonial situation. His wife proved an intrepid traveling companion and entered wholeheartedly into his concerns. In her memoirs, Astrid mon amie, her friend Anna Sparre explains:
(In her letters) she described not only the majestic landscapes...she also revealed her emotion, as she was faced with suffering, poverty and infant mortality. Upon her return, she moved heaven and earth to bring aid...Her sense of responsibility had been awakened and she did not stop at good intentions. Her husband entirely shared her sentiments. After their return, he delivered remarkable speeches: the Belgian interventions in the colonies, in his view, ought to benefit, first of all, the natives and their country...The princess, of course, did not deliver official speeches, but obtained results thanks to her disarming smile and her active commitment.
Leopold's bold and uncompromising moral stand on colonial issues did nothing to win him favor in certain industrial circles. Already, he was beginning to make powerful enemies, with ominous consequences in the decades to come.

(*the passages quoted were originally in French, the translations are mine)





Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Playing Carlota

The Mad Monarchist reviews the 1939 film Juarez, starring Bette Davis as the tragic Belgian-born Empress Carlota of Mexico. More HERE. It always strikes me that Belgian royals have faced many tragedies over the decades, and Carlota's sad fate is yet another example.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Parents of Queen Louise-Marie

The father and mother of the first Belgian queen, Louise-Marie of Orléans. This little princess of the cadet branch of the House of Bourbon was born in exile in Palermo in 1812. A few years later, her family were allowed to return to France. In 1830, during the July Revolution, Louise-Marie's father ascended the throne, upon displacing the elder line of the French royal house. In 1832, Louise-Marie was married off (not all that happily) to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the first monarch of the new Kingdom of Belgium.
The "Citizen King" of the French, Louis-Philippe of Orléans (1773-1850). (His father, of course, was the infamous revolutionary, "Philippe Egalité," who cast the deciding vote sending his cousin, Louis XVI, to the guillotine). Apparently, Louise-Marie, despite her famed kindness and generosity, had a keen eye for the faults and failings of those around her (I've even seen her described as a "merciless observer"). Upon arriving in Belgium, she was rather too outspoken in her criticisms of her new subjects, and her father had to warn her to be more tactful and diplomatic.... Oddly enough, the Queen passed away only a few months after her (now deposed) father's death in exile.
Louis-Philippe's wife, Marie-Amélie of Naples. Her somewhat skeptical expression reminds me of portraits of her daughter. I think Louise-Marie strongly resembled her mother, too, in her piety and charity.

I once had a conservative, religious person look at me in horror when I mentioned that the first Queen Consort of the Belgians (and, therefore, the subsequent generations of the Belgian royal family) were descended from the Orléans. Some seem to act as though the entire Orléans line were painted with the brush of indelible guilt and infamy. Yet, the radical background of the family, the regicide of Philippe Egalité and Louis-Philippe's questionable taking of the throne simply cannot be blamed on later people like poor Louise-Marie! She was, by all accounts, a devout, upright woman, a loyal wife and mother, and a generous Queen. She was an innocent person! Also, I find her very interesting, as she seems to have combined a critical, realistic mind with a charitable heart (rare!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Death of Queen Louise-Marie

On October 11, 1850, the first Queen of the Belgians, Louise-Marie of Orléans, died in Ostende. She was only 38 years old. Famous for her piety, tenderness, generosity, and charity, she was deeply mourned by her family and people. Although he did not share her Catholic faith, and had not, unfortunately, been a particularly faithful husband, King Leopold I sincerely mourned his consort and paid her this touching tribute: "Her death was saintly, like her life."

I came across this fervent eulogy of the Queen, dating from 1850, and wanted to share the moving account of her last hours:
...(L)a faiblesse de la Reine était devenue extrême: la fièvre l'exténuait avec une persistance désespérante, bien que sans sécousses violentes. Dans la journée du 10 Octobre, elle eut une longue défaillance, dans laquelle, dit-elle en se ranimant, elle avait cru mourir. Quelques paroles tombées de la bouche d'une de ses intimes amies, lui apprirent alors toute la gravité de sa situation. La Reine l'avait ignorée jusqu'alors: elle ne doutait pas qu'elle touchait déjà au terme de sa vie. Dieu, en la rappelant à lui, voulait lui épargner les angoisses de la mort...

Quelques inattendues que fussent pour elle, les paroles que Mad. d'Hulst venait de prononcer, loin d'altérer un seul instant l'admirable sérénité de son âme, elles ne contribuèrent qu'à élever avec une nouvelle ferveur, sa pensée vers le ciel. Elle exprima...le désir de s'unir une nouvelle fois, avec Dieu dans la sainte Eucharistie; de le recevoir, une dernière fois, dans son coeur - ce coeur si pur où Dieu n'avait jamais cessé de régner. Ce fut à 2 heures après-midi qu'en présence de sa famille en pleurs, elle reçut des mains du vénérable abbé Guelle, le pain mystérieux des esprits célèstes...

Le reste du jour n'amena aucun changement dans l'état de la malade: toujours le même abattement, toujours le même calme d'esprit, la même resignation à la volonté divine.

Instruite de l'affliction dont tous les Belges étaient pénétrés, la Reine voulut qu'on leur exprimât sa gratitude...et elle ajouta: "Si je dois mourir, que la nation conserve au roi toute son affection, car il en est bien digne: elle ne connaîtra jamais tout ce que le roi a fait pour la rendre heureuse et prospère: qu'elle rapporte son mon époux et sur mes enfants la part de sympathie qu'elle m'a vouée."

La nuit du 10 au 11 fut pour la famille un siècle d'indicibles angoisses: plus de doute, cette nuit devait clore la belle mission de la Reine sur la terre. Pour nous, le moment d'un deuil national, pour elle, celui d'une félicité sans fin approchait rapidement.

Les premiers lueurs de la journée du 11, vinrent enfin se mêler à la clarté funèbre des cierges bénis qui brûlaient dans son appartement. La Reine sentait que son heure était venue. Ranimant ses forces, elle consola ceux que sa mort prématurée faisait fondre en larmes; bénit ses enfants agénouillés au pied de son lit, les conjura de s'aimer comme elle les avait toujours aimés...exprima le désir d'être inhumée dans l'église de Laeken, où tant de fois elle avait uni ses prières à celles des fidèles qu'édifiait son pieux receuillement; pressa une dernière fois la main du roi; y deposa un dernier baiser; le conjura d'accorder une sollicitude paternelle aux pauvres dont elle avait été le refuge...

Et le morne silence qui planait depuis plusieurs jours sur la ville et le plage d'Ostende, fut tout-a-coup interrompu par le cri: la Reine est morte!

***
...The Queen's weakness had become extreme; her fever was desperate and exhausting, although without violent chills. On the 10th of October, she had a long crisis, during which, she said, as she recovered, she had thought she was dying. A few words from the lips of one of her intimate friends, acquainted her with the full gravity of her situation. The Queen had not, until now, realized it; she did not suspect she was already nearing the end of her life. God, in calling her to Himself, wished to spare her the anguish of death...

However unexpected, the words spoken by Mme. d'Hulst, far from altering, even for a moment, the admirable serenity of her soul, only contributed to raising her thoughts, with fresh fervor, to heaven. She expressed...the desire to be united, once more, with God in the Holy Eucharist, to receive Him, one last time, in her heart, that pure heart where God had never ceased to reign. It was at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, in the presence of her tearful family, that she received, at the hands of the venerable abbot Guelle, the mysterious Bread of the celestial spirits...

The rest of the day brought no change in the state of the patient: always the same exhaustion, always the same calmness of mind, the same resignation to the divine will.

When she was informed of the grief afflicting all the Belgians, the Queen desired that her gratitude be expressed to them... and she added: "If I die, the nation must preserve all its affection for the King, for he is well worthy of it; they will never know everything he has done to make them happy and prosperous. They must transfer, to my husband and my children, the share of sympathy they have expressed to me."

The night of the 10th to the 11th was, for her family, an age of unspeakable sufferings - no more doubt, this night must end the Queen's beautiful mission on earth. For us, a period of national mourning, for her, one of happiness without end, was rapidly approaching.

The first rays of dawn of the 11th mingled, at last, with the funereal brightness of the blessed candles burning in her apartment. The Queen felt that her hour had come. Summoning up her forces, she consoled those dissolving in tears at her premature death; she blessed her children, kneeling at the foot of her bed; charged them to love each other as she had always loved them...expressed the desire to be buried in the church of Laeken, where she had so often united her prayers with those of the faithful, who were edified by her devout meditation; pressed, for the last time, the King's hand, and gave it a last kiss; charged him to accord a paternal solicitude to the poor whose refuge she had been...

And the gloomy silence that had hung for several days over the town and beach of Ostende, was suddenly interrupted by the cry: the Queen is dead!
May she rest in peace. I am sure that the prayers of this lovely Queen, both in this life and in the next, have greatly aided Belgium and its royal family.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Posting

I will not be posting much for the next week or so. Just feeling too tired... I need some time to rest and reflect.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Lady of Victory

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto and the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Louvignies

The castle of Louvignies (Hainaut). During her later years, Berthe Petit, mystic of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, used to visit here in the summers. She was buried in the village chapel.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Piercing Eyes

Recently, I quoted a passage from Count Sforza's memoirs, comparing and contrasting Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and her tragic aunt, Empress Sissi. Here is another excerpt from Makers of Modern Europe, describing the Queen's all too truthful artwork...
...(A) few years ago, Elisabeth discovered that she had eyes with which to see the external manifestations of life. I have never seen any one probe so searchingly as she does into the mystery- and often the horror- that a human face hides. She tried painting, and succeeded. She paints now, almost always human faces, faces of men and women in the ripe period of their life. A strange gallery it is, frequently with evident technical faults, but always with, described on each face, the deepest psychological traits that one makes even from oneself: Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But the manner is not purposely cruel; or it is only cruel as everything true is cruel. Her technique as a painter reminds one of some early German master; just a touch of external gaucherie; a certain gray monotony of color, but with something so genuine, so seen-through. Some of her models seem sometimes as if they had forced her to paint as Hogarth drew. But one quickly realizes that there is no trace here of the caricatural overloading of Hogarth; if we feel the Hogarth touch, it is simply because of the models, as she sees them around her...
Unfortunately, I have never come across any of Elisabeth's paintings but here are a few samples of Hogarth's satirical work...

The Shrimp-Girl (1740-1745)
Hogarth's Servants (mid 1750's)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Prayer to Our Lady of Banneux

Here is a prayer to Our Lady of Banneux.
Notre-Dame de Banneux, Vierge des Pauvres, vous avez dit: "Je viens soulager la souffrance." Sainte Mère de Dieu et Mère du Sauveur, vous faites entendre à nouveau l'appel miséricordieux de votre divin Fils: "Venez à moi vous tous qui êtes chargés et qui peinez, et je vous soulagerai." Mère de tous les hommes, vous êtes venue pour toutes les nations et vous demandez de prier beaucoup. Nous mettons en Vous notre confiance. Daignez écouter nos prières. Penchez-vous sur nos misères spirituelles et temporelles. Ramenez à Jésus les pauvres âmes égarées et augmentez la foi des fidèles. Sainte Vierge Marie, soyez secourable aux indigents; aidez-nous à sanctifier les épreuves de la vie; soulagez les malades et priez pour tous vos enfants. O Vierge des Pauvres, vous êtes notre espérance! Que par votre médiation maternelle le règne du Christ-Roi s'étende sur toutes les nations. Ainsi soit-il.

Our Lady of Banneux, Virgin of the Poor, you have said: "I come to relieve suffering." Holy Mother of God and Mother of the Savior, you make us hear anew the merciful call of your divine Son: "Come to me, all ye who are burdened and who suffer, and I will relieve you." Mother of all men, you have come for all nations and you ask us to pray much. We place our trust in You. Deign to hear our prayers. Look upon our spiritual and temporal miseries. Lead back to Jesus the poor straying souls and increase the faith of the faithful. Holy Virgin Mary, bring aid to the indigent; help us to sanctify the trials of life; relieve the sick and pray for all your children. O Virgin of the Poor, you are our hope! By your maternal mediation, may the reign of Christ the King spread over all nations. Amen.

Imprimatur: Friburg, June 1, 1945.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Feast of the Guardian Angels

I find it a striking coincidence that the wedding anniversary of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth falls on this day...

Here is the famous Latin prayer to one's guardian angel:
Angele Dei,
qui custos es mei,
me, tibi commissum pietate superna,
illumina, custodi,
rege et guberna.
Amen.
The traditional English translation:
Angel of God, my guardian dear
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To light, to guard, to rule and guide
Amen.
An Eastern Orthodox prayer to the Guardian Angel:
O Angel of Christ, my holy Guardian and Protector of my soul and body, forgive me all my sins of today. Deliver me from all the wiles of the enemy, that I may not anger my God by any sin. Pray for me, a sinful and unworthy servant, that thou mayest present me worthy of the kindness and mercy of the All-holy Trinity and the Mother of my Lord Jesus Christ, and of all the Saints. Amen.
(Elsewhere: Fountain of Elias, The Pious Spinster)

Wedding of Albert & Elisabeth

On October 2, 1900 Prince Albert of Belgium married Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria. Although they had met under tragic circumstances (at the funeral for one of Elisabeth's aunts, burned alive while heroically attempting to save others during a fire at a charity bazaar), a real romance blossomed between the pair and one day, while they were out for a walk (with Elisabeth's chaperone at a discreet distance) a bashful Albert managed to ask Elisabeth if she thought she'd be able to stand the Belgian climate...

The wedding was magnificent, celebrated in Munich amidst wild popular rejoicing. In her memoirs, the royal couple's daughter, Marie-José, records the words Msgr. von Klein addressed to her parents before imparting the nuptial benediction. "Prince, you shall one day wear the crown, and may your fame then resound afar, for your devoted, clement love, for your paternal goodness towards your subjects." Turning to Elisabeth, he added: "And you...may you be celebrated as the benefactress of the poor, the refuge of the afflicted and a radiant image of Christian charity." As Marie-José notes, the prelate's words were "almost prophetic..."