Monday, November 30, 2009

The First Sunday of Advent

May God bless everyone in this holy season.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sad News

Little Alexandre with his big sister, Josephine-Charlotte

Prince Alexandre Emmanuel of Belgium, son of King Leopold III and Princess Lilian, passed away today. He was only 67 years old.The sad news has been officially confirmed by the Royal Palace. Apparently the Prince, who had suffered from heart problems since childhood, died of a pulmonary embolism.

Strange, I was just thinking of Alexandre recently...all my condolences go to his widow, Princess Léa, his sisters, Princesses Marie-Christine and Marie-Esmeralda, and the whole royal family of Belgium.

May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Alexandre and his wife, Léa

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Birthday of Lilian Baels

On November 28, 1916, Miss Mary Lilian Baels was born in London. She was one of the eight children of Hendrik Baels, an affluent and ambitious Ostende lawyer (later, a prominent Belgian politician, with the Catholic party), and his wife, Anna Maria Devisscher. Apparently, the Baels family were also involved in the fish trade, and, many years later, after Lilian's marriage to King Leopold III, this would lead to malicious remarks. The bride was mockingly dubbed "Shrimp Queen" and "Lady Codfish"...

Nonetheless, it was a rare woman who came into the world on that winter day in 1916. "As beautiful as a Greek night," according to Charles d'Ydewalle. "The most beautiful woman in the world," for the Count of Paris. Certainly, but she was also much, much more. In the words of the French comedian Jean Piat, an intimate of Leopold and Lilian: "Curiosity, vivacity, kindness, humor, intelligence and...destiny. She unites it all" (quotes from Le mythe d'Argenteuil by Michel Verwilghen).

Stubborn, imperious and demanding Lilian may have been at times, but nobody is perfect. And Belgium owes a great deal to the woman who (in the darkest moments of the country's history) loyally and lovingly raised two of her Kings. May she rest in peace.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Princess Lilian Through Her Son's Eyes

The birthday of Lilian Baels, second wife of King Leopold III, is coming up in a few days...Here is an interesting tribute to this beautiful, talented, but much-maligned woman by her son, Prince Alexandre Emmanuel.
Princess Lilian was a secret person but enjoyed listening to people who sometimes forgot they were confiding to her. But there is an indirect way to understand her personality. For many years, more than I can recall, she enjoyed the environment of objects, even works of art, that expressed a certain quality of life. Wherever we lived, she created a sort of "impregnation of space" that gave the visitor an impression of evidence and uniqueness. Argenteuil is certainly the home where she invested the most energy and spirituality. In a way, it was like a signature.
(Preface to the catalogue Princess Lilian of Belgium. Château d'Argenteuil. Amsterdam, Sotheby's, 2003)
Unfortunately, I do not have any good pictures of Argenteuil I can post here, but, to gain a vivid impression of the elegant environment Lilian created, click HERE. The article (a review of Michel Verwilghen's excellent book Le mythe d'Argenteuil) is in French but photos speak across language barriers...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Petite Reine"

Here is a beautiful poem in honor of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians.

Petite Reine

Par delà le champ de bataille,
Derrière la zone de feu,
Quand les obus et la mitraille
Sifflent, en croisant dans l’air bleu

Leurs rigoureuses trajectoires ;
Quand la mêlée aux rangs pressés,
Sous l’aile ardente des victoires,
Grouille autour des corps entassés,

Une frêle et noble infirmière
Aux yeux tendres, au cœur viril,
Vaque à sa tâche coutumière,
Insoucieuse du péril.

De ville en ville, avec vaillance,
Elle a suivi tous les combats,
Et d’ambulance en ambulance
Disputé sa proie au trépas.

Elle vient à qui la réclame,
A son aspect l’espoir refleurit,
Et d’ambulance en ambulance
Disputé sa proie au trépas.

Elle vient à qui la réclame,
A son aspect l’espoir refleurit,
Et son sourire est un dictame
Qui réconforte et qui guérit.

Elle sait le mot qui fait vivre
Malgré les cruautés du sort,
Elle sait le mot qui délivre
Et rend moins amère la mort.

Sa main panse, sa voix console,
Tout subit son charme apaisant ;
Et c’est son cher nom qui s’envole
Des lèvres de l’agonisant.

Petite Reine qui naguère
De ton palais familial,
Pour soigner les maux de la guerre,
Avais fait un vaste hôpital,

Toi, qui, souriante et sereine
Comme l’étoile du matin,
Dresse ta grâce souveraine
Devant les assauts du destin,

Dont la douce pitié se penche
Sur le front pâle des mourants
Et qui calmes de ta main blanche
La fièvre aux accès délirants,

Toi, que l’Univers entier prône,
- Héroïne sans le savoir  –
Et qui mets la gloire du trône
Au-dessous de l’obscur devoir,

Toi, dont la tendresse infinie
A des trésors inépuisés,
Petite Reine, sois bénie
Au nom de tous les cœurs brisés !

~ A. Vierset.

I will post a translation in the comments box.

(Image: old postcard of Queen Elisabeth and Princess Marie-José)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The King Returns to Brussels, 1918

"Sire, you shall return to your capital...." Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren had written to King Albert I during the dark days of World War I. On November 22, 1918, eleven days after the Armistice, these words finally came true. Click HERE for a detailed account of the magnificent day.
The capital by its enthusiastic reception witnesses its admiring gratitude to the sovereign who returns to it covered with glory of the purest quality, to its Queen, who lived throughout the war among our soldiers, lavishing upon them treasures of kindness and devotion without limit; to the Princes, who symbolize in our eyes the future of our country, and to the heroic and victorious troops who chased the enemy from our country and thanks to whom Belgium regains her place among the free and independent nations.
Long live the King, Queen, royal family and the Belgian armies! Long live the Allies!
~ Burgomaster Adolphe Max 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Queen Astrid Memorabilia

At the Queen Astrid thread of the Alexander Palace Forums, I found some pictures of her clothes and accessories. As most photographs dating from Astrid's lifetime are black and white, it is interesting to see how colorfully she dressed.
A few of her hats.
Part of the fabric of one of her dresses.
Her satin wedding slippers.

Leopold III at Berchtesgaden

On November 19, 1940 Leopold III, then a German prisoner of war, met with Hitler at Berchtesgaden. The Belgian monarch had reluctantly agreed to the meeting (arranged by his sister, Crown Princess Marie-José of Italy) in a desperate attempt to obtain better conditions for his conquered army and people. The interview, however, was a disaster. Here is the account (in French translation) of the meeting by Hitler's interpreter, Paul Schmidt, from his memoirs Statist auf Diplomatischer Bühne, 1923-1945. 
...Hitler received him with a rather icy civility. I clearly noticed that the king was making an effort to control himself. When he sat down in the office, with a face revealing a curious mixture of unease and tension, I had the feeling he was cursing the initiative his sister had taken.
Hitler tried to warm up the atmosphere a bit by asking a few personal questions. He always had, on these kinds of occasions, courteous words which betrayed his Austrian education. "I greatly regret the circumstances of our visit...Do you have any personal desire I could satisfy?" "I have no personal desires to formulate for myself," responded Leopold in the rather disdainful tone of an imprisoned monarch before a conqueror's tribunal, which indicated he had other desires to put forth.  
But he strove, at first, to prepare Hitler, by thanking him for what he had already done, in particular for authorizing Belgian refugees to return to their homeland. He added his personal thanks for the accommodations accorded him and, more especially, for the return of his children from Spain. Leopold was not a good diplomat. He expressed his thanks well, but his tone was not convincing.
Hitler launched into one of his long monologues on the political situation...At one point, Hitler rather abruptly asked how Leopold imagined future relations between Germany and Belgium. Quite cleverly, the king responded with another question: would Belgium preserve her independence at the conclusion of peace?
 Hitler did not like precise questions...(and launched into) prolonged reflections on the future of Europe, but Leopold...demanded a precise definition of internal independence. Hitler, faced with this insistence, became openly impatient. He attacked Belgium's previous attitude with a certain warmth, accusing her of having violated her neutrality. In the future, Belgium would have to align herself with Germany, militarily and politically.
"Am I to understand that Belgium's political independence will be guaranteed in exchange for political and military accords between herself and the Reich?" asked Leopold, at once raising doubts as to the possibility of such a solution, given the Belgians' love of liberty, which he underscored. He insisted upon unfettered independence, basing his demand on the fact that it had long been recognized by the English, and on the certitude that the Belgians would naturally turn in the direction which would assure their autonomy...
From this moment on, Hitler was completely closed to all Leopold's other desires. He was visibly annoyed that the King of the Belgians, in contrast to other heads of state, did not eagerly accept his offer of collaboration with Germany. These other desires principally concerned the prisoners of war. "We need manpower," said Hitler. "Naturally, the officers will remain in captivity until the end of the war." Leopold made further desperate efforts to win a few small concessions in the realm of food supply and internal administration. On both these points, the response was negative.
Henceforth, the bad mood was unmitigated on both sides. Leopold became more and more laconic and several times I got the impression he was no longer even listening...His face closed, he allowed Hitler to let flow torrents of words, no longer reacting, except for form...
Hitler would probably have preferred to put an end to the visit immediately. But a tea was planned for the king and his entourage. He broke up the meeting long before the appointed time, and received Leopold at his home...(During the tea, despite his disappointment) he opened a map to try to win the sovereign over to his views on a close collaboration between the two countries. In the course of a long monologue on the European order, he indicated that Belgium, if she allied herself with Germany, would receive not only a military guarantee, which would dispense her from ever needing an army again, but also territorial gains in northern France, as far as Dunkirk and Calais.
The king remained silent. Had he even heard? Naturally, I attached particular care to the translation of his response. But I had before me only a disappointed, apathetic man...
...Later events proved my impressions had to have been correct. Hitler never saw Leopold again. Nothing changed in Belgium. The administration did not alter and the food situation remained as bad as before. The Belgian prisoners were only liberated at the end of the war. Leopold himself remained a prisoner and, before the end of hostilities, was deported to Germany over his protests.
Hitler never forgave him for refusing to accept his offers at Berchtesgaden. "He is no better than other kings and princes!" he said from time to time, whereas before this visit, he had often had words of praise for "King Leopold, who prevented useless bloodshed in 1940"...
So much for those who accuse Leopold of having a "friendly interview" with Hitler!

The Queen's Appeal

Above, we see a photograph of Queen Astrid visiting a poor family in Kortrijk. Like her husband, King Leopold III, Astrid was deeply concerned with social problems, made all the more dire by the economic crisis of the 1930's. In February, 1935, the Queen organized a nationwide collection of food, clothing, and supplies for the impoverished Belgian miners and their families.  Her close friend, Anna Sparre, in her book, Astrid mon amie, recalls the Queen's remarkable initiative:
The winter that year was difficult for the population; unemployment was more rampant than ever, aid was insufficient and there were numerous complaints. A delegation of miners was received in audience by the King. It was a dignified, moving moment: the King and the Queen listened to them as they described, in a realistic and direct manner, their joyless existence, and the poverty that reigned in the mining region. "Our children are the victims of it, they are hungry and cold, Madame. Our children are dying of hunger." 
The Queen listened, horrified, and promised, spontaneously, to do what she could. 
Astrid immediately addressed an open letter to the Minister of State, Henri Jaspar, and to the Belgian people, imploring their aid in this tragic situation. The letter was published, and become known as "The Queen's Appeal."
The very next day, money and aid began to flow in. The Queen herself, along with a rapidly constituted committee, composed of ladies who had volunteered to help, was on the go at the Belle Vue. An unending line of generous people wound through the palace, armed with packages and bags, money and cheques. Department stores, societies, businesses, and individuals from all over the country joined in the Queen's very personal initiative... 
Money, food, clothing, shoes, candles, blankets - even hats and eyeglasses - were swiftly collected. The Queen played an essential role during the distribution of the aid:
The Queen visited, in person, the districts in the most crying need; her appearance alone, when she emerged from the car, in the middle of a village, greeting the people with a wave of her hand, was enough to give them hope and confidence. The newspapers followed her activities, and, every day, gave reports on donations and relief measures, but, above all, they noted the popular reactions in the areas where she appeared. They described her immense popularity; she became a symbol of a power synonymous with generosity. "She is our good Fairy, who personifies, at the same time, Power and Goodness." 

The first three months of that year were entirely devoted to this massive collection and to the organization of a permanent aid program for the needy of the mining region. The Queen unceasingly exhorted her people to generosity; and the unfortunate, to maintain their morale and keep up their courage. She defended their cause, she granted interviews, she made herself seen and heard; people believed her and trusted her word. With the King's support, she had set in motion a trend which took off; its results continued to be felt for a long time afterwards. 
I found the story of "The Queen's Appeal" very inspiring and touching. This episode from her - tragically short - reign illustrates Astrid's tenderness, realism, intelligence, and generosity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

She was an ancestor of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. 
Elizabeth had always shown a strong inclination toward piety as well as a great love of helping the needy and downtrodden. She opened a hospital for the poor in one of her castles and ran a soup kitchen. She was passionately in love with her husband, which is one of her most appealing aspects - she was a saint but she was also very much a woman.
In her memoirs, Queen Marie-José of Italy, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, recalls that her mother admired this saint and encouraged the young Marie-José to read Comte de Montalembert's famous Vie de Sainte Elisabeth de Hongrie (1836). I think the Belgian queen definitely resembled her distant forebear in her charitable works, and also in her passion for her husband!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Birthday of Queen Astrid

On November 17, 1905, the short life of Astrid, future Queen of the Belgians began. She was the youngest of the three daughters of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden. She was a timid, tender little girl, always very dear to her family.

Also, I cannot believe it, but I missed the (religious) wedding anniversary of Leopold and Astrid on November 10! (Somehow I had the idea it was later in the month). But if you want to see pictures of their engagement and marriage, click HERE and HERE.

(Elsewhere: Le Fleur de Lys Too)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Majestic Marie-Henriette

A wonderful painting of Marie-Henriette of Austria, future Queen of the Belgians at the wedding of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) and Alexandra of Denmark in 1863.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Obituary of Queen Louise-Marie

An obituary of the first Queen of the Belgians, published in 1850 in The Gentleman's Magazine, paints a fascinating and moving portrait of this remarkable woman. Whatever one thinks of her father's actions towards the elder branch of the Bourbon family, she is to be admired...
Oct. 10. At Ostend, aged 38, Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians.
Louise Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle, Princess of Orléans, was the... daughter of the late King Louis-Philippe and Queen Marie Amélie, and was born at Palermo on the 3d of April, 1812. It is well known how deeply the education of his children engaged the attention of the late King of the French. His family has ever been a model of union, good morals, and domestic virtues. Personally simple in his tastes, order and economy were combined with a magnificence becoming his rank and wealth. Under the able and discreet management which marked the early and subsequent education of his family, those virtues and benevolent tendencies which in after-life constituted the principal charm of her highly useful career exhibited themselves in the youthful days of the Princess of Orléans, and procured for her the love and esteem of all who came within her influence.
On the 11th of August, 1832, the Princess of Orleans was wedded to Leopold, King of the Belgians. The nuptials were celebrated at Compeigne. From the moment she became Queen Consort the august lady commenced that uninterrupted career of boundless charity and benevolence which, for the last eighteen years, has made her the idol of the Belgian people. The quantity of work performed in the Queen of the Belgians' own family, and by others under her superintendence, in the shape of clothing for the poor in inclement weather, was enormous ; and, in the ever-recurring lotteries on behalf of the poor, scarcely an exhibition took place in which the Queen did not contribute articles of clothing, screens, chair-covers, and little nic-nacs in Berlin wool, &c. But it was not only for her charities that the deceased Queen was revered by the people. She was destined to play a not unimportant, although a very unostentatious, part in Belgian politics. The King being a Protestant and herself a Catholic, she constituted herself a sort of link between the Catholic party and the throne. When the Catholic party evinced a disposition to exceed the limits enjoined by a just toleration, the Queen stepped in as a mediatrix ; and when, on the other hand, the liberal party showed a tendency to apply too tight a rein to the Church, the same good offices were never refused.
Louis-Philippe had the highest opinion of her intelligence, and used always to speak of her as "my Louise." In June 1832, when a terrible insurrection was raging in Paris, it was considered necessary for the King, who was at Neuilly, to go to the Tuileries ; but the Queen and royal family, alarmed for his safety, objected to his going alone. There was, however, no male member of his family to accompany him, his two sons, the Ducs d'Orléans and d'Aumale, being already at the Tuileries. At last the King, irritated at the opposition made to him, said, " Well, then, Louise shall accompany me;" and the young princess joyfully set forth. At Laaken, after her marriage, the Queen led a simple life, and employed a good deal of her time in active occupation...The King generally passed his evenings in the private apartments of the Queen, and she frequently read to him. The last two works she read to his Majesty were Lamartine's " Histoire des Girondins," and Thiers' " Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire." Their Majesties exchanged observations on different passages, and sometimes had a discussion. What the Queen said was always remarkable for justice, depth, and à propos. English was the language which the royal couple employed in their conversations : indeed, all their intimate communications were carried on exclusively in that language. Although her Majesty did not meddle in politics, she studied all political questions, even the most difficult. She caused the ex-tutor of one of her brothers to keep her constantly informed of the intellectual movement of Paris, and made him send her, immediately on their appearance, every publication of any importance. She assiduously read the newspapers, even those of the advanced opposition, both of Belgium and France. In every visit she made to Paris she received the well-known M. Michelet, who had been her professor of history : yet at the time she did so he had become noted for his violent opposition to the Government of Louis-Philippe, and for his extreme democratic opinions.
The Queen was a great letter-writer. Every day from that on which she quitted her family on her marriage, up to her fatal illness, she wrote to the Queen, her mother, and every day her mother wrote to her. Her Majesty composed her letters all at once; those of her royal parent were commenced in the morning and kept open till post-hour, her Majesty noting anything that occurred—sending, in fact, a sort of journal. After the Revolution of February, when for eight days it was not known what had become of the ex-King of the French and his Queen, the Queen of the Belgians suffered the most poignant anxiety, and this emotion had a most lamentable effect on the disease which had long been undermining her health. The death of her brother the Duke of Orleans, and of her sister the Princess Marie, had previously been terrible blows to her. She most tenderly loved both, and kept up a daily correspondence with the latter. On the death of the princess, the Queen, her mother, caused a notice of her to be printed for the family (only twelve copies were struck off) ; and this notice was made up chiefly from the letters of the two royal sisters. These letters are described as profoundly affecting, and the manner in which she spoke of the death of Madame Mallet, their governess is, in particular, indescribably touching. After the death of the princess, the Queen, in addition to the duily letter to her mother, wrote every day to some other member of her family. She also at the same time kept up a constant correspondence with Her Majesty Queen Victoria, the Duchess of Kent, and the Princess of Prussia. When absent from the King, her husband, for however short a period, she wrote to him almost every day—twice a day, even when both were in Belgium—and the King replied to every one of her letters.
The Queen has left behind her three children, Leopold, Duke of Brabant, and heir to the Crown, born April 9, 1835; Philippe, Count of Flanders, born March 24, 1837; and the Princess Marie Charlotte, born June 7, 1840. Her first born, Prince Louis-Philippe, died in early infancy.
The remains of this illustrious and amiable personage were on Thursday, the 17th Oct. interred in the cathedral church of Laaken. The Cardinal Archbishop of Malines and tbe clergy received the King at the entrance to the church. The King entered first, with Queen Amelie leaning on his arm. The King's sons, the Duc de Brabant and the Comte de Flandre, accompanied by the Princess Clementine, followed, and then came the Duc de Nemours, the Prince de Joinville, the Duc d'Aumale, and the Prince Augustus of Saxe Coburg Gotha. The Royal party was accompanied by the Duc de Cazes.

Prayer of King Albert?

I have repeatedly had hits to this site with search terms like "prayer by Albert of Belgium" and "King Albert prayer." Unfortunately, I have no idea what this might be. Does anyone have any information?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tragedy of Royal France

I was very touched to read Elena Maria Vidal's novels, Trianon and Madame Royale. In these painstakingly researched, beautifully written and deeply felt works, she paints a compelling portrait of the tragedy of the French royal family in the wake of the Revolution. Drawing heavily on first-hand accounts of the period, told through vignettes and reminiscences, the story is incredibly (indeed, painfully) vivid. It is a tale of Christian fortitude amidst dynastic downfall and national apocalypse.

In Trianon, correcting many misconceptions (such as the King as feeble idiot and the Queen as decadent airhead), Vidal provides a moving and intimate portrayal of the tragic Louis XVI and the viciously maligned Marie-Antoinette. Their love for God, each other, their children and the people of France are all conveyed with poignant intensity. Ultimately, they are killed for the ideals they represent as Catholic monarchs, facing their doom with the charity and magnanimity of martyrs.

Madame Royale tells the story of Marie-Thérèse, Duchesse d'Angoulême, only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. It centers on the "Bourbon Restoration" (1814-1830), a period simmering with secret warfare between revolution and reaction. In Trianon, faith gives the King and Queen the courage to face death; in Madame Royale, faith gives their daughter the courage to face life. Marie-Thérèse's story is truly one of bloodless martyrdom. Severely traumatized by the terrible experiences of her youth, trapped in an unhappy, barren marriage, surrounded by plots, intrigues, and political upheavals, she perseveres in faith and good works. Her struggle to restore the Catholic monarchy is ultimately a losing battle, and an immense sense of loss and weariness pervades the book. Particularly poignant are the passages describing Marie-Thérèse's haunting doubts regarding the fate of her little, lost brother and her fruitless search for him. Nonetheless, the novel ends on a hopeful note...

I have read several reviews claiming the books are too religious and/or over-idealize the protagonists. I only want to say that the devout faith of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and Madame Royale is well-documented, and it would not be realistic to ignore or downplay the role of Catholicism in their lives. Nor do I think the royal family are over-idealized. Their spiritual journeys are presented as hard and painful and they struggle with human failings along the way. Against his conscience, for instance, the King signs the Civil Constitution of the Clergy under duress, an action he later bitterly repents. Before maturing gracefully into a noble wife and mother, Marie-Antoinette is portrayed as a kind, charming, but imperfect young girl, apt to be headstrong and rash. Marie-Thérèse's rigidity and refusal to compromise the divine right of kings, coupled with her cold manner (although these are understandable results of her early traumas), contribute to alienating many from the cause of the Catholic monarchy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that she, like her parents, ultimately attains a high degree of spiritual heroism.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

May all the war dead rest in peace, never to be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Noble Louise-Marie

Shortly after his marriage in 1832, King Leopold I of the Belgians wrote to his niece, the future Queen Victoria of England, describing his bride, Louise-Marie of Orléans, in touching terms:
You told me you would like a portrait of your new aunt; I will paint her morally and physically. She is extremely gracious and amiable. Her actions are always directed by her principles. She is ready, at every moment, to sacrifice her ease and her preferences to see others happy. She appreciates goodness, merit and virtue more than beauty, riches and amusement. In addition, she is very well educated and very intelligent; she speaks and writes English, German and Italian; she expresses herself very well in English. In short, dearest, you see I could hold her up as an example to all young girls, princesses or otherwise.

(quoted in French by Patrick Weber in Amours royales et princières, 2006, p. 19)

Monday, November 9, 2009


Did you know Leopold II was not the eldest son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie? The first King and Queen of the Belgians actually had an older baby boy, born July 24, 1833. The King was delighted. Only 2 years after ascending the Belgian throne, and 1 year after his marriage, his brand new dynasty already had a male heir. The little prince was christened Louis Philippe Léopold Victor Ernst, after his maternal grandfather, Louis-Philippe, King of the French, and earlier Orléans ancestors. The Queen affectionately called him "Babychou" or "Babochon."

Sadly, little Louis-Philippe died not long before his first birthday, on May 16, 1834. His father was devastated; the loss revived all his painful memories of the death in childbirth of his first wife, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales and their son. According to Patrick Weber in Amours royales et princières, Leopold even began to imagine he was under a curse and thought he might have to appoint a nephew as heir to the Belgian throne (I have to admit I have some doubts about the first part of this claim. Given Leopold's essentially coolheaded and pragmatic personality, it is a bit hard to envisage him brooding over dynastic maledictions). Nonetheless, the King was consoled by the birth of his second son, Leopold (future Leopold II) in 1835.

Today, the mortal remains of the first Crown Prince of Belgium rest with those of his parents in the Royal Crypt of the Church of Our Lady in Laeken.

(*the drawing depicts Louise-Marie with one of her children, I don't know which child it is but I needed some sort of picture with a baby!)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Prayer to St. Mary Magdalene

Here is a remarkable prayer by St. Anselm to (and about) St. Mary Magdalene.
St. Mary Magdalene, thou didst come with springing tears to the spring of mercy, Christ; from Him thy burning thirst was abundantly refreshed, through Him thy sins were forgiven; by Him thy bitter sorrow was consoled.

My dearest lady, well thou knowest by thine own life how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its creator, what counsel a soul in misery needs, what medicine will restore the sick to health.

It is enough for us to understand, dear friend of God, to whom were many sins forgiven, because she loved much.

Most blessed lady, I who am the most evil and sinful of men do not recall thy sins as a reproach, but call upon the boundless mercy by which they were blotted out.

This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair; this is my longing, so that I shall not perish.

I say this of myself, miserably cast down into the depths of vice, bowed down with the weight of crimes, thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison of sins, wrapped round with the shadows of darkness.

Therefore, since thou art now with the chosen because thou art beloved and are beloved because thou art chosen of God, I, in my misery, pray to thee in bliss; in my darkness, I ask for light; in my sins, redemption; impure, I ask for purity.

Recall in loving kindness what thou used to be, how much thou didst need mercy, and seek for me that same forgiving love that thou didst receive when thou wert wanting it. Ask urgently that I may have the love that pierces the heart; tears that are humble; desire for the homeland of Heaven; impatience with this earthly exile; searing repentance; and a dread of torments in eternity.

Turn to my good that ready access that thou once didst have and still doth have to the spring of mercy.

Draw me to Him where I may wash away my sins; bring me to Him Who can slake my thirst; pour over me those waters that will make my dry places fresh. Thou wilt not find it hard to gain all thou doth desire from so loving and so kind a Lord, Who is alive and reigns and is thy friend.

For who can tell, beloved and blest of God, with what kind familiarity and familiar kindness He Himself didst reply on thy behalf to the calumnies of those who were against thee? How He didst defend thee, when the proud Pharisee was indignant, how He didst excuse thee, when thy sister didst complain, how highly He didst praise thy deed, when Judas didst begrudge it.

And, more than all this, what can I say, how can I find words to tell, about the burning love with which thou didst seek Him, weeping at the sepulchre, and wept for Him in thy seeking?

How He cameth, who can say how or with what kindness, to comfort thee, and madest thee burn with love still more; how He didst hide from thee when thou didst want to see Him, and showed Himself when thou didst not think to see Him; how He was there all the time thou didst seek Him, and how He didst seek thee when, seeking Him, thou didst weep.

But Thou, most holy Lord, why didst Thou ask her why she weeps? Surely Thou canst see her heart, the dear life of her soul, is cruelly slain.

O love to be wondered at;

O evil to be shuddered at;

Thou didst hang on the wood, pierced by iron nails, stretched out like a thief for the mockery of wicked men; and yet, 'Woman,' Thou didst say, 'why art thou weeping?' She had not been able to prevent them from killing Thee, but at least she longed to keep Thy Body for a while with ointments lest it decay.

No longer able to speak with Thee living, at least she could mourn for Thee dead. So, near to death and hating her own life, she repeats in broken tones the words of life which she had heard from the living.

And now, besides all this, even the Body which she was glad, in a way, to have kept, she believes to have gone.

And can Thou asketh her, 'Woman, why art thou weeping?' Had she not reason to weep? For she had seen with her own eyes---if she could bear to look---what cruel men cruelly did to Thee; and now all that was left of Thee from their hands she thinks she has lost. All hope of Thee has fled, for now she has not even Thy lifeless Body to remind her of Thee.

And someone asks, 'Whom art thou looking for? Why art thou weeping?'

Thou, her sole joy, should be the last thus to increase her sorrow. But Thou knowest it all well, and thus Thou didst wish it to be, for only in such broken words and sighs can she convey a cause of grief as great as hers. The love Thou hast inspired Thou didst not ignore.

And indeed Thou knowest her well, the gardener, Who planted her soul in His garden. What Thou plantest, I think Thou doth also water.

Does Thou water, I wonder, or does Thou test her? In fact, Thou art both watering and putting to the test.

But now, good Lord, gentle Master, look upon Thy faithful servant and disciple, so lately redeemed by Thy Blood, and see how she burneth with anxiety, desiring Thee, searching all round, questioning, and what she longest for is nowhere found.

Nothing she seest canst satisfy her, since Thou Whom alone she wouldst behold, she seest not. What then?

How long will my Lord leave His beloved to suffer thus? Have Thou put off compassion now Thou hast put on incorruption? Did Thou let go of goodness when Thou didst lay hold of immortality? Let it not be so, Lord.

Thou will not despise us mortals now Thou hast made Thyself immortal, for Thou didst make Thyself a mortal in order to give us immortality. And so it is; for love's sake He canst not bear her grief for long or go on hiding Himself. For the sweetness of love He showeth Himself Who would not for the bitterness of tears.

The Lord calls His servant by the name she hast often heard and the servant doth know the voice of her own Lord.

I think, or rather I am sure, that she responded to the gentle tone with which He was accustomed to call, 'Mary'. What joy filled that voice, so gentle and full of love.

He could not have put it more simply and clearly: 'I know who thou art and what thou wanteth; behold Me; do not weep, behold Me; I am He Whom Thou seekest.'

At once the tears are changed; I do not believe that they stopped at once, but where once they were wrung from a heart broken and self-tormenting they flow now from a heart exulting. How different is, 'Master!' from 'If thou hast taken Him away, tell me'; and, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him,' has a very different sound from, 'I have seen the Lord, and He hast spoken to me.'

But how should I, in misery and without love, dare to describe the love of God and the blessed friend of God? Such a flavour of goodness will make my heart sick if it has in itself nothing of that same virtue.

But in truth, Thou Who art very truth, Thou knowest me well and canst testify that I write this for the love of Thy love, my Lord, my most dear Jesus.

I want Thy love to burn in me as Thou commandest so that I may desire to love Thee alone and sacrifice to Thee a troubled spirit, 'a broken and a contrite heart'.

Give me, O Lord, in this exile, the bread of tears and sorrow for which I hunger more than for any choice delights.

Hear me, for Thy love, and for the dear merits of Thy beloved Mary, and Thy blessed Mother, the greater Mary.

Redeemer, my good Jesus, do not despise the prayers of one who hast sinned against Thee but strengthen the efforts of a weakling that loves Thee.

Shakest my heart out of its indolence, Lord, and in the ardour of Thy love bringest me to the everlasting sight of Thy glory where with the Father and the Holy Spirit Thou livest and reignest, God, for ever. Amen.
(Image: Penitent Magdalene (1585-90) by El Greco)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Baudouin Takes the Oath

This is not, I believe, actually his accession to the throne in 1951, but an earlier occasion in 1950, while his father was still King. In the wake of the upheavals surrounding Leopold's return from exile, a special law was passed allowing the less controversial Baudouin to assume royal powers. The Prince then swore allegiance to the Belgian constitution.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Secrets of Beauty

In Winterhalter's famous portrait the Empress Elisabeth of Austria wears glittering diamond stars in her rich, brown hair and a diaphanous gown. She looks so beautiful that it is not surprising that she was compared to the Fairy-Queen, Titania. Her beauty came at a price, however. The rather vain Queen spent hours caring for her hair, skin and figure.
I have read that the Empress passed on beauty tips to her niece, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Fortunately, though, the younger Elisabeth was less preoccupied with her looks...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Birthday of Leopold III

On November 3, 1901, the day after the Feast of All Souls (and, oddly enough, the day after Marie-Antoinette's birthday), Prince Albert and Princess Elisabeth of Belgium welcomed their first child, little Prince Leopold, future King Leopold III. He already looks stern as an infant!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Feast of All Souls

The Day of the Dead (1859) by William Bougereau

Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word: My soul hath hoped in the Lord.

From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 129, Douay-Rheims Version)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast of All Saints

Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui vivórum domináris simul et mortuórum, omniúmque miseréris quos tuos fide et ópere futúros esse prænóscis : te súpplices exorámus ; ut, pro quibus effúndere preces decrévimus, quosque vel præsens sæculum adhuc in carne rétinet vel futúrum jam exútos córpore suscépit, intercedéntibus ómnibus Sanctis tuis, pietátis tuæ cleméntia, ómnium delictórum suórum véniam consequántur. Per Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum, Fílium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, per ómnia sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast dominion both of the quick and the dead, who likewise hast mercy upon all men, whom by reason of their faith and works thou hast foreknown : we commend unto thee all those for whom we now do offer our prayers, whether in this world they still be held in the bonds of the flesh, or being delivered therefrom have passed into that which is to come ; beseeching thee that at the intercession of all thy Saints they may of thy bountiful goodness obtain the remission of all their sins. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord : Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.