Friday, June 4, 2010

Belgium's Rebel Princess

One of the most tragic, rebellious and controversial Belgian royals is HRH Princess Marie-Christine, the second child and eldest daughter of King Leopold III and Princess Lilian. Marie-Christine Daphné Astrid Elisabeth Léopoldine was born February 6, 1951, just five months before her father's forced abdication. She came into the world at a painful time for her family, towards the end of the agonizing "Royal Question" that brought great grief and humiliation to her parents and nearly plunged her country into civil war. Tragedy would continue to mark Marie-Christine's life in the years to come...

Photographs of the young Marie-Christine (or " Daphné" as she was called, affectionately, in the family) reveal a beautiful, blonde girl, with the fair complexion and the fine, sensitive and noble features of her father, Leopold III.  A night-and-day contrast with her younger sister, Esmeralda, a dark brunette strongly resembling Lilian. During Marie-Christine's childhood, magazines reported that she was musically talented and that her grandmother, the music loving Queen Elisabeth, encouraged her in this interest. Marie-Christine also had an overriding romantic streak which led her to dream continually of shining knights and ideal loves (See Patrick Weber, Amours royales et princières (2006) pp. 168-169).

Rash, headstrong, restless and unhappy, feeling imprisoned in a "golden cage," Marie-Christine frequently rebelled against the restraints of her royal position. Her love interests, in particular, gave rise to a long series of family quarrels (Weber, pp. 168-169). Lilian wanted her children to make prestigious matches, and forcefully pressed her views, but her passionate and willful daughter stubbornly refused all the marriages her parents suggested. Meanwhile, Marie-Christine's own choices, apt to be wildly inappropriate for her regal station, met with their disapproval and consternation. Tragically, Marie-Christine also, apparently, fell into quite a dissolute lifestyle, experimenting with drugs and debauchery. Her relations with her parents, especially her mother, became more and more tormented. In 1981, at the age of 30, she moved to Canada, bitterly turning her back on Belgium forever.

Ahead of her lay dreams, disappointments, dissipation, financial ruin, sorrow and bitterness. She mingled with the Hollywood set and longed to be a movie star, but her fairytale dreams have never come to fruition. She has married twice, but never had any children. In 1981, against her alarmed parents' advice, she defiantly married Paul Drucker, a Quebecois bar pianist, thirteen years her senior, a widower with two children, and, reportedly, a homosexual. With Marie-Christine's connivance, the press then published lurid photographs of the newlyweds, scantily clad in their hotel room. Leopold and Lilian were appalled. For the old, ailing King Leopold, this final family rupture, coming after the estrangements from his brother Charles, and son Baudouin, was the last in a long series of painful ordeals. The marriage, predictably, proved a fiasco; within weeks, Marie-Christine had abandoned her husband to live with another man (see Weber, pp. 169 -170) and Michel Verwilghen, Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal (2006), pp. 349-350). In 1989, after divorcing Drucker, Marie-Christine married a French restaurateur living in the USA, Jean-Paul Gougues. Over the years, Marie-Christine has moved around quite a bit, living, at different times, in Toronto, Las Vegas and San Diego.

In recent years, in vitriolic interviews and memoirs, Marie-Christine has bitterly attacked the Belgian royal family. In an article published April 17, 2007 in Humo magazine,  she even declared that "abolishing the monarchy might prove to be of benefit to Belgium." Claiming to have broken all contact with her family, she did not attend the funerals of her father, her mother, her half-brother, King Baudouin, or her brother, Prince Alexandre. She has consistently portrayed Princess Lilian, in particular, as a harsh, unloving, domineering, controlling, and even cruel mother.

I find this hard to believe. I know Lilian was a difficult woman at times, but we must remember that she also won the abiding love and devotion of her three step-children, Josephine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert, over many years. As for her two other children, Alexandre and Marie-Esmeralda, both have honored her memory with love and respect. Esmeralda, in particular, in her memoirs, recalls Lilian's tender care in creating a beautiful and elegant home at Argenteuil for her family. She also emphasizes that her relations (and, in fact, her siblings' relations) with their parents were very warm and affectionate. Surely, Marie-Christine's bitter statements ought to be weighed against these contrasting testimonies?

5 comments:

MadMonarchist said...

This stuff *really* gets under my skin. I can be very (some would say too much) tolerant and forgiving of royals making bad personal choices, having problems in their private lives and so on but what I find possibly unforgivable is when they go public with the problems, tarnish the image of other people and the monarchy. Your family is your family -you literally owe them your life and just because you have had problems give you no right to create more problems for others. It is just unfathomable to me.

Matterhorn said...

Yes, especially when she publicly declared,on Flemish TV, in 1994, while Lilian was still alive, that she was eagerly awaiting her share of the inheritance(!)...

Ms. Lucy said...

Lovely piece Matterhorn! so interesting and detailed! It just gets to me so much when they destroy images that way- they can never be left alone-family is so important. Thanks:)

Jorge said...

Thank you, Matterhorn. It's very heartbreaking that someone with so many opportunities ended that way (though she has still time to turn back). I once read that the princess was victim of some kind of physical abuse, and that her family's reaction deeply hurted and disappointed her. Do you know about that? (If you preferred not to discussed it, I understand; such matters are very private and deserve the greatest respect and tact).

Matterhorn said...

Yes, Jorge, I have heard about that. I was going to mention it in this post, but then had trouble fitting it in and thought I might discuss it in a future post. It is a delicate matter to talk about, as you say.

The princess has claimed that she was molested as a teenager, by one of her cousins, and that, when she told her mother about it, Lilian did not believe her and punished her. If the story is true, it is very tragic and I can see why M-C would be very hurt. But it would also suggest that perhaps relations between mother and daughter were not very good anyhow, if there was so little trust between them.