Friday, July 30, 2010

Anna Maria de Visscher, mother of Princess Lilian

I think she has a lovely face. Anna Maria de Visscher was the scion of respectable bourgeoisie, the daughter of a mayor and the granddaughter of a minister. Her ancestors included illustrious figures, such as the Comte Félix de Muelenaere, a member of the National Congress that founded the Kingdom of Belgium, and three times Foreign Minister between 1831 and 1841. In 1905, Anna Maria married Henri Baels, a rising young Ostende shipowner, lawyer and politician, to whom she bore eight children, six daughters and two sons. 

During the Nazi invasion of Belgium, while her husband, the Governor of West Flanders, circulated constantly to alleviate the plight of his province, Madame Baels worked for the Red Cross. The young Lilian assisted her mother in her task, transporting wounded French and Belgian soldiers by car to the St. John Hospital in Bruges, simultaneously flooded by refugees. She also helped to evacuate the elderly from the hospice of Alost, which was within the combat zone, exposed to enemy fire. 

As the military situation headed towards disaster, however, Madame Baels decided to leave for France to bring two of her daughters, then ailing, to safety. Lilian drove the family car. At a restaurant in Bernay, near Lisieux, the news of the Belgian capitulation reached the four women. At Paul Reynaud's infamous broadcast, branding the Belgian king a traitor and felon, French and Belgian officers began vilifying Léopold III, tearing apart his photograph on the front cover of a magazine. Horrified, Lilian indignantly rebuked the officers. One spitefully retaliated by seizing the Baels' car key and throwing it into a ditch. After obtaining a replacement, the ladies proceeded to the south of France, renting a villa in Anglet, near Biarritz. 

Madame Baels would have many sorrows in the years to come. Her husband and her son were unfairly accused of cowardice and treason, while her daughter Lilian was battered by gossip and slander. According to Lilian's account, as recorded in Un couple dans la tempête (2004), the news of her secret marriage with King Léopold upset and worried her mother, who foresaw that it would provoke a political storm. "My little one, you don't know what's in store for you. It will be appalling, they will all attack you, you will have a terribly hard life," she is quoted as saying (pp. 36-37). Anna Maria Baels, née de Visscher, died of heart failure in 1950, while the question of the King's return from exile was still being decided. On the grounds that her arrival, at such an emotional moment, might sway the people in Léopold's favor, Lilian was prevented from returning to Belgium to bid farewell to her dying mother. 

References:

Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation. 1987. 
Jullian, Marcel and Claude Désiré. Un couple dans la tempête. 2004. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site crossoflaeken.blogspot.com
Is this possible?

Matterhorn said...

It is possible, but what is the link to your site?