Thursday, April 29, 2010

Burqa Controversy in Belgium

Belgium's lower house of parliament has voted to ban women from wearing burqas and other Islamic garb that covers the face in public.  To quote:
The law would ban any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street. No-one voted against it.
The law now goes to the Senate, where it may face challenges over its wording, which may delay it.
If passed, the ban would be the first move of its kind in Europe.
Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million.
The BBC's Dominic Hughes in Brussels says MPs backed the legislation on the grounds of security, to allow police to identify people.
Other MPs said that the full face veil was a symbol of the oppression of women, our correspondent says.
More HERE and HERE. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Europe's Most Slandered Princess"

In an article published July 3, 1953 in the Pittsburgh Press, Sam White provided a surprisingly well-informed and articulate defense of Lilian de Rethy, the much-maligned second wife of King Leopold III. White called Lilian "Europe's most slandered princess." To quote:
In the shops of Brussels, they still hang pictures of Leopold's first wife, Queen Astrid, and in so doing not only chronicle their continuing love of that fine and tragic woman. They also chronicle their continuing hate of the commoner they feel usurped Queen Astrid's place.
Dislike of Princess de Rethy abounds. It is not whispered; it is shouted aloud that she inveigled Leopold into their wartime marriage. That she is a pro-Nazi who influenced Leopold's wartime policy. That she is the daughter of a collaborator who made a fortune out of German defense contracts.
All these things are said about Princess de Rethy and said by millions. No defense of her has been made. No defense of her would be countenanced in Belgium.
Yet mark this. While all Belgium gossips about Princess de Rethy with the avidity of suburban spinsters sniping at "the girl next door," there are fewer than 200 of her fellow citizens who have ever met her.
What, then, is the truth about this lovely woman whose life has been ruined by gossip which in its own way has been almost as ruthless and as devastating as the car smash which ended her predecessor's? Is she an evil, malign influence on her husband and on her country? Or is she the most misunderstood woman in Europe?
...Her name was Lilian Baels. Her Flemish father was rich and distinguished and she enjoyed all the advantages that come to a girl who has such a father.
She was brought up in a convent school in London and at fashionable finishing schools in France, Switzerland and Austria.
It was not until 1938 that she met Leopold for the first time.
She was 19 and ravishingly lovely. He was 38 and still carried the sadness he had worn since the day three years previously when disaster, sharp and sudden, had left him a widower with three young children.
Their romance did not start then. For another year she led a heavily chaperoned finishing school life. By 1939, when her name was linked with Leopold for the first time, no more than six months of her adult life had been spent in Belgium.
Then came the war and the event which started in earnest the campaign of calumny against her-her marriage to Leopold in 1941.
..When Lilian Baels married Leopold she entered a Royal household steeped in gloom. Laeken Palace, where the Royal family lived, is a somber, ugly Victorian edifice. It seems to reflect the series of tragedies that have befallen the Belgian Royal House.
Leopold had three children - the present King Baudouin, Prince Albert and Princess Josephine-Charlotte...The children had been under the care of governesses and subject to Leopold's strict discipline.
Almost immediately Princess de Rethy became the center of the children's lives. She introduced a novel gaiety into the palace. The children adored her and within a month were calling her "Mother."
They have continued to adore her. Princess Josephine-Charlotte, especially, is under her step-mother's spell. Just before her marriage to Prince Jean of Luxembourg, her feverish changing of clothes for her step-mother's approval or criticism was a palace joke.
A similarly strong devotion is shown by King Baudouin. While he deeply resents the attack on his father's wartime conduct the attacks on his stepmother leave him pale, trembling with anger.
A close friend of the family told me: "I do not know how that boy can carry on. On one occasion he read a particularly slanderous attack on Princess de Rethy in a Belgian Opposition paper. He dropped the paper and left the room. When he returned a few minutes later, his anger was under control but he felt he could not go on with his day's official duties and cancelled them all."
Is this the picture of an evil woman? Is it conceivable that Leopold's children would be attached to her if she were anything other than a good and fine woman?
It will be argued, of course, that she has been so close to the children that she has been able to dazzle them with her personality. Such an argument is demonstrable nonsense.
It might be possible to fool children over a short period. But not over 12 years. And let it be remembered that these children would be pre-disposed against her since she was taking the place of their own beloved mother.
The fact that she has been able, despite all the propaganda against her, to win and retain the abiding love and affection of her three step-children is proof irrefutable of her tremendous qualities. The case against her as a woman is demolished. For if those who know her best defend her, what right have those who know nothing about her to raise a voice against her?
...What of the other charges against the Princess? Most of the minor ones are based on fantasy.
For example, the suggestion- sedulously spread- that before the war she was a night-club queen with morals no better than they need have been is obvious bunk.
It was sneered that her brother was a deserter from the Belgian army. In fact, his offense was the technical one committed by thousands of other Belgians- of failing to register with the Belgian consul in neutral Lisbon.
As for the story that her father was a wartime collaborator, the truth is that he spent the war years in voluntary exile in France.
For the main accusation that she was a pro-Nazi, who influenced Leopold, there is no evidence either way. But since so many of the stories about her are false, is it not reasonable to suppose that this one is false too?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Leopold III and Jacques Brel

As described by Michel Verwilghen in Le Mythe d'Argenteuil, the beloved Belgian poet and singer Jacques Brel was among King Leopold's sympathizers. He visited the fallen monarch at the country estate of Argenteuil and dedicated these interesting and touching verses to him:

Je vous souhaite des rêves à n'en plus finir
  et l'envie furieuse d'en réaliser quelques-uns.
Je vous souhaite d'aimer ce qu'il faut aimer
  et d'oublier ce qu'il faut oublier.
Je vous souhaite des passions,
  je vous souhaites des silences.
Je vous souhaite des chants d'oiseau au réveil
  et des rêves d'enfants.
Je vous souhaite de résister à l'enlisement, à l'indifférence,
 aux vertus négatives de notre époque.
Je vous souhaite surtout d'être vous... 
After Leopold's death, the poem (today very well known) was found among his papers. The King's wife, Princess Lilian, long kept it safe in her purse, among her most precious documents.

On a related note, Leopold's daughter, Marie-Esmeralda, mentions in her memoirs that the King, for his part, also enjoyed translating and composing poetry. Unfortunately, though, I have never come across any of his work.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Belgian Kings

HERE is an excellent series of video tributes to the six Kings of the Belgians.

Belgium, Separatists and the EU

HERE is an interesting discussion of Belgium's current political woes. I have to say I feel quite sorry for King Albert II. Although I would prefer it if he had taken more of a moral stand on a number of contemporary issues, he remains the legitimate sovereign of Belgium and I cannot help feeling sympathy for a man who has faced so much tragedy in his life; in his infancy, the loss of his mother, in his childhood, World War II, deportation and imprisonment in Germany, in his youth, his father's humiliation and forced abdication, and now, in his old age, incessant attacks on his family, and the threatened dissolution of his realm.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Prayer for Belgium

Allerheiligste Hart van Jezus, red België !

Sacré-Coeur de Jésus, sauvez la Belgique!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, save Belgium!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Queen Fabiola

LadyLeana discusses the multifaceted, widowed consort of King Baudouin I. How Baudouin and Fabiola met and fell in love remains something of a mystery. Did Cardinal Suenens really play the mystical role he claimed in bringing the couple together? To quote:
In his book, Suenens talks about his role as a clerical matchmaker. Baudouin, according, to the cardinal, had informed him that he was really desperate to get married, and asked for his help. The cardinal introduced the King to Sister Veronica O’Brien in March 1960, who, on their first meeting, addressed him as Mister King. After a long conversation and after receiving a nocturnal vision of the Virgin Mary, Sister Veronica left for Madrid, where she met the papal nuncio Monsignor Antoniutti. He, in his turn, sent the Sister to the principal of a girls' school, who then referred her to Fabiola de Mora y Aragon. On their first meeting, Sister Veronica saw a picture in Fabiola’s apartment, of which she had dreamt the night before. The devout Sister saw this as an omen, and tried to persuade the young noblewoman to accept the King’s hand. But Fabiola kindly explained that she had her roots in Spain, and was not interested in a marriage with the Belgian King. Sister Veronica didn’t give in. In a letter to the King, she described Fabiola as “good looking and striking.” And even though Fabiola refused the offer at first, she agreed to meet the King after an intervention by the papal nuncio. They met in Sister Veronica’s apartment in Brussels, and here the cardinal suddenly becomes very discreet when describing the blind date he had helped arrange: “It is inappropriate to describe how roses burst and bloom.”
According to this story, the couple met a second time in Lourdes, France, at the beginning of July 1960. They both stayed in the same hotel, but in separate rooms. They spent their time talking, praying, and walking along the streets of the little town. Three days after their arrival, they were driving to Tarbes, when Fabiola suddenly asked Baudouin to park the car along the side of the road. They prayed together, three Hail Mary’s, after which Fabiola turned to the King and said “Now it’s yes, and I will not look back anymore.” An acceptance without proposal.
Of the above three stories, the last one is the most widely accepted. The cardinal’s book is filled with quotes from his private correspondence with the King and from the King’s diaries, which Baudouin had left to the cardinal in his will. There are other elements which support his story. The couple's yacht, for example, was named Avila, which, according to Suenens’ notes was Fabiola's codename. Baudouin himself even hinted in that direction. But Baudouin’s diaries only support the story of the acceptance in Lourdes, not of their first meeting. And Fabiola herself was not amused by Suenens’ book. She has, more than once, stated, “I have my story too,” which indicates that Suenens has taken some liberty in describing his role in the matchmaking. She also said, at one point, that she had refused Baudouin’s proposal several times “the first year,” which is also at odds with Suenens’ story, according to which they had not known each other for a year when they got married. We will probably never really know, since the Queen doesn’t give any interviews. But it is obvious that even Suenens’ scenario is not the entire story.
Recently, some people have claimed that the marriage of Baudouin and Fabiola was a marriage of convenience, and that, in the beginning they didn’t love each other at all. The story goes that Baudouin just thought that it was his duty as a monarch to produce an heir, for which he needed a wife, and Fabiola wanted to become a mother. As time went by, they found each other in their faith and really started to love each other. Whether this is true or not, only Fabiola can say. But if it had been true, they certainly gave a very good imitation of a couple in love when they married.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Berceuse héroique (1914)

 Claude Debussy's nostalgic tribute to the Belgian king and army amidst the horrors of the First World War.
The composer soon decided that he wished to compose some sort of piece for the war effort. Initially, he conceived of a "Marche Heroique," but that sort of thing did not mesh with his understated compositional style. A march which was meant to evoke strong patriotic feelings would have required loud, grand music. Debussy's piano music was always subtle and avoided "blatancy," as the composer put it. Also, Debussy thought that it seemed ridiculous for him to speak of heroism while he was living in peace, well away from the battles. In November 1914, the composer was able to compose his Berceuse Heroique for piano, which was dedicated to "His Majesty King Albert I of Belgium and his soldiers." The piece was included in the King of Belgium's Book. This simple piece for piano was to be the only work that Debussy composed in the 12 months following the start of the war.
A berceuse is a type of lullaby, mostly for solo piano. Many pieces in this genre were written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Berceuse Heroique can still be called "heroic" because of its use of the Belgian national anthem, also known as the "Brabanconne." Debussy, as well as others, felt that the patriotism of the work did not reflect on listeners that would not recognize the tune. A sense of nostalgia, rather than heroism, is conveyed, especially in the orchestral version of the composition. Debussy completed this arrangement in December. The Belgian national anthem is presented somberly by many instruments throughout this orchestral work, as it is heard first in the bassoons, horns, and clarinets, then in the violas and cellos. The Concerts Colonne et Lamoureux, an orchestra, presented this version during their 1915 - 1916 season.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Fractured Alliance

As readers may have guessed, I have recently become interested in the House of Orléans since the first Belgian queen, Louise-Marie, came from that family. So I was pleased to find this article, by Leah Marie Brown, discussing the alliance rings and the unhappy marriage of Louise-Marie's grandparents, the infamous Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d'Orléans (Philippe Egalité) and his forlorn and forsaken wife, Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon-Penthièvre. While I don't believe that inanimate objects can really harbor traumatic memories, the Duc's broken wedding band does seem strangely evocative of a man who broke faith...

Chivalry and Albert I

Above, we see Ilya Yefimovich Repin's famous, idealized portrait of Albert I, King of the Belgians, during the First World War. The painting epitomizes the legend of the fearless "Knight-King." Today, many mock this title- Albert, they say, was only a mediocre horseman. At heart, he was a man of peace, not a warrior. Albert himself did not like the title. He was often wearied and embarrassed by the adulation showered upon him by the Allied peoples.

Yet, Albert really was a knight. He was a member of many chivalric orders, including the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Golden Fleece. At the end of the First World War, after the fall of the Habsburgs, he even requested to be granted the sovereignty of the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece! That will be the topic of a future post...

Here are some codes of chivalry attributed to the Emperor Charlemagne. (Via Elena Maria Vidal).
  • To fear God and maintain His Church. 
  • To serve the liege lord in valor and faith. 
  • To protect the weak and defenseless. 
  • To give succor to widows and orphans. 
  • To refrain from the wanton giving of offense. 
  • To live by honor and for glory. 
  • To despise pecuniary reward. 
  • To fight for the welfare of all. 
  • To obey those placed in authority. 
  • To guard the honor of fellow knights. 
  • To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit. 
  • To keep faith. 
  • At all times to speak the truth. 
  • To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.
  • To respect the honor of women. 
  • Never to refuse a challenge from an equal. 
  • Never to turn the back upon a foe.
Here is a code issued in 800 AD, at the beginning of Charlemagne's reign:
  • Love God Almighty with all your heart and all your powers
  • Love your neighbour as yourself
  • Give alms to the poor as ye are able
  • Entertain strangers
  • Visit the sick
  • Be merciful to prisoners
  • Do ill to no man, nor consent unto such as do, for the receiver is as bad as the thief
  • Forgive as ye hope to be forgiven
  • Redeem the captive
  • Help the oppressed
  • Defend the cause of the widow and orphan
  • Render righteous judgement
  • Do not consent to any wrong
  • Persevere not in wrath
  • Shun excess in eating and drinking
  • Be humble and kind
  • Serve your liege lord faithfully
  • Do not steal
  • Do not perjure yourself, nor let others do so
  • Envy, hatred and violence separate men from the Kingdom of God
  • Defend the Church and promote her cause.
In the 15th century, the Duke of Burgundy defined the virtues of the Order of the Golden Fleece as follows:
  • Faith
  • Charity
  • Justice
  • Sagacity
  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Resolution
  • Truth
  • Liberality
  • Diligence
  • Hope
  • Valour
I do think some of these maxims and qualities describe Albert I...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Marie-Amélie's Jewels

It is said that during (Louis-Philippe's) period of rule, in keeping with his austere policies Queen Amalie did not make use of the crown jewels of France, reassembled by Napoleon I, after the French revolution, and further enhanced by Louis XVIII and Charles X. Queen Amalie only wore her personal jewelry during the 18-year period she served as the Queen of the French. In this context, the Queen Amalie Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl Parure, the subject of this webpage, was most probably part of the personal collection of jewelry that belonged to the queen, that was designed and executed by Bapst, the court jeweler, using jewels purchased by Louis Philippe from the jewelry markets of Paris. The parure was probably inherited later by Queen Amalie's descendants, with whom it remained, until it was acquired by the Louvre Museum of France. This probably explains why the parure still remains intact as it was produced over 160 years ago, for if the parure was part of the crown jewels of France, it would have undoubtedly undergone modification or reset in a different setting, when the jewels passed through the hands of the next queen consort of France, Empress Eugenie de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III, a great connoisseur and collector of jewels, who was known to have reset most of the crown jewels of France to suite her own tastes and the fashions of the time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Birthday of Albert I

Just a quick post to commemorate the birth of one of my favorite monarchs, Albert I, King of the Belgians. He was born on April 8, 1875, a day before the 40th birthday of his uncle, King Leopold II. Albert was the second son and fifth child of the Count and Countess of Flanders, Prince Philippe of Belgium and Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Modest and dutiful as an adult, Albert is nonetheless reported to have been a willful and mischievous little boy...

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I regret that I have not been able to post much in the past week, I've been having some technical problems and a number of personal obligations have come up. I will probably have little time for posting during the next few weeks. In the meantime, Happy Easter to all my readers!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

The Carrying of the Cross by El Greco, 1580

Then, therefore, Pilate took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platting a crown of thorns, put it upon his head, and they put on him a purple garment. And they came to him, and said: Hail, king of the Jews; and they gave him blows. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith to them: Behold, I bring him forth unto you, that you may know that I find no cause in him. (Jesus therefore came forth, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment.) And he saith to them: Behold the Man.

When the chief priests, therefore, and the servants, had seen him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith to them: Take him you, and crucify him: for I find no cause in him. The Jews answered him: We have a law; and according to the law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore had heard this saying, he feared the more. And he entered into the hall again, and he said to Jesus: Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore saith to him: Speakest thou not to me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and I have power to release thee?

Jesus answered: Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above. Therefore, he that hath delivered me to thee, hath the greater sin. And from henceforth Pilate sought to release him. But the Jews cried out saying: If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend. For whosoever maketh himself a king, speaketh against Caesar. Now when Pilate had heard these words, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat, in the place that is called Lithostratos, and in Hebrew Gabbatha. And it was the parasceve (1) of the pasch, about the sixth hour, and he saith to the Jews: Behold your king. But they cried out: Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith to them: Shall I crucify your king? The chief priests answered: We have no king but Caesar.

Then therefore he delivered him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him forth. And bearing his own cross, he went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha. Where they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title also, and he put it upon the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title therefore many of the Jews did read: because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin.

Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: Write not, The King of the Jews, but that he said, I am the King of the Jews. Pilate answered: What I have written, I have written. The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified him, took his garments (and they made four parts, to every soldier a part) and also his coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said then to one another: Let us not cut it, but let us cast lots for it, whose it shall be; that the scripture might be fulfilled, saying: They have parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture they have cast lots. And the soldiers indeed did these things. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen.

When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar and hyssop, put it to his mouth. Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost.

Then the Jews (because it was the parasceve) that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath day (for that was a great sabbath day) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came, and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. And one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it, hath given testimony, and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true, that you also may believe.

For these things were done, that the scripture might be fulfilled: You shall not break a bone of him. And again another scripture saith: They shall look on him whom they pierced. And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea...besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus also came...bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight. They took therefore the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths, with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

Now there was in the place where he was crucified, a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein no man yet had been laid. There, therefore, because of the parasceve of the Jews, they laid Jesus, because the sepulchre was nigh at hand. 

(Douay-Rheims Bible, Gospel According to St. John, ch. 19)
The Crucifixion by El Greco, ca. 1600
(i.e. the day before the paschal sabbath)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Thursday

1 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended all these words, he said to his disciples: 2 You know that after two days shall be the pasch, and the son of man shall be delivered up to be crucified: 3 Then were gathered together the chief priests and ancients of the people into the court of the high priest, who was called Caiphas: 4 And they consulted together, that by subtilty they might apprehend Jesus, and put him to death. 5 But they said: Not on the festival day, lest perhaps there should be a tumult among the people.

6 And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, 7 There came to him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he was at table. 8 And the disciples seeing it, had indignation, saying: To what purpose is this waste? 9 For this might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. 10 And Jesus knowing it, said to them: Why do you trouble this woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.

11 For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always. 12 For she in pouring this ointment upon my body, hath done it for my burial. 13 Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told for a memory of her. 14 Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the chief priests, 15 And said to them: What will you give me, and I will deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver.
16 And from thenceforth he sought opportunity to betray him. 17 And on the first day of the Azymes, the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch? 18 But Jesus said: Go ye into the city to a certain man, and say to him: the master saith, My time is near at hand, with thee I make the pasch with my disciples. 19 And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them, and they prepared the pasch. 20 But when it was evening, he sat down with his twelve disciples.
21 And whilst they were eating, he said: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me. 22 And they being very much troubled, began every one to say: Is it I, Lord? 23 But he answering, said: He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me. 24 The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born. 25 And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? He saith to him: Thou hast said it.

26 And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. 27 And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. 29 And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.30 And a hymn being said, they went out unto mount Olivet.

31 Then Jesus said to them: All you shall be scandalized in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed. 32 But after I shall be risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. 33 And Peter answering, said to him: Although all shall be scandalized in thee, I will never be scandalized. 34 Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, that in this night before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. 35 Peter saith to him: Yea, though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee. And in like manner said all the disciples.

36 Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray. 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. 38 Then he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me. 39 And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. 40 And he cometh to his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me?

41 Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak. 42 Again the second time, he went and prayed, saying: My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done.43 And he cometh again and findeth them sleeping: for their eyes were heavy. 44And leaving them, he went again: and he prayed the third time, saying the selfsame word. 45 Then he cometh to his disciples, and saith to them: Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.

46 Rise, let us go: behold he is at hand that will betray me. 47 As he yet spoke, behold Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the ancients of the people. 48 And he that betrayed him, gave them a sign, saying: Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he, hold him fast. 49 And forthwith coming to Jesus, he said: Hail, Rabbi. And he kissed him. 50 And Jesus said to him: Friend, whereto art thou come? Then they came up, and laid hands on Jesus, and held him.

51 And behold one of them that were with Jesus, stretching forth his hand, drew out his sword: and striking the servant of the high priest, cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus saith to him: Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done? 55 In that same hour Jesus said to the multitudes: You are come out as it were to a robber with swords and clubs to apprehend me. I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you laid not hands on me.

56 Now all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then the disciples all leaving him, fled. 57 But they holding Jesus led him to Caiphas the high priest, where the scribes and the ancients were assembled. 58 And Peter followed him afar off, even to the court of the high priest. And going in, he sat with the servants, that he might see the end. 59 And the chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death: 60 And they found not, whereas many false witnesses had come in. And last of all there came two false witnesses:

61 And they said: This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and after three days to rebuild it. 62 And the high priest rising up, said to him: Answerest thou nothing to the things which these witness against thee? 63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said to him: I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us if thou be the Christ the Son of God. 64 Jesus saith to him: Thou hast said it. Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 65 Then the high priests rent his garments, saying: He hath blasphemed; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now you have heard the blasphemy:

66 What think you? But they answering, said: He is guilty of death. 67 Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him: and others struck his face with the palms of their hands, 68 Saying: Prophesy unto us, O Christ, who is he that struck thee? 69 But Peter sat without in the court: and there came to him a servant maid, saying: Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean. 70 But he denied before them all, saying: I know not what thou sayest.

71 And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and she saith to them that were there: This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth. 72 And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man. 73 And after a little while they came that stood by, and said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee. 74 Then he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man. And immediately the cock crew. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which he had said: Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly.

(Gospel according to St. Matthew, ch. 26, Douay-Rheims Version)

A Wartime Childhood

An intelligent and spirited little girl

Marie-José's childhood was overshadowed by the First World War. At the age of 8, she saw her country invaded by Germany; she and her brothers were sent to safety in England, and placed in the care of Lord Curzon. Leopold was enrolled at Eton, Charles at Winchester, and Marie-José at an Ursuline convent school in Brentwood.

The war must have been a very traumatic period for Marie-José. She surely suffered severe anxieties for her parents, who remained in Belgium, near the front lines, exposed to all the dangers of war. Marie-José's eldest brother, Leopold, was also in danger - at the age of 13, he insisted on returning to Belgium to join the army. Throughout the war, he divided his time between school at Eton and "vacations" with his regiment.

On April 8, 1915, King Albert's birthday, Queen Elisabeth arranged for a surprise visit of Marie-José to La Panne, where the royal couple were living. In her old age, Marie-José continued to keep, as a precious souvenir, an album of drawings she had given her father on this occasion. The album was dedicated as follows: À mon papa chéri. Marie-José. La Panne, le 8 avril 1915. It contained a whole series of drawings representing the war, often using animal characters. The Belgian and British soldiers appeared as rabbits and frogs, with innocent, kind expressions; the Germans, by contrast, as devils! Her brothers were shown as heroic figures, carrying the Belgian standard, weapons in hand. King Albert was the noble "Lion of Flanders," with a huge crown. Beside him, Marie-José had placed his allies, the King of England and the Tsar, with the caption: Vive papa, vive la Belgique.

During her visits to La Panne, Marie-José assisted the staff at the Océan field hospital, where her mother worked as a nurse. For instance, during the final Allied offensive, in 1918, the 12-year-old princess prepared bandages for the surgeons. She would later recall these experiences, in poignant terms:

All' Océan l'atmosfera era davvero pesante, dappertutto risuonavano urle di dolore. Eppure non provavo orrore, ero convinta di rendermi utile in qualche modo al mio paese. Ci fu però un giorno particolarmente difficile. Cercavo invano...un ferito in gravi condizioni a cui, da una settimana, portavo un pò di brodo. Il suo letto era vuoto. Un altro paziente, che era disteso lì accanto, mi avvertì: "Altezza, non c'è più. E morto. Posso io avere la sua razione?" La crudele realtà che c'era dietro la sua domanda mi fece perdere il controllo e dovetti allontanarmi in tutta fretta, trattenendo a stento le lacrime.

At the Océan, the atmosphere was truly heavy, there were screams of pain on all sides. Yet I did not feel horror, I was convinced that I was making myself useful, in some way, to my country. There was, however, a particularly difficult day. I was looking, in vain... for a wounded man in serious condition to whom, for a week, I had been bringing a bit of broth. His bed was empty. Another patient, who was lying nearby, warned me: "Your Highness, he is gone. He is dead. May I have his ration?" The cruel reality behind his question made me lose control of myself and I had to rush off, barely holding back my tears.

(recorded by Luciano Regolo in La Regina Incompresa, tutto il racconto della vita di Maria Josè di Savoia)

Marie-José's fierce loyalty to her father and her country made her vehemently opposed to anything German. Understandably, she felt deeply outraged by the invasion and occupation of Belgium. In 1917, she left Brentwood and entered the Collegio della Santissima Annunziata, near Florence (in preparation, undoubtedly, for her future marriage to Prince Umberto of Savoy). Her class' music teacher was a young German lady. Marie-José would later recall:

La nostra insegnante di pianoforte era di origine tedesca. Io la detestavo. Era una donna buona e gentile, ma a l'epoca odiavo qualunque persona avesse a che fare con la Germania. Le altre educande cercavano di farmi cambiare idea riguardo la povera fraulein, ma io, replicavo... "Mai! I Tedeschi hanno fatto tanto male al mio padre e al mio paese." Mi bastava sentire il nome dell'imperatore Guiglelmo per farmi infuriare.

Our piano teacher was of German origin. I hated her. She was a good and kind woman, but at the time, I hated anyone who had anything to do with Germany. The other boarders tried to persuade me to change my mind about the poor Fräulein, but I answered: "Never! The Germans have done so much wrong to my father and my country." Merely hearing the name of Kaiser Wilhelm was enough to send me into a rage.

(recorded by Luciano Regolo in La Regina Incompresa, tutto il racconto della vita di Maria José di Savoia)

Indeed, at the end of the war, when asked if she would be happy to be returning to Brussels, Marie-José responded: "I hate Brussels! The Germans were there. Before returning, we will have to disinfect the city!"

During her years at the Santissima Annunziata, Marie-José transmitted all her enthusiasm for her father to her friends. Whenever she spoke of her life in Belgium, she would repeat: "Mio padre e tanto bello!". She never forgot her emotion at finding that a number of her classmates kept pictures of King Albert among their prized possessions. This widespread admiration for his heroism touched her deeply.

She, too, even at a young age, was heroic. Her childhood was marked by terrible tragedy, yet she responded with great courage, resilience, and patriotism.