November, the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, is a time full of anniversaries for King Leopold III, Queen Astrid and Princess Lilian. All three began their momentous and often tragic lives in this dark, tempestuous month; Leopold on November 3, Astrid on November 17, and Lilian on November 28. Leopold and Astrid were also married in November! By rather a remarkable coincidence, Leopold was born the day after the birthday of his legendary forebear, Marie-Antoinette of Austria, who actually arrived on All Souls' Day itself, with all the churches of Vienna ominously draped in liturgical mourning. In fact, Leopold would sometimes have celebrated his birthday on All Souls' Day, too, since the feast is commemorated on November 3, if November 2 falls on a Sunday.
The King was a descendant of Marie-Antoinette's favorite sister, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples. As it happened, Leopold and especially Lilian shared many qualities and experiences with the unfortunate Queen of France. Marie-Antoinette was a Habsburg archduchess, a daughter of the great Empress Maria Theresa, and Mary Lilian Baels was a Fleming, the product of a culture influenced by the Habsburgs, who ruled the Low Countries for centuries. Both Lilian and Marie-Antoinette were among the youngest children in large families, with forceful and capable mothers. Both girls were named after Our Lady, like many other Catholic princesses. Lilian and Marie-Antoinette also shared great beauty, charm, glamor and passion. Both were queens of fashion, with exquisite taste. Both were gracious hostesses, admired for creating magical environments, Marie-Antoinette at Trianon and Lilian at Argenteuil. Both were staunch, loyal and courageous women. Each was kind and charitable to the less fortunate, and known for her goodness within her inner circle. Both were loving wives and mothers. Both were sincere Catholics, fun-loving girls who seemed to grow in spiritual grandeur with time and suffering.
Like Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Leopold III and Lilian had their faults, but were cruelly maligned beyond all reality. Both Lilian and Marie-Antoinette faced hateful accusations of immorality and even incest. Like the Queen of France, the Queen of the Belgians in all but name bravely shared her husband's miseries. Lilian and Marie-Antoinette bore insult, imprisonment, deprivation, illness and danger of death with patience and dignity. Each strove to protect and comfort her king and his children in terrible circumstances. At the end of her life, each left touching last wishes expressing a gentle spirit of piety, humility and care for her family and faithful friends. While sparing Lilian a bloody martyrdom, and granting her many years and a peaceful passing in old age, Providence called both women to sacrifice.