Monday, January 31, 2011

The Legend of Empress Elisabeth

In a moving series of articles, Elena Maria Vidal reviews a trilogy of films, starring Romy Schneider, and offering a rather idealized, but, nevertheless, touching portrayal of the marriage of Franz Joseph of Austria and his beautiful, tragic empress, Elisabeth of Bavaria. As discussed here before, the legendary Elisabeth was the paternal aunt, godmother and namesake of the third Queen of the Belgians; she was also the sister-in-law of Princess Charlotte and the mother-in-law of Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. 

~Sissi (1955)
~Sissi: The Young Empress (1956)
 ~Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sorrow at Laeken

Here is a sad, but impressive description of Leopold III and his mother, from a surprising source: the diaries of the Russian revolutionary and prolific writer, Victor Serge, who spent part of his life in Belgium. (Apparently, he had just dined with the king's doctor, who had shared some details of the state of mind of Leopold and Elisabeth). With a few brief strokes of the brush, Serge paints a vivid portrait of the widowed king and the widowed queen mother, capturing both their misery and their nobility quite brilliantly:
Très pieux, pénétré du sens du devoir. Scrupuleux... Le serment constitutionnel le pèse- mais il le respectera. Accablé du sentiment d'avoir été la cause involontaire de la mort de sa femme, la reine Astrid. A refusé de se remarier. S'inflige la solitude comme une expiation. Travailleur, mène une vie triste. Rentre le soir à Laeken, voit les enfants, se met à table en tête-à-tête avec la reine-mère Élisabeth, qui est frêle, blême, encore belle. "Une Wittelsbach", un visage transparent aux yeux bleus, vivant dans un délire presque silencieux. À table, elle semble attendre; il lui arrive de demander pourquoi le roi- Albert Ier- ne vient pas. On lui répond: "Mais il ne peut pas venir...!!" Elle reprend: "Ach, c'est vrai, j'avais oublié..." Elle se lève parfois la nuit pour jouer du violon...
Very pious, penetrated with the sense of duty. Scrupulous...The constitutional oath weighs heavily on him-but he will respect it. Overwhelmed by the sentiment of having been the involuntary cause of the death of his wife, Queen Astrid. Has refused to remarry. Inflicts solitude upon himself as a penance. A hard worker, leads a sad life. Returns to Laeken in the evening, sees the children, sits down to table alone with the Queen Mother, Elisabeth, who is frail, wan, still beautiful. "A Wittelsbach", a transparent face with blue eyes, living in an almost silent delirium. At table, she seems to be waiting; sometimes she asks why the king-Albert I- does not come. They tell her: "But he cannot come...!!" She replies: "Ach, it's true, I'd forgotten..." Sometimes she rises in the night to play the violin... (Victor Serge, Carnets, February 1, 1937)

A Family in Belgium

A beautiful character sketch of King Albert I, Queen Elisabeth, and their children during the First World War, by Mrs. Arthur Gleason, an American lady who helped to direct a field hospital at the front. For her bravery under fire, she was decorated by King Albert with the Order of Leopold.
The finest thing about this royal group is that it is a real family. They are not friendly for reasons of state only; they care for one another. They are simple people, with the affection and the strength of simple natures.
In the eyes of the mother there are tears close to the surface. Her own children are still safe, but the peasant children- she knows of their suffering. We have seen her talk with each little tot of a group of fifty, and send him off with a mother's pat and a sweet tucked in his wee hands. Her interests are without end. She visits a maternity hospital; she helps to arrange a creche, named after her daughter Marie José, for the tiniest of her people; she is a frequent caller in the hospital wards, and always with that gift of caring for each individual person, pausing at each cot to hearten those broken ones. From a sobbing, wounded peasant she listens to a story. His wife is being carried to her rest without a coffin because he is unable to make it. That coffin is furnished, and the grief of one peasant is lessened. A certain fever patient needs fresh milk. A liter a day reaches him. This gracious lady dislikes publicity; she does all things quietly and without pomp. Sometimes for a few minutes we sat upon a low stone wall listening to the music of a band playing in her garden. When she was walking there with a friend, she would nod and smile across the way to those passing. One day she came unannounced and on foot to my friend's villa. Could one help loving this king and queen and their three children?
The eldest, Leopold, is tall and fair and sensitive, like his father, and one feels that, like his father, he also would wish for his own life. He joined The Twelfth and went into the trenches with the men. We have seen him on the march and we have seen him on horseback. Once he came running with the crowd to examine one of the aeroplanes that used to float down easily upon the beach.
His father goes about as simply as other soldiers, walking with a companion to visit the hospital and to pin a decoration on a shattered boy before he dies. At the end of the hospital hall lay a boy facing the sea. He smiled as we entered. He was not well enough to smile much, but was he not a boy, and did n't he have a secret hidden under his pillow? The blue ribbon on his shirt glistened to be noticed. True, it was on the chest of only part of a boy,—half of his limbs had been blown away,—but the ribbon was new and the lad so proud.
"May I show it to Madame, Emile?" The quick hand of the nurse reached to the very spot under the pillow; it had found the place before. Emile needed to see the silver star and wreath pendant and to touch it more often than he needed fresh dressings. The tall gentleman had pinned it on the day before. He and the boy had enjoyed a talk together, all about how it had happened.
The figure of the tall gentleman is unmistakable. He is straight and fair, with fine blue eyes that look directly at one while he is speaking. His voice is low. He is so shy that the color comes and goes swiftly in his face. On a misty spring day sixty men in three lines stood facing the sea in front of a plain brick villa. The officers were dressy, the men groomed beyond recognition, with rifles shining and the Yser mud scraped from their uniforms and boots. They waited the coming of the shy gentleman. Soon he came, in dark uniform, gloves, and cap with several bands of gold braid adding inches to it. I watched him pin on each man a decoration, some blue, some garnet, and noticed with what concern and gentleness he talked with each man, asking questions, listening courteously. He is to his people what he is to his children, a father who cares that they suffer. There on the lonely beach of the last strip of his land he paid tribute to his soldiers individually, as man to man.
The president of France, with his minister of war and a large group of officers, made an inspection of the front and a visit to our hospital one day. In their look around, the doctors and the president, busily talking, had a way of hastening on ahead, going through doorways first, but the tall, shy gentleman followed, always alone. He is the most lonely figure in all that country. Only a simple nature can be so careless of his own dignity. And not only by that prominence is he a leader; he is a soldier-comrade with his people, and always a man.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Salvador Moncada

Here are some excerpts from scientific talks by the distinguished Honduran-British pharmacologist, Sir Salvador Enrique Moncada, husband of Princess Marie-Esméralda of Belgium, and father of her two children, Alexandra Léopoldine (12) and Leopoldo Daniel (9). The family is pictured above.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Trousseau of the May Queen

Here is an article about a lavish display of the dresses of Queen Marie-José of Italy, the daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.  The exhibition was held in November-December 2009 at the Mona Bismarck Foundation Paris Cultural Center.
Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the Queen's death, on January 27, 2001. May she rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Madonna della Sedia

This is an oil painting, from the estate of Princess Lilian of Belgium, which originally belonged to the mother of King Albert I, Princess Marie-Louise, Countess of Flanders. Apparently, it is a copy of Raphael's Madonna della Sedia, depicting Our Lady embracing the baby Jesus, as a young John the Baptist watches devoutly.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Le Petit Hameau de la Reine

Here is an interesting article from a few years ago. Historical novelist Elena Maria Vidal, who has been a kind friend to this blog, discusses the model village and farm commissioned by Queen Marie-Antoinette on the grounds of Versailles. As Miss Vidal explains, the "little hamlet", despite its practical, educational and even charitable purposes, is often unfairly portrayed as an example of heedless extravagance on the part of the Queen. It seems that Marie-Antoinette is the prime example of a royal lady, endowed with many winsome qualities, who nevertheless could never put a foot right, in the estimation of some. It reminds me of our Princess Lilian, whose every gesture, even the most positive, was tirelessly, ingeniously criticized. (A left-wing newspaper even sneered at her Cardiological Foundation). Incidentally, Lilian and Marie-Antoinette were related, by marriage, since the princess' husband, King Leopold III of the Belgians, was a direct descendant of the French queen's favorite, older sister, Maria Carolina. Through the royal houses of France and Saxony, Leopold III was also related to Louis XVI.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Voice of Leopold III

Le Vétéran, porte-parole de la Ligue Royale Léopold III, is an interesting and informative blog published from time to time in Flemish and French. On the right column of the page, by clicking on the little image of the king speaking on the radio, you can hear part of an address, delivered by Leopold III to the Belgian people on the occasion of the German invasion of May 10, 1940. In Flemish, he tells his subjects: "War has erupted near us. An era of economic and human trials announces itself for Belgium. Many homes will now know the emotion of separation: parents, wives, children, know that you are in my thoughts." The king had a soft, gentle yet powerful voice; he was also the first Belgian monarch to speak Flemish more or less fluently.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Princess Lilian- Loved and Loving

With all the talk of the unpopularity of the second wife of King Leopold III, it is forgotten that the Princesse de Réthy, along with the power of inspiring great hatred, also had the power to inspire great love. Her passionate romance with her sovereign is routinely reduced to a mixture of lust and ambition; this is to seriously underestimate the depth of the relationship of these two complex and misunderstood human beings. Their parallel scientific, cultural and humanitarian pursuits, over decades, indicate a union of mind and heart, fed not by base passions, but by noble aspirations. Even brief glimpses of Leopold's letters to Lilian suggest a profound, spiritual love, beyond mere physical attraction, resting upon common religious, political and moral ideals. For instance, after being forced to delegate his royal powers to his son, Prince Baudouin, in 1950, prior to his formal abdication a year later, Leopold wrote to his wife, still in exile in Switzerland. He regretted her sadness at recent events, but encouraged her with the thought of God's goodness in protecting the royal family from many perils, and of Baudouin's nobility in assuming his high charge on behalf of the monarchy and the country. On an expedition in South America, in 1952, the king sent another affectionate note to the princess, evoking, in touching terms, their shared love of their family.

As for Lilian, she is often portrayed as a cold, calculating social-climber, who married the king merely for rank and wealth. To harbor some mistrust of the motives of a commoner, marrying into royalty at a time of peace and prosperity, might be understandable. To brand, as an unscrupulous adventuress, a commoner wedding a king at a time of war and adversity, is less understandable. In 1941, the year of Lilian's marriage, Belgium was occupied by Hitler, Leopold was a prisoner of war, and the future was completely uncertain. Isn't it a bit ridiculous to assume that Lilian accepted Leopold's proposal, let alone manipulated him into this proposal, out of lust for the throne of Belgium, when nobody even knew whether there would be a throne, or a Belgium, in the years to come? Furthermore, Leopold's conflict with his ministers and allies in 1940 did not bode well for the future, even if Germany were defeated and Belgium liberated. As it turned out, Lilian agreed to marry the king only on condition of renouncing the title and rank of queen, and rather than gold-digging, she was more likely to be digging her own grave. After four years of comparatively good treatment, the royal family was deported to the grim, insalubrious fortress of Hirchstein at the time of the Allied landings in Normandy in June, 1944. Later, they were transferred to Strobl in Austria, where they were liberated by American soldiers in May, 1945. Let it not be forgotten: for eleven months, Lilian, with her husband, her little son, and her three step-children, was held hostage by the enemy. The prisoners' diet was insufficient; the children were often ill. Cut off from the outside world, ignorant of the future, the royal family and their small entourage lived with the constant fear that they might be murdered by their jailers in a fit of desperation and vindictiveness. In fact, an S.S. officer did try to poison the family at one point with cyanide pills. During this dark period, Lilian assisted her husband in protecting and educating the royal children and sustaining their morale. In the decades to come, in the face of enormous bad press, Lilian would loyally support her husband through all the vicissitudes of his life. After his death, the normally indomitable lady fell into a deep depression, but rallied, with her characteristic courage. For the rest of her life, she would stubbornly defend Leopold's memory. This record looks like love to me.


Leopold was not the only person to love Lilian, or whom Lilian loved. She is often depicted as a harsh, domineering, unloving and unloved mother. To be sure, she was a woman with flaws, prone to be imperious, demanding and excessively severe at times. Yet, even if relations with her step-children cooled later, she won the devotion of Princess Joséphine-Charlotte, Prince Baudouin and Prince Albert over many years. Guests of the royal family after the war, such as the younger Lord Roger Keyes, were struck by the mutual affection and tenderness of its members. It is often claimed that Lilian's own children found her unbearable. If she became tragically estranged from her eldest daughter, Princess Marie-Christine, her younger daughter, Princess Marie-Esméralda, has staunchly defended her memory, in memoirs and interviews. As for her son, Prince Alexandre-Emmanuel, he supposedly kept his marriage to Léa Wolman, a twice-divorced mother of two, a secret for seven years, for fear of his mother's wrath. It is assumed that Lilian would have disapproved of the marriage simply because Léa was not royal, an arrogance all the more insufferable since Lilian was born a commoner herself. Yet, when Marie-Esméralda married Honduran pharmacologist Salvador Moncada, also a commoner, she felt no need to keep this step a secret, and her mother rejoiced in her happiness, attending the wedding in London with her step-son, Albert II, and afterwards, gladly describing the festivities to her intimates at Argenteuil. Might Lilian have had reservations about her son's choice of bride for other reasons? For instance, might the lady's prior, unfortunate marital history have worried her? If so, with all due respect to Princess Léa, Lilian's concern might have been understandable, especially for a believing, practicing, Catholic woman from an older generation for whom marriage was for life. In any case, Alexandre-Emmanuel frequently visited his mother at Argenteuil. After her death, he assisted Marie-Esméralda in attempting, in vain, to fulfill their mother's last wishes by preserving Argenteuil as a memorial to Leopold III. The prince surely loved his mother, in spite of any tensions. People ought to be cautious, too, about accepting Marie-Christine's accounts of maternal cruelty and neglect unreservedly; she has herself admitted, in her memoirs, that she has not always been a truthful person.

As for her other relatives, if Lilian clashed with some of her in-laws, such as Prince Charles, the Regent of Belgium from 1944-1950, and Queen Fabiola, the consort of Baudouin I, why assume that this was all Lilian's fault? Human relations are usually more complex. (In any case, the story, endlessly repeated, that Leopold and Lilian plundered all the furnishings of Laeken and installed them at Argenteuil, during the honeymoon of Baudouin and Fabiola, is FALSE. Even Marie-Christine has denied it.) Furthermore, other in-laws seem to have liked Lilian. Queen Elisabeth, the mother of Leopold III, invited the young Mlle. Baels to Laeken during the war and encouraged her romance and religious marriage with the king, apparently welcoming her with open arms and lending her the bridal veil Elisabeth had worn at her own wedding. Queen Marie-José of Italy, Leopold's sister, according to her closest biographer, Luciano Regolo, found Lilian sympathetic. Marie-José's daughter, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, by her own testimony, greatly enjoyed the company of her Uncle Leopold and Aunt Lilian, traveling with them to India. After the king's death, Maria Gabriella joined the Assemblée Princesse Lilian en hommage au Roi Léopold III, an association established by the widowed princess to perpetuate her husband's memory.

Outside the royal family, Lilian was admired by many. To name a few distinguished, thoughtful figures: collaborators of the princess in her Cardiological Foundation, renowned scientists and doctors, such as Christian de Duve and Charles van Ypersele de Strihou, have left touching testimonies of their appreciation for their patroness. After her death in 2002, the 95-year-old, legendary surgeon, Michael DeBakey, despite his age, insisted on attending the commemorative conference in Lilian's honor to render her a resounding tribute. In other fields, men such as Raymond Bousquet, a French ambassador to Belgium, Herman de Croo, President of the Chamber, Monsignor Edouard Massaux, rector of the Catholic University of Louvain, Michel Verwilghen, professor of law at Louvain and at the Academy of International Law at the Hague, Jean Piat, French comedian, Marcel Jullian, French director, author, and hero of the Resistance, and even Lilian's old opponent, Pierre Mertens, a novelist whom she sued over his portrayal of her family in Une paix royale, have praised her character. The princess' housekeeper, Jeannine Degrève, remained in her service for 53 years. She must have liked her mistress well enough! Finally, Lilian may have been the most hated woman in Belgian history, but even among the public at large, she had her supporters. Reactions to her marriage were not uniformly hostile; the palace received plenty of flowers and congratulations too. In her later years, at Argenteuil, she and her husband continued to receive many messages of sympathy from ordinary people, on the occasion, for instance, of their Silver Wedding. Towards the end of Lilian's life, after the loss of her husband, a sensationalist historian, Karel de Clerck, claimed that she had slept with her step-son, King Baudouin, during his youth! Another historian, the eminent author Jean Vanwelkenhuyzen, soon gave the lie to these charges and the princess received another series of sympathetic letters. In discretion, her gestures of charity were many: spontaneously kissing a leprous woman on a visit to Molokai in the footsteps of Father Damien, paying for the surgical operation of the daughter of one of her gendarmes, trying her best to reconcile an estranged couple among her entourage, and helping the father and grandfather of a pedophile victim to obtain justice, among others. In return, in discretion, she was loved.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gossip

January 23 will mark the anniversary of the death of Prince Baudouin of Belgium (1869-1891), the much-regretted elder brother of King Albert I. In Albert of Belgium: defender of right (1935), Emile Cammaerts describes the king's efforts to silence the scandalous rumors surrounding the prince's passing. (The pious, conscientious young man had been portrayed as an inveterate philanderer who had fallen victim to a crime of passion or a suicide).
Talking to M. de Paeuw in July 1930, King Albert mentioned certain rumors which had been spread on the morrow of Prince Baudouin's sudden death, and asked him to seize the first opportunity of contradicting these statements."You must," he said, "help us to stop the calumnies which were circulated and which are still circulated regarding my brother's premature death. You see, M. le Directeur- Général, the higher we are placed the more exposed we are to mischievous gossip. Kings and Princes are even less free of it than others. Everything we do is looked at through magnifying glasses. The public cannot believe that we can live simply and that a Prince can die of a common illness like everyone else. Imaginations are stirred, tongues begin to wag, and invention is added to invention."
In order to comply with the late King's wishes, M. de Paeuw reproduced in his book, Albert, Troisième Roi des Belges, the series of letters, written in January 1891 by the Count of Flanders to Leopold II, showing conclusively that Prince Baudouin died of pneumonia, following a cold contracted in the course of his military duties (Appendix VI).
Ironically, however, similar lurid nonsense would be spread about King Albert's own premature death, on February 17, 1934.

More on Prince Baudouin
More on the family of the Count and Countess of Flanders

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gorgeous!

The estate of HRH Princess Lilian of Belgium, sold at Sotheby's after her death. Please take a look; there are many, many beautiful photographs of antique treasures. Above is a porcelain plate, with a floral design apparently hand-painted by Princess Henriette of Belgium, the Duchess of Vendome, sister of King Albert I.

Maximilian and Carlota: Imperial Tragedy

A blog for researchers, by historical novelist C. M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.

A touching online exhibit, courtesy of the Woodson Research Center, including samples of Carlota's exquisite handwriting. In the first letter displayed, notable for its beautifully decorated margins, little Charlotte, the first Princess of Belgium, sends tender greetings to her grandmother, the last, exiled Queen of the French, Marie-Amélie. The child regrets that she cannot accompany her mother, Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians, to England to visit Marie-Amélie. Reunited on paper, we have three generations of remarkable royal ladies.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Two Wives of Leopold III

Above, we see King Leopold III of the Belgians laying a wreath at the foot of a statue of his dead Queen, Astrid of Sweden. The photograph symbolizes quite aptly the way Astrid's tragic legend overshadowed her husband's reign! For good and for ill, as the Belgians' sympathy for the handsome, sensitive young widower often turned to scorn and hostility in the wake of his wartime re-marriage to Lilian Baels. As I have mentioned before, Leopold was accused of betraying his first wife's memory by marrying Lilian. Throughout the upheavals leading to the King's abdication, political agitators opposed Astrid's idealized image to the demonized images of Leopold and Lilian.

Emily Chauviere, a librarian at the University of Dallas, gives an interesting description of Leopold III and his two wives: the enchanting Scandinavian princess whom he married amidst splendor and celebration, who bore him a daughter and two sons, before dying young, and the alluring Flemish commoner whom he wedded in secrecy and mourning, who gave him a son and two daughters, and with whom he spent his last years; the woman whose loss saddened his youth and the woman whose presence brightened his old age. I am glad that the author avoids the usual vilifications of Princess Lilian and treats her with respect. Popular reactions to the King's second marriage, however, were actually more mixed than Ms. Chauviere suggests. As for Leopold's surrender to the Germans, it aroused criticism on the part of Belgian and Allied ministers, but the Belgian people, in general, still seemed to love their sovereign at that point, admiring his courage in sharing their captivity. (See, for instance, The Prisoner at Laeken: King Leopold, legend and fact, 1941, by Emile Cammaerts).

Here is an article of my own, comparing and contrasting Astrid and Lilian. Although I like both women,  I feel that Astrid was better suited to the role of Leopold's consort, since she was gentler and more diplomatic.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Baudouin I, King of the Belgians


Wonderful!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Queen Astrid on Facebook

I just discovered a delightful Facebook group dedicated to Queen Astrid, with interesting links and videos, and lots and lots of wonderful photos. I am glad to see that this kind and beautiful lady still has so many fans!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Genocide in Rwanda

Elena Maria Vidal has a searing post about the horrific holocaust in Rwanda, a former Belgian mandate, in 1994.

I cannot resist sharing a story of Princess Lilian's kindness to a family of Rwandan refugees, told by Michel Verwilghen, professor of law at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Le mythe d'Argenteuil. Although his book is not a memoir, but a historical study of the domain of Argenteuil, Verwilghen departs, on this occasion, from his usual impersonal tone, to give a direct testimony of Lilian's generosity and tact. Shortly after the Rwandan genocide, he relates, he was invited to Argenteuil to settle some matter involving the Fondation Cardiologique Princesse Lilian. The conversation turned to the tragedy in the heart of Africa, a region which Lilian's late husband, King Leopold III, had visited and loved. Verwilghen told his hostess how several professors of law from Belgian universities had managed to rescue a Rwandan colleague and transport him to Belgium, with his wife and their four children, a few weeks after the beginning of the slaughter. Upon hearing that the parents were preparing to celebrate their eldest child's First Communion and Confirmation with a simple party, the princess took her cheque book out of her purse and handed it to her guest, asking him to fill a cheque for the unfortunate couple: "I would like to help them and make sure that their family party is beautiful, after what they have lived through there". Startled, the professor asked the princess what to write; she specified an ample sum. After filling the cheque as requested, Verwilghen returned it to Lilian to sign. As she did so, she graciously continued the conversation, as if to close the financial transaction discreetly. I am reminded of the description of Lilian de Réthy given by Madame Carton de Wiart, a lady-in-waiting of Queen Elisabeth: A true princess in the full sense of the term!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Leopold II and the Congo

Here are some pages from The Cambridge history of Africa: from 1870 to 1905 giving a well-balanced account of an inflammatory subject: the disastrous history of the Congo Free State, the unsavory colonial venture of the second King of the Belgians. Contrary to some versions, Leopold did initially have qualms upon hearing of crimes perpetrated against the Congolese. Tragically, however, he was then all too willing to be persuaded that these charges were calumnies. To quote:
All the principles of Congo policy were decided by the king. But in the implementation of these policies, the administration of the state often played its own game. This was particularly true of the domanial régime. Leopold's will was that the state should extract the maximum profit from its domain. But he was not very much concerned with the way this aim was reached. The system of outright exploitation of the native population which gave, as the figures of production show, such extraordinary results, was mainly devised by the administration, both in Brussels and in Africa. Leopold limited himself to noting that the yield was satisfactory. However when the first accusers rose up to denounce abuses in the treatment of the Africans, the king was deeply moved. From 1896 to 1900, as his private letters reveal, he passed through several periods of agony. 'We are condemned by civilized opinion', he wrote in September 1896. 'If there are abuses in the Congo, we must make them stop.' 'It is necessary to put down the horrible abuses', he repeated in January 1899. 'These horrors must end or I will retire from the Congo. I will not allow myself to be spattered with blood and mud.'
On the occasion of each of these crises of anger and disgust, the king reiterated strict orders: cruelty to the natives should be severely punished. The Congo administration just waited for the storm to pass. It had elaborated a system and stuck to it. Altering the system might weaken it. The lessening of pressure on the Africans would naturally bring about a reduction of revenue; and the administration was well aware that, if this occurred, it would have more than royal anger to face. In other words, the administration distinguished between the king's permanent and fundamental desire--to increase the output of the domain--and his occasional crises of conscience. It modelled its action on what was permanent and fundamental. All those linked with the régime, therefore, and desirous of exculpating themselves, tried to convince Leopold II that the accusations against the Congo were unjust or exaggerated and were made in great measure out of ill will. The attitude of Leopold who, unconsciously no doubt, was ready to be convinced, thus came to undergo profound modification; instead of being affected by the attacks, he began soon to react more and more violently against them. Whereas the king almost always dominated his entourage, it may be said that in this case he allowed himself to be dominated by it (pp. 320-321).

A New Blog on Leopold and Charlotte

A kind reader, "ThereseMarie27", has just started a blog dedicated to the love story of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Princess Charlotte of Wales. It looks beautiful already. I encourage those interested in the topic to visit and I hope we will see more articles from the author!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Albert I, King of the Belgians


A new tribute to the beloved monarch, with stirring music and some photographs I had never seen before. Especially in his later pictures, Albert's world-weariness often seems sadly evident.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Queen's Flower

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians loved flowers. Her children brought her a little bouquet every morning. It was said that the edelweiss had played some humble part in the courtship of Albert and Elisabeth, and many years later, the mountaineering King would still tenderly, bashfully present his wife with bundles of these alpine blossoms. After her husband's fatal accident, a devastated Elisabeth strewed his deathbed with lilies and decreed that snowdrops should be gathered every year and scattered upon his tomb, since he had been happiest amidst the snows of the high Alps (see Wanda Larson, Elisabeth: A Biography: From Bavarian Princess to Queen of the Belgians, 1997). Here is a touching contemporary account, from the early years of the reign of Albert and Elisabeth, linking the Queen's love of flowers to her love of her people:
Since the accession of her husband to the throne of Belgium, in 1910, the young Queen has suffered much from delicate health, and was for a time in rather a dangerous condition. The adoration with which the people regard her was manifested in the affectionate demonstration which they made when the Queen drove out for the first time after her illness. It seemed as though all Brussels had come out to pay her loving homage.
But, though unable for a time to visit amongst the poor and take an active part in philanthropic work, the Queen had inspired such love in the people that the flower which she chose for her name-day-June 30 - was made the means of obtaining funds to help forward a cause dear to the heart of the Queen. Last year the little wild rose was named as the Queen's flower, and all through the towns and villages of Belgium the people wore the bloom. The proceeds from the sales were given to support the campaign against tuberculosis. The flower was sold at a penny, and some two hundred thousand francs were realised.
This year (1911) La Fleur de la Reine is the edelweiss, and the sale has been taken up with enormous enthusiasm. The favour is an artificial representation of the white, star-like flower, and attached to it is a ribbon with a tiny portrait of the Queen. The proceeds are to be devoted to fighting the terrible ravages made by that awful disease, the sleeping sickness, which is the scourge of the Congo. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Royal Visit to Argenteuil

Among the most illustrious guests of Leopold III and Lilian de Réthy were HM Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In the spring of 1966, on a state visit to Belgium, the Queen made a detour by Argenteuil, where the former King of the Belgians and his wife had been living, in a kind of internal exile, for the past five years. On May 11, traveling by royal train from Liège, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the little station of Groenendael to be conducted to Argenteuil. Upon reaching the estate, the distinguished visitors were welcomed by a guard of honor consisting of members of a local equestrian club, Les Habits rouges. That afternoon, in the elegant chateau, the two royal couples enjoyed an intimate tea party and pleasant conversation, mostly in English. 

Although everyone tactfully avoided mentioning the Second World War, Elizabeth's friendly gesture towards Leopold and Lilian had political significance. During the war, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had severely, and unfairly, condemned Leopold's surrender to the Nazis in May, 1940. After the war, while Leopold remained in exile in Austria and Switzerland, Churchill had played a major role in preventing his return to Belgium (see, for example, Roger Keyes, Échec au Roi: Léopold III 1940-1951). Publicly, King George VI had been obliged to maintain solidarity with his government and to treat Leopold coldly. Privately, however, he seems to have been much more sympathetic to his Belgian cousin, perhaps partly thanks to the influence of Lord Roger Keyes, the British liaison officer who had bravely defended Leopold from the false accusations of cowardice and treason in 1940. In matters under his control, such as honors and decorations, King George, to his credit, refused to countenance reprisals against his beleaguered fellow sovereign. Queen Elizabeth's visit to Argenteuil, suggesting that she shared her father's sentiments, delighted and touched her hosts. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"King Leopold's First Charlotte": A Guest Post by Cheryl Anderson Brown

Today, I am celebrating the second anniversary of Cross of Laeken with a beautiful guest post by Cheryl Anderson Brown of The Princess Palace. Cheryl is an award-winning writer and editor who has been avidly studying royal history for nearly 30 years. She has a bachelor's degree in international relations and a master's in professional writing. Her master's thesis is a biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales, the beloved, spirited and tragically lost first wife of Leopold I, King of the Belgians. Cheryl has graciously agreed to share with us some of her thoughts on her heroine:-

King Leopold’s First Charlotte
Long before Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was invited to be King of the Belgians, he envisioned a much different destiny for himself: guiding the British Empire through the nineteenth century. Although he influenced Britain from afar as advisor to his niece and nephew, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it was Leopold who had been expected to serve as Prince Consort to a far different queen than Victoria: a vivacious young woman named Charlotte.
From the moment of her conception, the hopes of the Hanoverian dynasty and of England were pinned on Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. With a vibrant hatred growing daily stronger between her parents, the future King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, it was pretty clear that she would be the only offspring of the marriage. In fact, the couple separated very soon after Charlotte’s birth in 1796 and the Prince of Wales spent the next 20 years trying to divorce the loud and colorful Caroline. He didn’t even invite her to his coronation in 1820—when she showed up any way, he locked the doors against her!
George himself was no model of decorum, although he certainly felt otherwise. A gambler and ladies’ man who also indulged in extravagant spending, he was kept only moderately in check by Parliament’s and King George III’s willingness to pay his debts, which would always mushroom again. In fact, he had been practically bribed to marry Caroline in order to continue the royal line.
Most of George III’s 14 other children also led scandalous lives. As a result, Charlotte was the only legitimate grandchild and, therefore, the only heir to the throne. Today, a girl like her might be pampered and spoiled, but not Charlotte. Certainly, she had ponies and pets and received a far better education than most girls of the day, but Charlotte’s childhood was marred by emotional instability. Caught in the battle between her parents, her greatest champion—perhaps the person who loved her best—was her grandfather, but his recurrent illnesses and eventual seclusion deprived her of his loving kindness.
Charlotte was given her own homes and households, separate from either of her parents. Her father often banned her from seeing her mother, but he did not offer her much companionship either. She grew up mostly in the company of servants, occasionally visiting her grandmother Queen Charlotte and her spinster aunts.
Any news about young Charlotte excited the population. She was the royal superstar of the day. If she visited a shop or showed a little charity, the kingdom was abuzz with the news. As she grew to adolescence, this interest intensified. Who would she marry?
Like many young girls, Charlotte had a propensity for falling in love. Passionate like her father and excitable like her mother, she gave her heart willingly to an illegitimate first cousin, to a young army officer, to a mysterious Prince F. With her mother’s indulgence, a couple of these relationships came within a hair’s breadth of scandal, but Charlotte was always able to keep her reputation and her popularity in tact. These traits would serve her well, when her father began planning her marriage.
Charlotte was coming of age at a moment of true splendor for her nation. In addition to many dashing English noblemen, the victory over Napoleon brought all of Europe’s greatest royals and military leaders to London for peace talks and glorious celebrations. Charlotte met many eligible young men in the heady atmosphere. She enjoyed the round of entertainments, sometimes against her father’s wishes and sometimes keeping company with people who deemed questionable, like “The Bachelor Duke” of Devonshire and the Czar’s sister.
Prince George’s greatest concern, however, was the amount of attention and adoration Charlotte was receiving—she was clearly more popular than he was! 
He devised a plan that would remove Charlotte from the limelight: he betrothed the 18-year-old princess to Prince William of Orange. Ever enthusiastic, Charlotte initially agreed, but William hardly compared to the numerous handsome young men she had met. When she discovered that she would be required to live in The Netherlands, Charlotte objected and she had the support of the Whigs. But, George refused to relent. On the eve of a critical election, Charlotte took drastic measures.
She ran away. To her mother. Fearful of public riots, royal dukes and bishops and even the Lord Chancellor begged her to return to her father. The Whigs also wanted to avoid potential violence in the streets. Charlotte caved in and her father punished her by sending her away from London. Within weeks, her mother abandoned her entirely, opting to take a prolonged tour of the newly peaceful Europe. Charlotte would never see her again.
During her exile, Charlotte determined to take control of her own future and selected for her mate, the most handsome and perhaps poorest of all the princes she had met in London. Prince Leopold was a rising young officer in the Czar’s service who had distinguished himself during the war. Charlotte, for once, kept her plan quiet and her father eventually allowed her to return to London the following year, still insisting on the Orange marriage. William of Orange, however, was tired of waiting for his unwilling bride. When he married another, George had little room to dodge the persuasive princess’s formal request to marry Leopold. George was inundated from all sides—members of the royal family and governor ministers counseled him to concede. Early the next year, 1816, he said yes.

Princess Lilian's Christmas Gifts

I wish this photograph were in color. Nonetheless, it vividly conveys Lilian's charm and cordiality. Despite her reputation as a stubborn, selfish and difficult woman, the Princesse de Réthy was known in her intimate circle as a generous benefactress and a gracious hostess. Every year, during the Christmas festivities, she lavished delicate attentions on her entourage, sensu lato, with her characteristic refinement, elegance and perfectionism. In Le mythe d'Argenteuil, Michel Verwilghen, himself a frequent guest at the royal estate in its heyday, shares a few charming details of these busy winter days. By the end of November, Lilian's household was astir with preparations for the Christmas celebrations. Aided by her secretary and her faithful housekeeper, Madame Jeannine, the princess prepared over a hundred presents, all substantial and personalized, for her close associates. Anxious to please everyone individually, she even initiated, at times, discreet, indirect inquiries into their desires. On December 25 came the ritual of the gift-giving itself; in the tradition of the Belgian royal family, Lilian personally distributed the presents, accompanied with kind words, to her intimates. For her most elite guests, distinguished soldiers and statesmen, she reserved some special treasures: the pocket watches, commemorating the Battle of the Yser (1914-1918), which her late father-in-law, the beloved Albert I, had ordered at the Maison Doucet in Paris. The cases bore the monograms of the Roi Chevalier and his consort, A and E, interlaced and surmounted with a crown, in gilded metal. The metal came from the fragments of exploded shells from the trenches of the Yser. Among the favored few who received one of these tragic but glorious mementos was Charles de Gaulle.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Bratislava New Year Fireworks

Heartfelt thanks to all my readers in 2009 and 2010. To all my family, friends and visitors, best wishes and many blessings in 2011~