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