Friday, July 29, 2011

Lost in the Myths of History

Author Christina Croft has kindly invited me to be a contributor to her lovely new blog, Lost in the Myths of History. Do come and visit us! 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Interview with Princess Esmeralda

Here is an interview with Princess Esmeralda, broadcast on C'est du Belge on February 25, 2011, prior to the screening of the RTBF documentary, Léopold III, mon père, narrated by the Princess. The clip also includes a virtual visit to one of the few monuments to the much-maligned fourth King of the Belgians, the memorial to the heroes of the Battle of the Lys (May 23-28, 1940), featuring an equestrian statue of Leopold III, in Kortrijk.

As always, I was impressed by Princess Esmeralda's gentle, irenic spirit. She emphasizes that she is glad to have been born during the most serene period of her father's life, after his abdication, when he finally had the time to concentrate on his family. She notes that her father forgave his political opponents, admitted errors on his own part and found peace after the tragic and tempestuous years of his reign. She also displays no bitterness over the treatment of her mother, Princess Lilian, viewing the Belgians' resentment of their King's second wife as an inevitable, if unfortunate, human reaction.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Belgian Revolution

Tomorrow, of course, will be Belgium's National Day, commemorating the swearing-in of the first King of the Belgians, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 180 years ago. (Sadly, barring an overnight miracle, it will be Belgium's second National Day in a row without a government!) I can warmly recommend reading the New Advent article on the early modern history of Belgium. Here is an excerpt describing the Belgian Revolution of 1830, the fruit of a curious alliance between Catholic and Liberal opponents of King William I of the Netherlands, which gave rise to the new Kingdom of Belgium:
Soon after the victory of the Allied Powers, who became masters of Belgium, they established there a provisional government under the Duke of Beaufort (11 June, 1814). The new governing powers promptly proclaimed to the Belgians that, in conformity with the intentions of the Allied Powers, "they would maintain inviolable the spiritual and the civil authority in their respective spheres, as determined by the canonical laws of the Church and by the old constitutional laws of the country". These declarations roused hopes which, however, were destined to be disappointed; for by the secret treaty of Chaumont (1 March, 1814), confirmed by Article 6 of the Treaty of Paris (30 May, 1814), it had even then been decided that Holland should receive an addition of territory, and that this addition should be Belgium. The secret Treaty of London (23 June, 1814) furthermore provided that the union of the two countries was to be internal and thorough, so that they "would form one and the same State governed by the constitution already established in Holland, which would be modified by mutual consent to accord with new conditions". The new State took the name of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and was placed under the sovereignty of William I of Orange-Nassau.
The object of the Powers in creating the Kingdom of the Netherlands was to give France on her northern frontier a neighbour strong enough to serve as a barrier against her, and with this aim in view they disposed of the Belgian provinces without consulting them. The State resulting form this union seemed to offer numerous guarantees of prosperity from the standpoint of economics. Unfortunately, however, the two peoples, after being separated for more than two centuries, had conflicting temperaments; the Dutch were Calvinists, the Belgians Catholics, and the former, although greatly in the minority, 2,000,000 as against 3,500,000 Belgians, expected to rule the Belgians and to treat them as subjects. These differences could have been lessened by a sovereign who would take the duty on himself; they were, however, aggravated by the policy adopted by William I. Arbitrary, narrow-minded, obstinate, and moreover an intolerant Calvinist, he surrounded himself almost exclusively with Dutchmen, who were totally ignorant of Catholic matters and of the Belgian character. In addition, he was imbued with the principles of "enlightened despotism" which made him regard his absolutism as the form of government best suited to the needs of his kingdom, and thus he was unequal to his tasks from the very outset. While still Prince of Fulda, he had persecuted his Catholic subjects until the Diet was forced to check him. As King of the Netherlands, he showed that he had learned nothing by experience, and imagined that he could effect the fusion of the two peoples by transforming Belgium into Holland as far as possible.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Princess Lilian Cardiology Foundation

In Le mythe d'Argenteuil (2006), Michel Verwilghen gives a full and detailed account of the development of the Princess Lilian Cardiology Foundation (pp. 309-314). Established in 1958 in Brussels, the institution combined the scientific interests and charitable inclinations of the second wife of King Leopold III. Following the widely publicized, successful surgery of her teenaged son, Prince Alexandre, who had been suffering from a cardiac abnormality then inoperable in Belgium, by Professor E. Gross at the Children's Hospital in Boston, Lilian began to receive appeals from other Belgians for help in obtaining similar care in the United States for their loved ones. Initially on an informal basis, the Princess responded generously to the requests, supplying financial assistance and organizing administrative and moral support for the patients. Her thoughtful and compassionate approach extended through their whole experience; during the transatlantic flight, sufferers were provided with companionship, children were given gifts to raise their spirits. (Little girls received dolls, for instance).

As the Princess' work expanded, she decided, at the suggestion of Belgian diplomat Joseph Jennen, to form a non-profit organization to perpetuate her enterprise. Accordingly, on December 10, 1958, she created the Fondation Cardiologique Princesse Lilian. The press, all too often brutally abusive of Lilian, had the good grace to give this accomplishment, at least, appreciative treatment; only Le Drapeau Rouge, a Communist, and, not surprisingly, violently anti-monarchist paper, saw fit to sneer at her efforts. At the outset, the headquarters of the Princess' foundation was placed across the street from the Royal Palace of Brussels, at 14 Rue Bréderode. It would later be moved to Ixelles, a suburb of Brussels. A close friend of Leopold and Lilian, Ernest-John Solvay, presided over the organization for the first few years of its existence. After the King, the Princess and their children left Laeken for the country estate of Argenteuil, in 1961, however, Solvay was replaced by Fernand Collin, a financier, jurist and professor at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. For a number of years, a former secretary of King Leopold, Charles Everarts de Velp, served as the secretary of Princess Lilian's foundation. The institution's administrative council included eminent Belgian personalities from the worlds of business and politics, such as Camille Gutt, former member of the World War II cabinet of Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot.

In the decades to come, through her foundation, Princess Lilian would furnish vital assistance to more than 3000 people. The statistics for the first decade alone are impressive: 123 Belgians traveled to the United States for surgery; 100 returned home cured, representing roughly an 80 % operative success rate. Without the care possible in America, these patients, including many children, would have died within a few months. Thanks to Lilian's efforts, however, they were blessed with a fresh opportunity for a long and full life. Around this time, technological advances in Belgian hospitals meant it was no longer necessary for patients to travel to the United States for cardiac care. Therefore, the focus of the Princess Lilian Cardiology Foundation shifted to importing American surgeons to perform delicate new operations in Belgium, while furthering the training of Belgian physicians in the latest techniques in the United States. Working in university clinics, with their Belgian counterparts, American specialists saved lives, relieved suffering and contributed to the development of Belgian medicine. Under the auspices of the Princess' foundation, cardiological symposia took place at Belgian universities, and many distinguished participants from all over the world enjoyed the gracious and elegant hospitality of Argenteuil. At the third symposium, hosted by the universities of Brussels, Ghent and Louvain, from May 22-25, 1962, legendary physicians Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey performed open-heart surgery on Belgian patients, while professors from the local faculties of medicine watched the operations on television screens in neighboring rooms. At Ghent, Princess Lilian herself attended the event.

As far as I know, Lilian's daughter-in-law, Princess Léa, assumed direction of the institution after her mother-in-law passed away.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Thirteenth of July

Today is the anniversary of the tragic carriage accident that claimed the life of Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans (1810-1842), Prince Royal of France and beloved eldest brother of Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians. (Above, we see the grieving Orléans family, as King Louis-Philippe presents his son's young heir, Prince Philippe, Count of Paris). Here, in English translation, is the famous poem, lamenting Ferdinand-Philippe's untimely passing, by Alfred de Musset. (The French original may be found HERE). While celebrating the martial valor of the Orléans brothers, the author also mourns the sad fate of the romantic and artistically gifted Marie d'Orléans, the younger sister of Louise-Marie and Ferdinand-Philippe who succumbed to tuberculosis in 1839, two years before her brother's death; I have discussed Marie's life in more detail, HERE. It seems slightly strange and ironic that Ferdinand-Philippe, a scion of the liberal and revolutionary House of Orléans, was killed on the eve of Bastille Day.

The Thirteenth of July

Joy here below is ever young and new; 
As much as grief grows old, so far 'tis true. 
But yesterday the prince was swept from sight; 
He hardly sleeps the sleep of endless night; 
The angel-wings that bore him through the air, 
Close not; of him to speak too soon we dare. 

Sad was the day when on that little bier 
This death untimely came to wake our fear. 
Sad was the sight; the ancient cathedral 
Was dressed in black, as for death's festival; 
Sad was the noise when all the mourners kneel, 
Romancers 'gan to sing, and tales to tell. 

And we were silent, we, his childhood's friends, 
While toward the somber vault he slowly wends, 
Thoughts of the cradle us the coffin lends; 
His shade, perhaps, could hear that deep silence 
Which round his tomb fell on our hearts and sense. 

Now that day comes, than this one year more old, 
To rouse our grief and strike our hearts with cold,
We must salute the day of bale untold. 
When this young man died in his strength and flower,
From nothingness preserved by havoc's power, 
And by his youth and by the ordained hour.

To whom, just God, can any say: 
We meet To-morrow? Hope and Death each other greet, 
And hand in hand walk over desolate street. 
With steady steps one goes, and calm and veiled; 
The other's knees upon the road have failed; 
Bruised she lags and weeps, her cheek has paled.

O Death, thy steps are slow, but they count full. 
Who thought thee blind and inexorable? 
Who ever said that thou, implacable, 
And drunk with blood, a specter roamed to strike, 
And sweep at random, grain of sand most like, 
The temples, deserts, fields, and town and dike. 

Thou knowest how to choose upon this earth; 
'Tis true, to error oft thou givest birth; 
Thy hand is not so sure; it is thy worth 
To humor some who would thee darkly please, 
To spare the madman, prop the impostor's knees, 
Let vice grow gray, and sorrow starve and freeze. 

But when the noble child of royal race 
Flies from the sloth antique of royal place, 
Seeks in the studio truth in art to trace, 
Creates in dream the fair ideal shape, 
With maiden hand doth ope the stone agape, 
To let the beauty, let the life escape; 

And when this lovely sprite of genius pure— 
Her name was Marie, name of sweetest lure— 
Over her cherished work doth bend demure, 
To paint Jeanne when questioning her heart, 
The village child who healed her country's smart 
Lends her her piety and modest art; 

Then noble hands with ardent labor tired, 
No time for rest, but time for prayer required; 
Those hands so rich in alms, with visions fired, 
Those hands which bitter tears have wiped away, 
With sudden shiver, still and icy lay. 
From Pisa moves the coffin day by day. 

Her brother dead last year, what had he done? 
What good to kill—why on that bier a son, 
A young man dying, followed by his sire? 
What heart so cold on earth, devoid of fire, 
As not to shudder, not in silence pause 
Before this crime, of chance without a cause? 

What had he done but come and follow fate 
With us in school, his spirit cultivate, 
Reflect with us, with us both work and play, 
His rank assume beneath the sun of day, 
In greatness of the heart alone arrayed, 
And, since he was a prince, acquire his trade? 

What had he done but love, and seek to see 
What God has done in his great goodness free, 
That which already pales in our ennui, 
Country, and honor, words to love we seem? 
He knew, and gave the poor his pity's gleam, 
Love to the bravest, to the pure esteem. 

What had he done but what he was to do? 
When cannon growled, he waved the banner too; 
When France would sleep, unto the camps he flew; 
The memory thereof would come, perhaps, with time;
For many times his thought frontiers would climb,
While listening drums that beat the marching chime.

Him what could calumny itself reproach? 
More cruel blow can ne'er again encroach. 
If not regret, who did not give respect? 
Go ask the crowd with hate and envy decked. 
No stain upon his brow or on his fame; 
No man hath left behind a purer name. 

A party man to triumph or to ruin run, 
What foe of father dares to hate the son? 
Who could to such a tomb an insult call? 
A ball, they say, in times of Charles the Tenth, 
Upon the throne steps he did stop at length; 
Then, since he falls, we let him sleep in strength. 

Ah, thus to die, poor prince, at thirty years! 
No word from wife, without his mother's tears, 
And clasping no one in his arms that throb! 
No agony of death, no parting sob! 
God only in his heart could read the prayer 
Which angels teach to those who dying are. 

May God, who hears, me from blaspheming keep!
I do not like this fate so foul and deep, 
Which breaks a diadem against a stone, 
Because a driver's hand too weak has grown. 
O ye, who pass beside that fatal brink,
Look to your steps, and on your loved ones think!

He liked our pleasures, our troubles made him sad; 
Of that old book where count of time he had, 
His hand with ours had turned many a page. 
He lived with us, he was of our own age. 
His youthful thought with ancient courage ran; 
A king of France to be, he was the man. 

I think, and say to all who will believe, 
No courtier I, nor would that grief deceive, 
But empty is a place in history. 
A century was there, and a glory,
In this staunch man with sister by his side,
A lovely head with fearless heart to guide.

It had been great, the day when his sword stood 
Retempered, washed and bright in strangers' blood,
Had to his native country brought her pride; 
The while the child with art preoccupied, 
Keeping upon the threshold charity, 
Could make the Muse come in with liberty. 

Nemours, Aumale, Joinville to battle call! 
Glorious that shout along our city wall 
The people hear, the ramparts they repeat; 
While in the chapel, praying calm and sweet, 
Though pale, her eyes with gentle brightness shine, 
The sister calleth down bounty divine. 

It had been fine, that youth and life so strong,
So warmly loved and waited for so long,
Awaking thus in our mother country.
I speak of it by chance, because I see;
Some one may weep him, having better known,
His wife and friend, and now his widow lone.

Poor prince! In his last moment what a dream!
An hour (how long to Time doth one hour seem?) —
An hour a century with wo could mar! 
He was departing, almost for the war. 
Father he was, and son; one hour was his; 
He would his mother and the children kiss. 

'Twas then that death his noble victim sought; 
Death spared him on the desert burning hot, 
Where Arabs fly, with stealthy step and slow, 
About our soldiers whom the fevers mow,
And creep with bloody sword the bush within. 
Once more to Neuilly, this was all his sin.

Neuilly! Oh, charming home and memory sweet!
Childish illusions, ah, ye come and fleet! 
When by the portal in those alleys green 
We children saw the smiling, watchful queen, 
Who then could think we must one day return, 
To find the veiled head, to see death's urn? 

What plans we made at that young age naive, 
When all things speak, and heart doth not deceive!
When with such force hath man so much of hope?
Innocent valor, bold with all to cope! 
The hour might come, the moment might entrance,
And we were proud and wild: we had our France.

Strange dream! Death came, and all has fallen asleep.
How can a hope so just and fair and deep 
Become an useless or a cruel thing? 
Last year he died, no funeral hymn we sing: 
Where stood that blood-stained shop, a chapel  stands. 
The rest? What age is in oblivion's hands? 

He did not die alone when going to Neuilly. 
Of nine of us who marched in company, 
How many are dead! Albert, so brave and free, 
Mortemart, and thou, brave Laborderie, 
Who madest haste to love, this life to know, 
The best of all of us, and first to go! 

If grief could live, your names would famous be, 
O friends! May that sad, gloomy deity,
Whose fires weak light to our time faintly lend, 
To you the funeral torches brightness send! 
And forlorn hope, of this a somber age, 
We must beware in this dark fight we wage; 

For France, just now the mistress of the world, 
Has been struck down and backward hurled, 
And, like Juliet, beneath the arches dark, 
In part awake, in part of death the mark, 
With staggering step, in rugged purple's folds, 
Among the tombs her random march she holds. 

July, 1843.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Defending Life in Belgium

A hopeful and inspiring article by Bryan Kemper on the second March for Life in Brussels, which took place this past spring. The official website of March for Life Belgium may be found HERE.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Belgium and America

Happy Independence Day to all my American visitors. As it happens, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium recently visited the United States. Above is a photograph of the couple at the Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia, laying a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in honor of those who died in Belgium during World War II in the Battle of the Bulge. Despite many Americans' negative attitude to monarchy, the Kingdom of Belgium and the United States of America have a long history of friendship. As is well known, of course, together with the other Allied powers, the United States fought to free Belgium from German occupation in both world wars. Herbert Hoover also directed the famous Commission for Relief in Belgium during the humanitarian crisis of World War I. After the war, a grateful King Albert I officially designated Hoover a Friend of the Belgian People. In 1919, King Albert, Queen Elisabeth, and Prince Leopold embarked upon a triumphal tour of the United States, to enthusiastic acclaim. In 1940, Herbert Hoover organized a vindication committee to defend King Leopold III from French and British accusations of treason. Distinguished American diplomats, such as Joseph Davies, Hugh Gibson and John Cudahy, made impressive contributions to the effort to clear Leopold's name. Unfortunately, after he issued his Political Testament in 1944, repudiating the treaties which the Belgian government-in-exile had concluded with the Allies during World War II without royal approval, the official American attitude towards Leopold III would become hostile. Nevertheless, the King and his wife, Princess Lilian, found a faithful friend in General Alexander Patch, whose troops had liberated the Belgian royal family from their Nazi jailers at Strobl, Austria, in May, 1945.

Sad News

Otto von Habsburg (1912-2011), Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, passed away today. Gareth Russell reflects thoughtfully upon his life.  May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 


The Conversion of Queen Astrid

The marriage of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, Albert II, and South African beauty and swimming champion, Miss Charlene Wittstock, a recent Catholic convert, has reminded me of another princely marriage and another conversion. On August 5, 1930, Astrid of Sweden, Crown Princess of Belgium, was received into the Roman Catholic faith, after two years of religious instruction. Unlike Princess Charlène, who became a Catholic shortly before her wedding, Princess Astrid had already been married to Prince Leopold, the heir to the Belgian throne, for nearly four years, and had already born him a daughter, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte. Furthermore, Astrid was eight months pregnant with her eldest son, the future King Baudouin I, who would himself be noted for his devout Catholic faith, most famously, in his conscientious refusal to sign a bill legalizing abortion in Belgium in 1990. Above, we see Queen Astrid, in the company of her husband, King Leopold III, four years after her conversion, kneeling to Cardinal van Roey, Primate of Belgium, at a musical event held on October 9, 1934, at the Cathédrale St. Rombaut, in Malines. The Cardinal authored an account of Astrid's marriage and conversion, entitled, suitably enough, Le mariage et la conversion de la Reine Astrid (1930). 

A detailed account of Astrid's marriage and conversion may also be found in the excellent collective work, Astrid 1905-1935, (2005), edited by Christian Koninckx. It is not my intention today to describe all the vicissitudes of the negotiations between the Vatican, the Archbishop of Malines, Cardinal van Roey, the Archbishop of Uppsala, Nathan Söderblom, and the royal courts of Belgium and Sweden prior to the union of Leopold and Astrid, but suffice it to say that it was a highly sensitive, delicate diplomatic matter for all parties. Initially displeased at the prospect of a Catholic prince marrying a Protestant princess, Pope Pius XI eventually granted permission for the wedding to take place, on condition that Leopold and Astrid sign a sworn undertaking to raise their children in the Catholic faith, and that Astrid likewise promise, on oath, not to prevent her husband or children from practicing their religion. As a conciliating gesture towards the Swedes, the Belgian sovereigns had wondered if the Vatican might allow a double religious wedding, a Lutheran ceremony preceded or followed by a Catholic ceremony, but the Catholic authorities refused to permit any such compromise. Only a strictly, emphatically civil marriage in Stockholm, an anomaly in Sweden at the time, was permitted, followed by a religious marriage in Brussels a week later. Furthermore, the religious ceremony was a relatively brief one, since no nuptial Mass took place, in accord with the ecclesiastical regulations regarding mixed marriages. 

If Astrid had converted to Catholicism before her marriage, everything would have been much simpler. Yet, the Belgian royal family were concerned that any such conversion should be motivated, not by mere political expediency, but by sincere conviction of the truth of the Catholic faith. The Princess' father-in-law, King Albert I, had confided to Cardinal van Roey that he suspected Astrid would become a Catholic in due course, provided she were treated with gentleness and consideration. Indeed, after her arrival in Belgium, Astrid not only honored the conditions of her marriage, by raising no objections to her daughter's education in the Catholic faith, but also ceased attending Protestant services and began to accompany her husband to Sunday Mass. In 1928, two years after her marriage, she informed Cardinal van Roey, through Leopold, that she desired instruction in the Catholic faith. Canon Dessain, the Cardinal's secretary, became her teacher. Dessain, who had studied law at Oxford, was familiar with Protestantism and spoke fluent English, facilitating his interaction with Astrid, who initially spoke better English than French, let alone Dutch. The Princess' catechesis remained secret, since nobody knew what the outcome would be. By Easter, 1930, however, it was clear that Astrid wished to become a Catholic. 

Astrid's formal reception into the Roman Catholic Church took place some months later, on August 5, 1930, in an intimate ceremony in the chapel of the episcopal palace of Malines, in the presence of Prince Leopold, Cardinal van Roey, the Cardinal's secretaries, Canon Dessain and Abbé Leclef, and a Mademoiselle Dessain, who served as the Princess' sponsor. Astrid made her profession of faith and received Confirmation. She had already, of course, been confirmed in the Lutheran church as a young girl, but the Catholic church did not consider the sacrament to be valid. By contrast, no baptism took place, since the Catholic church did view the baptism administered by the Swedish church as valid. The next day, she received the Holy Eucharist for the first time. Astrid's childhood friend Anna Sparre relates in her memoir, Vännen min (1985), that the Princess took her conversion deeply to heart, writing Anna a sober, sincere letter describing the ceremony and declaring that her decision to become a Catholic gave her peace of soul. Apparently, Astrid also touchingly described her conversion, and her first Confession, in a letter to her mother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, noting her happiness at finally being able to go to Communion with Leopold. Upon becoming engaged to the handsome Belgian prince, a delighted Astrid had written to her youthful religious educator and mentor, the Archbishop of Uppsala, Nathan Söderblom, that Leopold's soul was even more beautiful than his appearance. Now, it seems, Astrid was pleased to be more fully spiritually united to Leopold, by embracing his religion. May God grant Princess Charlène the same peace and joy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A New Princess in Monaco

Mad for Monaco has a series of images of Prince Albert II and his new Princess Charlene, united at last before God and man. Congratulations and blessings to the couple and to the princely family and people of Monaco!