"The certainty of the happiness of my poor child has robbed my tears of all bitterness. He is now a little angel who watches over us from heaven on high, and I could not pity him for having avoided all the pains and worries inseparable from this life, sad even for the happiest".
Monday, March 26, 2012
A lovely, detailed post about Belgium's first crown prince. After his death, his mother, the devout Queen Louise-Marie, wrote to her father's secretary:
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Two of my favorite Belgian royal ladies, Queen Elisabeth and her daughter-in-law, Princess Lilian, had much in common. Both were vivacious, intelligent, spirited, elegant, charming, forthright, brave, determined and loyal. Each had an intense love for her husband and sovereign. Both were war heroines, although Lilian is rarely given credit for her courage during World War II, particularly during the royal family's deportation and captivity in Germany and Austria. Elisabeth, on the other hand, is generally admired for her tireless support of her people during two brutal invasions, her nursing efforts during World War I and her attempts to save Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Both Elisabeth and Lilian were generous humanitarians, passionate patronesses of medicine. Both created beautiful, cultivated environments. Each sought the friendship of the most interesting personalities of her time. It is not surprising that Elisabeth seems to have enjoyed Lilian and even to have played an important role in encouraging her romance and marriage with her son. It is also understandable that King Leopold III, who deeply admired his mother, would choose a similar woman to be his wife.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
I am researching Delly Poelmans, modiste to Queens Elisabeth and Astrid. If anyone has any information or pictures, please let me know. The fine collection of essays, Astrid: 1905-1935, edited by Christian Koninckx, contains a section on Astrid's fairytale wardrobe, with a discussion of the various Belgian and foreign designers she patronized, including Delly Poelmans, who created many of her colorful, fanciful hats. In 1920, Delly Poelmans had obtained Elisabeth's permission to style herself Modiste de S.M. la Reine, the official milliner of Her Majesty the Queen. Her business, located just behind the royal palace, continued to serve a broad clientele of Brussels society ladies through 1934-1935, the year King Leopold III reigned with Astrid at his side. Like her mother-in-law, the new Queen also favored Delly Poelmans. Upon Astrid's death, the designer requested authorization to style herself Modiste de S. M. la Reine Astrid. On August 23, 1937, nearly two years after the Queen's passing, she was finally granted the honor to do so. Today, the Belgian royal collection contains about twenty hats crafted by Delly Poelmans, and once worn by Astrid. Since color photographs of the Queen are rare, the hats can give us an idea of the original colors of the accompanying dresses, often lost, faded or damaged. The Queen loved soft, rich, subtle colors and intricate floral patterns. Although she favored simple, practical clothes in private, she always appeared in public splendidly attired in the most fashionable possible way. The styles of the period, abandoning the corsets of the previous century, flattered her tall, elongated, graceful figure, while her bobbed hair and Delly Poelmans' hats set off the beauty of her head and neck.
A beautiful account of the life of a man who seemed to be one of those monarchs who are born to be unlucky.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Here is an account of a delegation of fervently royalist Belgian soldiers visiting King Leopold III in St. Wolfgang, Austria, shortly after his liberation from Nazi captivity. First-hand testimonies emphasize his simplicity, cordiality and joy at seeing Belgian soldiers again after his narrow escape from death. While the government tried to discourage his return to Belgium, the soldiers were eager to bring him home in triumph. Unfortunately, the article is only in French, but I have translated some excerpts of the testimony of Valentin Rickal, a Franciscan army chaplain, fiery Catholic and enthusiastic patriot who had reportedly vowed to say 100 Rosaries if he were able to meet his beloved King:
...The sentinels present arms and the Grand Marshal immediately receives us. "His Majesty is expecting you", he tells us, and, opening the door of the salon, he prepares to present us to the King. I advance, but I do not have the time to formulate a single word before the King shakes my hand and tells me of his "great joy at seeing and receiving his first soldiers".
At his request, I present my comrades to him. He converses for a few moments with each of us, asks us for details about our towns, about the destruction caused by the flying bombs, about the von Rundstedt offensive in the Ardennes. Then, he offers us a glass of wine, some cigarettes. Our conversation continues... "Tell me about yourselves, about the army. How many battalions and volunteers are there? When and how were you mobilized? Since when have you been in Germany? Are you happy? Speak to me, for I know nothing and I am so happy to see my soldiers again!" We answer the King and we are astonished to be speaking with him almost like brothers, as we did, a few weeks earlier, with our brave prisoners discovered at Buchenwald.
When the King says to us: "Do you like photos? We could take a few," I cannot contain my joy. "Sire, you overwhelm us, we would never have dared to formulate this desire." But the King smiles and, taking us by the arm, invites us onto the terrace overlooking the lake. It is there that, speaking of the time he spent before his liberation, he relates to me the painful hours he lived through at Strobl. I understood from the King's words that if it had not been for the advance of the Allies, which was a surprise for the S.S. committed to his guard, the villa of Strobl would have been witness to the murder of our great King by the S.S. This, too, it is important that the Belgians should know. But our photographer is ready. The King places himself in the midst of us and beckons to us to come closer to him. He himself asks that other photos be taken, because he cherishes this memory. He even asks the Grand Marshal of the Court to take a photograph, "so that all six of us can be with him." With the kindest smile, he also permits a few shots to be taken during the conversation.
The time passes, however, and, if we had come to see the King to satisfy a need of our hearts, we did not want to leave him without broaching the subject of his return. In all simplicity, we say to him: "Sire, the country awaits you. Do not believe the politicians who say that the majority of Belgians are distanced from Your Majesty. Return, Sire, and the present tension will be swiftly resolved."
The King reflects, then, calmly, he tells us: "It is not only in our country. It is in all the countries that one can see political tensions, but I have confidence in the good sense of my people."
Yes, we feel that the King's heart beats in unison with that of his people. Yes, we have before us the Sovereign who gave himself entirely to Belgium, the chief who has the consciousness of having done all his duty and who wishes to accomplish it to the end.
His Majesty insists that we remember him to our whole battalion and bring them his good wishes. He repeats how happy he is to have received us. He shakes our hands one last time...
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Widowed Queen Elisabeth with her grandchildren Joséphine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert
"I am sad that you cannot see the rose garden. All is so lovely! There are very beautiful lilies in the garden of my studio, and, while passing by, I saw the beautiful lilies blooming, around the bungalow, which has such a desperate air, with their eyes closed, all red. The little owls walk about on the golf course, and gaze at you from close up, astonished to see a human being. There are also a couple of marvelous hoopoes which do not fly off until the last moment when you approach them.When you return, it will be a jungle!" ~Queen Elisabeth describes the park at Laeken in a wartime letter to her son and his family, held hostage far from home by the Nazis
It amazes me that Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians is sometimes portrayed as a cold, hard figure. The care packages and poignant letters, sprinkled with affectionate phrases and drawings of flowers, that she tried to send to her son, King Leopold III, her daughter-in-law, Princess Lilian, and her grandchildren during their days of fear and deprivation in German captivity are eminent proof of her warm, loving nature. Sadly, however, she was only very rarely able to communicate with her imprisoned loved ones, or materially to alleviate their sufferings, although her prayers surely brought them spiritual strength. Instead, it was Princess Lilian, so often maligned as a selfish woman of pleasure, who daily cared for the family, with great abnegation.
After their imprisonment had dragged on for nine months, Elisabeth's son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren finally left the frightening fortress of Hirschstein at the beginning of March, 1945. Yet it was only to begin a new, sinister chapter in their captivity. En route to Strobl, Austria, the royal family reached Munich just in time for a terrible bombardment. While the population fled to shelters, the prisoners were forbidden from following suit. Colonel Lürker, the King's S.S. gaoler, even locked the royal family in a car under a bridge, before absconding with the rest of the German guards. Terrified by the inferno, the children burst into tears. After the danger had passed, leaving Munich in ruins, a furious Leopold would confront Lürker upon his return.
By a strange twist of fate, the convoy also spent time at the nearby Braunhaus, a property of Hitler, where some prominent Nazis had been invited to a banquet. The bombardment of Munich, however, had prevented their arrival. The repast fell instead to the King's gaolers. Meanwhile, the royal prisoners seized the opportunity to bathe comfortably for the first time in months. They also enjoyed a few leftovers from the banquet. After so much hunger, butter seemed an untold luxury and delight. As a memento of this bizarre evening, Princess Lilian mischievously managed to purloin a napkin marked A.H. Decades later, she humorously confided to the journalists Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré that this was the only theft of her life...
The morning after this brief respite from misery, the journey to Strobl resumed its weary pace, traveling towards Salzburg, amidst bitterly cold weather. The royal family spent hours shivering in a tunnel during another bombardment. It was nearly midnight by the time the convoy finally reached the small village of Strobl, in the heart of the Salzkammergut. A wooden chalet, isolated from the rest of the local population, and surrounded with barbed wire fences, awaited the hostages. As at Hirschstein, they would live at close quarters, under cruel and humiliating conditions. Their diet remained poor, although it was fortunately supplemented by the dandelions growing plentifully in the garden. The prisoners' treatment, moreover, became harsher as the months passed, as their routine walks in the garden, initially allowed three times a week, were eventually forbidden.
As described by Roger Keyes in Échec au Roi, the Vicomte du Parc, governor of Prince Baudouin, when asked years later about the period at Strobl, could find no words to describe the horror of these final months in captivity. As the Allied armies approached Strobl, the prisoners feared that they would be massacred by their gaolers, as a desperate, fanatical act of vengeance. The tragic fate of the Romanovs haunted the Saxe-Coburgs... Indeed, at the beginning of May, shortly before their liberation by American troops under the command of General Alexander Patch, an S.S. officer gave Princess Lilian a box of blue pills, claiming that they were vitamin supplements, and advising her to distribute them to the whole family. Duly suspicious, she did not do so. The pills were later tested by the Americans and found to contain cyanide. How often had Providence saved King Leopold and his loved ones!
Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, et son peuple sous l'occupation. 1987.
Cleeremans, Jean. Un royaume pour un amour: Léopold III, de l'éxil à l'abdication. 1989.
Désire, Claude and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête. 2005.
Dujardin, Vincent, van den Wijngaert, Mark, et. al. Léopold III. 2001.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi: Léopold III, 1940-1951. 1986.