Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lost Splendor

More of Queen Astrid's clothes, hats and perfumes. It is said that her favorite perfume was Molyneux No. 5.

It is curious that Astrid was and is so admired for her elegance and love of fashion, while Lilian was and is attacked for the same qualities. It makes me think that many of these accusations of vanity and extravagance are little more than opportunistic excuses to vilify, for ulterior motives. It is true that Lilian's glamor, like her personality, was somehow more aggressive than Astrid's, so it is, to a certain extent, not surprising that Lilian would attract more resentment. It still seems decidedly unfair, though.

Christmas Essay Update

If anyone wants to participate in the Christmas essay contest here at Cross of Laeken, there is still time! Please send entries by January 6 to Good luck! Here are the full rules for the contest. I know I said to use the contact form to send me your articles, but it is probably easier simply to use the email address. If you do, please copy and paste the text in the body of the email, rather than sending it as an attachment. However, any pictures you would like to include in the essay may be sent as attachments. Thank you and I hope we will have some participants!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Memory Lane

Since we are approaching the end of the year, and the fourth anniversary of The Cross of Laeken, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorite posts from the past. (I was inspired to do so by Gio's recent post along the same lines).  Here are a few, in no particular order:

Lilian Baels and Jacqueline Kennedy: I include this one because it is a VERY popular article, apparently my second most popular article of all time. I suspect this is more because of Jackie's fame than Lilian's, but in any case, I do not mind the extra hits!

Princess Lilian: Loved and Loving: A post examining the stereotypes of Lilian Baels as cold and hard and attempting to demonstrate that she was much warmer, kinder and more loving than many realize.

The Conversion of Queen Astrid: An article about Astrid's spiritual journey from the Lutheranism of her childhood and family to the Catholicism of her husband and adopted country.

Queen of Children: A contemporary testimonial of Queen Elisabeth's touching dedication to the youngest Belgian victims of World War I.

A Queen to be Remembered: A profile of the first Queen of the Belgians, Louise-Marie of Orléans, who is often overshadowed by her later, more famous counterparts, such as Elisabeth and Astrid.

Marie d'Orléans: The favorite sister of Queen Louise-Marie, a spirited and artistic soul who sadly passed away from tuberculosis at age 25.

Albert I and the Sacred Heart: A remarkable account of Albert's meeting with Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, a famous preacher of devotion and reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during the priest's visit to Belgium in 1922.

The Perfume of Violets: Princess Marie-José's mysterious encounter with Padre Pio, the saintly Italian mystic.

Umberto and Maria José: Some thoughts on the lights and shadows of their marriage.

A Talk with a King: American war reporter Mary Roberts Rinehart's account of her audience with Albert I during the German occupation of Belgium. Albert expressed his anguish over the violation of Belgian neutrality and the cruel treatment of his people.

A Talk with a Queen: Mary Roberts Rinehart's meeting with Queen Elisabeth.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012


An elegant picture of the daughter of Leopold and Astrid. She was certainly a beauty, although perhaps too often overshadowed by the elegance of her mother and step-mother.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Ten years after legalizing euthanasia, Belgium is now considering extending the practice to children and people with Alzheimer's and dementia. God help us. Is Albert II going to sign this law, too? Really, at a certain point it is time to stand up for moral principles, whatever the consequences. Of course, Belgium is a secular state, but this is not merely a matter of religion. The protection of innocent human life is fundamental to any just political order. It is not negotiable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Queen astrid

I came across this collage on Flickr inspired by Queen Astrid. What do you think? I like the colors; they  also seem to me to suit the festive season.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What is the Cross of Laeken?

Recently, I have had some questions about the title of this blog. On one level, it is simply a reference to the crosses atop the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, the burial place of the Belgian kings and queens of the past. The church was built by the founder of the dynasty in honor of his late wife, Louise-Marie of Orléans. To me, at any rate, the church, the crypt and the crosses symbolize so much about the Belgian royal house; in particular, the memory of their public and religious lives, which I try to feature on this site.

In another sense, the name of this blog is meant to be a metaphor for the Belgian monarchy itself and the hardships of the royal family. Albert I actually referred to kingship as a cross. Every generation has had to bear heavy sufferings, and many members of the family have done so with great faith. Queens Louise-Marie and Marie-Henriette had to deal with unhappy, politically arranged marriages. Louise-Marie also had to bear the loss of her first child and terrible anxiety over the fate of her own family, the Orléans, caught in turbulent France and finally driven into exile. Eventually, she had to suffer a slow, painful, untimely death from tuberculosis, sadly parting from her three, still young surviving children. She remained a woman of steadfast faith, hope and charity to the end, with only incredible love to offer a husband who did not share her religion and had not been particularly faithful to her.

In the next generation, Louise-Marie's daughter Charlotte would suffer horribly as the doomed Empress of Mexico, having to contend with the overthrow and murder of her husband and apparently descending into madness under the emotional strain of it all. She was never able to bear the child she had so longed to give Maximilian. As for Louise-Marie's eldest son, King Leopold II, his problems were largely of his own making, and, unfortunately, as we all know, he was hardly a model of Catholic virtue. However, the story of his family is still an extremely unhappy one, involving the loss of his only legitimate son and the tragedies of his first two daughters' marriages. Louise-Marie's youngest son, Philippe, Count of Flanders and his wife, Marie, a pious couple, endured the early death of their very promising eldest son, Prince Baudouin, who had become the heir to the throne after the equally tragic passing of his little cousin, Prince Leopold.

We know all too well that this pattern of tragedies would continue, with the violent deaths of King Albert I and Queen Astrid, two world wars, and the imprisonment and near-murder of King Leopold III, Princess Lilian, and the royal children. Ultimately, Leopold would be forced to abdicate and would apparently become estranged from the offspring of his first marriage. Although he is rarely given credit for it, Leopold tried to bear his misfortunes with touching faith and trust in the goodness of God.  His cousin, Princess Clementine, for example, has left us a moving account of his great nobility in sorrow and Christian resignation after losing his beloved Astrid.  Lilian was also a genuinely religious woman. Leopold's son, King Baudouin, would sadly witness Belgium moving further and further away from the religious and moral principles he held dear. After losing five unborn children of his own, he would be unable to protect the other unborn children of Belgium. Despite the trappings of luxury and glamor, the Belgian crown has surely been a heavy cross to bear.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lady Mary Curzon

The beloved first wife of the man in whose care the Belgian royal children were placed during World War I. Mary, however, had passed away by that time.
Mary was compared to a "diamond set in gold, the full moon in clear autumnal sky". During a State Ball organized as a celebration for the coronation of King Edward VII, Lady Curzon wore a magnificent and expensive gown known as the "peacock dress". The peacock was a magnificent masterpiece of Indian creation: "It was stitched of gold cloth, embroidered with peacock feathers with a blue/green beetle wing in each eye, which many mistook for emeralds, dipping into their own fantasies about the wealth of millionaire heiresses, Indian potentates and European royalty. The skirt was trimmed with white roses and the bodice with lace. She wore a huge diamond necklace and a large broach of diamonds and pearls. She wore a tiara crown with a pearl tipping each of its high diamond points. It was reported that as she walked through the hall the crowd was breathless." (Read entire post)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Essay Contest

In honor of the Christmas season, I am launching a new tradition. I will be holding an essay contest for readers of Cross of Laeken. I will be picking up to three entries to publish here. If you would like to participate, and I hope you will, please send me your essays via the contact page. If there are any problems using the form, please let me know. Essays may be on any topic related to the Belgian Royal Family. They must be written specifically for this contest. The length should range between 550-750 words. Please include your sources. Entries are due by Epiphany, January 6, 2013.