Sunday, November 3, 2013

Images of Leopold III

On his birthday, here is a collection of vintage postcards of King Leopold III and his family through the years. Above is an unusual image paying homage to Pope Pius XI and King Leopold III.  Proceeds from the sale of the postcards apparently contributed to missionary efforts.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tender Moments

Two pictures taken by the royal photographer Robert Marchand capture some moments of family tenderness.  Above, we see Queen Astrid with one of her children.  Below, Astrid's daughter, Josephine-Charlotte, and her half-brother Alexandre, play with their baby sister Marie-Christine. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Princesses' Cookbook

Here is an article by Maia Brindley Nilsson of Semiswede on a beloved Swedish recipe known as the Green Cake or Princess Cake. Apparently the recipe was developed by Jenny Åkerström, home economics teacher of the future Queen Astrid of the Belgians and her sisters.
Jenny Åkerström is credited as the originator of the recipe. Åkerström was a Swedish home economics guru at the beginning of the 20th century and was even an instructor to the three Swedish princesses, Margaretha, Märtha, and Astrid, daughters of Prince Carl (brother of King Gustaf V). She published a four volume series of cookbooks called Prinsessornas Kokbok: Husmanskost och Helgdagsmat (Princesses Cookbook: Home Cooking and Holiday Food). The first edition came out in 1929 with the princess’ portraits gracing the cover. With it’s great success came eighteen reprints with revisions up through 1952. 
I wasn’t able to find any definitive information about why the books were called the princess cookbooks or why the princesses agreed to have their images on the cover other than the fact that Jenny Åkerström was their teacher and the princesses were seen as role models. Their education included child care and cooking which was innovative at the time. In a feminist sense, formal domestic training highlighted the professionalism required to manage a home and children. 
Korena Vine of Korena in the Kitchen gives more details on the origin of the name of the cake as well as beautiful pictures of it:
One story is that this later became known as “princess cake” (prinsesstårta) because the three princesses are said to have loved it so much. Another story is that Ms. Åkerström actually created three very elaborate “princess cake” recipes – a different one for each princess – and that the current version is a simplified combination of all three. That explains the princess connection, but the reason for the cake being green still seems to be a mystery. Today, prinsesstårta is popular in Finland as well as Sweden – so much so that the third week in September is officially Prinsesstårta Week!

Friday, October 25, 2013

What Do You Think of This?

This book is two years old, but I only heard of it today.  La reine Astrid n'est pas morte à Küssnacht ("Queen Astrid Did Not Die At Küssnacht") is a novel of alternate history authored by Belgian aristocrat and politician, Stéphane de Lobkowicz.  As the title indicates, the point of departure is that the iconic fourth Queen of the Belgians survives the fatal car accident on August 29, 1935.  Rather than losing her life, she loses her husband, King Leopold III. Playing on the rumor that Astrid was pregnant at the time of the crash, the author even imagines that she bears Leopold a posthumous fourth child. Otherwise, Astrid disappears into the background of the story.  

The foreground is taken by her mother-in-law, cultured, energetic Queen Elisabeth, who becomes Regent for the little heir to the throne, Prince Baudouin.  It falls to the German-born Elisabeth to face off against Hitler.  The Belgian campaign lasts for 22 days instead of the historical 18.  The beautiful city of Bruges is burned to the ground. Elisabeth barely escapes with her life to England and continues the struggle from abroad, while a defiant Belgium is placed under the ruthless rule of Reinhard Heydrich, engineer of the Holocaust.  (In reality, Belgium benefited from having Alexander von Falkenhausen, a military governor who made efforts to moderate the treatment of the population).  In the post-war period, Belgium is spared the Royal Question, which erupts in the Netherlands instead! Queen Wilhelmina is blamed for her departure to London, rather than King Leopold being traduced for remaining in Belgium during the occupation.

Lobkowicz also manages to weave in characters such as Leopold's brother, Prince Charles, who actually served as Regent of Belgium from 1944-1950, Leopold's second wife, Lilian Baels, and Baudouin's Queen Fabiola.  Charles is given a romantic interlude with a Congolese woman of mixed racial ancestry, whom he later marries.  Lilian never marries Leopold, of course, but becomes his children's governess.  In reality, she never served in this role, despite persistent myths and rumors to the contrary.   While a refugee in Spain, sheltered with Fabiola's family, Baudouin meets his future bride, two years his senior. 

While I am not particularly attracted to reading this book, and something about the whole tone of the story even strikes me as unpleasant, La reine Astrid n'est pas morte à Kussnacht is certainly inventive. It is always interesting to consider alternate historical scenarios, so please feel free to suggest any others in the comments. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Blessing a King and Queen

I cannot post the picture here, but please follow the link to see this stained-glass window from St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen. The seventh-century St. Rumbold is shown blessing the twentieth-century King and Queen of the Belgians, Leopold III and Astrid.

A Royal Thank-You

King Albert and Queen Paola of the Belgians 1959 and 2009

Here is a card from King Albert II and Queen Paola, expressing their gratitude for the greetings and good wishes sent to them by their subjects and by other friends of the Belgian Royal Family, on the occasion of the royal couple's Golden Wedding in 2009.  The upper text in Dutch is by Paola, the lower text in French by Albert.  The note reads: "Heartfelt thanks for the good wishes, which deeply touched us."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Praying to St. Anne

This is not a picture of any of the Belgian royals, but rather of two of the greatest princesses whom they count among their relatives.   This large stained glass window was given to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne d’Auray by Henri, Comte de Chambord, the last heir to the elder line of the Bourbons. The window depicts Henri's mother, Caroline of Naples, Duchesse de Berry, and his aunt, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, Duchesse d'Angoulême, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The two women are shown praying to St. Anne, the patron saint of Brittany.  Marie-Thérèse and Caroline were the cousin and niece, respectively, of Marie-Amélie of Naples, Duchesse d'Orléans, later known as Queen of the French, as the wife of Louis-Philippe. Marie-Amélie was the mother of Louise-Marie, the first Queen of the Belgians, and the foremother of all the Belgian kings after Leopold I. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Preparing for a Queen's Funeral

The first days of September, 1935 were a sad time for the peoples and royal families of Belgium and Sweden. The little heir to the Belgian throne, Prince Baudouin, had lost his loving mother, Queen Astrid, in a car accident, barely more than a week before his fifth birthday.  Together with his father, King Leopold III, his older sister, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, his younger brother, Prince Albert, his Swedish grandparents, Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg, and his other maternal relatives, Baudouin had suffered a devastating bereavement which would cast a pall over his whole family for decades.

Meanwhile, the Belgian people were reeling from the cruel, senseless loss of their idolized young Queen, who had been so full of life, charm, beauty, goodness and promise.  In her memoirs, Astrid's intimate friend, Countess Anna Sparre, describes the scenes of intense, reverent mourning in Belgium. Spontaneously, the people filed past pictures of the late Queen, carrying flowers and candles, kneeling to pray for her soul, for her stricken husband and children.
Anna also mentions the grief in Sweden at the loss of this beloved daughter and princess, as illustrated by the women's magazine pictured above. Anna herself had learned abruptly of her friend's death during a chance conversation. After innocently mentioning Astrid, with whom she had recently spent a pleasant alpine vacation, she was stunned to hear of the tragedy. Initially, Anna could not believe the news, insisting that there must be some mistake, but the signs of mourning outside soon showed that the painful tidings were all too true. Like the people of Brussels, the men and women of Stockholm wept openly in the streets. Astrid's mother was prostrated with grief.

Anna's memoirs also give us an insight into the way those touched by Astrid's death tried to cope with her loss by comforting one another. Anna attended the funeral of Queen Astrid as the personal guest of King Leopold. Although she dreaded meeting him after the tragedy, Anna did her best to console the heartbroken widower, himself physically injured from the accident. Anna gives many touching details of their first meeting and conversation after her arrival in Brussels.  Concerned that he build up his strength for the fatiguing day ahead, she helped to serve his breakfast on the morning of the funeral, while her own hands trembled...For her part, Anna received kindness from Leopold's aunt, the Duchess of Vendôme, who asked to hear her memories of Astrid as a child.

The prayer card at the top of this post perhaps best sums up Astrid's legacy, with the following quote from the Apocalypse: Blessed are those who die in the Lord, for their works follow them!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bust of Queen Astrid

A refined and delicate sculpture which captures the Queen's sensitive personality quite well, I think.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Queen Astrid Vase

Here is an interesting vase etched with something called the Queen Astrid Pattern.  I could not find much information about the history of this floral design, but apparently it dates from the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Villa Haslihorn

Here are some photographs of the vacation home of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid near Lake Lucerne.  It was during an excursion from Villa Haslihorn that the royal couple suffered the terrible car accident that claimed Astrid's life on August 29, 1935.  In her memoirs, Astrid mon amie (Luc Pire Editions, 2005), the Queen's friend, Anna Sparre, quotes some passages from the last letter, dated August 23, and finished August 24, that Astrid sent to her, from Villa Haslihorn (pp. 184-186).  Anna only received the letter on August 30, the day after Astrid's death, and found it surreal to read, all the while knowing that the person who had written it, in such a lively way, was no more. Years later, however, it would be a consolation to Anna to re-read Astrid's account of the happy days which would prove to be her last.  To Anna, it felt like meeting, once again, "my own friend, alive, so faithful and full of goodness" (p. 184.)

In her letter, Astrid refers to her Swedish maid, Maja, Leopold's valet, Joseph, the children's governess, Mlle. Landsman, and Anna's husband and daughter, Clas and Christina. Anna had been vacationing with the royal couple, but had just returned home to Sweden.  Leopold had been called back to Brussels, where the youngest of the royal children, Prince Albert, had been left behind. The King, however, would soon be returning for the rest of his vacation with his wife and two oldest children, Josephine-Charlotte and Baudouin.  The children would be sent back to Brussels ahead of their parents, who had then planned a series of excursions into the mountains. The first of these trips had been set for August 25, but was delayed until August 29, to give the children more time with their father. In Astrid's letter to Anna, one feels the Queen's great charm, affection and joie de vivre, tinged with a hint of nervousness, loneliness and melancholy.  As Anna's departure had neared, Astrid had been gripped by forebodings of a coming tragedy.  Even this seemingly cheerful note strikes me as slightly bittersweet.
"What a good time we had together, and for once, we had a chance to deepen things, so that we could be quiet, when it became difficult up there in the clouds...
It was so sad, yesterday, when you left... All at once, I went through all the Swedish papers which Maja had brought, reading them one after another, so as not to have to think, because thinking only complicates things. At eight o'clock, Maja came in with breakfast; you cannot imagine how kindly she had prepared all sorts of delicious things... 
Later the children got up, they dressed themselves up in my clothes, and, at half past nine, Joseph, the children and I made an excursion by boat from Lucerne.  An outing of almost two hours, splendid in this fine weather.  Arrived at our destination, we took the cable up a good long way, just to the point where the view of the peaks and the lakes is the most beautiful.  There we played and had lunch. On the menu was chicken, which the children ate with their fingers. You can imagine their chatter.  You will understand what a lovely moment it was.  At five we were back in Lucerne, where Mlle. L. was waiting for the children, to take them home. Guess what I did next: I went to the hairdresser and had my hair washed.  I feel completely different. Did you have a chance to go to the hairdresser in Berlin? 
When I returned home, around seven, the children were already asleep.  All by myself, I nibbled something before sitting down in the living room, where I listened to records and read the paper. I received a telegram from Leopold: he said that baby was doing wonderfully. How kind of him to tell me! 
At half past nine, he telephoned to say that baby was sweeter than ever and that he was walking. I long so much to be with him! 
It was terribly hot in Brussels, over thirty degrees at the time of our conversation. His voice was cheerful and happy, but he already wanted to be here... 
Mlle. L. told me that the evening of Leopold's departure, she had gone to see if the children were sleeping.  Joe was crying in her little bed.  Do you know why? Yes, because her papa had gone.  'All the other children are with their papa more often than I am,' she said to me. 'Me, I never see my papa.'  That too, I told Leopold on the telephone. 'In that case, we will not leave before the 29th,' he replied.  Sweet, eh?  
Today, it is very fine weather again. At half past seven, the children and I took the motor-boat to Lido. There is a very good swimming instructor there. 'Now you can learn to swim,' I said, but they did not want to.  So we sat down at the edge of the water to watch how he did it with the other children and Joe suddenly said she wanted to learn to swim, too. What fun she had! Of course, Baudouin said he wanted to take lessons, too. You should have seen how cute he was. The teacher declared that Joe would learn in five days.  She was delighted, because she would be able to swim when her father arrived. Afterwards, we went to lunch.  
At this moment, Baudouin is sleeping, Joe and I are on the terrace, stretched out on deck chairs.  Joe is "reading" and I am writing to you, my papers are on my knees.  I hope you will be able to decipher my writing.  Now you know everything we have done.  Joe and I will soon be going into town to deposit Leopold's films there... 
Did Christina like the little house we bought her in Bolzano? I hope that she and Clas are doing well. You too, you must have been happy to return to Adelsnäs. Write to me very soon.  Tell me everything! I think so often of you..."


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lilian's Voice

Nicolas Delvaulx, already responsible for a wonderful documentary on King Leopold III, also released a film on his second wife, Princess Lilian, last year.  Once again, he collaborated closely with the royal couple's youngest daughter, Esmeralda, in the making of the film. Here is a brief clip, in French, with footage of Leopold and Lilian at Argenteuil. For the first time, we are even allowed to hear Lilian's full, deep voice. The entire documentary may be able to be watched here, although it is not available to viewers in all countries at all times.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Catholic Princesses

This page has some beautiful photographs of the Confirmation and First Communion of Princess Marie-Christine in 1962 and of her younger sister, Princess Marie-Esméralda, in 1964.  Bishop Fulton Sheen officiated on both occasions.  Apparently, he was a friend of the girls' parents, King Leopold III and Princess Lilian. Still, I am not sure why a Belgian bishop was not chosen for the purpose.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Paola's Wedding

In honor of the new King Philippe of the Belgians, it might be a suitable moment to revisit the beautiful and emotional wedding of his parents.  This month marks the anniversary of their marriage. Whatever their lapses and failings may have been along the way, their union has survived and grown stronger through many sad times.  The Australian Women's Weekly offers a vivid portrait of the Italian princess, Paola Ruffo di Calabria, who became the wife of Prince Albert of Liège in July 1959.  The two young people had hoped to marry in the Vatican, with John XXIII officiating, since they had first met during the festivities surrounding his coronation, less than a year earlier.  For political reasons, however, the plan proved too controversial to realize.  In Amours royales et princières, Patrick Weber describes the criticism of the Belgian royal family, accused of being too entangled with the Roman Catholic Church.  As a result, Albert and Paola renounced the idea of a Vatican wedding, and the marriage took place in Brussels, at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula.  The Australian article includes images of the exquisite young bride, moved to tears as she pronounced her nuptial vows during the religious ceremony.  It also shows the bridegroom's grandmother, Queen Elisabeth, steadying a nervous Princess Paola at the civil ceremony.  Only 21 years old at the time, Paola was a shy, tender, sensitive young woman, who must have suffered severely during the long period of estrangement from her husband. 

At the time of the wedding, of course, all the marital troubles were in the future, and Belgians simply rejoiced in the passionate romance of King Baudouin's winsome younger brother and the stunning, delicate Italian beauty.  The cheer of the marriage celebrations was a welcome change from decades of grimness, beginning with the deaths of King Albert I and Queen Astrid, and continuing through World War II, the Nazi occupation, the Royal Question, the abdication of King Leopold III, and the endless, festering controversy over his role at the palace after his son's accession to the throne. King Baudouin would not marry Doña Fabiola, his popular Spanish queen, for over another year, making Paola the first Southern European bride to join the Belgian royal family.  Previously, the Belgian princes had chosen consorts from countries further to the north, as illustrated by Louise-Marie of France, Marie-Henriette of Austria, Elisabeth of Bavaria, and Astrid of Sweden. The marriage of Albert and Paola would give Belgium an Italian queen; as an interesting mirror image, the marriage of Albert's aunt, Princess Marie-José, to Prince Umberto of Savoy, had already given Italy a Belgian queen. Despite the discord, and rumored infidelity, that would plague the marriage of Albert and Paola in the years to come, the prince would ultimately be shown to have been wise in his choice of spouse. As the sixth Queen of the Belgians, reconciled to her husband, and dedicated to her children and grandchildren, Paola would prove to be a mature, tasteful, gracious, steady and supportive matriarch of the royal family.  Following Albert's abdication, it is to be hoped that she will enjoy many peaceful and happy years. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Long Live the King!


Leve de Koning!

Vive le Roi! 

Lang lebe der König!




Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The New Queen

Here is an article about Princess Mathilde, who will become Belgium's seventh queen consort on July 21, and her eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth. Mathilde will be the first Queen of the Belgians to have been born in Belgium. Elisabeth, in turn, is set to become the country's first queen regnant.

Monday, July 15, 2013

When the Invader Came

A war correspondent's report on the courage and steadfastness of the Belgian people during the second German assault on their country in a generation. Although the King and his government were soon to suffer a fatal rift, it is undoubtedly true that all parties showed bravery in the common struggle against the invader.
We should like to describe the most reckless and the most abject of the exploits of the parachutists, but we doubt whether the censor will allow it. The brave King Leopold III had joined his Army on the morning of the Friday. Nazi espionage, it seems, had discovered the position from which he was to direct operations. 
It was a fort on the outskirts of Liege. A long succession of parachutists descended from the clouds and attempted to seize the Sovereign. The bravery of the Belgian soldiers made their efforts vain, but the fort in question was attacked unceasingly until finally, after the King had gone to another part of the front line, it was captured. The attitude of the young King, together with the legendary heroism of the Belgian soldiers and the calm energy of the Government, maintained the morale of the population. The wireless had at first announced that the King would speak to his people, but his message was in fact published in the newspapers, for the King was unwilling to lose a single minute that he could devote to his duties as Commander-in-Chief of his armies. This little story, quickly spread among the people, made a great impression. The calm dignity of the session of the two Chambers happily supported the example given by the King. And the Ministers were not less deserving of admiration. The dramatic interview between M. Spaak and the German Ambassador will long be remembered. The "moi d'abord" with which M. Spaak compelled his visitor to listen to a reply anticipating the humiliating proposals which he brought, was more spectacular in its proud defiance, but it was not finer than the courage of M. Pierlot. I met the Prime Minister on the morning of Saturday, the 11th, as he was walking quite alone, his despatch case in his hand, on his way on foot from his modest home to the Government buildings in the Rue de la Loi. Was this to show to all that Belgium had nothing to fear from a Fifth Column ? And his speeches, in which each evening he brought consolation to his countrymen, were courageous, resolute but never unwarrantably optimistic. 
And the people themselves, so good, so honest, so loyal, so valiant and so undeservedly embroiled in a fearful slaughter. To them all honour is due. Never was such a rude awakening suffered with such serenity. Nothing but the necessities of the Army was allowed to interfere in any degree with the normal tempo of life. Men continued quietly in their occupations. The flower-sellers, the newspaper sellers in Brussels never left their pitches during air-raid alarms. The newspapers carried their long lists of small advertisements, a thousand petty transactions which proceeded as if nothing had happened. The shops where food was sold, wonderfully stocked, were undisturbed by pillagers or by hoarders. Slowly, almost cheerfully, people set to work to make their arrangements for a black-out, and to protect their windows from the flying fragments of bombs. No panic, no despair. But an anger which will never more forgive this second attack on an innocent country. These Belgians do not harbour any illusions. They know that they must pass through the ordeal of a second occupation by the enemy. But they are none the less convinced of the final victory of the Allies and of a glorious future for their country. 
A conviction so firm, so religious, inspires them in the face of danger and of death ; the beautiful serenity of soul which Faith gives to the Believer. That, and that alone, explains the appearance of Brussels. When I left there at the week-end following the invasion, the streets were filled again with strollers, the cafes and the restaurants, at the hours within which they were allowed to supply food, were full. And but a little way away, at the gates of the city, holiday-makers stared at the military transports, sunning themselves and taking the air just as if the German aeroplanes had not taken the air at dawn on May 10th. (Read entire article)

Villa Parkudden

Here are some old pictures of the childhood summer residence of Queen Astrid's family, in Stockholm. The little princess' parents, Carl and Ingeborg of Sweden, lived here from 1899-1908.  The last picture shown is an invitation to a garden party on the grounds of the villa.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Princess of Sweden

This appears to be an issue of a Swedish magazine dedicated to Queen Astrid from 1936. It seems to feature a testimony from Astrid's father, Prince Carl of Sweden, regarding his deceased daughter and her mother and siblings. I do not know, but it might be the same testimony quoted by Count Robert Capelle in his memoirs of his service to Astrid's husband, King Leopold III. In any case, we can see that Astrid remained a popular figure in her homeland, and that she was far from forgotten after her marriage to the heir to the Belgian throne.

More on the Abdication

Beginning July 21, Belgium will be one country with two kings and three queens.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Belgian Abdication

The Mad Monarchist has some reflections on the similarities and differences between the abdications of Albert II and his father, Leopold III, as well as good wishes for the new King of the Belgians to be, Prince Philippe Leopold Louis Marie, Duke of Brabant.
Some media outlets have erroneously reported that this is the first abdication in Belgian history which, I am sure, most monarchists at least know is not true. King Leopold III abdicated in 1950 but he was, until now, the only Belgian monarch to abdicate and that was under some rather unique (and unfair) circumstances. King Leopold I did offer to abdicate once but his people did not wish it. He, as well as King Leopold II, King Albert I and King Baudouin all reigned until their deaths. Traditionally, the situation in Belgium is rather like that in the United Kingdom; abdications have happened but only rarely and under difficult circumstances. So, in that regard, the abdication of King Albert II is something surprising and out of the ordinary... 
In any event, Prince Philippe will soon be the new King of the Belgians and I would be hard pressed to name a modern royal figure for whom I have greater respect for than the Duke of Brabant. I do hope he takes the name ‘King Leopold IV’ rather than ‘King Philippe I’ but, alas, I doubt it. I am sure he will be told that the name “Leopold” has negative connotations these days but that is unfair and unfortunate. Particularly the last one, King Leopold III, has been the victim of some of the most gross injustices and slander of any royal figure in recent history. He was a fine, upstanding, God-fearing man who does not deserve to be spoken of with anything less than pride and admiration. Similarly, whatever he shall be called, it remains to be seen if Prince Philippe will be given a fair chance. As we have talked about before, the Duke of Brabant has also been subject to many unfair efforts to lower his standing in the eyes of the public with all sorts of slander and cruel jokes being made about him despite the fact that he has done nothing at all to deserve it. In fact, he has often been ridiculed specifically for being such an upstanding man. I pray he will be given a fair chance and that the public will rally to support him. If he is given that support I have no doubt he will be one of the great monarchs of Belgian history. He certainly has the character for it. (Read entire post)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Filial Tribute

Deer Brooches

Here is a post in French about Princess Lilian's love of deer and the hunt, illustrated by her stag-themed jewelry, such as the brooch shown above, part of a citrine parure sold at Christies in 1987. For her Silver Wedding in September 1966, Lilian's husband, King Leopold III, presented her with a diamond brooch, in the shape of a stag's head, designed by Cartier according to Lilian's wishes. This piece became her favorite brooch. She wore it for her last public appearance, in September 1993, for the 20th anniversary of the Leopold III Fund for the Exploration and Conservation of Nature. She also wore it for her daughter Esmeralda's London wedding to eminent scientist Salvador Moncada in 1998. In contrast to many other of Lilian's possessions, which were auctioned off following her death, the cherished diamond brooch remains in her family to this day.

The Kindness of Princess Lilian

Royalement has a touching testimony from Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, who was close to her Belgian uncle and aunt, King Leopold III and his second wife, Lilian Baels. Princess Lilian is so often described as cold, calculating and selfish, yet many personal accounts suggest the opposite. Here is an English translation of Maria Gabriella's account, published by Christophe Vachaudez in L'Eventail in September, 2002, two months after Lilian's death.
It is hard for me to speak of my aunt Lilian, so soon after her passing, without feeling the tears springing to my eyes. I very much miss her presence, as well as our frequent telephone conversations. I met her for the first time in Portugal, at the beginning of the 1950s. My uncle and my aunt Lilian were passing through Estoril, and were traveling to America. I saw them again in Brussels, for the eightieth birthday of my grandmother, Queen Elisabeth. It was a very joyous birthday. Aunt Lilian was resplendent, she was expecting Esmeralda.  
In 1958, I was again in Belgium, invited to a court ball. It was my first ball, I was delighted, and at the same time, very intimidated. I was staying at Laeken, and the evening of my arrival, Aunt Lilian came into my room. She wanted to see my evening dress. Very quickly understanding that I suffered from painful shyness, an inheritance from the Coburgs, she reassured me by admiring my gown and saying a thousand kind things to me.  
From that time on, my affectionate friendship for my "Belgian uncle and aunt" never weakened. I went to see them at Argenteuil, Ciergnon, Hinteriss, or in Biot, in the south of France. With my aunt, we talked about everything. The conversation was always interesting, and often amusing. Aunt Lilian was one of the most beautiful women I have known. She was also very intelligent and enthusiastic about life, with a strong, decided character. She was sometimes misunderstood. However, she had a big heart and always showed herself ready to help her neighbor. My affection and admiration for my aunt continued unclouded, without interruption, for 42 years, and I will miss her forever.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Abdication of Albert II

Well, it's official this time. Today, King Albert II of the Belgians announced his abdication, effective July 21, 2013, in favor of his son, Prince Philippe. I hope and pray for the best for Albert and Paola, for the new King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, for the rest of the Belgian royal family, and for their people and country.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Portraits of Princess Marie-José

Here are two contrasting portraits of the daughter of Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium who became Italy's last queen. The second picture, from 1935, is very sombre and perhaps reflects the suffering the princess endured in that period. The years leading up to the Second World War were marked by the loss of her father and her sister-in-law, Astrid of Belgium, as well as by marital unhappiness and growing concern at the political situation in Italy and Europe as a whole. Marie-José's face almost appears tear-streaked. In the first picture, on the other hand, she somehow seems more cheerful and outgoing.

Marie-José's Jewels

A few pieces, formerly belonging to Belgian-born Queen Maria José of Italy, which were auctioned at Christies' in June 2007. Included in the collection were a diamond and turquoise necklace and bracelet, given to the princess as wedding gifts from her parents, and an antique diamond and dark blue enamel bangle bearing the monogram of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. More information and pictures here and here. Above, Maria José is shown wearing a diamond, pearl and yellow gold tiara, said to have been inherited from her great-aunt, Carlota of Mexico.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Lost Protectress

This is a touching portrayal of the deceased Queen Astrid as a protectress of the unfortunate. She is shown imploring the Belgians, in memory of her, to care for these victims of hardship and sorrow. No doubt, had she been alive at the outbreak of World War II, the charitable Astrid would have followed in the footsteps of her mother-in-law, Queen Elisabeth, who was so loved for her strenuous efforts to bring aid and comfort to the wounded, to refugees, to orphans and to other war victims. As many have suggested, Astrid's gentleness and popularity might also have been able to soften some of the criticisms of her husband, Leopold III, following his surrender to the Germans. Of course, there would have been no controversy over Leopold's second marriage to Lilian Baels, had his first wife still been alive. It may be that the royal family would also have avoided deportation by the Nazis towards the end of the war. Perhaps, a desire not to antagonize neutral Sweden, Astrid's homeland, would have stayed Himmler's hand in this matter.

In later years, as a matriarch of the family, I am sure Astrid would have had a good influence on the younger generations of Saxe-Coburgs. Queen Paola, in particular, in an interview to mark her 65th birthday, regretted missing Astrid's counsel during the early years of her marriage, which proved to be so tumultuous. Lilian tried hard to be a good step-mother to Astrid's children, but obviously could never replace their mother, or erase the trauma of her violent death. Lilian's personality was more difficult, contributing to rifts in the family and the nation, despite her many genuinely noble qualities. These are only a few reflections which lead me to believe that both the people and the royal family of Belgium lost a powerful protectress in Astrid. It is significant that the grieving Leopold is said to have stressed how much he needed his wife's protection. In this life, she was no longer able to provide it, although I am sure she continued to watch over her widowed husband, orphaned children and shaken nation from the next life. In addition, her example of Christian charity and tender humanity lives on, inspiring us to defend and support the innocent and vulnerable among us.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cross of Laeken on Youtube?

I found an apparently automatically generated Youtube channel consisting of videos I have posted on this blog over the years. I saw the channel many months ago, but then it seemed to disappear. Now it is back again...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

King and Queen


A war postcard showing Albert and Elisabeth, the Soldier-King and the Nurse-Queen, as protectors of their land and people.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mourning a Prince

Again, I have to apologize for a long absence. This was not due to lack of interest in the Belgian royal family, but I have been very busy with studies and pro-life work. I will still be maintaining this blog, but it seems that I will have to post here less often than in previous years.

I find many of the old prayer cards commemorating deceased members of the Belgian royal family to be quite touching and sobering, as well as helpful in shedding light on traditional Belgian religious practices. Here are memorial cards to Prince Baudouin (1869-1891), the handsome, pious and gifted elder brother of King Albert I.

Netley Lucas, in Albert the Brave: King of the Belgians, captures the mood of the Belgians during the tragic family illness that so suddenly took the life of the heir to the throne. The shattering effect of the loss of his nephew upon the ostensibly cold, formidable and impervious King Leopold II is especially striking.
Towards the end of 1890, Prince Albert caught a bad cold, which developed quickly into a species of influenza. From the Prince the illness spread to his sister Princess Josephine, and from her to Princess Henriette, whose condition grew gradually worse until it was considered necessary to publish bulletins. The life of the Princess was for some days in danger. The anxiety of the Count and Countess was lightened by the manifestations of popular sympathy with which they were overwhelmed. The Palace of the Rue de la Regence was besieged with streams of callers of all ranks and classes, who begged for the latest news or brought gifts that, in the case of the poorer donors, were indicative of the very deep sympathy felt by everyone. 
The malady ran its course, but happily the constitution of the Princess, strengthened by the simple, wholesome life she had led, withstood the strain. Towards the middle of January, 1891, Princess Josephine was pronounced out of danger. But no sooner were her parents relieved of one anxiety than another arose. On January 17th, only a day after the hopeful report of the Princess had been published, Prince Baudouin was taken ill. He took the disease in a lighter form, and though his condition gave rise to anxiety, he was not at first so ill as had been his sister, and no bulletins were issued. He was indeed well enough to take a walk. Unhappily, the illness increased suddenly, and despite every precaution, Prince Baudouin developed pleuropneumonia. He grew steadily worse, after less than a week's illness, he passed away on January 23rd, 1891.  
Prince Baudouin was in his twenty-second year. It was stated that he would probably have married his cousin Princess Clementine. By a sad coincidence his death took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of King Leopold's only son. Queen Victoria and all the crowned heads of Europe hastened to express their condolence with the bereaved parents and King Leopold. Court mourning in Belgium was ordered for three months.  
The funeral took place on January 29th, amidst universal signs of sorrow. The service in St. Gudule was deeply pathetic. The coffin was followed by King Leopold who, said the representative of The Times, "was quite overcome by emotion and walked with halting steps, supported on his left by the Count of Flanders, who was himself weeping bitterly...The young Prince Albert, the sole surviving son of the Count of Flanders, who walked by his father, also betrayed profound grief."(pp. 29-30)
Above is a highly symbolic scene, featuring the Cross, flowers, dynastic heraldry, mourning ribbons and a drooping Belgian flag, with the words:

"The entire Nation weeps for the beloved prince whom cruel death has snatched from our hopes."

Here, Belgian Catholics are entreated to pray for the repose of the soul of their prince, while being reassured that he died with the benefit of the Sacraments of the Church. Pious thoughts are also offered:

"My kingdom is not of this world."
"It is the Lord who heals their broken hearts and binds their wounds."
"God will clothe him in a mantle of justice and place on his head a crown of glory."
"Merciful Jesus, give him eternal rest."

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Carlota's Jewels

A few historic pieces.

Cascarones

Though brightly colored eggs remain a traditional Easter element in many countries, they do not figure prominently into the celebration of Pascua (Easter), one of Mexico's most important and solemn religious holidays. Curiously, however, eggs--in the guise of cascarones-- are a popular feature of Carnaval (Mardi Gras), which marks the opposite end of the Easter season, as well as a variety of other Mexican festivities. 
In their most common form, cascarones are empty egg shells that have been washed out, painted on the exterior, filled with confetti and closed again with a small square of tissue paper pasted over the opening. They may sometimes contain small toy prizes or sweets as well. Early variations, connected with the customarily riotous pre-Lenten celebrations, were filled with either perfumed or rank-smelling colored water and sealed with a plug of wax. 
Cascarones figure heavily into local fiestas in towns and cities all over the nation, as fellow revelers enjoy playfully cracking the eggs over one another's heads, unleashing showers of confetti that help heighten the sense of merriment. The practice has long been favored among adolescents who still may be observed engaging in this innocent form of flirtation with members of the opposite sex during Sunday evening paseos around village plazas. (Read full article)

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Sad Anniversary

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of the exiled King Umberto II of Italy, the husband of Marie-José, the beautiful, intelligent and free-spirited daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. 1983 must have been a very hard year for Marie-José. Within six months, between March and September, she lost not only her husband, but also her two brothers, Leopold and Charles. She herself would go on to live another 18 years. 

Below is a clip of Umberto's funeral ceremonies at the Abbey of Hautecombe, on the shores of the Lac du Bourget in Savoy, France. In attendance are not only the widowed Queen and her children, but many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Marie-José's nephew, King Baudouin of the Belgians, with his wife, Fabiola.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Death of Princess Lilian of Sweden

Since yesterday, this blog has been absolutely inundated with hits searching for information about Princess Lilian of Sweden, who passed away on Sunday at the venerable age of 97.  Like Princess Lilian of Belgium, she was a commoner who became a royal bride as a result of a wartime romance. Unlike Lilian of Belgium, who was encouraged to marry King Leopold III by Queen Mother Elisabeth, however, Lilian of Sweden was prevented by dynastic considerations from marrying her lover, Prince Bertil, for decades. On the positive side, though, it seems that the Swedish Lilian was much more kindly regarded by the Swedes than the Belgian Lilian was by the Belgians. May they both rest in peace.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ghost Queen?

I have noticed that there was quite a tradition of depicting Queen Astrid after her death as a spirit watching over her family. Above is one of the more successful portrayals of this kind, I think. Others, such as the one below, strike me as decidedly creepy.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vers l'Avenir

I posted the Belgian national anthem, the Brabançonne, a long time ago, and here is another famous Belgian patriotic song, about facing the new twentieth century with "confidence, pride and high hopes for the future," as I said in my last post. The song also makes allusions to Belgium's colonial ambitions at the time. I am sorry that this version is only in French. The poet urges the Belgians: "March joyfully, energetic people, towards destinies worthy of you; God will protect free Belgium and her King."

Four Generations of the Belgian Royal Family

A dynastic portrait showing young, intense Princess Elisabeth of Belgium, the future Nurse-Queen of the Great War, with her sons, Prince Leopold, future Leopold III, and Prince Charles, the future Regent. Behind Elisabeth, from left to right, are her in-laws and patriarchs of the Belgian royal family, Leopold I, Leopold II, and her own husband, Prince Albert, future Albert I. The portrait commemorates the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence in 1905, and suggests that the new kingdom is entering the new century with confidence, pride and high hopes for the future. 

Of course, not all the figures appearing in the picture actually met in real life. Leopold I, the founder of the Belgian branch of the Saxe-Coburgs, died in 1865, ten years before Albert's birth and eleven years before Elisabeth's. Leopold II only overlapped briefly with his great-nephews, Leopold and Charles. In L'éducation d'un prince (1984), a collection of interviews with Leopold III, he describes only a few childhood memories of meeting the very controversial Leopold II, on holiday at the seaside in Ostende. The sensitive, rather fragile-looking little boy had a recollection of his stern, bearded great-uncle pinching him on the cheeks and telling him to eat heartily and get strong! Leopold III also remembered that his parents never spoke of the scandals in their uncle's personal life that gave rise to so much gossip in Belgium and beyond. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Argenteuil: Pour garder intacte la mémoire du domaine royal



This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. Published by the late Prince Alexandre of Belgium, son of Leopold III and Lilian Baels, it is a magnificent pictorial history of the estate of Argenteuil. Superb photographs, in black and white, and in color, help to trace the development of Argenteuil, from the construction of the mansion in the Sonian Forest by American entrepreneur William Tuck in 1930 to the sale of the property to industrialist and philosopher, Jean-Marie Delwart, in 2004. Purchased by the Belgian government in 1949, Argenteuil was placed at the disposition of Leopold, Lilian, and their children from 1960-2002. 

The arrival of this politically inconvenient, rejected, but richly talented branch of the royal family inaugurated the golden age of the chateau. Lilian's lavish but exquisitely refined tastes transformed the bare and dilapidated mansion into a distinguished and elegant home for the former King of the Belgians. Here, with energy and passion, yet with discretion and delicacy, the royal couple devoted themselves to scientific, cultural and humanitarian pursuits; Leopold to his Fonds Léopold III Pour l'Exploration et la Conservation de la Nature and Lilian to her Fondation Cardiologique Princesse Lilian. 

After Leopold's death in 1983, Lilian cherished his memory and hoped to preserve the royal heritage of Argenteuil for future generations. In her Will, she requested that she be buried on the estate and that the chateau be maintained, essentially, as she left it, as a memorial to her husband and as a centre for scientific and cultural reunions. She hoped that, in the future, her descendants would be able to visit Argenteuil often, on their vacations. After Lilian's death in 2002, the Verhofstadt government respected none of these rather poignant last wishes. Instead, Lilian was interred at Laeken and the mansion was stripped bare and sold to the highest bidder. Nonetheless, books like Prince Alexandre's help to preserve at least the memory of the legendary royal estate. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Private Theatre of Marie-Antoinette

Here are two images of Marie-Antoinette's private theatre. (Via Tea at Trianon). As shown above, it was redecorated by her niece Marie-Amélie, Queen of the French under the July Monarchy of 1830-1848.  Readers of this blog will remember that Marie-Amélie's daughter, Louise-Marie d'Orléans, was the first Queen of the Belgians.  Marie-Antoinette's design (below) has since been restored, although the monogram above the center stage is actually still Marie-Amélie's. I love both Marie-Amélie and Marie-Antoinette, but I must say that I much prefer Antoinette's beautifully delicate, lighter taste. The heavy scarlet is too oppressive for me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 1934: The Accession of Leopold III

On February 23, 1934, a day after the funeral of his tragically deceased father, Albert I, Leopold III, fourth King of the Belgians, ascended the throne. I have gathered a few contemporary descriptions of this sombre, but magnificent occasion. It was a moment of mingled joy, sorrow, wonder and hope.
Albert, King of the Belgians, warrior, statesman and sportsman, now belonged to history. And King Leopold III, in his turn, now belonged to the people of Belgium. Before middle age he was called upon to succeed a father who had set a standard of kingship of immaculate realism and democracy. That call had been so sudden, the circumstances surrounding it so tragic, that he could well have been forgiven a tremor of hesitancy. But the Royal stock of Belgium is sturdy. Leopold, in those critical days, acquitted himself with grace and honour. The boy who had "fagged" at Eton for the Duke of Gloucester now became the man prepared to serve a nation. His grief did not outstrip his courage or his sense of duty or his regal bearing. Behind him, he knew, was the trust and love and inspiration of his Queen, the friendship and confidence of his subjects. ~Michael Geelan

One of the most noble and touching sights of contemporary times was that of the young, handsome, forthright Leopold, head and hand raised, taking the Oath of Accession before his Throne in the Chamber of Deputies. In his first speech as king he said: "According to a solidly established tradition, the Belgian dynasty is at the service of the nation, and I am firmly resolved never to forget it." He glanced towards Queen Astrid - a stately figure in deep black, seated with her children in virgin white - and their eyes met. Then and there he told the august gathering of State that both he and they could depend upon the love and loyalty of the Queen. These were no idle words dove-tailed into the pattern of a formal and picturesque ceremony. They were sincere. They came, not only from his manuscript, but from his heart. All who heard them knew them to be true. ~Michael Geelan

The young and handsome couple were well fitted to be the protagonists in this deeply moving pageant. The new Queen was soon to become a mother again. Seated between her two children, who were as lively as crickets, she drove round the capital in the state coach. The new King, followed by the Count of Flanders, rode to the Chamber on horseback, as his father had done before him, and delivered his speech with quiet dignity. His next action had no precedent: he mounted his horse and rode round the city, only pausing once- before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

When the new King and Queen appeared on the balcony of the Palace in the dazzling sunlight, she in black, he in the uniform of a Lieutenant-General, the people, still subdued by the sorrow of the previous day, felt as though they were gazing at a reincarnation of the spirit of spring. ~Charles d'Ydewalle

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Little Prince Alexandre

I thought these were quite handsome pictures of Prince Alexandre Emmanuel (1942-2009), the first child of King Leopold III and Lilian Baels. 


Berthe Petit

Berthe Petit (1870-1943) was a Belgian Franciscan tertiary, mystic, stigmatist and apostle of devotion to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. She was born in Enghien, the daughter of pious parents. She was a delicate child, and, throughout her life, suffered many illnesses, causing her to receive the Last Rites seven times. From the age of four, she believed she experienced visions of Christ and the Blessed Mother. These recurred throughout her life, centering on her chief mission- to obtain the consecration of the world to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Berthe was always respected by the ecclesiastical authorities. As far as I know, the Church has never found anything contrary to the Catholic Faith in her revelations.

Berthe was born into a family of comfortable means; her father was a prosperous attorney. Deeply devout, Berthe longed to become a Sister of Charity, but it was not to be. During her youth, her father suffered severe financial reversals and Berthe was obliged to work to help support her family. She offered her disappointment as a sacrifice for the sanctification of a priest of God's choice. This proved to be Father Louis Décorsant, a French priest who became one of her spiritual directors and close collaborators.

Berthe's life was marked by physical and spiritual suffering. At the age of 10, after her First Communion, she told her teacher, a nun: "I must suffer a great deal, I must be like Jesus." The nun asked: "who told you that?" The child replied: "the little Host which is my wonderful Jesus." In addition to painful illnesses and accidents, she experienced fears, doubts, perplexities, and diabolical persecution. At one point, during World War I, while praying, she was hurled down a stone staircase by an unseen force, yet her life, miraculously, was saved. She heard hissing in her ear: "I shall fight you to the end, obsessing minds, hardening hearts, feeding passions."

By all accounts, Berthe was a delightful character, combining spiritual fervor and common sense, humble, cheerful, thoughtful, attentive to others, loving and deeply sincere. She was a splendid cook, yet, from the age of 38, lived only on Holy Communion. At one point, when she was lodging in a convent, a nun who shared her room was instructed by her superiors to observe if Berthe took any food in secret. Despite her initial skepticism, she found, after a year's observation, that Berthe really ate nothing, only drinking, in the morning, a cup of coffee (soon rejected), and, in the afternoon, a small glass of wine.

Berthe's revelations often had a political character, dealing with the spiritual dimensions of national and international events. Msgr. Pieraerts, court chaplain during the reign of King Albert I, was one of her spiritual directors and close friends. Berthe reported that Christ requested Belgium's consecration to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, as a remedy for the country's political and moral ills. Shortly after World War I, according to Berthe, Our Lord made this striking statement:
Internal strife is more rampant than ever in your country. It is being fanned by the evil seeds sown by the invader; it is fed by egoism, pride and jealousy, malevolent germs which can only generate moral ruin. I continue to have pity on a country that defended its honor at the cost of the greatest sacrifices, and on a sovereign faithful to his duty. To save this nation, I have wished, and continue to wish, that it should be solemnly consecrated to the Heart of My Mother....

(The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary: Messages of Our Lord to Berthe Petit, Franciscan Tertiary, 1870-1943, 2004, p. 51)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Easter Essay Contest

Well, I have decided to have another essay contest for Easter. The rules as to range of topics and length of submissions will be the same as for the Christmas essay contest.  I hope there will be more participants this time! Please email entries to crossoflaeken@gmail.com by March 31, 2013. Please do not send essays as attachments, but simply cut and paste the text in the body of the email.

February 17, 1934: The Death of Albert I

Today is the anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of Albert I, King of the Belgians. According to official documents, a chance slip from a craggy precipice at Marche-les-Dames, during a solitary rock-climbing excursion on the afternoon of February 17, 1934, cut short the life of this beloved monarch, at the age of 58. In the depths of the night, after hours of desperate search, his weeping attendants found him by the light of torches, spread-eagled at the foot of the Cliff of the Gentle God of Pity, soaked in his blood, his skull fractured. By a cruel coincidence, the Sovereign who had led independent Belgium to her centenary, four years earlier, had died only ten months before celebrating his Silver Jubilee. 

Grief, shock and disbelief swept through the Royal Family, the country, and, indeed, the world. Widely loved and admired for his heroism during World War I, and graced with a modest, affable personality, Albert was deeply mourned far beyond the frontiers of his realm. Meanwhile, throughout Flanders and Wallonia, as in 1914, the carillons tolled out the tocsin. In Brussels, amidst the moving and imposing funeral ceremonies, the people, braving pouring rain and icy fog, filed past silently to pay their last respects to their dead King, lying in state in a candle-lit chapel of flowers in the Royal Palace."The top of the head was heavily bandaged," wrote the British ambassador, George Clerk, "but the features were extraordinarily composed and peaceful, and death had removed the traces of many years".  
On February 22, as the funeral cortège made its way from the palace to the Cathedral of St. Gudule to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, vast, sombre crowds lined the route. Thousands knelt and prayed as the gun-carriage, bearing the King's coffin, passed by. "Au revoir, Albert," one old man was heard to whisper. After the Requiem Mass, celebrated by Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, in the black-draped cathedral, Albert's body was conducted to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, where the final Benediction took place. Then, to the strains of funeral music and the booming of artillery, the third King of the Belgians was laid to rest in the Royal Crypt. 

In a sermon to commemorate the Belgian dead of World War I, and the veterans who had passed away since the return of peace, the saintly Abbot of Orval, Dom Marie Albert van der Cruyssen, himself a war hero, and an intimate of King Albert, rendered a beautiful tribute to the deceased monarch: 
Ah, I cannot tell you all the good sentiments with which his heart was filled to overflowing, and which he poured out, in private, in confidences, which do not yet belong to the history of our time. But his public virtues can and must be known, those of the good father of a family, so attached to inculcating in his children integrity and self-sacrifice, those of the head of state, so concerned for justice and the happiness of all, and, above all, those of the great Christian who could tell himself each day: "I do not fear death, I am ready." If some were astonished, because, on the mask of the man who had died in such a tragic accident, there was such a peace, for, he was not - God is my witness, since I had the supreme consolation of giving, to this king and friend, the last blessing, before the lead coffin closed forever upon his august face - he was not, I say, disfigured, or disguised, he was great, calm, and beautiful in death, it is because he was great and beautiful in his life!
Albert 675