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.