Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Blessings to all those who have visited this blog in 2014.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Passing of Queen Fabiola

I am saddened to hear of the loss of Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who passed away today.  May she rest in peace, with her late husband, King Baudouin.  This month is the anniversary of their marriage.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Belfry of Bruges

Different views of the Belfry 2

Here are two poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on the beautiful city and belfry of Bruges,   Carillon and The Belfry of Bruges.  

Belfort (8172406558)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Paradise Tree

The Paradise Tree is the fourth novel published by Elena Maria Vidal, who has been a kind friend to this blog.  In Trianon and Madame Royale, she meditated on the lives of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their family during the tragic times of the French Revolution.  In The Night's Dark Shade, she created an imaginative, moving story of a young noblewoman struggling to be a good Catholic and a faithful bride during another tragic and complicated period, the Albigensian Crusade.  In The Paradise Tree, Elena Maria Vidal returns once again to the themes of religious persecution, love and sacrifice.

This time, Vidal shares with us some of her own family history, focusing on the life and legacy of one of her Irish forebears, Daniel O'Connor, his beloved wife Brigit, and their large family.   As a young man, Daniel is forced to flee his homeland to Canada in order to survive without betraying his faith.  In his new country, he founds a wonderful family, stricken by terrible sufferings and hardships, poverty, illness, exile and bereavement,  but bravely persevering and triumphing over many misfortunes, with an almost regal sense of personal dignity.

A strong sense of mortality permeates the story.  There are some particularly harrowing descriptions of the deaths of children.   Despite the sadness of many of the scenes, there is great charm in the lively portrayal of a family filled with love of learning and poetry.   The hope of eternal life sustains Daniel, his wife and children through many tragedies.  Joy continually mingles with sorrow.  Happily, though, after many years of pain and struggle, Daniel and Brigit are richly blessed in their beautiful family.

(NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion).

Friday, August 8, 2014

Myths of Infertility and Impotence

This issue impacted the couple in deeply profound ways, as one can imagine. It seems especially grievous that the trauma of their medical challenges were exploited to sell tabloid copy. The inferred image is of an infertile woman and an impotent man. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Infertility is the inability to achieve pregnancy. Being pregnant five times, should have quieted malicious whispers of infertility or any notion of the King lacking virility. 
Covering this information illustrates vividly the sad axiom, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Both Fabiola and Baudouin exhibited inspirational courage of spirit, facing the public always with a smiling face and head held high. Reports are that each time her pregnancy was announced, the palace overflowed with the abundant generosity of the Belgian people, rejoicing at the special news of their King and Queen. Each time, a brief quiet announcement would pierce their joy. 
Unscrupulous authors lazily cling to tired court rumours, one claiming Baudouin’s step-mother, Lilian Baels, received a letter reporting Fabiola never menstruated and was, thus, infertile. While laughable, the depths to which man will go for notoriety is immeasurable and certain writers and journalists have sold such nonsense to readership eager for a juicy detail. Earlier untruths cast Lilian as the apple of Baudouin’s adoring eye, being hopelessly in love with his step-mother. The proof is nowhere to be found in that pudding; Leopold and Lilian were as ignorant to Baudouin and Fabiola’s engagement as were all Belgian citizens. 
The business of outsiders blaming Fabiola for the couple’s childlessness is cruel and unconscionable. I wonder at how it is journalists or palace “insiders” feel confident or even suitably emboldened to testify with authority to the queen’s personal medical details. Fabiola’s affirmation of suffering from miscarriages was widely reported by the Belgian press in 2008. Belgians, nevertheless, were surprised at learning Baudouin and Fabiola suffered the loss of five babies. (Read full post)

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Talk with Queen Mary

Since I have featured excerpts from Mary Roberts Rinehart's wartime conversations with Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium, it may be interesting to see the American author's account of her meeting with Mary of Teck, from  Kings, Queens and Pawns.
It will be a surprise to many Americans to learn that the Queen of England is very lovely to look at. So much emphasis has always been placed on her virtues, and so little has been written of her charm, that this tribute is only fair to Her Majesty. She is tall, perhaps five feet eight inches, with deep-blue eyes and beautiful colouring. She has a rather wide, humorous mouth. There is not a trace of austerity in her face or in any single feature. The whole impression was of sincerity and kindliness, with more than a trace of humour.
I could quite believe, after I saw Her Majesty, the delightful story that I had heard from a member of her own circle, that now and then, when during some court solemnity an absurdity occurred, it was positively dangerous to catch the Queen's eye!
Queen Mary came up the long room. As she paused and held out her hand, each lady took it and curtsied at the same time. The Queen talked, smiling as she spoke. There was no formality. Near at hand the lady-in-waiting who was in attendance stood, sometimes listening, sometimes joining in the conversation. The talk was all of supplies, for these days in England one thinks in terms of war. Certain things had come in; other things had gone or were going. For the Queen of England is to-day at the head of a great business, one that in a few months has already collected and distributed over a million garments, all new, all practical, all of excellent quality.
The Queen came toward me and paused. There was an agonised moment while the lady-in-waiting presented me. Her Majesty held out her hand. I took it and bowed. The next instant she was speaking. 
She spoke at once of America, of what had already been done by Americans for the Belgians both in England and in their desolated country. And she hastened to add her gratitude for the support they have given her Guild.
"The response has been more than generous," said Her Majesty. "We are very grateful. We are glad to find that the sympathy of America is with us."
She expressed a desire also to have America know fully just what was being done with the supplies that are being constantly sent over, both from Canada and from the United States.
"Canada has been wonderful," she said. "They are doing everything."
The ready response of Canada to the demand for both troops and supplies appeared to have touched Her Majesty. She spoke at length about the troops, the distance they had come, the fine appearance the men made, and their popularity with the crowds when they paraded on the streets of London. I had already noticed this. A Canadian regiment was sure to elicit cheers at any time, although London, generally speaking, has ceased any but silent demonstration over the soldiers.
"Have you seen any of the English hospitals on the Continent?" the Queen asked.
"I have seen a number, Your Majesty."
"Do they seem well supplied?"
I replied that they appeared to be thoroughly equipped, but that the amount of supplies required was terrifying and that at one time some of the hospitals had experienced difficulty in securing what they needed.
"One hospital in Calais," I said, "received twelve thousand pairs of bed socks in one week last autumn, and could not get a bandage."
"Those things happened early in the war. We are doing much better now. England had not expected war. We were totally unprepared."
..."What is your impression of the French and Belgian hospitals?" Her Majesty inquired.
I replied that none were so good as the English, that France had always depended on her nuns in such emergencies, and, there being no nuns in France now, her hospital situation was still not good.
"The priests of Belgium are doing wonderful work," I said. "They have suffered terribly during the war."
"It is very terrible," said Her Majesty. "Both priests and nuns have suffered, as England has reason to know."
The Queen spoke of the ladies connected with the Guild.
"They are really much overworked," she said. "They are giving all their time day after day. They are splendid. And many of them, of course, are in great anxiety."
Already, by her tact and her simplicity of manner, she had put me at my ease. The greatest people, I have found, have this quality of simplicity. When she spoke of the anxieties of her ladies, I wished that I could have conveyed to her, from so many Americans, their sympathy in her own anxieties, so keen at that time, so unselfishly borne. But the lady-in-waiting was speaking:
"Please tell the Queen about your meeting with King Albert."
So I told about it. It had been unconventional, and the recital amused Her Majesty. It was then that I realised how humorous her mouth was, how very blue and alert her eyes. I told it all to her, the things that insisted on slipping off my lap, and the King's picking them up; the old envelope he gave me on which to make notes of the interview; how I had asked him whether he would let me know when the interview was over, or whether I ought to get up and go! And finally, when we were standing talking before my departure, how I had suddenly remembered that I was not to stand nearer to His Majesty than six feet, and had hastily backed away and explained, to his great amusement.
Queen Mary laughed. Then her face clouded.
"It is all so very tragic," she said. "Have you seen the Queen?"
I replied that the Queen of the Belgians had received me a few days after my conversation with the King.
"She is very sad," said Her Majesty. "It is a terrible thing for her, especially as she is a Bavarian by birth." (Read full account)

A Talk with a King

In her book, Kings, Queens, and Pawns, available on Project Gutenberg, American writer and reporter Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958) gives an appreciative account of her meeting with King Albert I of Belgium during World War I. At the time of the audience, Albert and his wife, Queen Elisabeth, were living at La Panne, on the Belgian coast, near the front lines. Most of Belgium was under German occupation, following Germany's invasion of the country on August 4, 1914, in violation of treaties which guaranteed Belgian neutrality and independence. The United States had not yet entered the war.

This is how Rinehart describes her meeting with the King:

... There was little formality. I was taken in charge by the King's equerry, who tapped at a closed door. I drew a long breath.

"Madame Rinehart!" said the equerry, and stood aside.

There was a small screen in front of the door. I went round it. Standing alone before the fire was Albert I, King of the Belgians. I bowed; then we shook hands and he asked me to sit down.

It was to be a conversation rather than an interview; but as it was to be given as accurately as possible to the American people, I was permitted to make careful notes of both questions and answers. It was to be, in effect, a statement of the situation in Belgium as the King of the Belgians sees it.

I spoke first of a message to America.

"I have already sent a message to America," he informed me, "quite a long message. We are, of course, intensely appreciative of what Americans have done for Belgium."

"They are anxious to do what they can. The general feeling is one of great sympathy."

"Americans are both just and humane," the King replied, "and their system of distribution is excellent. I do not know what we should have done without the American Relief Committees."

"Is there anything further Your Majesty can suggest?"

"They seem to have thought of everything," the King said simply. "The food is invaluable- particularly the flour. It has saved many from starvation."

"But there is still need?"

"Oh, yes- great need."

It was clear that the subject was a tragic one. The King of the Belgians loves his people, as they love him, with a devotion that is completely unselfish. That he is helpless to relieve so much that they are compelled to endure is his great grief.

His face clouded. Probably he was seeing, as he must always see, the dejected figures of the peasants in the fields, the long files of his soldiers as they made their way through wet and cold to the trenches, the destroyed towns, the upheaval of a people.

"What is possible to know of the general condition of affairs in that part of Belgium occupied by the Germans?" I asked. "I do not mean in regard to food only, but the general condition of the Belgian people."

"It is impossible to say," was the answer. "During the invasion it was very bad. It is a little better now, of course, but here we are on the wrong side of the line to form any ordered judgment. To gain a real conception of the situation it would be necessary to go through the occupied portions from town to town, almost from house to house. Have you been in the other part of Belgium?"

"Not yet, I may go."

"You should do that- see Louvain, Aerschot, Antwerp- see the destroyed towns for yourself. No one can tell you. You must see them."

I was not certain that I should be permitted to make such a journey, but the King waved my doubts aside with a gesture.

"You are an American," he said. "it would be quite possible and you would see just what has happened. You would see open towns that were bombarded, other towns that were destroyed after occupation! You would see a country ruthlessly devastated, our wonderful monuments destroyed, our architectural and artistic treasures sacrificed without reason- without any justification."

"But as a necessity of war?" I asked.

"Not at all. The Germans have saved buildings when it suited their convenience to do so. No military necessity dictated the destruction of Louvain. It was not bombarded. It was deliberately destroyed. But, of course, you know that."

"The matter of the violation of Belgium's neutrality still remains an open question," I said. "I have seen American facsimile copies of documents referring to conversations between staff officers of the British and Belgian armies- documents that were found in the ministerial offices at Brussels when the Germans occupied that city last August. Of course I think that most Americans realize that, had they been of any real importance, they would have been taken away. There was time enough. But there are some, I know, who think them significant."

The King of the Belgians shrugged his shoulders.

"They were of an unofficial character and entirely without importance. The German Staff probably knew all about them long before the declaration of war. They themselves had, without doubt, discussed and recorded similar probabilities in case of war with other countries. It is a common practice in army organizations to prepare against different contingencies. It is a question of military routine only."

"There was no justification, then, for the violation of Belgian neutrality?" I inquired.

"None whatever! The German violation of Belgian neutrality was wrong," he said emphatically. "On the fourth of August their own chancellor admitted it. Belgium had no thought of war. The Belgians are a peace-loving people, who had every reason to believe in the friendship of Germany."

The next question was a difficult one. I inquired as to the behavior of the Germans in the conquered territory; but the King made no sweeping condemnation of the German army.

"Fearful things have been done, particularly during the invasion," he said, weighing his words carefully, "but it would be unfair to condemn the whole German Army. Some regiments have been most humane, but others behaved very badly. Have you seen the government report?"

I said I had not seen it, though I had heard that a careful investigation had been made.

"The government was very cautious," His Majesty said. "The investigation was absolutely impartial and as accurate as it could be made. Doubts were cast on all statements- even those of the most dependable witnesses-until they could be verified."

"They were verified?"

"Yes, again and again."

"By the victims themselves?"

"Not always. The victims of extreme cruelty do not live to tell of it, but German soldiers themselves have told the story. We have had here many hundreds of journals, taken from dead or imprisoned Germans, furnishing elaborate details of most atrocious acts. The government is keeping these journals. They furnish powerful and incontrovertible testimony of what happened in Belgium when it was swept over by a brutal army. That was, of course, during the invasion- such things are not happening now as far as we know."

He had spoken quietly, but there was a new note of strain in his voice. The burden of the King of the Belgians is a double one. To the horror of war has been added the unnecessary violation and death of noncombatants.

The King then referred to the German advance through Belgian territory.

"Thousands of civilians have been killed without reason. The execution of noncombatants is not war, and no excuse can be made for it. Such deeds cannot be called war."

"But if the townspeople fired on the Germans?"

"All weapons had been deposited in the hands of the town authorities. It is unlikely that any organized attack by civilians could have been made. However, if in individual cases shots were fired at the German soldiers, this may always be condoned in a country suffering invasion. During an occupation it would be different, naturally. No excuse can be offered for such an action in occupied territory."

"Various Belgian officers have told me of seeing crowds of men, women, and children driven ahead of the Germany Army to protect the troops. This is so incredible that I must ask whether it has any foundation of truth."

"It is quite true. It is a barbarous and inhuman system of protecting the German advance. When the Belgian soldiers fired on the enemy they killed their own people. Again and again innocent civilians of both sexes were sacrificed to protect the invading army during attacks. A terrible slaughter!"

His Majesty made no effort to conceal his great grief and indignation. And again, as before, there seemed nothing to say.

"Even now," I said, "when the Belgians return the German artillery fire, they are bombarding their own towns."

"That is true, of course, but what can we do? And the civilian population is very brave. They fear invasion, but they no longer pay any attention to bombs. They work in the fields quite calmly, with shells dropping about. They must work or starve."

He then spoke of the morale of the troops, which is excellent, and of his sympathy for their situation.

"Their families are in Belgium," he said. "Many of them have heard nothing for months. But they are wonderful. They are fighting for life and to regain their families, their homes, and their country. Christmas was very sad for them."

... I referred to my last visit to Belgium, when Brussels was the capital, and to the contrast now, when La Panne, a small seaside resort, hardly more than a village, contains the court, the residence of the King and Queen, and of the various members of his household. It seemed to me unlikely that La Panne would be attacked, as the Queen of the Belgians is a Bavarian.

"Do you think La Panne will be bombarded?" I asked.

"Why not?"

"I thought that possibly, on account of Your Majesty and the Queen being there, it would be spared."

"They are bombarding Furnes, where I go every day," he replied. "And there are German airplanes overhead all the time."

..."Belgium has made a great sacrifice in flooding her lowlands," I said. "Will that land be as fertile as before?"

"Not for several years. The flooding of the productive land in the Yser district was only carried out as a military necessity. The water is sea water, of course, and will have a bad effect on the soil ... "

The conversation then shifted to America and its attitude to the war. At the end of the audience:

The King had risen and was standing in his favorite attitude, his elbow on the mantelpiece. I rose also.

"I was given some instructions as to the ceremonial of this audience," I said. "I am afraid I have not followed them!"

"What were you told to do?" said His Majesty, evidently amused. Then, without waiting for a reply:

"We are very democratic- we Belgians," he said. "More democratic than the Americans ... "

... I looked at the clock. It was after three and the interview had begun at two. I knew it was time for me to go, but I had been given no indication that the interview was at an end. Fragments of the coaching I had received came to my mind, but nothing useful, so I stated my difficulty frankly, and again, the King's serious face lighted up with a smile.

"There is no formality here, but if you are going we must find the general for you."

So we shook hands and I went out, but the beautiful courtesy of the soldier King of the Belgians brought him out to the doorstep with me.

That is the final picture I have of Albert I, King of the Belgians- a tall young man, very fair and blue-eyed, in the dark blue uniform of a lieutenant-general of his army, wearing no orders or decorations, standing bareheaded in the wind and pointing out to me the direction in which I should go to find the general who had brought me.

He is a very courteous gentleman ... a tragic and heroic figure, but thinking himself neither- thinking of himself not at all, indeed, only of his people, whose griefs are his to share but not to lighten, living day and night under the rumble of German artillery at Nieuport and Dixmude in that small corner of Belgium which remains to him...

A Talk with a Queen

In another chapter of Kings, Queens, and Pawns, Mary Roberts Rinehart brings Queen Elisabeth of Belgium to life. This is how she describes her meeting with the Queen in the royal villa at La Panne:
...The royal villa at La Panne faces the sea. It is at the end of the village and the encroaching dunes have ruined what was meant to be a small lawn. The long grass that grows out of the sand is the only vegetation about it; and outside, half-buried in the dune, is a marble seat. A sentry box or two, and sentries with carbines pacing along the sand; the constant swish of the sea wind through the dead winter grass; the half-buried garden seat- that is what the Queen of the Belgians sees as she looks from the window of her villa.

The villa itself is small and ugly. The furnishing is the furnishing of a summer seaside cottage. The windows fit badly and rattle in the gale. In the long drawing room- really a living room - in which I waited for the Queen, a heavy red curtain had been hung across the lower part of the long French windows that face the sea, to keep out the draft. With that and an open coal fire the room was fairly comfortable.

As I waited I looked about. Rather a long room this, which has seen so many momentous discussions, so much tragedy and real grief. A chaotic room, too, for in addition to its typical villa furnishing ... an ordinary pine table by a side window was littered with papers.

On a centre table were books- H. G. Wells "The War in the Air", two American books written by correspondents who had witnessed the invasion of Belgium, and several newspapers ...

The door opened and the Queen entered without ceremony. I had not seen her before. In her simple blue dress, with its white lawn collar and cuffs, she looked even more girlish than I had anticipated. Like Queen Mary of England, she has suffered from the camera. She is indeed strikingly beautiful, with lovely coloring and hair, and with very direct wide eyes, set far apart. She is small and slender, and moves quickly. She speaks beautiful English, in that softly inflected voice of the Continent which is the envy of all American women. I bowed as she entered, and she shook hands with me at once and asked me to sit down. She sat on the sofa by the fireplace. Like the Queen of England, like King Albert, her first words were of gratitude to America.

It is not my intention to record here anything but the substance of my conversation with Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Much that was said was the free and unrestricted speech of two women, talking over together a situation that was tragic to them both; for Queen Elisabeth allowed me to forget, as I think she had ceased to remember, her own exalted rank, in her anxiety for her people.

A devoted churchwoman, she grieved over the treatment accorded by the invading German Army to the priests and nuns of Belgium. She referred to her own Bavarian birth, and to the confidence both King Albert and she had always felt in the friendliness of Germany.

"I am a Bavarian," she said. "I have always, from my childhood, heard this talk that Germany must grow, must get to the sea. I thought it was just talk- a pleasantry!"

She had seen many of the diaries of German soldiers, had read them in the very room where we were sitting. She went quite white over the recollection and closed her eyes.

"It is the women and children!" she said. "It is terrible! There must be killing. That is war. But not this other thing."

And later on she said, in reference to German criticism of King Albert's course during the early days of the war:

"Anyone who knows the King knows that he cannot do a wrong thing. It is impossible for him. He cannot go any way but straight."

And Queen Elisabeth was right. Anyone who knows King Albert of Belgium knows that "he cannot go any way but straight."

The conversation shifted to the wounded soldiers and to the Queen's anxiety for them. I spoke of her hospital as being a remarkable one-practically under fire, but moving as smoothly as a great American institution, thousands of miles from danger. She had looked very sad, but at the mention of the Ocean Ambulance her face brightened. She spoke of its equipment, of the difficulty in securing supplies, of the new surgery, which has saved so many limbs from amputation. They were installing new and larger sterilizers, she said.

"Things are in as good condition as can be expected now," she said. "The next problem will come when we get back into our own country. What are the people to do? So many of the towns are gone; so many farms are razed!"

The Queen spoke of Brand Whitlock and praised highly his work in Brussels. From that to the relief work was only a step. I spoke of the interest America was taking in the relief work, and of the desire of so many American women to help.

"We are grateful for anything," she said. "The army seems to be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, but the people, of course, need everything."

Inevitably the conversation turned again to the treatment of the Belgian people by the Germans, to the unnecessary and brutal murders of noncombatants, to the frightful rapine and pillage of the early months of the war. Her Majesty could not understand the scepticism of America on this point. I suggested that it was difficult to say what any army would do when it found itself in a prostrate and conquered land.

"The Belgian Army would never have behaved so," said Her Majesty. "nor the English, nor the French. Never!"

And the Queen of the Belgians is a German! True, she has suffered much. Perhaps she is embittered, but there was no bitterness in her voice that afternoon in the little villa at La Panne - only sadness and great sorrow, and, with it, deep conviction. What Queen Elisabeth of Belgium says, she believes, and who should know better? There, to that house on the sea front, in the fragment of Belgium that remains, go all the hideous details that are war. She knows them all. King Albert is not a figure-head, he is the actual fighting head of his army. The murder of Belgium has been done before his very eyes...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Remembering King Baudouin

Today is the 21st anniversary of a sad event, the death of King Baudouin of the Belgians.  Baudouin suffered a heart attack while on vacation with his Spanish wife at the Villa Astrida in Motril.  As is well known, he was a very conscientious monarch, dedicated to preserving national unity.  Despite the political risks to the monarchy of such a stand, his strong moral and religious principles famously prevented him from signing Belgium's abortion law.  Unfortunately, his successors, King Albert II and King Philippe, have seemed to feel compelled to sign any law presented by parliament, regardless of moral or religious objections.    More information on Baudouin's life and reign can be found here and here.  In addition, here is an article on the reaction of his step-mother, Princess Lilian, to the King's passing.  It is far from true that she did not care about his death, as some have suggested.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Long Live Belgium!


The twenty-first of July, 1916, dawned a wonderful, sunny day. The entire city was green. Every one had a green ribbon, signifying hope, in his buttonhole; every dog had a green ribbon round his neck; every horse had one on his bridle; every house and every store had green paper pasted in the windows. Every shop and store was open, but everywhere green was in sight. The Germans understood, but were helpless. One particular place in the city where the Belgian martyrs were buried gave the Germans especial concern. There a guard of soldiers with fixed bayonets had been placed to prevent any demonstration. The Belgians found the matter simple. The entire city of Brussels walked through that street sometime during the day, and, as they passed the spot where the martyrs had fallen, they simply bowed their heads. The rules did not cover this point, and all day the officers and soldiers stood there, witnessing this tremendous demonstration made in their very faces, without being able in the least to do anything.
At the churches, service was held and the crowds were so great that not an additional person could have entered one of the buildings. That was the point. The churches were so full that the police could not get in. At least twelve thousand people were supposed to have been in the largest church. The Germans raged but were helpless. At the Cathedral the ordinary service was held and then the Dean announced that at eleven o'clock a funeral service would be held for the Belgian soldiers who had fallen in the war. It was sung by Cardinal Le Mercier with great pomp and dignity. The Cardinal sang the service in a voice shaken by emotion and then delivered a patriotic address which stirred the very souls of the thousands present.
On the national holiday, despite the German prohibition, they were celebrating their resistance and the Germans could not interfere! They sang the national song, and suddenly there rang through the building a shout—"Long live the King!" And despite requests that no demonstration be made, a tremendous shouting and cheering rose, swelled, broke, and reechoed through the vast spaces of the Cathedral. "Long live the King! Long live Belgium! Long live the Queen! Long live the Cardinal! Long live the Army!" Hats were thrown in the air, handkerchiefs were wildly shaken, people wept, laughed, fell on each others' necks. The soul of Belgium, repressed for two years, suddenly burst the bonds placed upon it by the German government and gave voice to its true feeling. (Read full article)

The Poetry of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte

I did not know that the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette wrote poetry during her captivity. Here are some simple but poignant excerpts.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Portrait of Empress Elisabeth

A floral portrait of Sisi. (Via History's Untold Treasures).

Wedding of Prince Amedeo



I am happy to announce the news of the wedding of Prince Amedeo of Belgium and Elisabetta Maria Rosboch von Wolkenstein.  The bride is the daughter of Italian nobility.  The couple were married in Rome on July 5.  Here is a video of the couple, announcing their engagement.  Here are photographs of the marriage ceremony. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Appeal for Peace

Here is an appeal for peace launched by King Leopold III of the Belgians on August 23, 1939, along with the responses of other world leaders.  King Leopold was speaking on behalf of the Oslo Group of Powers, namely the Scandinavian and Benelux countries, assembled in conference in Brussels.  
Have not the small Powers reason to fear that they will be victims in a subsequent conflict into which they will be dragged against their will in spite of their policy of indisputable independence and of their firm desire for neutrality? Are they not liable to become the subject of arrangements reached without their having been consulted? 
Even if hostilities do not begin, the world is menaced by economic collapse. Mistrust and suspicion reign everywhere. Beneath our very eyes the camps are forming, armies are gathering and a fearful struggle is being prepared in Europe. Is our continent to commit suicide in a terrifying war at the end of which no nation could call itself victor or vanquished, but in which the spiritual and material values created by centuries of civilisation would founder? 
War psychosis is invading every home, and although conscious of the unimaginable catastrophe which a conflagration would mean for all mankind, public opinion abandons itself more and more to the idea that we are inevitably to be dragged into it. It is important to react against so fatal a spirit of resignation. 
There is no people-we assert it with confidence-which would wish to send its children to death in order to take away from other nations that right to existence which it claims for itself. 
It is true that all States do not have the same interests, but are there any interests which cannot be infinitely better reconciled before than after a war? 
The consciousness of the world must be awakened. The worst can still be avoided, but time is short. The sequence of events may soon render all direct contact still more difficult. 
Let there be no mistake. We know that the right to live must rest on a solid basis, and the peace that we desire is the peace in which the rights of all nations shall be respected. A lasting peace cannot be founded on force, but only on a moral order. (Read full article)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Miniature of Queen Elisabeth

Here is a striking miniature of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians.  With her dramatic red and gold dress, she almost reminds me of the Firebird.

The Life of Anna Sparre

In 1985, Anna Sparre, a Swedish noblewoman, published her memoirs of her friendship with Queen Astrid of the Belgians, a Swedish princess.  Her book has been reviewed and discussed on this blog in the past.  Under Anna's pen, Astrid's personality comes to life; tender, sensitive and loving, although not without her strict side, a loyal and devoted wife, mother and Queen.

Anna Eva Elisabeth Sparre, née Adelswärd, was born in Stockholm on February 2, 1906.  She was the daughter of Baron Theodor Adelswärd, an industrialist and politician, and his wife, historical novelist Louise Douglas.  During her youth, Anna divided her time between Stockholm and her family's country estate of Adelsnäs.  Meanwhile, her father served as a member of the Swedish parliament and government.

In 1927, a year after Astrid's marriage to Prince Leopold of Belgium, Anna married the handsome, charming Count Clas Sparre, an engineer and aviator,  and the scion of an aristocratic family dating from the Middle Ages.  Clas' father was the Swedish painter Louis Sparre.  His mother was Eva Mannerheim, a sister of the famous Marshal of Finland.  Clas and Anna had a daughter, Christina, who became a playmate of Princess Josephine-Charlotte, the eldest child of Leopold and Astrid. Sadly, Anna's marriage ended in divorce.

During World War II, Sweden managed to remain neutral, but was dangerously isolated, trapped between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  In response, the Swedish army was kept in constant readiness and a regime of rationing imposed on the population.  Anna contributed to the patriotic effort by joining the women's auxiliary forces and becoming a chief of propaganda.  After the war, she remarried, moving to Denmark with her new husband, a Danish dentist.  Unfortunately, her second marriage also failed.

A bold, free spirit, Anna forged a new, independent life, transforming her manor into a golfing resort. In her later years, partly disabled by an accident, the Countess took up writing in earnest, publishing a long series of novels.  She drew inspiration from the lives of Nordic queens and noblewomen of the past, struggling with tragedy but triumphing over misfortune.  Throughout her life, Anna remained close to Astrid's son, King Baudouin of the Belgians.  Only five months after his death, Anna passed away on December 21, 1993.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Néné

A portrait of Duchess Helene in Bavaria, one of the aunts of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians.  Helene, affectionately known as Néné, was the older, steadier sister of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the legendary Sisi, and the first to be considered as a possible bride for Sisi's future husband, the Emperor Franz Joseph.

The Palace in Wartime

Brand Whitlock gives a moving account of the early days of World War I in Brussels.  Here is a description of an audience with Queen Elisabeth and one of her ladies in the royal palace, transformed into a hospital for the wounded.  
We had to wait,  and talked for a long time-- about the war, of course, the Countess was very much moved, her eyes filling with tears every few minutes.  But after a while, accompanied by the good Doctor le Boeuf who had done so much for the Red Cross, we were conducted down the long red-carpeted corridor to the Queen's private apartments, and shown into the little blue drawing room.  And presently the Queen entered.  She wore a simple blue gown with transparent sleeves, and a white, low, girlish collar; not a jewel, only her wedding-ring on her hand, and her hair dressed in delicate simplicity.  She was calm, with a certain gravity, and her blue eyes were wistful in the little smile that hovered about her lips.  There was no ceremony in this rather unusual presentation. 
We were walking down the long state apartments, with their glittering chandeliers, all vastly different than from their aspect when last I had seen them, thronged with men in brilliant uniforms at a court ball.  They were filled that day with with long lines of hospital cots, the white coverlets already drawn back--waiting for the wounded.  At the foot of each cot a little Belgian flag was fastened.  
"The children put them here," said the Queen. 
Up and down through those long apartments we passed in that model hospital into which, all within eight days, the Queen had transformed her palace.  Gone the old stateliness and luxury; nothing now but those white cots, operating rooms, tables with glass tops, white porcelain utensils, even X-ray apparatus--with all their sinister implication.  Now and then a nurse would appear, dropping a curtsey as the Queen passed.  (Everybody's Magazine, Vol. 38, March 1918, p. 17)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Grandchild of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

I had never heard until a few days ago on Elena Maria Vidal's blog that Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, Duchesse d'Angoulême, the daughter of the tragic King and Queen of France, did indeed become pregnant at one point during her exile in England.  Sadly, she suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, and was never able to have another child.

Still, it is touching to think that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette did have a grandchild.  I wonder if the baby was a son or a daughter.  Becoming a mother would have meant so much to Marie-Thérèse, in either case,  I am sure, but especially so if the child had been an heir to the throne.

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist of fate, Marie-Thérèse's cousin, Marie-Amélie of Naples, Duchesse d'Orléans, married into the rival branch of the royal family, was blessed with baby after baby, including the first Queen of the Belgians, Louise.  Marie-Thérèse became  Louise's godmother.

On the Tea at Trianon Forum, there is a discussion of the tragic pregnancy of the Duchesse d'Angoulême.  There is a horrible suggestion that she may have been raped in prison during the Terror and suffered damage, impairing her ability to bear children.  While I hope and pray that this was not the case, I would not put much past the depravity of her captors.

Defending Leopold III

 History and Other Thoughts remembers the greatly maligned monarch with sympathy and affection.
I have a thing for misunderstood and mistreated historical figures, such as King Leopold III of Belgium, who also happens to be my favourite king ever. Although still a teenager when World War I broke out, Leopold, willing to do his part like everyone else, insisted to fight as a private soldier. After the war, he met Princess Astrid of Sweden. The two fell deeply in love, got married and had three children together. Then, tragedy struck. One day, while the royal couple was vacationing in Switzerland, Astrid lost her life in a car accident. Leopold, who had been driving, was inconsolable.  
Politically, Leopold, who wanted what was best for Belgium, often clashed with politicians, who were more interested in furthering their careers than anything else. When World War II broke out, the government fled, but Leopold and his family stayed behind, sharing the privations and struggles of his people, and becoming prisoners of Hitler. During this time, he also married, Lilian Baels. Unfortunately their marriage, which produced three children, was spun, by Leopold's political enemies, in a way that portrayed him as a villain, thinking only of his happiness while his people were suffering.  
The royal family was eventually moved to Germany were they were almost killed by the Nazis. After the war ended, the socialists and revolutionaries, eager to establish a republic, tried to prevent their comeback. Only after a referendum in his favour, was Leopold allowed back, but the political situation was so tense that he was forced to abdicate. I feel very sorry for him. He was a honest, upright and brave man who always strove to do his duty and put his people first. And yet, he had such a difficult life, marred by tragedy and attacked by political opponents who didn't hesitate to fabricate lies about him to gain power for themselves. It's a shame he has mostly been forgotten. He deserves everyone's admiration and respect. (Read more)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg and the Belgian Royal Family


Yesterday was a sorrowful centennial, marking a hundred years since the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo.  As is known all too well, the killing triggered the First World War.  Above is a lovely pastel painting of the assassin's less well-known victim, the Archduke's beloved, morganatic wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.  Below is a photograph of the couple with their three surviving children.  Sophie died along with her husband, just a few days before their fourteenth wedding anniversary.   Here is an article on their tender courtship, loving marriage, and tragic deaths.   Here is an interview with a great-granddaughter of the couple.

I cannot help noting that there are a number of connections and similarities between the lives of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie and those of the Kings and Queens of the Belgians.  The Archduke and his wife were married on July 1, 1900, only three months before the wedding of Prince Albert and Princess Elisabeth of Belgium on October 1, 1900.  The terrorist actions that claimed the lives of Franz Ferdinand and his wife led to horrific suffering for the people of Belgium, dragged as innocent bystanders into the world war.  The King and Queen of the Belgians and their children suffered bitterly through the war with their people. The double tragedy of the loss of husband and wife reminds me of the shock of the traumatic deaths of King Albert I and Queen Astrid in rapid succession.  Like many of the Belgian royal family, the Archduke and his wife seem to have been decent, devout people, with a loving marriage and family life.  Like Princess Lilian of Belgium, Sophie bore the humiliations of her status as a morganatic bride with dignity.  Like Queen Astrid, she was rumored to have been pregnant at the time of her death. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Trials of Leopold III

From 1945 to 1950 Léopold, having been kept in Austria by his German captors since they lost control of Belgium, lived in Switzerland, while Brussels' politicians debated - with what conclusiveness could be predicted from their pre-war antics - the issue of whether he should be allowed to return. Those who argued that he be kept out included, unsurprisingly, Pierlot and Spaak, who (displaying a sheer balletic agility which deserved a nobler purpose) now maintained that the pro-Léopold pronouncements in 1941-1944 should be disregarded, and that their anti-Léopold pronouncements of 1940 should alone be believed. In their latest volte-face they burdened themselves with the same credibility problems faced by the constant liar invoked in first-year logic lectures, who admits to being a constant liar; but they at least ensured a state of limbo for Léopold himself, which threatened (or promised) to become permanent. After five years successive coalitions having risen and fallen on the specific issue of what to do about Léopold, and the Fleming-versus- Walloon rift having widened anew - the Flemings being predominantly pro-Léopold, the Walloons predominantly anti - a referendum could be put off no longer. 
At the polls on 12 March 1950, 57.7% of voters favoured Léopold's return with full kingly powers. Four months later Parliament itself voted on exactly the same subject, and sanctioned Léopold's return by a similar margin. Accordingly, Léopold made his way back to his kingdom. When he set foot on Belgian territory, his popular support vanished like a dream. Strikes broke out in essential industries, as Spaak threatened the King that they would; police firing on rioters in Liége, killed three men; and foreign reporters spoke in complete seriousness of civil war. Most alarmingly of all, an angry mob charged Laekens gates, demand that Léopold abdicate or face the punishment of any other collaborator. Leading this mob was (who else) Spaak.
After a week, the authorities concerned reached the type of mutually unsatisfying judicial solution that Esquire once unforgettably described as 'everyone gets to take home half the baby'. Léopold agreed, not only to resign the crown in a year's time - when his son and heir Baudouin would have turned twenty-one - but to forfeit all the rights of kingship on 11 August. Until Baudouin attained his majority, monarchial functions would repose in Léopold's younger brother Charles. Meanwhile Spaak would continue to control the Cabinet (as he had done de facto since 1937), in the role of either Prime Minister or Foreign Minister, and sometimes in both roles at once. In early 1969 Spaak gave a television interview of what the Evening Standard's Paris correspondent Sam White called 'almost embarassing frankness'. Spaak freely conceded that Reynaud, when accusing Léopold of deliberately concealing from Britain and France his intention to surrender, had not merely mistaken but actively mendacious; and that Léopold behaviour in l940 had Spaak's full approval. As White noted in the Evening Standard of 3 January 1969, 'Even though it comes a quarter of a century too late it is good of M. Paul-Henri Spaak ... to have finally come clean regarding the events of 1940'. Spaak died in 1972, nine years after Pierlot; Léopold lived till 1983; Baudouin survived his father by a decade.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Royal Family on Vacation

Here is some rare footage of the 19-year-old Prince Albert of Liège with his father, King Leopold III, and step-mother, Princess Lilian, on vacation in Panama.  Albert's half-sister, Princess Esmeralda, is interviewed regarding her father's scientific expeditions, and speaks in English.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Return of Old Friends

I am delighted that the wonderful website of the Cercle Léopold III is once more online.  For a long time, it seemed to have disappeared from cyberspace.  Founded on Belgian National Day, July 21, 2002, this Franco-Belgian association is dedicated to illuminating the controversial reign of Leopold III, and to preserving and defending his memory from false accusations.  "A fidelity to the honor of a man," is the motto of the organization.  Established in Prigonrieux, in Dordogne, and headquartered at the Château du Haut Pezaud, in Monbazillac, France, the Cercle Léopold III enjoys the patronage of Princess Marie-Esmeralda, the King's youngest daughter.  The late French writer Marcel Jullian, a friend of Leopold and his second wife, Princess Lilian, served as honorary president before his death.  Jacques Borgers, of the World Organization of the Periodical Press,  was given the presidency.  The association is open to membership by individuals of all nationalities.  The website is replete with many fascinating historical articles, book summaries, news updates, and beautiful photographs. Unfortunately, the texts tend to be only in French.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Roses and the Queen

Adrian Keppel features a stamp and miniature portrait, honoring Queen Louise-Marie, by the famous Belgian floral painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Note the inscription, "To Her Majesty Louise-Marie, First Queen of the Belgians," included in both French and Dutch, as well as the crown in the upper left corner with the Queen's monogram.

A Gentle Queen

She is extremely gentle and amiable, her actions are always guided by principles. She is at all times ready and disposed to sacrifice her comfort and inclinations to see others happy. She values goodness, merit, and virtue much more than beauty, riches, and amusements. With all this she is highly informed and very clever; she speaks and writes English, German and Italian; she speaks English very well indeed. In short, my dear Love, you see that I may well recommend her as an example for all young ladies, being Princesses or not. 
Now to her appearance. She is about Feodore's [Victoria's half-sister's] height, her hair very fair, light blue eyes, of a very gentle, intelligent and kind expression. A Bourbon nose and small mouth. The figure is much like Feodore's but rather less stout. She rides very well, which she proved to my great alarm the other day, by keeping her seat though a horse of mine ran away with her full speed for at least half a mile. What she does particularly well is dancing. Music unfortunately she is not very fond of, though she plays on the harp; I believe there is some idleness in the case. There exists already great confidence and affection between us; she is desirous of doing everything that can contribute to my happiness, and I study whatever can make her happy and contented.(Read entire post)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Greetings for Christmas, Epiphany and the New Year

I apologize for my extended absence in recent months, and through most of Christmas; I have been struggling with academic demands and emergencies of family and friends.  I do want to thank all my kind readers for their support throughout 2013.  May you all be granted a blessed and joyous Epiphany! All good wishes for 2014.  I hope to be able to blog more often in the new year.