Friday, January 11, 2019

Lidwina of Schiedam



A Dutch Catholic mystic and saint whose relics were kept in Brussels for over two hundred years.  One of the sisters of Princess Lilian of Belgium, Ludvine Baels, appears to have been named after her.
During the winter of the year of 1395, Lidwina went skating with her friends, one of whom caused her to fall upon some ice with such violence that she broke a rib in her right side. This was the beginning of her martyrdom. No medical skill availed to cure her. Gangrene appeared in the wound caused by the fall and spread over her entire body. For years she lay in pain which seemed to increase constantly. Some looked on her with suspicion, as being under the influence of the evil spirit. Her pastor, Andries, brought her an unconsecrated host, but the saint distinguished it at once. But God rewarded her with a wonderful gift of prayer and also with visions. Numerous miracles took place at her bed-side. The celebrated preacher and seer, Wermbold of Roskoop, visited her after previously beholding her in spirit. The pious Arnold of Schoonhoven treated her as a friend. Hendrik Mande wrote for her consolation a pious tract in Dutch. When Joannes Busch brought this to her, he asked her what she thought of Hendrik Mande's visions, and she answered that they came from God. In a vision she was shown a rose-bush with the words, "When this shall be in bloom, your suffering will be at an end." In the spring of the year 1433, she exclaimed, "I see the rose-bush in full bloom!" (Read more)
Below is an image of the saint protecting a church during the German bombing of Rotterdam on May 14, 1940.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Happy Epiphany!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!


King Leopold Vindicated

A British radio interview with the younger Lord Roger Keyes in defense of King Leopold III. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Daniel Wybo for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Maria de Villegas, Countess van den Steen de Jehay


Via RTBF, Florence de Moreau de Villegas de Saint Pierre, chatelaine of Louvignies, gives several brief presentations on the life and work of her aunt, Maria de Villegas, Countess van den Steen de Jehay, a close friend and confidante of Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. The presentations are all in French, but can be roughly followed in other languages through the automatically translated subtitles. For anyone wondering about the origin of the family name, the De Villegas are Belgian nobility of Spanish ancestry. 

Maria was an intellectual and literary figure, and a heroine of World War I. She worked devotedly with Queen Elisabeth in nursing wounded soldiers of all nationalities, and in providing relief and comfort for Belgian civilian war victims. The programs feature her letters, diaries, glimpses of her wardrobe and a tour of Louvignies itself. One particularly touching excerpt from her writing, noted in the clip above, is as follows. After the death of King Albert I, the Countess wrote to Queen Elisabeth to express her condolences: "I weep with you, Madame, for the admirable man you weep for. I weep for your happiness. I loved you so much when you were happy.  Let me love you even more when you are unhappy." 

More on Elisabeth's war work and her friendship with the Countess can be read HERE. Florence de Moreau's book on Maria de Villegas is available HERE

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Angels of Mons


A World War I miracle? From Warfare History Network:
In the night of the 26th, the third day of the retreat west through Belgium, weary British soldiers saw tall, unearthly figures materialize in the gloom above the German lines. They were winged like angels, and as they hovered in the gathering darkness, the Germans inexplicably halted and the British slipped away to safety. During the retreat, some soldiers swore that they had seen the face of the patron saint of England. A wounded Lancashire Fusilier asked a nurse for a picture or medal of Saint George because, he said, he had seen the saint leading the British troops at Vitry-le-Francois. A wounded gunner confirmed his story. He described the saint the same way the fusilier had—a tall, yellow-haired man on a white horse, wearing golden armor and wielding a sword. Other soldiers agreed that he looked just like his image on the gold sovereigns of the day.
A story appeared in the North American Review in August 1915 about a soldier who had memorized the motto inscribed on the plates in a London restaurant. Adsit Anglis Sanctus Georgius it read, “May St. George be a present help to England.” Later, in Belgium, the soldier prayed for the saint’s help against the waves of German attackers and was rewarded by a host of shining bowmen, who charged the Germans with shouts of “Harrow! Harrow! Monseigneur St. George, Knight of Heaven, Sweet Saint, succor us!” The arrows of the phantom archers cut down the enemy en masse, and the German General Staff, finding the bodies of hundreds of their men lying on the battlefield with no discernible wounds, came to the conclusion that the British had used poisonous gas. (Read full article)


Umberto and Maria José


In response to questions, I wanted to share some thoughts on the troubled marriage of King Umberto II of Italy and Queen Maria José, daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.  For a more in-depth account, I can recommend this article by Cristina Siccardi, as well as the biographies of Umberto and Maria José by Luciano Regolo.

As a young bride, Maria José suffered from many nasty rumors. Evil tongues mocked her thick, curly hair by calling her la Négresse blonde, whispered that her children were not Umberto's, or suggested that they had been conceived artificially, since the princess had been unable to become pregnant for four years... The rumors were unsubstantiated, although Maria José loved to form friendships with artists and intellectuals and her bold, unconventional ways, like those of her Wittelsbach mother, probably fostered gossip. It is also probably true that Maria José and her husband were basically incompatible. The marriage had been arranged by the Belgian and Italian royal families to strengthen the friendship between their countries dating from the First World War.  The Treaty of Versailles also left very few Catholic reigning houses to provide suitors for Maria José. From childhood, she was raised by her mother to see Umberto as the perfect Prince Charming, arousing expectations of a great love which were later sadly disappointed. 

Umberto and Maria José had admiration, respect and affection for one another, but Umberto seems to have had trouble relating to his wife in a romantic way. My impression is that he loved her, but was not in love with her. Umberto was concerned and solicitous for his wife, but tended to be reserved and distant towards her. After the fall of the Italian monarchy and the exile of the Savoys, Maria José found  Portugal, the royal family's refuge, too depressing. She also had difficulty relating to her husband on a daily basis. While Maria José was much more open, Umberto tended to hide his feelings of deep sorrow and humiliation, to withdraw into silence. His wife came to believe that he needed space to deal with his inner turmoil. Accordingly, she moved to Switzerland, where she felt more cheerful.  Health reasons also contributed to her decision. The royal couple, however, always maintained cordial relations, and continued to visit one another. Umberto, who shared Maria José's cultural interests, assisted his wife with her prestigious historical research on the House of Savoy, and wrote her beautiful letters. Every month, he sent her a bouquet of red roses with an affectionate note. When Umberto was dying of cancer, his wife was at his side and they spent many tender hours together, holding hands.

There have been many allegations that Umberto was unfaithful, and even bisexual, but some skepticism may be in order, as many of these claims seem to have been fomented by the fascists, who saw the handsome, popular young prince as a potential threat to Mussolini. It is also known that Umberto was deeply religious and Maria José praised him in the highest terms, after his death, as a man of great moral rectitude and personal virtue who never lost his dignity or rigor, even amidst the most atrocious sufferings. In the end, I feel that the King and Queen had a good marriage.

Works of Mercy


Here is a description of Queen Elisabeth's charitable works during World War I:
It is difficult for anyone who had even the slightest experience of the field hospitals in the early days of the War to think or write calmly of the scenes they witnessed. Yet the Queen, who was not of robust physique and has that sympathetic temperament which makes it difficult to witness suffering, shrank from nothing. There was hardly a field hospital in the whole of Belgium that she did not visit at some time or other during the War.
She not only visited them, but took part in the actual nursing, often assisting in the dressings and in the work of the wards. Her Majesty did a great deal of her nursing under Doctor Depage, who had helped her in her training. Her previous experience, when assisting her father, Duke Charles Theodor, stood her in good stead. From her girlhood she had been used to sick beds and the consolation of suffering, so now she passed through ward after ward, bringing cheer and comfort in her train.
As the field hospitals travelled from place to place where they were most needed, the Queen did her utmost, and inspired others to do their utmost, too, to find suitable buildings in which they could carry on their magnificent work. She was intensely anxious that there should be full equipment for both the wounded and the staff. Often bedding was impossible to procure in sufficient quantity, and the wounded slept on straw. Her Majesty organized house-to-house collections for bedding, and, when the hospital was at Furnes, she gave twenty beds with spring mattresses for the use of the most serious cases.
Once when it had proved exceptionally difficult to get supplies, the Queen, attended by only one lady-in-waiting, went from house to house to see what could be obtained. The inhabitants of the place were for the most part more than willing to give, but the exigencies of war had left them with little. Few recognized the slender, gentle-voiced lady, who pleaded for the wounded soldiers, as their Queen. One good woman, who had given all but the bed on which she herself slept, was so overcome when she learned of her visitor's identity, that she hurried after her up the street, dragging her one mattress behind her as a final offering !
The Queen visited the hospital at Furnes twice regularly every week, and her visits were made without ceremony of any kind. She was never accompanied by more than one lady and, as a rule, by a Belgian medical officer. Her interest in the patients was felt and appreciated by everyone in the hospital.
Her thorough knowledge of surgery and medicine made her able to understand and appreciate the methods of nursing, and she never failed to pay due tribute to the staff for their efforts and for the extraordinary ingenuity with which they carried out serious operations with wholly inadequate materials.
In one hospital in four days there were admitted nearly four hundred patients, many of them with wounds necessitating grave operations, yet all the surgeons had to work with were two scalpels, a finger saw, and a few forceps !
From bed to bed the Queen would pass, a slight figure always plainly clad, usually in black, with a word for each of the men who had suffered in her country's cause. To each she spoke — to Belgians, French, and Germans (for there were usually a few Germans brought in with the rest), as Her Majesty made no distinction. They were suffering ; they had made the supreme sacrifice for what each believed to be the right, and in that place of pain at least there was no room for bitterness.
In the early days of the War, the Queen expressed a hope that Belgian women who could write both English and German would force themselves to forget their wrongs, and, for the sake of humanity, attend hospitals to write letters for prisoners other than Belgians. She realized how the anxiety of many a soldier's home would be alleviated if news, however slight, reached their homes. In the Queen's mind, as in the minds of her noble fellow- workers in the cause of the Red Cross, a wounded man had no nationality ; he suffered, and that was enough to evoke all that was humanly possible to ease his pain, both mental and physical.
Sometimes the King accompanied the Queen on her visits of mercy — always in his soldier's uniform without decorations of any kind. Together they would go round the hospitals, not so much as a King and Queen visiting their subjects, but as a kindly, simple man and woman, eager to do what they could for their fellow-creatures. Her Majesty was deeply interested in the visits which Madame Curie, the world-famed scientist, paid to the hospital at Furnes, where she stayed to work for a week, bringing her X-ray equipment for the use of the hospital. To aid Madame Curie in her much-valued labours on behalf of the wounded, there was fitted up for her a radiographic department with the aid of thick curtains and much brown paper. Here this remarkable woman worked with untiring zeal, taking radiographs of innumerable cases. Her daughter was assiduous in helping to develop the plates, and thus enabled Madame Curie to achieve work of the utmost value.
At a later stage in the War, the Queen took a deep interest in the marvels of plastic surgery, which enabled so many poor fellows to take up their work in the world after leaving the hospital. At one hospital some very severe facial cases were being treated, and the head surgeon, anxious to spare the Queen some terrible sights, begged her not to visit that particular ward. Her Majesty was not, however, to be deterred by the awful disfigurements. "They suffered for their country," she remarked, "and the Queen of that country should be the last to shrink from them." She spoke to each man in turn, pressing his hand in kindly sympathy before she turned away.
Passing month by month from hospital to hospital. Her Majesty constantly encountered those pitiful screams of homeless refugees who, with houses shelled and villages laid waste, straggled to the frontier. They would be met carrying their few poor possessions on their backs, or pushing wearily their hand-carts before them. Little children, hardly old enough to realize the horror which had befallen them, might be seen pushing perambulators filled to overflowing with what could be gathered up of the few remaining household possessions. Old men staggering under sack-loads of clothing and bedding and women burdened with the strangest assortment of miscellaneous goods, were fleeing from misery into darkness. The Queen saw them all, and with tears in her eyes would stop to speak to them as they passed. They could not tell her where they were going, for to half of them their destination was unknown. They only knew that their homes had been destroyed by the enemy and that now they must seek an unknown country and an unknown future.
These processions distressed the Queen even more than the scenes at the hospital, for there at least all that was possible was being done. For these poor refugees there was nothing Her Majesty could do except to give a child a caress or slip some silver coins into a woman's hand. Her Majesty sought no recognition and, in her war work, was content to be taken for an ordinary member of the Red Cross. But to the refugees she would sometimes reveal her identity if she thought that by so doing she could give some slight comfort or even shadow of encouragement to the poor creatures."I will think of you, I will pray for you daily," she would tell them, as they trudged on their desolate road. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

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)

Outrageous Fortune

Here is a review from the Catholic Herald of the first of the series of books by the younger Roger Keyes defending the memory of King Leopold III. Although I have had an interest in Belgian history and an admiration for King Albert I since childhood, I had the usual negative opinion of his son as a weak ruler of doubtful loyalties until reading Outrageous Fortune: The Tragedy of Leopold III of the Belgians (1984) a few years ago. The elder Roger Keyes, a British admiral and former liaison officer in Belgium, was one of the most notable public figures to defend Leopold from the accusations of treason brought against him by French Premier Paul Reynaud and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Following the Belgian capitulation to the invading Germans on May 28, 1940, King Leopold was accused of surrendering to the Nazis prematurely, of failing to give the Allies due warning of his imminent capitulation, and of thereby causing the Allied disaster necessitating the evacuation from Dunkirk. Keyes, who had remained with the King throughout the bitter Belgian campaign, was in a position to know the truth of Leopold's surrender, and strove to disprove the allegations of treachery. Out of filial piety and apparently sincere sympathy and admiration for a much-maligned monarch, Keyes' son and namesake continued the battle to rehabilitate Leopold after his father's death. In Outrageous Fortune, he contends that the King, far from betraying his allies, was cruelly betrayed by his allies and even by his own ministers. Some find his account to be too hagiographic, but I have seen a great deal of evidence from many sources, much of which I have shared on this blog, confirming his basic portrayal of Leopold as a decent, honorable man whose name was unfairly dragged through the mud.
Roger Keyes has set about putting the record straight. He is highly qualified to do so. His father was a very distinguished British naval officer who, during the 1914-18 war, led the operation that blocked the main German submarine base on the Belgian coast at Zeebrugge. During the second world war, he contributed not a little to bringing down Neville Chamberlain's government and acted as Churchill's personal representative with King Leopold before becoming the founder of the Commandos.
The author therefore had at his disposal his father's memories of the events concerned and a mass of hitherto unpublished material. Not content with this, he has clearly undertaken a major and very painstaking job of research into anything that might touch either on Leopold's personality or the details of Belgian politics — many of them sordid, which affected his position. 
Let it be said straightaway that Roger Keyes neither is, nor pretends to be, unbiased. In so far as he is concerned, Leopold was a strong, wise and good man who became the victim of a host of malevolent dwarfs, first among them Paul Reynaud, the French Prime Minister who ushered France into abject defect in 1940.
This takes nothing away from the merits of the present volume, since a thorough vindication of Leopold's part in the Franco-British response to Hitler's intentions in the West was long overdue. And it lends interest in advance to the second volume of this biography, yet to be published, which will deal with the further troubles of the king as a prisoner of the Germans, his second marriage and the events that led to his abdication in 1951, when his wisdom and handling of events appeared much more questionable.
I also found the second volume, Échec au Roi: Léopold III 1940-1951 (1986) [King in Check: Leopold III 1940-1951] to be very helpful, especially in elaborating upon the role of the extreme, internationalist left in orchestrating the general strike to force Leopold's abdication and generally doing everything possible to destroy the Belgian monarchy. In this book, Keyes is more critical of the King, questioning the wisdom of his second marriage, his insistence on solemn reparation from his ministers, and his failure to insist on returning to Belgium immediately after his liberation from Nazi captivity in Austria in 1945. All in all, Keyes creates the impression of a high-minded monarch who nevertheless committed a series of fatal political errors, by being either too forceful or too gentle. This may be a valid portrayal, although I found it foolish to suggest that Leopold would have been politically better advised to keep Lilian Baels as his mistress. It is often said that the Belgians would have been more indulgent towards an affair, rather than a second marriage, since the idea of anyone replacing their idolized Queen Astrid seemed unthinkable. I *highly* doubt, however, that Leopold's enemies would have missed the golden opportunity to castigate him for indulging in a love affair while his people were suffering, especially in view of the fact that the accusations of treason had already been accompanied by accusations of sexual depravity. In fact, as Keyes himself discusses elsewhere in the book, one of the most infamous of the many attacks on Princess Lilian was the claim that she was pregnant before the altar. (In fact, the religious marriage of Leopold and Lilian took place ten months before the birth of their first child.)

Keyes hoped but never managed to write a third volume detailing Leopold's life after his abdication, a time of comparative joy and serenity, rich in scientific and humanitarian accomplishments. For those interested in this period, I can recommend Jean Cleeremans' Léopold III, homme libre: chronique des années 1951-1983 (2001).
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