Saturday, August 28, 2010

Albert & Astrid

Here we see King Albert conversing amicably with his daughter-in-law, Princess Astrid, the future Queen Astrid of Belgium. The two were good friends, and, in fact, were alike in many ways.

Albert and Astrid were both members of collateral branches of their respective royal families. Albert had been the nephew of his predecessor, Leopold II of Belgium. Astrid was the niece of King Gustav V of Sweden. Neither Albert nor Astrid expected the role they were destined to play. Albert only became the heir to the Belgian throne at the age of 16. Astrid did not plan on marrying a Crown Prince.
Both Albert and Astrid felt inadequate for their public role. Throughout his life, Albert regretted the loss of his older brother, Baudouin. To his sister Henriette, during World War I, he declared: "If only Baudouin were alive! He would have done everything better than I!" Similarly, when Crown Prince Leopold of Belgium proposed to Astrid, she had difficulty, initially, imagining herself as a future Queen. As a result, despite her deep love for Leopold, she seriously hesitated to accept his offer. Encouraged, however, by her close childhood friend, Anna Sparre, she agreed to marry the Belgian prince.
Both Albert and Astrid were shy, sensitive, humble, serious, and religious. Each had a happy marriage and three children; two sons and a daughter. Both were devoted to Belgium and deeply loved by the Belgian people. Despite their misgivings, both fulfilled their public function admirably.

Tragically, both died prematurely, in terrible accidents; Albert in 1934 and Astrid in 1935. Strangely, both had haunting premonitions of their deaths. In 1930, although only 55 and in excellent health, Albert wrote to his daughter: "Life is a race, fate does not wait, I'm near the end." Shortly before his fatal fall amidst the cliffs of Marche-les-Dames, Albert confided to a priest that he was prepared to welcome death at any moment. Likewise, not long before the car crash in Switzerland, Astrid, unusually melancholic, told Anna Sparre, who was traveling with the Belgian royal couple, of her foreboding that either Leopold or herself would die in the near future. Astrid asked Anna to look after her daughter, 8-year-old Princess Josephine-Charlotte, if she herself should die prematurely. Anna considered the fears unreasonable and tried to raise Astrid's spirits, but the Queen insisted: "I'm serious." Ten days later, she was dead.

Albert and Astrid were both killed by a large wound at the back of the skull, shattered by a massive impact. Leopold, devastated by his double loss, remarked on this grisly similarity: "(Astrid was hit in) the nape of her neck, at the very same place as my father."

Both Albert and Astrid were deeply mourned by the Belgians and their royal family. A memorial book of photographs was published in their honor.
Albert and Astrid shared a tragic destiny. Yet, there is a consoling story told by Albert's daughter, Queen Marie-José of Italy. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Marie-José, then Princess of Piedmont, visited Padre Pio, the saintly Italian priest and mystic. Marie-José was anguished by the political situation in Europe and by the tragic deaths of her father, King Albert, and sister-in-law, Queen Astrid. Nonetheless, she was greatly comforted by her meeting with Padre Pio. They talked about Albert and Astrid for a long time, and the mystic, "as if he could see them," said: "They are close to Our Lord."


Binion, Rudolph. "Repeat Performance: A Psychohistorical Study of Leopold III and Belgian Neutrality." History and Theory, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1969), pp. 213-259

Marie-José, Queen, Consort of Humbert II, King of Italy. Albert et Elisabeth de Belgique, mes parents. 1971.

Regolo, Luciano. La Regina Incompresa: tutto il racconto della vita di Maria José di Savoia. 2002.

Sparre, Anna. Astrid mon amie. 2005.


Brantigny said...

Have you ever noticed, A royal never crosses their legs. A very beautiful woman.

Diana was in no way comparable to her.

de Brantigny

May said...

I quite agree. Yes, there was no comparison.