Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Un Sogno"

In his biography of Marie-José, Luciano Regolo, who had many interesting conversations with the Queen during her last years, tells a touching story of a dream she related to him one day:

La regina mi disse che aveva fatto un sogno. "Era bellissimo, un astronauta veniva a prendermi e mi portava sulla luna. Vedevo i crateri, le distese desertiche dagli strani riflessi...Tutto sembrava così vero, comprese le mie cadute. Non riuscivo a stare in piedi per l'assenza di gravità. E inciampavo di continuo...Poi di ritorno da quel viaggio, incontravo mio fratello Charles e gli raccontavo tutto. Allora lui mi diceva: "Perché ti meravigli? Tu hai sempre vissuto sulla luna!" Poi, però, mi chiedeva il numero di telefono dell'astronauta: "Quasi, quasi ci vado anch'io lassù."

The Queen told me she had had a dream. "It was so beautiful, an astronaut came to take me and brought me to the moon. I saw the craters, the desert wastes, through strange reflections...Everything seemed so real, including my falls. I could not stand on my feet, because of the absence of gravity. And I tripped constantly... Then, on my return from this trip, I met my brother Charles and told him everything. And he said to me: "Why are you amazed? You have always lived on the moon!" But then, he asked me for the astronaut's telephone number. "It just may be that I, too, will go there."
Marie-José's dream is especially poignant given the tragic story of Prince Charles (1903-1983), second son of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. As a child, Charles troubled Albert and Elisabeth with his disobedience, unwillingness to work, tantrums, and rages. As a young man, his caustic ways and irregular private life would be a continual source of anxiety for his parents, and, later, for his older brother, Leopold.

Charles harbored bitter resentment against his family, and, in particular, against Leopold. Charles' close friend, the Belgian painter Alfred Bastien, described him as "constantly in rebellion against his father, his mother, his whole family..." He also portrayed Charles' feelings of rivalry with Leopold as "beyond all imagination." This enmity would have grave consequences during the "Royal Question," when Charles served as Regent of Belgium.

Many Belgians credit Charles with "saving the monarchy" by assuming the Regency and complying with Leopold's opponents. Charles is portrayed, in consequence, as a great benefactor of Belgium. Referring to the monarchy, Charles reportedly claimed: "C'est moi qui ai sauvé le brol." ("It was I who saved the lumber"). Such a contemptuous way of referring to his country's leading civic institution would hardly seem to be the mark of a laudable public servant. Furthermore, it might have been better to refuse to exercise the Regency once Leopold was liberated from German captivity. This would have sent a clear message to the Belgians that the actions of Leopold's enemies, aimed at artificially prolonging the King's "incapacity to reign," and preventing his return to Belgium, were unlawful. As it was, Charles' regency provided these revolutionary measures with a screen of legitimacy. The regency, thus, served to seriously undermine the monarchy.

Charles evinced a disloyal attitude towards Leopold during the Royal Question. He behaved coldly towards the King, on the occasion of their official meetings, in Austria and Switzerland, after Leopold's liberation. Charles did not defend Leopold from the many calumnies launched against him during his regency. He even tried to suborn the King's wife, Princess Lilian, by offering her (in concert with one of Leopold's leading opponents, Prime Minister Achille van Acker) a lavish civil list, and other sumptuous advantages, if she left Leopold in exile and returned to Belgium with Prince Baudouin. Scandalized by this insulting proposal (doubtless intended to make her appear selfish and mercenary), Lilian indignantly rejected it. In 1950, after a plebiscite called for Leopold's return from exile and resumption of his royal function, Charles reacted with rage and grief. According to Bastien, soon after hearing the results of the plebiscite, the Prince came to visit him and collapsed, sobbing, upon his shoulder. Such was his hatred of his older brother!

What was the origin of this bitterness? Leopold, who maintained a surprisingly charitable attitude towards Charles, provided some sensitive insights, shortly before his abdication, in a conversation with Jacques Gautier, a close friend. According to Leopold, Charles suffered, from childhood, from a severe inferiority complex, which, Leopold believed, had been fostered by Marie-José's English governess. According to Leopold, she continually told Charles that he was less loved, less admired than Leopold, and that even his parents neglected him. (Very strange, I must say, it was not at all the governess' place to make such comments). Charles, apparently, was so afflicted by feelings of inferiority that his short stature as a child reduced him to despair. At age 16, when he finally caught up with his siblings in height, he viewed it as a major triumph.

The accounts of Charles' behavioral problems as a child make me wonder if, today, he would have been diagnosed as suffering from some disorder. If so, it may be that an unidentified condition was treated as a moral problem by his family, sowing the seeds of resentment and bitterness.

Charles never admitted that he had wronged his brother; nor did he defend him, in the decades after Leopold's abdication, against the continual repetition of old slanders. As a result, although relations between them varied over the years, Leopold and Charles were never truly reconciled. Leopold, nonetheless, was terribly shaken by Charles' death, only a few months before his own, in 1983. He privately visited Charles' lying-in-state, and remained for a long time by his casket, trembling, obviously deeply moved. He made the sign of the Cross...

Perhaps Marie-José's dream represents a hope for her brother?

(The photo of Marie-José is from this source, where more images of the Queen can be viewed)


Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, homme libre. 2001.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi: Léopold III, 1940-1951. 1986.
Regolo, Luciano. La regina incompresa: tutto il racconto della vita di Maria José di Savoia. 2002
Verwilghen, Michel. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal. 2006.


Lucy said...

Well it certainly sounds related. The dynamics between siblings is such a phenomenon in itself... I suppose it's no different amongst royals.

May said...

It's regrettable. Especially with Leopold and Charles being so close in age, (just 2 years apart), it's easy to imagine a rivalry emerging.

I do wonder if Charles had some genuine problem,in addition. Apparently he was very private, and used to stay in his room for months on end, refusing to see anyone, in his youth.

In any case it's sad that the political controversy which divided Belgium also permanently divided the brothers.