Monday, June 15, 2009

Belgium's Lost Prince

Above, we see Prince Baudouin of Belgium (1869-1891), older brother of King Albert I. Baudouin was the first of the four children of the Count and Countess of Flanders. As the only legitimate son of his uncle, Leopold II, died as a child, Baudouin was raised as the heir to the Belgian throne. A young man of great promise, he died tragically, at age 22, of pneumonia (according to some accounts, complicated by renal hemorrhage). He was deeply mourned by his family and people.

Baudouin was particularly close to his eldest sister, Henriette (pictured below). As their niece, Marie-José, describes in her memoirs, the two siblings shared a sense of family, and a love of religion, duty, country, and tradition. According to Henriette:
At 21, Baudouin declared he would always be a traditionalist, that strength lay in tradition alone. He declared himself neither revolutionary, nor liberal, nor modern...It took courage to say this, in our democratic Belgium!
In contrast to his shy younger brother, Albert, Baudouin moved with ease in high society and enjoyed the companionship of his peers. Whereas Albert hated hunting and felt no interest in riding and dancing, Baudouin excelled in the traditional aristocratic pursuits.

In her diary, Henriette described Baudouin in the highest terms:
Baudouin was a born leader. From childhood, he held all three of us by the hand. How well he would have been complemented by his brother, Albert, if the two had been able to serve their country together! Albert, the younger one, has always preferred to take second place, and to serve a leader rather than to be one himself...Albert has a heart of gold, but, from his earliest childhood, he was irascible, and extremely sensitive, whereas in Baudouin, we were never able to find a single fault, apart from his excessive modesty.
Henriette also discussed the similarities between the two brothers:
Albert, like Baudouin, has this instinct for finding things out: to see them for himself so as not to be duped and so as to be equipped to govern...Both brothers spoke Flemish and Walloon, which neither the Count of Flanders nor King Leopold II knew, and enjoyed expressing themselves in Marollian and other dialects.
Albert great admired his older brother, and deeply regretted his loss. During World War I, he told Henriette:
"Ah! If Baudouin had survived, how different our life would have been, how much happier! What strength to be two instead of one! He would have done everything better than I."
After Baudouin's death, the press launched lurid campaign to slander his reputation. Malicious rumors circulated, to the effect that he had committed suicide or been murdered over a love affair. In her grief and indignation, Henriette wrote:
How could they launch, after his death, these tragic and painful lies! It is incomprehensible. It is true that people cannot recognize the virtue of princes, and that they so easily believe evil! He was the strongest of us all, yet he succumbed in two days! The mistake was not to announce that he had been taken to bed with a high fever. People invented stories of brawls, even of murder...over a woman. They made comparisons with the drama of Mayerling, although Baudouin became aggressive and violent whenever he spoke of Rudolf. He had experienced an impression of disgust at what he saw in Vienna during the Archduke's funeral...
Baudouin's fate prefigured that of his family. For years to come, tragedy and calumny would continue to haunt the Belgian royal house.

Below, we see one of the artistic works of the Countess of Flanders, dated shortly after Baudouin's death. The sombre tones, perhaps, reflect his mother's grief.

(The quotes in the original French may be found here)

No comments: