Friday, August 21, 2009

A Once Joyful Family

Here, we see Leopold and Marie-Christine ("Daphné"), Lilian and Marie-Esmeralda, Baudouin, Albert, and Alexandre. (Josephine-Charlotte seems to be the only one missing). Leopold and Marie-Christine look so alike! This happy picture exemplifies the union and harmony that (according to many accounts) reigned in Leopold's family during the 1940's and 1950's.

Sadly, after Baudouin's marriage in 1960 and Leopold's departure, with Lilian and their children, to Argenteuil, relations cooled between father and son. The tensions opposing "Laeken" and "Argenteuil" have been the subject of much (often malicious) rumor and speculation. For instance, Leopold and Lilian were falsely accused (even by so prominent a public figure as Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens) of plundering all or most of the furniture from Laeken. Michel Verwilghen, in his well-documented book, Le Mythe d'Argenteuil (2006), refutes this calumny in great detail, but it continues to flare up all over the internet on forums and discussion boards. Verwilghen puts the "estrangement" down to personal conflicts (it is, apparently, true that relations between Lilian and Fabiola, two very forceful women, were often strained), and, more importantly, to political factors.

A number of Baudouin's close advisers were determined to distance the young monarch from his father and step-mother. Furthermore, close family ties provoked charges that Leopold was influencing and manipulating his son (see Echec au Roi by Roger Keyes). Political necessity, thus, obliged Leopold and Baudouin to maintain a certain mutual distance (see Léopold III, homme libre, by Jean Cleeremans). The sad result was that Leopold's two families rarely crossed paths. Lilian recalled that Baudouin, after many years' absence, discreetly visited his father, but was very anxious to meet him alone, without witnesses. Upon his arrival, he was alarmed to see a young woman in the room. He had to be reminded that she was none other than his half-sister, Esmeralda! (see Un couple dans la tempête, by Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré).

Verwilghen, however, notes that, during the 1970's, relations improved between Leopold and Baudouin, citing touching and markedly more cordial correspondence between father and son. Lilian, who had tenderly raised the young Baudouin, also continued, despite all the vicissitudes of their relationship, to love him, worrying about his health during his last years and deeply mourning his death in 1993.

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