Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birthday of Princess Marie-Esmeralda

On September 30, 1956, Princess Marie-Esmeralda, youngest daughter of King Leopold III and his second wife, Princess Lilian, was born at Laeken Castle. She was named after her father's favorite place in Venezuela, La Esmeralda (so called, I believe, because the Europeans expected to find emeralds there, and although their hopes were dashed, the name remained).

Apparently, Esmeralda was born during a violent thunderstorm. In her memoirs, she recalls how her father used to tease her, claiming this was why she was never afraid of storms...

"L'autre Sissi"

Patrick Weber entitled his biography of King Albert's consort Elisabeth de Belgique, l'autre Sissi ("Elisabeth of Belgium, the other Sissi"). Like her aunt, the tragic Austrian empress, the Belgian queen had an artistic, unconventional temperament, but how far did the resemblance go? The Italian politician and diplomat, Count Carlo Sforza (1872-1952), has left us a fascinating comparison of these two Bavarian princesses...
Artistically gifted- [the Belgian queen] is musical, she paints, and she feels poetry very deeply- one would be tempted to trace these gifts to her descent from the House of Wittelsbach, the members of which have, for generations, been such devoted patrons of art. But this explanation does not explain the personality of Elisabeth, far from it. What is admirable in her is that, keenly perceptive as she is of beauty, she has nothing of that morbid Wittelsbach estheticism that characterized her unfortunate aunt, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Elisabeth of Austria made a refuge for herself at the Achilleion in Corfu, and dreamed exquisite dreams there. But she deserted the heavy duties her station in life entailed, the Hofburg in Vienna seemed a prison to her. The new Elisabeth of Bavaria- she was named after her imperial aunt- on the contrary, unites with an exquisitely artistic nature, not only an honest forbearance for her royal task, but also a healthy simple joy in fulfilling it, every time she feels she can do good or be useful- which means every hour of the day.

~Makers of Modern Europe (1969)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


It is actually quite difficult to find information on the Belgian royals' visits to the Congo. Most accounts mention these occasions only briefly. I did, however, unearth these titles:
  • Albert, King of the Belgians and Buren, Raymond. Journal de route du Prince Albert en 1909 au Congo. 2008.
  • Le Congo belge en images. 1927. (Discusses Prince Leopold's visit in 1926)
  • Crokaert, Jacques. Boula Matari: au Congo belge avec le Roi Albert. 1929.
There are also the Carnets de Voyages (1919-1983) of Leopold III which, presumably, include his notes on his African trips in 1926 and 1933. I hope in the future to be able to take a look at these (via interlibrary loans and such) but it will probably take a while!

King & Cardinal

A striking portrait of Albert I, by Eugène de Bremaecker (1879-1963), dating from 1923. Although it was sculpted after the war, it seems the King is still shown in military attire? (Compare this postcard from the war period.) He looks a mixture of sadness, weariness, shrewdness and grim determination (reminds me of this photograph of Albert and Marie-José during the war.) What do you think?Désiré-Joseph, Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines and Primate of Belgium, sculpted by the same artist. (Photo credits)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Albert I: Myth & Reality

King Albert's image has varied widely over the decades, ranging from the shining knight sans peur et sans reproche of World War I propaganda, to (in recent, revisionist historiography) a pacifist, a defeatist, or even a traitor to the Allied cause. But what was the truth? Professor John Rogister attempts to sort through the evidence.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Royal Visits to the Congo: A Timeline

I am gathering information for a series of posts on the royal visits to the Belgian Congo (1908-1960). Meanwhile, here is a timeline of these occasions. Ironically, King Leopold II, who cunningly acquired the colony and shocked world opinion by exploiting it ruthlessly, never set foot in his distant possession.
  • 1909- Prince Albert (later King Albert I), King Leopold's nephew and heir, tours the Congo, shortly after its annexation by Belgium (previously, it had been under Leopold's personal control.) He is intensely concerned with reform.
  • 1925- Prince Leopold, King Albert's son and heir, follows in his father's footsteps by undertaking an extensive journey through the Congo, as part of his preparation for rulership. Like Albert, he returns with sharp criticisms of the colonial régime and suggestions for improvement.
  • 1928- King Albert returns to the Congo, with Queen Elisabeth. This is the first time a reigning Belgian Sovereign has visited the colony.
  • 1932- King Albert's third visit to the Congo.
  • 1933- Prince Leopold's second Congo trip. He is accompanied by his wife, Princess Astrid, who enters wholeheartedly into his hopes and plans for reform.
  • 1955- King Baudouin I makes his first state visit to the Congo. The young monarch takes a keen interest in colonial affairs, and, previously shy and reserved, appears to "blossom" on the tour. He is greeted by cheering crowds.
  • 1959- King Baudouin's second visit. As Congolese demands for independence mount, the atmosphere is much more tense, even explosive.
  • 1960- Belgium agrees to grant the Congo independence. King Baudouin attends the handover of power in the capital, Kinshasa/Léopoldville.
I hope this list is accurate! If you see an error, please correct me.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Night in Bruges

Here is a poem (dated September, 1935) by Australian composer Miriam Hyde, on the death of Queen Astrid. I don't think it is the greatest literature, but I still found it touching. I like the way she captures the grief and solidarity of a whole community.

The carillons are hush’d; still is the night,

And footsteps echo on the cobble-stones.

With faces drawn, under the cold lamp light,

A group of women talk in muffled tones.

Above them, twisted sadly round its pole,

Hangs a limp flag of Belgian colours three;

And there with one another they condole,

Sharing their grief with love and sympathy.

The black canal glides noiselessly along

Under the lonely bridge; and stars are bright.

Perhaps, somewhere among the twinkling throng,

Queen Astrid’s soul to Heav’n has added light.

What do you think of the poem? (Please also read The Broken Rose on King Albert I).

(Photo: Han-sur-Lesse at night, in the public domain. I know it is not Bruges but it was the best I could do).

Friday, September 25, 2009

In Memoriam: Leopold III, King of the Belgians

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the death of Leopold III, King of the Belgians from 1934 to 1951 (1). His passing was quite sudden and unexpected. He had been admitted to hospital for a heart operation, but his doctors were fairly optimistic and the King expressed his full confidence in the top quality medical team (including his old friend, renowned surgeon Michael DeBakey) that had come to his aid... The operation went smoothly. Sadly, however, only hours later, while still under anesthesia, the King's heart failed. His life had been full of tragedy, controversy and tumult but his death was peaceful.

Nonetheless, it came as a painful shock to his family, and to many of his people. The website of the Cercle Léopold III has a brief but deeply moving description (by Christophe Veys) of the days following the King's death:
Voici quelques pensées d'hommage au Souverain que j'ai toujours regretté de ne pas avoir eu l'occasion de rencontrer.

Lors du décès du Roi Léopold III, je n'avais que onze ans.

Je me souviens de mon instituteur... qui, en classe, nous avait fait suivre la cérémonie des funérailles à la télévision.

L'émotion marquait le visage de tous mes camarades de cours. Une ambiance lourde régnait...

Les images témoignaient du chagrin du Roi Baudouin et de tous les enfants du Roi Léopold III, blessés une nouvelle fois par le départ de celui qu'ils avaient tant aimé. Un sentiment de douloureuse et profonde sympathie était palpable.

Lorsque le cercueil sortit de l'église Saint Jacques sur Coudenberg, porté par les Chasseurs Ardennais, un silence absolu enveloppait alors la place Royale de Bruxelles. Pas un mot ne fut proféré par la bouche de ceux qui avaient autrefois accusé le Roi.

Ceux qui l'avaient blâmé hier lui rendaient hommage aujourd'hui, au moins par leur silence, devenu éternel…

Here are a few thoughts in homage to the Sovereign I have always regretted never having had the opportunity to meet (2).

At the death of King Leopold III, I was only 11 years old.

I remember my teacher...who had our class watch the funeral ceremonies on television.

Emotion marked the faces of all my classmates. A heavy atmosphere reigned...

The images testified to the grief of King Baudouin and all the children of King Leopold III, wounded afresh by the loss of the man they had loved so much. You could feel a sentiment of painful, deep sympathy.

As the casket left the Church of St. Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, carried by the Ardennian Rifles, an absolute silence enveloped the Royal Square in Brussels. Not a word from the lips of those who had once accused the King.

Those who had blamed him before, rendered him homage that day, at least by their silence, which had become eternal...
The King's children. (Marie-Christine is the only one missing). From left to right: Prince Alexandre, Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte, King Baudouin I, Prince Albert (now King Albert II), Princess Marie-Esmeralda.
Queen Fabiola supports the stricken Princess Lilian.
King Baudouin's tears.

(1) These are the dates of his reign. Nonetheless, he was allowed to use the title of 'King' even after his abdication (see Keyes, Echec au Roi and Jullian and Désiré, Un couple dans la tempête)
(2) I regret never meeting him, too!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gunfire at Marche-les-Dames???

I stumbled upon a curious article, Albert 1er, la mort d'un roi, by one Didier Demeter. Like many others before him, he casts doubt on the official version of Albert's death. According to the author, Charles Hennuy, a resident of Marche-les-Dames, reported hearing a gunshot echoing through the cliffs on the fatal day around 4 pm (roughly the time the King was thought to have died), but the inquest failed to investigate this claim. Never before have I come across this assertion, although I was familiar with Hennuy's name. He is mentioned in various accounts as one of the villagers enlisted by the royal entourage (incognito) to assist them in finding the King's body. Does anyone know if this man really ever made such a claim? I am not sure whether to believe the article, it is rather odd. The author's critique of the inquest into the King's death is interesting, detailed and in-depth, but then he falls to making nasty insinuations about Albert and Elisabeth without any proof. (I have discussed some of these old rumors, HERE). I also found it totally unnecessary, and rather ludicrous, to drag the theft of the Just Judges into the story.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg

Prince Guillaume is the youngest child of Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte of Luxembourg. Born in 1963, he attended secondary school in Luxembourg and Switzerland. He continued his studies at the University of Grenoble (where he earned his baccalaureate in 1982), at Oxford, and at Georgetown (where he received his degree in International Relations in 1987). He has worked for the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. and the European Commission in Brussels. In 1994, he married Sybille Weiller, a lovely young Frenchwoman. Sybille's mother is an Italian aristocrat of Spanish royal descent, Donna Olimpia Torlonia di Civitella-Cesi. The couple have four children.

In 2007, Connecticut's Sacred Heart University awarded Prince Guillaume an honorary doctorate. Dr. Edmond Israel, chairman of Cedel International and former chair of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange, delivered the laudatio:
Sacred Heart University is a blessing for those who are studying here and know how to listen also...with the ears of their heart. Prince Guillaume who is honoured today, is one of those human beings who listen with the ears of their heart, and that is why he is a source of inspiration for those who prepare their future.
While conferring the degree, Dr. Anthony Cernera, President of Sacred Heart University, spoke in similar glowing terms:
Your Royal Highness, (with) your life of strong social leadership and generous compassion, you’re witness to the values that we espouse for our students and the University community inspires all of us, and we are grateful for your presence among us. Sacred Heart University brings great honor on itself today by honoring you.
Apparently, Guillaume and Sybille are keenly interested in youth, education and inter-faith dialogue. I am rather wary of the latter, I have to admit. I am not opposed to open discussion of religious differences, and, if possible, reconciliation, but union must be based on the truth and there is a danger that truths of faith may be gravely compromised in all the effort to reach a consensus. Nonetheless, I have no idea what approach the princely couple take to these issues, so I will not launch into criticisms.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Silver Wedding of Prince Lorenz & Princess Astrid

Today marks the 25th wedding anniversary of Prince Lorenz and Princess Astrid of Belgium. May God grant them every blessing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Marie-Antoinette as Erato

I came across this painting of Marie-Antoinette and found it quite unusual. The Queen is cast in the role of Erato, the Muse of lyric (especially love) poetry. The painting, by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, is supposed to be dated 1788. Does anyone know what the circumstances were and why Marie-Antoinette would be portrayed in this guise? I was not able to find out much.
For comparison, here is a Roman statue of Erato. It strikes me that the classical image is much more austere. The painting seems so floral and decorative!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein

Unfortunately, I have not been able to unearth much information on Princess Margaretha, second daughter of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg and his Belgian-born consort, Josephine-Charlotte. I gather she lives a discreet, private life with her family. What I have discovered, however, seems very positive.

As I mentioned previously, Margaretha is the twin sister of Prince Jean of Luxembourg. She is the younger sister of Princess Marie-Astrid and Grand Duke Henri. As a young woman, she studied in Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1982, she married Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein. The couple have been blessed with four children: Leopold (b. 1984), Maria-Anunciata (b. 1985), Marie-Astrid (b. 1987) and Josef-Emanuel (b. 1989). Sadly, little Leopold was born prematurely and died the same day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Tragedy of Albert I

I have always found the story of Albert's death deeply upsetting. After all his heroism in war and peace, who would not have wished him a long, happy, tranquil life? 1934 ought to have been a year of rejoicing. The King was soon to celebrate his Silver Jubilee... but, instead, a frightful fate was in store for him and a dark period lay ahead for Belgium.
The new King and Queen. Leopold looks so sad here! In her memoirs, Astrid's friend Anna Sparre tells of how the princely couple (who had been vacationing in Switzerland at the time of the King's death) spent the return journey to Brussels weeping uncontrollably. She also describes Leopold's shattered emotional state, and Astrid's heroic efforts to support him, in these terrible moments. As Queen Elisabeth was also prostrate with grief, the task of preparing for Albert's funeral fell, in large measure, to Astrid.
The sadness of a loving daughter-in-law...Astrid at Albert's funeral. She almost seems to personify Belgium's mourning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Queen Louise-Marie & Young Prince Leopold

A Winterhalter portrait of the first Queen of the Belgians, with her son, the future King Leopold II, while still an innocent child. It is hard to imagine how, with this lovely and pious mother, he turned out to be such an unpleasant character! I suppose, though, he was rather young when she died, so perhaps she was not able to exert enough of an influence! What do you all think? In any case, it seems Leopold inherited his famous nose from his mother. In appearance, he resembled her greatly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Prince Jean of Luxembourg

Continuing with the series on the Belgian royals' Luxembourg cousins (please read my previous posts on Princess Marie-Astrid and Grand Duke Henri), we come to Prince Jean. He and his twin sister, Princess Margaretha, were born May 15, 1957. Jean has achieved distinction in public life. In 2009, the Geneva School of Diplomacy awarded him an honorary doctorate:
Jean de Nassau studied at Sandhurst and in Geneva and has worked in real estate, in structural finance and in international developments in central Asia, China, the Middle East and Africa. In 2006 he took over WSSA (Water & Sanitation South Africa) and created MEA AQUA, a company specialised in water services and management solutions for Africa and the Middle East. WSSA today employs over 2000 people and is active in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. In 2008 the Prince created MEA ENERGIA, dealing mainly with renewable energies; and MEA POWER for more traditional energies. MEA ENERGIA also works with large forest entities such as the Congo Basin. Prince Jean de Luxembourg has earned high regard for his work in environmental protection and in the amelioration of climate change.
Unfortunately, Prince Jean's private life has been troubled. In 1986, upon the birth (out of wedlock) of his daughter, Marie-Gabrielle, he renounced his succession rights. Shortly afterwards, he morganatically married Marie-Gabrielle's mother, a French lawyer named Helene Vestur. The couple had three more children, Constantin, Wenceslas, and Carl-Johan, but, sadly, divorced in 2004. Only six months ago, in Roermond, the Netherlands, Jean re-married (see HERE and HERE). His new spouse is Diane de Guerre, daughter of Claude Gaston de Guerre and his second wife, Countess Eugenie Wolff-Metternich. I have to admit I am not thrilled by this whole story.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fourth Child of Leopold & Astrid?

Was Queen Astrid pregnant when she died? Did King Leopold lose, not only his beloved wife, but his fourth child in the terrible car crash in Küssnacht? I have often heard this claim, yet, Astrid's best friend, Anna Sparre, makes no mention of a pregnancy in her account of the Queen's death. Recently, at the Alexander Palace Forums, I read that Anna did not believe the rumors, as Astrid had told her nothing about a pregnancy and Anna would have been the first to know. Apparently, the Queen's namesake and biographer, Astrid Bammens, also discounts the theory, and, certainly, there was never an official announcement of a pregnancy. Perhaps the stories are no more than speculation. Or, if Astrid was expecting a fourth child, perhaps she herself was unaware of it...

A Love Letter

Here is a touching letter, dated August 11, 1950, and written by King Leopold III to his wife, Princess Lilian, during the tragic Royal Question. After years of calumnies and betrayals, culminating in violence and bloodshed in the streets, the King had just been forced to delegate his powers to his son and heir, Prince Baudouin. It was the prelude to Leopold's abdication in 1951. Lilian, still in exile in Switzerland, was deeply grieved by the situation, but Leopold tried to console her:
Comme j'ai eu mal d'entendre ta tristesse au téléphone tout-à-l'heure. Cette impression m'a été d'autant plus pénible qu'enfin, après 9 semaines de lutte et de fatigue et d'épreuves, on avait abouté à une solution d'apaisement! Je comprends ton état d'esprit, ton état de révolte. C'est une nouvelle et grande preuve d'amour que tu me donnes. Je te serre contre moi de tout mon coeur ma petite Lil adorée. Mais il faut maintenant voir ce que Dieu a fait encore une fois pour nous dans tous ces évènements. Encore une fois il nous a protégé... 
Grace à Baudouin, la continuité est assurée pour le moment du moins. Il a été d'une aide magnifique et aujourd'hui il s'est acquitté de son devoir d'une façon vraiment magnifique. Vis à vis de moi il a été vraiment touchant. 
Je crois que j'ai fait ce qu'il fallait et que le Pays comprendra mon attitude. 
Et maintenant, parlons de nous! Je ne peux plus rester loin de toi. Et toi non plus. Nous devons tomber dans les bras l'un de l'autre. Nous ne pouvons vivre...


How I suffered to hear your sadness on the telephone just now. This impression was all the more painful for me, as, after 9 weeks of struggle, fatigue, and ordeals, we had finally reached a solution of appeasement! I understand your state of mind, your state of revolt. It is a new and great proof of love which you give me. I clasp you to myself with all my heart my adored little Lil. But now we must see what God, once again, has done for us in all these events. Once again, He has protected us... 
Thanks to Baudouin, continuity is assured, for the moment at least. He was a magnificent help, and, today, he discharged his duty in a truly magnificent manner. In regard to me, he was truly touching. 
I believe that I did what was required and that the Country will understand my attitude. 
And now, let's speak of us! I can no longer stay far away from you. Nor can you. We must fall into each other's arms. We cannot live...

(A facsimile of this letter is included in the appendices of Un couple dans la tempête, by Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg

Above, we see HRH Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, with his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, and eldest son and heir, Prince Guillaume. Born April 16, 1955, Henri is the eldest son of Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte (originally a Princess of Belgium). He is the nephew of Belgian kings Baudouin I and Albert II. Upon his father's abdication, Henri succeeded to the throne of Luxembourg on October 7, 2000. Internationally, he is probably best known for the constitutional crisis sparked by his courageous refusal, on conscientious grounds, to sign a euthanasia bill passed by Parliament in 2008. 

During his youth, Henri studied in Luxembourg and France, where he obtained his baccalaureate in 1974. After military training at Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom, he attended the University of Geneva, specializing in economics and political science. He graduated in 1980. Meanwhile, he traveled extensively, and, over the next 20 years, would head a number of economic missions throughout the world. From 1980-1988, he served on Luxembourg's Council of State.

In 1981, Henri married Miss Maria Teresa Mestre, a Cuban-born, fellow political science student at the University of Geneva. The couple have five children: Guillaume (b. 1981), Felix (b. 1984), Louis (b. 1986), Alexandra (b. 1991), and Sebastien (b. 1992). Sadly, although Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte had originally favored the match, she would later clash with her daughter-in-law. In 2002, (after Jean's abdication, but while Josephine-Charlotte was still alive) Maria Teresa, the new Grand Duchess, hosted a press conference, portraying her mother-in-law as harsh and authoritarian.

Personally, I find this episode extremely unfortunate. In my opinion, the dignity and prestige of the royal family require mutual respect and (at least) outward harmony, and personal conflicts ought to be kept behind closed doors, not broadcast for all to hear. Furthermore, nobody is perfect, but Josephine-Charlotte was a dutiful wife, mother, and royal consort, who overcame many tragedies and traumas to fulfill her role with dignity and grace. Especially in her old age, I think she deserved more consideration.

To return to the Grand Duke- he is the patron of many public ventures, in a wide variety of cultural, scientific, athletic, economic and humanitarian fields. Notably, he is a member of the Mentor Foundation, established by the World Health Organization, and aiming at combating drug abuse among youth. With his keen interest in nature conservation, he is also a Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands. Since 1998, he has served on the International Olympic Committee. In his spare time, Henri is fond of literature, classical music, swimming, sailing, water-skiing, tennis, hunting and fishing. In addition to the native language of Luxembourg, the Grand Duke speaks French, English, and German. He is certainly an intriguing figure from a tiny, sadly often forgotten country.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Birthday of Queen Paola

Today, H. M. Queen Paola of the Belgians celebrates her 72nd birthday. May God bless her and grant her many more long years.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


At the request of our loyal reader Jorge, I will be posting a series on the Belgian royals' Luxembourg cousins, the children of Grand Duke Jean and Princess Josephine-Charlotte. Their eldest is HIRH Marie Astrid Liliane Charlotte Léopoldine Wilhelmine Ingeborg Antoinette Élisabeth Anne Alberte, Archduchess of Austria. She was born February 17, 1954, exactly 20 years after the strange and tragic death of her great-grandfather, Albert I, King of the Belgians. It seems somehow consoling, to have a joyful anniversary to offset the sorrowful one on the same day.

I also find it very touching that Josephine-Charlotte gave her daughter the names of both her mother, Queen Astrid, and her step-mother, Princess Lilian. These two women, tragic in their different ways, were so often pitted against one another in political propaganda, but Josephine-Charlotte had loved both. Of course, it is traditional to call children after multiple members of the family, but here, the combination of names might have a special significance...

During her youth, rumors circulated of an impending marriage between the lovely Marie-Astrid and Charles, Prince of Wales. Religious differences, however, would have made such a match impossible. Catholics marrying non-Catholics are required to raise their children in the Catholic faith, but obviously Marie-Astrid would not have been allowed to do so, as the future heirs to the British monarchy would have to be Anglican. Instead, after training as a nurse, Marie-Astrid married Archduke Carl Christian of Austria, in 1982. The couple have been blessed with five children and lead a generally quiet, family life, appearing from time to time at official functions.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Belgian Royal Army

Here's something rousing. My thanks to MadMonarchist.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Birthday of King Baudouin I

On September 7, 1930, Prince Leopold and Princess Astrid of Belgium welcomed their first son, little Prince Baudouin. In her memoirs, Astrid's best friend Anna Sparre describes the happy event. Not expecting his wife to give birth that day, Leopold had just departed for an official ceremony in Ostende when Astrid suddenly went into labor...
...With humor, she described to me how (after bidding a tender farewell to Leopold) she went into the living room to read by the open fire and chat with her mother. But the baby announced his arrival before she had even sat down- she could still hear the car in the distance! Leaning against the chimney, she burst into a fit of laughter. Clasping her belly, she was laughing out loud. After a moment's hesitation, Princess Ingeborg could not keep from laughing herself... It was 10 o'clock. The doctor was sent for, the midwife was already there.
Upon arriving in Ostende, Leopold heard the news and rushed back to Brussels. A few hours later, he was holding his tiny son in his arms... A touching scene followed.
...When (Leopold) came in, later, with the child washed and dressed, he sat on the edge of the bed and placed the baby in his mother's arms. They could hear the canons proclaiming to the people the birth of a little prince. It was an overwhelming moment, impossible to describe. Little Joe-Joe entered, climbed into her mother's bed and could feel her little brother. She was a bit shy and thought it a pity maman was ill at the very moment of the baby's arrival. For several hours, Astrid enjoyed, in all tranquillity, this family idyll.
King Albert and Queen Elisabeth were delighted with their grandson, and the family was inundated with flowers and congratulations on the arrival of the long-awaited royal heir. Astrid sent a letter to Anna, proudly announcing the birth, and underlining the words "our son" several times. "You understand how happy we are that it is a boy," she wrote, "it is a joy not only for us, but for everyone here in Belgium. I am madly proud of having two children."

As a final charming note, the year of Baudouin's birth coincided with the centenary of Belgian independence!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I wanted to ask if anyone has suggestions for this blog. There are a number of important Belgian royal anniversaries approaching- this month, for instance, I will be commemorating the birth of King Baudouin, the religious marriage of Leopold and Lilian, the birthday of Queen Paola and the death of King Leopold III. Of course I have some ideas for other posts too but is there anything you would particularly like me to discuss? As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lilian Baels & Jacqueline Kennedy

In her 1995 Panorama Interview, Diana, Princess of Wales, recalled Queen Astrid by declaring: "I'd like to be a Queen of People's Hearts." This had been Astrid's title and many have compared the two young, beautiful, fashionable and tragically deceased royal women. What is, perhaps, less well known is the way Jacqueline Kennedy imitated Princess Lilian of Belgium. In a letter to her couturier, Oleg Cassini, she asked for designs reminiscent of Lilian's: "très Princesse de Réthy, mais jeune." (1)

The elegant commoner who became the second wife of King Leopold III was a good model. Reviled and hated Lilian might have been, but nobody denied her consummate sense of style. Furthermore, like Jackie, she was a dark, sultry beauty, who had to strike a queenly figure without actually being a Queen...

Were there deeper similarities between these two iconic women? Both were courageous, intelligent, cultured, sparkling with vivacity, wit and charm. Each imparted her innate elegance and taste to her surroundings. Both were loyal wives and mothers. With remarkable fortitude and dignity, each faced terrible ordeals. Lilian endured war, captivity, political turmoil, and decades of calumny and insult; Jacqueline saw her husband murdered before her eyes.

Not surprisingly, Lilian and Jackie knew each other. In her book, Léopold III, mon père, Lilian's daughter Esmeralda recalls her parents' visit to the American presidential couple. During her youth, Lilian (educated partly in England, where the President's father spent time as American ambassador) had, incidentally, also been a friend of John F. Kennedy's sister, Kathleen, and the visit was the occasion for the revival of old memories.

Certainly, in one respect at least, Lilian and Jacqueline were very different. Elegance, grace and charm might win Jackie widespread admiration, but these same qualities did nothing for Lilian's popularity...

Please leave a comment to say why you think Lilian and Jacqueline were (dis)similar. Whom do you prefer?

(1) "very Princess of Réthy (Lilian's other title), but youthful." (Lilian was 13 years Jacqueline's senior). Quoted in Grace and Power, 2005, by Sally Bedell Smith, p. 24

The Daughter of Time

Thank goodness the internet seems to be working at the moment! Here is a intriguing review of The Daughter of Time. To quote:
This was a fascinating read by Josephine Tey. It is the story of Alan Grant, a policeman with Scotland Yard, who is laid up in the hospital after being injured on the job. A friend brings in a portrait of Richard III and he has a hard time believing that the man in the picture is the horrible, nephew murdering hunchback that he is familiar with. This sparks his interest and to relieve his boredom he takes up the 400+ year old case of Richard III - did he or did he not murder his nephews in the Tower? He and an American researcher working in the British Museum sort through all the evidence they can get and look at the case through a policeman's perspective - considering motives, opportunities, written accounts from the times, looking for breaks in the normal routine of the main players, etc. Grant becomes convinced that, based on the evidence, that Richard did not murder his nephews. In fact, he had absolutely nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose if he did...

Internet Problems

Lately I have been experiencing problems off and on with my internet connection. I hope this issue will be resolved soon, but, in case I have to be offline for a few days, I wanted to let my readers know.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Broken Rose

In a collection of poems of the Great War, I came across Annie Vivanti Chartres' fervid tribute to the Belgian king and people, entitled The Broken Rose. Despite my love and admiration for Albert, I have to say I never feel very comfortable with this sort of tribute and I suspect he would have been embarrassed by it, too. Nonetheless, it is a good example of the kind of hero-worship he received during the war, and I wanted to include it as part of my series on popular representations of the Belgian monarchy.

Shy, youthful, silent — and misunderstood

In the white glare of Kinghood thou didst stand.

The sceptre in thy hand

Seemed but a flower the Fates had tossed to thee,

And thou wert called, perchance half-scornfully,

Albert the Good.

To-day thou standest on a blackened grave,

Thy broken sword still lifted to the skies.

Thy pure and fearless eyes

Gaze into Death's grim visage unappalled

And by the storm-swept nations thou art called

Albert the Brave.

Tossed on a blood-red sea of rage and hate

The frenzied world rolls forward to its doom.

But high above the gloom

Flashes the fulgent beacon of thy fame,

The nations thou hast saved exalt thy name —

Albert the Great!

Albert the good, the brave, the great, thy land

Lies at thy feet, a crushed and morient rose

Trampled and desecrated by thy foes.

One day a greater Belgium will be born,

But what of this dead Belgium wracked and torn ?

What of this rose flung out upon the sand ? . . .

Behold ! Afar where sky and waters meet

A white-robed Figure walketh on the sea.

(Peace goes before Him and her face is sweet.)

As once He trod the waves of Galilee

He comes again — the tumult sinks to rest,

The stormy waters shine beneath His feet.

He sees the dead rose lying in the sand,

He lifts the dead rose in His holy hand

And lays it at His breast.

O broken rose of Belgium, thou art blest!

What do you think of the poem? Touching? Overdone?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stolen Royal Documents

This happened a number of years ago. Still, it seems incredible. In March, 2002, La Libre Belgique and RTBF revealed that the death certificate of King Albert I had disappeared. Like any other citizen of the judicial district Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, the monarch's death was recorded in the Court of First Instance in Brussels. A historian came to consult the archives, looking for Albert's death certificate in the registry for early 1934. It was missing, torn out of the books. Apparently, the theft dated from a period when people had easy access to the registry, to consult family records. It seems amazing that royal records were not kept in a more secure place!
At Marche-les-Dames, at Namur, there were no legal traces left of the King's death. Luckily, though, the City Archives of Brussels (harder to access) had a copy of the stolen document. Yet, even from here, 20 years or so earlier, the marriage certificate of King Albert II and Queen Paola went missing...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Festivities at Laeken

On August 30, the Belgian royal family hosted a garden party at Laeken to celebrate four wedding anniversaries occurring this year: King Albert II and Queen Paola (50 years), Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde (10 years), Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz (25 years) and Prince Laurent and Princess Claire (6 years). More than 200 people were invited, including 69 couples with the same wedding anniversary as the King and Queen. Sadly, the celebrations were marred by a accident. Two horse-carriages (intended to transport guests who could not walk easily) collided and four people were injured. May God grant them a speedy recovery, and every blessing to the royal couples!