Saturday, November 28, 2009

Birthday of Lilian Baels

On November 28, 1916, Miss Mary Lilian Baels was born in London. She was one of the eight children of Hendrik Baels, an affluent and ambitious Ostende lawyer (later, a prominent Belgian politician, with the Catholic party), and his wife, Anna Maria Devisscher. Apparently, the Baels family were also involved in the fish trade, and, many years later, after Lilian's marriage to King Leopold III, this would lead to malicious remarks. The bride was mockingly dubbed "Shrimp Queen" and "Lady Codfish"...

Nonetheless, it was a rare woman who came into the world on that winter day in 1916. "As beautiful as a Greek night," according to Charles d'Ydewalle. "The most beautiful woman in the world," for the Count of Paris. Certainly, but she was also much, much more. In the words of the French comedian Jean Piat, an intimate of Leopold and Lilian: "Curiosity, vivacity, kindness, humor, intelligence and...destiny. She unites it all" (quotes from Le mythe d'Argenteuil by Michel Verwilghen).

Stubborn, imperious and demanding Lilian may have been at times, but nobody is perfect. And Belgium owes a great deal to the woman who (in the darkest moments of the country's history) loyally and lovingly raised two of her Kings. May she rest in peace.

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