Sunday, February 28, 2010

Henriette the Royalist

In 1896, Princess Henriette of Belgium, niece of King Leopold II, married an Orléans cousin, Prince Emmanuel, Duc de Vendôme. (Interestingly, he was a grandson of the Duc de Nemours, the second son of King Louis-Philippe and Queen Marie-Amélie, and an early candidate for the newly created Belgian throne in 1831). It was a happy match and produced four children, three daughters and a son (pictured above with his mother). Dividing their time between Paris and their multiple country estates, Emmanuel and Henriette lived on a grand scale and entertained lavishly.

Very pious and conservative, Henriette became a significant figure of French royalism. Deeply intellectual, fascinated by history, she took full advantage of the goldmine of the Vendôme family archives to conduct serious study of the House of Bourbon. (It is interesting to note that Henriette's niece, Princess Marie-José of Belgium, the last Queen of Italy, was also a historian, acclaimed for her brilliant work on the House of Savoy). The publication of the Journal of Queen Marie-Amélie was one of Henriette's most noted achievements.

With her devout faith, Henriette was earnestly concerned with the spiritual history of France, particularly in the dark hours of the Revolution. She campaigned, for instance, for the beatification of Madame Elisabeth, the heroic and saintly sister of Louis XVI, guillotined during the Terror. At the request of the Vatican and the Carmelites of Meaux, Henriette agreed to become the patroness of Elisabeth's cause. It is touching to note that Elisabeth and Henriette were related, not only through the House of France, but also through the House of Saxony. Of course, both were also sisters of Kings!

If I have emphasized Henriette's devotion to the Catholic monarchy, it is because I have noticed a deplorable tendency, in religious, conservative circles, to condemn all the Orléans as radicals and revolutionaries. It seems that many, remembering only the regicide of Philippe Egalité, hastily paint all his descendants with the same brush, almost as if grace and redemption did not exist for the Orléans family. Yet, this is clearly not the case.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Unfinished Work?

At the end of the second volume of the account of Marie-Amélie of Naples, by her great-granddaughter Princess Henriette of Belgium , I noticed the words "End of Tome I," as if there were more to come. The account breaks off in 1822, eight years before Amélie, in the turmoil of the July Revolution, became 'Queen of the French,' as the consort of Louis-Philippe. Yet, her journal continued until after she ascended the throne, so it would make sense for this account of her life, based on her journal, to proceed, at least, to that point. Yet, I have never come across any further installments of the work. Was Henriette unable to finish the project? Financial reversals, family problems, and World War II intervened, probably disrupting her work. Also, she was advancing in age and passed away in 1948, only a few years after the return of peace, so, I suppose, she would not have had much further opportunity to write. I regret, though, not being able to read more...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Amélie and Henriette

I was fascinated to read the account of Marie-Amélie of Naples (1782-1866), Queen of the French from 1830-1848, by her great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette of Belgium (1870-1948), Duchesse de Vendôme. In two moving and thought-provoking volumes, La jeunesse de Marie-Amélie reine des Français, d'après son journal: (1800-1814) (1935), and Le journal de Marie-Amélie, Duchesse d'Orléans:1814-1822 (1938), Henriette piously and tenderly traces the life of her illustrious forebear, ending eight years before her rise to the throne.

To tell the story, Henriette draws primarily on Amélie's diaries, translated into French from the original Italian and quoted amply throughout the text, supplemented by Henriette's historical commentary and oral family tradition. The first volume describes Amélie's youth as a Neapolitan princess maturing amidst the tragic and tumultuous era of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, her marriage to Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, and her early years as a wife and mother in Sicily. In 1814, the fall of Napoleon makes possible the return of the exiled Bourbons to France. The second volume discusses Amélie's life under the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830), during the reign of Louis XVIII.

I was deeply impressed and touched, both by Amélie and by Henriette. Both appear to have been very noble, refined souls, of profound faith and ardent charity, all too often afflicted by suffering and tragedy. I had very much wanted to write a fuller review of Henriette's account, but it is quite subtle and complex, and there are too many aspects to cover in a single post. Instead, over the next week or so, I will be doing a series of posts on different themes in the work and sharing some of my favorite passages. Meanwhile, I leave you with these lovely portraits of Amélie and Henriette, and Henriette's beautiful dedication of her first volume. It brought tears to my eyes:

tendrement et douloureusement
 à la mémoire de mon bien-aimé Frère,
 qui m'a encouragée à publier ces pages.
Il a poussé jusqu'au sublime
 l'esprit du devoir
que notre arrière-Grand'Mère légua
 à sa descendance.

 tenderly and sorrowfully
 to the memory of my beloved Brother,
who encouraged me to publish these pages.
 He elevated to the sublime
 the spirit of duty
 that our great-Grandmother bequeathed
to her descendants.

(*I have since discovered a third volume, continuing the story to 1830, and dealing with Amélie's life during the reign of Charles X)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I keep trying to write the post on the account of Marie-Amélie of Naples, Queen of the French from 1830-1848, by her great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette of Belgium, Duchess of Vendome, but in vain. There always seems to be too much background to explain, and it all becomes too long.Yet, it does not break up naturally into a "Part I," "Part II," etc. So frustrating! I found the books so moving and thought-provoking, and Amélie and Henriette both appear to have been such beautiful souls. I really want to discuss this topic at greater length, but, for some reason, it is proving very difficult.

Ghent and Charles V

Claire Ridgway of the Anne Boleyn Files reminds us of the birthday of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. 510 years ago today, Charles was born in Ghent. A proud moment for the Flemish city? Yes, but later, relations between Ghent and its most distinguished son would become turbulent. Famously, after a rebellion in 1537, Charles V personally traveled to the city of his birth to punish the inhabitants, abolishing their political privileges and forcing fifty leading citizens to beg for his mercy, dressed only in a white shirt, barefoot and with nooses around their necks. This episode earned the people of Ghent the nickname of "Noose-bearers" (Stopdragers).

Incidentally, the Belgian socialist politician, Paul-Henri Spaak, one of the driving forces of the opposition to King Leopold III during the Royal Question (1944-1951), dramatically recalled this episode during the campaign to force the king's abdication. Referring to Leopold's insistence on an amende honorable from the politicians (including Spaak) who had falsely accused him of treason during World War II, Spaak, with his typical impassioned rhetoric, complained that the King wanted them to abase themselves before him 'with nooses around their necks.' The comparison hardly applies!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Accession of Leopold III

Today is the anniversary of the accession of Leopold III, fourth King of the Belgians. On February 23, 1934, still grieving over the tragic death of his father, King Albert I, only 6 days earlier, the 32-year-old Sovereign made his "Joyous Entry" into Brussels and swore his accession oath before Parliament. He then delivered a moving speech in French and Dutch, concluding with the solemn promise: "I give myself entirely to Belgium." His wife, Queen Astrid, transported by the occasion, lifted up her little son, Baudouin, the new Crown Prince, to offer him to the country.
Above, we see a photograph of the accession ceremony. There are no coronations in Belgium; the new monarch simply swears to "observe the Constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to maintain national independence and the integrity of the territory."

Here, we see King Leopold and Queen Astrid mourning the death of King Albert. I think the photograph admirably conveys their grief; and, at the same time, their dignity and courage in assuming their difficult new role.

What sort of man was Belgium's new King? His father, shortly before his death, had confided to his entourage:
Léopold est bien préparé pour me remplacer. Il a ma pondération et l'énergie de sa mère. Ce qui forme un métal dont la force de résistance est bien grande.
Leopold is well prepared to take my place. He has my thoughtfulness and his mother's energy. This forms a very tough metal.
Albert, in fact, had been so convinced of his son's readiness for rulership that he had, at times, considered abdicating in his favor.

Leopold's former secretary, Robert Capelle, wrote in his memoirs:
L'affection qui unissait le père et le fils, leurs entretiens constants avaient contribué à assurer au pays une continuité de vues à la direction de l'État. Élevé dans les sentiments de devoir, désireux d'accomplir sa tâche avec conscience, profondément attaché aux institutions nationales, le roi Léopold, dès son avènement, redouble d'activité et de travail. Son caractère et sa maîtrise impressionnent ceux qui l'approchent. Esprit pondéré et réflechi, il rejette les décisions hâtives. Ses idées personnelles, il désire les éprouver, en les communiquant, à l'appréciation de personnes de confiance.
The affection that united father and son, and their constant discussions, had helped to assure the country a continuity of views regarding the direction of the State. Raised with the sense of duty, desirous of accomplishing his task conscientiously, deeply attached to the nation's institutions, King Leopold, from the moment of his accession, doubled his activity and his work. His character and his mastery impressed those who came into contact with him. He had a thoughtful, reflective mind, and rejected hasty decisions. As for his personal ideas, he wished to test them, by offering them to trusted individuals, for their consideration.
In his excellent work on Leopold's activities during World War II, Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation, Jean Cleeremans cites Alfred Willemart, a friend of the King during his youth, in describing Leopold's character. According to Willemart, Leopold's main traits were:
...(L)'admiration qu'il vouait à son père et son désir de l'imiter, une extrême loyaute qui sautait aux yeux dans tous ses propos et ses actes... une volonté réfléchie... la recherche de la perfection, la domination de son extraordinaire force physique, et sa mâitrise de soi. D'une grande simplicité, le prince faisait également preuve d'une extrême bonté. Il était doué d'une intelligence dépassant de loin la moyenne... Sa charité chrétienne le poussait à se pencher sur le sort des humbles, des ouvriers notamment...
...The admiration he felt for his father, and his desire to imitate him; an extreme loyalty, which was immediately evident in all his words and deeds... a reflective willpower... the search for perfection, the mastery of his extraordinary physical strength, and his self-control. A man of great simplicity, the prince also evinced an extreme kindness. He was gifted with an intelligence surpassing, by far, the average... His Christian charity impelled him to concern himself with the fate of the poor, especially the workers...
King Leopold III, in short, was a very capable man, endowed with rare qualities of mind and heart. Nonetheless, his reign would be a tragic one, marred by the grisly death of his Queen, only a year after his accession, by the horrors of World War II, and finally, by the disastrous Royal Question, which threatened to destroy the monarchy and plunge the country into civil war. The reign that began with such promise might well have been Belgium's last.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Death of a King

Today is the anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of Albert I, King of the Belgians. According to official documents, a chance slip from a craggy precipice, during a solitary rock-climbing excursion on Saturday, February 17, 1934, cut short the life of this beloved monarch, at the age of 58. In her memoirs, his daughter, Queen Marie-José of Italy, gives an affecting account of the terrible event:
February 17, 1934!
The news of the fatal accident reached me on the morning of the 18th, but without details. A mountaineering accident in Belgium, how was this possible?
With his affectionate delicacy, Umberto gave me to understand that all hope was lost. Struck by the suddenness of the shock, I could not take in the extent of my misfortune. Immobility was intolerable to me; I walked up and down. Umberto remained at my side, trying to comfort me.
Death had surprised my father in a wild and solitary place, among the cliffs of the Meuse. To prepare for his summer ascensions, he was climbing, during the afternoon of February 17th, the steep crags of Marche-les-Dames; in particular, the one known as the "Cliff of the Good God." The rock to which he had attached his rope gave way unexpectedly, so that he fell from a dizzying height. Hurled backwards, he shattered his temple against a ledge twelve metres below the cliff, but rolled thirty metres further. His body was not found until late in the night, buried under a heap of dead leaves.
My mother, overcoming her grief, wrote to me: "My immense sorrow does not prevent me from thinking of yours. I know how unhappy you are. Papa loved you so much. I hope that this shock has not damaged your health, doubly precious at this moment (I was expecting my first child). My grief is infinite, and the void, each day, will feel greater."
On the morning of Sunday, February 18, Belgians heard the awful news at Mass. Grief, shock and disbelief swept through the country, and, indeed, the world. Widely loved and admired for his heroism during World War I, and graced with a modest, affable personality, Albert was deeply mourned far beyond Belgium's frontiers. Meanwhile, in Brussels, amidst the moving and imposing funeral ceremonies, the people filed past silently to pay their last respects to their dead King, lying in state in a candle-lit chapel of flowers in the Royal Palace.

On February 22, as the funeral cortege made its way from the palace to the Cathedral of St. Gudule to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, vast, sombre crowds lined the route. Thousands knelt and prayed as the gun-carriage, bearing the King's coffin, passed by. "Au revoir, Albert," one old man was heard to whisper. After the Requiem Mass, celebrated by Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, in the black-draped cathedral, Albert's body was conducted to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, where the final Benediction took place. Then, to the strains of funeral music and the booming of artillery, the third King of the Belgians was laid to rest in the royal crypt.

Because King Albert was an expert climber, and died alone, without witnesses, many have questioned the official version of his death. To add to all the suspicion, no autopsy, apparently, was ever performed on the King's body, nor was there any thorough judicial inquest into his death. The unfortunate result has been that, ever since that sad winter day in 1934, a wide variety of sensationalist rumors of murder and suicide have repeatedly flared up. Tragically, the speculation has often become quite cruel and vulgar, with torrid theories of secret love affairs and crimes of passion. I find it all highly distasteful. True, a disturbing element of mystery will always surround the King's last moments. After all, nobody saw him lose his grip and fall from the cliffs, that was all a later reconstruction. Yet, surely, rather than revelling in macabre, lurid speculation, it is better to pray for his soul?

Albert Einstein's letter of condolence to Queen Elisabeth

Paul Claudel's tribute to the King, February 18, 1934

Ash Wednesday

~Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and that unto dust thou shalt return.

Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, the season of fasting, prayer and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. On this day, in token of humility and repentance, the faithful receive a cross of blessed ashes on their foreheads. 

Thus saith the Lord, be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, in weeping, and in mourning. And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. Who knoweth but He will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind Him: sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather together the people, sanctify the Church, assemble the elders, gather together the little ones and them that suck at the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride from her bride-chamber. Between the porch and the altar the Priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep; and shall say, Spare O Lord, spare thy people, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them.Why should they say among the Nations, Where is their God? The Lord hath been zealous for His land, and hath spared His people. And the Lord answered, and said to His people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and you shall be filled with them; and I will no longer make you a reproach among the Gentiles, saith the Lord Almighty (Lesson for the Mass of Ash Wednesday, Joel c. 2, 12-19)

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face; that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth doth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also (Gospel for the Mass of Ash Wednesday, Matthew c. 6, 16-21)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Valentine's Day

Happy St. Valentine's Day to all my readers! HERE is an article on the origins of this feast (rather mysterious, as there seem to have been at least three early martyrs of the same name).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Henriette the Huntress

Apparently, Princess Henriette of Belgium, Duchess of Vendome, was considered the best shot among royal sportswomen in her day. HERE is a New York Times article from 1908 on her trip to the Rocky Mountains to hunt grizzly bears. It rather amuses me, as Henriette was actually such a gentle and tender-hearted lady, yet, clearly, she was also a bold, daring and fierce princess!

Incidentally, Henriette's brother, King Albert I, hated hunting, considering it a cruel and unjustifiably sanguinary pursuit. During his youth, reportedly, he suffered severely when obliged to take part in family hunts. The First World War, with its appalling bloodshed, only intensified his aversion to all such activities. Albert's and Henriette's tastes, evidently, markedly diverged here. Nonetheless, they were always devoted siblings.

By the way, the promised post on Henriette's account of her great-grandmother, Marie-Amélie of Naples, will be coming soon...

Letters from the Congo

I stumbled upon an interesting blog, The Schlotter Letters: Belgian Congo 1920-1928. Mark, the author, tells us:
My grandmother, Dorothy Chambers, and her husband, Bruno Max Schlotter, went to the Belgian Congo in 1920 to practice missionary work for the Presbyterian church. From 1920 to 1928, they wrote a series of letters back to family members in Texas. These are the transcribed letters that describe their experience.
I encourage my readers to have a look.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My First Video

Testing 1, 2, 3...

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I regret that I will probably not be able to find time for posting during the next week or so. I have some very busy days ahead. Nonetheless, when I return I hope to discuss a book I have been reading, La jeunesse de Marie-Amélie , Reine des Français ("The Youth of Marie-Amélie, Queen of the French"), based on the excerpts from her journal published by her great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette of Belgium, Duchesse de Vendôme. It is very interesting and I have been deeply impressed and touched, both by Marie-Amélie and by Henriette.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

RIP Archduchess Regina

The Royal Forums reports on the passing of HI&RH Archduchess Regina, consort of HI&RH Archduke Otto (head of the House of Habsburg from 1922-2007). The Archduchess died this morning at her home in Pöcking, Bavaria, at the age of 85.

May her soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

St. Nicholas' Church

An oil painting by the German Romantic artist Eduard Gaertner (1801-1877) of the St. Nicholas Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk) and surrounding marketplace in Ghent. I love the sky!