Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Carlota's Youth

In The Life of Maximilian I, late emperor of Mexico (1868), Frederic Hall provides a touching account of the youth and education of the unfortunate Empress Carlota, born Princess Charlotte of Belgium. How sad that Queen Louise-Marie never saw her lovely daughter mature into adulthood! How sad, too, that Carlota never knew the joy of being a mother herself.

Carlota was born at the palace of Laeken, which is about fifteen miles from Brussels, on the 7th of June, 1840; and never passed over six months of her life in France, although she is called French. The French tongue is her vernacular.

Nearly eighteen years ago, the promenaders that sauntered through the public park of Brussels, frequently observed a charming and attractive little girl, the picture of beauty and loveliness, accompanied by her two little brothers, a preceptor, and governess. She was plainly dressed, wearing a broad-brim straw hat, a short dress, and white pantalettes; and under her coiffure, on each side, could be seen her neatly braided hair. That her appearance of beauty and innocence should not be lost to memory, the skill of the artist was brought into requisition, and her portrait, as she was then dressed, was taken; which may now be seen in one of the private apartments of the palace of Brussels. She was usually then seen, when promenading, with a little hoop in her hand, which she never rolled. The little bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked girl wishfully looked upon the various groups of children which she chanced to meet, anxious to join them in their innocent pleasures. But, no, that was not allowed,— the governess said, No. She then doubtless wished that she had no teacher to control her, as she saw no good reason why the freedom of others should not be allowed to her. Her little party never seemed to stop nor run, but gravely walked on with a measured tread.

The former part of the life of those children was not a gay one. At home, in the palace, during the lifetime of their mother, they were taught to pray, and all the principles of religion which their youthful minds were capable of receiving, were instilled into them. The days of reception were not play-days to those youths;—the lessons of Christianity were dispensed with, only to let those of etiquette be given in their stead. As visitors entered, they found the little princess by her mother's side; and as salutations were given and received, the bright-eyed daughter did not fail to act her part. The rank and dignity of the different personages were soon known to her, and the respective salutations due to each.

The young princess never seemed to have a playmate of her own age. She saw no one around her save the ladies of honor, whom her father had chosen for her mother. Their conversation was principally upon religious topics, or matters of importance. And yet with all the apparent severity and strictness of her mother, the princess was the object of that parent's deepest affection, who doted upon and idolized that daughter. It was the Christian virtue, the honest pride of that good mother's heart, that caused her to watch with a jealous care every act and word of that young and tender heart, that was destined to attract the world. But while that young princess was in the bud of life, the genial rays of that mother's affectionate heart ceased to shed their holy influence over her. She saw that mother on the couch of death, and heard her last affectionate farewell, which fell upon her ear like the music of a sad dream, mournfully sounding, long after that Spirit of Love had entered the heavenly portal. After that sad bereavement, the broken-hearted princess lived as it were alone in the midst of the ladies of honor.

It was quite observable, that from the age of eleven to fifteen she was less child-like in her manners and conversation than most children of that age, even including those of royalty. It must be attributed to her continual companionship with those of maturer years. She always possessed a marked gravity and dignity even in the ballroom. At the age of sixteen she was allowed to attend balls; but only four times a year, when they were given by the king in the winter season. None but those of royal blood were honored with her company in the dance; and none were permitted to embrace her in the waltz but her brothers. And while she gazed upon others that whirled in the round dances, it was apparently with indifference; and as they glided briskly in the circle, she promenaded in a dignified manner, yet with a pleasing air.

She was fine-looking—her stature tall, majestic, not haughty, graceful in her carriage; and with her air of majesty there was mingled a gentleness and mildness of disposition that won and attracted all who chanced to meet her. Her face is oval; complexion bright, and readily flushed; her nose is a little aquiline; her mouth is pretty, and beneath her rosy lips is a set of regular pearl-white teeth; her eyes are not large, but very bright, and when she becomes excited, they flash like fire. She has a heavy head of hair, of a beautiful dark auburn shade. Nature formed her for an empress, and her acquirements not less fitted her for the station. As she rose above the horizon of childhood, she appeared in all the splendor of the morning star, bright, beautiful...

She inherited the talents of her father. Her mind was deep, and exceedingly well cultivated. If her native powers were not more than ordinary, it would be remarkable, since her father and mother were both of superior intellect. At an early age she was placed in the presence of the ministers of State, while matters of importance were discussed; and therefore her opportunities for forming her judgment and training her logical powers of thought, were more than those usually allotted to princesses,—of which she gave conclusive proof in after years. She spoke and wrote, with great perfection, the French, Spanish, German, English, and Italian languages. As has been before observed, she was married in the year 1857, being then of the age of seventeen years. She never became a mother
(pp. 35-39).


MadMonarchist said...

A very touching selection. All of the books I have tend to focus on her time in Mexico more than her youth. I have been able to gather though, both from her mother and her time with her grandmother, Carlota had a very strong connection with her French royal roots. This made her easily inclined toward France but at the same time less than embracing of Napoleon. She was especially proud of the victory of French troops in Mexico but also felt the betrayal all the worse when the French pulled out of the country.

May said...

The French monarchy had such a prestige and sacral aura, that it is not surprising that she particularly prized her French royal roots. I don't think she was alone in that among the Belgian royals; Leopold II also loved spending time in France, and there is a funny story of him showing his young nephew, the future Albert I, around Laeken. Leopold II had been making extensive improvements to the palace and Albert, trying to please him, reportedly said: "Uncle, this is becoming a little Versailles!" to which Leopold indignantly responded: "Little?" Albert also used to talk about how he and his wife had "always loved France," and Leopold III, discussing his various ancestors, singled out the French ones for particular attention. He said, that, if he had to chose between the "legacies" (I suppose, in a moral or spiritual sense) of different ancestors, he could do without those of Louis XIV(apparently he didn't approve of the 'Sun King') and the Duc d'Orleans, but that he would, however, like to have that of St. Louis. None of this, however, translated into sympathy or approval for the politics of the various French regimes in place during these people's lifetimes; both Albert I and Leopold III, for instance, were quite negative about them, with LIII even saying in his memoirs that France was Belgium's "big sister," but mostly for ill, as a bad influence on Belgian politics. And we all know, of course, how Reynaud's accusations sparked off the whole nonsense of the calumnies against Leopold III and the Royal Question.

MadMonarchist said...

I can imagine there being little love lost with the republic. There was the 'moral outrage' over the violation of Belgian territory in 1914 -followed by the revelation that France had planned to do the same if it became necessary; the whole attitude of 'you sacrifice yourself in a hopeless fight while we get ready', then in WW2 everyone looking out for themselves and blaming Leopold III for surrendering. I don't like to defend someone by making others look bad -but I can't help it, this is a sore subject with me. Considering that the Dutch produced the largest percentage of volunteers for the Axis war effort of any occupied country and that about half of France was collaborating (not just the Vichy folks) and even outright fought the Allies on occasion it infuriates me to no end that the Belgian King, the one head-of-state who actually fought the Nazis, is singled out for attack as a collaborator. ...reduces me to fuming silence...

May said...

Well, many people fought the Nazis, but, I agree, the holier-than-thou attitude on the part of the other powers was out of place.