Friday, May 7, 2010

A Queen To Be Remembered

The first Queen of the Belgians, Louise d'Orléans, consort of Leopold I, is a figure I have long found fascinating and sympathetic. Since she was generally shy and retiring, died young, and was soon relegated to a vague, pious memory, she has been called la reine oubliée, the "Forgotten Queen." She certainly deserves to be remembered, though! Here are some facts about this lady; I hope they will show why she is intriguing and appealing...
  • Her full baptismal name was Louise Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle. The Louise was after her godfather, Louis XVIII of France; the Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte after her godmother, the Duchesse d'Angoulême, only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and Louise's first cousin once removed. Her family called her simply "Louise," but the Belgians, for some reason, called her "Louise-Marie."
  • She adored her father, the controversial Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans (later "King of the French") but was even closer to her mother, the universally revered Marie-Amélie of Naples. She inherited much of her mother's piety and charity, along with a certain amount of her father's political liberalism. 
  • At 18, she saw her father take the French throne from the elder branch of the Bourbon family, during the July Revolution of 1830. A tragic rupture ensued between the conservative elder branch and the liberal younger branch of the royal house and Louis-Philippe was branded a treacherous usurper by many. Although Louise always defended him, she seems to have been, like her mother, upset by the events. She took refuge in her books, and, together with her sister Marie, dissolved in tears, while Marie cried out: "They want to make papa king!"
  • I think she was lovely, with her golden curls and delicate, distinguished features, but she had the reputation of an "ugly duckling," and did not consider herself a beauty. She was especially criticized for her long Bourbon nose, and joked about it herself. 
  • Her younger sister, Marie, was an accomplished Romantic artist, and Louise, similarly, had a charming talent for drawing and painting. 
  • She was a voluminous correspondent, writing thousands of letters in her lifetime, especially to her parents, and most of all, to her mother. Her eldest brother, Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc de Chartres, teasingly decried this "scribomania" and joked that someone ought to cut off her thumb to put an end to it!
  • She was deeply loyal and devoted to her family, especially to the Duc de Chartres, although he did not share her religious faith, and to Marie. Both died young and tragically and Louise was most concerned to provide for regular Masses to be offered for the repose of their souls. She wept copiously when obliged to part from her parents and siblings to marry a man who was practically a stranger to her, Leopold I of Belgium.
  • Initially indifferent to her husband (and even painfully reluctant to consummate the marriage) she eventually developed a passionate love and admiration for him and a profound concern for his eternal salvation. 
  • She became Queen as a young girl of 20, gifted but lacking in self-confidence. She thought she would make a lamentable royal consort and considered that her youngest sister, the bold and assertive Clementine, would be much better in the role. Nonetheless, Louise always fulfilled her duties well, winning the love and esteem of the Belgian people. 
  • She was very tender-hearted, abhorring bloodshed and capital punishment, even in the case of would-be assassins who had attempted her beloved father's life. When Leopold teased her about leaving her as Regent of Belgium while he was abroad, she insisted she would never sign anyone's death warrant. (A striking contrast with her grandfather, the French revolutionary, Philippe Egalité, who was infamous for voting for the death of his cousin, King Louis XVI!)
  • Nonetheless, she had a critical eye and something of a vitriolic tongue (and pen). Her sharpness in criticizing, upon her arrival in Belgium, her new subjects' failings created political friction and her alarmed father had to advise her to be more diplomatic.
  • She was very intelligent and even her husband, the "Nestor of Kings," came to prize her sound political judgment. She served as a discreet mediatrix between the Catholic and Liberal parties in Belgium. 
  • Although she was physically fragile and had a quiet, retiring public image, she loved rousing exercise, costume balls, and anything that stirred the blood. She was an enthusiastic horsewoman.
  • On a similar note, her favorite color was red!
  • Together with her husband, she maintained a close friendship with their niece, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The two young queens shared, among other things, a keen love of fashion and Louise sent Victoria many glamorous dresses and accessories. I thought it a pity that Louise was left out of the recent film, The Young Victoria
  • She was deeply saddened by the downfall and exile of the Orléans family following the 1848 Revolution in France. For eight days, she was left without news of her parents' fate and the anguish and suspense played a major role in shattering her already failing health and contributing to her death from tuberculosis in 1850. Nonetheless, she was hailed as the consoling angel of her ruined family. 
  • Over the years, she became more and more devoted to God. Her mother called her "my angelic daughter," and her cousin, Caroline of Naples, Duchesse de Berry, who always spoke bitterly of the Orléans family in general, made an exception for Louise. Louise, she declared, was a saint! 

Marie-Amélie, Queen, consort of Louis-Philippe, King of the French. Journal de Marie-Amélie, Reine des Français: 1800-1866, presented by Suzanne d'Huart, 1981.
Dyson, C.C. The life of Marie Amélie last queen of the French, 1782-1866. 1910.
Kerckvoorde, Mia. Louise d'Orléans, reine oubliée. 1991.
Lassère, Madeleine. Louise reine des Belges: 1812-1850. 2006.


MadMonarchist said...

Her 'critical eye' reminds me of Vicky who found everything in Germany positively spartan and barbaric compared to Britain lol. What do you know of her relationships with her children. All I have ever read in that regard was that Leopold I was disappointed when Charlotte came out a girl (he had wanted another boy) but that she soon became his favorite little pet. Do you know how the Queen related with her children?

May said...

I'll have to answer that later- I'm being called away at the moment;)

May said...

She seemed quite tender to her children. When her first-born, Louis-Philippe, was a baby, she would anxiously consult, regarding everything to do with child-rearing, with her mother, Marie-Amelie (who had had ten children herself and was an expert on the topic). She used to sing to little L-P and, like Leopold, was deeply grieved when he died. As for the others, she was worried about Leopold, the future Leopold II, due to his withdrawn and unsocial behavior. (She also had her critical eye even here, and complained that his face was disfigured by his huge nose). When she was dying, she seems to have worried about leaving her children, especially her little girl, motherless. On this occasion, she blessed all her children and told them to love each other always, as she had loved them.

Jorge said...

It's so sad that Leopold II and Empress Charlotte led such tragic lives. It seems that only the Count of Flanders, with his monotonous but stable life, could find at least stability. And his wife was also a remarkable lady.

MadMonarchist said...

I had heard the comment about the nose -which also reminds me of what Vicky wrote to her mother after Wilhelm II was born, calling him an imperfect cripple or something like that, which sounds harsh but of course comments like that don't give the whole story. She sounds like a very good mother, I had wondered if maybe she favored Philippe since Leopold favored Charlotte so but maybe she didn't play favorites -not the sort of thing most parents would admit to but which is nonetheless quite normal.

May said...

Jorge, I agree.

MM, she may have favored Philippe, I vaguely recall reading something of that sort. Someday I hope to do a fuller post on the family life of Leopold and Louise. There are some funny stories of young Leopold II, and his haughty ways, even at a young age.

Jack B. said...

I've quite liked your posts about Queen Louise (and her mother) considering I don't have a very high opinion of Louis Phillipe, especially his two-faced actions towards Charles X (and from the little I've read of his memoirs, L-P sounds very self-serving and defensive particularly vis-a-vi his father's action and Louis XVI without commenting on his own). I've always imagined the Orleans hungered for the throne but that doesn't seem to be the case (with the females in the family at least).

I am curious though if Louise and her siblings had any dealings (prior to their father's death) with the Comte de Chambord, whose throne their father took and who as a child could not possibly be guilty of anything. Henri (and his sister) were forced to go into exile for almost all their lives while the Orleans literally lived like kings. Yet I've never heard that any had any pangs of conscience on the matter. Which could explain Henri's dismissal of them when the Orleans princes tried to ingratiate themselves later on when it the monarchists had control of the government after Nap III fell.

May said...

I used to think quite ill of Louis-Philippe myself and he remains a problematic figure for me. But on the other hand, he was, at least, a good husband and father, and, in that regard, a definite improvement on his own father.

I am also not sure whether the idea of him (or anyone else, for that matter) serving as regent for young Henri (who, I agree, was innocent and should have been the next king, in an ideal world) would have worked in any case, given that volatile political climate. L-P may have genuinely thought that accepting the throne was the best way to protect the country's stability.

As I have mentioned, Marie-Amelie was definitely troubled by the fact of taking the throne from the legitimate heir, and from the description of the reaction of Louise and Marie to the revolution, it sounds as though they were upset by the whole business, too.

I don't know if L-P's children had dealings with Henri or the senior Bourbons prior to L-P's death, but I suspect not, given the rupture in the family.

I do know that Marie-Amelie, once both the Orleans and the senior Bourbons were all in exile again, wanted to effect a "fusion" between the supporters of both brances and wanted Henri to be recognized by all the French monarchists as the candidate to be supported, in the event of another royal restoration. Marie-Amelie's efforts were obstructed by her daughter-in-law, the wife of her eldest son Ferdinand Philippe, who wanted to insist on the claim of her son, the Count of Paris.

As for L-P's attitude towards his father's actions, he did seem to become very self-justificatory in his old age. As a young man, however, I have read that he, like his brothers, was shocked by his father's regicidal vote.

L-P was definitely a liberal and a radical in many ways, but that is not surprising, given his Enlightenment upbringing at the hands of his father and Madame de Genlis.

There will be more on the Orleans relatives in future posts.

Cheryl Anderson Brown said...

I enjoyed this post very much! I am a fan of Leopold's first wife, Charlotte Augusta of Wales, who died even younger and more tragically, but I didn't know anything about his second wife.

May said...

Thank you! Welcome!

Charlotte's story is painfully sad, indeed. And it was also sad (from Louise's point of view) that Leopold, while he came to appreciate Louise as a dear friend, never had the same love for her that he had had for his first wife.

Anonymous said...

The Queen was way more beautiful inside and out, by the way. A gracious, noble soul who cared about the King - unlike the one bred by her mother to take advantage of a grief-stricken, aging man. Arcadie Claret quite rightly deserves to be forgotten.