Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Charity of Queen Louise-Marie

In his Vie de Louise d'Orléans, Reine des Belges (1851), Paul Roger describes the charitable works of the consort of Leopold I. She was well known for her generosity and kind heart from an early age. Her father, King Louis-Philippe, used to tell the story of how, while still Duc d'Orléans, he liked to visit, each morning, a beautiful peach-tree in the gardens of Neuilly. One day, Louise's little brother, the Duc de Nemours, accidentally knocked the finest peach off the tree. Terrified of his father's wrath, he confided to his sister what had happened. The princess comforted him tenderly, then took the blame upon herself. (Soon afterwards, the Duc de Nemours plucked up his courage and told his father the truth). 

Many years later, as Queen of the Belgians, Louise's servants and entourage likewise knew her as a gentle and forgiving mistress. According to Roger, "her charity was inexhaustible, and she had a manner of obliging so ingenious, so delicate, that it doubled the worth of the benefit." (p. 49). During her reign, Flanders was stricken by famine and poverty ran rampant through Belgium. Louise's help was sought everywhere. The royal patroness of many philanthropic, religious and educational institutions, the Queen also multiplied her private gestures of charity. Her tenderness and generosity won her the reputation of a fairy godmother. In Brussels and in the provinces alike, when people heard a tale of woe, they would exclaim: "If only the Queen knew!" After her death, the cry became: "If only the Queen were still alive!" (p. 52).

Of course, I cannot list all Louise's benefactions here, but I wanted to share a few touching anecdotes mentioned by Roger. On one occasion, while she was visiting the Ardennes with King Leopold, a priest arrived and implored Louise's aid for an impoverished family: "I come to recommend to Your Majesty a family of honest farmers from Beauraing; the father has three sons and four daughters; two of the sons are married, the militia claims the third, the only support of an old, ailing father, and they are unable to pay for a replacement." "Monsieur le curé," said the Queen, "my resources are meagre at the moment; many misfortunes are brought to my attention, many unhappy people claim my assistance. Still, I have a little money in reserve here, perhaps it will be enough." Louise was able to give the priest two bills of 500 francs, enabling the family to pay for someone else to take the place of their third son in the militia (p. 50). 

On another occasion, the Queen visited a model farm where Durham bulls were being raised. She overheard a poor peasant admiring the cattle and naïvely exclaiming: "Ah! If only I had one of those creatures, things would be go better at wife and children wouldn't have to fear poverty any more!" Deeply moved, the Queen discreetly made some inquiries regarding the family in question. A few weeks later, the peasant's wish came doubly true...Not one, but two fine Durham cows arrived at his cottage, alleviating his family's plight (p. 51). 

Yet another time, a church in a Brabant town was missing a bell large enough to summon the faithful from afar. The parish priest and the inhabitants were struggling to pool their resources to buy one, but in vain. The Queen, on a visit to the city, learned the unfortunate state of affairs. Quietly, she arranged for a suitable bell to be purchased and delivered to the town, much to the wonderment of the people, who christened it the "Louise-Marie" (pp. 50-51). While her husband was establishing his realm as a respected sovereign nation in Europe, Louise was inaugurating a tradition of royal humanitarian work which would be admirably maintained by future Belgian queens and princesses. 


Jorge said...

Great post. I love how the Queen could never resist a soul in need, even if her own resources were shortening. What an exemplary Queen. I guess few dynasties have such founders like Leopold I and Louise-Marie. Both different, but grand in their own fields.

I loved the stories because they reflect how life was in XIXth century Europe. What happened with those times when a family only needed two Durham cows to live decently? Today they would need at least twenty. Good old times.

May said...

Yes, and think of all the inflation, too. Bills of 500 francs evidently counted for much more back then.