Monday, August 23, 2010

The Family of the Count and Countess of Flanders

In Amours royales et princières, Patrick Weber writes that the Belgian royal family has had a tradition of brothers with diametrically opposed characters. This was certainly true for Leopold II and Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, rivals who seemed to share only a taste for irony and sarcasm. In contrast to Leopold's ambitious overseas ventures and unhappy private life, Philippe and his wife, Princess Marie, a Catholic Hohenzollern, enjoyed a relatively retiring, peaceful and harmonious (if rather monotonous) existence together, in the shadow of the court. Due to Leopold's lack of a surviving male heir, however, they would become the ancestors of all the Belgian kings to come. Here are some of my favorite images of the family of Philippe and Marie. They all look so stoical!
The Countess of Flanders with her four children: Baudouin, Henriette, Josephine and Albert (on his mother's knee). I have posted on Princess Marie before; she was a strong, religious and artistic woman. She was a loving wife and mother, but very strict and proper, although later, as a grandmother, she was much more indulgent. Albert always spoke of her with great regard, but seems to have found her extreme conservatism too restricting, especially in his youth. He was attracted to liberal tutors whose opinions were diametrically opposed to hers, and felt he needed to break free of her "pietistic" outlook. He also commented: "My mother is a saint, but a saint of ice!" 

Baudouin and Henriette, the two eldest siblings in the family. They were very close and Henriette, in her diary, portrayed Baudouin as nothing less than a saint. Their mother was more critical of him, complaining of a certain weakness or lack of energy in his character. Nonetheless, most accounts of Baudouin paint a picture of a gifted, conscientious youth, pious and despising worldly vanities. Henriette and her mother were both deeply upset by Baudouin's early death and the subsequent efforts of gossip-mongers to besmirch his reputation. In response, the saddened Countess of Flanders paid tribute to the "pure memory" of her child.

I love this photograph of a little Henriette. The future Duchesse de Vendôme, staunch and opinionated royalist historian of France, already looks so decided! 
Josephine and Albert, the two youngest siblings in the family, also very close to each other, like their older counterparts. Josephine and Albert were the "modern" element in the family, according to Albert's daughter Marie-José. Josephine, who eventually became a nun, would outlive her parents and all her siblings, dying in 1958. In her old age, she fascinated Princess Lilian, the second wife of her nephew, King Leopold III, with her memories of the distant past. 

A postcard of Philippe and Marie, their daughters Henriette (top right) and Josephine (bottom left) and their son Albert, with their respective spouses, Prince Emmanuel d'Orléans, Duc de Vendôme,  Prince Karl Anton of Hohenzollern and Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria. Afflicted by deafness, and, perhaps, harmed by his lack of an active public life, the Count of Flanders became quite a difficult character. It's said that Albert actually had a better relationship with his uncle Leopold than with his own father. Philippe also didn't like Elisabeth, apparently. During the courtship of Albert and Elisabeth, the Count made disparaging remarks about the romance, and about his son's bride, complaining, for instance, that she was too short! This may sound unkind, but, on the whole, I think Philippe and Marie were a good couple; they were not perfect people but they had a solid marriage and home life and raised four very admirable children. 


Jorge said...

I also think they are a little bit boring (Philippe and Marie), but on the other hand they sat the foundations for the family union and faith of the Belgian dynasty. I can't imagine how Leopold II's successors would have been.

May said...

I shudder to think...who knows, though, perhaps Leopold's son would have turned the family around, too.

Sometimes, I wonder if part of the reason Albert I was attracted to the lively, unconventional Elisabeth was because he found his own home environment and his parents' stolid ways too restricting. He complained later on that he had been quite bored in his youth (before he became heir to the throne, his intellectual gifts and education were rather neglected).