Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Heated Debate

Over at The Elizabeth Files, Claire Ridgway has been recalling the anniversary of the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. Always a topic to arouse passion and controversy:-

Mary Queen of Scots- Tragic Heroine?
The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots

Whatever one thinks of Mary, she is an important figure, not only in her own right, but as the forebear of many other doomed monarchs, such as Charles I, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. I believe the Belgian royal family are her direct descendants as well.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Carlton House

Here is a brief history of the palatial London residence of the decadent Prince Regent, later King George IV. It was here that Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the future founder of the Belgian royal dynasty, married Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, on May 2, 1816, in the Crimson State Room, pictured below.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Claremont House

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the romance of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, here is an article on Claremont Park, their home in Surrey. After Charlotte's death, Leopold continued to live at Claremont until he became Belgium's first king. He retained control of the estate, however, for the rest of his life. After the 1848 Revolution in France, Leopold placed Claremont at the disposition of his exiled parents-in-law, the former King and Queen of the French, Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie.

In his Vie de Louise d'Orléans, Reine des Belges (1851), Paul Roger tells a touching anecdote of the filial piety and selflessness of Leopold's second wife, Louise-Marie, the daughter of Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie. A mysterious malady was ravaging the Orléans colony at Claremont, already an ill-omened place, due to Princess Charlotte's tragic death in childbed at this once happy scene of conjugal bliss. Louise-Marie, herself in delicate health, insisted on visiting and taking care of her ailing relatives, refusing to leave their bedside, despite the dangers of exhaustion and infection. A friend tried to persuade the Belgian queen to be more careful to avoid over-exerting herself, but she answered bravely: "We live in hard times...we must be able to suffer and think only of those dear to us!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Idyll of Leopold and Charlotte

A lively account of the tumultuous and tragic romance of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, future King of the Belgians, and Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the heir to the British throne. The rebellious, tempestuous Charlotte was a night-and-day contrast with the docile, tranquil Louise-Marie d'Orléans, Leopold's second wife! Personally, I would find Louise-Marie much easier on the nerves, but Leopold always pined nostalgically for his days with Charlotte.
The character of Prince Leopold contrasted strongly with that of his wife. He was at this time twenty-six years of age, and as the younger son of a minor prince had pursued a career as a soldier and diplomat. Leopold had served with distinction in the war against Napoleon. He had shown considerable diplomatic skill at the Congress of Vienna. Leopold was now to try his hand at the task of taming a tumultuous Princess. Cold and formal in manner, collected in speech, careful in action, he soon dominated the wild, impetuous, generous creature by his side. There was much in her, he found, of which he could not approve: she quizzed, she stamped, she roared with laughter. Charlotte had very little of that self-command which is especially required of princes. Her manners were abominable, while Leopold having moved, as he himself explained to his niece many years later, in the best society of Europe, being in fact "what is called in French de la fleur des pois." There was continual friction, but every scene ended in the same way. Standing before him like a rebellious boy in petticoats, her body pushed forward, her hands behind her back, with flaming cheeks and sparkling eyes, she would declare at last that she was ready to do whatever he wanted. "If you wish it, I will do it," she would say. "I want nothing for myself," he invariably answered; "When I press something on you, it is from a conviction that it is for your interest and for your good."
To everyone's surprise the couple led a domestic and scandal-free life probably mainly due to Leopold's diplomacy and knack for handling his young wife. This was quite a change in comparison with Charlotte's parents and most of her royal uncles. The couple spent most of their time divided between Camelford House, their London residence, and Claremont Park, a country house in Surrey. Sir Thomas Lawrence came to Claremont House to paint Leopold and Charlotte. The government allocated the sum of sixty thousand pounds to pay for the couple's household, a modest income for the heir to the throne, but still a coupe for Leopold as the penniless younger son of a minor princely house. Charlotte gladly adopted many of her husband's tastes, and joined him in reading, studying and religious observance. This model existence made Charlotte and Leopold tremendously popular among the London crowds.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Astrid, Josephine-Charlotte and Baudouin

A rare color photograph of the tall, beautiful Queen with her two eldest children.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Louis XVI's Words To Marie-Thérèse

Since we recently commemorated the death of Marie-Thérèse of France, I wanted to share this moving message, addressed by the doomed monarch to his 11-year-old daughter on the occasion of her First Communion, April 8, 1790. (Via The King and I ).
C'est du fond du coeur, ma fille, que je vous bénis en demandant au Ciel qu'il vous fasse la grâce de bien apprécier la grande action que vous allez faire. Votre coeur est innocent et pur aux yeux de Dieu, vos voeux doivent lui être agréables. Offrez-les-lui pour votre mère et pour moi. Demandez-lui qu'il me donne les grâces nécessaires pour faire le bonheur de ceux sur lesquels il m'a donné l'empire, et que je dois considérer comme mes enfants ; demandez-lui qu'il daigne conserver dans ce Royaume, la pureté de la religion, et souvenez-vous bien, ma fille, que cette sainte religion est la source du bonheur et le soutien dans les adversités de la vie. Ne croyez pas que vous en soyez à l'abri. Vous êtes bien jeune ; mais vous avez déjà vu votre père affligé plus d'une fois. Vous ne savez pas, ma fille, à quoi la Providence vous destine ; si vous resterez dans ce Royaume ou si vous irez en habiter un autre. Dans quelque lieu que la main de Dieu vous pose, souvenez-vous que vous devez édifier par vos exemples, faire le bien toutes les fois que vous en trouverez l'occasion. Mais surtout, mon enfant, soulagez les malheureux de tout votre pouvoir. Dieu ne nous a fait naître dans le rang où nous sommes que pour travailler à leur bonheur et les consoler dans leurs peines. Allez aux autels où vous êtes attendue, et conjurez le Dieu de miséricorde de ne vous laisser oublier jamais les avis de votre père.
It is from the depths of my heart, my daughter, that I bless you, asking Heaven to grant you the grace to appreciate well the great action you are about to perform. Your heart is innocent and pure in the eyes of God, your prayers must be pleasing to Him. Offer them to Him for your mother and for me. Ask Him to give me the graces necessary to bring about the happiness of those over whom He has given me dominion, and whom I must consider as my children; ask Him to deign to conserve in this Kingdom, the purity of religion, and remember well, my daughter, that this holy religion is the source of happiness and the support in the adversities of life. Do not believe you are safe from them. You are quite young, but you have already seen your father afflicted more than once. You do not know, my daughter, what Providence has destined for you; whether you will remain in this Kingdom or go to dwell in another. In whatever place the hand of God puts you, remember that you must edify by your example, do good as often as you find the occasion for it. But above all, my child, relieve the unfortunate with all your power. God has caused us to be born into the rank where we are only to work for their happiness and to console them in their pains. Go to the altars where you are expected, and beseech the God of mercy never to let you forget the advice of your father. 

The Battle of the Yser

The Exiled Belgian Royalist remembers the desperate and heroic days of the Battle of the Yser in October, 1914. To halt the German invasion, the Belgians were forced to flood the local countryside. After the war, when King Albert I was asked about this celebrated victory, he replied modestly: "I did nothing but what I always do- obey the circumstances."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Perils of a New Princess

Mad for Monaco discusses the early struggles of Princess Grace. I am reminded of Princess Lilian of Belgium, who was also snubbed by the aristocracy. Sadly, however, Lilian never had the same opportunity to win the hearts of her people.
Prince Rainier was attacked on behalf of Grace with accusations that the whole match had been nothing but a publicity stunt on his part and there was prejudice against Grace because of her American background and as yet imperfect French. Family and staff would often speak French when Grace was around knowing she could not understand them; making snide remarks. Princess Grace tried to make herself a part of the circles of her husband but she was treated rather coldly in the beginning. When she began redecorating the Princely Palace there was plenty of criticism about her taste. Too American they said, too Hollywood they said. However, grumbling was about all they could do as Prince Rainier took the side of his wife in everything. She was to have things the way she liked it and that was that. However, Prince Rainier was extremely busy, the weight of ruling a country on his shoulders, and he had less time to devote to his wife than either of them would have liked.
Princess Grace was often lonely in these early days. She took time to study the history of Monaco, the House of Grimaldi and was particularly interested in the previous American Princess of Monaco and took her as something of an example to follow at least so far as bringing art and culture to Monaco. While her husband devoted himself to the business of government she would devote herself to adding style, class and refinement to Monegasque life. Still, with the other high society ladies giving her the cold shoulder, it was difficult to get started. It is to her credit that she never let it show in public how much this bothered her. She accepted the situation and went ahead as she thought best. If there were those who would criticize her in any event, she would not bother with them. She even did her best to smooth relations amongst the Grimaldi family, keeping the lines of communication open even after the rivalry between Princess Antoinette and Prince Rainier reached its apex in what some have described as an attempted palace coup.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Carlota's Prayer

In the 1939 film Juarez, Bette Davis, cast as the tragic Belgian empress of Mexico, begs Our Lady for a child.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Belgian Republic?

At the Royal Universe, Aimee voices her frustration with Belgium's politicians and argues in favor of maintaining the monarchy.
So basically the irresponsible elected politicians want to take away the few political powers of the one man who has used his hereditary position with responsibility in this theatrical political joke that sees no end. And at the margins of these political discussions, of course, lurks the debate on the usefulness of the monarchy. “A monarchy is a remnant from the Middle Ages; in a modern country like Belgium we don’t need that,” is an argument. Yes, I agree a monarchy is a remnant from the Middle Ages. But unlike many others, I am perfectly aware that the current Belgian king does not have the same political power enjoyed by a king in the Middle Ages. Quite the contrary. The only political prerogative the King still has, at the moment, is to appoint a formateur and informateur after the elections. He has no influence on the elections. He is not even allowed to vote. He has no influence on the government negotiations, except when the politicians themselves make such a mess of it that he has to conjure one white rabbit after another out of his fictional crown. Even then, he doesn’t  get involved in the negotiations personally, he simply sends experienced negotiators and respected elder statesmen into the field to act as mine-clearers in the hopes of persuading the politicians to come to an agreement. He has never tried to influence the negotiations in any particular direction, he only listens to the whining of the party leaders hoping that another white rabbit will appear.
“The monarchy costs us over € 15 million a year” is another argument. I suppose I cannot refute that, as the dotations alone amount to almost 80% of that figure. “A President would be so much cheaper,” the argument continues. No, (s)he wouldn’t. Presidents need to be elected, which costs money. Who do the republicans think pays for that? Presidents receive a very nice yearly salary. And then they retire and they receive a pension based on that nice salary. And who pays for that? For all the ex-presidents receiving pensions simultaneously? And would the household of a President really be so much cheaper than that of a king? Do the people who use this argument realise that the King pays his staff from that dotation? Do they realise that Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent receive a dotation because they were not encouraged, or even allowed, to work in the first place? Of course not.
“Albert is not king of all Belgians, he is king of the French-speaking half,” is another widespread argument amongst the republicans. Ridiculous. Yes, he is a native French-speaker, but he speaks Flemish better than many Flemish speak French. Basically those people are just letting their dislike of anything francophone get the better of them. Can you really blame a man for being brought up in a predominantly French environment? I think not. And can you, really, blame someone for not being good at studying foreign languages? It is true that the Dutch of Queen Paola is poor – but then again also comparable to the French of so many Flemish. And contrary to many of those Flemish, she keeps trying to learn the language better, even at the respectable age of 73. Let me ask those ardent republicans a question now. Would an elected President be President of all the Belgians? Would (s)he not be, after all, either a native French-speaker or a native Dutch-speaker? Would the Flemish ever really see Elio Di Rupo as “their” Belgian President? Would the Walloons ever accept De Wever as “their” elected Belgian President? For those two received most votes in the past elections… it would have had to be one of them. Or will we make it even more complicated and have a duumvirate, a politician from each of the two groups? They would work together every bit as well as they’re working together now, which is to say not at all. Or why not a triumvirate; after all, the German-speaking part of the population of Belgium is so often overlooked…(Read full article)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 19, 1851: The Death of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France

It is a curious coincidence that Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, the famous "Madame Royale", eldest daughter and only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, passed away only three days after the 58th anniversary of her mother's execution. Marie-Thérèse may seem a bit off topic for this blog, but she was actually a very important person in the youth of the first Queen of the Belgians. She was a cousin, godmother (by proxy) and namesake of the little Louise-Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte-Isabelle d'Orléans, future consort of Leopold I. Marie-Thérèse and Marie-Amélie, Louise-Marie's mother, shared deep faith, hope and charity, as well as close ties of kinship, mutual esteem and affection. Sadly, however, relations between Madame Royale and Louise-Marie's father and aunt, Louis-Philippe and Adélaïde d'Orléans, were severely strained. Understandably, Marie-Thérèse never felt comfortable around the children of the renegade First Prince of the Blood who had voted for the beheading of her own adored father, the King. The July Revolution of 1830 marked the final rupture between the Bourbons and the Orléans. Yet, Madame Royale's charitable public works remained an inspiring model for the new Queen Marie-Amélie and her daughters.

I came across Marie-Thérèse's will on a website devoted to her beloved nephew, Henri V of France, the "Comte de Chambord." It is interesting to compare her last wishes with those of her father and mother:
+OCTOBER 19, 1851+

Following the example of my parents, I forgive, with all my soul, and without exceptions, all those who may have harmed or offended me; sincerely asking God to extend to them His mercy, as well as to me, and supplicating Him to accord me pardon for my faults.

I thank all the FRENCHMEN who have remained attached to my family and to me for the proofs of devotion that they have given us, for the sufferings and pains they endured because of us.

I pray God to pour out His blessings on FRANCE, which I have always loved, even in the midst of my bitterest afflictions.

Having always considered my nephew HENRI and my niece LOUISE as my children, I give them my maternal blessing. They have had the happiness to have been raised in our holy religion, may they always remain faithful to it, may they always be worthy descendants of SAINT LOUIS! May my nephew consecrate his happy faculties to the accomplishment of the great duties which his position imposes upon him! May he never depart from the ways of moderation, justice and truth!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mother and Daughter

A tender image of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians with her only daughter, little Princess Marie-José. The style vaguely reminds me of an icon or a painting of the Madonna and Child. I regret to say I have no idea who the artist might be. Does anyone know?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16, 1793: The Execution of Marie-Antoinette

Here is her beautiful last letter, addressed to her sister-in-law, Madame Elisabeth of France. Sadly, it never reached her.
16th October, 4.30 A.M.
It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one's conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one's own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leopold III: A Traitor?

A vindication of the King from Finest Hour:
In 1936, as Hitler, unopposed, reoccupied the Rhineland, the Belgian government adopted a position of “armed neutrality,” refusing to join an alliance with France and Britain while arming Belgium for any future conflict, remembering how their country had been trampled in 1914. As a result, Belgium was one of the better-prepared nations when Hitler marched west in 1940.

Although Belgium did share military information with the Allies, as a proclaimed neutral it could not allow Allied forces to pre-position themselves or march with Belgian forces until it was actually invaded. Oliver Harvey, British Minister in Paris, wrote in his diary in January 1940:

Poor Leopold is in a desperate dilemma. If he commits himself to a military agreement, the Germans will say he has violated his neutrality and so justify a German invasion. If he doesn’t get agreement with us and France we cannot afford him proper help if he is attacked—a vicious circle. Moreover, it can be represented as an Allied interest that Germany should not invade Belgium and therefore Belgium should not provoke Germany. The answer is, I suppose, that Germany will invade Belgium if it suits, whatever Belgium does.[11]

Winston Churchill took a dim view of neutrals. For him there were only two options in the face of Hitler: fight or surrender. Each neutral, WSC said on 20 January 1940, “hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear—I fear greatly—the storm will not pass.”[12]

But Leopold’s stance was based not on Churchill but on the governments that ruled France, Britain and Belgium in the 1930s, which had resolutely refused to oppose Germany’s numerous aggressions. Against that kind of leadership, however forlorn the hope that Hitler would leave Belgium alone, as commander of the Belgian forces, Leopold had few alternatives.

When Hitler attacked in May 1940, Holland went down in four days, but Belgium fought bravely for two weeks, its artillery taking a deadly toll on the invaders. Prolonged resistance contributed to the successful evacuation at Dunkirk, where 340,000 French and British soldiers were rescued. Nearly all the French soldiers refused to join Free French forces in Britain and returned to France. The Belgian government, then in exile in unoccupied France, forbade Belgian soldiers to leave, and even court-marshalled Belgian pilots who had flown to Britain or North Africa, accusing them of having stolen their aircraft![13]

Leopold had little joy from some of his allies. When General Gort, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, pulled back from the coast to protect access to Dunkirk (leaving the Belgian right flank unprotected) he did not tell the Belgians, nor indeed his own government, until after the fact. Meanwhile General Pownall, commander of British forces in Belgium (the same Pownall who would later assist Churchill in writing his war memoirs) remarked at the time: “we don’t give a bugger what happens to the Belgians.”[14] (Read full article)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Miracle of the Sun

Today marks the anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. On October 13, 1917, the three shepherd children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, saw Our Lady appear as the joyful Virgin Mother, the Sorrowful Mother, and Our Glorious Lady of Mount Carmel. They also saw St. Joseph, holding the Child Jesus. The assembled crowds saw the sun dance in the sky, radiating multicolored lights. Here are some testimonies of the event:
"Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people." ― Avelino de Almeida, writing for O Século (Portugal's most widely circulated and influential newspaper, which was pro-government and anti-clerical at the time. Almeida's earlier articles had satirized the previously reported events at Fátima).

"The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceeding fast and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat." ― Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the newspaper Ordem.

"…The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds… The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands… people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they." - Reporter for the Lisbon newspaper O Dia.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Marie-Valerie of Austria, cousin of Queen Elisabeth

The favorite child of Empress Elisabeth, and a first cousin of the third Queen of the Belgians, Valerie was a deeply religious, charitable and practical woman. She bravely faced many tragedies; a disappointing marriage, the "suicide" of her brother, the assassination of her mother, a world war, and the collapse of the empire of her forefathers, before dying of cancer at age 56. A charming, artistic soul, she seems to have been a delightful blend of the piety and common sense of the Habsburgs and the poetry of the Wittelsbachs.

Here is a description of Sissi's relationship with Valerie from Clara Tschudi's biography of the Empress. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Last Letter of Queen Louise-Marie

Here is the last letter of Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians to her husband, King Leopold I. Attached to her will, it was written during the final days of Louise-Marie's long battle with consumption, so heartbreaking to her family and friends. (The anniversary of her death is approaching, on October 11). The letter is a lyrical farewell of sublimated conjugal love (all the more remarkable, as the royal marriage was originally a purely political arrangement, dreaded by Louise-Marie), and of passionate desire for the eternal salvation of a husband, who did not share the Queen's Catholic faith.
Cher, cher ami,
Ce testament te sera remis lorsque je ne serai plus, lorsque mon coeur, ce coeur qui n'aura jamais battu que pour toi, aura cessé de battre, lorsque mes yeux qui aimaient tant à te contempler seront fermés par la mort et que mon âme seule pourra veiller sur toi, lorsque enfin je n'aurai plus d'espoir de te revoir que dans ce monde inconnu, objet de tes préoccupations et de tes voeux et où, je l'espère, Dieu nous fera la grâce d'être éternellement réunis. Puisses-tu trouver dans l'expression de mes dernières volontés et deviner par-delà les mots une faible partie de l'affection et de la reconnaissance que j'éprouve pour toi et qu'aucun langage humain ne pourra jamais rendre. Puisse Dieu se charger de la dette de ma reconnaissance et te remercier de ta bonté pour moi en te bénissant et en te protégeant en toutes choses comme mon coeur le désire et le lui demande sans cesse. Puisses-tu être heureux que je l'ai été par toi et près de toi. Puisses-tu être aimé, apprécié, chéri, admiré, j'allais presque dire adoré par beaucoup comme tu l'as été par moi. Puissent tes enfants être toujours pour toi une source de joie et de consolation. Puisse ta mort être douce comme celle du juste et tes derniers moments embellis par le souvenir de tout le bien que tu as fait à moi et aux autres. Puisses-tu, pendant l'éternité, jouir de ce bonheur immatériel et sans bornes pour lequel ton âme a été créée plus que toute autre et puissé-je te servir, toi et ceux que tu as aimés, ou seulement te voir de loin dans cette éternité bienheureuse et avoir la certitude de ton bonheur, même sans le partager. Tels sont, cher ami, mes derniers et mes plus chers voeux car il n'y a pas un battement de mon coeur ni une pensée de mon âme qui ne soit à toi et pour toi. Mon affection pour toi, cette affection qui a été, je puis le dire, la vie de ma vie, le mobile et l'essence de mon existence ici-bas doit même, je le sens, être immortelle comme l'âme que Dieu m'a donnée pour L'adorer, Le servir, Le prier et apprécier Ses bienfaits et doit, comme elle, survivre à ce corps de boue. Quel que soit le moment où Dieu tout-puissant m'appellera à Lui et quelque déchirement que la pensée seule de me séparer de toi me fasse éprouver, je ne puis que bénir Son nom, adorer Ses décrets, m'y soumettre et Le remercier du bonheur si grand et si peu fait pour la terre qu'Il m'a départi en m'unissant à toi. D'ailleurs, que ma vie soit longue ou courte, j'aurai toujours assez vécu si je t'ai été bonne à quelque chose, ne fût-ce qu'un instant.
Dear, dear friend,
This will shall be given to you when I shall be no longer, when my heart, this heart which will never have beaten except for you, shall have ceased to beat, when my eyes, which so loved to contemplate you, will have been closed by death, and my soul alone shall be able to watch over you, when, finally, I shall have no more hope of seeing you again, except in that unknown world, the object of your concerns and your wishes, where, I hope, God will grant us the grace of being eternally reunited. May you find, in the expression of my last wishes, and be able to guess, beyond words, a meagre part of the affection and the gratitude I feel towards you, and which no human language will ever be able to express. May God take charge of the debt of my gratitude and thank you for your kindness towards me, by blessing you and protecting you in all things as my heart desires and as I ask Him without ceasing. May you be happy that I have been happy because of you and close to you. May you be loved, appreciated, cherished, admired, I was almost going to say adored, by many, as you have been by me. May your children be always for you a source of joy and consolation. May your death be sweet like that of the just man and your last moments made beautiful by the memory of all the good you have done to me and to others. May you, in eternity, enjoy that immaterial happiness, without limits, for which your soul, more than any other, was created, and may I be able to serve you, you and those you have loved, or, at least, see you from afar in that blessed eternity and have the certitude of your happiness, even without sharing it. These, dear friend, are my last and dearest wishes, for there is not a beat of my heart nor a thought of my soul which is not yours and for you. My affection for you, that affection which was, I can say, the life of my life, the motive and the essence of my existence here below, must also, I sense, be immortal, like the soul God gave me to adore Him, to serve Him, to pray Him and to appreciate His benefits and must, like it, survive this body of mud. Whatever the moment when almighty God may call me to Him, and whatever anguish, which only the thought of being separated from you may cause me to feel, I can only bless His name, adore His decrees, submit myself to them and thank Him for the happiness, so great and so little made for this earth, which He granted me by uniting me to you. And whether my life is long or short, I will always have lived long enough if I was at all good for you, even if only for an instant. 
(cited by Madeleine Lassère in Louise reine des Belges: 1812-1850, 2006, pp. 258-259)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A New Novel

Last year, a lady by the name of Lova Pourrier published her first historical novel, Le destin d'une couronne, la vie d'une famille: Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI et leurs enfants. I've not read the book, but I am curious about it. Based on the reviews I've seen, it appears to be a sympathetic, well-researched and well-written retelling of the tragedy of the French Royal Family in the throes of the Revolution. It is specifically intended for adolescents and young adults, but it is said to be suitable for older readers, too. The novel, apparently, features the role of the King's pious sister, Madame Elisabeth, and the royal couple's daughter, Madame Royale, who are neglected in many versions of this unfortunate tale.

The author's presentation of the book on her blog.

The novel's Facebook page, with interesting discussions and beautiful portraits of the protagonists.

(*Be careful of visiting Lova Pourrier's new website, different from the blog, sadly no longer being updated, to which I linked above, as some kind of malware seems to have become attached to it.)

Grand Duke Henri's 10-Year Jubilee

The Royal Universe reminds us that today is the tenth anniversary of the accession of Grand Duke Henri to the Luxembourg throne. Henri is the son of Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium and the nephew of Belgian kings Baudouin I and Albert II. I gave a brief overview of his life, HERE. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands

Claire Ridgway discusses the life of this remarkable Renaissance ruler and the influence of her highly cultured court on the young Anne Boleyn.
Spending the formative years of her life in France had not only made Margaret fluent in the language but also very French in her ways. She was also highly educated and was accomplished at music and poetry. Belgian historian, Ghislain de Boom, described her palace at Mechelen (Malines in French) as “un école d’éducation princière et un centre de haute civilisation”[3], “a princely school and a centre of high culture/advanced civilisation”, and so it was. Her court was visited by the likes of Erasmus, and other well-known Humanists, and was known for its superb library which contained poetry, missals, historical work and work by authors such as Christine de Pizan, who was known for challenging mysogyny and the stereotypical views of women, as well as the works of Boccaccio, Aesop, Ovid, Boethius and Aristotle. Margaret was a patron of the arts and her court was also known for Margarets’s collection of paintings by masters such as Jan van Eyck, her collection of illuminated manuscripts and her collection of music books. She surrounded herself with men of letters, poets and painters. Margaret also enjoyed the tradition of courtly love, which Eric Ives describes as “an integral element in chivalry, the complex of attitudes and institutions which was central to the life of the Tudor court and elite”, “a defence against boredom and vice” and a way “to constrain gender relationships within an accepted convention”[4].
In the 19th century, Louise-Marie d'Orléans, the first Queen of the Belgians, enjoyed dressing up as Margaret of Austria.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Baron Surlet de Chokier: Belgian Revolutionary and Statesman

The best known Regent of Belgium was the controversial Prince Charles, brother of Leopold III. In 1831, however, at the beginning of her history, the fledgling kingdom had another, equally controversial Regent, professional revolutionary Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier. The Exiled Belgian Royalist reports on his life in a very interesting article. Was the Baron a nationalist hero? Read and judge for yourself...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Marie-José, Princess of Belgium, Queen of Italy

A magnificent tribute to the daughter of Albert and Elisabeth.

The Charity of Queen Marie-Amélie

Some may remember my post on the almsgiving of Louise-Marie, first Queen of the Belgians. In this regard, Louise surely learned from the noble example of her mother, Marie-Amélie, Queen of the French. According to her biographer, C.C. Dyson, Marie-Amélie gave away no less than 4/5 of her private income to the poor. Here is a testimony of her charity, from her secretary, Mr. Appert:
"I saw her every day but never without being affected by her perfections and holiness. Neither the religion nor politics of the applicant was considered, but only misery. If there was an insurrection, and cries and threats were heard under the windows, she would say: 'Help as many of these miserable people as you can. Bread is dear, trade bad. Seeing a wife and children starve is enough to turn a man's head. They do much that is wrong, but it is excusable. I am comfortable in these warm rooms, but wretched when I think of so many people in the city suffering from cold and hunger. To give is my only pleasure in the midst of all our troubles. He who invented the saying 'Happy as a king,' had never worn a crown". (The life of Marie Amélie last queen of the French, 1782-1866. C.C. Dyson, 1910, p. 230).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Marriage of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth

Today is their 110th wedding anniversary. Here is a fine article by Emily Chauviere on their long, collaborative, fruitful marriage, based on Theo Aronson's book, The Coburgs of Belgium (1968). I mostly agree with Ms. Chauviere's analysis. Whether Albert and Elisabeth really fell in love at first sight, however, is a matter of some dispute. (I think it was, indeed, a coup de foudre on Elisabeth's side, but I'm less sure of Albert's feelings at the time.)

"Das Kind"

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium was a fragile, yet heroic woman. Her accomplishments during difficult, often tragic, times (especially her exhausting work as a nurse during World War I!) are all the more remarkable given her precarious health and vulnerable sensibility.

While still Crown Princess, Elisabeth suffered from the strains and fatigues of her position. She had a great need for personal liberty and independence, and, as she would later confess to her daughter, Marie-José, she found the atmosphere of the Belgian court bureaucratic and constricting. She missed the mountains, open spaces, and fresh air of her native Bavaria. She often felt intimidated by her husband's uncle, the aging King Leopold II, and his daughter, Princess Clementine, whose caustic severity contrasted with the benevolent tolerance of the Wittelsbachs.Yet, Elisabeth did not complain, accepting these trials in silence and concentrating on supporting and encouraging her husband, Prince Albert.

Undoubtedly, Albert's tender affection, in turn, greatly aided Elisabeth. Touching letters illustrate the young Prince's loving and solicitous attitude to his wife. Elisabeth's pregnancies always left her physically exhausted, and, after the birth of each of her children, she had to spend time convalescing in Bavaria. On one occasion, Albert wrote to her:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Situating Charlotte: Reading Politics in Portraits of Belgian Princess Charlotte, Vicereine of Lombardy-Venetia, Empress of Mexico

By a stroke of luck, I just found this PhD dissertation, by Linda MacNayr of Queen's University, on the artistic portrayals of Empress Carlota. I have only had a chance to glance through it briefly, but it looks fascinating. The illustrations are beautiful. You can download the thesis in PDF format HERE.