Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Madame Royale (2010)

A magnificent review of a magnificent book: Gareth Russell on Elena Maria Vidal's second novel, Madame Royale, tracing the tormented but heroic life of Marie-Antoinette's daughter.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Queen Astrid: An Inspiration

Another beautiful tribute to the fourth Queen of the Belgians. She clearly continues to inspire many people.

Here is a contemporary description of her youth, from my other blog, Sword and Sea.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 28, 1916: The Birth of Lilian Baels

Today is the birthday of Princess Lilian of Belgium, the lovely but controversial second wife of King Leopold III. She was the daughter of Flemish ship-owner, lawyer and Catholic politician Henri Louis Baels and his wife, Anne Marie de Visscher, both living in London at the time of the baby's birth. Like everything else about Lilian, even her full given name and place of birth are matters of dispute. According to her birth certificate, prepared in London, in the district of Islington, and sub-district of Highbury, on January 17, 1917, she was born November 28, 1916, at her parents' home, 5 Highbury New Park, Islington, London, and named Mary Lilian Lucy Josepha Monique. According to her marriage contract, drawn up in Brussels on December 5, 1941, she was Mary-Lilian-Henriette-Lucie-Joseph-Ghislaine. A strange discrepancy, since name changes were only legalized in Belgium much later, in 1987. To add to all the confusion, a family tradition had it that Lilian was, indeed, born in London, but in Highgate, not Islington! 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Queen Astrid to the Belgian Nation

In the past, I have mentioned Queen Astrid's charity drive during the hard winter of 1934-1935. Here is the famous open letter that she addressed to the Minister of State, Henri Jaspar. It was published in the papers in February 1935, a year after the accession of her husband, King Leopold III. Although the Belgian queens, beginning with Louise-Marie d'Orléans, had always been noted for their charitable works, never before had a royal consort addressed the nation in such a direct and determined manner as did the supposedly shy Bernadotte princess:
Monsieur le Président, I thank you for your willingness to contribute, by your devotion and your experience, to the success of the aid I wish to see brought to the children, to the adults, to the elderly who are suffering most cruelly from the crisis and from poverty. Many initiatives in this regard, I know, are already manifesting themselves in all classes of society. But the time has come to do more. Those who are less afflicted by the privations will understand the distress of the unfortunates by seeing them suffer from cold, from hunger and from illnesses caused by poor nutrition. The times are hard for all. Nevertheless, I have the firm hope that those who have the means will consent to make a sacrifice. In this way, they will relieve many misfortunes. Let some give money, however little it may be. Let others give objects. You will want to examine, Monsieur le Ministre, in what forms these gifts can then be gathered and distributed, as equitably as possible, by using the benevolent competition of works which so many activities in this domain deploy. It is not in vain, I am persuaded, that we will appeal to the spirit of solidarity, still so alive in our country. For my part, I will receive, with gratitude, at the Belle-Vue Palace, all that the generosity and the heart of our fellow-countrymen will suggest to them to offer to lessen sufferings before which no one can remain insensible. (Translated from"L'Appel de la Reine de 1935", Marie-Louise Libert-Vandenhove, in Astrid: 1905-1935, 2005, Christian Koninckx, p. 117)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Royal Prayer Cards

For the family of Leopold III, after Queen Astrid's death. The first card shows the King, the Queen Mother Elisabeth, and the royal children, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, Prince Baudouin and Prince Albert. The second simply shows a tender scene of the King with his children, outlined in the colors of the Belgian flag.

"Defend, Lord, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Royal Family from all adversity, and cover it with Thy perpetual benediction"
"Lord, preserve them for Belgium, which loves them so." 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Life of Prince Albert

Here is a short biography of the idealistic consort of Queen Victoria. As is well known, both Victoria and Albert were very important people in the lives of their uncle and aunt, King Leopold I and Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


In Antwerp. 

The Death of Queen Elisabeth

Today is the 45th anniversary of the death of the third Queen of the Belgians, born Elisabeth Gabriele Valerie Marie, Duchess in Bavaria. The widow of King Albert I succumbed to heart failure on November 23, 1965, at the venerable age of 89. It is a touching coincidence that the old Queen passed away only four days after the feast of her patron saint, Elizabeth of Hungary, whom she greatly admired. The year before her death, the beloved heroine of the trenches and the field hospitals of World War I had also attended a review of the surviving Belgian veterans of 1914-1918. Weak as she was, she had insisted on coming, but had been obliged to watch the review from her car, propped up with cushions and blankets. It had been a very emotional occasion. Both the aged Queen and the dwindling group of veterans seemed to sense that this would be their last meeting on earth. 

Newsreel of Queen Elisabeth's funeral may be watched here. Her loss was a cruel blow to her eldest son, King Leopold III. Their relationship had been very close. Throughout all the troubles of Leopold's life, he had always counted on his mother's unfailing love and support. After the news of her death reached him at Argenteuil, his nine-year-old daughter, Esmeralda, was astonished to see tears streaming down his face. It was the first time she had witnessed him weeping. Still unaware that her grandmother had passed away, the little princess asked the reason for her father's sadness. "Since last night," he replied, "I no longer have a mother." (Quoted by Michel Verwilghen in Le Mythe d'Argenteuil, 2006, p. 298). Esmeralda, too, was then deeply affected, as she had been very fond of her grandmother. By contrast, Elisabeth's estranged second son, Prince Charles, who had long resented his mother's preference for Leopold, refused to attend her funeral. The ceremony, however, was one of the rare public appearances of King Leopold III and his second wife, Princess Lilian, in the company of King Baudouin I and Queen Fabiola. (Rare, that is, since the division between the two kings, father and son, following Leopold's abdication and departure from Brussels). Remembering her artistic, poetic mother-in-law's passion for orchids, Lilian placed an orchid between Elisabeth's joined hands at her lying-in-state. (Lilian's daughter, Esmeralda, relates this thoughtful gesture in her memoirs, Léopold III, mon père). 

Elisabeth's daughter, Queen Marie-José of Italy, rather charmingly told her biographer Luciano Regolo that she always had trouble taking her mother's death seriously. The Belgian queen had been so full of life that Marie-José continued to feel as though she were still alive and might walk in at any moment, returned from the foreign travels she loved. In these sombre days of November, the month dedicated to the dead and the Holy Souls in Purgatory, let's hope and pray that this brave and generous lady may, indeed, live eternally with God, and return in glory at the Resurrection. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Red Archduchess

The first cousin once removed of both King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, Archduchess Elisabeth Marie was the only child of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his wife, Princess Stephanie of Belgium. Scandal and tragedy surrounded Elisabeth Marie on both sides of her family. Her father and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, were found mysteriously killed at Mayerling when the little girl was only five. The assassination of her troubled paternal grandmother, the famous Empress Sissi, followed less than a decade later. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Marie's maternal grandfather, King Leopold II of Belgium, outraged public opinion with his exploitation of the Congo and irregular private life. His eldest daughter, Elisabeth Marie's aunt, the flighty Princess Louise of Belgium, also shocked Europe with her romantic misadventures; for a time, she was even confined to a lunatic asylum.

In spite of this disastrous family history, Elisabeth Marie was mentioned as a possible bride for Prince Albert of Belgium in his youth, much to the horror of his sister Henriette. Understandably, the pious and proper daughter of the staid Count and Countess of Flanders thought the young lady had too unstable a background for the marriage to be a success. Thankfully, nothing came of the idea. Elisabeth Marie went on to generate scandals of her own, becoming estranged from her mother, the long-suffering Stephanie, and espousing socialism and spiritualism. I am very glad she was never Queen of the Belgians! I doubt even the capable King Albert would have been able to manage such a difficult consort. I also can only imagine how enemies of the Belgian monarchy would have seized upon Elisabeth Marie's eccentricities to undermine the throne. The princess Albert did marry, Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, was fortunately a much more stable character. Nevertheless, she, too, had that zany Wittelsbach streak, which could alarm even her most fervent admirers. Just as Elisabeth Marie of Austria became known as the "Red Archduchess," so Elisabeth of Belgium, during the Cold War, would enthusiastically visit Communist countries, becoming known as the "Red Queen."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Happy Occasion for Princess Lilian

Here is a charming clip of Lilian de Réthy, the beautiful but vilified second wife of Leopold III, celebrating her 43rd birthday at the family's log cabin in the Alps. (Lilian's birthday is coming soon, on November 28). The royal couple's niece, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, is one of the guests at the party. Like her mother, Queen Marie-José of Italy, and grandmother, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, Maria Gabriella was close to Leopold and Lilian, once again giving the lie to the black legend that the Princesse de Réthy was hated by almost everyone.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb

There is a new, non-fiction thriller on the many thefts of Jan van Eyck's famous Ghent Altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.  
Since its completion in 1432 the 12-panel folding Ghent Altarpiece, housed in the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, has been looted in three different wars, burned, dismembered, forged, smuggled, illegally sold, censored, hidden, attacked by iconoclasts, hunted by the Nazis and Napoleon, used as a diplomatic tool, ransomed, rescued by Austrian double-agents, and stolen a total of thirteen times. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Queen Marie-Henriette in Spa

After a dramatic and tragic life, she tried to find peace and comfort in quiet retirement with her circle of friends and her love of horses, music and theatre. Les Musées de la Ville d'eaux  discusses the last years of the consort of King Leopold II at the Hôtel de Midi in Spa. (The article is in French, but still readable in other languages via Google Translate).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"A Beautiful Friendship"

On the 105th anniversary of the birth of Astrid of Sweden, consort of King Leopold III, here is a wonderful review of Countess Anna Sparre's memoirs of her childhood friend. It is all the more welcome, as even Astrid's memory, formerly so cherished, has been under attack lately. (Sadly, Anna's book is only available in Swedish, French and Dutch). To quote:
Those memories take the reader through noble and royal households at the turn of the century and during the first World War. It talks of life among the privileged within Swedish society, the development of a good-hearted but shy girl into a kind and caring young woman, and later into a loving wife, mother and Queen. The book concludes, of course, with the tragic accident that robbed Belgium of its most precious crown jewel. Touching, emotional, and yet with almost ruthless honesty, Anna Sparre talks of the last letter she received of her friend, two days after the news of her death was made public, her reaction of disbelief to the news, her sorrow, the memories of the funeral and the conversations with a grief-stricken Leopold.
Many biographies have been written about Astrid, Queen of the Belgians, but this book is more than a biography. Although such personal accounts often run the risk of turning into a hagiography, this book does not have any such tendency. Sometimes a bit critical and even derisive, it portrays a beautiful friendship between two women who are each other’s opposites. It gives a unique insight in what Queen Astrid was like, and how people from her immediate environment reacted to the news of her untimely death. [Read full review]

Monday, November 15, 2010

The King's Holiday

Today, Belgium celebrates the "King's Holiday" (Fête du Roi / Koningsfeest ). This beloved tradition, dating from 1866, honors the services rendered by the monarch to the nation. November 15 was chosen for this celebration as it is the name-day of Leopold (in the Germanic calendar) and of Albert (in the general calendar). Upon his accession to the throne in 1951, Baudouin I decided not to change the date, and neither has Albert II.

From 1944-1950, during the exile of Leopold III (and the regency of his brother, Prince Charles), the name "Dynasty Holiday" was used. This term, however, was erroneous, as noted in a circular from the Ministry of Interior in 1953.

According to custom, the King does not attend the public celebrations in his honor!

(Photo: The Royal Palace of Brussels by night. Credits)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Royal Rhododendrons

I just discovered that there are beautiful Belgian azalea hybrids named after King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth and King Leopold III and Queen Astrid. Charming!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Talk with General von Falkenhausen

In 1960, Jo Gérard, author of a number of popular works on the Belgian monarchy and the Royal Question, interviewed General Alexander von Falkenhausen, military governor of Belgium during the Nazi occupation, at his chalet in Nassau. As governor, Falkenhausen had attempted to moderate the Germans' treatment of the Belgians. Towards the end of the war, he was even dismissed from his post and imprisoned by the Nazis for conspiring against Hitler. Nevertheless, after Germany's defeat, the General was put on trial by the Allies and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for atrocities committed during the Nazi occupation of Belgium. A few weeks into his sentence, however, he was released, after overwhelming evidence came to light that he had tried to save as many Belgian and Jewish lives as possible. As he left Belgium, where he had been imprisoned, and crossed the border into Germany, he told a group of journalists: "Ungrateful Belgium, you shall not have my bones." Nine years later, Jo Gérard would visit this veteran Prussian aristocrat and warrior, wittily remarking: "Instead of your bones, I come to ask for your memories." The interview covered many topics, spanning across the General's entire life. I was especially interested by Falkenhausen's thoughts on the Belgian royal family. During his imprisonment by the Allies, the General related, he was pressured to testify falsely against Leopold III: 
-Does General von Falkenhausen have a testimony to add to the dossier, already so voluminous, of the Royal Question?
- In the prison camp where I had been interned, I received, on September 10, 1945, a visit from two delegates of the Belgian judicial authorities, or, at least, these policemen introduced themselves as such. They said to me: "You were at Laeken Castle, on the night of June 6-7, which preceded the day of the deportation of King Leopold? "Yes," I answered. The two men then asked: "Is it true that the Sovereign, to manifest the joy this decision caused him, drank, in your company, a bottle of champagne, since he was so happy to become a 'martyr of patriotism' in the eyes of his people and the Allies?" I answered, without hiding my astonishment: "Champagne? Certainly not! We drank nothing, the King and I." They told me: "But a palace lackey is definite, you drank champagne, that night; this man remembers it all the better, since he served it to you himself!" I retorted to the two policemen: "Confront me with this 'lackey'". They were silent; then, one of them murmured: "He's dead..." 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

May all the victims of the First World War, and all other wars, rest in peace, never to be forgotten. Here is a moving tribute from Matthew Palardy to the fallen of the various nations. And here are some thoughtful reflections, from the Mad Monarchist, on the First World War, so disastrous for Europe and Christendom. The Belgian monarchy was one of the few to survive the conflagration.

(Photo credit)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Pages

Some may have noticed that I have removed from the sidebar the lists of links to posts on the different Belgian kings and queens. I have moved these lists of links to separate, stand-alone pages which can still be accessed from the sidebar, just under "A Note on Reviews." I hope this will make the right column of the blog a little less long and complicated.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Marriage of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid

On November 4, 1926, Prince Leopold of Belgium (1901-1983), eldest son and heir of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, married Princess Astrid of Sweden (1905-1935), niece of King Gustav V, in a civil ceremony in Stockholm. On November 10, the religious wedding would follow in Brussels. Both handsome, shy, sensitive, thoughtful, and noble people, Leopold and Astrid had fallen passionately in love. Since Astrid was still a Lutheran, however, a papal dispensation was required for the marriage. (Interestingly, it was the mirror image of the union of King Leopold I and Queen Louise-Marie, where the groom was Protestant and the bride Catholic). The princess also had to promise to raise her children in the Catholic Faith. Both her sons, Baudouin (1930-1993)  and Albert (1934-), would become Kings of the Belgians, while her daughter, Josephine-Charlotte (1927-2005), became Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

Here is a beautiful video on the marriage of Leopold and Astrid, incorporating archival footage of the happy young couple:

Here are some related posts:

~ Photographs of the young couple
~Description of their civil wedding in Stockholm
~ A first-hand account of their idyll, by a friend of the royal family
~ Leopold's accession to the throne
~ Astrid's charity work
~Astrid's conversion to Catholicism, in 1930
~Astrid's death
~The legend of the tragically lost Queen

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 1901: The Birth of Leopold III

"What a memory! One of the most beautiful of my life, hearing the first cry of my first child! You were so pretty, and later, so handsome! But this, you do not like people to tell you, or, at least, not too bluntly. Since then, so many joys, so many sorrows!"

~Queen Elisabeth

On this day in 1901, the future Leopold III, King of the Belgians, was born in Brussels. Named Léopold Philippe Charles Albert Meinrad Hubert Marie Miguel, he was the first child of Prince Albert of Belgium and his bride, Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria. In looks and personality, Leopold would prove to be a perfect blend of both parents, mingling his father's kindness and intellect with his mother's grace and charm. His notorious great-uncle, King Leopold II, usually a cold, distant man, was overjoyed at his arrival, as no male heirs had been born in the royal family for many years. On June 7, 1902, the little prince was baptized at the Church of St. Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, where his funeral would be held in 1983. The King was his godfather.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Feast of All Souls

The Day of the Dead (1859) by William Bougereau

Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word: My soul hath hoped in the Lord.

From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 129, Douay-Rheims Version)

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

A magnificent if melancholy tribute to the consort of Queen Victoria. In looks, personality and sad destiny, he reminds me of his Belgian cousin, King Albert I. (The Belgian Albert was blond, though).

The Family of Leopold I

Leopold I, King of the Belgians (1790-1865) had several families. By Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796-1817), he had two babies, lost to miscarriage, and a son who died at birth, followed shortly thereafter by his mother. By Louise-Marie of Orléans (1812-1850), Leopold had four children: Prince Louis-Philippe, Crown Prince of Belgium (1833-1834), Leopold II, King of the Belgians (1835-1909), Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders (1837-1905) and Princess Charlotte, Empress of Mexico (1840-1927). In his later years, by his young, brash and unpopular favorite, Arcadie Claret Meyer, the King has been alleged to have had two sons, George and Arthur, who were both created Barons von Eppinghoven. 

The Exiled Belgian Royalist gives interesting summaries of the lives of Leopold's children by Queen Louise. Their three surviving offspring, Leopold II, Prince Philippe and Empress Carlota were all very different personalities. Leopold II had the intelligence and satirical eye of both parents. He possessed his father's political shrewdness, financial sense and ambition, albeit, unfortunately, without his tact and charm. A tireless colonial imperialist and builder of monuments, Leopold II may have inherited his insistence on grandeur partly from his mother, although he sadly lacked her counterbalancing humility and sweetness. Queen Louise complained of the Belgians' petty ways; her son, however much one may dislike many of his methods, undeniably strove, as he saw it, to make Belgium great. 

By contrast, Leopold's brother Philippe had Louise's retiring manner, her love of home and family, her propriety and piety. Despite his admirable traits, however, I have to admit that I find him less interesting than his more dynamic brother and sister. It is Carlota whom I probably find to be the most appealing of the siblings. She seems to have united so many of the best qualities of the first King of the Belgians and his Queen; beauty, brilliance, grand aspirations, energy, determination and charisma, but also kindness, gentleness and charity. What a pity her promising life was so tragically marred. 

Feast of All Saints

Omnípotens sempiterne Deus, qui vivórum domináris simul et mortuórum, omniúmque miseréris quos tuos fide et ópere futúros esse prænóscis : te súpplices exorámus ; ut, pro quibus effúndere preces decrévimus, quosque vel præsens sæculum adhuc in carne rétinet vel futúrum jam exútos córpore suscépit, intercedéntibus ómnibus Sanctis tuis, pietátis tuæ cleméntia, ómnium delictórum suórum véniam consequántur. Per Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum, Fílium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, per ómnia sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast dominion both of the quick and the dead, who likewise hast mercy upon all men, whom by reason of their faith and works thou hast foreknown : we commend unto thee all those for whom we now do offer our prayers, whether in this world they still be held in the bonds of the flesh, or being delivered therefrom have passed into that which is to come ; beseeching thee that at the intercession of all thy Saints they may of thy bountiful goodness obtain the remission of all their sins. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord : Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Blessings to all. If I may ask, please pray for me. I am struggling with a very difficult situation.