Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lilian of Belgium: The Lights and The Shadows

Here are some interesting articles, courtesy of La Libre Belgique, on Lilian Baels (1916-2002), the ravishing Flemish commoner who secretly married the widowed, captive King Leopold III amidst the torment of the Second World War. The articles (in French) date from the aftermath of Lilian's death, which took place on June 7, 2002, exactly a year after she had published her husband's posthumous memoirs. I find it very sad that Lilian is still often seen as a vulgar, ambitious, spiteful trollop. She was not perfect or saintly, and had a potentially difficult personality. Yet, I believe, as many of her intimates have testified, she was a genuinely noble lady; courageous, dignified, intelligent, cultured and generous. These articles give a glimpse of some of the lights and shadows of this much misunderstood princess:

~"Lilian, princesse de Belgique"
~"Trois questions à Herman de Croo, Président de la Chambre"
~"Simple et digne"
~"Des funérailles sobres pour Lilian"
~"Ma mère telle qu'on l'a peu connue"


May said...

Some excerpts from the articles, in translation:

"Lilian, princesse de Belgique"

With the years, her character became tetchy, and there were few, even within her closest circle, who did not, sooner or later, pay the price of her changes of mood. She could be unpredictable, denying or refusing one day what she had affirmed or accepted the day before. With certain of her children, there were ruptures at times.

Nothing, however, is more false than the image, sometimes spread, of a recluse. The most influential personalities of political, cultural and scientific life...were received at Argenteuil. Even to journalists, Lilian could accept, at times, to accord an interview, with the sole condition that it be off the record. We had this good fortune, one day, in the autumn of 1998, and it was the occasion to gather confidences which were no banalities. The Princess had just been the object of a venomous biography [by Evrard Raskin], which had hurt her, but to which she did not want to respond. She had us visit the King's study, covered with photos and maps, where nothing had changed since the last day he had spent there...

She for whom, in turn, time has just come to a halt, was a princess enthusiastic to the point of excess, sure of herself and dominating, sincere to the point of imprudence, intelligent, when she did not let her passion run away with her, a little less lucid and more fanciful with age, inevitably, but always a great lady. Of heart, certainly, and of pique, too.

"Trois questions à Herman de Croo"

[Belgian politician Herman de Croo, former President of the Chamber of Representatives, recalls Lilian]. 'I knew the princess well because I was the president of her cardiological Foundation. I was at Argenteuil dozens of times during the last thirty years. She was a great lady, of whom history will perhaps retain a controversial image, but who had a strength of character, an intellectual charm...She attracted to Argenteuil the cream of the medical world worldwide. Her conferences were little known outside medical circles, but practically nobody would have refused to participate. Nobel prize winners, eminent specialists...The princess held no grudge against Belgium, even if she considered that her husband's reign had ended in particular circumstances. And she did not get involved in politics. Frankly, she was an amazing, misunderstood figure, who has just passed away at a respectable age.'

"Simple et digne"

Pierre Mertens [a novelist] remembers: 'I met the princess several times at Argenteuil, one-to-one or during luncheons with people from the theatre, journalists...She was a very direct person...Her welcome was very simple, without ceremony. She was naturally dignified: she was a woman with an imposing presence, who said nothing for nothing. Her comments were forthright, slightly haughty; at times, frankly disdainful about a series of notable figures, but never made with resentment or bitterness. It was neither venomous, nor perfidious.' [This appreciative testimony is all the more compelling, as Mertens actually clashed with Princess Lilian, following the publication, in 1996, of his novel dealing with the royal family, Une paix royale. Lilian considered that Mertens had calumniated herself, her late husband, and her son in the book, and sued the author].

May said...

"Des funérailles sobres pour Lilian"

She was certainly a member of the royal family, but a relatively distant one,' says Professor Francis Delpérée [a jurist from the Catholic University of Louvain, discussing the controversial legal position of Leopold's second marriage and family]. 'She was the step-mother of the present King and his predecessor. She entered the royal family through a marriage which took place in conditions which can only be called fantastic'...'The marriage was certainly valid, in terms of civil law, and its issue are 'legitimate' from the juridical point of view'...'On the other hand, the marriage was unconstitutional for two reasons. First of all, the agreement of the ministers, who were in London at the time, was not obtained. Yet, this agreement is necessary. In 1960, a council of ministers had to approve the engagement of King Baudouin and Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragon. The other problem is the fact that the religious marriage preceded the civil marriage. This union, therefore, cannot have any constitutional consequences .' [In other words, the children of Leopold and Lilian have no rights to the throne].

"Ma mère telle qu'on l'a peu connue"

[Princess Marie-Esmeralda, Lilian's youngest daughter, describes her mother's personality and accomplishments]. 'On the occasion of her death, and throughout her life, many things were written about her which reduced her simply to my father's wife. That is, in fact, what she was, as she considered him the passion of her life. My mother was a passionate woman in general, but she did a tremendous amount discreetly. Many people are testifying to it now. My brother and I are constantly discovering that she assisted many people. She never spoke of it. There was, in her, a need to be generous, to do good, which was sometimes taken badly. She was violently criticized, often by people who had never met her. Sometimes it became so extreme that she preferred to laugh about it rather than to appear wounded. It was only the attacks on my father that made her very angry. Proud and obstinate, she was, nonetheless, reserved. She foresaw the outcome of the illness that carried her off. Yet she never complained, never exhibited the slightest fear or weakness.'