Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Royal Visit to Argenteuil

Among the most illustrious guests of Leopold III and Lilian de Réthy were HM Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In the spring of 1966, on a state visit to Belgium, the Queen made a detour by Argenteuil, where the former King of the Belgians and his wife had been living, in a kind of internal exile, for the past five years. On May 11, traveling by royal train from Liège, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the little station of Groenendael to be conducted to Argenteuil. Upon reaching the estate, the distinguished visitors were welcomed by a guard of honor consisting of members of a local equestrian club, Les Habits rouges. That afternoon, in the elegant chateau, the two royal couples enjoyed an intimate tea party and pleasant conversation, mostly in English. 

Although everyone tactfully avoided mentioning the Second World War, Elizabeth's friendly gesture towards Leopold and Lilian had political significance. During the war, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had severely, and unfairly, condemned Leopold's surrender to the Nazis in May, 1940. After the war, while Leopold remained in exile in Austria and Switzerland, Churchill had played a major role in preventing his return to Belgium (see, for example, Roger Keyes, Échec au Roi: Léopold III 1940-1951). Publicly, King George VI had been obliged to maintain solidarity with his government and to treat Leopold coldly. Privately, however, he seems to have been much more sympathetic to his Belgian cousin, perhaps partly thanks to the influence of Lord Roger Keyes, the British liaison officer who had bravely defended Leopold from the false accusations of cowardice and treason in 1940. In matters under his control, such as honors and decorations, King George, to his credit, refused to countenance reprisals against his beleaguered fellow sovereign. Queen Elizabeth's visit to Argenteuil, suggesting that she shared her father's sentiments, delighted and touched her hosts. 


Anonymous said...

Churchill was not an honest character. Ironic as Leopold, whose mother was a member of the House of Wittlesbach, probably had more of a right to the English throne than it's present occupant.

The Churchills have been self-serving and conniving for hundreds of years.

May said...

Are you alluding to the Bavarian connection to the Stuarts? I must confess I am not an expert on all those lines, but I do agree with you about the Churchills, more or less.

Anonymous said...

Yes,I have an interest in the Bavarian connection to the Stuarts.
My study of this subject is still a work in progress! A very interesting one, for sure.

The Churchills of several hundred years ago betrayed their King and benefactor, and their 20th century descendant was surely no supporter of King Leopold III. I just can never understand such self-serving behaviour.

May said...

The Stuarts are an interesting and tragic family. I believe Leopold III would have been descended from them, in any case, even aside from his mother. Marie-Antoinette was a descendant of Mary Stuart and the Belgian royal family are descended from Marie-Antoinette's sister, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples (she was the grandmother of Louise-Marie d'Orléans, the first Belgian queen). So they, too, must be descendants of Mary Stuart.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this information! I'm still figuring out all the connections. With Royalty, it can be quite a job!

Theresa Bruno said...


I agree. Royal blood lines are hard to follow. I was recently reading a book about the Lady Jane Grey and the controversy surrounding her short queenship. It difficult enough trying to keep the descendants of Henry VII straight, let alone the more distant cousins.