Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Two Wives of Leopold III

Above, we see King Leopold III of the Belgians laying a wreath at the foot of a statue of his dead Queen, Astrid of Sweden. The photograph symbolizes quite aptly the way Astrid's tragic legend overshadowed her husband's reign! For good and for ill, as the Belgians' sympathy for the handsome, sensitive young widower often turned to scorn and hostility in the wake of his wartime re-marriage to Lilian Baels. As I have mentioned before, Leopold was accused of betraying his first wife's memory by marrying Lilian. Throughout the upheavals leading to the King's abdication, political agitators opposed Astrid's idealized image to the demonized images of Leopold and Lilian.

Emily Chauviere, a librarian at the University of Dallas, gives an interesting description of Leopold III and his two wives: the enchanting Scandinavian princess whom he married amidst splendor and celebration, who bore him a daughter and two sons, before dying young, and the alluring Flemish commoner whom he wedded in secrecy and mourning, who gave him a son and two daughters, and with whom he spent his last years; the woman whose loss saddened his youth and the woman whose presence brightened his old age. I am glad that the author avoids the usual vilifications of Princess Lilian and treats her with respect. Popular reactions to the King's second marriage, however, were actually more mixed than Ms. Chauviere suggests. As for Leopold's surrender to the Germans, it aroused criticism on the part of Belgian and Allied ministers, but the Belgian people, in general, still seemed to love their sovereign at that point, admiring his courage in sharing their captivity. (See, for instance, The Prisoner at Laeken: King Leopold, legend and fact, 1941, by Emile Cammaerts).

Here is an article of my own, comparing and contrasting Astrid and Lilian. Although I like both women,  I feel that Astrid was better suited to the role of Leopold's consort, since she was gentler and more diplomatic.

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