Monday, February 28, 2011

The Imitation of Christ

Codex Bruchsal 1 01v cropped

 Thomas à Kempis' spiritual classic is available online here. In Emile Cammaerts' biography of Albert I, it is mentioned that The Imitation of Christ was ever at his bedside. It sheds light on his inner life... Here is a sobering excerpt:
Of meditation upon death
1.Very quickly will there be an end of thee here; take heed therefore how it will be with thee in another world.  To-day man is, and to-morrow he will be seen no more.  And being removed out of sight, quickly also he is out of mind.  O the dulness and hardness of man's heart, which thinketh only of the present, and looketh not forward to the future.  Thou oughtest in every deed and thought so to order thyself, as if thou wert to die this day. If thou hadst a good conscience thou wouldst not greatly fear death.  It were better for thee to watch against sin, than to fly from death.  If to-day thou art not ready, how shalt thou be ready to-morrow?  To-morrow is an uncertain day; and how knowest thou that thou shalt have a to-morrow?
2.What doth it profit to live long, when we amend so little? Ah!  long life doth not always amend, but often the more increaseth guilt.  Oh that we might spend a single day in this world as it ought to be spent!  Many there are who reckon the years since they were converted, and yet oftentimes how little is the fruit thereof.  If it is a fearful thing to die, it may be perchance a yet more fearful thing to live long.  Happy is the man who hath the hour of his death always before his eyes, and daily prepareth himself to die.  If thou hast ever seen one die, consider that thou also shalt pass away by the same road.
3. When it is morning reflect that it may be thou shalt not see the evening, and at eventide dare not to boast thyself of the morrow.  Always be thou prepared, and so live that death may never find thee unprepared.  Many die suddenly and unexpectedly. For at such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.(1) When that last hour shall come, thou wilt begin to think very differently of thy whole life past, and wilt mourn bitterly that thou hast been so negligent and slothful.
4. Happy and wise is he who now striveth to be such in life as he would fain be found in death!  For a perfect contempt of the world, a fervent desire to excel in virtue, the love of discipline, the painfulness of repentance, readiness to obey, denial of self, submission to any adversity for love of Christ; these are the things which shall give great confidence of a happy death.  Whilst thou art in health thou hast many opportunities of good works; but when thou art in sickness I know not how much thou wilt be able to do.  Few are made better by infirmity: even as they who wander much abroad seldom become holy.
5. Trust not thy friends and kinsfolk, nor put off the work of thy salvation to the future, for men will forget thee sooner than thou thinkest.  It is better for thee now to provide in time, and to send some good before thee, than to trust to the help of others.  If thou art not anxious for thyself now, who, thinkest thou, will be anxious for thee afterwards?  Now the time is most precious.  Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. But alas!  that thou spendest not well this time, wherein thou mightest lay up treasure which should profit thee everlastingly. The hour will come when thou shalt desire one day, yea, one hour, for amendment of life, and I know not whether thou shalt obtain.
6. Oh, dearly beloved, from what danger thou mightest free thyself, from what great fear, if only thou wouldst always live in fear, and in expectation of death!  Strive now to live in such wise that in the hour of death thou mayest rather rejoice than fear.  Learn now to die to the world, so shalt thou begin to live with Christ.  Learn now to contemn all earthly things, and then mayest thou freely go unto Christ.  Keep under thy body by penitence, and then shalt thou be able to have a sure confidence.
7. Ah, foolish one!  why thinkest thou that thou shalt live long, when thou art not sure of a single day?  How many have been deceived, and suddenly have been snatched away from the body! How many times hast thou heard how one was slain by the sword, another was drowned, another falling from on high broke his neck, another died at the table, another whilst at play! One died by fire, another by the sword, another by the pestilence, another by the robber.  Thus cometh death to all, and the life of men swiftly passeth away like a shadow.
8. Who will remember thee after thy death?  And who will entreat for thee?  Work, work now, oh dearly beloved, work all that thou canst.  For thou knowest not when thou shalt die, nor what shall happen unto thee after death.  While thou hast time, lay up for thyself undying riches.  Think of nought but of thy salvation; care only for the things of God.  Make to thyself friends, by venerating the saints of God and walking in their steps, that when thou failest, thou mayest be received into everlasting habitations.(2)
9. Keep thyself as a stranger and a pilgrim upon the earth, to whom the things of the world appertain not.  Keep thine heart free, and lifted up towards God, for here have we no continuing city.(3)  To Him direct thy daily prayers with crying and tears, that thy spirit may be found worthy to pass happily after death unto its Lord.  Amen.
(1) Matthew xxiv. 44.   (2) Luke xvi. 9.   (3) Hebrews xiii. 14.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Brothers

Elena Maria Vidal has an article about the Comte de Provence, a treacherous younger brother of King Louis XVI of France. Unfortunately, it reminds me of Prince Charles of Belgium, who also harbored envy and hatred of his older brother and sovereign, King Leopold III. During the King's exile in Austria, after World War II, Prince Charles, then Regent of Belgium, and the Prime Minister, Achille van Acker, even tried to persuade Princess Lilian to desert Leopold, promising her lavish sums and luxurious privileges if she abandoned her husband and returned to Belgium with her step-son, the heir to the throne, young Prince Baudouin. (Needless to say, Lilian indignantly rejected the offer, once again giving the lie to the black legend that she was a gold-digger).

The attempt to suborn the Princess was the sordid culmination of life-long tensions between the two surviving sons of King Albert I. The episode, mentioned by Leopold in Pour l'Histoire: sur quelques épisodes de mon règne (2001) and by Lilian in Un couple dans la tempête: le destin malheureux de Léopold III de Belgique et de la princesse Lilian (2004), had also been discussed, even earlier, by Jacqueline de Peyrebrune, a mistress of Prince Charles, who claimed to have secretly married him, in her Carnets intimes: le jardin secret du prince Charles de Belgique (1993). Nevertheless, upon the publication of Pour l'Histoire, the historian Jean Stengers, an old opponent of Leopold III, accused him of fabricating the scandalous story. Further evidence, however, subsequently emerged from the King's private notes and correspondence with his brother, vindicating his veracity in this sad affair.

Throughout the Royal Question, Charles collaborated with Leopold's opponents. His regency lent the trappings of legitimacy to their revolutionary efforts to prolong the King's incapacity to reign after his liberation from German captivity. During this period, Charles made little effort to defend Leopold from the false accusations of cowardice and treason on the part of British, French and Belgian authorities. Many try to justify Charles' behavior, arguing that his compliance with the government and the Allies protected the peace of the country and enabled the monarchy to survive. Perhaps he did act, at times, out of patriotism, but why connive at such a base proposition as attempting to suborn Princess Lilian? Such an action reflects malice. As a result, I suspect that the Prince's motives throughout his regency were far from pure.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Queen Astrid's Wedding Dress

For the nuptial blessing in Brussels on November 10, 1926. I was surprised at the dark, rich color of the dress. In the photographs of the ceremony it looks lighter.

The Education of a Prince

Some reflections from Leopold III towards the end of his life:
It appears essential to prepare for his future responsibilities, and this, from his earliest youth, the prince who is called to reign. In normal circumstances, the crown prince is one of the only personages- if not the only personage- in the nation whose future is all traced. It would, therefore, be an error not to take care, as soon as possible, that his education corresponds to the exercise of his high functions.
Three points seem essential to me in the preparation of the crown prince for his role as head of State: the formation of character; a range of studies giving him a very solid culture, in general as well as in depth in certain domains; the acquisition and maintenance of good physical form.
The exercise of power is burdensome and taxing. It demands total availability. The king's health must permit him to face the ordinary duties of his charge as well as the periods of crisis it implies. The physical form of the crown prince ought therefore to be maintained. The daily practice of sports will, therefore, be recommended to him, to develop in him the taste for physical effort, the desire to surpass himself and the sense of emulation.
As to instruction, I consider that, at the end of secondary school, the crown prince ought to pass through military school. He ought to give the example and accomplish his military service like every citizen. Attendance at this highly qualified establishment of higher education will not only give him a very solid general culture, but will also make him live with other Belgians of the same age, will develop his physical form and will contribute, by inculcating in him sane notions of discipline, to the formation of his character.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Le Temple de l'Amour

Here is a post about the Temple of Love, commissioned by Marie-Antoinette in the gardens of the Petit Trianon. There is a theory that it was built to celebrate the love of the king and the queen for each other and the consummation of their marriage, delayed for many years.

With all the discussions of unhappy and unfaithful royal marriages, there ought to be a book on the successful and devoted ones. Although many might disagree with me, I think Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette ought to be profiled in such a study. More HERE. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Defending the Wittelsbachs

In recent years, in step with Belgium's political disintegration, a number of tendentious and sensationalist books and articles have appeared on the Belgian royal family. In particular, the free-spirited and outspoken Queen Elisabeth (below), consort of Albert I and mother of Leopold III, has aroused attack. (I could write a whole article on the unfair accusations and lurid nonsense that have attached themselves to her reputation in certain quarters). Her Wittelsbach heritage, associated with the mental illness of Kings Ludwig II and Otto I of Bavaria, with the emotional instability of Empress Elisabeth and Crown Prince Rudolf, has been exploited at times, as if to create the vague impression that the blood of the Belgian royal house is somehow tainted.

To defend the Belgian royal family, it is necessary to gain a just appreciation of the Wittelsbachs, beyond the stereotypes of Wagnerian love and death, madness and despair. Certainly, like all families, the Wittelsbachs had their weaknesses; yet, like all families, they also had their strengths. As for Ludwig II and Otto I, their distant cousin, Marie-José of Belgium, the last Queen of Italy, contended that they had inherited their mental illness from their mother, a Prussian princess, rather than from their Bavarian father. This claim might seem to be merely a way of defending Marie-José's own family. I think not, though; the Italian queen was perfectly capable of criticizing her great-aunt Sisi's behavior, in her memoirs; she was also quite impatient of the romantic cult of her tragic forebear. In any case, in addition to troubled misfits, the house of Bavaria boasted genuinely noble characters.

Friday, February 11, 2011

King Leopold III and Princess Lilian in the Congo

Readers may remember my series on the royal visits to the Belgian Congo, and, in particular, Prince Leopold's study trip to the colony in 1933 with Princess Astrid. Here is a first-hand account, by Jacques Deschepper, a colonial official, of Leopold's much later scientific expedition to the Congo, in 1957, with his second wife Lilian.  (Unfortunately, the article is available only in French, but the images alone are worth seeing.) It is a very human, touching narrative, noting the royal couple's deep concern for the welfare of the indigenous peoples; their special interest in the schools, the medical missions, the hospitals and the leper colonies. The descriptions of the warm welcome Leopold and Lilian received, both from the exuberant Congolese tribesmen and from the Belgian colonists, are also touching. Six years after his abdication, Leopold still enjoyed considerable popularity in the Congo. His dignity and reserve are often described as coldness and arrogance; yet, his companions found him so friendly and approachable that they tended to become over-animated in conversation, stumbling over their words. As for Lilian, if some Belgian colonists harbored suspicions of this much-maligned lady, their reservations seemed to melt away by magic, once they finally had a chance to meet her; the most reticent were won over by her charm, simplicity and kindness. I can see why; she has a particularly beautiful, gentle expression in the photographs.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Marie-Antoinette's Sense of Humor

MA 01

Another charming article by Elena Maria Vidal, who knows more about Marie-Antoinette and the Bourbons than I ever will. In spite of her lively sense of fun, Miss Vidal also notes, Marie-Antoinette had high moral standards, although this is rarely discussed. With the support of her husband, King Louis XVI, the Queen tried to reform the morals of the court of Versailles.

The Faith of Lilian Baels

Here is a touching description of one of Lilian's most overlooked qualities, from Professor Michel Verwilghen, who knew the Princess well over many years: 
She was a woman of faith, Catholic by conviction and not simply by education, who lived her Credo in act and in truth, in discretion. She said, one day, that for her, faith was a sublimated doubt, namely, a doubt purified to the point of becoming a conviction, which alone can give meaning to the life of human beings. Therefore, she placed her trust in the Lord's Providence, and served His Church without ostentation. She was wary, however, of the expression "Christian charity", preferring to practice charity simply. At times, she could be rather intolerant of believers who lived their faith in a different way. She confessed that she did not understand the Charismatic movement and acknowledged her mistrust of excessive manifestations of faith, considering them, in the extreme, to be religious deviations. Finally, she did not hesitate to declare herself firmly opposed to all fundamentalism, manifesting, in this way, her sense of the just measure, and her horror of fanaticisms.
Here is an excerpt from Lilian's Will, also suggesting a sober, thoughtful piety. People tend to associate Lilian's flamboyant glamor with worldliness, but there is no reason why a lover of beauty cannot also love God. In fact, the idealism and perfectionism inherent in her love of beauty might actually have led her to the love of God.

Lilian's husband, King Léopold III, was also a person of profound faith. Joseph E. Davies, an American ambassador to Brussels, once described Léopold as "a noble man and a very great Christian gentleman", although few might think it today, and according to the King's biographer Georges-Henri Dumont, one of the traits that attracted Léopold to Lilian was the strong religious faith they shared.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Ordre, harmonie, obéissance et beauté"

Il nous a rapprochés des forêts vierges, des cieux immaculés, des plantes et des fauves. Il a montré la solidarité profonde qui unit l'homme aux phénomènes vivants qui l'entourent. Il a dégagé les lois immuables de la jungle et proposé à l'homme destructeur l'exemple de l'oeuvre divine, où tout est ordre, harmonie, obéissance et beauté.

He brought us close to the virgin forests, to the immaculate skies, to the plants and the wild animals. He showed the profound solidarity which unites man to the living phenomena which surround him. He disengaged the unchanging laws of the jungle and proposed to destructive man the example of the divine work, where all is order, harmony, obedience and beauty.

This is a tribute paid by the Duke of Brabant, future King Leopold III of the Belgians, to Rudyard Kipling, one of his favorite authors, in 1933. Nonetheless, it sheds a striking light on Leopold's own love of nature and sense of ethics.

Astrid and Anna

The Duchess of Brabant, future Queen Astrid of the Belgians (left), with her best friend, Countess Anna Sparre, and their children, relaxing on the beach at Ostende. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Voice of George VI

As I recently posted a link to a recording of a wartime address by King Leopold III of the Belgians, and  The King's Speech has been a popular film lately, readers might be interested to hear this recording of the actual speech of King George VI of the United Kingdom, delivered September 3, 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War.

February 6, 1951: The Birth of Princess Marie-Christine

A portrait of Princess Marie-Christine, at the age of fourteen, by Agustin Seguro. From childhood, the princess enjoyed the arts; she liked music, painting, and acting, and adored stuffed animals and pets. This image, then, seems quite emblematic of Marie-Christine's personality as a young girl, and it also, of course, shows off her ethereal, blonde beauty.
Today is a landmark anniversary, the 60th birthday of Princess Marie-Christine of Belgium, second child and eldest daughter of King Léopold III and Princess Lilian. Nearly a decade separated her birth from that of her eldest full brother, Prince Alexandre-Emmanuel, who came into the world, just over ten months after his parents' wedding, on July 18, 1942. For Marie-Christine's parents, it had been a dreadful decade, marked by the Second World War, the royal family's imprisonment in Germany and Austria from 1944-1945, and five years of exile in Switzerland from 1945-1950, all amidst the sordid intrigues and violent controversies of the "Royal Question". In 1950, left-wing strikes and riots had forced the newly-returned King Léopold to delegate his royal powers to his eldest son and heir, Prince Baudouin. He would formally abdicate on July 16, 1951, five months after his little daughter's birth. Five years later, Marie-Christine gained a younger sister: Princess Marie-Esméralda, born September 30, 1956. Despite the considerable age difference between the two girls, they were close playmates in their youth, according to Marie-Esméralda.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gabrielle de Polignac

As we've been discussing maligned ladies of the past, readers might be interested in this thoughtful and sympathetic reassessment of Marie-Antoinette's beautiful, beloved but controversial best friend.

"Toy-mender and King" (1919)

A delightful little novel about Albert I.