Monday, June 27, 2011

A Waltz with a Princess

Quite by accident, I came across this odd, rather snide little anecdote about Princess Marie-Christine and her mother, Princess Lilian, from the relentlessly name-dropping memoirs of British designer Nicholas Haslam.
Another less fulfilling Parisian coup de foudre began at Isobel Goldsmith's exotic debutante ball, where all the girls were instructed to wear tête fleuriée. Next to me at dinner a towering tiara of flowers encircled the head of a rather pretty blonde named Marie-Christine. We danced frequently, and suddenly she held me very close, whispering that this moment was all she had dreamed of, waltzing with a handsome young Englishman; she would like it to last forever, and even hinted at something more permanent. Somewhat alarmed, I asked Isobel the name of this forthright friend. I was even more alarmed to learn she was a princess of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold III and Mme de Réthy. And within a few minutes I was bowing to that supremely elegant woman, who was clearly giving me the once-over. I failed her testing eye. But not, it turned out, entirely. A year or so later, at Patrick Lichfield's wedding to Leonora Grosvenor, there again was ma princesse, with the same intentions; so much so that I was asked to spend the night at Cholmondeley Castle, where she and Mme de Réthy were staying. I declined, I hope politely. Later I rather proudly told the story to Tom Parr. "Good God", he said."Just imagine being the Tony Snowdon of Belgium". (Redeeming Features: A Memoir, 2009, pp. 270-271)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Josephine of Baden, grandmother of Albert I

Here is a portrait of Princess Josephine Friederike Luise of Baden (1813-1900), the maternal grandmother of Albert I, King of the Belgians. (It seems that yesterday was the anniversary of her death).The daughter of Karl, Grand Duke of Baden and his wife, the famous Stéphanie de Beauharnais, Josephine was the consort of Karl Anton, Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and the mother of six children, including King Carol I of Romania, Queen Stephanie of Portugal and Princess Maria Luise, Countess of Flanders, the mother of Albert I. From the painting, it appears that Josephine was quite the dignified, brunette beauty, a kind of counterpart to Albert's paternal grandmother, Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians, a lovely blonde. 


The Exiled Belgian Royalist has some reflections on The Beast of Berlin, a melodramatic American propaganda film produced during World War I, demonizing Kaiser Wilhelm II and portraying his much-admired cousin and opponent, King Albert I, as something of an avenging angel. While many are aware that the Kaiser suffered from undue vilification in the wake of the war, fewer probably realize that King Albert himself endured his share of mudslinging at the same time. Lionized in the Allied press as the incarnation of right versus might, he was shamelessly defamed and derided by German journalists as a coward, traitor and general failure. The Belgian patriot Emile Cammaerts lamented:
In spite of the most authentic documents, of the most glaring material proofs, it might be difficult to realise that the human spirit may fall so low. It seems as if we were diminishing ourselves when we accuse our enemies. We have lived so long in the faith that "such things are impossible" that, now that they happen almost at our door, we should be inclined to doubt our eyes rather than to doubt the innate goodness of man. Never did I feel this more strongly than when I saw, for the first time, a caricature of King Albert reproduced from a German newspaper.
Surely if one man, one leader, has come out of this severe trial unstained, with his virtue untarnished, it is indeed Albert the First, King of the Belgians. His simple and loyal attitude in face of the German ultimatum, the indomitable courage which he showed during the Belgian campaign, his dignity, his reserve, his almost exaggerated modesty, ought to have won for him, besides the deep admiration of the Allies and of the neutral world, the respect and esteem even of his worst enemy. There is a man of few words and noble actions, fulfilling his pledges to the last article, faithful to his word even in the presence of death, a leader sharing the work of his soldiers, a King living the life of a poor man. When in Paris, in London, triumphal receptions were awaiting them, he and his noble and devoted Queen remained at their post, on the last stretch of Belgian territory, in the rough surroundings of army quarters.
The whole world has noted this. People who have no sympathy to spare for the Allies' cause have been obliged to bow before this young hero, more noble in his defeat than all the conquerors of Europe in their victory. But the Germans have not felt it. Not only did they try to ridicule King Albert in their comic papers. Even the son of Governor von Bissing did not hesitate to fling in his face the generous epithet, "Lackland." (1) As soon as the last attempt to conciliate the King had failed the German press in Belgium began a most violent and abusive campaign against him. The Diisseldorfer General-Anseiger published a venomous article, in which he was represented as personally responsible for "the plot of the Allies against Germany and for the crimes of the franc-tireurs." He was stigmatised as "the slave of England," and it was asserted that " If he did not grasp the hand stretched out to him by the Kaiser on August 2nd and the 9th it is only because he did not dare to do so" (October 10th, 1914). He was said to have "betrayed his army at Antwerp. Had he not sworn not to leave the town alive?" And Le Reveil, another paper circulated in Belgium by German propagandists, announced solemnly that, once on the Yser, the King wanted to sign a separate peace with Germany, but England had forbidden him to do so. The Hamburger Nachrichten, the Vossische Zeitung and the Frankfurter Zeitung repeated without scruple this tissue of gross calumnies. The Deutsche Soldatenpost, edited specially for the German soldiers in Belgium, went even a step further and violently reproached the Queen of the Belgians for not having protested against the cruelties inflicted on German civilians in Brussels and Antwerp, at the outbreak of the hostilities! (Through the iron bars: two years of German occupation in Belgium: Volume 4, Issue 61917, pp. 28-30)
(1) Suddeutsche Monatshefte, April 1915.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart Holy Card
Here is an overview of the tradition of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus among Catholic monarchists. As I have mentioned before, there is a touching account of a meeting between Albert I and the well-known preacher of devotion and reparation to the Sacred Heart, Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, in 1922. The king and the priest prayed together as follows:
"Heart of Jesus, You are the Lord of lords and the King of kings, I adore You..."
"Heart of Jesus, Belgium belongs to You, save it!"
"Heart of Jesus, the royal family belongs to You, bless it!"
"Mercy, oh King of kings, for the rulers who outrage You!"
"Mercy, oh King of nations, for the peoples who deny You!"

A Clear Conscience

Here is a quotation, from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which was famously found, copied out in Latin and translated into Italian, among the papers of King Umberto II in his desk in Cascais:
"But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's day; but neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Maria Pia, Maria Gabriella, and Maria Beatrice

Here are some video tributes to the two eldest daughters of King Umberto II and Queen Maria José,  Princess Maria Pia and Princess Maria Gabriella, with many interesting pictures I had never seen before.

In addition, here is a clip of their younger sister, Princess Maria Beatrice, visiting an exhibit of Flemish art. It seems quite suitable, considering that Maria Beatrice's mother was a Belgian princess!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 11, 1928: The Birth of Doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón

Reina Fabiola
Today, Queen Fabiola of Belgium, the much-loved and widowed consort of King Baudouin I, celebrates her 83rd birthday. Between precarious health and bizarre death threats, she has not had an easy time in the last few years. All the more reason to take a moment to wish this dedicated, brave and humorous royal lady  every blessing.

Princesse Rayon de Soleil

A postcard of "Princess Sunbeam", little Marie-José, helping Belgian refugees during the First World War. The image is no mere sentimental myth. At an early age, the little Princess had already embraced the charitable functions of royalty. When she was only eight years old, she wrote that if she ever became a queen, she wanted to be given all the names of the poor of her new country, in order to be able to give something to each one.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Farewell of the May King

While the Country, barely emerged from a tragic war, sees her frontiers menaced, and her own unity in peril, I believe my duty is to do all that I still can in order that further sorrow and further tears may be spared the people who have already suffered so much.
I trust that the Magistrature, whose traditions of independence and liberty are among the glories of Italy, will be able to have its free say, but not wanting to oppose force to the abuse of power, nor to render myself complicit in the illegality that the government has committed, I leave the threshold of my Country, in the hope of averting from the Italians new struggles and new sorrows. Accomplishing this sacrifice in the supreme interest of the Fatherland, I feel the duty, as an Italian and as a King, to raise my protest against the violence which has been committed, a protest in the name of the Crown and of all the people, within and without the borders, who had the right to see its destiny decided with respect for the laws, and in such a manner as to dissipate every doubt and every suspicion. 
For those who still maintain fidelity to the Monarchy, for those whose spirit rebels against injustice, I record my example, and I exhort them to avoid worsening the dissensions which would threaten the unity of the Country, fruit of the faith and the sacrifice of our fathers, and which could render more severe the conditions of the peace treaty. 
With a spirit full of sorrow, but with the serene consciousness of having made every effort to carry out my duties, I leave my country. Let those who have taken the oath and kept faith through the hardest trials, consider themselves released from their oath of allegiance to the King, but not from their oath of allegiance to the Country. I think of all those who have fallen in the name of Italy, and I salute all the Italians. Whatever destiny awaits our Country, she will always be able to count on me, as on the most devoted of her sons. 
Long live Italy! 
June 13, 1946 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Duchess Marie Gabrielle in Bavaria, Sister of Queen Elisabeth

One of three siblings Elisabeth had the misfortune to lose in 1912.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Art of Madame de Caraman Chimay

Countess Ghislaine de Riquet de Caraman Chimay (1865-1955) was a loyal lady-in-waiting and brave companion of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians during World War I. Like her mistress, the Countess was a talented artist. Here are two of her pastel drawings, from her days at La Panne, known as the 'Green Pearl' of the Belgian coast, near the French border. The Belgian Royal Family took up residence in La Panne in a modest brick villa in October 1914 following the German invasion of Belgium in August. Both works displayed here formed part of the art collection of Queen Elisabeth's grand-daughter, Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, which was auctioned at Christie's in 2007.
An intimate scene of King Albert I, Queen Elisabeth and perhaps Prince Leopold, the future King Leopold III, entitled La Chambre du Roi ('The King's Room'), signed and dated 'Ghislaine de Caraman-Chimay/1917'.

A portrait of Maria José, Queen of Italy, as a child, signed, inscribed and dated 'La Panne. 1916 - /S.A.R. La Princesse/Marie-José ecoutant/une belle histoire a la/lueur de la lampe/G de Caraman Chimay' ('La Panne. 1916-/H.R.H. Princess/ Marie-José listening/ to a beautiful story by the/ light of the lamp/ G de Caraman Chimay').