Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29, 1935: The Death of Queen Astrid

August 29, the feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, is the anniversary of the tragic death of Belgium's most beloved queen, the radiant Astrid of Sweden, wife of Leopold III and mother of Baudouin I and Albert II.  Here is the most moving account of the tragedy I have ever seen:
In August, 1935, the Royal couple were spending a few care-free days at their villa - Hazlihorn - at Horw, on the left bank of the lake at Lucerne. On the 29th - a wonderful day of blazing sunshine - they decided to motor to a spot where they could enjoy a little climbing. Neither had been driven by fear or memories to desert a sport that had already cost Belgium a king. They, too, loved the hills and rocks and mountains.
The Royal party left the villa in two cars at about 9.30. King Leopold was driving his own powerful two-seater, with the Queen at his side, and the chauffeur in the dicky-seat at the back. The second car, following at a discreet distance, contained four members of the Royal household. They crossed the town of Lucerne and took the road leading to Kussnacht and the Lake of Zub. It was a fine, broad, modern, gently-curving road, bordered by rich orchard lands reaching down to the lake. The King, a competent driver, was doing little more than 30 miles an hour, a reasonable speed upon a thoroughfare so smooth and splendid. The road was clear. The last thing in the world one would have suspected was danger. No doubt the King and Queen were admiring the beauty of the day and view, chatting animatedly.
Suddenly, at about ten o'clock, came disaster, swift and terrible. The right wheels of the Royal car mounted the concrete border of the footpath. Along this it ran for nearly twenty yards until the King, it is surmised, lost control. The car lurched to the right, slid down a steep embankment, and then, about twenty yards farther on, struck a tree. So violent was the impact that the Queen was thrown out and dashed against its trunk. Continuing its stampede, the car crashed into a second tree - this time hurtling out the King - and ended its wild run in the lake below. Fortunately at this point the lake was shallow, and the life of the chauffeur was spared.
The horror-stricken occupants of the second car, accompanied by a group of peasants, rushed to the rescue of the Royal victims. Astrid they found lying where she had fallen. She was still breathing, but her skull was fractured, and she was beyond all human aid. Leopold, dazed and injured, had reeled to his feet, standing as though in a dream. Let the words of an eye-witness tell of those poignant moments: "The King appeared dazed, unaware of what had happened. Then he saw the dying queen lying a crumpled heap on the grass nearly ten yards away. He stumbled towards her, wiping the blood from his face as he did so, and, sinking to his knees, gathered her in his arms and kissed her again and again. He spoke her name, but she could not answer. And in his arms she died."
Belgium heard the news about midday. The heart of the nation stood still. Few could believe that such a calamity had overtaken the country so soon after the disaster to King Albert, but the message of the loud speakers, the headlines of the newspapers and the tolling of the bells combined to prove to the people of Belgium that it was all too bitterly true. They wept openly in the streets. And through tear-misted eyes they read the hasty proclamation of M. van Zeeland, their Prime Minister: "Still under the impression of the tragic death of King Albert, Belgium to-day mourns her Queen, whose youth, grace and kindliness have conquered the people. The country is overwhelmed. Sharing the terrible grief of the King, it remains faithfully at his side. It feels tenderly towards the young princes who are left motherless."
The cause of the calamity was problematical. When the fatal car was dragged from the lake experts discovered that its tyres were burst, but that there was no defect in steering gear or brakes. Some supposed that the accident was due to the bursting of a tyre when the car mounted the raised pavement and the King tried in vain to return to the road. Another theory was that the King and Queen were consulting a map, or were distracted by the beauty of the scenery...
In a little room in the Royal Palace she lay in State in a white coffin, a posy of sweet violets in her hands, a rosary on her breast. In the circle of candlelight her lovely, calm face - framed in silk bandages to hide her wound - looked almost ethereal. Everywhere in the palace, as the populace passed through to pay tribute, there was silence and the fragrance of flowers. In the early mornings, when the palace gates were closed against the crowds, King Leopold would come to her, a sad, lonely figure.
On Tuesday, September 3, 1935, they laid her to rest in the Royal crypt at Lacken, next to the tomb of King Albert, still freshly covered with the national flag. The procession through the streets was a heart-breaking one. Crowds who had waited all night in the gloaming of the black-draped street lamps could scarcely control their emotion. King Leopold walked bareheaded, his arm strapped to a broken rib, his face clouded with pain and grief, behind the coffin shrouded in an ermine-trimmed pall of the Belgian colours and purple. Behind him came the representatives of Royalty and the nations, including the present King George VI. Even on the last stage of the tragic journey, when all save he rode in carriages, King Leopold insisted upon tramping on foot the weary miles. Sometimes he staggered, and many believed that he would fall. But he marched on steadfastly behind his Queen, loyal, faithful and adoring to the end.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Queen Astrid Through Her Father's Eyes

In his memoirs, Dix-huit ans auprès du Roi Léopold, Count Robert Capelle, former secretary of King Leopold III of the Belgians, quotes a description of Queen Astrid by her father, Prince Carl of Sweden. It is a lovely, touching portrayal, and one which accords with every other description of Astrid I have seen.
Astrid was not granted a long life; she was too good for this base world. But all her life, as wife, mother, and queen, and especially as she was short-lived, like our Nordic summer, was a rare and brilliant proof of the truth of the words her father addressed to her, as a twenty-year-old bride. For, throughout her whole life, she was the same person, with a heart that was pure, devoted, and frank, as she was during her childhood and youth; and she was truly loved as no human being had ever been loved on this earth. She was granted every happiness, until the moment when her young heart broke and she departed into eternity...

In response to her own, ardent desire, Astrid pursued her studies alone, without companions. We suggested to her a lively, kind little girl who, as it seemed to us, would suit her, in the hope that this girl would help her to overcome her shyness and would strengthen her sense of her own worth; but she immediately begged to be alone, with her young teacher, whom she loved. Her natural shyness was the reason why she had difficulty, at first, in being at ease with other children and in being completely herself in their company. It was the intimate reason for her request, which we did not feel entitled to deny, although it was against our belief in the advantages of companionship in learning.

Our Astrid's modesty did not derive from self-satisfaction, and it was not based on any other fault of character. She had a heart of gold, everyone considered her a wonderful child. During her childhood, she wept easily, and, once she had begun to weep, the flood of tears would never end. But her tears were not the result of excessive sensitivity, but rather the expression of her despair in the face of her own shyness; when the reason was not the fact that her dear mother - Noni, as the children called her - had to leave for a trip, or that one of those she loved was ill, or that some other grief had pained her sensitive heart. But, at times, she could also overflow with joy. She was not at all a gloomy child, but simply reserved, and her disinterested and affectionate heart opened up more and more, as the years passed and she began to dominate herself. She loved everyone, in her discreet fashion, and everyone loved her...

If Astrid had been able to live and to celebrate her silver wedding, as her mother did, I am certain that she would have become, after 25 years, a wife as radiant as her mother had been in her time, and that Astrid's husband and their children would have had no fewer reasons than I and my children to thank and to bless her, and to render her the beautiful homage which I, one day, rendered her mother: "Sweden may be proud of her daughter!"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Count Bernadotte on Queen Astrid

In the aftermath of World War II, the famous Swedish diplomat and relative of the Swedish royal family, Count Folke Bernadotte, spent time in Belgium. He later recalled:
What I remember most about this journey is the way in which the name of Queen Astrid is still so much alive among the Belgian people. As a Swede, this gave me a feeling of happiness and pride. I knew her very well as a little girl in Sweden. I remember her as a very shy and reserved young girl. It is quite amazing that from the moment she came to her new country, she could show such an unusual capacity for winning the hearts of the Belgian people through her charm and kindness. I, for my part, do not think it improbable that if she had lived, she could, through her winning personality, have prevented the Belgian royal problem from becoming so acute and from reaching such a precarious state as was the case. Queen Astrid was truly popular in the best sense of the word. This young woman's deeds are proof of what a person full of goodness and with a genuine desire to do her best can accomplish. It is also undoubtedly due to her that the Belgian people think so highly of Sweden today. The Swedish people have every reason to be very grateful to her for what she has done: her services benefited not only the Belgian people but also her own country.

~Instead of Arms (1949)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Portraits of Marie-Amélie

At Lady Reading, there is a discussion, in Italian, of Marie-Amélie of Naples, Queen of the French, with rare miniatures, sculptures, drawings and paintings of her and her family on joyful and sorrowful occasions. Here are a few examples. Above is an image of a younger Marie-Amélie as Duchesse d'Orléans, with her husband, Louis-Philippe, and her two eldest children, Prince Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc de Chartres, and Princess Louise, the future first Queen of the Belgians.
A domestic scene of Marie-Amélie with her fine, growing family. As the image suggests, Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amélie took an attentive and affectionate interest in their children's education.
A delicate miniature of Marie-Amélie, apparently part of a family tree.
The lady at her desk. She worked hard at fulfilling the social and charitable obligations of her high station; she was also a great writer, leaving behind many letters and diaries shedding invaluable light on the personal, political and religious turmoil of her time.

A Loving Daughter

Today is the feast of St. Louis of France; tomorrow will be the anniversary of the death of Louis-Philippe, King of the French. I find this quite a poignant image of an aged and ailing Louis-Philippe in exile, embracing his daughter, Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians, during her last visit to her father on June 18, 1850, prior to his death on August 26. Louise-Marie took her family's misfortunes deeply to heart and succumbed to tuberculosis on October 11, only six weeks after her father's passing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Queen's Recovery

Here are some bittersweet reminiscences of Queen Elisabeth's recovery from depression after King Albert's death, from Catherine Barjansky, a Russian artist and a friend of the Belgian Royal Family.
For three years Queen Elizabeth, always so quick and active, had lived in a state of mental and physical paralysis. She could not fulfill her duties; in time she could not walk. 
One day, in a desperate effort to arouse her, I asked, "Why don't you take up your sculpture again?" Music, I knew, was out of the question; it only lacerates unhappy nerves. But sculpture is a silent art, and the wet clay is like a compress on sick nerves.
"I will try it for fifteen minutes, just to please you," she said.
"Why don't you do your brother?" I suggested.
She agreed, and her brother came. To our surprise and delight she worked for hours that day, and began again the next. That was the beginning of her recovery; slowly she went from one activity to another.
She also modeled a bust of her gardener, Monsieur Parat. It was an excellent piece of work and was exhibited several times. She had it cast in bronze and planned to please Parat by putting it in the greenhouse  that he loved as though it were his child. She promised him that it would be put there with great ceremony and a day was set in June, 1940. In May, however, Belgium was invaded, and the Queen mother left the palace of Laeken to work in a hospital at Ostend. Later, when she returned from the hospital and King Leopold came back as a prisoner of the Germans, they learned that Monsieur Parat had died. 
After the tragedy of Queen Astrid's death, Queen Elizabeth once more took up the duties of her position, lavishing her affection on her grandchildren. 
I was there when she was modeling the little Prince, Albert - a sculpture for which she later received a prize at the autumn salon in Paris. 
"You know," he told me, "when I grow up, I am going to be very rich." 
The use children make of words has always fascinated me, and I asked him, "What do you mean- you are going to be rich?" 
"Oh," he said, "I am going to love lots of people." (Portraits with Backgrounds, 1947, by Catherine Barjansky, pp. 156-157)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Royal Wedding Dress on Display

Via The Royal Channel, here is a virtual exhibit, presented by Caroline de Guitaut, Curator of the Royal Collection, of the wedding gown and wedding cake of the new Duchess of Cambridge.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Charlene's Jewels

Here is an article about the Lorenz Baumer 'Diamond Foam' tiara worn by the new Princess of Monaco at the evening events following her spectacular wedding. In addition, here is a short program on the Van Cleef & Arpels 'Ocean' diamond and sapphire necklace, another gift from Prince Albert to his bride.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Please visit my new v-log, Pro-Life Testimonials.

As I already mentioned, I will no longer be updating The Sword & the Sea. I am, however, leaving the site online.

Many thanks to all for reading!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Royal Bride

Yesterday was the anniversary of the marriage of King Leopold I and Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians in 1832. Here is an image of the sprightly young French princess, matriarch-to-be of a new royal dynasty, in her wedding gown.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Princess Ingeborg's Sense of Fashion

Queen Astrid of the Belgians was famous for her sense of fashion; perhaps she inherited some of her elegance from her mother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden. Here are some images of Ingeborg on Grand Ladies, a site I discovered today through Tea at Trianon. Above is a cape, from around 1900, which belonged to the Princess, below are pictures of Ingeborg posing with her little daughter Astrid and her son Carl.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mourning King Baudouin

Here is a moving RTBF documentary on the death and funeral of King Baudouin I. At the sadly young age of 62, he succumbed to heart failure on July 31, 1993, while on vacation with Queen Fabiola at the Villa Astrida in Motril, Spain. His passing united his troubled and divided country in deep mourning.

~Part I
~Part II
~Part III
~Part IV
~Part V

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The King's Speech

Today is the anniversary of the German invasion of Belgium during World War I. Here is a description of King Albert's stirring speech to the Belgian Parliament on this grave occasion, taken from the diplomatic diaries of Hugh Gibson:
August 5.—Yesterday morning we got about early and made for the Chamber of Deputies to hear the King's speech. The Minister and I walked over together and met a few straggling colleagues heading in the same direction. Most of them had got there ahead of us, and the galleries were all jammed. The Rue Royale, from the Palace around the park to the Parliament building, was packed with people, held in check by the Garde Civique. There was a buzz as of a thousand bees, and every face was ablaze—the look of a people who have been trampled on for hundreds of years and have not learned to submit. The Garde Civique had two bands in front of the Senate, and they tried to play the " Brabanconne" in unison. Neither of them could play the air in tune, and they were about a bar apart all the time. They played it through and then began to play it over again without a pause between. They blew and pounded steadily for nearly half an hour, and the more they played the more enthusiastic the crowds became.
When I saw how crowded the galleries were I thought I would not push, so resigned myself to missing the speech and went out on to a balcony with Webber, of the British Legation, to see the arrival of the King and Queen. We had the balcony to ourselves, as everybody else was inside fighting for a place in the galleries to hear the speech.
When the King and Queen finally left the Palace we knew it from a roar of cheering that came surging across the Park. The little procession came along at a smart trot, and although it was hidden from us by the trees we could follow its progress by the steadily advancing roaring of the mob. When they turned from the Rue Royale into the Rue de la Loi, the crowd in front of the Parliament buildings took up the cheering in a way to make the windows rattle.
First came the staff of the King and members of his household. Then the Queen, accompanied by the Royal children, in an open daumont. The cheering for the Queen was full-throated and with no sign of doubt because of her Bavarian birth and upbringing— she is looked on as a Belgian Queen and nothing else.
After the Queen came a carriage or two with members of the Royal family and the Court. Finally the King on horseback. He was in the field uniform of a lieutenant-general, with no decorations and none of the ceremonial trappings usual on such occasions as a Speech from the Throne. He was followed by a few members of his staff who also looked as though they were meant more for business than for dress parade.
As the King drew rein and dismounted, the cheering burst forth with twice its former volume; and, in a frantic demonstration of loyalty, hats and sticks were thrown into the air. The two bands played on manfully, but we could hear only an occasional discord.
Just as the King started into the building an usher came out, touched me on the arm and said something, beckoning me to come inside. One of the galleries had been locked by mistake but had now been opened, and Webber and I were rewarded for our modesty by being given the whole thing to ourselves. In a few minutes the Bolivian Charge came in and joined us. Our seats were not ten feet from the throne, and we could not have been better placed.
The Queen came in quietly from one side and took a throne to the left of the tribune, after acknowledging a roaring welcome from the members of the two Houses. When the cheering had subsided, the King walked in alone from the right, bowed gravely to the assembly, and walked quickly to the dais above and behind the tribune. With a businesslike gesture he tossed his cap on to the ledge before him and threw his white cotton gloves into it—then drew out his speech and read it. At first his voice was not very steady, but he soon controlled it and read the speech to the end in a voice that was vibrating with emotion but without any oratory or heroics. He went straight to the vital need for union between all factions and all parties, between the French, Flemish, and Walloon races, between Catholics, Liberals, and Socialists in a determined resistance to the attack upon Belgian independence. The House could contain itself for only a few minutes at a time, and as every point was driven home they burst into frantic cheering. When the King, addressing himself directly to the members of Parliament, said, " Are you determined at any cost to maintain the sacred heritage of our ancestors?" the whole Chamber burst into a roar, and from the Socialists' side came cries of "At any cost, by death if need be."
It was simple and to the point—a manly speech. And as he delivered it he was a kingly figure, facing for the sake of honour what he knew to be the gravest danger that could ever come to his country and his people. When he had finished he bowed to the Queen, then to the Parliament, and then walked quickly out of the room, while the assembly roared again. The Senators and Deputies swarmed about the King on his way out, cheering and trying to shake him by the hand—and none were more at pains to voice their devotion than the Socialists.
After he had gone the Queen rose, bowed shyly to the assembly, and withdrew with the Royal children. She was given a rousing ovation, as everybody realised the difficulty of her position and was doubly anxious to show her all their confidence and affection. The whole occasion was moving, but when the little Queen acknowledged the ovation so shyly and so sadly and withdrew, the tears were pretty near the surface—my surface at any rate.
By a poignant coincidence, August 4, 1914 was also the eighth birthday of the little daughter of the King and Queen, Princess Marie-José.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dolce Paola

I did not know until recently that there is an Italian canzone dedicated to the present Queen of the Belgians.

A Queen Mourns a Queen

At  Lost in the Myths of History, Christina Croft shares a touching message of condolence, addressed by Queen Victoria to her uncle, King Leopold I of the Belgians, upon the death of his consort, Queen Louise-Marie.
How beautiful it must be to see that your whole country weeps and mourns with you. For the country and for your children you must try to bear up and feel that in doing so, you are doing all SHE wished. If only we could be of use to you! If I could do anything for poor, little Charlotte. whom our blessed Louise talked of so often to me.(Read full letter)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Husband and Wife

König Albert I. & Königin Elisabeth von Belgien
An interesting postcard featuring the handsome profiles of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth.