Friday, September 30, 2011

Splendor of the House of Orléans

A few images of the in-laws of King Leopold I. Above, we see Ferdinand-Philippe, the eldest son and heir of King Louis-Philippe who died in a dreadful carriage accident. Below are Ferdinand-Philippe's younger brother, Louis, Duc de Nemours, and his wife, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Koháry.
Two Victorias: the iconic British monarch (right) with her cousin, the wife of the Duc de Nemours.

Princess Clémentine, the youngest sister of Queen Louise-Marie of the Belgians. Apparently, while still a child, Clémentine's grace and dignity aroused the admiration of King Charles X of France, whose throne her father would later take. At a ball at the Palais Royal, the home of the Orléans family, the King is said to have remarked to Louis-Philippe, shortly before the July Revolution: "Were I thirty years younger, your daughter would be Queen of France." 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Faith of the Duc de Nemours

Here is a description of the second eldest brother of Queen Louise-Marie, Prince Louis, Duc de Nemours, who was once considered a candidate for the Belgian throne, prior to the choice of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. According to the oral tradition of the Orléans family, his mother prayed, during his childhood, that he would become "another St. Louis".
The Duc de Nemours was the one who responded most of all to his mother's religious teaching. After his death his biographer, the academician, René Bazin, said, speaking of his noble life: "To what did he owe his unflinching pursuit of the ideal, his firmness and dignity in all vicissitudes? To his birth a little, but chiefly to his faith. His royal blood gave him the natural instinct to serve his country; the Catholic religion prevented his being deceived as to the best means of serving her, or from shrinking from the severity and duration of the service demanded. The Duc de Nemours was a believer, and acted up to his belief. He loved the ancient liturgy, the tradition and ritual of his church. He spoke little of his profoundest feelings, but he lived them, and they consoled him in the hour of death." (C. C. Dyson, The Life of Marie-Amélie last queen of the French, 1782-1866, 1910, p. 167)


I seem to be having trouble commenting on certain blogs which have comment boxes embedded below posts. Is anyone else experiencing similar problems?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Black and Gold

In contrast to the charming Dalton miniature of Queen Louise-Marie, we have this rather grim portrait of her husband, King Leopold I. I like the contrast between the black and the gold. The portrait also aptly conveys Leopold's melancholy in later life, as described by Charlotte Brontë in her novel, Villette, inspired by her experiences in Belgium:
Well do I recall that King—a man of fifty, a little bowed, a little gray ; there was no face in all that assembly which resembled his. I had never read, never been told anything of his nature or his habits : and at first the strong hieroglyphics graven as with iron stylet on his brow, round his eyes, beside his mouth, puzzled and baffled instinct. Ere long, however, if I did not know, at least I felt, the meaning of those characters written without hand. There sat a silent sufferer—a nervous, melancholy man...
Some might say it was the foreign crown pressing the King's brows which bent them to that peculiar and painful fold; some might quote the effects of early bereavement. Something there might be of both these, but these as embittered by that darkest foe of humanity—constitutional melancholy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Miniature of Queen Louise-Marie

Louise of Orleans Dalton 1840
Commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1840, this miniature watercolor on ivory is the work of Magdalena Dalton, née Ross. After Louise-Marie's death in 1850, King Leopold I wrote to his niece in an effort to locate the Ross miniature of his wife "with red ribbands in her hair". Victoria responded that the original was with Louise-Marie's mother, the former Queen of the French, Marie-Amélie. Listing several other copies, Victoria offered to help Leopold obtain one if he so desired. 

Victoria had worn a miniature of "Aunt Louise" in a bracelet even before meeting her for the first time in 1835. As I have mentioned before, the two queens were close. In her journal, Victoria described Louise-Marie as follows : "so kind & good; the more one sees her, the more one must love her; she is so thoroughly unselfish," adding that the Belgian queen was "the dearest friend, after my beloved Albert, I have." High praise, surely!

September 25, 1983: The Death of Leopold III

On September 25, 1983, Leopold III, King of the Belgians from 1934 to 1951, died suddenly, at the age of 81, after a heart operation at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, in Woluwé-Saint-Lambert. His loss was a great grief to his family, particularly to his loyal wife, Princess Lilian, and to his beloved youngest daughter and confidante, Princess Esmeralda, who was only 26 at the time. Although his old enemies, the socialists, boycotted the ceremonies held in his honor, his death was also a deep sorrow to many of his people, especially his veterans, who had fought and suffered with him in World War II. 

By a sad coincidence, the King passed away only three months after his younger brother, Prince Charles, Regent of Belgium from 1944 to 1950, with whom he had never truly been reconciled since the tragic divisions of the Royal Question. Despite their long estrangement, Charles' death had deeply affected Leopold, as noted by Princess Esmeralda in a recent television documentary. For the first time since his abdication, he had returned to the Royal Palace, the scene of so many of the most painful memories of his troubled reign, to pay his last respects to Charles privately, at his lying-in-state. (Neither Leopold nor Lilian would attend Charles' state funeral; Alexandre and Esmeralda represented their father on this occasion). An aide-de-camp, Colonel Guy Weber, saw the King praying before his brother's bier, pale, deeply moved, his hands trembling. Leopold returned to Argenteuil sad and tired. The death of a younger family member also seems to have reminded him all the more keenly of his own mortality. Always an avid photographer, he took a picture of Alexandre and Esmeralda in mourning, explaining he wanted to be able to imagine how they would appear the day of his own funeral...

Only a few months later, Leopold would follow his brother into eternity. His widow, however, would survive him for nearly two decades, piously cultivating his memory at Argenteuil. Her passing, on June 7, 2002, exactly one year after publishing her husband's account of the crises of his reign, Pour l'Histoire, would signify the end of an era; in a sense, the closing of the chapter of the Royal Question.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Elisabeth and Astrid

These are two of my favorite photographs of two of my favorite queens of all time, Elisabeth and Astrid of Belgium, who were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. They had much in common. Both were devoted wives to their kings. Each had three children, two sons and a daughter. Each was charitable and beloved by the people. It is ironic, though, that Astrid became so much more popular than Elisabeth, since Elisabeth did much more for the country than Astrid was able to do in her short time as crown princess and queen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Remembering the Saxe-Coburgs

Not to be morbid, but here are a few of my favorite tributes, from Find a Grave.
~Au courage incarné par le grand Roi que fut Albert I.
~A Léopold III, Roi incompris mais courageux. Reposez en paix.
~A Elisabeth, héroïque Reine des Belges pendant la I°Guerre Mondiale. Que Dieu lui accorde le repos éternel tant mérité.
~Au Roi Baudouin I, grand Roi et grand homme, personne généreuse possédant de rares qualités. Que son âme repose en paix pour l'éternité.
~A l'Impératrice Charlotte, Votre vie n'a été que souffrance puissiez Vous trouvez enfin le repos éternel dans la Paix du Christ.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Madame Adélaïde, aunt of Queen Louise-Marie

Educated in liberal ideas by Mme. de Genlis, Adélaïde d'Orléans had made them her own. Long years of exile in a convent in Bremgarten, and afterwards with her aunt Mme. de Conti in Bavaria and Hungary, had separated her from family life. She knew little of her mother, and was subsequently altogether estranged from her, on account of the latter's subjugation by her chancellor, M. de Folmont. After their return to France, she concentrated all her affection on her brother and his family.
Her niece, the Queen of the Belgians, in a letter to Queen Victoria, says: "My good, excellent, beloved aunt lived only for her brother. Her devotion was absolute, and utterly unselfish. A heart so true, so noble, so loving is seldom found. She was a second mother to us, indeed few mothers do for their children all she did for us or love them better, and we in return loved and looked up to her". 
Mme. de Boigne says: "In Madame Adélaïde I always admired her extreme goodness of heart and great intellectual powers. Her good qualities were her own, her defects due to circumstances in which she was placed in youth". 
She was frank and sincere, and with her the inside was worth more than the outside. 
Exclusive in her affections, she was a firm friend but a bitter enemy. 
Her charities, however, left out no one. 
She gave away one-sixth of her income in pensions to poor artists and men of letters, to the widows and orphans of combatants in the July Revolution, and in subscriptions to schools and hospitals, for the families of shipwrecked mariners, or artisans out of work, to cholera patients; pensions also to faithful servants of the House of Orléans, and rendered assistance even to poor Jews. 
Her wealth and liberality gave her much influence, and she lived only for the aggrandisement of her brother and his family. 
Her father, Philippe Egalité had been kindness itself to her. She was too young to judge the facts and would not acknowledge that his path had been one of crime. In her days of exile and among the émigrés who formed her aunt, Mme. de Conti's court, she found herself everywhere looked upon coldly on account of the name she bore, so she was driven in upon herself and raised a rampart of reserve in self-defence. Her mother's household being unendurable, she left it and joined her brother, and having no one else upon whom to lavish her capacity for affection, she gave her heart wholly to him. 
He returned her affection, fell much under her influence, consulted her on all points, and having great respect for her powers of mind, deferred to her opinions. 
Their father's life and death were a bond of intimacy between them. 
Though both were generally the easiest of companions, upon this point they were irritable, even to rancour. After the Restoration neither of them was ever at ease with Louis XVIII, and least of all with the Duchesse d'Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI, for whose death their father had voted. 
Madame Adélaïde indeed frankly detested the royal family. She may have remembered that in her youth she had been taught to look on the Duc d'Angoulême as her future husband, but the match fell through upon the determined opposition of Marie Antoinette. Again in later life there had been an idea of marrying her to the Duc de Berry, which also collapsed. 
Besides all this she was thoroughly at variance with the policy and opinions of the elder branch of the Bourbons; she despised their narrowness and bigotry, "they had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing". She herself was genuinely liberal and modern in her ideas, and she thought a constitutional Monarchy and representative Government was really what was needed for the welfare of France, and she loved her country only less than her brother. For him she was always ambitious. If he was not of the Orléanist faction, Mdme. Adélaïde certainly was; in and out of season she never lost sight of the ruling desire of her life, i.e. to see her brother on the throne of France. Her wealth gave her great influence. She spent it generously, patronised artists and literary men, and employed much labour on her estates, especially at Randan, which was her favourite residence; a whole countryside benefited by her benevolence and adored her, calling her "the good Mademoiselle"... (C. C. Dyson, The life of Marie-Amélie last queen of the French, 1782-1866, 1910, pp. 183-186)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Marie-José and Mussolini: Lovers?

This is one of the most revolting accusations I have ever seen. Shame on the Italian and other journalists who have been carelessly repeating the rumor. Few people can have been more viscerally opposed to Mussolini and fascism than the Princess of Piedmont, the daughter of one of the most liberal and democratic royal couples in Europe, Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium. I have never seen any evidence that Marie-José ever found Mussolini personally attractive, at all. It is true that she was naïve about fascism as a young bride, upon first arriving in Italy in 1930. As she candidly admitted to her biographer, Luciano Regolo, she initially had a good impression of Mussolini's political leadership, which was being widely praised throughout Europe. She noted the apparent order, efficiency and prosperity of Italy under the new regime. With her humanitarian concerns, she also appreciated certain social initiatives introduced by the fascists.

From the beginning, however, Marie-José came into conflict with the strident nationalism of the regime, resisting pressure to use the Italian form of her name, Maria Giuseppina. Soon, especially as she formed friendships with dissident intellectuals, such as Zanotti Bianco and Benedetto Croce, it became increasingly clear to the Princess that her beloved adopted country was headed on a downward spiral of tyranny. By 1938, according to documents in British archives, discussed by Luciano Regolo in his 2002 biography of Marie-José, she and her husband were involved in a plot to overthrow Mussolini, which would have prevented Italy from entering World War II at the side of Nazi Germany. King Victor Emmanuel III and his heir, Prince Umberto, were apparently to abdicate, placing Marie-José's infant son on the throne, with Marie-José as regent. The plans, of course, sadly came to nothing, but Marie-José, with Umberto's discreet support, would continue her intrigues against the fascist regime during the war. It is known that she did her best to further a separate peace between Italy and the Allies, through the Vatican, in secret meetings with Monsignor Montini.

In the Italian press, we are now asked to believe that all these dangerous, courageous political activities were merely manifestations of the fury of a woman scorned. The claim that Mussolini and Marie-José had a brief affair at some point supposedly emerges from a 1971 letter by one of the dictator's sons, Romano. Apparently, he heard the rumor from his mother.  I wonder, though, if it actually originated in the perverted, lascivious, and exhibitionist mind of Il Duce himself.  In Luciano Regolo's biography, Marie-José tells of a strange episode from her early days as Princess of Piedmont. On one occasion, Mussolini arrived at the Quirinal for a meeting with the King. An active patroness of the Red Cross, Marie-José took the opportunity to seek Mussolini's assistance in improving conditions in a northern Italian hospital, so poorly endowed that three female patients had to share the same bed, as she innocently explained to him. This remark seems to have stirred lewd fantasies in Mussolini's mind, as he immediately began trying to flirt with the Princess, both during the interview, and during a telephone call later that night. In her diary, Claretta Petacci, Mussolini's famous mistress, recorded that Mussolini had described to her, in lurid detail, how Marie-José had supposedly attempted to seduce him, during a meeting with the Italian royal family. Needless to say, this is totally implausible. Aside from Marie-José's upright character, how could anyone believe she would behave so before the eyes of her father-in-law, the King, her mother-in-law, the Queen, and her own husband, the heir to the throne, not to mention the Duce's entourage and representatives of the press? If, however, Mussolini was given to spreading such stories, it might explain the origin of the rumor that he was Marie-José's lover. The Princess was obviously a very beautiful woman and she may well have attracted Mussolini's untoward attention. It is unthinkable, though, that she returned any such interest, and I am heartily glad that both Princess Maria Gabriella and Prince Victor Emmanuel have vigorously denounced these horrible slurs against their late mother's reputation.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Youth of Queen Astrid

Here is a contemporary account. It is somewhat idealized, but I like the focus on Astrid's joie de vivre.
From her earliest childhood the Princess showed a remarkably independent personality and considerable strength of character. Combined with this, she possesses fortunately a strong sense of humour, which the new King much appreciates. The Duchess carries this light-hearted humour into every department of her new life. 
The physical training of the Duchess was hardy, for much of her recreation took the form of ski-ing trips, or skating on the numerous waterways of Stockholm. These pastimes she can now share with her young husband, for the Belgian Royal Family enjoy all forms of winter sports. When they go to Switzerland, they take an enthusiastic part in every form of outdoor exercise. 
Like the King, the Princess was brought up to take a deep and sympathetic interest in everything that concerned the life of her nation. During the later years of girlhood, one of her hobbies was to collect the folk-lore of her country, the myths and legends in which Sweden abounds. 
Midsummer-day is kept as a festival in Sweden, and it is the pretty custom on that day to festoon the doorways of every house with the branches of the silver birch, for which the country is famed. One Midsummer-day the Princess chanced to be walking down a village street, when she came upon a house undecorated — a house in whose doorway there stood an old peasant woman gazing sadly at the birch branches at her feet. 
Princess Astrid stopped and spoke. "Aren't you going to put up your branches ? " she inquired kindly. 
The old woman, ignorant of the identity of the smiling girl before her, shook her head. "Alas, my rheumatism will not let me," she said, "and there is no one to do it for me." 
"Oh, we must remedy that," came the instant reply. "Now, if I may go into your kitchen and fetch a chair, I'll have them up in no time." 
The doorway was duly decorated, but, when the old lady learned who had done it, the branches were left there as a permanent souvenir of "when our Princess decorated my house with her own hands." 
The home life of the Duke of Brabant's bride was very simple. Princess Astrid and her sister. Princess Marthe, frequently wore national costume, which proved an extremely effective setting for their good looks. There is a quaint tradition, common in many homes in Sweden, which in the Royal Household was never overlooked. At the conclusion of the family meal, the Royal children, when allowed to leave the table, would go first to their mother and then to their father and, kissing them on the forehead, would thank them for the bountiful meal provided. 
Princess Astrid's education was not confined wholly to school-room studies. From her childhood the Princess had shown a fondness for culinary experiments. So, believing that every woman should know something of what goes on in her own kitchen, her mother encouraged her in her taste for cooking; and often the Princess would cook simple dishes for the family dinner-table. 
When Princess Astrid became engaged, she took an extensive course in housecraft and mothercraft, with the result that to-day she is, if required, as competent to run her own house as any woman in Belgium. Though she takes no active part in the work of her home, her practical knowledge has made its supervision easy.