Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 25, 2001: The Birth of Princess Élisabeth

Yesterday was the tenth birthday of Princess Élisabeth, the eldest daughter of Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde, and Belgium's first queen regnant-to-be. The royal household issued some new photographs for the occasion.
Best wishes to the Princess and her family!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Carlota and Zita

This is a good article as far as the lives of the holy Emperor Karl of Austria and his family are concerned, but I was rather hurt by the disparaging comparison of poor Carlota of Mexico with Empress Zita:
Carlota, born Princess Charlotte of Belgium, was nearly insane with ambition. Save for her insistence, poor Maximilian, a Romantic dreamer who wished nothing so much as to be able to dream forever, almost certainly would not have accepted the crown of Mexico when it was proffered. Carlota never had a child, or at least none by her husband. After Maximilian was shot the world saw little of her. Driven truly mad by the loss of the Mexican throne, she lived all the long decades of her remaining life in seclusion at one of her family’s chateaux in Belgium, still believing she was a reigning empress.
Coronation Hungary 1916

Friday, October 21, 2011

"A Passion for Self-Sacrifice"

In his biography of Albert I, which I am finding to be quite a bittersweet read, Emile Cammaerts draws a comparison between the Belgian king and one of his relatives on his mother's side,  the martyred hermit Meinrad of Einsiedeln.
Like most royal personages, he had many Christian names: Albert, Leopold, Clément, Marie, Meinrad. Now, St. Meinrad was supposed to be a member of the Hohenzollern family who, after founding the monastery of Einsiedeln in the ninth century, lived for a long time as a hermit in the company of two ravens and a squirrel. His namesake led a very different life, but remained nevertheless fond of solitude, an ardent admirer of monastic and missionary discipline, simple in his habits and frugal in his diet. His devotion to his people had developed into a passion for self-sacrifice. He shared the Saint's untiring patience and courage, with his delicate and almost feminine sympathy not for men only, but for beasts and even for trees (Emile Cammaerts, Albert of Belgium: Defender of Right, Macmillan Company, New York, 1935, p. 423).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Two Marriages

A Day in the Life

Here is a description of the Royal Family's austere life during the early years of the reign of Albert I, by M. Vital Plas, one of the tutors of the young Princes. In later years, the King and Queen only drank water in private and followed a vegetarian diet. The King also gave up smoking.
The King rose very early and walked in the park, after which he took a light breakfast between 7 and 8 A.M., and began to work. The Queen breakfasted somewhat later. Her children came to her about ten o'clock; they were in the habit of bringing her flowers, this at the King's suggestion...Luncheon was taken at twelve, en famille; some members of the royal household took part in it, and on occasions the King or the Queen invited a visitor who had been received in the morning...There were only two courses and dessert. The King always insisted on a separate course of vegetables which the children were obliged to eat, whether they liked it or not. "It is necessary for your health," he told them. They drank wine mixed with water, or beer, sometimes a glass of champagne, when there was a guest.
Coffee, smoking and talk followed, but the King never allowed the Queen to stay long, as she was ordered to rest for an hour. When she delayed he urged her to go, leading her by the shoulder to the door.
The King resumed work with his secretaries or one of the ministers, and gave audiences until dinner when he had no ceremony to attend. The Queen either received her friends or went to a concert, an art exhibition, a hospital, or visited the sick privately. When they lived at Laeken, which they much preferred to the Brussels palace, they returned as early as possible in the afternoon. The King used to take motor rides in the neighbourhood. Before or after dinner, he and the Queen would walk arm in arm in the park; they visited the children's gardens and the beehives which supplied the Palace with honey.
Dinner was served at seven-thirty; it was frugal and strictly intimate, neither strangers nor members of the household being invited. It was short and the children went to bed soon afterwards. When the parents had not to attend some theatre or concert, they spent the evening reading and retired early. Sometimes there was music. (Quoted by Emile Cammaerts in Albert of Belgium: Defender of Right, Macmillan Company, New York, 1935, pp. 402-403)

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Queen Elisabeth at prayer.

The Life of Albert I

An excellent summary from The Mad Monarchist. I will be discussing Emile Cammaerts' biography of the King soon, so I am pleased to take this opportunity to review the facts of his life.
The future third King of the Belgians was born Prince Albert Leopold Clement Marie Meinrad on April 8, 1875 to Prince Philippe Count of Flanders and Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. On the surface he would have seemed unlikely to ever become a monarch. He was the second son out of five siblings in his own family and his own father was the third son of the first Belgian king. However, after the death of the only son of King Leopold II and the death of his father and older brother Prince Baudouin, Prince Albert became heir to the Belgian throne. He was only 16 when his father became heir to the throne but even by that time he had the makings of a great monarch. His parents ensured that he was well grounded and sincerely religious. He was serious and studied hard and from the first moment he knew he would become king someday he set to work preparing himself for that task. The reputation of the Belgian monarchy had suffered during the reign of Leopold II and Albert was determined, even as a young man, to set a new tone.
Part of this new tone was to be the domestic life of the Royal Family. In 1900 he married Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria in Munich, beginning what would be a very long, happy and fruitful marriage marked by mutual respect and devotion. The succession was also quickly secured as the following year Princess Elisabeth gave birth to the future King Leopold III. In 1903 another son was born, Prince Charles Theodore, giving Belgium an “heir and a spare”. In 1906 the family was completed with the birth of Princess Maria Jose, the future Queen of Italy. Albert was a very devoted husband and father who set a fine example in his private life. This, in itself, was quite significant given the unhappy marriage of King Leopold II and Queen Marie Henriette of Austria. Together, Albert and Elisabeth would project a united front of domestic fidelity.
Prince Albert also made himself familiar with every section of Belgian society. He studied the problems of the working class and came up with recommendations to improve their working and living conditions. A firm believer in the principle of “go thyself”, in 1909 he traveled to the recently annexed Belgian Congo to see the situation for himself and what conditions were like for the natives. He had, perhaps, learned from the experience of his uncle, King Leopold II, that it was not safe to simply take the word of officials as to what life was like in the central African colony. He took seriously his duties to all of his future subjects, Belgians and Africans alike, and when he returned home presented a detailed report and recommendations on improving the lives of the natives and for further modernization in the Congo. His role in the rapid improvement in conditions in the Congo is not often stated but it was significant.
Later that year, in December 1909, King Leopold II passed away and his nephew was formally sworn in as King Albert I of the Belgians. Whereas Leopold II wanted his reign to be known for grandeur and greatness, King Albert I, at least in his own life, was best known for his simplicity and moderation. He was a hard working monarch not at all enthralled by pomp and ceremony. He was also a very humble man, reluctant to accept any praise or adulation no matter how well deserved. He wanted peace, prosperity and contentment in Belgium but he was not blind to the growing threat across the border in Germany. He tried to strengthen the Belgian army and give them more up-to-date weapons but was hampered by an uncooperative government and the fact that Germany itself was the source of most of their rifles and artillery. In 1912 his generals estimated that it would not be until 1918 that the military was fully prepared to successfully defend the national territory. As we know, Belgium was not to have that long.
In August of 1914 the ultimatum arrived from Germany stating that Belgian neutrality would be violated and that if resistance was met Germany would consider Belgium an enemy. No effective resistance was expected. King Albert I, however, boldly rejected the ultimatum, famously stating that “Belgium is a country, not a road”. A very upright and moral man, he had no other option. Belgium was bound to neutrality by treaty and if the Belgians had simply stood aside and allowed the Germans to pass through in order to attack France this would be a violation of that neutrality, not only by Germany but by Belgium as well as they would be passively cooperating in the invasion of France. Despite the impossible odds arrayed against them, King Albert I took command of the Belgian army and led a heroic defense of his country. The tall, serene soldier-king of “brave little Belgium” was tailor-made for the newspapers of the day and he quickly became a hero amongst the Allied nations for the stubborn defense of his country. The German timetable was upset and French and British forces had just enough time to rally in front of Paris to defeat the invasion force at the First Battle of the Marne.
King Albert, after being forced to withdraw from Antwerp, pulled back behind the Yser River and established a defensive line on the last corner of his native soil from which the Germans could never dislodge them. It was important to him to remain at the front, with his soldiers, on Belgian soil. He oversaw the rebuilding of the army which had been shattered in the initial invasion and in time they were better armed and equipped than they were at the outset. This was an extraordinary feat considering that almost the entire country was under German occupation and the sector the Belgians had to defend, the Flanders coast, was easily the most miserable on the western front, low, open and constantly waterlogged. As commander-in-chief he also had to oversee the operations of the Belgian colonial forces in Africa, where they met much success. It was a very trying time for the King, but his deep and sincere faith helped sustain him. A devout Catholic, King Albert impressed the importance of religion on his children and when Pope Benedict XV called for a peaceful end to the war he was the only Allied head-of-state to take the issue seriously. Unfortunately, his efforts to arrange peace with the Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary were thwarted by the other Allied powers.
In 1918, since Belgian troops could only legally be commanded by their King, Albert was made commander of “Army Group Flanders” made up of the Belgian army and elements of the British II Army and French VI Army and he led these forces in a series of successful advances as part of the overall “Grand Offensive” or “Hundred Days Offensive” which brought the war to a successful conclusion by the Allies. There were wild celebrations in Brussels as the King rode in at the head of his army to liberate the country. However, there was no rest for the King as he immediately set to work rebuilding the devastated Belgian economy. He implemented government reforms such as universal suffrage and at the peace conference in Paris obtained reparations payments for Belgium but also showed his magnanimity by opposing overly-harsh treatment of the Germans. He could see, if none of his fellow Allied heads of state could, that the downfall of the German princes and the dissolution of the Hapsburg empire would dangerously destabilize all of central Europe. Alas, his warnings in this area went unheeded.
The interwar years were a period of recovery and King Albert I was kept very busy. He became the first reigning European monarch to visit the United States, paying tribute to the men of the AEF who helped clinch the Allied victory in the war, he opened the first national park in Africa in the Belgian Congo and he showed solidarity with the Dutch-speaking community of Flanders whose region had suffered the most in the war. He also saw his son Leopold married to Princess Astrid of Sweden and his daughter married to Crown Prince Umberto of Italy. When he did have some time for himself he loved mountain climbing. He was climbing in the Ardennes, near Namur, when, on February 17, 1934 he died in a tragic accident. His sudden death was a cause of great mourning and it is probably accurate to say that he was the most beloved King the Belgians ever had up to that time. He was upright, hard working, devoted to his God, his family and his country, courageous in the face of disaster and humble in the face of praise and adulation. He was a great man and a great king.

A Tribute to Leopold III

Beautifully made, with some wonderful live footage, very stirring.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 11, 1927: The Birth of Princess Josephine-Charlotte

I had never noticed before that the first child of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid , the older sister of Kings Baudouin and Albert II, and the future Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, came into the world just a day after her uncle, Prince Charles of Belgium, celebrated his birthday.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10, 1903: The Birth of Prince Charles

Today is the birthday of Prince Charles Theodore Henri Antoine Meinrad, the second son of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, and the younger brother of King Leopold III, in whose stead he reigned from 1944-1950. The spare heir was named after his philanthropic maternal grandfather, Duke Karl-Theodor in Bavaria. Unfortunately, however, as I have mentioned before, I find Charles of Belgium to have been a far less admirable character. Nonetheless, the birth of the future Regent deserves to be commemorated.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lilian's Deer

Like her husband, King Leopold III, Princess Lilian of Belgium loved nature. For years, she faithfully tended a large herd of deer in the magnificent park at Argenteuil. (Two finely carved marble stags with bronze antlers crowned with gilded stars, designed at Lilian's request and mounted on plinths, also adorned the esplanade behind the chateau). Visiting the park and admiring the herd became a hospitable ritual for the Princess' guests, as described poetically by journalists Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré in Un couple dans la tempête (2004). Even in her old age, the frail but intrepid Lilian continued to care personally for the herd, feeding the animals as part of her afternoon routine. 

On October 22, 1997, as related by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil (2006), her temerity in this regard led to a serious accident. As she was emptying a bucket of grain onto the soil, an elderly stag, one of her favorites, whom she called "my friend",  hurtled the Princess into the air with his antlers. Miraculously, she managed to avoid being stabbed, but fell to the ground, badly bruised and unconscious. After some time, she revived, but found herself unable to rise, her hips and shoulders in sharp pain. No help was at hand, since Lilian had left the chateau alone. Weakly, between fainting spells, she called for assistance, but the staff of Argenteuil, hundreds of meters away, could not hear her. 

Towards evening, however, two worried gendarmes, Henri Dutrieux and Alain Pierlot, began a search for their missing mistress. Around the corner from her car, amidst a few deer ambling peacefully through the grass, they found the Princess, immobilized on the ground, where she had been suffering for over an hour. Still lucid, however, Lilian herself gave instructions as to her care. A gendarme returned to the chateau to sound the alert and to find a stretcher, where the Princess was cautiously placed. Transported by ambulance to the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, she was diagnosed with a fractured hip and right shoulder and hospitalized for over a month, while her loyal housekeeper, Madame Jeannine, remained comfortingly at her side. After returning home, Lilian had to spend a few more weeks confined to her room. 

Barely recovered, however, the Princess fearlessly resumed her evening ritual of feeding the deer, even offering them apples by hand. Unable to dissuade her from going out alone, her anxious entourage gave her a portable telephone, but she never used it. Meanwhile, she continued to suffer from the scars of the accident. Despite physical therapy, her right arm and hand remained stiff and painful. Writing even a few words became difficult. Relief finally came, in a mysterious manner, after an injection in the biceps to prepare for cataract surgery. Always curious about medicine, the Princess asked various specialists why this apparently unrelated treatment might have soothed her arm, but nobody had a rational explanation for the pleasant surprise. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Smiling Astrid

A Valiant Woman

Here is my article on Queen Elisabeth at Lost in the Myths of History. In addition, here is a vignette from M. Poincaré after a visit to La Panne in November 1914, following the Battle of the Yser, during the Great War:
"I enter a bright drawing-room very simply furnished. The Queen, dressed all in white, receives me most graciously. Delicate and frail, it seems as if she should have been broken by the storm; but she has an indomitable soul; she has given herself wholly to her husband, her children and Belgium. She only lives for her family and her adopted country. She talks to me of the war with unflinching resolution. The young Princes and the little Princess are in England. She telegraphs to them every day, using a cable jealously guarded by our French soldiers, and she mentions this with gratitude. This royal misfortune so valiantly borne, in the bright surroundings of this seaside resort, seems at the same time imposing and pathetic."(Quoted by Emile Cammaerts in Albert of Belgium: Defender of Right, Macmillan Company, New York, 1935, p. 269)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Little Prince Albert

Here are some recollections of the future Roi Chevalier, by a German governess, who knew him as a child from 1877 to 1882. After his death in a mountaineering accident in 1934, she published her recollections:
My thoughts sadly linger on the young boy who passed a happy youth in Brussels in his father's Palace. The family usually spent the summer at the Amerois, and the little Prince's greatest joy was to romp in the meadows and among the bushes. He sometimes built small waterfalls by piling up stones across the brooks. He was absorbed in his games. Among my memories I see his crude drawings: trees and flowers, but mostly engines and railways. I still hear him, standing on a train made of chairs, his hair waving in the wind, shouting 'Départ pour Charleroi!' blowing his whistle and urging little Princess Joséphine to take her seat.
A great refinement of feeling, simplicity, kindness and a strong sense of justice, which distinguished his parents, were already noticeable in the child. All those who knew him remarked on his frankness; nothing would have induced him to tell a lie- a good omen for the future. (Quoted by Emile Cammaerts in Albert of Belgium: Defender of Right,  Macmillan Company, New York, 1935, p. 36)
These tender thoughts somehow seem especially poignant coming from a German, in the light of the fate of Belgium in the world wars.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sisi and Valerie

My post on Queen Elisabeth's aunt and cousin at Lost in the Myths of History.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Young Princess Elisabeth

Today, the Feast of the Guardian Angels, is her wedding anniversary.
The Princess, slight and tender, looked less than her height by the side of her stalwart fiance, who smiled tenderly down at her as the cheers of the crowd rose again and again. One chronicler described the Princess as being "small for a Queen," but true queenliness is an affair of spirit rather than of the body. Time has shown that, in the most trying circumstances, Queen Elizabeth has exhibited a truly regal dignity and a bearing that proclaims her Royal by more than birth. With delicate but regular features, her soft colour heightened by the emotions of the occasion, her chestnut hair surrounded by a diamond diadem,  she presented a radiant figure in her ermine mantle which she later removed to reveal her flowered silk robe. She made a lovely picture, which none who saw her that night will ever forget.

Saturday, October 1, 2011