Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Prince de Ligne on Marie-Antoinette

Our dear friend, Elena Maria Vidal, shares a stunning description of the misunderstood Queen of France by...a great Belgian nobleman. As I have said before, Marie-Antoinette's predicament always reminds me of the way Lilian Baels could never put a foot right, in the estimation of some.
The charms of her face and of her soul, the one as white and beautiful as the other, and the attraction of that society hence made me spend five months of every year in her suite, without absenting myself for a single day....
As for the queen, the radiance of her presence harmed her. The jealousy of the women whom she crushed by the beauty of her complexion and the carriage of her head, ever seeking to harm her as a woman, harmed her also as a queen. Fredegonde and Brunehaut, Catherine and Marie de' Medici, Anne and Theresa of Austria never laughed; Marie Antoinette when she was fifteen laughed much; therefore she was declared "satirical."
She defended herself against the intrigues of two parties, each of whom wanted to give her a lover; on which they declared her "inimical to Frenchmen;" and all the more because she was friendly with foreigners, from whom she had neither traps nor importunity to fear.
An unfortunate dispute about a visit between her brother the Elector of Cologne and the princes of the blood, of which she was wholly ignorant, offended the etiquette of the Court, which then called her "proud."
She dines with one friend, and sometimes goes to see another friend, after supper, and they say she is "familiar." That is not what the few persons who lived in her familiarity would say. Her delicate, sure sense of the becoming awed them as much as her majesty. It was as impossible to forget it as it was to forget one's self.
She is sensible of the friendship of certain persons who are the most devoted to her; then she is declared to be "amorous" of them. Sometimes she requires too much for their families; then she is "unreasonable."
She gives little fetes, and works herself at her Trianon: that is called "bourgeoise." She buys Saint-Cloud for the health of her children and to take them from the malaria of Versailles: they pronounce her "extravagant." Her promenades in the evening on the terrace, or on horseback in the Bois de Boulogne, or sometimes on foot round the music in the Orangery "seem suspicious." Her most innocent pleasures are thought criminal; her general loving-kindness is " coquettish." She fears to win at cards, at which she is compelled to play, and they say she " wastes the money of the State."
She laughed and sang and danced until she was twentyfive years old: they declared her *' frivolous." The affairs of the kingdom became embroiled, the spirit of party arose and divided society; she would take no side, and they called her "ungrateful."
She no longer amused herself; she foresaw misfortunes: they declared her "intriguing." She dropped certain little requests or recommendations she had made to the king or the ministers as soon as she feared they were troublesome, and then she was "fickle."
With so many crimes to her charge, and all so well-proved, did she not deserve her misfortunes? But I see I have forgotten the greatest. The queen, who was almost a prisoner of State in her chateau of Versailles, took the liberty sometimes to go on foot, followed by a servant, through one of the galleries, to the apartments of Mme. de Lamballe or Mme. de Polignac. How shocking a scandal! The late queen was always carried in a sedan-chair to see her cousin, Mme. de Talmont, where she found a rather bad company of Polish relations, who claimed to be Leczinskis.
The queen, beautiful as the day, and almost always in her own hair, — except on occasions of ceremony, when her toilet, about which she never cared, was regulated for her, — was naturally talked about; for everybody wanted to please her. The late Leczinska, old before her time and rather ugly, in a large cap called, I think, " butterfly," would sometimes command certain questionable plays at the theatre; but no one found fault with her for that Devout ladies like scandals. When, in our time, they gave us a play of that sort we used to call it the queen's repertory, and Marie Antoinette would scold us, laughing, and say we might at least make known it was the queen before her. No one ever dared to risk too free a speech in her presence, nor too gay a tale, nor a coarse insinuation. She had taste and judgment; and as for the three Graces, she united them all in herself alone. (The Prince de Ligne: His Memoirs, Vol.I, pp 197-201.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fit for a Princess

The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada has several pairs of Princess Lilian's shoes in its collection.
Princess Lilian was known for her glamour and sense of style, and this is evident in her elegant footwear. The shoes now in the Museum's collection were custom designed for Princess Lilian by Roger Vivier, one of the most innovative shoe designers of the 20th century. He maintained an eye for cutting edge design, referencing the history of fashion while incorporating modern elements of science and engineering. The Museum is delighted to have these shoes, rich in both history and beauty, in its collections. (Read full article)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Life and Death of Queen Astrid

Kronprinzessin Astrid von Belgien mit Tochter Josephine Charlotte
From her girlhood, Queen Astrid was trained to many accomplishments. Slender and of medium height, she was fond of outdoor sports, was a good horsewoman, a beautiful dancer and adverse to pomp and display. Her dress was always simple. She spoke French and German almost as well as her native Swedish, and was a fair musician, with a pleasing voice.  
But in her domestic accomplishments, Queen Astrid shone with the greatest brilliance. She had been trained at a school of nursing and had made a special study of what she considered an art- the business of running a household. She knew this art from peeling potatoes to hanging curtains. (Read full article)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Interview with Prince Alexandre

Here is a brief, but touching interview with the late Prince Alexandre of Belgium, son of King Leopold III and Princess Lilian, and older brother of the lovely Princess Esmeralda, fourteen years his junior. The interview took place during the production of Nicolas Delvaulx's documentary, Léopold III, mon père, featuring the testimonies of Alexandre and Esmeralda. In the interview, Alexandre soberly discusses his youthful traumas. As a boy, he witnessed the tensions of the Royal Question at close hand. He slept badly during the royal family's exile in Switzerland, overhearing representatives of the Belgian government coming and going and raised voices in his father's study until the early hours of the morning. Later, as a teenager, Alexandre suffered severely from a heart condition which required surgery in Boston. The real reason for his trip to the United States was carefully hidden from him until the last moment. Journalists who arrived at the hospital to interview Leopold were instructed not to mention the impending operation.

The clip also touches on Alexandre's marriage to Léa Wolman, who had already been twice divorced. Esmeralda explains that her mother, who disapproved of Léa, initially refused even to consider the possibility of meeting her. Alexandre, who was very close to his mother, yet unable to contemplate life without his beloved, was placed in a painful dilemma. In the end, he decided to marry Léa without telling Lilian for seven years... I am not sure how he squared this step, however emotionally understandable, with his religion, since the Catholic faith prohibits divorce and remarriage while someone's first spouse is still alive. The clip includes a letter written by Alexandre to Lilian, imploring her to accept his choice of wife:
"Dear Maman, I want you to read this letter in all tranquillity, in the beautiful place of Hinteriss, which you love...I must speak to you of Léa. After 48 years, I am certain of knowing the most important woman of my life, except for you, of course. I profoundly wish that you would meet her. It is now four years since I discovered her. It is no longer possible for me to live without her. The happiness I feel with Léa is essential to me. I cannot do without it. ...Dear Maman, I would be so sad to make you unhappy. But you must accept to know her. What is certain is that you have many points in common. After fifty years, I will never find another such chance at happiness. Your son who loves you more than anything, Alexandre." 
Today, we also remember Alexandre's grandfather, King Albert I, who died so tragically on this day in 1934. What a pity that Leopold's children by Lilian never had a chance to meet him. May he rest in peace +

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Place de la Reine Astrid

In Paris, a small grassy triangle commemorates the beautiful Belgian queen who died tragically young in a automobile accident. The monument represents France and Belgium joining in friendship. Hauntingly, the Place de la Reine Astrid is near the infamous Alma Tunnel where Diana, Princess of Wales, also perished in a car crash.