Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Things Happen in Threes

Here is an article about three glamorous, charismatic women who died in automobile accidents; Queen Astrid of the Belgians, Princess Grace of Monaco and Diana, Princess of Wales. Although I have reservations about comparing Astrid with Diana, I still found the article interesting, especially as it notes the way Astrid has often been forgotten, while Grace and Diana are always remembered. With her Catholic faith, public decorum and dedication to duty and family, I would think Astrid had more in common with Grace.

The Youth of Leopold I

A description of his childhood and education, from the days of his marriage to Princess Charlotte. His love of nature, political idealism and religious fervor were inherited by many members of the Belgian royal house, such as Kings Albert I, Leopold III and Baudouin. However, they were as ardently Catholic  as he had been Protestant.
The chief merit of the education of this prince belongs to the privy-counsellor Hohnbaum. This gentleman was in 1799 appointed teacher to Leopold and his two brothers, and consequently had the former, who was then between eight and nine years old, constantly about him. He soon discovered the capacity and good qualities of his pupil; at the same time he could not but perceive, that the prince was rather delicate. The tutor therefore directed his first cares to the means of strengthening his constitution: he accustomed him to gymnastic exercises, proceeding from the easiest to the most severe; not a moment was left unemployed; and this system proved so successful, that the prince was enabled, at a subsequent period, to support, without difficulty, all the hardships and dangers of war.
During his childhood the prince had no play-fellows; his two brothers were both too much older than himself, the one being his senior by seven, and the other by upwards of five years. It was, therefore, impossible to prevent them from sometimes exercising the right of the stronger upon their younger brother, when he mixed in their youthful sports; and this treatment was so far from according with Leopold's notions of right and justice, that he chose rather to seek diversion by himself. Till he was turned of nine years two squirrels were his chief amusement: he not only regularly fed and attended to them, but had the curiosity to see what natural history had to say concerning his little favourites. The accidental present of a pair of pigeons next led him to make himself acquainted with the peculiarities of the different varieties of birds of that family.
These innocent attachments were supplanted by a fondness for flowers, which he indulged in a garden that he rented, and which led him into the extensive field of botany. His passion for this science was, however, first excited so early as in his fifth year, by the contemplation of the prints in the natural history for children, published by the Industrie Comptoir at Weimar, which has produced so many other useful works for the instruction of the youthful mind. By his intimate acquaintance with botany, combined with his noble character and pleasing manners, he very strongly recommended himself to the Empress Josephine during his first visit to Paris. A connoisseur herself, and possessing a collection of plants unrivalled upon the Continent, she particularly distinguished Prince Leopold, and presented him with various rare articles out of her garden. The love of what is grand and beautiful in nature next led him to landscape-painting, in which he is a very great proficient, and for his skill in this art he is indebted to himself alone; for though his master, Rauschert, was celebrated in Germany, and England also, as a practical artist, yet he was deficient in theoretical knowledge, and died before the prince had made any great progress. With these pleasing pursuits he combined the study of music, which he learned with the same ease and celerity as every thing else to which he addicted himself.
The history of Saxony inspired Prince Leopold with a love of history in general: from the history of his ancestors, which made a deep impression upon his mind, he proceeded to that of the states connected with the history of the Saxons; and therefore studied at an early period of life the history of England, and conceived a decided predilection for the constitution, manners, and literature of this country. In the history of Germany he was particularly struck with Schiller's History of the Thirty Years War. The noble and chivalrous spirit of the heroes described in that work animated his bosom; but the deeds of that champion of religious and political independence, Gustavus Adolphus, excited his highest enthusiasm. In the contemplation of the life of this prince his heart and imagination found a rich treat, and he often wished to be in the place of Gustavus Adolphus, that he might protect the rest of the Continent from the despotism of Napoleon.  
The young prince was often quite absorbed in these speculations, and when he fancied himself contending as Gustavus Adolphus for the liberties of Germany, he would sometimes affectionately call his faithful tutor Hohnbaum, his good Oxenstierna. From this time the prince began to read military works and to study mathematics, as necessary for his future destination. Though he at first found some difficulty in this science, yet he soon overcame and made himself complete master of it. The languages he learned as he had occasion for them: here again he was infinitely less indebted to formal instruction than to his own assiduity. He learned Latin at an early age; in his native language and French he has acquired extraordinary perfection; of Russian he made himself master so far as was necessary for him as a Russian general; English he learned later, but studied it with a diligence and perseverance that soon overcame all the difficulties of that language. As the prince learned from early youth to be economical of his time, he was also habituated to be frugal of his money: his tutor encouraged him to keep an account of his receipts and expences; he soon took upon himself the management of his money, and kept his accounts in the most regular manner. The poor never failed to share his bounty, and though he never contracted debts, he was far from penurious.
A letter from the Rev. Mr. Hoflender, dated Coburg, May 13, 1816, says:—"From 1797 to 1811 I was one of his tutors, and for near fourteen years I gave him instruction on every subject. In the first year I taught him biblical history, Christian morality, religion, and the history of Christianity. On the 12th of September, 1805, the prince was confirmed according to the custom of the Lutheran church, and partook for the first time of the Holy Communion. What I said on this occasion before a numerous assembly, in my discourse previous to the confirmation, on the moral and religious character of the prince, could not but tend to his commendation, as he always manifested the most serious attention to my instructions, and was not only thoroughly acquainted with the truths of our holy religion, but his heart was deeply penetrated by them."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

It also happens to be the birthday of Albert I.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mater Parvulorum

Denkmal für Königin Astrid von Belgien
A memorial card honoring Queen Astrid and her love of the children of Belgium. The inscription reads Belgarum regina, mater parvulorum -"Queen of the Belgians, mother of the little ones". 

A Man of Honor

Here are some reflections on Leopold's surrender to the Nazis from Joseph E. Davies, United States ambassador to Belgium from 1938-1940.
What were all of considerations which led to his decision to capitulate in the face of superior force, I do not know. But there is one thing to which I am sure I could with certainty testify, and that is that the decision which he arrived at, in my opinion, could never have had at its base any ignoble or selfish purpose. Whatever decision he arrived at could never be one other than that which he considered was necessary for the protection of Belgium and the Belgian people, and one consistent with his personal honor. To impute to this man an ignoble purpose in his tragic decision is, in my opinion, to do a violent wrong to a noble man and a very great Christian gentleman.
In this connection, it should not be forgotten that had the King of the Belgians taken an airplane to Paris or to London, leaving his Army to the command of his Chief of Staff in the field, he would have been relieved of the personal criticism from those who have been most bitter in their denunciation. There is no doubt but what King Leopold walked in the Garden of Gethsemane through that night of decision. He made his choice, not by the easiest way. His decision once made, he traveled the rugged path of what he considered to be duty and honor. He elected to travel that path to be with his soldiers and to remain with his people in their trouble.
The verdict of history may be that possibly he erred in judgment. My voice, from such facts as I know, would be raised against that conclusion. Personally, from what I know of his ability, I would place very great reliance upon his accurate assessment of the conditions which he faced, and also upon the quality of good judgment which he would apply thereto. This would be based upon what I personally know to have been the thoroughness with which he approached problems when I was in Belgium and the good judgment and extraordinary ability which he applied thereto.
Be that as it may, however, I am sure that the verdict of history in this situation will be that the personal honor and nobility of Leopold of Belgium was sustained in his time of trial and was clean and high. In my opinion it could not possibly be anything else. (The Belgian Campaign and the Surrender of the Belgian Army: May 10-28, 1940, Belgian American Educational Foundation, Inc., New York, 1941, pp. 78-79).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Albert and Leopold

Here is a photograph of King Albert I, appearing sombre but gentle, with his son and heir, Prince Leopold, his daughter-in-law, Princess Astrid, and his two eldest grandchildren, Princess Joséphine-Charlotte and Prince Baudouin. Albert's daughter, Princess Marie-José, includes the picture in her moving memoirs. Albert was always so proud of his eldest son, and it is easy to see why. Leopold shared many of his father's finest qualities. Like Albert, he was a loving husband, father, monarch and son of the Church. Like Albert, he was serious, thoughtful, keenly intellectual, conscientious and dignified. Both kings faced similar cataclysmic events with great faith and courage. Leopold, however, may also have inherited too much of his Wittelsbach mother's fiery impetuosity, leading him onto a collision course with politicians whose base maneuverings outraged him. Albert was probably more prudent. Albert's death was the more tragic; Leopold's life was the more tragic. 

Maundy Thursday

Alexandr Ivanov 014

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Royal Patriot

König Leopold III. und Königin Astrid von Belgien, King and Queen of Belgium

A sensitive tribute to King Leopold III, dated November 17, 1940, from a former United States ambassador to Belgium, The Honorable William Phillips.
While my service as Ambassador in Brussels was during the reign of King Albert, I had the privilege of coming into frequent contact with the then Prince Leopold, and it was during those years that I grew to appreciate his sterling qualities.
The happy associations which I had with the Royal Family are very precious memories, for there one found a combination of simplicity and dignity and of unsparing effort to help every cause which had for its purpose the welfare of the people.
The Belgian Crown stood for all that is highest and noblest among nations and mankind, and King Albert had become one of the outstanding figures of the world.
It was through the period of the tragedies of the World War and in such a developing atmosphere that Leopold, the son, passed the formative years of his boyhood.
He must have been conscious of the powerful bond between sovereign and people which had grown through those years of tragedy and it is not surprising to find in him many of the same noble qualities of his parents - the high sense of responsibility, the utter devotion to duy, the spirit of willing self-sacrifice and love for his people- the same sterling qualities which make him also a symbol, to his people and to all the world, of Belgian independence.
Governed always by the highest principles, King Leopold may be counted upon to do everything in his power and judgment for the welfare and future happiness of his beloved people, for he is a true Belgian patriot, and the son of a great King. (The Belgian Campaign and the Surrender of the Belgian Army: May 10-28, 1940, Belgian American Educational Foundation, Inc., New York, 1941, p. 82)

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Family Letter

History and Other Thoughts shares an interesting letter from Queen Louise-Marie to her niece, Queen Victoria, offering some advice regarding a visit to England soon to be paid by her father, King Louis-Philippe.
Laeken, 5th October 1844.
My Dearly Beloved Victoria,
I have not much to say about my father's lodging habits and likings. My father is one of the beings most easy to please, satisfy, and to accommodate. His eventful life has used him to everything, and makes any kind of arrangements acceptable to him; there is only one thing which he cannot easily do, it is to be ready very early. He means notwithstanding to try to come to your breakfast, but you must insist upon his not doing it. It would disturb him in all his habits, and be bad for him, as he would certainly eat, a thing he is not used to do in the morning. He generally takes hardly what may be called a breakfast, and eats only twice in the day.
It would be also much better for him if he only appeared to luncheon and dinner, and if you kindly dispensed him altogether of the breakfast. You must not tell him that I wrote you this, but you must manage it with Montpensier, and kindly order for him a bowl of chicken broth. It is the only thing he takes generally in the morning, and between his meals. I have also no observation to make, but I have told Montpensier to speak openly to Albert whenever he thought something ought to be done for my father, or might hurt and inconvenience him, and you may consult him when you are in doubt. He is entrusted with all the recommendations of my mother, for my father is naturally so imprudent and so little accustomed to caution and care, that he must in some measure be watched to prevent his catching cold or doing what may be injurious to him.
About his rooms, a hard bed and a large table for his papers are the only things he requires. He generally sleeps on a horse-hair mattress with a plank of wood under it: but any kind of bed will do, if it is not too soft. His liking will be to be entirely at your commands and to do all you like. You know he can take a great deal of exercise, and everything will interest and delight him, to see, as to do: this is not a compliment, but a mere fact. His only wish is, that you should not go out of your way for him, and change your habits on his account. Lord Aberdeen will be, of course, at Windsor, and I suppose you will ask, as you told me, the Royal Family. My father hopes to see also Sir Robert Peel, Lord Stanley, and your other Ministers. You will probably ask most of them during his stay. He wishes very much to see again those he already knows, and to make the acquaintance of those he does not know yet.
In writing all this I think I dream, I cannot believe yet that in a few days my dear father will have, God willing, the unspeakable happiness to see you again and at Windsor, a thing he had so much wished for and which for a long time seemed so improbable. You have no notion of the satisfaction it gives him, and how delighted he will be to see you again, and to be once more in England. God grant he may have a good passage, and arrive to you safely and well. Unberufen, as you will soon, I trust, be able to see, he is, notwithstanding the usual talk of the papers, perfectly well.... Yours most devotedly,