Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remembering Princess Lilian

I am excited to announce that Princess Esmeralda, already the author of two photograph books dedicated to her father, Léopold III, mon père, and Léopold III, photographe, is releasing a new family album, this time focusing on her mother, to mark the upcoming tenth anniversary of Princess Lilian's death. Here is a brief video presentation of the book, Lilian, une princesse entre ombre et lumière, featuring clips of an interview with Esmeralda. Journalist Patrick Weber, author of many books on royalty, assisted in the composition of this intimate, sympathetic portrait of a terribly traduced lady. In the interview, Princess Esmeralda remembers her mother as warm, lively, curious, open, and deeply in love with her husband.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Queen Elisabeth and the Friends of Lace

Charlotte Kellogg relates the efforts of the Queen and other great ladies to assist Belgian lace workers, especially during the harsh German occupation of 1914-1918.
Long before the war Queen Elizabeth in Belgium, like Queen Margharita in Italy, had sought means to protect the lace worker, through centuries the victim of an economic injustice, not to say crime, and to rescue and develop an industry threatened from many sides. In 1911 she gave her royal encouragement to a group of prominent Belgian women who organized as "Amies de la Dentelle", Friends of Lace, and began a lace saving campaign by trying to remedy the deplorable condition of most of the lace schools, the defective teaching, long hours and pitiful pay. They could insist in the schools, as not elsewhere, on the right to inspect, to grant or refuse patronage. They subsidized worthy institutions, and advocated the establishment of a lace normal school and of a special school of design. Education they felt to be the main road leading out of the prevailing misery, and they were making progress along this road, when suddenly the Invader poured over their borders.
While other women hurried to open refuges and hospitals and soup kitchens, a few of the Friends of Lace remembered first the lace makers; and by November 1914, had effected a war emergency organization, known as the Brussels Lace Commitee, with Mrs. Whitlock as honorary president. Unfortunately most of the lace dealers failed to cooperate with them, but they won the approval of the powerful Belgian Comité National, which, with the Commission for Relief in Belgium, carried on the relief of the occupied territory throughout the war. And with an initial gift of $25,000 from America to be converted into lace, they were able to start their work. It soon came to be directed altogether by four women; The Comtesse Elizabeth d'Oultremont, Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth, the Vicomtesse de Beughem, an American, Madame Josse Allard and Madame Kefer-Mali. At the same time the aid and protection of workers on filets and other commonly called "imitation" laces was assigned by the Comité National to another group of women, the "Union Patriotique des Femmes Belges"...
During the first few months the situation seemed utterly hopeless; thread was impossible to obtain, and even if the thread were forthcoming, no one could say who would buy the laces they might encourage the women to make; the Germans were cutting off successive sections of the lace making areas where they had established sub-committees, and were forbidding communication with them. And yet these four women continued bravely to create the foundations of a great lace business- for an extraordinary commercial organization grew from their efforts.
However, despite all their intelligence and devotion, such a result would have impossible but for a hard won diplomatic victory In early 1915 Mr. Hoover forced an international agreement which permitted the C.R.B to bring thread for the Lace Committee in Belgium, and to take out an equivalent weight of lace, to be sold in the Allied countries for the benefit of the workers...And once these international guaranties were obtained, the Belgian Comité National was able to arrange for the the distribution of the lace to the various, even remote lace centers, and for the return of the finished lace to Brussels. They granted the women a subsidy of $10,000 and insured to each dentellière the chance to make at least three francs worth of lace a week- a small minimum, to be sure, but everyone understood it might be increased later, and that if each of the many thousands of workers was to have an equal opportunity, it  could not in the beginning be more. After this the Lace Committee had about 45,000 women on its lists. The work in the schools and out of them began to bear fruit. The sweating system, and payment in kind (in clothing and food) were practically wiped out, and inspection and control established. Everywhere the standard of execution and of design was raised; old patterns were restored and improved, and, by the end of the war, 2237 new designs had been added...
The Germans early originated a "Lace Control" of their own, and tried in every possible way to win over the Belgian workers and to buy up all the lace in the country. They accused the Brussels Committee of being a political and patriotic body existing chiefly to defeat the occupying power and the Flemish activists. Then there were other courage-testing difficulties. But despite all obstacles and perils, the women persisted, and continually the precious skeins of "Carry On" were flung out from Brussels to the farthermost corners of the land, binding all together in a firm and beautiful web of hope and confidence. For the enemy was right in suspecting the Committee of a purpose deeper than that of merely trying to save women from the soup-line; they carried on a patriotic work of the highest importance. (Bobbins of Belgium: a book of Belgian lace, lace-workers, lace-schools and lace-villages, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1920, pp. 15-21)

Queen among Women

Young Queen Elisabeth of Belgium
A touching description of Queen Elisabeth and her fellow Belgian women during the First World War, from Charlotte Kellogg of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium.
One of these particular developments is the unswerving devotion of the women of Belgium to all those hurt or broken by the tragedy within and without her gates. How fortunate are these women, born to royal leadership, to have found in their Queen the leader typifying the highest ideal of their service, and the actual comrade in sorrow, working shoulder to shoulder with them in the hospitals and kitchens. The battle lines may separate her wounded and suffering from theirs, but they know always that she is there, doing as they are doing, and more than they are doing. 
Never were sovereigns more loved, more adored than Albert and Elizabeth. All through these two years people have been borne up by the vision of the day of their return. "But how shall we be able to stand it?" they say. "We shall go mad with joy!" "We shall not be able to speak for weeping and shouting!" "We shall march from the four corners of the country on foot in a mighty pilgrimage to Brussels, the King shall know what we think of him as man and leader!" 
When they speak of the Queen all words are inadequate; they place her first as woman, as mother, as tender nurse. They are proud, and with reason, of her intelligence and sound judgment. Under her father, a distinguished oculist, she received a most rigorous education; she is equipped in brain as well as in heart for her incalculable responsibilities. I was told the other day that she dislikes exceedingly having her photograph as "nurse" circulate, feeling that people may think she wishes to be known for her good works. But whether she wishes it or not, she is known and will be known throughout history for her good works- for her clear, clean vision of right, her swift courage, and her utter devotion to each and all of her people. Albert and Elizabeth, A and E, these letters are written on the heart of Belgium. (Women of Belgium: turning tragedy into triumph, Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York and London, 1917, pp. 2-4)

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Life of Queen Maria José

As May draws to a close, I encourage everyone to read this excellent account from the Mad Monarchist. I especially like his suggestion that the horrors of the hideous First World War may have enhanced the young Belgian princess' love of beauty.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The May Queen

Here are pictures of Italy's last queen, the only daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, as a thoughtful young girl, a glamorous princess and a loving mother. In some respects, she reminds me of her great-aunt Carlota, the doomed empress of Mexico. Both women were beautiful, brilliant Belgian princesses who wholeheartedly embraced the causes of their adopted countries. Each cherished idealistic hopes for the future, aspiring to do good, on a grand scale, for her subjects. Alongside her liberal and romantic husband, Maximilian I, Carlota wished to usher in a new era of enlightened rule in Mexico. Maria José, inspired by her parents' example, hoped to be a close collaborator of her husband, Umberto II, and to promote cultural and humanitarian projects in Italy as her mother had done so magnificently in Belgium. Like Carlota, Maria José was thwarted, betrayed, dethroned and forced into exile. In her last years, by a strange coincidence, she moved for some time to the Mexican city of Cuernavaca, once beloved by Carlota. She was fascinated by the sad life of her forebear. Fortunately, however, Maria José's family survived the disaster in Italy, in contrast to the murder of Maximilian. The Italian queen was also much better able to cope emotionally with her tragedies. Both Carlota and Maria José, however, certainly deserved a kinder fate.

Here are a few more posts on Maria José:

Her First Communion
Her marriage
Her visit to Padre Pio
Her message to the women of Italy

Nationality and the Belgian Monarchy

Michael Palo thoughtfully reviews Belgium and the Monarchy: from National Independence to National Disintegration, an adapted English translation of Herman van Goethem's book  De monarchie en ‘het einde van België’: Een communautaire geschiedenis van Leopold I tot Albert II. I must admit, however, that I did not like the reviewer's vaguely ominous comments about the intentions of Leopold III. While discussing his Political Testament, Palo claims that the King "had done nothing less than outline an authoritarian future for his country." This suggests that the Political Testament was a call to change the Belgian Constitution radically along authoritarian lines, which it was not. In fact, in the same document, Leopold noted that his role, as a constitutional monarch, did not allow him to take sides with one political doctrine or program or another. Rather, he said, it was for the Belgian people, freely consulted, to decide upon any possible changes to the political structure of the kingdom.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Royal Scouts

Piet Kroonenberg discusses the involvement of two generations of Belgian royal children in the Scouts and Guides. Prince Baudouin, pictured above, was given the scouting name of "De Trouwe Eland," or "The Loyal Elk". 
King Albert I was killed during a rock climbing exercise in 1934 and as King Leopold III the Crown Prince took over. [1934-1951] -1983). He may never have been a Scout but he took a great interest in the movement. For his sons Boudewijn/Baudouin (1930 – 1993) and Albert (1934-today) a special Scout group was founded, as was a special Guide Company set up for this daughter the Princess Josephine-Charlotte. The official languages being Dutch, French and German and Belgium Scouting also being divided along religious lines, the men attracted to lead this group came from all the Belgium Scout Associations as did the Guiders. The boys and girls were collected from the nation’s all sections and classes. The Scout meetings were held in a hut in the Royal Park belonging to the Palace of Laeken, to the north of Brussels.
On May 1940 during World War II (1939-1945) the Armies of Nazi-Germany once more violated Belgium’s neutrality. Despite brave resistance the Belgium Army was no match to the motorized Germans and Belgium had to end the unequal struggle and had to surrender. Whereas the Netherlands, this time also attacked, got an SS administration, Belgium got a German army one, which was more lenient. Whereas the SS in the Netherlands banned, disbanded and persecuted all Scouting and Guiding activities from April 1941 onwards, the Belgium Scouts and Guides were more or less left alone. Yet during the course of the war, at the insistence of the Flemish and Walloon Nazis, collaborating with the Germans, certain limitations were imposed on the Scouts and Guides in early April 1943. The wearing of uniforms in public was no longer permitted. This having been done a high ranking German Staff officer hastened to visit King Leopold, who as a Prisoner of War, had been interned in his Royal Palace. The King was informed that this banning order did not involve the Royal Scout Group and Guide Company. The King did not agree and said that as this ban was put on all Scouts and Guides, it would also have to be applicable to his sons, daughter and their friends. The problem was that in those days Prince Bauduin/Boudewijn had just left the Cub Scouts and joined the Troop. End 1943 he was ready to make the Scout Promise. He asked his father to permit them to wear uniform that day, but the King refused his permission. His son protested and in the end the King gave in and decreed that during the ceremony and during it alone, uniform could be worn again.