Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Death of King Baudouin

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of King Baudouin's sudden and quite untimely death. He was only 62 when he succumbed to a heart attack at the Villa Astrida in Motril, Spain, his beloved wife's native land, leaving behind a famously sorrow-stricken widow and nation. Less well known is the grief and concern of his long-distanced, aged step-mother, Princess Lilian of Réthy. She is usually described as taking a cold, spiteful, unforgiving and uncaring attitude to Baudouin after his marriage and separation from his parents, but this is far from being the case.

In Le mythe d'Argenteuil, Michel Verwilghen describes Lilian's worries, during the King's last years, that the medical care he was receiving would not be sufficient to stave off cardiac failure for long. (See especially pp. 401-406, for her concerns and her reactions to Baudouin's death). Baudouin's physicians had diagnosed him with Barlow's Syndrome, or mitral valve prolapse, and an open heart operation had been needed. Lilian deeply regretted Baudouin's decision to undergo surgery in a Paris hospital rather than in a university clinic in Belgium. After discussing the matter in depth with various specialists, she had become convinced that the techniques used by Belgian surgeons would have a better chance of providing lasting relief to the sufferer. To visitors at Argenteuil, she would confide her foreboding that Baudouin's repaired mitral valve would hold for a year or two, and then suddenly give way.

Lilian's fears were accurate. Within two years, she was indeed to suffer the brutal loss of her bien cher Baud, whom she had continued to love and admire despite the pall cast over relations between Laeken and Argenteuil for many decades. Out of consideration for his step-mother's feelings, Baudouin's younger brother and successor to the throne, Albert, personally notified her of the sad news on the night of July 31, 1993. As always, the Princess did her best to keep up a brave front in misfortune, but she could not conceal her sadness from her nearest intimates.

Baudouin's death also presented Lilian with a painful dilemma. She realized that any course of action would be held against her, whether or not she attended the King's funeral. If she joined in the sorrowful ceremonies, she would be accused of being hypocritical or wanting to be the center of attention. Her gesture might even be seized upon as confirmation of the scandalous rumors that she had been her own step-son's mistress during his youth. In addition, she might embarrass Queen Fabiola and the rest of the royal family. She would certainly complicate protocol for the officials responsible for the occasion. On the other hand, if she did not go to the funeral, she would be branded hard-hearted, bitter and vengeful.

In the end, after consulting with her children and trusted advisers, she decided not to attend in person. Instead, she sent her son, Alexandre, and her daughter, Esmeralda, to represent Argenteuil on the solemn day. I see no reason to doubt, however, that Lilian mourned her King, whom she had so affectionately helped to raise, no less and probably much more than any other loyal Belgian.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Edith Cavell

History and Other Thoughts remembers the heroic Englishwoman and her terrible death. King Albert and Queen Elisabeth greatly admired Miss Cavell and tried to save her life. After her execution, the exiled Belgian sovereign was quoted as follows:
"Brussels will be haunted for ever by the ghost of this noble woman, shamefully murdered. I thought no act of our enemy could surprise me further. I was mistaken. This foul deed will live when great battles are forgotten."

The Kindness of Empress Elisabeth

A touching account of Sissi comforting a tragically widowed young woman. (Via Tea at Trianon). Although I generally find the Belgian Elisabeth to have been a better character than her unstable aunt, here they seem to have had a great deal of goodness, discretion and delicacy in common.
The kindness with which she broke the awful news to the poor woman was a marvel of delicate tenderness, and she remained with her until the body of the drowned man had been carried into the little cottage; then turning to the bereaved wife she said, softly: “Pray for the soul of your husband; I shall help you, in so far as the children are concerned, as much as I can.” 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wittelsbach Brides

Above, Marie Gabrielle of Bavaria bids farewell to her mother, Maria Josepha of Portugal. Below, her sister Elisabeth, future Queen of the Belgians, poses on her wedding day. Marie Gabrielle and Elisabeth were both married in 1900, in July and October, respectively.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Accession Speech of Leopold III

Daniel Wybo kindly sent me some excerpts from the practical speech the new King delivered on ascending the throne, on February 23, 1934.
I do not underrate the scope and importance of the responsibilities I have assumed...in taking before you the solemn engagement which, according to the Constitution, seals a pact of mutual confidence between the Sovereign and the Nation...
Devotion to public duties has always been the character of the Belgian Monarchy. It was my Father's constant care. The fact that all Belgians understand the value of this close association between the Nation and its King explains the signs of affection which have been shown to us everywhere...
The wise institutions given us by the authors of the Constitution and which have been tested for over a century, are sufficiently broad and supple to adapt themselves...to the changing necessities of different times.
The King [King Albert] was deeply convinced of this, and...I whole-heartedly share this conviction...
The task of government is difficult during these times of crisis. Obstacles are accumulating on all trade routes. On several occasions, the deceased Sovereign emphasized this danger...I shall actively support all efforts aiming at developing agricultural resources...increasing employment, commerce and industry, and helping the middle-class and the workers to emerge from the painful situation in which they find themselves...
The country's independence and the integrity of her territory are inseparable from her national unity. An indivisible and independent Belgium is an essential factor in the European balance of power.
Belgium will continue to associate herself with the organization of peace which she hopes will be maintained, according to the principles of honour and right, by closer cooperation between the peoples. She is resolved to make in the future, as she has done in the past, all the necessary sacrifices to safeguard her territory and her liberties...
I give myself body and soul to Belgium.
The Queen will help me, with all her heart, in the accomplishment of my duties. We will bring up our children in the love of the Motherland.
May Divine Providence assist us...(Emile Cammaerts, The Prisoner at Laeken, 1941, pp. 244-245)

Sculptures by Queen Elisabeth

In the past, I have discussed Elisabeth's sculpting lessons with Russian artist Catherine Barjansky, and the mutual admiration and affection that arose between the two women. Today, I stumbled across photographs of some of Elisabeth's sculptures, auctioned at Christie's as part of the art collection of the Queen's grand-daughter, Maria Gabriella of Savoy. Here is a bronze portrait of Elisabeth's sister, Sophie Adelheid, who married Count Törring-Jettenbach. During World War I, the Törrings, as well as  Elisabeth's cousins, Princes Xavier and Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, formed part of King Albert's network of secret diplomatic channels vainly attempting to bring about peace. According to Queen Maria José of Italy, the daughter of Albert and Elisabeth, however, her father never had much hope for any of these initiatives in the first place.

Lest We Forget

Here is an article by Mary Roberts Rinehart reporting on wartime interviews with Albert and Elisabeth. It was exaggerated in Allied propaganda, but there *was* plenty of real brutality during the 1914 German invasion of Belgium, including massacres of civilians and sacking of towns. According to Albert of Belgium: Defender of Right, the King even feared that the Germans would destroy Brussels.
I have never before broken the silence of my interview with Elizabeth, Queen of the Belgians, that small, frail and heroic woman who has lived for three years under the roar of the artillery at Dixmude and Nieuport. But the time has come to break that silence. Not all can be told, but because an infamous report has been broadcast that Elizabeth of Belgium sympathizes with Germany I shall tell some of the things she said.
Again I quote from the notes of that interview: 
"It is the women and children!" she said. "It is terrible. There must be killing. That is war. But not this other thing." 
She could not understand American skepticism on this point. She had but just returned from England, where in one convent 29 Belgian nuns were enceinte by German soldiers. She had visited them. 
That to her was the most terrible thing of war. That these quiet women, living their devout and simple lives, should have suffered so grossly bewildered and dazed her. Was there nothing, then, sacred to these invaders, not even the church? (Read full article)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tragedy and Mystery

Esmeralda's London

I wish there were more online television interviews with Princess Esmeralda, youngest daughter of Leopold III and Lilian Baels. The few clips I have been able to hunt down on Youtube or Belgian news sites have an unfortunate way of being removed or becoming inaccessible to viewers in certain countries.

However, we must take advantage of whatever we have. Here is a interview with Anne Quevrin of Sudpresse.be from the eve of the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.  Esmeralda, who lives in London, talks about her children's reactions to the celebrations. We often think of girls as the ones to be fascinated by weddings, finery and splendor, but the princess says her young son was more enthusiastic about the big event, finding it all magical. Her adolescent daughter cared less about it. Esmeralda also discusses the media excitement, Kate's influence as a fashion icon and the differences in etiquette between the royal courts of Belgium and Britain. The British monarchy has much stricter protocol and each guest invited to the wedding apparently received a list of rules regarding what to do and not to do.

Esmeralda takes Anne Quevrin walking and driving through London, explaining that she enjoys the multiculturalism and multilingualism of the city. She says English food is not her favorite, but she likes the way it has increasingly absorbed elements of other cuisines.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Royal Bavaria

Kronprinzessin Marie Gabrielle von Bayern
A wonderful collection of photographs of Queen Elisabeth's relatives. As Elisabeth's birthday is approaching on July 25, it may be especially interesting to see pictures of her family. She and her sisters had such intense, haunting expressions. I generally find Elisabeth (below) to be the handsomest of the daughters of Karl Theodor, but sometimes Marie Gabrielle (above) seems prettier.

Königin Elisabeth von Belgien, Queen of Belgium


A touching account by Lea Laurent of the family sorrows of Albert and Elisabeth prior to the First World War. (Some of the dates are a few days off, but that's a minor matter).
The year 1912 was for the Queen one of uninterrupted mourning. But her first great trial, the death of her father, had already befallen her at the end of 1909, and her husband's accession to the throne had obliged her to hide her sorrow with smiles, which only made it the more poignant.
The series of bereavements in 1912 began with the death of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg on the 28th February. He was uncle by marriage to the Queen, and the near neighbourhood of the two courts, added to family ties, had led to a close friendship.
On the 25th May, a telegram announced the death of Duchess Amélie of Urach, daughter of Duke Karl Theodor by his first wife. In spite of the great difference in age, the Queen had loved her step-sister tenderly, and during her holidays never failed to visit her at her castle of Lichtenstein in Würtemberg.
In the following month, on the 28th June, the Royal house of Bavaria lost little Prince Rudolf, aged three, the third son of Rupprecht and Princess Marie Gabrielle. The poor mother, who was in delicate health, never recovered from the blow.
For a short time there was a respite, and it seemed as if Death had grown weary; but soon other victims were claimed. Duke Franz Josef, the Queen's youngest brother, was cut off after a few days' illness, in the flower of his early manhood. This was a grievous loss to Elisabeth, whose family affection was exceedingly strong. Fears were again entertained for her health, but she bravely overcame her weakness. She attended the funeral and returned to Brussels, accompanied by her sister, Countess Törring. 
They endeavored to console each other, recalling memories of their childhood and of the dear ones who had been taken from them. They were together one autumn evening, perhaps contrasting their own evergreen forests with the changing colours of our northern woods, when the King came into the room. He was overcome with emotion and almost unable to speak. At last he told them of the sudden death, at Sorrento, of Princess Marie Gabrielle, without any warning that the end was so near. The two sisters fell weeping into each other's arms. 
The King went alone to Munich, for he would not allow the Queen's health to be injured by any possible agitation which it was possible to avoid.
But the cup of sorrow was not yet full. The following month the Countess of Flanders gave up her pure soul to God. She died on the 26th November in the arms of her son. In the death of this admirable woman the Queen lost a second mother who had always been to her a loving friend and a wise counsellor. The Countess of Flanders who, in a secondary position,  had succeeded in maintaining her dignity without provoking hurtful jealousies, had been the best of all guides for Princess Albert. And when Elisabeth was unable to take her children with her on her journeys, she confided them to her mother-in-law, knowing that in her keeping they would be as safe as in her own.
The grief of the King was intense, and at the funeral he was unable to control his emotion. The fact that he was habitually calm and imperturbable made this display of feeling all the more touching, and it was, moreover, an eloquent tribute to the lamented Princess. Among the hundreds of wreaths there was one composed of masses of orchids, from Albert and Elisabeth, "to our beloved mother."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wittelsbach Sisters

Here are more relatives of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. Above, we see her older half-sister Amalie, who married Prince Wilhelm of Urach, later to be offered the Lithuanian throne as King Mindaugas II. Tragically, Wilhelm took part in the invasion of Belgium as a military officer during World War I. By that time, however, Amalie had already died, at the young age of 47, after giving birth to her ninth child. It was a very distressing chain of events for the tender-hearted Elisabeth, who was close and devoted to her whole family. To make matters worse, Elisabeth also lost a brother in 1912, as well as her younger sister Marie Gabrielle, pictured below. The Queen of the Belgians herself suffered from ill health in the years immediately prior to the war. Perhaps, her struggles and tragedies in this period helped to prepare her for the great trial ahead and to deepen her compassion for so many others who would lose family members in the dark days to come.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Queens of Hearts

König Leopold III. und Königin Astrid von Belgien

An interesting survey of the royal women given this title through history, including Queen Astrid of the Belgians. 

A Tragic Anniversary


Gareth Russell eloquently describes the horrific massacre of the Romanovs.

Albert I, King of the Belgians, then grimly struggling through some of the darkest hours of World War I, was outraged by the execution of the Russian imperial family. He had long pitied Nicholas, but the news of the Tsar's murder roused the King to storms of indignation. According to biographer Charles d'Ydewalle, he raged: "Nothing could be held against him!" Albert was deeply troubled by the Russian Revolution, fearing the consequences for Belgium and Europe. Queen Elisabeth, for her part, while visiting King George V and Queen Mary, had the courage to reproach Great Britain, Belgium's foremost ally, for failing to save the Romanovs. By a strange coincidence, Elisabeth's grandson, the young King Baudouin I, would sadly ascend the Belgian throne, reluctantly replacing his revered father, King Leopold III, on the anniversary of the massacre, July 17, 1951.


Tatiana Nikolaevna

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Parents of Queen Elisabeth

Carl Theodor und Maria Josepha in Bayern
Duke Karl Theodor in Bavaria and his wife, Maria Josepha of Portugal, the grandparents after whom Prince Charles and Princess Marie-José of Belgium were named. The tender way that husband and wife draw their heads together reminds me of engagement photographs of Albert and Elisabeth.
Again, Maria Josepha's profile reminds me of her daughter's. 

Emperor Karl

I am delighted to welcome Christina Croft, author of the Shattered Crowns trilogy, to Cross of Laeken to share her research and reflections. Like King Albert of Belgium, Emperor Karl was a devout Catholic and a loving family man who wanted to end the senseless slaughter of the First World War. Karl's wife, Zita, was also the first cousin of Albert's wife, Elisabeth. Zita and her children took refuge in Belgium for a time after Karl's death.
"A Saint To Whom No One Listened"
Even in the midst of something as terrible as a war, stories of courage and selflessness serve as a reminder that, no matter how evil the circumstance, goodness can never be crushed. I have not found the ‘Shattered Crowns’ trilogy easy to write because it is a story of deceit, destruction, manipulation and quite simply evil. What makes writing it possible is the hope that in doing so, it is possible to bring to light the bravery, sincerity and humanity of the central characters and none more so than Karl, the young Emperor of Austria-Hungary, of whom the French satirist Anatole France wrote: “...he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world.”
While the war brought untold suffering to most of the monarchs involved, Karl was in the most difficult position of all. As heir to his great uncle Emperor Franz Josef, he had played no part in the build-up to the conflict, possibly because Franz Josef, deliberately kept information from him so that no blame could be attached to him, but more likely because Franz Josef’s ministers deceitfully kept information from both the Emperor and his heir. Unlike those ministers and their puppet-masters, however, Karl almost immediately joined his regiment and served on the front line, seeing first-hand the scale of the destruction and slaughter. For anyone such an experience was horrific enough but for Karl it must have been even more traumatic since he was a deeply spiritual man whose entire life was built around trying to live according to the message of the Gospel. It is interesting that spirituality and meekness are often mistaken for weakness, for Karl demonstrated incredible strength of character and amazing courage in the face of danger. His men reported that he was frequently seen praying the rosary immediately before an offensive and remained absolutely calm in the midst of battle even when others around him were panicking. On one occasion he leaped into an icy lake to rescue a drowning man, and he frequently risked his own life to aid the wounded. Nonetheless, the sights that he saw appalled him, particularly the use of poisonous gas and the death or wounding of innocent civilians.
In November 1916, the aged Franz Josef died and, on becoming Emperor, twenty-nine year old Karl immediately set to work implementing many reforms. By then, the war had been raging for two years with loss of millions of lives, and, due to the British blockade, many of his people were starving. Karl was shocked to discover the extent of the corruption among many industrialists and even members of his own extended family who were profiting both from arms sales and the from the people’s desperation for food and basic necessities. Rectifying this, Karl also arranged for Imperial carriages to deliver coal and provisions to the poor, and continued to live on basic rations as he had done since the war began. He drew up plans, too – based probably on the ideas of his uncle, Franz Ferdinand – to reform the entire Austro-Hungarian constitution, granting greater autonomy to the different ethnic groups. His reforms extended to the military. He banned flogging and similar cruel punishments; he outlawed duelling – despite opposition from some senior officers; he did he did his utmost to prevent the use of gas and to protect civilians; and he provided comfortable homes with entertainment and books for the soldiers who were stationed away from home so that they would not feel so driven to seek comfort in the bars and brothels, many of which he closed for the sake of the soldiers’ wives and families. 
In spite of these reforms, the war continued to take its toll and there is no doubt that Karl was becoming increasingly aware of the ‘dark forces’ behind the scenes who were purposely prolonging the conflict for financial gain and, more sinisterly, to destroy the European autocracies and sever the connections between the Churches and the state. For Karl it was imperative that the war end as soon as possible and, with that in mind, he contacted his brother-in-law, Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, a soldier in the Belgian army, and asked him to make contact with the French President in the hope of securing peace. Around the same time, United States President Woodrow Wilson revealed his plans for peace and it became very clear to Karl that the Allies’ intended to completely dismantle the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although Karl himself was planning to grant autonomy to the different regions, he could not possible accept the complete dismemberment of his Empire not only because he was convinced that it would give rise to greater divisions and wars (as had happened in the Balkans) but also because it was a clear indication of the plan to dissolve the ancient connection between the Roman Catholic Church and Karl’s ‘Apostolic Kingdom’. It must be remembered, though, that although Karl was eager to uphold that connection, he had no desire to impose his own beliefs on other cultures. The Empire comprised people of many Christian and non-Christian religions, whose rights to freedom of worship, Karl was intent on upholding. After several months of secret negotiations with France, during which Karl showed a willingness to make just compromises in order to create peace, the French President handed his letters to the newspapers and made them public. Karl was denounced as traitor and, during an unpleasant visit to Germany, he was fiercely berated not only by the Kaiser but also by the Kaiser’s wife.
Soon afterwards, the war eventually ended and, as had been predicted, Austria-Hungary was basically decimated. The economy collapsed so completely that unemployed people in Britain travelled to Austria to buy whole streets with their welfare payments! Karl, though refusing to formally abdicate, was sent into exile and tragically died shortly afterwards at the age of only 34.
This was a man who was a model of courage and humanity in the midst of unimaginable horrors. He showed physical courage on the battlefield, and even greater moral courage throughout his life. Regardless of criticism, he acted always from the highest motive – as was demonstrated not only in the major events of the war, but also at the funeral of his uncle, Franz Ferdinand. No other member of the family went to meet the train bringing Franz Ferdinand and Sophie’s bodies back from their fatal trip to Sarajevo, but Karl was there. When Franz Ferdinand’s enemies tried to prevent the crowds from paying their respects to the Archduke, Karl broke through the cordons to lead a peaceful procession behind the coffins. He showed great courage too in the way in which he bore the fallacious and ridiculous calumnies levelled against him after the war (he was a drunkard and a womaniser? – allegations which, incidentally, were thoroughly investigated and proved to be entirely false during his beatification process). A devoted family man, who put the service of his people before his own needs, and a man of great humility, he lived his entire life according to his faith and it is fitting that he is now recognised by the Roman Catholic Church, to which he was so committed, as ‘Blessed Karl of Austria.’
Karl plays a major role in the ‘Shattered Crowns’ trilogy, the first two book of which: The Scapegoats (1913-1914) and The Sacrifice (1914-1917) are currently available in paperback and Kindle formats. The third book, The Betrayal, is coming soon... 
Thank you, Matterhorn, for your hospitality and for allowing me to write on your fascinating blog!  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tribute to Princess Henriette

Photographs of the eldest sister of King Albert I, set to very beautiful, touching music. Since Henriette is one of the less well known Belgian princesses, I was especially glad to see such a lovely tribute to her.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Interview with Princess Marie-Christine

Here is a brief clip of Princess Marie-Christine, the elder daughter of King Leopold III and Princess Lilian, discussing the rift between her parents and her half-brother, King Baudouin, in an English-language interview from 1994.  For once, she sounds sympathetic towards one of her parents, explaining that her father suffered deeply from the estrangement. Unfortunately, the clip is embedded in a Flemish television report from 1998 about historian Karel De Clerck's insinuations, based upon the papers of Leopold's old adversary Achille van Acker, that Lilian had an affair with Baudouin prior to his marriage to Queen Fabiola. Readers of this weblog will know that I find these accusations revolting, although the young Baudouin was undoubtedly devoted to his step-mother, the trés chère Mammi of his letters in this period. Nevertheless, since I have posted interviews with her older brother, Prince Alexandre, and younger sister, Princess Esmeralda, it may be interesting to see a clip of Marie-Christine.

The Life of King Baudouin

The dignified and religious man who had the sad role of watching the decline of his beloved country.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Heaven of Delight

Salon des Glaces- Jan Fabre
This is bizarre. Did you know that the Mirror Room of the Royal Palace of Brussels has a ceiling and chandelier decorated with the wings of over a million Thai jewel beetles? Commissioned by Queen Paola, a lover of contemporary art, Jan Fabre and his team of 29 young collaborators took several months to finish the job.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

King Baudouin in Texas

Here is an article with some pictures of his visit to Rice University around 1969. Following in the footsteps of his step-mother, Princess Lilian, he took a special interest in the cardiological research being conducted at the time.

It is worth mentioning here that a bronze bust of Michael DeBakey, dedicated by King Leopold III and Princess Lilian in 1978, stands in the lobby of The Methodist Hospital, also in Houston, Texas.