Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Personal Request

If I may ask, please remember my father in your prayers. He is being tested for cancer and we are still waiting for results. Thank you all for your kindness and God bless you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Portrait of a Princess

Christina Croft shares a description by King Leopold I of the Belgians of his late first wife, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales.
 ...My gift is Charlotte’s portrait. The face is extremely like, and the likest that exists; the hair is a little too fair, it had become darker. I take this opportunity to repeat that Charlotte was a noble-minded and highly gifted creature. She was nervous as all the family have been: she could be violent but but then she was full of repentance for it, and her disposition highly-generous and susceptible of great devotion..."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beauty of Flanders

As we have been discussing the divide between Flanders and Wallonia, it might be interesting to consider the case of the Flemish beauty who became the second wife of Leopold III. She was the very type of the Catholic, royalist Flemish who played such an important role in deciding the popular consultation in Leopold's favor after World War II. (Sadly, with the current trend towards separatism, more and more Flemings now seem to be turning rather venomously against the monarchy as a icon of Belgian unity). Princess Lilian was also the very type of the upper-class Flemish who adopted French culture.

This position made life even more difficult for a woman already castigated by the aristocracy as a vulgar adventuress marrying far above her station, and by other elements of popular opinion and the press as a unworthy successor to an impossibly saintly Queen Astrid, as an unscrupulous temptress, devoured by ambition, luring the King into preferring private pleasure to public duty. Lilian was doubly resented for her Flemish heritage by many Walloons. She was also blamed by more nationalistic Flemings, such as her denigrating biographer, Evrard Raskin, for supposedly betraying this same heritage through her Francophile affinities.

As Jean Cleeremans describes in Léopold III, sa famille, et son peuple sous l'occupation, there were also kinder voices among the Flemish who expressed pride at their Sovereign's marriage to one of their own, to a daughter of the talented and energetic class that had brought such prosperity to the Belgian cities through the centuries. As always in Lilian's life, however, spiteful portrayals gained much greater publicity than any appreciative ones. Hating the Princess de Réthy became a veritable industry.

Yet, through it all, Lilian remained steadfastly loyal to her principles as a woman devoted to Belgium and its monarchy. Michel Verwilghen, in Le mythe d'Argenteuil, describes her concern at the rise of separatism during the last years of her life. She even worried that her step-son, King Baudouin, might not be doing enough to oppose the efforts to shatter the country. I wonder what she would say of Belgium's most recent political crises.

A Republic of Flanders?

An intelligent, humorous commentary on the Flemish separatist movement. I think it would be a tragedy if Belgium and her monarchy disappeared from the face of the earth and I see no compelling reason why the loss would be worthwhile.
Flanders has, for most of recent memory, been more prosperous than Wallonia. I am sure some of the more racist Flemish nationalists (and there are plenty of them) would likely attribute this to the natural superiority of the more Germanic Flemings over the more Latin Walloons. Actually, in racial terms, there is hardly any difference between the two and the real reason is that Flanders has followed a more intelligent economic policy compared to Wallonia which has long been dominated by the socialists and has an economy that shows this. I can completely understand the Flemings being upset that their hard-earned tax euros get shoveled over to the Walloons to compensate for their bad economic decisions. However, the answer to that problem does not require independence, it only requires getting the socialists out of Wallonia and a good way to start would be to see them cut off from outside help so they would be forced to face the economic reality that socialism simply does not work. If the Red Chinese can figure it out, so can the Walloons. Ignoring the huge problem that would be Brussels, there is also the problem of what to do with the two halves of the former Belgium if Flanders declared independence. 
Contrary to what some think, the area of modern Belgium has been a distinct political area for quite some time before the declaration of independence in 1830. It was distinct during the period it was united to The Netherlands after the Napoleonic Wars and before that it had long been the westernmost outpost of the Hapsburg empire. Wallonia as a part of the French Republic holds no romance for me and would be an odd fit; the similarities of language aside. However, Wallonia is not the driving force behind this but rather Flanders. What would become of Flanders? There are two options: either Flanders remains independent or joins their fellow Dutch speakers in a “Greater Netherlands”. Neither option appeals to this monarchist. First of all, let there be no confusion on this point: an independent Flanders would be a republic. Period. Without doubt. So, in that scenario, Europe loses a monarchy and is cursed with another republic. In the second case; Flanders being annexed by The Netherlands, no new republics are created (assuming Wallonia joins France as is most likely) but Europe is still down one monarchy. Not good. Furthermore, I do not believe Flanders would be happy in The Netherlands anyway. They have too much of a regional mindset and are too used to being treated as something special for me to believe that they would be content to be just another Dutch province. So, I say “no” to a Flemish republic and “yes” to the Kingdom of Belgium (which, lest we forget, has been a country longer than Germany, Italy, Poland and a number of others).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Last Hours of Marie-Antoinette

On the anniversary of the Queen's death, Elena Maria Vidal remembers the awe-inspiring dignity and grace with which Marie-Antoinette endured her humiliating trial and execution, drawing upon an incredible testimony from one of her attorneys. I am sure that Marie-Antoinette's heroism inspired many later queens and princesses in dark times, including some of the Belgian royal women.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Death of Sir Richard Croft

Gio writes of the tragic suicide of the obstetrician who attended the ill-fated Princess Charlotte of Wales, the first wife of the future King Leopold I of the Belgians.
The Times added: "At the conclusion of the evidence, the Coroner and Jury retired to take a view of the body of the deceased, which lay in an upper apartment, and was in a dreadful condition, the head being blown to pieces, and the deceased’s bed and bed-clothes being covered with blood; each hand grasped a pistol, which had been loaded with a slug and small shot; the contents entered at the temples. On a chair by the side of the bedstead on which the deceased lay were several of Shakespeare’s plays. The room was very small, and it appeared as if the deceased had been reading. 
One of the play-books lay inside the fender, and was entitled "Love’s Labour Lost."One of the jury took up the book and noticed to his brother jury-men that one of the characters used the following expressions in the page which lay open on the hearth: "Good God! where’s the Princess?" (Read entire post)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Forgotten Victims of Mayerling

From last year, my article on Stéphanie of Belgium, who should have been Empress of Austria-Hungary, and her daughter Elisabeth Marie, at Lost in the Myths of History. It is a shame that Crown Prince Rudolf's mistress, Marie Vetsera, is better known than his wife. It is also a pity that the Belgian princesses who have become the consorts of foreign monarchs or their heirs have tended to meet with such frustration and tragedy. Not only Stéphanie, but also Charlotte and Marie-José, entered into the duties of their difficult new positions in alien environments with good will and dedication. Each, however, proved powerless to prevent her husband's downfall.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Medal of Albert and Elisabeth

A beautiful one commemorating U.S. relief to Belgium in World War I. The profiles of the King and Queen are especially fine.

The King and his Ministers

Some interesting insights from Charles d'Ydewalle's Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King.
It almost seems as if, during those last years, no other mind had the power to influence his. It was often asked: "Who is influencing the King?" We should like to know whether the King of the Belgians had any favourites among his Ministers. There were a few whom he trusted, although he rarely praised them. It is said that he showed marked preference for M. Vandervelde. This is obviously untrue, since in spite of his obvious admiration for the mentality and wide knowledge of the Socialist Minister, he ignored him whenever he felt it expedient, just as he would ignore a Catholic or a Liberal. I have been shown numbers of letters signed with a firm and decided "A"; one and all are written in an even hand without erasures, and every downstroke has been traced with the same care and precision. They invariably begin: "My dear Minister," or "My dear Prime Minister," and are signed: "Your affectionate Albert." The style is classic in its perfection, the sentences are exquisitely balanced, show an extraordinary feeling for the mot juste, and convey in full the dignity of the writer. He hardly ever writes "I wish," but very often "I believe," and never "I am certain." Yet, when the day came for a Minister to receive his congé, he was given an audience...and all was over. 
Did his coldness contain an element of bitterness against Parliamentary mechanisms? I am tempted to believe so. The Belgian Constitution defines the power of the Monarch in a singular way. Each Party designates those of their members from whom he may select his Ministers. When Albert's Ministers had given up office, he took no further interest in them. He often esteemed, sometimes admired the colleagues who were temporarily imposed on him. He had great faith in a few. To one of the most distinguished of them he remarked: "You, at any rate, have always told me the truth." This, one might think, was a supreme compliment which should have raised the Minister to a pinnacle and made him the recipient of a host of small favours. It did not do so; the Minister in question was treated with the same official courtesy and tact as the rest. 
The Premier alone, the closest to his Royal master, was admitted with more intimacy into the daily round. If he were ill, he might telephone his business to the King. If the matter were urgent, he might hasten to Laeken, or, in case of need, to Ciergnon, where he would find the King in the woods, dressed as a day-labourer, planting or measuring oak-trees. Or he might find him buried in books and papers, making maps and sketches, in the interval between two excursions on his motorcycle. If the Premier stayed at Ciergnon, the Princes moved on to another floor and gave up their rooms to the distinguished visitor. It was a large, bare apartment. 
If any Minister, whether he were in office or not, suffered a bereavement, fell ill or was the victim of an accident, the King instantly showed that solicitude of which he was so chary in other circumstances. A former President of the Chamber, who had broken his arm, received a charming letter. I asked him if he were often honoured in this way. "No," he said. "We never see each other." The King treated the elderly statesmen with the special courtesy due to their years, and the younger men with a lighter touch more suited to their age. Each one might believe that he was more favoured than the rest, but not one of them could flatter himself that he had been admitted for all time into the circle of the King's intimate friends. On the other hand, if a political crisis arose, he would send for the leaders of all three parties-- even for those from whom he knew he would learn nothing. Thus no jealousy was occasioned; and the King treated them all alike, with ironic indifference or guarded admiration. One feels that his attitude to his Ministers was that of a master to his class. The types remain the same, although the individuals change; and it is incumbent upon him to devote himself entirely to this class, about which he has no illusions (pp. 232-234)