Friday, November 30, 2012

Diana, Grace and Astrid

This is quite a moving clip of Diana, Princess of Wales at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. It is perhaps a little off topic, but I find it interesting to ponder the impact of the losses of Diana, Grace and Astrid of Belgium on their respective reigning families. Queen Astrid's death was probably the most devastating, since she left her children so young and her husband so politically vulnerable.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lost Images

Some new family films of Leopold III, Queen Astrid, Princess Lilian and the royal children have been discovered. Here is the full version of the program on RTBF. Unfortunately, it is not accessible to viewers in certain countries. I have not been able to watch it myself, but perhaps others may be able to do so. If you can, let me know what you think!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trash Written By Trash

I have become completely impatient with the endless attacks, one nastier than the next, on the Belgian royal family. Recently, yet another lurid book full of malicious claims and anonymous sources has been published, this time targeting Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde. It is really beyond belief that anyone should be turning this quiet, dutiful, rather staid couple into fodder for scandal-mongering. Usually, Philippe has been one of the few Saxe-Coburg princes whose private life has been spared such prurient treatment. I am all too familiar with the way almost everyone else in the family has been portrayed by various authors as lechery incarnate. The worst I have generally seen said of Philippe, however, is vague criticism of his supposed personal rigidity and political conservatism. I have also seen his intelligence questioned, on no particular grounds. I doubt that a man, even a prince, could get away with a Master's Degree in Political Science from Stanford University, and be stupid.

Apparently, though, we had to do better than all this. It is not enough to have the heir to the throne be stiff, boring or dim-witted, but nonetheless be an upstanding family man. No, we have to destroy his character completely. Now, we have this new book alleging all sorts of wild things, from Philippe's homosexuality, to his marriage to Mathilde being an loveless arranged match, to their children being conceived by IVF. We also have an alleged interview, very emotional and heartfelt, no doubt, with Philippe's father, Albert II, in case we needed more of this voyeuristic soap opera. (As the Royal Palace has pointed out, though, the King doesn't do interviews). Most of these accusations seem to be recycled and rehashed from previous royalty. We all know the way Marie-Antoinette was charged with lesbianism and her husband with impotence. Philippe's own great-aunt, Queen Marie-José of Italy, was likewise slurred by rumors that her first child was conceived using artificial insemination. It is hard to imagine such trashy and shaky sources being taken seriously, but reportedly the new book is fast becoming a best-seller. Slander pays.

I am glad, however, that the Belgian royal family is finally reacting to this nastiness. Both Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde have vigorously denounced the claims and publicly paid tribute to their love for one another. I know that this is not going to stop the gossip, but it is still nice to see the Saxe-Coburgs fighting back. There ought to be more of it. Enough is enough. I am sick and tired of seeing this family portrayed as depraved blood-suckers. On the contrary, their position involves a great deal of self-sacrifice. Trying to hold together a country apparently bent on self-hatred, self-dismemberment and self-destruction is no fun. I believe that the strain and sadness of the situation can be seen quite clearly on the sometimes weary, disillusioned faces of figures such as King Albert II, Queen Paola, Prince Philippe and Princess Astrid. I have been deeply impressed with Princess Mathilde's ability to maintain an unfailingly warm, positive, serene manner amidst all this bitterness. She deserves respect.

*Over at The Mad Monarchist, a loyal friend of this blog weighs in on the matter.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jewellery of the House of Savoy

An English edition of Princess Maria Gabriella's fine book. On the cover is one of my favorite photographs of her stunning mother, Marie-José of Belgium. I love the way Maria Gabriella keeps her mother's memory alive, much as her cousin, Princess Esmeralda, does for her father, King Leopold III of the Belgians. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tiara of the Nine Provinces

This tiara was a wedding gift from the people of Belgium to Princess Astrid of Sweden, who married the future King Leopold III in 1926. Created by Belgian jeweler Van Bever, the original version of the diadem is a flexible diamond bandeau in a stylized Greek key motif topped with 11 large diamonds on spikes. These large stones, totaling around 100 carats on their own, symbolize the nine provinces of Belgium and the (now former) Belgian colony of the Congo. I've heard a few different explanations for what the 11th diamond stands for, including Belgium as a whole and the Belgian royal family. Obviously, this is where we get our name: I’m calling it the Nine Provinces Tiara, though in English you could also go with the slightly more imposing Diadem of the Nine Provinces or even the Belgian Empire Tiara. (Read entire post)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Queen Astrid's Wedding Gifts

November is the anniversary month of the joyful marriage of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid. Unofficial Royalty has a delightful series of articles on the wedding celebrations, including a description of some of the gifts the bride received.
Wedding gifts began arriving in Stockholm a few weeks before the civil ceremony. The Swedish navy presented Astrid and Leopold with various pieces of silver, while the residents of the city of Stockholm gave the couple a silver and enamel tea set. A diamond and pearl tiara made by the court jeweler Andersson was also given to Astrid. This tiara, now known as the Stockholm Wedding Tiara, has not been seen in several decades. However, Leopold’s second wife, the Princess de Rethy, later wore parts of this tiara as a brooch.

Several items were displayed in Ingeborg’s drawing room before the Swedish ceremony. These gifts included an emerald and diamond necklace from Carl and Ingeborg, a diamond necklace from the Swedish king and queen, a silver and enamel coffee set from the Norwegian royals, and a portrait of the bride’s father.

Shortly before the wedding, a call for donations was made to the Belgian public to fund a national gift to the couple. Collections were also made from various expatriate groups living in Belgium. Within a day, the amount collected reach over 183,000 Belgian francs. While Leopold had requested that the money collected by applied directly to the national debt, the prince was overruled in favor of the purchase of gifts. The items selected from the funds collected included a tapestry in honor of Astrid’s love of Swedish needlework. This tapestry was made over a thirteen-year period by Mademoiselle Dubois, a renowned Belgian weaver.

The first gift presented to Astrid upon her arrival in Belgium was lace given to her by a Belgian girls’ group. Astrid happily accepted the lace, expressing her thanks in the Flemish language.

Also selected from the Belgian collection included a diadem that could be separated into bracelets, rings, a choker, and brooches. The bandeau tiara was made by Belgian jeweler Van Bever and included eleven Congo diamonds. It is now known as the Nine Provinces or Belgian Empire Tiara and has been worn by every Belgian queen since Astrid.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Armistice Day

I want to take a moment to commemorate all those who suffered and died during World War I. I especially want to remember the brave people of Belgium and their valiant King and Queen, truly innocent bystanders who were dragged into the slaughter against their will. The end of the war was a source of great joy for Albert and Elisabeth and their children, signaling the return of peace and freedom for their beloved country. It was, however, also a time tinged with sadness, as they were forced to witness the destruction of many of their fellow Christian monarchs. Meanwhile, the peace terms would leave the future unsettled and menacing for their own people.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Belgian Royals in Paris Match

A few magazine covers from long ago. The first celebrates the marriage of Joséphine-Charlotte, eldest daughter of King Leopold III, to Jean of Luxembourg. The second features a beaming Princess Esmeralda, Leopold's youngest daughter, on the occasion of her eighteenth birthday.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Queen of Flowers

I do not quite understand the symbolism here, but this is a touching postcard of Elisabeth of Belgium.

Mary-Lilian and Marie-Antoinette

November, the month dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, is a time full of anniversaries for King Leopold III, Queen Astrid and Princess Lilian. All three began their momentous and often tragic lives in this dark, tempestuous month; Leopold on November 3, Astrid on November 17, and Lilian on November 28. Leopold and Astrid were also married in November! By rather a remarkable coincidence, Leopold was born the day after the birthday of his legendary forebear, Marie-Antoinette of Austria, who actually arrived on All Souls' Day itself, with all the churches of Vienna ominously draped in liturgical mourning. In fact, Leopold would sometimes have celebrated his birthday on All Souls' Day, too, since the feast is commemorated on November 3, if November 2 falls on a Sunday. 

The King was a descendant of Marie-Antoinette's favorite sister, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples. As it happened, Leopold and especially Lilian shared many qualities and experiences with the unfortunate Queen of France. Marie-Antoinette was a Habsburg archduchess, a daughter of the great Empress Maria Theresa, and Mary Lilian Baels was a Fleming, the product of a culture influenced by the Habsburgs, who ruled the Low Countries for centuries. Both Lilian and Marie-Antoinette were among the youngest children in large families, with forceful and capable mothers. Both girls were named after Our Lady, like many other Catholic princesses. Lilian and Marie-Antoinette also shared great beauty, charm, glamor and passion. Both were queens of fashion, with exquisite taste. Both were gracious hostesses, admired for creating magical environments, Marie-Antoinette at Trianon and Lilian at Argenteuil. Both were staunch, loyal and courageous women. Each was kind and charitable to the less fortunate, and known for her goodness within her inner circle. Both were loving wives and mothers. Both were sincere Catholics, fun-loving girls who seemed to grow in spiritual grandeur with time and suffering. 

Like Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Leopold III and Lilian had their faults, but were cruelly maligned beyond all reality. Both Lilian and Marie-Antoinette faced hateful accusations of immorality and even incest. Like the Queen of France, the Queen of the Belgians in all but name bravely shared her husband's miseries. Lilian and Marie-Antoinette bore insult, imprisonment, deprivation, illness and danger of death with patience and dignity. Each strove to protect and comfort her king and his children in terrible circumstances. At the end of her life, each left touching last wishes expressing a gentle spirit of piety, humility and care for her family and faithful friends. While sparing Lilian a bloody martyrdom, and granting her many years and a peaceful passing in old age, Providence called both women to sacrifice. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rest in Peace

On All Souls' Day, we remember all the Belgian royal family members who have passed away, particularly those who died in tragic and sudden ways. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. +

Above is one of many memorials to the greatly mourned first wife of Leopold III, Astrid of Sweden, killed in a car accident at 29. The statue is located at Laeken in the Parc du 21 Juillet, commemorating the swearing-in of Belgium's first king. Dedicated in 1940, the Latin inscription translates: "The Belgians to their most noble and most sweet Queen Astrid, with their whole heart." An earnest, loving convert to Catholicism, the religion of her beloved husband and new people, Astrid became a symbol not only of Belgian patriotism but also of the Faith itself. I have seen rumors online that Astrid was even considered for possible beatification at some point, but I have not been able to confirm these claims. There have definitely been suggestions of introducing the cause of her son, King Baudouin. It is worth noting that the famed Italian mystic, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, apparently thought very highly of Queen Astrid and her father-in-law, King Albert, who suffered a similarly tragic and untimely death, believing them both to be "close to the Lord" in the afterlife. Whether or not anyone in the family ever receives official ecclesiastical recognition on earth, let us hope and pray that they may all be numbered among the saints in heaven.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


This article, published February 12, 1961, in the Pittsburgh Press, shortly after Queen Fabiola's arrival in Belgium, furnishes an interesting example of the unfounded insinuations that circulated around Leopold III and his second wife, Princess Lilian. (It is actually one of the mildest examples I have seen.)
Fabiola also has a mother-in-law problem; a step-mother-in-law problem, to be exact. And Princess Liliane de Rethy could be a formidable foe. Back in 1941, when Leopold married her, she was Liliane Baels, daughter of the Governor of West Flanders. For 20 years she has been the most unpopular woman in the land, but Baudouin's devotion to her is so great he has been known to fly into rages over newspaper attacks on her, and to cancel all appointments for the day. 
When, at the time of their engagement, Baudouin and Fabiola gave their first press conference, they were later joined by their respective families for photographs. A girl journalist from an Italian magazine marked Fabiola who looked, at once, slightly untidy and infinitely appealing, with her hair wind-swept, and wearing a strawberry-colored dress, a cashmere cardigan and pearls. Squeezing the arm of a newspaper companion, this journalist exclaimed: "We are about to catch a glimpse of the future. If Liliane wishes to obliterate Fabiola she will stand next to her." 
As the royal group took their positions, Princess Liliane moved, smiling, to Fabiola's side. Tall and beautiful, fresh from the coiffeur and supremely elegant in a Paris suit, she did just what the girl journalist predicted- she obliterated the bride-to-be.
What nonsense. So Lilian could not even pose beside her own step-daughter-in-law for a family photograph without being accused of trying to steal the limelight from the new Queen? Supposing she had kept her distance from Fabiola? Then she would have been charged with being unfriendly and sulking at her loss of status as first lady of the realm. The poor woman was so reviled.