Friday, January 18, 2013

Blogging Break

I am sorry to say I will have to a break from Cross of Laeken for the next month or so. I am just very tired and I have a number of other obligations and projects to focus on at the moment. God Bless!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wijnendale Castle

Here are some images, displayed with the kind permission of a good friend of this blog, of the Flemish castle where the fateful final meeting between Leopold III and his ministers occurred in May 1940.

Christmas Essay Contest Results

Here is the winning submission by Richard Taylor. I am sorry that we did not have any other participants. However, I hope you all enjoy this excellent article on the First World War, King Albert and Belgium's struggle for unity.
Nine years after the southern Netherlands revolted against Dutch rule, the great powers of Europe signed the Treaty of London guaranteeing Belgian neutrality. For the next seventy-five years, Belgium had no foreign enemies and prospered yet not all was peaceful in the new kingdom. Without an external threat, internal bickering was the norm between Walloons and Flemings, clerics and anti-clerics, socialists and liberals. Strikes were common over wage disputes and general strikes were called over universal suffrage and plural voting. 
The everyday fraternal fighting was interrupted in August 1914 by a German army looking for a quick victory over the French by encircling Paris and capturing channel ports to prevent a British intervention. The German plan did not anticipate Belgian resistance and certainly did not anticipate the character of the King of the Belgians, Albert I. 
“Belgium is a nation, not a road,” replied the King to a German ultimatum. An hour after the invasion began, the King addressed the Belgian Parliament wearing the field uniform of a brigadier general without decorations. “One duty alone is imposed upon us, namely the maintenance of a stubborn resistance, courage and union. Our bravery is proved by our faultless mobilization and by the multitude of voluntary engagements. This is the moment for action... Are you decided to maintain inviolate the sacred patrimony of our ancestors?” The chamber erupted in a chorus of yeses, seconded by the thousands of Bruxellois who lined the streets to cheer the King. 
The Belgian Army fought valiantly defending the cities of Liege and Antwerp, but heroics alone could not defeat a larger German Army. King Albert and his army retreated behind the Yser River insuring a little piece of Belgium would not be occupied by the Germans and helping to protect the French ports of Dunkerque and Calais. 
The army behind behind the Yser was small in the autumn of 1914 and winter of 1915. Rarely in the history of any army had there been a closer bond between a commander in chief, his family and his soldiers. King Albert was a regular visitor to the front lines in contrast to other heads of state who would visit troops only on the quiet days. A wounded soldier was likely to be cared for by Queen Elisabeth. Later in the war, a soldier of the 12th Regiment of the Line assigned to sandbag duty would find himself digging alongside the young Prince Leopold. Emmanuel Havenith, Minister of Belgium to the United States, 1911-17, told the story of the King taking the place of an exhausted soldier on the firing line and “fired....just as one of his soldiers.” A friend of the Minister wrote to him about the King taking command of a detail installing a wireless telegraph. “My friend said it was nervous work, as shells dropped near them repeatedly, and they tried to urge the King to find a safer place, but he would not.” The King remained in Belgium for the duration of the war sharing hardships with his soldiers, working along side them and earning their respect. 
The army would grow as Belgians fled to Holland, crossed the North Sea to England, crossed the channel to France and traveled overland to the King's army. The King would become the commander Army Group Flanders that included French and British divisions and the added responsibilities meant fewer contacts with his soldiers whom he called “my friends.” Many of the prewar tensions returned to the army especially the linguistic divide as the majority of soldiers were Flemish and most of the officer corps was francophone. In time, after the glow of victory faded, internal bickering became the norm once more in Belgium. 
National unity has been an elusive dream for Belgium, but it was achieved for a brief time by an able king who could inspire and encourage his people. It is a tragedy that it took a devastating world war and tens of thousands of Belgian lives to achieve it. 
Tuchman, Barbara, The Guns of August, New York, Macmillan, 1962
Taylor, A.J.P., The First Word War, New York, Perigee, 1980
de Lilbert de Flemalle, Gabriel, Fighting with King Albert, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1915
Lucas, Netley, Albert the Brave: King of the Belgians, London, Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1935
Page, Walter Hines and Page, Arthur Wilson, The World's Work, Volume 29, New York, Doubleday, Page and Co., 1915

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Charlotte of Belgium


Adoration of the Magi

Happy Epiphany! Today is the last day for submissions if anyone wants to participate in our Christmas essay contest!

The Struggles of a Shy Child

One of the most touching parts of Countess Anna Sparre's portrayal of her childhood friend, Astrid, Queen of the Belgians, is her description of the young Swedish princess' development from a timid, vulnerable child to a woman of confidence and poise. In Astrid mon amie, Anna speaks of the contrasting characters of herself and her friend. According to Anna, Astrid was fearful of everyone and everything, painfully reserved and extremely sensitive, while Anna was bold, outspoken, and thick-skinned. Anna used to become annoyed with Astrid, while simultaneously pitying her, because of her excessive anxiety. Apparently, Anna was not the only one to become impatient with Astrid's fears. Her father, Prince Carl, in his memoirs, relates a similar incident during Astrid's childhood on a visit to the beach. Her mother, Princess Ingeborg, scolded her for being afraid of the waves, and the little girl replied, sobbing: "Mummy forgets that I am so small and the sea is so big."

Despite their opposite temperaments, or perhaps because of them, Astrid clung to Anna, humbly willing to accept even her sharpest criticisms. In the summer of 1922, after Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg and their children had been visiting Anna's family, and were preparing to leave, sixteen-year-old Astrid begged to remain a little while longer. It was the first time she had stayed away from home without her family. She was visibly pained every time she had to greet someone she had never met before, every time Anna's father spoke to her at table, every time there was a storm, every time something happened unexpectedly. At the same time, however, she deepened the friendship with Anna that would bring her so much joy and comfort throughout her life. The two teenagers often lay awake at night, exchanging confidences. Anna's influence seemed to help Astrid to become braver.

Anna believed that much of Astrid's self-doubt stemmed from her position in her family as a middle child. Despite the warm, loving atmosphere of the household of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg, Anna felt that Astrid suffered some emotional neglect during her youth. Apparently, Ingeborg was rather overly given to praising Astrid's charming, outgoing, self-assured older sister, Märtha, the future Crown Princess of Norway, constantly holding her up as the model young lady. Meanwhile, Ingeborg doted on Astrid's younger brother, Carl, the adored baby of the family, a delightfully entertaining child, apt to be spoiled. The naturally more self-effacing, more melancholic Astrid received less attention, understanding and encouragement. She found refuge and comfort with her father, and, above all, with her motherly eldest sister, Margaretha.

At thirteen, however, Astrid was devastated by her separation from Margaretha, upon the latter's marriage to Prince Axel of Denmark. A sad little figure amidst the joyous ceremonies, Astrid wept desperately as she strewed flowers in the path of the bride and groom. Little did she know that her new brother-in-law would become a trusted, supportive friend. Even less did she imagine that her own marriage, seven years later, would enable her to blossom into one of the most charismatic and beloved figures of the twentieth century.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mourning Ring

Commissioned and worn by Queen Victoria in honor of her husband. I always think he looked very much like the Belgian Albert.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Charming Vignette

A letter from Albert Einstein to his wife Elsa from 1931 describes the charming hospitality and informality of King Albert and Queen Elisabeth among their friends.
I was received with touching warmth. These two people are of a purity and kindness seldom found. First we talked for about an hour. Then [the Queen and I] played quartets and trios [with an English lady musician and a musical lady-in-waiting]. This went on merrily for several hours. Then they all went away and I stayed alone for dinner at the King's- vegetarian style, no servants. Spinach and fried eggs and potatoes, period. (It had not been anticipated that I would stay). I liked it very much there, and I am certain the feeling is mutual. (Albert Einstein: The Human Side, 1989, p. 47)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my readers! Thank you for following Cross of Laeken these past four years. May 2013 be full of peace and joy for all of you.