Sunday, June 23, 2013

Portraits of Princess Marie-José

Here are two contrasting portraits of the daughter of Albert and Elisabeth of Belgium who became Italy's last queen. The second picture, from 1935, is very sombre and perhaps reflects the suffering the princess endured in that period. The years leading up to the Second World War were marked by the loss of her father and her sister-in-law, Astrid of Belgium, as well as by marital unhappiness and growing concern at the political situation in Italy and Europe as a whole. Marie-José's face almost appears tear-streaked. In the first picture, on the other hand, she somehow seems more cheerful and outgoing.

Marie-José's Jewels

A few pieces, formerly belonging to Belgian-born Queen Maria José of Italy, which were auctioned at Christies' in June 2007. Included in the collection were a diamond and turquoise necklace and bracelet, given to the princess as wedding gifts from her parents, and an antique diamond and dark blue enamel bangle bearing the monogram of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. More information and pictures here and here. Above, Maria José is shown wearing a diamond, pearl and yellow gold tiara, said to have been inherited from her great-aunt, Carlota of Mexico.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Lost Protectress

This is a touching portrayal of the deceased Queen Astrid as a protectress of the unfortunate. She is shown imploring the Belgians, in memory of her, to care for these victims of hardship and sorrow. No doubt, had she been alive at the outbreak of World War II, the charitable Astrid would have followed in the footsteps of her mother-in-law, Queen Elisabeth, who was so loved for her strenuous efforts to bring aid and comfort to the wounded, to refugees, to orphans and to other war victims. As many have suggested, Astrid's gentleness and popularity might also have been able to soften some of the criticisms of her husband, Leopold III, following his surrender to the Germans. Of course, there would have been no controversy over Leopold's second marriage to Lilian Baels, had his first wife still been alive. It may be that the royal family would also have avoided deportation by the Nazis towards the end of the war. Perhaps, a desire not to antagonize neutral Sweden, Astrid's homeland, would have stayed Himmler's hand in this matter.

In later years, as a matriarch of the family, I am sure Astrid would have had a good influence on the younger generations of Saxe-Coburgs. Queen Paola, in particular, in an interview to mark her 65th birthday, regretted missing Astrid's counsel during the early years of her marriage, which proved to be so tumultuous. Lilian tried hard to be a good step-mother to Astrid's children, but obviously could never replace their mother, or erase the trauma of her violent death. Lilian's personality was more difficult, contributing to rifts in the family and the nation, despite her many genuinely noble qualities. These are only a few reflections which lead me to believe that both the people and the royal family of Belgium lost a powerful protectress in Astrid. It is significant that the grieving Leopold is said to have stressed how much he needed his wife's protection. In this life, she was no longer able to provide it, although I am sure she continued to watch over her widowed husband, orphaned children and shaken nation from the next life. In addition, her example of Christian charity and tender humanity lives on, inspiring us to defend and support the innocent and vulnerable among us.