Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Kindness of Princess Lilian

Royalement has a touching testimony from Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, who was close to her Belgian uncle and aunt, King Leopold III and his second wife, Lilian Baels. Princess Lilian is so often described as cold, calculating and selfish, yet many personal accounts suggest the opposite. Here is an English translation of Maria Gabriella's account, published by Christophe Vachaudez in L'Eventail in September, 2002, two months after Lilian's death.
It is hard for me to speak of my aunt Lilian, so soon after her passing, without feeling the tears springing to my eyes. I very much miss her presence, as well as our frequent telephone conversations. I met her for the first time in Portugal, at the beginning of the 1950s. My uncle and my aunt Lilian were passing through Estoril, and were traveling to America. I saw them again in Brussels, for the eightieth birthday of my grandmother, Queen Elisabeth. It was a very joyous birthday. Aunt Lilian was resplendent, she was expecting Esmeralda.  
In 1958, I was again in Belgium, invited to a court ball. It was my first ball, I was delighted, and at the same time, very intimidated. I was staying at Laeken, and the evening of my arrival, Aunt Lilian came into my room. She wanted to see my evening dress. Very quickly understanding that I suffered from painful shyness, an inheritance from the Coburgs, she reassured me by admiring my gown and saying a thousand kind things to me.  
From that time on, my affectionate friendship for my "Belgian uncle and aunt" never weakened. I went to see them at Argenteuil, Ciergnon, Hinteriss, or in Biot, in the south of France. With my aunt, we talked about everything. The conversation was always interesting, and often amusing. Aunt Lilian was one of the most beautiful women I have known. She was also very intelligent and enthusiastic about life, with a strong, decided character. She was sometimes misunderstood. However, she had a big heart and always showed herself ready to help her neighbor. My affection and admiration for my aunt continued unclouded, without interruption, for 42 years, and I will miss her forever.

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