What is the Cross of Laeken?

Recently, I have had some questions about the title of this blog. On one level, it is simply a reference to the crosses atop the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, the burial place of the Belgian kings and queens of the past. The church was built by the founder of the dynasty in honor of his late wife, Louise-Marie of Orléans. To me, at any rate, the church, the crypt and the crosses symbolize so much about the Belgian royal house; in particular, the memory of their public and religious lives, which I try to feature on this site.

In another sense, the name of this blog is meant to be a metaphor for the Belgian monarchy itself and the hardships of the royal family. Albert I actually referred to kingship as a cross. Every generation has had to bear heavy sufferings, and many members of the family have done so with great faith. Queens Louise-Marie and Marie-Henriette had to deal with unhappy, politically arranged marriages. Louise-Marie also had to bear the loss of her first child and terrible anxiety over the fate of her own family, the Orléans, caught in turbulent France and finally driven into exile. Eventually, she had to suffer a slow, painful, untimely death from tuberculosis, sadly parting from her three, still young surviving children. She remained a woman of steadfast faith, hope and charity to the end, with only incredible love to offer a husband who did not share her religion and had not been particularly faithful to her.

In the next generation, Louise-Marie's daughter Charlotte would suffer horribly as the doomed Empress of Mexico, having to contend with the overthrow and murder of her husband and apparently descending into madness under the emotional strain of it all. She was never able to bear the child she had so longed to give Maximilian. As for Louise-Marie's eldest son, King Leopold II, his problems were largely of his own making, and, unfortunately, he was hardly a model of Catholic virtue. However, the story of his family is still an extremely unhappy one, involving the loss of his only legitimate son and the tragedies of his first two daughters' marriages. Louise-Marie's youngest son, Philippe, Count of Flanders and his wife, Marie, a pious couple, endured the early death of their very promising eldest son, Prince Baudouin, who had become the heir to the throne after the equally tragic passing of his little cousin, Prince Leopold.

This pattern of tragedies would continue, with the violent deaths of King Albert I and Queen Astrid, two world wars, and the imprisonment and near-murder of King Leopold III, Princess Lilian, and the royal children. Ultimately, Leopold would be forced to abdicate and would apparently become estranged from the offspring of his first marriage. Although he is rarely given credit for it, Leopold tried to bear his misfortunes with touching faith and trust in the goodness of God.  His cousin, Princess Clementine, for example, has left us a moving account of his great nobility in sorrow and Christian resignation after losing his beloved Astrid.  Lilian was also a genuinely religious woman. Leopold's son, King Baudouin, would sadly witness Belgium moving further and further away from the religious and moral principles he held dear. After losing five unborn children of his own, he would be unable to protect the other unborn children of Belgium. Despite the trappings of luxury and glamor, the Belgian crown has surely been a heavy cross to bear.