Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lost Splendor

More of Queen Astrid's clothes, hats and perfumes. It is said that her favorite perfume was Molyneux No. 5.

It is curious that Astrid was and is so admired for her elegance and love of fashion, while Lilian was and is attacked for the same qualities. It makes me think that many of these accusations of vanity and extravagance are little more than opportunistic excuses to vilify, for ulterior motives. It is true that Lilian's glamor, like her personality, was somehow more aggressive than Astrid's, so it is, to a certain extent, not surprising that Lilian would attract more resentment. It still seems decidedly unfair, though.

Christmas Essay Update

If anyone wants to participate in the Christmas essay contest here at Cross of Laeken, there is still time! Please send entries by January 6 to crossoflaeken@gmail.com. Good luck! Here are the full rules for the contest. I know I said to use the contact form to send me your articles, but it is probably easier simply to use the email address. If you do, please copy and paste the text in the body of the email, rather than sending it as an attachment. However, any pictures you would like to include in the essay may be sent as attachments. Thank you and I hope we will have some participants!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Memory Lane

Since we are approaching the end of the year, and the fourth anniversary of The Cross of Laeken, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorite posts from the past. (I was inspired to do so by Gio's recent post along the same lines).  Here are a few, in no particular order:

Lilian Baels and Jacqueline Kennedy: I include this one because it is a VERY popular article, apparently my second most popular article of all time. I suspect this is more because of Jackie's fame than Lilian's, but in any case, I do not mind the extra hits!

Princess Lilian: Loved and Loving: A post examining the stereotypes of Lilian Baels as cold and hard and attempting to demonstrate that she was much warmer, kinder and more loving than many realize.

The Conversion of Queen Astrid: An article about Astrid's spiritual journey from the Lutheranism of her childhood and family to the Catholicism of her husband and adopted country.

Queen of Children: A contemporary testimonial of Queen Elisabeth's touching dedication to the youngest Belgian victims of World War I.

A Queen to be Remembered: A profile of the first Queen of the Belgians, Louise-Marie of Orléans, who is often overshadowed by her later, more famous counterparts, such as Elisabeth and Astrid.

Marie d'Orléans: The favorite sister of Queen Louise-Marie, a spirited and artistic soul who sadly passed away from tuberculosis at age 25.

Albert I and the Sacred Heart: A remarkable account of Albert's meeting with Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, a famous preacher of devotion and reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during the priest's visit to Belgium in 1922.

The Perfume of Violets: Princess Marie-José's mysterious encounter with Padre Pio, the saintly Italian mystic.

Umberto and Maria José: Some thoughts on the lights and shadows of their marriage.

A Talk with a King: American war reporter Mary Roberts Rinehart's account of her audience with Albert I during the German occupation of Belgium. Albert expressed his anguish over the violation of Belgian neutrality and the cruel treatment of his people.

A Talk with a Queen: Mary Roberts Rinehart's meeting with Queen Elisabeth.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Graceful

An elegant picture of the daughter of Leopold and Astrid. She was certainly a beauty, although perhaps too often overshadowed by the elegance of her mother and step-mother.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Depressing

Ten years after legalizing euthanasia, Belgium is now considering extending the practice to children and people with Alzheimer's and dementia. God help us. Is Albert II going to sign this law, too? Really, at a certain point it is time to stand up for moral principles, whatever the consequences. Of course, Belgium is a secular state, but this is not merely a matter of religion. The protection of innocent human life is fundamental to any just political order. It is not negotiable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Imaginative...

Queen astrid

I came across this collage on Flickr inspired by Queen Astrid. What do you think? I like the colors; they  also seem to me to suit the festive season.

Monday, December 17, 2012

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, as we all know, 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.

We know all too well that 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.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lady Mary Curzon

The beloved first wife of the man in whose care the Belgian royal children were placed during World War I. Mary, however, had passed away by that time.
Mary was compared to a "diamond set in gold, the full moon in clear autumnal sky". During a State Ball organized as a celebration for the coronation of King Edward VII, Lady Curzon wore a magnificent and expensive gown known as the "peacock dress". The peacock was a magnificent masterpiece of Indian creation: "It was stitched of gold cloth, embroidered with peacock feathers with a blue/green beetle wing in each eye, which many mistook for emeralds, dipping into their own fantasies about the wealth of millionaire heiresses, Indian potentates and European royalty. The skirt was trimmed with white roses and the bodice with lace. She wore a huge diamond necklace and a large broach of diamonds and pearls. She wore a tiara crown with a pearl tipping each of its high diamond points. It was reported that as she walked through the hall the crowd was breathless." (Read entire post)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Essay Contest

In honor of the Christmas season, I am launching a new tradition. I will be holding an essay contest for readers of Cross of Laeken. I will be picking up to three entries to publish here. If you would like to participate, and I hope you will, please send me your essays via the contact page. If there are any problems using the form, please let me know. Essays may be on any topic related to the Belgian Royal Family. They must be written specifically for this contest. The length should range between 550-750 words. Please include your sources. Entries are due by Epiphany, January 6, 2013.

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

Malice

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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Personal Request

If I may ask, please remember my father in your prayers. He is being tested for cancer and we are still waiting for results. Thank you all for your kindness and God bless you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Portrait of a Princess

Christina Croft shares a description by King Leopold I of the Belgians of his late first wife, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales.
 ...My gift is Charlotte’s portrait. The face is extremely like, and the likest that exists; the hair is a little too fair, it had become darker. I take this opportunity to repeat that Charlotte was a noble-minded and highly gifted creature. She was nervous as all the family have been: she could be violent but but then she was full of repentance for it, and her disposition highly-generous and susceptible of great devotion..."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beauty of Flanders

As we have been discussing the divide between Flanders and Wallonia, it might be interesting to consider the case of the Flemish beauty who became the second wife of Leopold III. She was the very type of the Catholic, royalist Flemish who played such an important role in deciding the popular consultation in Leopold's favor after World War II. (Sadly, with the current trend towards separatism, more and more Flemings now seem to be turning rather venomously against the monarchy as a icon of Belgian unity). Princess Lilian was also the very type of the upper-class Flemish who adopted French culture.

This position made life even more difficult for a woman already castigated by the aristocracy as a vulgar adventuress marrying far above her station, and by other elements of popular opinion and the press as a unworthy successor to an impossibly saintly Queen Astrid, as an unscrupulous temptress, devoured by ambition, luring the King into preferring private pleasure to public duty. Lilian was doubly resented for her Flemish heritage by many Walloons. She was also blamed by more nationalistic Flemings, such as her denigrating biographer, Evrard Raskin, for supposedly betraying this same heritage through her Francophile affinities.

As Jean Cleeremans describes in Léopold III, sa famille, et son peuple sous l'occupation, there were also kinder voices among the Flemish who expressed pride at their Sovereign's marriage to one of their own, to a daughter of the talented and energetic class that had brought such prosperity to the Belgian cities through the centuries. As always in Lilian's life, however, spiteful portrayals gained much greater publicity than any appreciative ones. Hating the Princess de Réthy became a veritable industry.

Yet, through it all, Lilian remained steadfastly loyal to her principles as a woman devoted to Belgium and its monarchy. Michel Verwilghen, in Le mythe d'Argenteuil, describes her concern at the rise of separatism during the last years of her life. She even worried that her step-son, King Baudouin, might not be doing enough to oppose the efforts to shatter the country. I wonder what she would say of Belgium's most recent political crises.

A Republic of Flanders?

An intelligent, humorous commentary on the Flemish separatist movement. I think it would be a tragedy if Belgium and her monarchy disappeared from the face of the earth and I see no compelling reason why the loss would be worthwhile.
Flanders has, for most of recent memory, been more prosperous than Wallonia. I am sure some of the more racist Flemish nationalists (and there are plenty of them) would likely attribute this to the natural superiority of the more Germanic Flemings over the more Latin Walloons. Actually, in racial terms, there is hardly any difference between the two and the real reason is that Flanders has followed a more intelligent economic policy compared to Wallonia which has long been dominated by the socialists and has an economy that shows this. I can completely understand the Flemings being upset that their hard-earned tax euros get shoveled over to the Walloons to compensate for their bad economic decisions. However, the answer to that problem does not require independence, it only requires getting the socialists out of Wallonia and a good way to start would be to see them cut off from outside help so they would be forced to face the economic reality that socialism simply does not work. If the Red Chinese can figure it out, so can the Walloons. Ignoring the huge problem that would be Brussels, there is also the problem of what to do with the two halves of the former Belgium if Flanders declared independence. 
Contrary to what some think, the area of modern Belgium has been a distinct political area for quite some time before the declaration of independence in 1830. It was distinct during the period it was united to The Netherlands after the Napoleonic Wars and before that it had long been the westernmost outpost of the Hapsburg empire. Wallonia as a part of the French Republic holds no romance for me and would be an odd fit; the similarities of language aside. However, Wallonia is not the driving force behind this but rather Flanders. What would become of Flanders? There are two options: either Flanders remains independent or joins their fellow Dutch speakers in a “Greater Netherlands”. Neither option appeals to this monarchist. First of all, let there be no confusion on this point: an independent Flanders would be a republic. Period. Without doubt. So, in that scenario, Europe loses a monarchy and is cursed with another republic. In the second case; Flanders being annexed by The Netherlands, no new republics are created (assuming Wallonia joins France as is most likely) but Europe is still down one monarchy. Not good. Furthermore, I do not believe Flanders would be happy in The Netherlands anyway. They have too much of a regional mindset and are too used to being treated as something special for me to believe that they would be content to be just another Dutch province. So, I say “no” to a Flemish republic and “yes” to the Kingdom of Belgium (which, lest we forget, has been a country longer than Germany, Italy, Poland and a number of others).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Last Hours of Marie-Antoinette

On the anniversary of the Queen's death, Elena Maria Vidal remembers the awe-inspiring dignity and grace with which Marie-Antoinette endured her humiliating trial and execution, drawing upon an incredible testimony from one of her attorneys. I am sure that Marie-Antoinette's heroism inspired many later queens and princesses in dark times, including some of the Belgian royal women.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Death of Sir Richard Croft

Gio writes of the tragic suicide of the obstetrician who attended the ill-fated Princess Charlotte of Wales, the first wife of the future King Leopold I of the Belgians.
The Times added: "At the conclusion of the evidence, the Coroner and Jury retired to take a view of the body of the deceased, which lay in an upper apartment, and was in a dreadful condition, the head being blown to pieces, and the deceased’s bed and bed-clothes being covered with blood; each hand grasped a pistol, which had been loaded with a slug and small shot; the contents entered at the temples. On a chair by the side of the bedstead on which the deceased lay were several of Shakespeare’s plays. The room was very small, and it appeared as if the deceased had been reading. 
One of the play-books lay inside the fender, and was entitled "Love’s Labour Lost."One of the jury took up the book and noticed to his brother jury-men that one of the characters used the following expressions in the page which lay open on the hearth: "Good God! where’s the Princess?" (Read entire post)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Forgotten Victims of Mayerling

From last year, my article on Stéphanie of Belgium, who should have been Empress of Austria-Hungary, and her daughter Elisabeth Marie, at Lost in the Myths of History. It is a shame that Crown Prince Rudolf's mistress, Marie Vetsera, is better known than his wife. It is also a pity that the Belgian princesses who have become the consorts of foreign monarchs or their heirs have tended to meet with such frustration and tragedy. Not only Stéphanie, but also Charlotte and Marie-José, entered into the duties of their difficult new positions in alien environments with good will and dedication. Each, however, proved powerless to prevent her husband's downfall.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Medal of Albert and Elisabeth

A beautiful one commemorating U.S. relief to Belgium in World War I. The profiles of the King and Queen are especially fine.

The King and his Ministers

Some interesting insights from Charles d'Ydewalle's Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King.
It almost seems as if, during those last years, no other mind had the power to influence his. It was often asked: "Who is influencing the King?" We should like to know whether the King of the Belgians had any favourites among his Ministers. There were a few whom he trusted, although he rarely praised them. It is said that he showed marked preference for M. Vandervelde. This is obviously untrue, since in spite of his obvious admiration for the mentality and wide knowledge of the Socialist Minister, he ignored him whenever he felt it expedient, just as he would ignore a Catholic or a Liberal. I have been shown numbers of letters signed with a firm and decided "A"; one and all are written in an even hand without erasures, and every downstroke has been traced with the same care and precision. They invariably begin: "My dear Minister," or "My dear Prime Minister," and are signed: "Your affectionate Albert." The style is classic in its perfection, the sentences are exquisitely balanced, show an extraordinary feeling for the mot juste, and convey in full the dignity of the writer. He hardly ever writes "I wish," but very often "I believe," and never "I am certain." Yet, when the day came for a Minister to receive his congé, he was given an audience...and all was over. 
Did his coldness contain an element of bitterness against Parliamentary mechanisms? I am tempted to believe so. The Belgian Constitution defines the power of the Monarch in a singular way. Each Party designates those of their members from whom he may select his Ministers. When Albert's Ministers had given up office, he took no further interest in them. He often esteemed, sometimes admired the colleagues who were temporarily imposed on him. He had great faith in a few. To one of the most distinguished of them he remarked: "You, at any rate, have always told me the truth." This, one might think, was a supreme compliment which should have raised the Minister to a pinnacle and made him the recipient of a host of small favours. It did not do so; the Minister in question was treated with the same official courtesy and tact as the rest. 
The Premier alone, the closest to his Royal master, was admitted with more intimacy into the daily round. If he were ill, he might telephone his business to the King. If the matter were urgent, he might hasten to Laeken, or, in case of need, to Ciergnon, where he would find the King in the woods, dressed as a day-labourer, planting or measuring oak-trees. Or he might find him buried in books and papers, making maps and sketches, in the interval between two excursions on his motorcycle. If the Premier stayed at Ciergnon, the Princes moved on to another floor and gave up their rooms to the distinguished visitor. It was a large, bare apartment. 
If any Minister, whether he were in office or not, suffered a bereavement, fell ill or was the victim of an accident, the King instantly showed that solicitude of which he was so chary in other circumstances. A former President of the Chamber, who had broken his arm, received a charming letter. I asked him if he were often honoured in this way. "No," he said. "We never see each other." The King treated the elderly statesmen with the special courtesy due to their years, and the younger men with a lighter touch more suited to their age. Each one might believe that he was more favoured than the rest, but not one of them could flatter himself that he had been admitted for all time into the circle of the King's intimate friends. On the other hand, if a political crisis arose, he would send for the leaders of all three parties-- even for those from whom he knew he would learn nothing. Thus no jealousy was occasioned; and the King treated them all alike, with ironic indifference or guarded admiration. One feels that his attitude to his Ministers was that of a master to his class. The types remain the same, although the individuals change; and it is incumbent upon him to devote himself entirely to this class, about which he has no illusions (pp. 232-234)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Allies


An interesting portrayal of King Albert I (bottom left) among the Allied heads of state during World War I.

Olive Muir

My apologies for my long absence here; it has been a difficult month. Nevertheless, I wanted to share some information about Olive Muir, kindly brought to my attention by Daniel Wybo of the Royal League of Veterans of King Leopold III. One of the more passionate, but less well known defenders of the King during World War II and the Royal Question, Mrs. Muir was arrested at one point for heckling Paul-Henri Spaak, the former Socialist prime minister of Belgium, at a political debate in Strasbourg. The Glasglow Herald of November 22, 1950 described the scene:
A British supporter of King Leopold of the Belgians, Mrs. Olive Muir, was taken into police custody after interrupting the debate by heckling the chairman, M. Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium). She was released when the debate ended.

Mrs. Muir, a wealthy authoress painter, and owner of a Devonshire estate, interrupted the debate as Mr. Macmillan rose to speak.

From the visitors' gallery, Mrs. Muir called out: "M. Spaak, why do you allow a majority here...?" M. Spaak ordered the ushers to remove her.

While ushers tried unsuccessfully to remove Mrs. Muir, who stood passively in the gallery repeating the first half of her sentence, M. Spaak declared the session suspended. On her way down to the police room for questioning, Mrs. Muir told reporters she had wanted to say:-

"Why do you allow a majority here, when you do not accept it in your own country?"
Presumably, Mrs. Muir was referring to Spaak's refusal to abide by the results of the popular consultation that had recently decided the Royal Question in Leopold's favor.

Olive Muir was also the author of a book, Why I Defended a King's Honour (1955), containing excerpts from her diary and earlier articles and pamphlets on Leopold's behalf, such as the following:
It is a lamentable fact that at this moment some people believe that King Leopold had audience with Hitler in 1940. This information is entirely untrue. King Leopold only consented to see his enemy at Berchtesgaden in order to arrange more food for starving Belgium and the exchange of prisoners of war who had fought bravely for their country, and the Princess of Piedmont's (The King's sister) visits to Hitler were only undertaken for the same cause.

"King George," of Britain, writes Olive Muir, "and the Royal Family wish King Leopold's return to Belgium."

Olive Muir also states that M. Spaak must be labouring under some false illusions or misguided information and should be enlightened of the truth upon such an important matter as his King.

Britain should be magnanimous enough to face the truth, and if Churchill did his duty, he should come forward and announce to the whole world the greatness, ability, courage and heroic sacrifice of Belgium's Royal Sovereign.

Olive Muir adds:

"No one has any right to question the marriage of such a loyal King. Mademoiselle Lilian Baels was a great friend of the Royal Family. He could not have chosen a more suitable wife. The King of Britain married what we call 'a commoner', and she has proved a great success and a blessing to her country. Surely, King Leopold's wife will do the same.

Olive Muir ends:

"My sympathy with the present predicament of a brave nation who cannot make up its mind to receive back their great King and hero, who kept his Royal word to his troops and who is worthy of undying loyalty by his subjects, induces me to write this book." (pp. 25-26)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vierge des Pauvres

Another royal prayer card, showing King Leopold III with his tragically deceased father and wife and referencing the Marian apparitions at Banneux: "Virgin of the Poor, save Belgium!" 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Birth of a Princess

It is the 75th birthday of Queen Paola. The Radical Royalist gives a lovely summary of her life and work. I find it an interesting coincidence that Leopold III and Lilian Baels were married religiously on the fourth birthday of the future Belgian queen.

Here are samples of the handwriting of King Albert II and Queen Paola.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A New Archduchess

On September 8, 2012, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Imre of Habsburg-Lorraine, a grandson of Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium, married Miss Kathleen Walker at St. Mary's Church in Washington, D.C.  We wish the Archduke and his beautiful bride every blessing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Birth of a Prince

Kronprinzessin Astrid von Belgien mit Sohn Baudouin
A tender image of Astrid, Duchess of Brabant, future Queen of the Belgians,with her infant son, Prince Baudouin, future King of the Belgians. Today is Baudouin's birthday. It was said that at the arrival of the little prince, her eldest son, his Swedish mother exclaimed: "Now I feel truly Belgian!"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Celebrating Belgium

75 Jahre Unabhängigkeit Belgiens
A postcard commemorating the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence in 1905, incidentally also the year the future Queen Astrid was born. The coats of arms of Belgium and her then nine provinces are displayed, along with a picture of the monument to Leopold I at Laeken, the Belgian flag and the national motto, "union makes for strength."

A Lost Princess

Gio reviews a new biography of the tragic first wife of Leopold I.
Charlotte was the daughter of the dissolute Prince Regent, who eventually became George IV, and his coarse wife Caroline of Brunswick. Their marriage was a disaster from the start. They separated almost immediately and did everything they could to make each other and, as a result their daughter, miserable. Despite this, Charlotte turned out well, and was very much loved by the people who hoped she would restore the image of the monarchy and the royal family.
Sadly, their hopes were too soon destroyed. Everyone rejoiced when Charlotte married her Prince. The couple cared deeply for each other and did everything together. But after a year and a half of marriage, Charlotte died after giving birth to a stillborn son. Leopold was distraught and even though he would go on to become King of the Belgians, and remarry, he never forgot his first wife. Had she lived, his niece Queen Victoria, would probably never have been born. Although George IV had several siblings, none of them had legitimate children, and, until this tragedy occurred, hadn't really shown any inclination to get married.
Chambers' biography reads more like a novel than a biography. It flows easily, is entertaining and is light without being shallow. However, it isn't in-depth. While we get to know Charlotte quite well, especially thanks to her correspondence which is amply cited in the book, we're not told much about Leopold. His life after Charlotte's death is summed up in just a few short pages, which is something that really disappointed me as I have a bit of a crush on Leopold and would have loved to know more about him. (Read entire post)
Here is an article discussing amniotic fluid embolism, the rare obstetric emergency that may well have caused Charlotte's death.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Elisabeth of Hungary

Sisi's coronation in Budapest.
So great was the enthusiasm aroused by the appearance of the Empress-Queen, that it is scarcely wonderful if her whole heart went out anew to a people who, by the warmth of their reception, the many tokens of admiration and love bestowed upon her, presented so vivid a contrast to the manner in which the Teutonic portion of her husband’s subjects had comported themselves towards her when the imperial crown had been placed upon her brow, almost thirteen years before. Her predilection for Hungary from henceforth became more than ever marked. She learned the terribly difficult Magyar language with her usual facility, devoting herself with such energy to this task that she absolutely amazed her instructors, and most of her time was spent in her marvelous Castle of Gödöllö, near Budapest. (Read entire post)

Little Princess Marie-Christine

I am pained by her behavior as an adult, but it would be hard to find a more adorable little girl. She always loved her stuffed animals, as her sister Esmeralda recalls in her book, Léopold III, mon père.



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Remembering Queen Astrid

Remember 
+
The glorious memory
of 
Her Majesty Queen Astrid
Queen of the Belgians
Born at Stockholm, November 17, 1905
Proclaimed Queen February 23, 1934
Accidentally deceased August 29, 1935
at Küssnacht (Switzerland)
---
She had to die in the flower of her youth because only death could add to her crown. (Père Lacordaire)
---
Her grace and her charm, her kindness and her simplicity had conquered all hearts.
She had given herself entirely to Belgium, and her death leaves in the hearts of all Belgians a deep wound.
Men and women mourn their Queen.
Children mourn a mother.
---
R.I.P.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Life of Queen Louise-Marie

A delightful post. As it happens, the anniversary of the death of the Queen's beloved father Louis-Philippe is coming soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Un couple dans la tempête

Un couple dans la tempête: le destin malheureux de Léopold III de Belgique et de la princesse Lilian (2004) is a sympathetic, popular account of the romance and marriage of Leopold III and his second wife, Lilian Baels, centering on the upheavals that severely tested their love. The book frequently quotes Lilian's reminiscences, drawn from a series of conversations between French journalists Marcel Jullian and Claude Désiré and the elderly, widowed princess. Begun by Marcel Jullian, a great friend of Leopold and Lilian, who sadly passed away during the writing process, the account was completed by his younger colleague, Claude Désiré. Beautiful photographs of King Leopold, Queen Astrid, the royal children, and Princess Lilian are included, as well as facsimiles of interesting documents and affectionate family letters. Désiré also offers a touching tribute to the deceased Jullian, detailing his harrowing escape from execution by the Nazis while fighting in the French Resistance.

Contrary to many common perceptions, Lilian emerges as the gracious, intelligent woman so many of her intimates knew.  She comes across as sensitive and kind-hearted, most poignantly of all in her horrified recollections of visiting the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau after its liberation by the Allies, in the company of American General Alexander Patch. At the same time, we see the frankly voiced opinions and acerbic observations that often made her enemies, in her scorn for her husband's political opponents. Her comments about Winston Churchill are particularly pointed. She even suggests that he wanted to take over the Belgian Congo and thought that getting rid of Leopold was a necessary first step. We are also given a glimpse of Lilian's sadness at quarrels within the royal family in later years. Hurt by some of her children's actions, she would resignedly remark: "C'est une autre génération, c'est autre chose." ("It's a different generation, it's a different thing.")

Un couple dans la tempête is always entertaining, and often quite moving. Nonetheless, it suffers from some of the limitations of popularized accounts of royalty, being a bit too romanticized and sensationalized. The portrayal of the royal couple sometimes seems too idealized, although it is probably a good antidote to the grotesque abuse that husband and wife have often suffered and the authors do admit that Leopold and Lilian both made their share of mistakes. Michel Verwilghen, author of Le mythe d'Argenteuil (2006), found some factual errors in the book, particularly in the description of the history of the country house that became the home of King Leopold and his second family after 1960. The reader will definitely find a more accurate and much more detailed description of their life at Argenteuil in the pages of Verwilghen's erudite tome, combined with a similarly sympathetic but better nuanced portrayal of their characters.

The Duchess of Kent



Friday, August 17, 2012

The Fall of Liège

The Exiled Belgian Royalist remembers. Here is the noble letter that General Gerard Leman, now a prisoner of war, sent King Albert after the German capture of the forts of Liège on August 16, 1914. Leman had once been a military tutor to Albert.
After honourable engagements on August 4th, 5th, and 6th, I considered that the forts of Liege could only play the role of forts d'arret. I nevertheless maintained military government in order to coordinate the defense as much as possible, and to exercise moral influence upon the garrison.
Your Majesty is not ignorant that I was at Fort Loncin on August 6th at noon. You will learn with grief that the fort was blown up yesterday at 5.20 p.m., the greater part of the garrison being buried under the ruins.
That I did not lose my life in that catastrophe is due to the fact that my escort, Commandant Collard, a sub-officer of infantry who unfortunately perished, the gendarme Thevenim and my two orderlies, Vanden Bossche and Jos Lecocq, drew me from a position of danger, where I was being asphyxiated by gas from the exploded powder.
I was carried into a trench, where a German captain named Guson gave me a drink, after which I was made a prisoner and taken to Liege in an ambulance. I am convinced that the honour of our arms has been sustained. I have not surrendered either the fortress or the forts.
Deign, Sire, to pardon my defects in this letter. I am physically shattered by the explosion of Loncin. In Germany, whither I am proceeding, my thoughts will be, as they have ever been, of Belgium and the King. I would willingly have given my life the better to serve them, but death was denied me.
More on the battle of Liège, HERE.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Social Reforms of Queen Astrid

Königin Astrid von Belgien, Queen of Belgium
In Astrid:1905-1935, a collection of essays edited by Christian Koninckx, Louise-Marie Libert-Vandenhove gives an interesting description of the young Queen's engagement in social causes (see especially pp. 103-115). Astrid took a special interest in the improvement of conditions for women and children. Although she was no militant suffragette, she contributed to the movement for greater freedom and independence for women in her own discreet, delicate and non-confrontational way. She was a reformer, not a revolutionary.

Libert-Vandenhove describes the difficult conditions for women, particularly those of the poorer classes, at the time Astrid arrived in Belgium. The more traditionally minded strata of society simply expected women to be content with their lot as wives and mothers, legally and politically subordinate to men, forever minors in law, ineligible to vote or run for office in national elections. The universities of Brussels, Ghent and Liège only opened their doors to women in the 1880's. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was still quite hard for girls to pursue higher education or an interesting profession outside the home. 

Even at the outset of World War I, as Dr. Patrick Loodts has noted on his wonderful website, Médecins de la Grande Guerre, nursing as a career was still in its infancy in Belgium as it was considered scandalous for women to provide physical care to men outside their families. The Catholic University of Louvain only began admitting female students in 1920, just six years before Astrid's marriage to the heir to the Belgian throne. A emerging feminist movement had been gaining strength since the return of peace, but it was still widely frowned upon.

Many children were also suffering, particularly among the financially disadvantaged. A doting mother herself, Astrid was clearly distressed by the poor living conditions and high mortality rates of many infants and children, not only in Belgium but in the Belgian Congo and the Far East. In her memoirs, her friend Anna Sparre describes the heartfelt letters, discussing the topic, that the Queen sent her during her visits to Singapore in 1932 and the Congo in 1933

Although not particularly an intellectual woman, Libert-Vandenhove observes, Astrid was gifted with intelligence, realism and intuition. (Her husband's second wife, Princess Lilian, with her passionate interests in science, history, literature and philosophy, her creation of a kind of cultural salon at Argenteuil, was much more of a real intellectual, I always think). Above all, Astrid was blessed with a kind, gentle, sensitive disposition. These qualities, I believe, enabled her to maintain a delicate balance in promoting social change without trying to tear society apart. Aside from the fact that espousing radical feminism would have been politically disastrous for the Queen, it would simply never have occurred to her to encourage Belgian women to throw off their role as wives and mothers. She herself was first and foremost a loving wife and mother. She sought, however, to render women's lives as wives and mothers fruitful rather than oppressive. 
Königin Astrid von Belgien mit Tochter Josephine-Charlotte ,Queen of Belgium, nee Princess of Sweden
As Libert-Vandenhove describes in detail, Astrid was always a gracious patroness of causes promoting the good of women along with the good of their children. She was particularly interested in training women formally in childrearing and healthcare, as she herself had been trained as a young princess in Sweden. These programs had the double benefit of improving children's health while offering women better career opportunities. Astrid also tried to further the education of women in other fields. With her love of fashion, for example, she supported the training of young girls as dressmakers. A sincerely religious lady, she tended to favor Catholic charitable institutions, such as the professional school for girls run by the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. At the same time, she was open-minded enough to support, in addition, some more liberal organizations, such as the non-sectarian Fédération des Foyers Belges. She gave audiences to advocates of women's rights such as Baroness Boël, President of the National Council of Belgian Women. 

Astrid's concern for the vulnerable was deep and intense. She appeared at so many events in support of so many causes that it might seem that her involvement must have been superficial, merely a matter of protocol. Such a notion would be far from the truth. In fact, the Queen's interest moved her to insist personally on in-depth investigations of matters close to her heart. In May 1935, for instance, she patronized Milk Week, an effort to encourage Belgians to drink this healthful beverage. She took the opportunity to charge Gatien du Parc, one of her courtiers, with the task of preparing a detailed report on milk regulations in foreign countries. The investigation was extremely painstaking. 

Three months later, Astrid's tragic death in a car accident in Switzerland would deprive her family and nation of her maternal care. We can only guess, but can never know, how her gentle, caring but firm approach to social crises might have alleviated Belgian traumas during World War II and the Royal Question. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Marie-Astrid, Princess of Wales?

Gareth Russell comments on the rumors that Princess Marie-Astrid of Luxembourg, grand-daughter of King Leopold III of the Belgians, might once have been considered a possible bride for the Prince of Wales. (Given the treatment of the Belgian monarch by Winston Churchill during World War II, it might have been an interesting historical revenge for Leopold).
That the government considered it possible that Prince Charles might one day want to marry Princess Marie-Astrid is shown by the fact that there were several committees set-up to see if it was constitutionally possible to repeal the ban on British royals marrying Catholics. There was soft opposition, from the beginning, including from Charles's beloved grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who was not only a devout Protestant but was also naturally opposed to change. Concerns about how such a marriage would affect the already-volatile situation in Northern Ireland were also voiced. Early in 1980, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, set up a small committee to discuss the issue. According to her future biographer, Hugo Young, the Prime Minister herself was strongly opposed to changing the law or to encouraging the Prince's marriage to Marie-Astrid. And her objections rested squarely on the idea that the princess's religion was problematic and undesirable. Some of the committees other members later told Young that they had been shocked by "the extreme anti-Catholicism" of the Prime Minister.
Eventually the rumours about Charles and Marie-Astrid faded away. Maybe that's all they ever were. Neither Charles, nor Marie-Astrid, ever went firmly on the record about how much truth there had been in the idea that they could quite married. Evidently, Mrs. Thatcher considered it a possibility, but we don't know how sold on the idea Charles himself ever was. Charles soon announced his forthcoming marriage to the beautiful Diana Spencer - young, virginal, British, aristocrat and Protestant. And Marie-Astrid married a member of the deposed Austrian royal family, Archduke Carl-Christian, in 1982. (Read entire post)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mourning

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium as a widow.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Queen of Children

Today is the anniversary of the German invasion of Belgium in 1914. Here is information about Queen Elisabeth's establishment of a children's refuge in the little corner of Belgium never conquered, from the memoirs of a representative of the American Red Cross:
But early she faced what we faced later- the fact that the parents of many of the children would not let them go. She looked about to see if there was any place in Flanders where she herself could establish a colony, and make it a model of its kind. Queen though she was, she encountered the strongest kind of opposition, even from some of the officers of the King's household. They knew the range of artillery and uncertainties of war, and they did not want the Queen put into a position where a shell on a barrack could cause a slaughter of children for which she would be held responsible. Her Majesty, for all her soft voice and gentle ways, has very positive views and a way of holding on to them. And as for shirking a duty because the thing might go badly and react on her, this is a thing unlikely to ever happen in her life. She is too true a woman. She held fast to the necessity of the action she proposed, and she raised the money. When it came to the almost awful question of just where to put it, of deciding  where shells would not fall, she got the best advice she could and then acted. The site was in the open country, close to the frontier, and near Vinckem where Dr. Depage later built his big hospital. One of the barracks was contributed by citizens of Paterson, N.J., a thing the Queen always pointed out with pride.
In two little villages of wooden barracks, the Queen provided for 600 children- one group of children from 6 to 10, and the other from 11 to 16. 
The barracks were placed, on soil well drained, flat thought it was, and around them bloomed the most beautiful flowers from early spring until late autumn. Between the two groups of barracks was a large vegetable garden which the older boys helped to work. 
The barracks were light, well but simply furnished, and everything about them showed that somebody of taste and culture was at the head. 
The Queen was fortunate in having the pick of available personnel and this made other authorities growl occasionally, but the growls were low and not very deep. Certain it is that whether we ascribe it to her brains or luck, Her Majesty made there a real school. A beautiful little chapel stood among the other buildings. The instruction was modern. The children really learned something. And the whole atmosphere of the place unquestionably lifted most of them up to a plane they never would have reached had there been no war and no school of the Queen. Twice during the war, we tried to get over from America the most modern books on education for a present to the Queen out of other than relief funds, as we knew her great desire to have them, but the shipments had not come through when the war ended. (John van Schaik, The little corner never conquered: the story of the American Red Cross work for Belgium, 1922, pp. 136-137)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Queen's Appeal

Above is a facsimile of the Belgian queen's earnest appeal to the women of America for humanitarian aid for her people during the cruel German occupation of World War I. I always love Elisabeth's bold, regal signature.
I have learned with gratification of the noble and effective work being done by American citizens and officials on behalf of my stricken people. I confidently hope that their efforts will receive the ungrudging support which we have learned to expect from the generous womanhood of America.
We mothers of Belgium no less than the mothers of America have for generations instilled in our children the instincts and the love of peace. We asked no greater boon than to live in peace and friendship with all the world. We have provoked no war, yet in defense of our hearthstones our country has been laid waste from end to end.
The flow of commerce has ceased and my people are faced with famine. The terrors of starvation with the consequences of disease and violence menace the unoffending civilian population- the aged, the infirm, the women and the children.
American officials and citizens in Belgium and England, alive to their country's traditions, have created an organization under the protection of their Government and are already sending food to my people. I hope that they may receive the fullest sympathy and aid from every side.
I need not say that I and my people shall always hold in grateful remembrance the proven friendship of America in this hour of need. (Hugh Gibson, Diplomatic Diary, 1917, p. 303)