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King Leopold III (1901-1983), Queen Astrid (1905-1935) and Princess Lilian (1916-2002)

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Post  May on Mon Oct 24, 2011 11:33 pm

First topic message reminder :

The misfortunes of Leopold III, who was falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis and forced to abdicate in 1951:

http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2009/01/tragedy-of-leopold-iii.html

The conversion of his first wife, born Princess of Sweden and raised as a Lutheran, to Catholicism:

http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2011/07/conversion-of-queen-astrid.html

His much-maligned second wife, born Lilian Baels:

http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2011/01/princess-lilian-loved-and-loving.html
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Post  May on Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:09 am

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Post  May on Fri Nov 18, 2011 10:16 pm

In his memoirs, Dix-huit ans auprès du Roi Léopold, Count Robert Capelle, former secretary of King Leopold III of the Belgians, quotes a description of Queen Astrid by her father, Prince Carl of Sweden. It is a lovely, touching portrayal, and one which accords with every other description of Astrid I have seen. The translation is mine, from the French version provided by Capelle.

Astrid was not granted a long life; she was too good for this base world. But all her life, as wife, mother, and queen, and especially as she was short-lived, like our Nordic summer, was a rare and brilliant proof of the truth of the words her father addressed to her, as a twenty-year-old bride. For, throughout her whole life, she was the same person, with a heart that was pure, devoted, and frank, as she was during her childhood and youth; and she was truly loved as no human being had ever been loved on this earth. She was granted every happiness, until the moment when her young heart broke and she departed into eternity...

In response to her own, ardent desire, Astrid pursued her studies alone, without companions. We suggested to her a lively, kind little girl who, as it seemed to us, would suit her, in the hope that this girl would help her to overcome her shyness and would strengthen her sense of her own worth; but she immediately begged to be alone, with her young teacher, whom she loved. Her natural shyness was the reason why she had difficulty, at first, in being at ease with other children and in being completely herself in their company. It was the intimate reason for her request, which we did not feel entitled to deny, although it was against our belief in the advantages of companionship in learning.

Our Astrid's modesty did not derive from self-satisfaction, and it was not based on any other fault of character. She had a heart of gold, everyone considered her a wonderful child. During her childhood, she wept easily, and, once she had begun to weep, the flood of tears would never end. But her tears were not the result of excessive sensitivity, but rather the expression of her despair in the face of her own shyness; when the reason was not the fact that her dear mother - Noni, as the children called her - had to leave for a trip, or that one of those she loved was ill, or that some other grief had pained her sensitive heart. But, at times, she could also overflow with joy. She was not at all a gloomy child, but simply reserved, and her disinterested and affectionate heart opened up more and more, as the years passed and she began to dominate herself. She loved everyone, in her discreet fashion, and everyone loved her...

If Astrid had been able to live and to celebrate her silver wedding, as her mother did, I am certain that she would have become, after 25 years, a wife as radiant as her mother had been in her time, and that Astrid's husband and their children would have had no fewer reasons than I and my children to thank and to bless her, and to render her the beautiful homage which I, one day, rendered her mother: "Sweden may be proud of her daughter!"
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Post  Elena on Fri Nov 18, 2011 10:25 pm

How heartbreaking that she died so young! What a beautiful soul! She was too good for this world. It is amazing Leopold was able to love again but then that is what Astrid would have wanted, for him to have a a rich and full life.

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Post  May on Fri Nov 18, 2011 10:35 pm

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Post  May on Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:10 pm

http://oreald.com/b12/ch7.html

From Fifty Great Disasters and Tragedies that Shocked the World (1939) by Michael Geelan. Part I:

History will keep a sad yet gallant page for Leopold III., King of the Belgians. As prince and ruler, as husband and as son, he has countered intense suffering and disaster with fine qualities of manhood and inherent instincts of kingship. A nation's grief in the dark hours it has shared with him has been mitigated by its admiration of his courage.

All the world mourned when his father, King Albert, perished in such disastrous circumstances, almost on the eve of his Silver Jubilee, and before he was sixty years of age. Albert was a world-figure and a name dominant in history. He had become a legend in his own lifetime. It was he who on that fateful day of August and, 1914, presiding over the Council of his Ministers, rejected the German ultimatum demanding the free passage of its troops through Belgium. "They shall not pass," he said. "Belgium will defend its rights." It was this faith in the Treaty guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality, his willingness and determination to risk all for justice that, more than anything else, brought Britain into the war in defence of that notorious "scrap of paper." Neither his own German ancestry nor his friendship with the Kaiser could sway his resolve. Threats were as futile. He took to the field with his troops. He risked death in the forts and in the trenches of the front line. When he retreated it was with glory. In November, 1918, he came into his own again. The invaders marched, beaten and humiliated, from his land. Albert rode back again in triumph into Brussels, his capital, and at his side rode Prince Albert of England, now King George VI.

Physically a giant among kings - he was a tall, commanding figure of six feet three inches - -Albert was a stirring personality. No monarch could praise with such charm, rebuke with such withering scorn. He was intolerant of cruelty, cowardice and insincerity. And he was very brave. Perhaps that is why climbing was one of the enduring passions of his life. No peak daunted him. Intrepid, loving danger, he revelled in the challenge of the mountains. Their height, their beauty, their problems, all this was ecstasy to him. The monarch became a man amid their majesty.

It was his custom every year to visit Italy, spending two or three delightful weeks of autumn at Cortina d'Ampezzo, or some other favourite spot in the Dolomites, where he could climb to his heart's content. Here he stayed incognito - invariably as Dr. Redy of Brussels - at the ordinary hotels. Often he lodged in the mountain refuges, eating and sleeping with his guides. In 1930, for instance, he spent his vacation at Madonna di Campiglio, climbing one of the superb groups of the Dolomites, whose peaks rise from 8000 to 10,000 feet, and carrying out many daring and dangerous feats. Once, by virtue of his strength and courage, he saved the lives of his companions.

In 1932 he attained to the peak of the Crozzon di Brenta (10,286 ft.), an achievement which was at one time considered to be an impossible one, and was still hazardous. Earlier in the same year, while visiting the Belgian Congo, he essayed Mount McKeno (14,300 ft.), but was beaten back by a gale after climbing 13,700 feet. Another of his achievements was during a visit to Goma, when he tackled the active volcano Nyamlagira and reached the crater ten thousand feet up.

Yet he was to die scaling a rock only a few hundred feet high.

On Saturday, February 17th, 1934, King Albert found that he had a few hours of leisure before a public engagement in the evening at a Brussels cycle gala. The weather was fine. His thoughts turned instinctively towards climbing and the open air. Thus it was that after an early lunch, dressed in his favourite plus-fours, he left his palace intent upon packing the maximum of exercise and adventure into a single afternoon of freedom. Driving his own two-seater car, accompanied only by Van Dyck, a devoted valet, he was soon on the open road, speeding towards the lovely little village of Marche-les-dames, which nestles at the foot of the rocky, tree-clad hills of the Andennes, five miles from Namur.

The Alpine Club of Belgium had recently been advocating rock-climbing at home, finding no more enthusiastic or practical a supporter than King Albert. On this occasion he selected for his climb the Corneille, one of the rocky pinnacles just outside Marche-les-dames, and on the banks of the Meuse. Rising to a sheer height of about 250 feet, the Corneille is a formidable crag, lacking in handholds and otherwise dangerous because of the slippery and brittle nature of the sandstone. To such an experienced and resourceful climber as the King, however, it presented no exceptional perils - was just a good afternoon's sport, to be taken in his stride.

At about 3 p.m. he stopped the car at the most convenient point on the open road, fixed on his rough hob-nailed climbing boots, and collected his rope and rucksack. To his valet he remarked cheerfully, "Meet me at the foot of the Corneille in about a couple of hours." Then Albert, King of the Belgians, disappeared behind the screen of trees and undergrowth that hides the rock. He was never seen alive again.

Obeying the King's orders to the letter, Van Dyck was at the base of the Gorneille at the appointed hour. But neither by sight nor sound could he detect the whereabouts of his Royal master. Dusk began to fall. He grew more than a little apprehensive. Reluctant to leave his post, yet increasingly anxious, he began to move in all directions, shouting as he went. There was no responding cry. The rock loomed overhead - silent, sinister, frightening.

Certain now that something was terribly wrong, he rushed back to the road, where he begged the assistance of a passing gamekeeper. With hearts uneasy, together in the gathering darkness they searched among the trees and undergrowth, clambered a little way up the rock, stumbling in their growing panic, crying out louder and more entreatingly with the passing of the tragic minutes. But all their efforts were in vain. Everything was darkness and silence.

Van Dyck at last dashed to the village to raise the alarm. Gendarmes and villagers at once left for the scene of the King's disappearance. Baron Carton di Wiart, a former private secretary of the King, who lived nearby on the banks of the Meuse, was informed and at once took charge of the search-party. Brussels, too, was warned discreetly, and General Baron Jaques de Dixmude, the King's orderly officer, and Count Xavier de Crunne, President of the Alpine Club of Belgium, were among those who sped out from the capital. No news of the alarm was permitted to leak out to the public.

Back in the Royal Palace the Queen waited, wondering at the King's lateness. At the Palais de Sports a vast crowd was assembled to greet the sovereign at 9 p.m. Little did they realise that their cheers would soon turn to tears, for at that hour the search was still going on. Torches and flash-lamps flickered and flared among the trees and through the dense jungle of the undergrowth. Noblemen, soldiers, gendarmes, peasants, foresters and passing motorists from the road pooled their vigilance, moving hour after hour in hopeless, heart-breaking circles, calling in voices that sometimes raised in desperation, sometimes hushed in fear. Every shout came back a mocking echo. And always above them was the rock - enigmatical. As the night grew towards morning few, if any, had hope of ever finding the King alive.

At a few minutes after 2 a.m. they found him - dead. The darkness and silence were stabbed by a terrible cry. It was the voice of Baron Jaques de Dixmude, hoarse and trembling: "God have mercy! I have found him!" The baron's foot had caught in a rope's end. Shining his torch into the deep undergrowth at the foot of the Corneille - round which the searchers had passed time and time again - he had seen the still, huddled form of the King. Of that terrible discovery an eye-witness said: "His poor head was lying downwards, crushed against a stone. A huge hole was in the side of his head. Round his shoulders and middle his rope was still slung. Its end was frayed. Probably a piece of stone had crumbled as the King climbed the rock. He must have slipped and fallen."

His Majesty had been dead for some hours. His skull was fractured. It was obvious that he had fallen from a considerable height, and that death had been mercifully instantaneous. His rucksack and gloves were found scattered near him. Later - pathetic relic - they found his familiar gold pince-nez in the branches of a tree. The manner of his death was reconstructed in an official report issued subsequently: "His Majesty, having climbed a rocky crag, reached the summit, where there are very clear traces of his passage. He held on to a large block of stone. The block crumbled away, carrying the King with it in falling. The King struck against the side of the rock. It was at this spot, where bloodstains were found this morning, that His Majesty received the injury that caused his death. Rebounding after the blow, the body slid down the slope, and came to rest lower down."

By the dim and austere light of the torches the searchers grouped themselves around the dead monarch. Some were weeping. Others dropped on their knees in prayer. His valet was distracted with grief. It seemed incredible that he who had been so strong and brave, so alive and vital, now lay silent in death, his wounded head pillowed on the precious soil he had fought in battle to defend.

Then began the pilgrimage of sorrow to Laeken, which was reached at 3 a.m., while all Belgium slept, unaware of the disaster that had overtaken their beloved king. The body they placed reverently on the bed on which Leopold II. had lain in death. There, for the time being, rested all that was mortal of one of the great sovereigns of all time. They had dressed him in the khaki field-service uniform of a Belgian general, the only decorations that adorned it being the vivid sash and cross of the Order of St. Leopold. His wounded head was bandaged with fine linen, and from the waist downwards the body was covered with a crimson pall. His folded hands clasped an ivory Crucifix. At the bed's end tapered two lighted candles in tall, copper candlesticks. Two Sisters of Mercy knelt in prayer. And in death the face of this noble king was tranquil.

It was not until 6 a.m. next morning that the news of the disaster was broken to Queen Elizabeth, a dreaded task that was eventually undertaken by Baron di Wiart. The heir to the throne (now King Leopold III.) was on holiday with his wife and children at Adelboden in Switzerland. He was informed by telephone, and immediately hurried back to Brussels. His brother, the Count of Flanders, hastened from Ostend. To the King of Italy fell the task of breaking the news to the Princess of Piedmont, King Albert's daughter, who was married to the Italian Crown Prince. A poignant feature of this circulation of the ill tidings was that both the new queen and the Princess of Piedmont were expectant mothers at the time.

Belgium itself was stunned by the news on the Sunday morning. It was the greatest shock since the war. Among every class of the people there was the sense of a terrible, intimate loss. Political hostilities were forgotten in the common grief. With wide eyes they read the following proclamation posted by the famous Burgomaster Max of Brussels: "Dear Fellow-citizens, it is my cruel duty to announce awful news to the population. The King died yesterday, the victim of a terrible accident. The nation will feel with sorrow the immense loss which it sustains. Robbed of a Sovereign who personified the destinies of the nation with such greatness and prestige, our country will unite in this trial around the Royal Family whose deep grief it shares."

An emergency meeting of the Cabinet was called, since, under Belgian law, the Cabinet becomes a Council of Regency with absolute authority in the land during the interval between the death of one king and the installation of another. Later in the day the Government issued this dramatic message to the people: "The King is dead. At the dawn of the 25th year of his Accession, when the country which he saved held him in higher affection and respect than ever, and counted more than ever upon his calm and serene wisdom amid the perils of the hour, a fearful accident has deprived Belgium of the leader of whom it was so proud. The sorrow of the nation will be profound. Its first thought will be one of infinite gratitude for the King who... devoted all the strength of his high intelligence, and all the resources of his great heart, to the service of Belgium. The country has lost a guide, a support and an incomparable servant who, in peace and war, had thought, acted and lived for it alone. The gratitude of the people surrounds his remains and prepares a cloud of glory for his name." The tributes of the outer world were equally glowing and sincere. There was no doubt of the world's admiration, or of the world's grief.

Thousands of the Belgian people made a sad pilgrimage to the spot where he had met his death. Some carried away with them grim souvenirs of crumbled stone taken from the fatal rock, before which they knelt in prayer. Carved on the face of the Corneille, above the spot where he had fallen, they saw the image of a Crucifix. It was as though this rock had been the pre-destined memorial of a great king whose work was done.

On the Monday night they brought King Albert from Laeken to the Royal Palace in Brussels. It was a simple procession by torchlight, just a gun-carriage drawn by six black horses and escorted by cloaked cavalry and gendarmes. Behind the coffin walked a solitary, grief-stricken figure - the new Sovereign. During the days that followed Albert lay in State in an upstairs room of the palace, an apartment draped with sombre black hanging relieved by splashes of gold and massed banks of flowers against the walls. At the King's head rested a great wreath of lilies and lilac from his Queen. Above him was the Royal Coat of Arms blazoned on a base of black velvet. At his side stood the pennant that went before him in the field during the war. Generals and private soldiers who had fought with him shoulder to shoulder on the Yser stood on guard. The open coffin was elevated so that the hundreds of thousands who passed before the bier could look upon him for the last time.

In the early hours of Thursday morning the coffin, now closed for ever, was brought from the palace to a position near the main entrance, and there laid in a catafalque draped with the national flag. For fifty yards on either side the courtyard was a carpet of flowers. All night long the crowds had been assembling in the silent streets to watch the last cavalcade of Albert's reign. It was a vivid if a mournful spectacle, in which Britain was represented by the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VIII.), and by naval, military and Air Force contingents. Following an impressive service at the Collegiate Church of Ste. Gudule the procession re-formed for the last journey to Laeken. And here, in the royal crypt, and in the presence of members of the Royal Family only, the body was laid in a sepulchre near the tomb of King Leopold I. Albert, King of the Belgians, warrior, statesman and sportsman, now belonged to history.
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Post  May on Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:12 pm

http://oreald.com/b12/ch7/p2.html

Part II:

And King Leopold III., in his turn, now belonged to the people of Belgium. Before middle age he was called upon to succeed a father who had set a standard of kingship of immaculate realism and democracy. That call had been so sudden, the circumstances surrounding it so tragic, that he could well have been forgiven a tremor of hesitancy. But the Royal stock of Belgium is sturdy. Leopold, in those critical days, acquitted himself with grace and honour. The boy who had "fagged" at Eton for the Duke of Gloucester now became the man prepared to serve a nation. His grief did not outstrip his courage or his sense of duty or his regal bearing. Behind him, he knew, was the trust and love and inspiration of his Queen, the friendship and confidence of his subjects.

One of the most noble and touching sights of contemporary times was that of the young, handsome, forthright Leopold, head and hand raised, taking the Oath of Accession before his Throne in the Chamber of Deputies. In his first speech as king he said: "According to a solidly established tradition, the Belgian dynasty is at the service of the nation, and I am firmly resolved never to forget it." He glanced towards Queen Astrid - a stately figure in deep black, seated with her children in virgin white - and their eyes met. Then and there he told the august gathering of State that both he and they could depend upon the love and loyalty of the Queen. These were no idle words dove-tailed into the pattern of a formal and picturesque ceremony. They were sincere. They came, not only from his manuscript, but from his heart. All who heard them knew them to be true.

For eighteen months Leopold and Astrid reigned together, in happiness and in harmony, both imbued with the spirit of service, both idolised by their people. He found in her love consolation and guidance in the midst of the problems and anxieties that thrive around a Throne. His children grew in strength and beauty. His life was full. But once again his happiness and peace of mind was to be shattered; he was to suffer the deepest wound of all.

In August, 1935, the Royal couple were spending a few care-free days at their villa - Hazlihorn - at Horw, on the left bank of the lake at Lucerne. On the 29th - a wonderful day of blazing sunshine - they decided to motor to a spot where they could enjoy a little climbing. Neither had been driven by fear or memories to desert a sport that had already cost Belgium a king. They, too, loved the hills and rocks and mountains.

The Royal party left the villa in two cars at about 9.30. King Leopold was driving his own powerful two-seater, with the Queen at his side, and the chauffeur in the dicky-seat at the back. The second car, following at a discreet distance, contained four members of the Royal household. They crossed the town of Lucerne and took the road leading to Kussnacht and the Lake of Zub. It was a fine, broad, modern, gently-curving road, bordered by rich orchard lands reaching down to the lake. The King, a competent driver, was doing little more than 30 miles an hour, a reasonable speed upon a thoroughfare so smooth and splendid. The road was clear. The last thing in the world one would have suspected was danger. No doubt the King and Queen were admiring the beauty of the day and view, chatting animatedly.

Suddenly, at about ten o'clock, came disaster, swift and terrible. The right wheels of the Royal car mounted the concrete border of the footpath. Along this it ran for nearly twenty yards until the King, it is surmised, lost control. The car lurched to the right, slid down a steep embankment, and then, about twenty yards farther on, struck a tree. So violent was the impact that the Queen was thrown out and dashed against its trunk. Continuing its stampede, the car crashed into a second tree - this time hurtling out the King - and ended its wild run in the lake below. Fortunately at this point the lake was shallow, and the life of the chauffeur was spared.

The horror-stricken occupants of the second car, accompanied by a group of peasants, rushed to the rescue of the Royal victims. Astrid they found lying where she had fallen. She was still breathing, but her skull was fractured, and she was beyond all human aid. Leopold, dazed and injured, had reeled to his feet, standing as though in a dream. Let the words of an eye-witness tell of those poignant moments: "The King appeared dazed, unaware of what had happened. Then he saw the dying queen lying a crumpled heap on the grass nearly ten yards away. He stumbled towards her, wiping the blood from his face as he did so, and, sinking to his knees, gathered her in his arms and kissed her again and again. He spoke her name, but she could not answer. And in his arms she died."

Belgium heard the news about midday. The heart of the nation stood still. Few could believe that such a calamity had overtaken the country so soon after the disaster to King Albert, but the message of the loud speakers, the headlines of the newspapers and the tolling of the bells combined to prove to the people of Belgium that it was all too bitterly true. They wept openly in the streets. And through tear-misted eyes they read the hasty proclamation of M. van Zeeland, their Prime Minister: "Still under the impression of the tragic death of King Albert, Belgium to-day mourns her Queen, whose youth, grace and kindliness have conquered the people. The country is overwhelmed. Sharing the terrible grief of the King, it remains faithfully at his side. It feels tenderly towards the young princes who are left motherless."

The cause of the calamity was problematical. When the fatal car was dragged from the lake experts discovered that its tyres were burst, but that there was no defect in steering gear or brakes. Some supposed that the accident was due to the bursting of a tyre when the car mounted the raised pavement and the King tried in vain to return to the road. Another theory was that the King and Queen were consulting a map, or were distracted by the beauty of the scenery.

"Fit to be the heroine of a dream or legend." This was the classic compliment paid to Queen Astrid by Burgomaster Max. She was indeed a princess of beauty and inspiration, comparable in many ways to Britain's own Queen Alexandra - of revered memory - of whom she was a grandniece. She had charm. She had serenity. She had grace. Her sweet personality brought to mind those deathless lines of Byron:

She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

Her marriage to the popular and good-looking Leopold was hailed with satisfaction both in Belgium and in Sweden. It was a real love match, and the story of their courtship had the atmosphere of a fairy story. Of their engagement King Albert said: "The young couple have met often during the past six months, and their mutual choice was quite independent of any State considerations. Their own hearts set the seal to their destiny." The union was blessed with three children - Princess Josephine, born in October, 1927, Prince Baudouin in 1930 and Albert Prince of Liege, a year before her death. For her own children she had a tender care - making many of their tiny garments with her own hands, supervising their meals, pushing their prams in the open parks and streets - and for all the children of Belgium she had a place in her heart. They had called her the "Queen of Mothers," and in death they reverenced her.

In a little room in the Royal Palace she lay in State in a white coffin, a posy of sweet violets in her hands, a rosary on her breast. In the circle of candlelight her lovely, calm face - framed in silk bandages to hide her wound - looked almost ethereal. Everywhere in the palace, as the populace passed through to pay tribute, there was silence and the fragrance of flowers. In the early mornings, when the palace gates were closed against the crowds, King Leopold would come to her, a sad, lonely figure.

On Tuesday, September 3, 1935, they laid her to rest in the Royal crypt at Lacken, next to the tomb of King Albert, still freshly covered with the national flag. The procession through the streets was a heart-breaking one. Crowds who had waited all night in the gloaming of the black-draped street lamps could scarcely control their emotion. King Leopold walked bareheaded, his arm strapped to a broken rib, his face clouded with pain and grief, behind the coffin shrouded in an ermine-trimmed pall of the Belgian colours and purple. Behind him came the representatives of Royalty and the nations, including the present King George VI. Even on the last stage of the tragic journey, when all save he rode in carriages, King Leopold insisted upon tramping on foot the weary miles. Sometimes he staggered, and many believed that he would fall. But he marched on steadfastly behind his Queen, loyal, faithful and adoring to the end.

The years have dimmed his grief. But neither he nor Belgium, nor indeed the world, will ever forget the disasters that robbed a nation of a King so noble and a Queen so beautiful and true.
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Post  Elena on Sat Nov 19, 2011 8:33 am

What a tragedy. I wonder if he was murdered. Crying or Very sad

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Post  May on Sat Nov 19, 2011 3:22 pm

I wonder about that too, Elena, the two "accidents" in such rapid succession seem weird, as well as rather too convenient for enemies of Belgium and the monarchy. Suspect However, in the absence of proof to the contrary I stay with the official version of events. I also don't like the way suspicions of foul play have tended to degenerate into character assassination of Albert or other members of the royal family- the insinuation being that they had "something to hide" and therefore did not want an open investigation of the King's death. (Although, of course, putting about nasty rumors could be part of the plot, if there was a plot). Leopold III did not appreciate sensationalist speculation, although he admitted, and regretted, that the inquest into his father's death was not conducted in full judicial clarity.
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Post  May on Wed Nov 23, 2011 11:54 am

Here is a sad, but impressive description of Leopold III and his mother, from a surprising source: the diaries of the Russian revolutionary and prolific writer, Victor Serge, who spent part of his life in Belgium. (Apparently, he had just dined with the king's doctor, who had shared some details of the state of mind of Leopold and Elisabeth). With a few brief strokes of the brush, Serge paints a vivid portrait of the widowed king and the widowed queen mother, capturing both their misery and their nobility quite brilliantly:

Très pieux, pénétré du sens du devoir. Scrupuleux... Le serment constitutionnel le pèse- mais il le respectera. Accablé du sentiment d'avoir été la cause involontaire de la mort de sa femme, la reine Astrid. A refusé de se remarier. S'inflige la solitude comme une expiation. Travailleur, mène une vie triste. Rentre le soir à Laeken, voit les enfants, se met à table en tête-à-tête avec la reine-mère Élisabeth, qui est frêle, blême, encore belle. "Une Wittelsbach", un visage transparent aux yeux bleus, vivant dans un délire presque silencieux. À table, elle semble attendre; il lui arrive de demander pourquoi le roi- Albert Ier- ne vient pas. On lui répond: "Mais il ne peut pas venir...!!" Elle reprend: "Ach, c'est vrai, j'avais oublié..." Elle se lève parfois la nuit pour jouer du violon...

Very pious, penetrated with the sense of duty. Scrupulous...The constitutional oath weighs heavily on him-but he will respect it. Overwhelmed by the sentiment of having been the involuntary cause of the death of his wife, Queen Astrid. Has refused to remarry. Inflicts solitude upon himself as a penance. A hard worker, leads a sad life. Returns to Laeken in the evening, sees the children, sits down to table alone with the Queen Mother, Elisabeth, who is frail, wan, still beautiful. "A Wittelsbach", a transparent face with blue eyes, living in an almost silent delirium. At table, she seems to be waiting; sometimes she asks why the king-Albert I- does not come. They tell her: "But he cannot come...!!" She replies: "Ach, it's true, I'd forgotten..." Sometimes she rises in the night to play the violin... (Victor Serge, Carnets, February 1, 1937)


Last edited by Matterhorn on Wed Nov 23, 2011 9:06 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Post  May on Wed Nov 23, 2011 9:04 pm

Two more recordings of speeches by Leopold III:

His swearing-in as King, February 23, 1934:

http://www.archive.org/details/LeopoldIii23-02-1934

"I swear to observe the Constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to maintain national independence and the integrity of the territory".

Returning to Belgium in 1950 after six years of exile, he speaks with pride of the sacrifices and heroism of the Belgian army in 1940:

http://blog.sonuma.be/discours-de-leopold-iii-de-retour-en-belgique/

I always admire the way he speaks so simply and clearly.
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Post  May on Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:40 am

And today is Princess Lilian's birthday! sunny

She was the daughter of Flemish ship-owner, lawyer and Catholic politician Henri Louis Baels and his wife, Anne Marie de Visscher, both living in London at the time of the baby's birth. Like everything else about Lilian, even her full given name and place of birth are matters of dispute. According to her birth certificate, prepared in London, in the district of Islington, and sub-district of Highbury, on January 17, 1917, she was born November 28, 1916, at her parents' home, 5 Highbury New Park, Islington, London, and named Mary Lilian Lucy Josepha Monique. According to her marriage contract, drawn up in Brussels on December 5, 1941, she was Mary-Lilian-Henriette-Lucie-Joseph-Ghislaine. A strange discrepancy, since name changes were only legalized in Belgium much later, in 1987. To add to all the confusion, a family tradition had it that Lilian was, indeed, born in London, but in Highgate, not Islington!

(Source: Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal, 2006, Michel Verwilghen)
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Post  Elena on Mon Nov 28, 2011 12:03 pm

This has to be one of the most moving and interesting discussion threads on the internet.

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Post  May on Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:15 pm

Thank you! I love you

An article comparing Astrid and Lilian:

http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2009/06/astrid-lilian.html
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Post  May on Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:27 am

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A few images of Leopold's accession to the throne. Charles d'Ydewalle, in Albert and the Belgians: Portrait of a King (1935), gives the following description of ceremonies in Brussels to welcome Leopold and Astrid as the new King and Queen:

The young and handsome couple were well fitted to be the protagonists in this deeply moving pageant. The new Queen was soon to become a mother again. Seated between her two children, who were as lively as crickets, she drove round the capital in the state coach. The new King, followed by the Count of Flanders, rode to the Chamber on horseback, as his father had done before him, and delivered his speech with quiet dignity. His next action had no precedent: he mounted his horse and rode round the city, only pausing once- before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

When the new King and Queen appeared on the balcony of the Palace in the dazzling sunlight, she in black, he in the uniform of a Lieutenant-General, the people, still subdued by the sorrow of the previous day, felt as though they were gazing at a reincarnation of the spirit of spring.
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Post  May on Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:41 am

His abdication:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

On July 31, 1950, to restore concord to the country, I agreed that the exercise of the royal powers should be entrusted to my son; my intention was to definitively renounce the throne, if all the Belgians rallied around Prince Baudouin.

I consider that this has been achieved.

This is why I have decided to abdicate today.

I have resolved upon it with the sole concern to safeguard the unity of the country and to serve the monarchical institution which the National Congress, in 1831, placed at the basis of our Constitution.

I have gathered you here because the national interest and the stability of the Dynasty alike require that my decision to put an end to my reign be accompanied by a solemn manifestation of concord.

I will not speak of the past.

But my duty, as a Sovereign, requires, in this last moment of my reign, that I render a fervent homage to the military and civic virtues which the Belgian people have manifested in the course of the cruel and dramatic hours through which they have passed.

Justice has not always been rendered to them.

I affirm that in 1940, the army fought valiantly, to the utmost limits of resistance, and that the population, under enemy occupation, worthily manifested its traditional virtues of endurance, courage and patriotism.

I salute the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the country.

My dear Baudouin, it is with pride that I transmit to you the noble and heavy mission of carrying, henceforth, the Crown of a Belgium which has remained, despite the most terrible of wars and the upheavals that followed, territorially and morally intact, free, and faithful to her traditions.

This mission, you will exercise, with the will to serve your country and to continue the work of the Dynasty, conforming yourself, in this way, to the principles I have inculcated in you. These principles, I myself received from my father, King Albert; they always inspired my attitude during the hard years of a reign I leave to History the care of judging.

The sympathy and the confidence with which the whole population has welcomed you permit me to lay down the royal powers definitively, without fear for the future and with the consciousness of duty accomplished.

Ladies, Gentlemen,

I am convinced that you will support my son with abnegation and loyalty in the accomplishment of his constitutional task.

Never forget that it involves the maintenance of national independence and the territorial integrity of Belgium and the Belgian Congo.

My dear fellow-countrymen,

At the moment I lay down my charge, my thoughts cannot detach themselves from the years I have lived among you.

The memory will always remain present to me of the emotion that seized me, last year, when, after so long a separation, I set foot on the soil of my native land.

Like you, I love my country.

I have shared your joys and sorrows alike, turning myself with a particular concern towards the humblest among you.

To all those, so numerous, who have never ceased to be faithfully attached to me, I express all my gratitude. I will preserve in my heart the precious memory of their affection.

The last words I pronounce as King of the Belgians are to remind you, forcefully, my dear fellow-countrymen, that the future of our country depends on your national solidarity, and to ask you to gather yourselves, with fervor, around my son, King Baudouin.

I enjoin you, be united.

May God protect Belgium and our Congo!

http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2009/06/abdication-speech-of-leopold-iii.html
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Post  May on Sun Dec 04, 2011 7:49 pm

King Leopold III (1901-1983), Queen Astrid (1905-1935) and Princess Lilian (1916-2002) - Page 2 Kassna10
I found this picture of a painting of Küssnacht-am-Rigi, where Queen Astrid died, on Ebay. I think it is very beautifully done!
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Post  Elena on Sun Dec 04, 2011 7:52 pm

It is! Beautiful!

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Post  May on Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:10 pm

Today is the anniversary of the civil marriage of Leopold and Lilian:
http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2010/12/queen-who-never-was.html
The ceremony took place on December 6, 1941, less than three months after the couple's secret, religious wedding in the chapel of Laeken. Lilian was already expecting her first child, Prince Alexandre, who would be born in July, 1942. Leopold and Lilian had reversed the normal order, prescribed by the Belgian Constitution, of the civil and religious wedding ceremonies, and the King would later be severely castigated for this violation of the law. Given the bizarre, difficult circumstances, however, the irregularity was perhaps understandable. The King was a prisoner of war; the country was occupied by the Nazis, who might not even permit a royal marriage to take place. The government, whose approval was needed for a dynastic union, was in exile in London. The suffering Belgians might resent their King's idyll. By opting, initially, for a simply sacramental marriage, the couple had hoped to conceal their union until the return of peace. The bride's pregnancy, however, made it impossible.

Yet, amidst war and occupation, in the government's absence, the King did not think it appropriate to impose a new Queen and new royal heirs upon the country. As Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, emphasized in his pastoral letter of December 6, 1941, Lilian herself had renounced the title and rank of Queen. In a similar vein, the King drew up a document, declaring his desire that none of the descendants of his second marriage should have the right to succeed to the throne. By contrast, his new bride and their children should have the right to all of his other ancestral titles; Royal Highness, Prince and Princess of Belgium, Duke and Duchess of Saxony, Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. (For mentioning his German titles, the King was later, ridiculously, accused of harboring traitorous, Hitlerite sympathies!)

In constitutional terms, however, Leopold and Lilian lacked the authority, on their own, to decide matters of regal status and succession. Accordingly, the King added: "As soon as my liberty as a Sovereign is restored to me, I will ask the Government of the time to realize my intentions legally." Strangely, the King's intentions would not be realized legally for fifty years. During a constitutional revision in 1991, Prime Minister Wilfried Martens would finally clarify the issue, officially stating that the offspring of Leopold and Lilian had no rights to the throne.

After the civil ceremony, the King introduced his three eldest children, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, Prince Baudouin, and Prince Albert to their new step-mother. The children adored the beautiful, clever, vivacious young woman and immediately started calling her maman. By all accounts, it was the beginning of nearly twenty years of a close, tender family life, happily restored after the tragedy of Queen Astrid's death. The Queen Mother, Elisabeth of Bavaria, was also very fond of Lilian.

Outside the gates of Laeken, news of the wedding provoked mixed reactions. Some Belgians reproached Leopold for considering his personal happiness at a time of national disaster, others sympathized with his situation, sending flowers and congratulations to the palace. Unfortunately, however, the marriage would prove to be an important tool in the hands of the King's political opponents, particularly after the war. Rather like Queen Marie-Antoinette of France, Princess Lilian of Belgium was viciously vilified, by politicians and journalists bent upon toppling her husband, as the maleficent beauty behind the throne, as a veritable Whore of Babylon!
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Post  May on Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:16 pm

The religious wedding:
http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2009/09/wedding-of-leopold-lilian.html

Early in the morning of September 11, 1941, the couple exchanged wedding vows in the chapel of Laeken Castle. Six years after the tragic loss of his first wife, Queen Astrid, Leopold's days of solitude were finally over. The ceremony was secret, witnessed only by Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines and Primate of Belgium, Queen Mother Elisabeth, Lilian's father, Henri Baels, and one of the King's old friends, the Abbé de Schuytenaere (several were smuggled in through a hidden door). Lilian was privileged to wear Queen Elisabeth's own bridal veil.

After the marriage, the witnesses celebrated with a quiet breakfast. The same day, Leopold and Lilian planted a weeping willow at Laeken. The tree was eventually transplanted to Argenteuil, where, tall and strong, it would continue to symbolize the permanence and endurance of a great love. Queen Elisabeth also gave the newlyweds her log cabin at Laeken. (It had originally been a Canadian gift to King Albert I). Leopold and Lilian would find refuge there throughout the dark years of the war.

At first, however, Lilian obviously could not spend all her time at Laeken, if the marriage was to be kept secret. In fact, a letter, dated October 6, 1941, exists from Elisabeth to Lilian, quoted by Michel Verwilghen in Le mythe d'Argenteuil. The Queen (oddly enough, in broken English) pleads with her son's bride to pay a visit...
My dearest little Lilly,

I telephoned to L. he is still here...Don't leave him alone too long. I am sure you' be both start with renewed love clearer and stronger. I kiss you dear, with all my heart.
The King's second marriage would only become public knowledge in December, 1941, following the civil wedding of Leopold and Lilian. By this time, Lilian was expecting her first child, Alexandre, and, infamously, opponents of Leopold would later claim that the whole story of the September wedding was a lie concocted by the royal family and Cardinal van Roey to cover up the bride's pregnancy. Alternately, the King was blamed for reversing the normal order, prescribed by Belgian law, of the civil and religious ceremonies. For Leopold and Lilian, however, as for countless other Belgian Catholic couples, all that really mattered was the religious wedding...

References:

Cleeremans, Jean. Léopold III, sa famille, son peuple sous l'occupation.
Désiré, Claude and Marcel Jullian. Un couple dans la tempête.
Esmeralda, Princess of Belgium. Léopold III, mon père.
Keyes, Roger. Echec au Roi. Léopold III, 1940-1951.
Verwilghen, Michel. Le mythe d'Argenteuil: demeure d'un couple royal.
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Post  Elena on Wed Dec 07, 2011 9:22 pm

Beautiful. You have really made me love them. I love you

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Post  May on Wed Dec 07, 2011 9:45 pm

How sweet of you! I am delighted!!
King Leopold III (1901-1983), Queen Astrid (1905-1935) and Princess Lilian (1916-2002) - Page 2 14829810
Engagement picture of Leopold and Lilian.

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The thoughtful Princess and her King.
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Post  May on Sun Dec 11, 2011 11:57 pm

I have quoted before from Portraits with Backgrounds (1947), the memoirs of the Russian sculptress, Catherine Barjansky. During the 1920's and 1930's, she was a friend of the Belgian royal family. She did portraits of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, and taught the Queen the art of sculpting. She has left us touching portrayals of Albert, Elisabeth, Leopold and Astrid. Here is her description of the happy young love of Leopold and Astrid, in the early days before tragedies darkened their world...
It was during that first stay in Brussels that the Queen said to me one day, "I have a surprise for you. Tomorrow you are to start modeling my son and his wife. You know my daughter-in-law is Swedish, very tall and beautiful And my son is so handsome."

She laughed at her own maternal pride and then added; "They will expect you at eleven tomorrow in the palace in Brussels. They are very timid, so you must not wait for them to talk to you, just talk to them. They are terribly in love. We have given them an apartment in the right wing of the palace, where they are entirely alone except for one servant, Leopold's valet, who has been with them since he was a child. I didn't want to impose a lady in waiting on Astrid when she was just married."

The next morning a footman took me into a big corner room in the palace in Brussels, where Leopold and Astrid were waiting. He was an extraordinarily handsome man, and she was very young, very thin, kind and charming. They had been married only three months, and she was already extremely popular in Belgium.

Later they told me that after the wedding in Sweden Leopold returned to Brussels alone to prepare for a second wedding ceremony in Belgium. He and the royal family went to Antwerp to greet his bride. She arrived on a white steamer. She was dressed entirely in white, her suit, her furs, everything. A crowd of thousands of people were waiting to welcome her. Leopold, nearly running, went to meet her, and Astrid threw her arms around him and kissed him, a manifestation that the crowd had not expected but heartily approved. Leopold gave her a bouquet of white flowers, and she held one in her hand, waving.

Her features were not really beautiful, her nose was a little too long, her chin too short and prominent, but she had a beautiful body, almost as tall as Leopold, and a wonderful pink-and-white complexion.

She talked to us in English because she did not yet know enough French. She was obviously madly in love with her husband. The first few times I saw them, they were shy, but after that they always sat in the same chair, kissing each other all the time, except when Astrid, who was in the first stages of her pregnancy, would ring a bell, ask for a lemon, and eat it.

Once I asked her how she had met Prince Leopold.

"He came to see us with his mother," she said. "You know we lived in the country in a big house." She went on to talk about her father whom she loved deeply, her mother, her two sisters, her brothers. She was an artless girl of completely simple tastes. Her eyes shone as she spoke of Leopold.

"He came with his mother, and I did not know who he was. They told me he was Mr. Alexander. And then in a few days we fell in love, and now I am so happy."

Later she told me how much the Queen had helped her in her adjustment to a strange country and duties that were completely foreign to her. "She has never seemed like a mother-in-law," she said. "She has been a sister."

When the time came for her son to marry, the Queen of Belgium had gone from country to country with him, where he met the royal princesses. None of them made any impression on him. Astrid was not the daughter of the King of Sweden, she was his niece, and because she had few official duties she had led a quiet family life in the country. She and her sisters had walked alone through the streets of Stockholm, shopping, going to movies, like private individuals.

Belgium, however, did not approve of this informality. There were rules of etiquette that must not be broken, and that the simple Swedish country girl could not learn. Once while I was modeling her, I dropped one of my tools. Before I could reach it Princess Astrid had bent over to pick it up, and we bumped our heads together.

After the birth of her first child, Astrid, like any proud mother, wanted to show off her baby, and with her Swedish simplicity she walked through the streets of Brussels, pushing the baby carriage. The aristocracy was not amused. Complaints were made to King Albert who, informal and natural himself, sympathized with the daughter-in-law for whom he felt great affection. He gave Leopold and Astrid another palace out of town in Laeken where they were surrounded by trees and lawns, and not by houses filled with curious and observant eyes.
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King Leopold III (1901-1983), Queen Astrid (1905-1935) and Princess Lilian (1916-2002) - Page 2 Empty Princess Lilian's Christmas Gifts

Post  May on Mon Dec 12, 2011 12:35 am

King Leopold III (1901-1983), Queen Astrid (1905-1935) and Princess Lilian (1916-2002) - Page 2 Lilian10
I wish this photograph were in color. Nonetheless, it vividly conveys Lilian's charm and cordiality. Despite her reputation as a stubborn, selfish and difficult woman, the Princesse de Réthy was known in her intimate circle as a generous benefactress and a gracious hostess. Every year, during the Christmas festivities, she lavished delicate attentions on her entourage, sensu lato, with her characteristic refinement, elegance and perfectionism. In Le mythe d'Argenteuil, Michel Verwilghen, himself a frequent guest at the royal estate in its heyday, shares a few charming details of these busy winter days. By the end of November, Lilian's household was astir with preparations for the Christmas celebrations. Aided by her secretary and her faithful housekeeper, Madame Jeannine, the princess prepared over a hundred presents, all substantial and personalized, for her close associates. Anxious to please everyone individually, she even initiated, at times, discreet, indirect inquiries into their desires. On December 25 came the ritual of the gift-giving itself; in the tradition of the Belgian royal family, Lilian personally distributed the presents, accompanied with kind words, to her intimates. For her most elite guests, distinguished soldiers and statesmen, she reserved some special treasures: the pocket watches, commemorating the Battle of the Yser (1914-1918), which her late father-in-law, the beloved Albert I, had ordered at the Maison Doucet in Paris. The cases bore the monograms of the Roi Chevalier and his consort, A and E, interlaced and surmounted with a crown, in gilded metal. The metal came from the fragments of exploded shells from the trenches of the Yser. Among the favored few who received one of these tragic but glorious mementos was Charles de Gaulle.
http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2011/01/princess-lilians-christmas-gifts.html
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Post  May on Mon Dec 12, 2011 12:43 am

I cannot resist sharing a story of Princess Lilian's kindness to a family of Rwandan refugees, told by Michel Verwilghen, professor of law at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Le mythe d'Argenteuil. Although his book is not a memoir, but a historical study of the domain of Argenteuil, Verwilghen departs, on this occasion, from his usual impersonal tone, to give a direct testimony of Lilian's generosity and tact. Shortly after the Rwandan genocide, he relates, he was invited to Argenteuil to settle some matter involving the Fondation Cardiologique Princesse Lilian. The conversation turned to the tragedy in the heart of Africa, a region which Lilian's late husband, King Leopold III, had visited and loved. Verwilghen told his hostess how several professors of law from Belgian universities had managed to rescue a Rwandan colleague and transport him to Belgium, with his wife and their four children, a few weeks after the beginning of the slaughter. Upon hearing that the parents were preparing to celebrate their eldest child's First Communion and Confirmation with a simple party, the princess took her cheque book out of her purse and handed it to her guest, asking him to fill a cheque for the unfortunate couple: "I would like to help them and make sure that their family party is beautiful, after what they have lived through there". Startled, the professor asked the princess what to write; she specified an ample sum. After filling the cheque as requested, Verwilghen returned it to Lilian to sign. As she did so, she graciously continued the conversation, as if to close the financial transaction discreetly. I am reminded of the description of Lilian de Réthy given by Madame Carton de Wiart, a lady-in-waiting of Queen Elisabeth: A true princess in the full sense of the term!
http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2011/01/genocide-in-rwanda.html
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King Leopold III (1901-1983), Queen Astrid (1905-1935) and Princess Lilian (1916-2002) - Page 2 Empty Queen Astrid's Premonitions

Post  May on Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:13 am

This was uncanny...
http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2009/08/queen-astrids-premonitions.html

Strangely, not long before the tragic car crash in Küssnacht, Queen Astrid had a definite premonition of her death. She confided her forebodings to her friend, Anna Sparre, who was traveling with the royal couple in the Alps. In her memoirs, Astrid mon amie, Anna recalled:
One afternoon, Astrid and I were drinking coffee in front of a mountain hut... It was our last stop before returning to the village where we had left the car.

I believe it was the 18th of August. The weather had suddenly changed, and the cold gave us the impression that it was October. The clouds had suddenly gathered around the hut and we could see no further than a metre ahead; it was grim, and both of us were suffering slightly from altitude sickness... We wanted to return to civilization, we had had enough of the mountains.

Astrid was not completely herself; she seemed serious and was not in a mood to joke. I remember a few snatches of our conversation.
The tragic death of her father-in-law, King Albert, in a mountaineering accident, only a year and a half earlier, had been a terrible shock to Astrid; she feared that her husband, King Leopold (also a passionate alpinist) would meet a similar fate.
"Do you understand I am often terribly afraid that something will happen to Leopold, and that I will be left alone with the children?"

I understood her very well, but I realized that it would be impossible to persuade him to give up this sport, which, although dangerous, was so important for his well-being.

"Also, Annisen, you do not realize how much I fear, at times, that I will die. It would be even worse for the children, and terrible for Leopold. My dear, can you promise me something?"

"What is that?"

"If I die while the children are still little, will you look after Joe-Joe [her daughter, Princess Josephine-Charlotte]?"

"We have to pull ourselves together, dear. With this bad weather, we are not quite ourselves and that is the reason why you are thinking of horrible things. Why should anything happen to you...?"

"I am serious. Look after Joe, promise me."

"No, my dear, right now we must be reasonable. How could I come and say: 'I promised Astrid that I would take care of Joe in my apartment at Västerås...' It is not realistic! Please, do not ask me to make this promise. Chase away these black thoughts."

"But I promised I would look after my god-daughter, Christina, if something happened to you," she answered, trying to smile.

"That is a completely different matter, and very kind of you. It is reassuring to know you will look after her."

That was the end of the conversation, but her sadness persisted until we entered the car. Ten days later, she was dead.
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