Friday, April 29, 2011

Philippe and Mathilde at London Wedding

Crown Prince and Princess Philippe and Mathilde were at the front for the Will & Kate wedding in London. As you see from the picture, it was quite a royal gathering.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anglo-Belgian Royal Relations

The British and Belgian Royal Families have been related since the birth of the modern Kingdom of Belgium and the reign of Queen Victoria in Britain when she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Queen Victoria was the niece of King Leopold I of the Belgians (Prince Albert was his nephew also) and the countries have been aligned (not formal allies exactly because of neutrality for many years) and today King Albert II and Queen Elizabeth II are third cousins. The Belgian royal house will be represented at the wedding of Prince William and Kate and certainly the Belgian family royal wishes their British cousins a very happy marriage together and join in happiness for them on that special day.

King George V and King Albert I in World War I

 King George VI and King Leopold III between the wars.

Queen Elizabeth II and King Baudouin watching victory day celebrations at Buckingham Palace

Monday, April 25, 2011

Major General Jean-Baptiste Van Merlen

One of the remarkable Belgian soldiers of the Napoleonic period and who played a key role in the crucial Waterloo campaign was Major General Jean-Baptiste Van Merlen. He was born in Antwerp on 15 April 1773 and had a long record of service in the Dutch army before 1811. He excelled to the rank of colonel on 11 November 1810 as commander of the Hussards de la Garde du roi de Hollande. When Napoleon annexed Holland to the French Empire he transferred to the 5th Squadron of the new 2nd Regiment de Chevau Lanciers de la Garde, better known as the Dutch or “Red” Landers of the Guard. Most of this regiment had been previously members of the Dutch Royal Guard and they retained their red uniforms from this service. It was a very colorful unit with their red Dutch uniforms, lances and Polish drill sergeants (the Poles being considered the sort of experts on lancer cavalry troops). With this unit Colonel Van Merlen served in Russia where his troops fought in fierce battles and suffered heavy casualties in the French service from 1813-1814. On 12 January 1813 he was given the rank General de Brigade and on 13 September 1813 was awarded the medal of Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur.

When Napoleon abdicated (the first time) as emperor General Van Merlen returned home and joined the military forces of the newly planned United Kingdom of the Netherlands (which was to be a dual Dutch-Belgian state) thinking, like many, that Napoleon was gone forever. However, in 1815, Europe was surprised when Napoleon came back and quickly assumed power for himself again. Belgians like General Van Merlen who had fought in the French service were looked at with some suspicion, however, he was loyal to his new country and remained in the service of the Dutch-Belgian Army. This was particularly painful for General Van Merlen since his younger brother was, at the same time, on the other side, fighting in the service of the French II Corps of General Reille. At the battle at Quatre-Bras General Van Merlen led his forces into battle against the French. He commanded the 2nd Netherlands Light Cavalry Brigade which consisted of two regiments: the 6th Dutch Hussars and the 5th Belgian Light Dragoons.

At 3.00 PM General Van Merlen charged his horsemen into the battle against Foy and his advancing infantry. His men cut and slash in the French lines but were hopelessly outnumbered by the arriving cavalry of Piré. Everyone was hard pressed and the fighting was desperate, even the Duke of Wellington had to jump behind the line of the 92nd Highlanders to save himself from the French. General Van Merlen and his brigade lost 171 men at Quatre-Bras. When the main battle of Waterloo began, Van Merlen was kept back with Collaert in reserve in the fourth line near Mont St Jean farm. However, when the French cavalry charged the Allied lines, riding through the infantry who formed squares, Van Merlen had numerous occasions to make counter-attacks against the French horsemen all afternoon. There is a story that in one such frenzied fight he captured a French general who had been an old acquaintance of his when in the service of Napoleon. Rather than make him a prisoner, Van Merlen saluted the Frenchman and said, “General, this is my side of the battlefield, yours is over there. Take care of yourself; farewell!” and let him go back to his side. However, only a short time after this act of chivalry, he was badly wounded and taken to the Mont St Jean farm where he suffered for two hours before finally his death came. He had fought all over Europe in several services but his last words were that he died peacefully because he had never harmed anyone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

General Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau

Jean-Baptiste Dumonceau was one of the famous Belgian figures of the Revolutionary period and Napoleonic period. He was born in Brussels on 7 November 1760 and became a well respected architect. Even after making a career in the army he continued to design great buildings. He was also ideologically aligned with the patriotic crowd and was one of the minor leaders in the Brabant Revolution (United States of Belgium) and he served in that first effort for independence as captain of the famous “Canaries” from Namur. That name was given to these volunteer soldiers because of their bright yellow uniforms. The volunteers were men who had been determined “unsuited for the hardships of military life” because they were too short or some other minor reason and yet Dumonceau turned them into one of the best military units of United Belgian States. He became one of the most famous patriots because of his work with the “Canaries” and his courage and dare-devil attitude. But when the Austrians succeeded in suppressing the United States of Belgium, Dumonceau had to flee to France.

In France he continued his military passion for the liberal policies of the emerging revolution. He commanded a battalion of volunteers from his country, a ‘Legion of the Belgians’ and became a famous face in the revolutionary forces. In 1793 he was promoted to general of brigade and military commander of Den Haag. He was instrumental in the capture of Netherland with his military planning. In 1795 he was promoted to lieutenant general of the Batavian Republic (revolutionary Netherland) and fought against the Anglo-Russian invasion of the country. He was wounded at Bergen and commanded the Dutch forces at the siege of Wurzburg. In 1805 he commanded the Batavian Corps of the French Napoleonic Army in the Austerlitz campaign and he distinguished himself in many, many battles of that campaign. Afterwards he was made a councilor of state to King Louis of Holland (brother of Napoleon) and was briefly ambassador for King Louis in Paris. When the British invaded Walcheren he led the French defenses until he was replaced by Marshal Bernadotte (future King of Sweden). With the support of Napoleon, King Louis made Dumonceau Count of Bergendael and the King made him a Marshal of the Kingdom of Holland. Since Napoleon did not recognize this, when Holland was absorbed by the French Empire he was reduced to general of division.

The famous "Canaries"
In the Saxon campaign of 1813 General Dumonceau was an active participant and he saved the French army from total destruction at the battle of Kulm where he was also again wounded. Finally, his good fortune epxended, he was captured by the Allied forces at Dresden. He was finally released back to France and although involved was not a major participant in the campaign of Waterloo. His son, however, was possibly the one who warned Marshal Grouchy about the Prussians at Wavre. General Dumonceau was widely respected by all sides and was known as the “unblemished general”. After the war when Belgium was united with Holland as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands General Dumonceau was a military advisor to King Willem I. His name appears on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and his son Francois was captain of the Red Lancers in the Dutch army. One of the most famous and respected Belgians in the world of his time he died on 29 December 1821 before seeing the final independence of his country.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy 8th Wedding Anniversary!

An unlikely couple some still think, Prince Laurent always getting in trouble, Princess Claire, never attracting much attention to herself, but in the middle of this undue controversy I hope that the couple can have a happy day to remember their wedding and celebrate their marriage. The Belgian Royal Family has been largely very fortunate in having happy families with good marriages compared to some others (not without problems, but they work through them). I wish them all the best happiness!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Belgian Cavalry Victory

The Belgian Cavalry Division was successful in winning the one total Belgian victory of the first stages of the Great War without any Allied help. General Leon de Witte commanded the Belgian horsemen against the larger German cavalry corps of General Georg von der Marwitz. The Belgians confronted the Germans at the battle of Haelen on 12 August 1914. His goal was to push back the German cavalry racing to cut off the line of retreat of the Belgian Field Army to Antwerp. The Germans wanted to cut off the Belgian army before they could reach the fortresses of Antwerp and could be easily destroyed in the open. General Leon de Witte had to prevent this with his outnumbered force of Belgian cavalry including regiments of guides, lancers, cyclists and the chasseurs a cheval. They defeated the German cavalry, inflicting heavier losses on the Germans and preventing them from stopping the Belgian army reaching Antwerp (and the Belgian army in Antwerp would be crucial to the Allied victory at the Marne though many ignore this contribution). The battle became known as the "Battle of the Silver Helmets" because of all the shining German cavalry helmets that littered the field of battle after it was over. You can read about this exciting battle of a victory by the Belgian cavalry at First World War and read the view of an American visiting the battlefield.

Beroemde gasten op de uitvaart van Koning Boudewijn

The idea for showing this movie came from The Cross of Laeken who showed the funeral of King Umberto II of Italy, husband of Princess Marie-Jose of Belgium. They  show the royal figures of around the world who came to the funeral of King Baudouin. I saw the Crown Prince of Italy though I don't think they point him out and I think they made a mistake confusing the Crown Princess of Sweden with the Queen of Sweden.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Legacy of King Leopold II

I had not read much about how much controversy surrounded King Leopold II until I came to university and discovered how many people really hate him. All I knew of King Leopold II was the stern figure of pictures and statues but what I associate the most with Leopold II was the many buildings he left behind. As a child I was taken to see the sights and remember it seemed as if everything really magnificent was built by King Leopold II. Because of that I assume is why the image in my mind I have of his reign was an image of splendor and greatness for the country, a time when Belgians were together in big dreams, big adventures and basically acting bigger than most countries so small would. I always like that. It is hard to view all of these tremendous buildings and not have an awesome feeling I think. I wish the coastal retreat had been finished, what I have heard makes me think that would have been magnificent but, here are some favorites I recall of the magnificent monuments left behind by the second King of the Belgians, the legacy of Leopold II.
The Chinese Pavilion at Laeken Palace

The Cinquantenaire
The Royal Greenhouse at Laeken

The Royal Museum for Central Africa

The Japanese Tower at Laeken

The Antwerp Central Railway Station

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Belgians in the Trenches

This scene is from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Trenches of Hell". I should give background: Indiana Jones lied about his age and joined the Belgian army as "Henri Defense" to fight in World War I. Before this scene it is explained that his company had been through heavy fighting and all their officers and sergeants are killed. That is why the lieutenant and sergeant are French, they are temporary until Belgian replacements can arrive. The French nor Belgians are happy about this "our countries have had their differences" the lieutenant says but, I like the French general saying the Belgians "are hell on the enemy" (yes!) and they get into this heavy fighting seen here. It seems very realistic to me though I don't know about the Germans horses wearing gas-masks, I never saw that before, seems unreal. Good showing though of how hard the fighting was for the Belgian troops in World War I.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Prince Laurent Has Support

The King and politicians may be upset with Prince Laurent over his recent private visit to the Congo, but he still has some public support. On 1 April Prince Laurent and Princess Claire visited Ghent where the crowd applaused for the Prince an extra-long time. The mayor thanked him heartfully for coming to keep the engagement despite all of the bad press and criticism he has been getting since going to the Congo. He called the prince very brave even and Prince Laurent was so touched he and the mayor embraced each other. Perhaps not everyone in the public is so stupid as the politicians and media people think and they can actually see how ridiculous it is to treat Prince Laurent in such a way to simply divert attention from their own glaring failures. I hope the prince knows not everyone is against him!

King Albert Still Thinks Things are Funny

SM King Albert thinks things are funny also in Germany. Makes me smile every time to see the king laughing.