Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Different Royal Brothers

At the Cross of Laeken blog was recently discussed the antagonism of the brothers King Leopold III and regent Prince Charles. Not thinking before of this in such a way, I realized this was not totally uncommon in the Family Royal and probably not in any family of ordinary people also. I started to look at how very different royals brothers have had the habit to be in the family history.

Starting from the very begining we have the case of future King Leopold II and his brother Prince Philippe Count of Flanders. They were very different from each other in temperment. King Leopold II, even very young, was described being a very shy, solitary person who was difficult interacting with other people and found it easier to have strict protocol to avoid 'natural' moments. Prince Philippe, on the contrary, was described as very forward, friendly and having a joyous exuberance that made him comfortable being around people and people liked being around him. He was very popular and had many friends. Leopold II did not have such. Both had great intellectual curiosity but they did not have a good relationship. One very religious, the other not, one happily married, the other certainly not. Two brothers totally unalike and very difficult to get along with each other.

Next consider the brothers King Leopold III and Prince Charles. You can go to the link for Laeken to see just how much they did not get along with each other. Leopold III was having a very even temper, very religious, very determined and composed in times of crisis and very devoted to his family. Prince Charles seemed rather moody, holding on to any slight, not very religious and rather self-centred. He did, I know, do service to the country as regent and very much credit is given to him for this but he had an attitude of betrayal regarding his brother and King and was too quick I think to assume the credit for (as they say in America) 'pushing his brother under the bus' to be seen himself as the savior of the situation. King Leopold wanted everyone to get along and even gave up his throne to avoid divisions and controversy. Prince Charles does not seem to have cared what hurt or problems others had to deal with.

There is then the king-brothers Baudouin and Albert II. Thankfully their relationship was better than some of the brothers gone before them but still they were very different kinds of people. King Baudouin was very conservative, very religious and uncompromising. King Albert II has been more liberal, at least not very religious at times of his life and willing to compromise. Where King Baudouin would stand against the flood, King Albert II prefers to 'go with the flow'. King Baudouin also had a very happy marriage with Queen Fabiola while King Albert II, though happily married now, did have his bad times in his marriage with Queen Paola. The difference between them also is seen in the widely spread talk that King Baudouin did not really favor his brother to succeed him but preferred his nephew Prince Philippe. This did not happen, both for the government and the sudden death of King Baudouin no one expected.

Finally even today we see such differences between Prince Philippe and Prince Laurent. We see often in the news talk of some scandal (usually over exaggerated) with Prince Laurent but the complaints toward Prince Philippe is just being boring -no scandals. One goes to the disco and the other goes to Church. One brother wants a special license for people who drive fast cars and the other was mocked for proposing legislation to ban pornography. Prince Laurent is very blunt and outspoken, his comments often attracting unwanted attention of the media while Prince Philippe does not like to be centre of attention and has not always been a very confident public speaker. Prince Laurent seems almost always relaxed while Prince Philippe often seems anxious or worried, unless he is with his wife and children. He has enough to worry about though and I hope he can manage and that his brother will be more supportive of him than some in the past.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Possible Belgian Kings

When Belgium was first becoming independent of the Netherlands there were several ideas of who should become the king of the new country. There had been some, less supportive of total independence, who had wanted to keep with the Dutch Royal House of Orange-Nassau and make the prince, William II, as King of the Southern Netherlands but the refusal of his father King William I to accept Belgian independence did not make this possible. A foreign prince would have to be elected King of the Belgians. Several candidates were considered before the choice ultimately fell on Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. These are the men considered:

Prince Louis, Duke of Nemours was the second son of King Louis-Philippe I of the French and Queen Marie Amalie. The French had been very supportive of the Belgian cause and the ‘popular monarchy’ of King Louis-Philippe I was something of a model for the new Kingdom of Belgium so it is only natural that Prince Louis was a potential candidate for King of the Belgians. Like King Leopold I also he had been suggested as a potential King of Greece as well. He had a place in the French army that intervened in the Belgian Revolution and he was at the siege of Antwerp. However, opposition from the British meant that King Louis-Philippe I would refuse the offer for his son. He later served in Algeria with the army and undertook diplomatic missions to various countries. After the fall of the monarchy he tried to reconcile the two branches of the Bourbon family and adopted legitimist principles but they would not support him in his efforts at restoration (though they did want the restoration of their own line). He later returned to France and was reinstated in the French army and was head of the Red Cross Society until 1881. He died in 1896.

Auguste de Beauharnais was another choice. He was the son of Napoleon Bonaparte’s stepson Eugene de Beauharnais by Princess Augusta of Bavaria. His royal family links were extensive. Aside from his connection to the Bonaparte dynasty, one of his sisters was a Queen of Sweden, another was Empress of Brazil and his brother Maximilian married the daughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. He was born in Milan and in 1817 his grandfather, King Maximilian I of Bavaria, made his father Eugene Duke of Leuchtenberg. In 1824 Auguste became second Duke of Leuchtenberg when his father died. His connections to the Bonaparte family were the primary reason for his consideration as a possible King of the Belgians. Many Belgians had fought for Napoleon but more important was that his being a Bonaparte would assuage the fears of those that saw the new Belgium as an extension of the Orleans of France in a new sort of Catholic, revolutionary movement. However, in the election by the Belgian National Congress he came in second to the Duke of Nemours as to who they would offer the Belgian throne. In 1834 he married Queen Maria II of Portugal but he died not long after that.

Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen, is one candidate not many people talk about but he was very famous in his time. He was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother of Emperor Francis I of Austria and became a Field Marshal in the Austrian army. Interestingly, he had this military career even though he suffered from epileptic fits. However, historians military consider him one of the greatest enemies on the battlefield of Napoleon Bonaparte alongside the famous British commander the Duke of Wellington. He was born in Florence and spent his youth there and in Vienna. Unlike other candidates he had already a real connection with Belgium as he had been the last Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands as Belgium was known during the era of Hapsburg rule. His military service in Belgium was also the occasion of his first battles with the French revolutionary forces. He was a great general and considered one of the most brilliant military commanders of his time. His connection to Belgium as being their last Austrian Governor-General and being married to a woman who was a distant relative of the House of Orange as well were likely reasons for his consideration. He was not chosen though and did not live much longer anyway since he died in 1847.
Some interesting possibilities here were considered but in the end I think the correct choice was made with King Leopold :-)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Britain and Belgium

Last week I was having especially an unpleasant exchange of words with a Briton who was hurling the usual insults against Belgium, 'not a real country', 'base of the EU', 'hypocrits' and sooner Belgium dissolved to nothing the better for him. This really makes me very angry, both because I am not 100% behind EU and it makes no sense to me for those who agree on this to cut each other down and also because I expect the British would be better than that, to insult and wish the demise of the Belgians. Truthfully, there have been tensions between the British and Belgians for a long time but in general the two countries have, in their modern history, always been friends. From the choosing of King Leopold I the kingdoms of Belgium and Great Britain have had the same Royal Family (Saxe-Coburg-Gotha before they changed in the war to "of Belgium" and "Windsor") and during the Great War the British, claimed at least, to be getting involved in order to defend against the invasion of Belgium, a noble way of standing up for the rights of small countries against the aggression of the more powerful countries.

How different it is today from that time when so many in Britain considered it a matter of honor to defend and support Belgium now to have so many cheering on the possible death of the kingdom across the water. It seems also that the British could look at their own situation and know better than to triumph in the misfortune of Belgium because they seem in so many ways to be going down the same destructive path that has Belgium. Consider the sitution: They Belgium is not a "proper country" because the people are divided and speak different languages. But people in Britain used to speak different languages before English was forced on everyone just as French used to be the one official language for Belgium. In fact they had more much than two with some speaks English, Cornish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic and then in Ireland. Today there are more efforts to revive these regional languages so that is making Britain less a proper country? Maybe they dismiss language and say it is about the divisions political. But again they really have more than one government in Britain today. Most of Ireland broke away and is a republic now. The part that did not is "autonomous" with his own government. Scotland now has a parliament of its own and even Wales has its own local government though they have been part of England since hundreds of years.

Just today another Englishman tells me that I must not have understanding of the British government because English still have lots of power in Scotland. Maybe so, but they claimed at least they had no knowledge or control of the Scotland law courts from releasing a convicted terrorist back to Libya and no matter what powers these assemblies have it is obvious, is it not, that the trend lately in Britain, just like it was in Belgium decades past, is being towards division and disunity rather than greater unity. Just like Flemish nationalists want to end Belgium by having independent Flanders the British also have the Scottish National Party that wants to end United Kingdom by having an independent Scotland. It is obvious the situation is not so serious as in Belgium but everything points to the same direction and I would think anyone could see this and Britons who love their United Kingdom would be somewhat concerned for this and not exulting in the problems of the Belgians knowing that there is no reason the same cannot happen to them. Already the British Empire is fallen away and the country has turned more to Europe, more to EU and depend for themselves on allies rather than acting independently in matters economic and military.

I am not total supporter of EU and I do not want to see Great Britain breaking up into pieces either but I am sometimes angered into saying things I later regret because some of them do want that for my country. And why? How did Belgium offend? We did not invent EU and we had no more greater voice in building it or running it than any other country. I hope Britons will stop the insults and consider that they could someday be in the same position and rather than start fights with the Belgians be accepting of any sympathetic to the situation and wanting both countries to survive and prosper.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tribute to King Albert I

On the occasion of the anniversary of the brave soldier-King Albert I, who saved his country from invasion in the Great War and led the resurgence of Belgium afterwards, there is this tribute from The Cross of Laeken.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Charles Rogier

After Baron de Chokier the most famous of the founders of modern Kingdom of Belgium was Charles Rogier. His family was of French background and his father was an officer in the army of Napoleon but he died in the invasion of Russia in 1812. Charles moved with his family to Liege where he studied and became a lawyer. His legal career was not as important to him as his political vision and he was a very prominent critic of Dutch rule over Belgium. He collaborated with good friends Paul Devaux and Joseph Lebeau to start the journal Mathieu Laensberg (later Le Politique) in 1824. The journal was known for being liberal, patriotic, anti-Dutch and supportive of Belgian national identity. Quickly, people all over Belgium were reading the journal and supporting the views of it.
It was a very historical moment and crucial and controversial when Rogier arrived from Liege with 300 citizen militia in Brussels at the start of the uprising against Dutch rule. Some of the more conservative people were worried by the arrival of the famous 'firebrand' from Liege and if they were concerned he would inflame the situation then they were all correct. He became the most prominent of the revolutionary leaders and did not stop in his calls for nationhood and total independence. It was no surprise for him to become a member of the October 1830 provisional government for Belgium and he was appointed Governor of Antwerp in June 1831 after the election of Leopold von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as first King of the Belgians.

Rogier was a founder of Belgium and a major leader in the early period with many accomplishments. When he was Interior Minister he established the first railroads and he also served as Minister of Public Works and Minister of Education and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Something for which he is more controversial today was his very strict ideas about the language groups in Belgium. Rogier was very much sure that having one country with two languages would never work and was not acceptable. He is known for his words, "La Belgique sera Latine ou elle ne sera pas". He was Prime Minister two times and established the tradition of the government speaking French only.

On this subject, Rogier said, "Les premiers principes d’une bonne administration sont basés sur l’emploi exclusif d’une langue et il est évident, que la seule langue des Belges doit être le Français. Pour arriver à ce résultat, il est nécessaire que toutes les fonctions, civiles et militaires, soient confiées pour quelques temps à des Wallons; de cette manière les Flamands, privés temporairement des avantages attachés à ces emplois, seront contraint d’apprendre le Français et l’on détruira, peu à peu l’élèment germanique en Belgique." ("The first principles of a good administration are based upon the exclusive use of one language, and it is evident that the only language of the Belgians should be French. In order to achieve this result, it is necessary that all civil and military functions are entrusted to Walloons and Luxemburgers; this way, the Flemish, temporarily deprived of the advantages of these offices, will be constrained to learn French, and we will hence destroy bit by bit the Germanic element in Belgium.")

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Emmanuel Van der Linden Baron d’Hooghvorst

Some people remember with respect the name of Emmanuel Van der Linden Baron d’Hooghvorst. Other people maybe recognize him only as the man in the uniform in a group picture of the founders of modern Belgium. He was a leader of the early days and a “founding father” of the Kingdom of Belgium known for his part in the Belgian Revolution. D’Hooghvorst was not like others though, he was not a natural revolutionary. He was very much associated with the moderate faction that did not want to have turmoil with the Dutch and was also the brother of the famous political leader Joseph van der Linden d‘Hooghvorst. He was born in 1781 and he was the mayor of Meise after 1807. He was known for being a zealous Catholic and a very generous man who paved the roads with his own money and also gave funds to build the village back again after a devastating fire in 1826. Because of this he was very popular with the people who admired and respected him.

He became the commissioner of land and forestry and representative for southern Brabant. When riots broke out in 1830 as the first stages of the revolution d’Hooghvorst took command of the Civil Guard when others refused the position but he was concerned for the safety of the people and property in Brussels. He also hoped he could manage a reconciliation of the dissidents and the Dutch government. He addressed the local Dutch officials with the idea of sending a delegation of moderate, middle class Belgians to peacefully and respectfully express their complaints and ideas to King William I of the United Netherlands Kingdom. However, they were refused permission to do this. But, he did manage to dissuade the local Dutch officials from bringing in Dutch army soldiers which he believed would only inflame the situation and lead to terrible violence. He promised that he would maintain order and security with his Civil Guard.

Along with other leading Belgians d’Hooghvorst came to a meeting with the Prince of Orange at Vilvorde where the Prince was with his army to meet with the Brussels authorities. However, the Prince was alarmed by the appearance of the Belgians and their separatist flag and he made them wait some time before seeing them. When he did finally meet them he commended the Civil Guard for their efforts at keeping order but also criticized the uprising and the use of the Belgian colors. Hooghvorst stated that he was doing his best but that the rebelliousness was because of sincere desire for redress of grievances and suppressing them would not be wise. The Prince of Orange said there would be no concessions as long as the Belgian colors were being displayed. He said if the colors were abandoned he would grant an amnesty and gave the delegation a day to consider the offer. They decided finally not to give up their colors but to bring the Prince to Brussels protected by the Civil Guard only.

Hooghvorst again tells the Prince that concessions must be made or his troops will not be able to control the public anger but nothing is done and later he warns the Prince that he must leave Brussels for his own safety and a delegation urges him to support the separation of the ‘southern’ and ‘northern’ Netherlands (the Prince of Orange and his father the King disagreed on the policy toward Belgium). He finally agrees to this on the condition that the Civil Guard maintains order and that loyalty to the Orange Royal House is assured. The King, as we know, did not go along with this settlement and in Belgium a regency was established with d’Hooghvorst put in charge of public safety which he accepted on the condition that independence would be pursued through legal channels. However, the uprising only became larger and part of the Civil Guard was disarmed with Hooghvorst commanding the remainder. The people began to arm and government officials wanted the Civil Guard to defend the city from the rebels but Hooghvorst refuses but remained committed to keeping order and protecting property.

Later efforts to make peace were ineffective and Hooghvorst is elected to the provisional administrative commission. He was involved in the earliest formative efforts of the new Kingdom of Belgium but remained always a reluctant revolutionary and supported offering the Belgian throne to the Prince of Orange to maintain in some way the original system. This, we know, did not happen but he was still elected to the National congress as a temporary member and was later appointed commanding general of the civil guard for life. Later he also became mayor of Wolvertem in the new Kingdom of Belgium. He became a baron and was known for his efforts at rebuilding the Church in Wolvertem in 1834 and building the Church in Nieuwenrode. He was made a commander of the Order of Leopold and was a very honored hero to his death in 1866.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lilian, Princess of Réthy

Documentaire sur Léopold III le 25 février sur la RTBF

Le 25 février, la RTBF proposera "Léopold III, mon père", un documentaire de 90 minutes de Nicolas Delvaulx. La princesse Marie-Esméralda présente dans ce documentaire la vie de son père et de sa famille sur un éclairage nouveau et plus familial. Dépositaire de nombreux documents, photos, et témoignages ayant appartenu à la famille royale depuis le règne de Léopold Ier, la princesse en montrera certains pour la première fois à la télévision.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Belgian Explorer Pierre-Jean De Smet

I was recently having a conversation with another educational exile from Italy and while we both agreed that Queen Marie Jose was badly treated in not being given more of a chance as Queen of Italy, my pride was somewhat wounded by his assertion that all of the greatest explorers of the world were Italians. After doing some research I finally found a Belgian explorer. Exploration was, I will admit, rather secondary to his primary work which was religious. The famous Belgian I speak of was Jesuit Father Pierre-Jean De Smet. He was born in Dendermonde in 1801 and came to the United States with other Belgian missionaries in 1821. Starting in Maryland (the only Catholic English colony) he later went to Missouri, which was a “frontier” state at the time and he was ordained there in 1827. In 1833 he went back to Belgium to recover his health but soon came back to the American west.

From 1838-9 Father De Smet helped in setting up St Joseph Mission in Iowa to bring Christianity to the Native Americans. The first he worked with were the Patawatomi tribe and in addition to teaching them about Christianity he became an outspoken enemy of the whiskey trade which he saw causing murder, thievery and lowering the moral fiber of the Native Americans. He met a lot of opposition in this and he was also not very successful in convincing the Native Americans to convert to Catholicism. But, fearful of their salvation he secretly baptized many of the children, I suppose so they would at least have a chance at going to Heaven. On the exploration front the father helped Joseph Nicollet map the Upper Midwest. He became quite good at this and drew up the first detailed map of the Missouri River valley from below the Platte River to the Big Sioux River marking the major geographic points and Native American villages.

He explored and set up missions in the area of the Rocky Mountains and some of the Native Americans, who had stories passed on to them over the centuries from the Natives of the northeast, came looking for the men they called “Black robes”. This was the name the natives of the northeast (Quebec) had given to the first Jesuit missionaries from France. The many Protestant missionaries could not help them with that request but Father De Smet was eager to meet them; Nez Perce and Flathead Native American nations. In 1845 the bold Belgian “black robe” explored the areas of Idaho, Montana and even traveled as far north as Alberta, Canada. He met with the Cree, Chippewa and Blackfoot nations and explored farther east before enduring the winter at Fort Edmonton. Suffering greatly from the harsh weather and poor health traveled still to the Columbia River and to Fort Vancouver in the spring. With his missionary work at an end he returned to Missouri.

After that Father De Smet occupied himself by raising money to support the missions he had worked to set up and trying to keep peace between the Native Americans and the expanding United States because he was so respected by both sides. He often went back to Europe to collect donations but always returned to the American west. In 1868 he made history by convincing the famous Native American Chief Sitting Bull to accept the Treaty of Fort Laramie. On May 23, 1873 he died in St Louis, Missouri after a career that saw him travel, preaching, teaching and exploring some 180,000 miles of the vast American western frontier. Today he is remembered as the “Apostle of the Rocky Mountains”. Even the competing Protestant missionaries admitted that Father De Smet was the most trusted and truest friend of the Native Americans.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Belgian Ace Remy Van Lierde

Colonel Remy Van Lierde was a great hero of the Free Belgian forces during the great World War II. He was originally from Overboelare and joined the Aviation Militaire Belge on 16 September 1935, first to train as an observer but in 1937 he began training as a combat pilot and qualified in 1938. When his training was completed he was stationed with the 3rd Squadron, 1st Aviation Regiment. When World War II came the Belgian Air Force was very much un-prepared and Remy Van Lierde, with the rank of sergeant, flew reconnaissance during the German invasion in an old, out-of-date Fairey Fox III biplane. German flak shot down his plane and wounded him on 16 May 1940 and he was taken prisoner. However, the brave air soldier did not give up and when he was recovered he escaped and made an arduous journey out of Belgium, across occupied France and into Spain, which was a neutral country but with a fascist leader (General Franco) who was sympathetic to the Axis (Mussolini and Hitler had helped him win his war against the communists in Spain). Remy was arrested for crossing the border illegally and was sent to various Spanish prisons before being sent to the notorious concentration camp at Miranda de Ebro. No cage could hold him! He escaped still again and finally on 22 July 1941 he reached the safety of England.

To make sure he was legitimate he was interviewed by the James Bond-types at MI5 and once cleared he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. After three months of training he was assigned to the 609 Squadron in 1942 as a Pilot Officer. In the summer, flying a Spitfire Mk.Vb. he damaged a German bomber over Skegness and was promoted to Flying Officer. In 1943 while flying a Typhoon Ib he won his first victory, shooting down a Bf 109-G fighter making a raid on the south coast. In March he shot down a Ju52 transport plane while going to attack a German air base at Chièvres. His wife actually saw him do it and when the war was over she showed him bits of the wreckage she saved from their garden. Later, Remy Van Lierde became the first pilot to drop bombs from a Typhoon and he shot down a He111 bomber in May, another Bf109 in July and a Ju88 heavy fighter in October. He destroyed another German plane on the ground and won his last victory shooting down a Bf 110 bomber in November. His total score was 6 planes shot down and 1 destroyed on the ground making him one of the 14 Belgian "aces" of the war.

Promoted to Flight Lieutenant he served for a little time as a gunnery instructor and was then promoted to Squadron Leader to command the No.164 Squadron to combat the V-1 rocket offensive. During this part of his career he shot down or otherwise destroyed 44 V-1 rockets by himself and shared another 9 victories. He was the second-highest scoring destroyer of the rockets in the war. He later led his squadron in the Allied offensive on the western front and later as Belgian Liaison Officer at 2nd Tactical Air Force HQ. He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross with two bars by the British and given command of the 350 RAF Squadron after the war which had all Belgian pilots and would later be transferred to the Belgian Air Force in 1946. Back in the Belgian service he was promoted to major and given command of the 1st Fighter Wing at Beauvechain Air Base. He was given a number of other top priority positions and in 1953 was given the honor of being made an aide to SM King Leopold III.

In 1958 he became one of the first Belgians to break the sound barrier while test flying a Hawker Hunter at Dunsfold Aerodrome in England. As Lt. Colonel Van Lierde he was made Deputy Chief of Staff to the Ministre of Defense in 1954. In 1959, as full Colonel, he commanded the air base at Kamina in the Belgian Congo. While there, on a helicopter trip, he discovered the mysterious Giant Congo Snake of which the head was 3-feet wide and when he hovered closer it rose up 10-feet out of the water, so he couldn't get too close to it. So, he was something of an explorer and naturalist as well. After returning to Belgium he became the Chief of Operations of the Chiefs of Staff and had several other appointments before his retirement in 1968. Colonel Remy Van Lierde, hero of World War II and flying ace died at Lessines on 8 June 1990.