28 July 2013

Belgian Highnesses 3: End of a Fairytale

The tall stranger was spotted slipping through the back door of Prince Carl's Swedish home in 1925. Nothing remarkable really. Perhaps a new butler reporting for duty. No one guessed that the handsome young man was there to marry the youngest daughter of the house.

But, this was no Downton Abbey moment. The stranger was no rabble-rousing Republican as in the popular series. Instead, he was an incognito prince--the future King Leopold III of Belgium. In yet another twist, unlike so many royal marriages of the day, this pairing was no dynastic match or politic contract, Leopold and his carefree Swedish bride, Princess Astrid, were truly in love.

Astrid was the granddaughter of both a Swedish king and a Danish king, and the niece of the Norwegian king, but she grew up with little of the splendor one might expect for such a well-connected princess. With the precarious nature of royal thrones in the post-World War I era, her mother raised her children to be prepared in case they ever needed to take care of themselves--and each of the three daughters were even required to cook for the family once a week.

With two older sisters, a younger brother and many more prominent cousins, Astrid was not really considered a star among the intertwined Scandinavian royal families. In fact, some even considered her dull--one of her greatest passions was needlework. But, she was also kind and open-hearted. When she was just 14, her oldest sister Margaretha married their cousin Prince Axel of Denmark. It was a love match so intense that Astrid's mother joked that the couple could not be left alone together in room with furniture.

In Belgium meanwhile, the prospect of finding a suitable future queen for Prince Leopold seemed a bit uncertain. A Catholic princess was preferred, but so many of the Catholic houses had fallen, and the German houses were still seen as enemies. So, when Leopold's mother, Queen Elisabeth, started quietly touring Europe to identify potential royal brides she was not at all put off by young Astrid's Lutheran faith. Instead, she saw an ideal daughter-in-law. Imagine her delight, when the couple fell deeply in love. Like her older sister, Astrid could barely keep her hands off of her fiance. The two were even spotted holding hands together in the street. When Astrid finally arrived in Belgium to a grand, public welcome, the couple's kiss was far from the demure pecks we now see on the British royal balcony calls. With such public displays of affection, the official engagement announcement hardly needed the Queen's additional statement that it had been a love match. In fact, her new family adored Astrid so much, that they put absolutely no pressure on her to convert to Catholicism as would have been required in earlier years. Instead, Astrid came to that decision on her own, several years later.

After a honeymoon in the south of France, where the couple could cuddle and hold hands without being recognized, the 21-year-old princess and her 25-year-old groom took up primary residence in small house on a royal estate. Within a year, their first child, Princess Josephine-Charlotte, was born. Three years later, their heir, Prince Baudouin, arrived. Astrid delighted in caring for her children and wheeling them about the garden and parks herself, much to the chagrin of some old stalwarts. She even cooked for her little family herself.

Publicly, Astrid, who with her sisters has trained as nurse (partly, again in case she needed an income in the future) threw herself into good works, particularly supporting the disadvantaged, children and women. Her fundraising efforts were always wildly successful. And, she was increasingly thought to be the ideal princess: devoted to family ("I'm just a mother," she famously said.), duty and nation.

Then, in 1934, tragedy struck. In the middle of her third pregnancy, Astrid and the nation were stunned to learn of the accidental death of her father-in-law King Albert, who had fallen to his death while mountain climbing in Switzerland. Now, Queen of the nation at just 28, Astrid was deeply saddened by his loss, but she had something else to focus on:  the safe delivery of another little prince, whom she and Leopold named Albert in his memory.

While the family slowly adjusted to the change in their lives, the country fell even more madly in love with Astrid. When she wrote an open letter, called the Queen's Appeal, to assist those struggling through the deep economic crisis of the mid1930s, donations literally flooded in.

In the late summer of 1935, Leopold and Astrid took their two oldest children back to Switzerland, to holiday near the spot where King Albert had so recently died. Always athletic and outdoorsy, the couple enjoyed the freedom and adventure of their mountain trips. In the glow of that Swiss summer, they sent Josephine-Charlotte and Baudouin back home ahead of them, opting to stay just one more day to indulge in a few romantic moments alone so rarely afforded to parents of young children.

It was a gorgeous day as the couple--not king and queen for the moment, but doting husband and wife--set out in their open car to make one last hike in their beloved mountains. Leopold took the driver's seat, with the chauffeur in the back, while Astrid filled a familiar role as navigator with map at the ready. It was this which momentarily distracted Leopold as he approached a curve. Although traveling only 30 miles per hour, the car slammed first into one tree, throwing Astrid against the tree and out of the car. As it careened into another tree, Leopold was also flung out. The car came to as stop at last in a lake with no injury to the chauffeur. Astrid, however, was dead. She had been killed instantly due to head trauma. Leopold was devastated. He ordered the car sunk to the bottom of the lake.

Astrid Chapel
Belgian, finally having recovered from the sudden death of King Leopold, could not believe that their lovely young Queen was gone so quickly. She was not yet 30 years old. A chapel was built near the site.

In many ways, Leopold never recovered. Many speculate that Astrid might have prevented many of the troubles he later faced, disastrous decision-making during World War II and a highly unpopular second marriage, which ultimately led to his abdication when his heir, Baudouin was only 20.

Josephine-Charlotte grew up to become the wife of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. Despite the widely held opinion that theirs was not a love match, they produced five children, and were married more than 50 years until her death from lung cancer in 2007.

King Baudouin did marry for love. His bride, the Spanish aristocrat, Dona Fabiola de Mora y Aragon, was his constant companion until his death in 1993. Queen Fabiola suffered five miscarriages, and the throne passed to Baudouin's younger brother Albert. Now 85, Fabiola is deeply honored within the family and among the people of Belgium.

Belgium's new king and queen Philippe and Mathilde
Albert also married for love, the aristocratic Italian beauty, Paola Ruffo di Calabria. The couple have three children and 12 grandchildren. On July 21, 2013, King Albert II abdicated in favor of his oldest son, King Philippe, whose aristocratic wife Mathilde is the first Belgian-born Belgian Queen, and whose daughter Elisabeth is the very first female heir to the Belgian throne.

23 July 2013

Naming Prince X of Cambridge: A Scottish Surprise?

Many had hoped for a princess who might be called Diana.
With that name off the table, what should they name the prince?


THE BABY has been named Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. Officially announced on Aug. 24.

With The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's little one now safely delivered, the world has finally learned that the long-awaited, much-heralded child is a boy. Now we can stop talking about what-if situations like a new Princess Diana or Alexandra or Victoria or Elizabeth and start to focus on what in the world they might name a boy. With George and James topping most betting lists, beloved royal commentator Victoria Arbiter cautions that Prince William may just come up with a name none of us have thought of. (See my previous post, What Will Kate Name the Baby?, for my previously thought-of selections and an explanation of general royal naming traditions.)

Since the baby is scheduled to become king one day, I think we can safely presume that the traditionally minded royal couple will choose a name that has been used by a previous monarch.
As my earlier post states, after the Norman Conquest, English kings used just six different names: William, Henry, Stephen, Richard, John and Edward. After the thrones of England and Scotland were united following the death of the first Elizabeth, three more names were added: James, Charles, and George. Before the Conquest, some favorite kings had names like Alfred, Edmund, Edgar, Canute, and Harold.

But, who says William and Kate must limit themselves to English king's names. After all, they met and fell in love in Scotland, which is also the ancestral home of the late Queen Mother. There are several very ancient or very ethnic names that are highly unlikely, but possibilities include Kenneth, Constantine, Donald, Malcolm, Duncan, Alexander, David, and Robert.

Add to that the legendary and semi-mythic King Arthur, who is often now linked to Wales, and the list of possible first names consists of more than 20 contenders. A fair number of choices for any couple, I think.

In my previous post, I originally proposed Robert or George and later added David. I am now officially removing George from my guesses, because it has become just too "popular." The fact that it has been bandied about so much in the media makes me think Prince William will avoid it. Incidentally, I don't think the other popular choice of James will be used either since it is the name of Kate's brother. So, here are my top choices and why:

Robert the Bruce
Robert: Assuming that William and Catherine have an affinity for the land where they met and knowing that Scotland has been one of William's lifelong refuges from the prying press, naming their son for Robert Bruce, who is considered by many to be the best King of Scotland, might appeal to them. Interestingly, the oldest son of the first King William (the Conqueror) was also named Robert; he inherited Normandy while his younger brother inherited England. There have been no royal Roberts since the Stuarts but there have been three kings named Robert.

David: Sticking with the Scottish idea, David is another king name used during the Bruce era. (Did I mention that my dad is named David Bruce and his father was Robert Bruce?--not the same folks, of course.) David is also the patron saint of Wales, and was the name of two native Princes of Wales--an appealing connection perhaps since this baby will likely be Price of Wales one day. David had not been used in the royal family for centuries until it was reintroduced in 1894 among the many names of the future King Edward VIII who was known as David within the family. It was also the name of the late Queen Mother's younger brother (another Scottish tie) and is the name of the Queen's only nephew, Viscount Linley, whose daughter Margarita was a bridesmaid at William and Kate's wedding. And, of course, it has prominent biblical roots as the name of one of Israel's greatest kings. There were two Scottish kings named David.

Alexander: Another Scottish choice, Alexander also has very deep historical ties that stretch back to classical Greece with Alexander the Great. Since the new baby has already conquered the hearts of the world, it might be fitting to name him for a man who was one of the earliest world conquerors. Alexander has not been used as a princely name in Britain for several generations, but it is the name of the current Earl of Ulster, son of the Queen's first cousin, HRH The Duke of Gloucester. The female form, Alexandra, was also the name of The Queen's great-grandmother, who was Queen Consort a century ago, and it is the name of The Queen's first cousin, Princess Alexandra The Hon. Lady Ogilvy, who has been very ill lately and who is also one of Prince William's godparents. There have been three kings named Alexander.

Prince Charles as a young man
Charles: Yet another one with Scottish connections. Both kings of this name (so far) sat on both the English and Scottish thrones but they were of the Scottish House of Stuart. The name had fallen so out of royal use by the mid-20th century that it was said to have been a complete surprise when the current Queen gave it to her first child. The Cambridges could choose to honor William's father (whose parenting skills have often been unfavorably--and quite unfairly--compared to Princess Diana's). The Prince of Wales is the only current royal with this name, although it has a tradition in the Spencer family and is the name of William's uncle, Earl Spencer. Since there is one more Charles in line for the throne ahead of him, the new baby would be Charles IV.

Alfred: This choice would reach back to the earliest days of English kingship. The only King Alfred is also the only English king to earn the epithet "the Great." The name was used for a son of George III who died young and for Queen Victoria's second son,The Duke of Edinburgh (now the title of William's grandfather), which gives this name a connection to Scotland, too. It is not currently used in the royal family and may seem so "old-fashioned" that most people would be genuinely surprised by it. Nevertheless, thousands of Alfreds would likely be christened in the next few years.

The 1st Duke of Wellesley
Arthur: My only suggestion for which I could think of no Scottish connections, the name is steeped in great heroic legends and would evoke British pride with a new Camelot, much the way that many have lauded the Second Elizabethan era. Queen Victoria used this name for her third son, The Duke of Connaught, who was named for the great Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became Prime Minister. This adds yet another nationalistic and heroic significance to the name. Among the current family, the name is used by one of the grandsons of The Queen's late sister, Princess Margaret.

Now, we just have to wait a little longer to see how well they will surprise us!!

22 July 2013

Welcome Royal Baby



For the last 32 weeks, the world has been building into a frenzy. Since it was first announced that Catherine The Duchess of Cambridge was expecting a child, there has been no end to the coverage and speculation. Actually, it started much sooner than that. In fact, before the Royal Wedding, I cautioned against getting too much royal baby anxiety too soon. (See Kate Middleton'sFirst Baby.) Her husband may have been born less than one year into his parents' marriage, but contemporary royal brides take longer. This baby is arriving more than two years after the wedding.

The last eight months have undoubtedly been filled with joy, anxiety and anticipation for the royal couple, but they have also been filled with irritation. First, the pregnancy was announced much earlier than usual because Kate had to be admitted to hospital suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe and dangerous form of morning sickness. This hyperextended the length of the public stage of the pregnancy.

Almost immediately, the intrusions started. Some criticized her for being a lazy, whiner who overreacted to sickness. Then, she was chided for going on holiday. Then, there were paparazzi snaps of the baby bump in a bikini. Then, it was that she was staying too thin. Then, she was not carrying on enough royal duties.

On the other side, Kate's supporters gushed over every moment. Where she shopping? What was she buying? What was she wearing? 

Every aspect of the pregnancy has been dissected. When and where was the baby conceived? Midwife or doctor? Hospital or home delivery? Could it be twins? Boy or girl? Was she too posh to push?

Kate and William spent last week at her family's home in Bucklebury, away from the prying eyes of London, but even there, their peace was disturbed when a rescue vehicle was called to free a dog who had caught its head in the fence. Was the emergency crew coming to take Kate to hospital? Was it her dog that had caused the brouhaha? Perhaps is was just one more soul trying to get a peak into the circus that "The Daily Show" dubbed "Her Majesty's Secret Cervix."

Unfortunately, the chatter and intrusion is unlikely to peter out after the delivery. Every detail will be discussed: length, weight, horoscope, hair color, eye color, gender, name, godparents, pram name, university plan... (Read my post on what they will name the baby.)

I suspect that when Kate and William stand in front of those cameras outside of the Lindo Wing with their little bundle of joy, they will be smiling graciously, genuinely excited to share their joy for one public moment. On the inside, however, they may secretly be wishing they could use a phrase so famously uttered by The Princess Royal many years ago and tell us all to "naff off!"

UPDATE: 
The baby, a boy, was born at 4.24pm London time and weighed 8lb 6oz, according to the announcement from Kensington Palace at 8.30pm on Monday, July 22, 2013.

20 July 2013

Belgian Highnesses II: Three Neglected Princesses

Louise (standing) and Stephanie
King Leopold II of Belgium is remembered today for the violent brutality of his personal rule over the Congo. However, his leadership of his family was also tinged with cruelty and coldness.

His three daughters grew up in an authoritarian environment defined by the unhappiness of their parents' marriage, the loss of their brother, the strictness of their father, and the rigid education of their mother. When the future Leopold II married the Austrian Archduchess Marie Henriette, he had selected her for her imperial and Roman Catholic pedigree. Still a bit of an upstart dynasty in just its second generation, the Belgians needed to bolster their continental ties to continually legitimize their place in royal Europe. Unfortunately, these political necessities left little room for finding a compatible mate for Leopold or for his children. Like so many princesses, Marie Henriette was happiest when she was riding--it was perhaps her only opportunity to experience something akin to freedom. At home, the couple was incompatible. Married as teenagers, they could have grown together but instead they grew apart.

In the first ten years of their marriage, they managed to have three children: Louise, Leopold, and Stephanie. Their son, and heir, was clearly the favorite, but all of the children were subjected to a difficult regime of hard beds, cold baths, and very limited (very formal) time with their parents. The family seemed complete, allowing the king and queen to grow further apart.

Then, tragedy struck. In January 1869, their nine-year-old son and heir contracted pneumonia and died. Not only was this a great personal tragedy, but it had national urgency. Until very recently, the Belgian succession was governed by Salic law: women could not inherit the throne. (In fact, when King Philippe ascends the throne on July 21, 2013, his daughter Elisabeth will become the first-ever female heir in Belgian history.) With little Leopold's death, the regal couple again tried to extend their family, resulting in the birth of yet another daughter, Princess Clementine in 1872.

By this time, their oldest child, Princess Louise was already 14 and at an age when 19th-century princesses seriously started thinking about mates. Even on this matter, Leopold and Marie Henriette could not agree. The Queen was insistent that Louise should marry her much older second cousin, Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, whose family had settled in Hungary, which the Queen considered her native land. Attracted to a romantic life in the illustrious court of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Joseph II and his beautiful wife Empress Elisabeth, Louise pushed her father for the match. Leopold felt the prince was not illustrious enough and that he had too many ties to the hated Prussia, but he nonetheless conceded.

Louise was traumatized from the start. According to her own account, no one had explained to her the physical side of marriage. She was 15 and her eager husband was nearly 30. He was much more experienced--Louise even later alleged that he had been her mother's lover! The terrified girl ran away from the bed chamber and was later found sobbing in a greenhouse and taken to her mother. In one version of the story, the Queen tried to comfort her and explain her duties, but Louise's version characterizes her mother as shreiking at her. As for the bridegroom, Louise said he tried to ease their future lovemaking by plying her with alcohol and showing her dirty pictures.

Louise did not warm up to Philipp much, but she absolutely delighted in her life in Vienna. She became one of the most glamorous and scandal-ridden women of the court. She learned to love amorous activities and was rarely, if ever, discreet when she embarked on an affair. Her husband was no less faithful. Following the birth of one son and one daughter, they grew more and more separate. Between her busy social schedule and extramarital activities was not a very attentive mother. She was also a sharp-tongued gossip, who enjoyed slandering others.

After just a few years in Vienna, however, she had garnered enough status that she was able to bring her little sister Stephanie to the attention of the imperial family, which was in need of a bride for its devastatingly handsome heir, the romantic and moody dreamer, Crown Prince Rudolph. Stephanie was no less eager than Louise to escape her homelife in Belgium for the cosmopolitan life in Vienna.

The couple married in 1881, and Rudolph, who had already rejected nearly every other Catholic princess in Europe, initially found Stephanie pretty and clever, but she was never able to match her husband's restlessness. Plus, her religious and political conservatism was offended by his liberal, some might even say radical, views. Always dapper and popular with the ladies, Rudolph was never faithful. When their daughter, Princess Elisabeth, who was always known by the Hungarian dimunitive Erzi, was born, most believed that the couple had plenty of time for more children. However, Rudolph, who was flighty like his mother, felt increasingly trapped by Stephanie and life at his father's court. When Stephanie contracted a venereal disease from him, the only reason for his marriage--to procreate--was snatched away.

Given no authority or responsibility by his aging father, Rudolph engaged in dangerous political intrigues and petty romances. Stephanie's patience wore thin. Even her "prettiness" wore off, as she was labeled an "ugly elephant" by her famously beautiful and wispy thin mother-in-law the Empress, whom Rudolph worshipped although from afar as she rarely visited Vienna, preferring to travel impulsively, buying and renovating castles wherever she went. Rudolph grew desperate.

By the time, the now 30-year-old prince started an affair with a teenaged Baroness Mary Vetsera, he was a man without purpose or direction. When he slipped away to his hunting lodge at Mayerling, he may have already decided his course of action. The next morning, Rudolph and Mary were both found shot to death. The events of that fateful night are still disputed. (Read my post, Tragic Death: Rudolph's Final Moment.) The generally accepted theory is that it was a double suicide. Others contend that Mary had no idea what was happening, and still others believe the suicide story was concocted to cover up a political murder. Nevertheless, Stephanie would now never be Empress of Austria. Since her daughter could not inherit the throne, she was also not the mother of the heir. She also was a person without purpose.

Clementine
In the meantime, back in Belgium, little sister Clementine, now a teenager, had fallen in love with a most appropriate choice: her cousin, Prince Baudouin, who was also her father's eventual heir. Raised almost single-handedly by their mother, Clementine had grown up to be a dutiful young woman. She was deeply in love with Baudouin, but he was less keen on the match. As they moved toward an engagement, Baudouin continued his romantic liaisons with the ladies. Suffering from the flu, he willingly accepted a challenge from his mistress' husband was wounded on the so-called field of honor. Within days, he was dead, and Clementine was left to nurture her broken heart.

Her sister Louise was busily making her own romantic scandals, too. By 1898, the 40-year-old princess had become what we would now term "a cougar." Determined to marry her toy boy, Count Geza Mattachich, she ran away with him, taking her teenaged daughter with her and started divorce proceedings. The clandestine couple made their way around central Europe and the Mediterranean, leaving bad debts and innuendo in their wake. Louise even opened shop accounts in Crown Princess Stephanie's name and defaulted on them. She wanted to be free of her husband but not of her lavish lifestyle. Horrified by Louise's scandalous ways and fearing for her own reputation, her daughter returned home. King Leopold and Queen Marie Henriette both sided with their son-in-law. Prince Philipp even challenged Geza to a duel. Like Baudouin, he was injured but he did not die. Meanwhile, Louise and her lover built up millions of dollars in debt. At one point, he was imprisoned for four years while she was given the choice between returning to Philipp or going to an insane asylum. She chose the asylum. Nevertheless, the divorce dragged on for eight years, until it was finally granted in 1906. Loyal throughout, losing his own title and reputation along the way, Geza and Louise eventually settled in Paris, where so many tragic couples seem to migrate.

Widowed and increasingly estranged from her daughter, Stephanie also found a count to bring her solace. In 1900, against her father's wishes, she married Count Elemer Lonyay de Nagy, a steadfast and dashing Hungarian.

While Leopold was being disappointed by his first two daughters, his youngest was rising in his favor. After her heartbreak over Baudouin, Clementine was allowed to begin travelling. Unlike her sisters, she took no lovers and started no scandals. Instead, she fell in love with Prince Victor Napoleon, heir of House of Bonaparte. Leopold opposed a marriage between them, wishing to avoid poor relations with the Republic of France. Clementine argued with him, but lost. Instead of rebelling, she returned home and assumed the duties of her father's first lady, when Queen Marie Henriette died in 1901.

And, that's when things got really nasty with her sisters. Denied any share of their mother's inheritance, Stephanie and Louise sued the King. Despite the public scandal and his vast wealth, Leopold refused to budge. Louise and Stephanie launched a similar suit in 1909 when he died, leaving his money to his illegal second wife and a new royal foundation.

For Clementine, however, Leopold's death brought a much more important inheritance. Her beloved Prince Victor Napoleon had also never married. She asked the new King, her cousin Albert, for permission, and was finally able to marry him when she was 38-years-old. The couple had two children and lived a blissful life together in Brussels, until World War I when they escaped to England and Clementine joined the Red Cross. After the war, they returned to the continent. He died in 1926, and Clementine survived him by nearly 30 years. She continued her charitable work, ultimately earning the Legion of Honor.

Her sisters, however, were not earning any honor. Stephanie had also joined the Red Cross during the First World War, but she squandered her wealth through gambling and bad business decisions. She wrote her memoirs, "I Should Have Been Empress," but was banned from publishing them. Her second marriage was much happier than her first, but she never really connected with her only child. During World War II Stephanie and Elemer escaped Soviet troops and took refuge in a local abbey. She died there shortly after the war ended in 1945.

Already romantic refugees, Louise and Geza bounced around Europe during WWI. But, they returned to Paris at its conclusion. Louise was devastated by his death in 1923 and followed him to the grave the following year. Ever defiant, she also wrote her memoirs, attempting to justify her unconventional decisions. Her own children never forgave her, and she is remembered today as one of the most tragic modern princesses.

06 July 2013

Belgian Highnesses Part I: Mad Carlota


Princess Charlotte of Belgium,
daughter of Leopold I

In honor of this summer’s new monarch in Belgium, I am offering a short series about Belgian royal ladies. Here is Part I.

Although the Belgian monarchy has a short history of less than 200 years, it has had more than its fair share of princesses with less than fairytale lives.  The first Belgian princesses encountered great personal tragedies. In fact the Belgian royal dynasty is built upon the tragic death of a British princess. To be more precise, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg would never have accepted the Belgian throne in 1831 if his first wife, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales had not died in 1817.

As the only legitimate grandchild of King George III, Charlotte was destined to inherit the British crown. She married her penniless German prince for love and the two planned to eventually rule the Empire in much the same way that Victoria and Albert later would. Early on, Charlotte suffered a miscarriage, but soon became pregnant again. Leopold was at her side when their son was born dead after a very protracted labor. The devastated and exhausted prince finally took to his bed to sleep. 

Within hours, he was awakened suddenly. He rushed to Charlotte’s side, too late to say goodbye as 
the hope of the British throne died from internal hemorrhaging.(Read my post about Charlotte's death.)

While Charlotte’s unmarried uncles, rushed out to find fecund wives to supply a new heir, Leopold’s role was uncertain. He was assured of a steady government income as long as he remained in England as the steadfast widower. But, Leopold had greater ambition. He had hoped to reign over an empire with Charlotte. 

So, when the kingdom of Belgium was created following the Napoleonic wars, Leopold was willing to leave behind an aimless, powerless life in England. He had previously turned down the Greek throne, fearing it was too unstable, which it was. However, the lives of the new Belgian family Leopold created still was bathed in instability.

One year after accepting the crown, Leopold married the French princess Louise of Orleans, who was half his age.  The couple had three sons and one daughter, named Princess Charlotte in memory of Leopold’s first wife. Their first son, Louis-Philippe died as an infant. Then, Queen Louise died at the age of only 38 from tuberculosis, before she could witness the tragic future that awaited her only daughter.

Princess Charlotte married the witty and attractive Archduke Maximilian, younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph II of Austria. Although beautiful in her own right, Charlotte suffered by comparison with her sister-in-law Empress Elisabeth. The free-spirited young Empress chafed at the rigidity of the Austrian court, and her husband often indulged her flights of fancy and flights from court. Elisabeth very much enjoyed the company of Charlotte’s husband, whom she considered an ally in the family.

When Maximilian was offered the opportunity to oversee his brother’s territories as governor of Lombardy and Venetia, Charlotte encouraged him to take it. Together, the beautiful and romantic couple were stars in their own little universe, away from the court in Venice. But, their continuing childlessness was a constant source of personal pain and public criticism. Much like her father, who had longed for something more in his life, Charlotte knew that their life in Italy was an empty one. 

She and her husband wanted to leave their own imprint on the world.

They were given that chance when the upstart French Emperor Napolean III dangled the newly invented Mexican throne in front of them. Dazzled by the prospect of bringing peace and enlightenment to that war-torn, strife-ridden world, 24-year-old Charlotte and 31-year-old Maximilian set sail across the Atlantic. Emperor Franz Joseph and most of their family warned them against the adventure, but the ambitious couple were determined to make their own way.

Almost immediately, Napolean’s overreaching started to have a negative impact at home and he withdrew most of his support. When the United States prevented what little reinforcements Napoleon sent from reaching Maximilian, the adventure was over. Charlotte left her beloved husband to desperately seek help from their powerful connections in Europe, but she was thwarted at every turn. Frantic and frightened for her husband, Charlotte was overwhelmed. She fell into a state of depression. She suffered a total breakdown while in Rome to beg the Pope for help. Meanwhile, thousands of miles from his beautiful wife and all who loved him, Maximilian was captured. That summer, he was executed in front of a firing squad.

Charlotte never recovered. Only three years had passed since she had become Empress Carlota of Mexico, and now, she would never see Maximilian again. Returned to the care of her family, Charlotte was diagnosed as insane. Not yet 30, she spent the next 60 years in seclusion, living quietly and sometimes somewhat lucidly, at family estates. She was oblivious as World War I tore apart the Austrian Empire of her husband’s family. When she died in 1927 at the age of 86, she was buried with the Belgian royal family at Laeken.