09 January 2015

Today's Princess: Josephine Charlotte of Belgium

By Romanian Communism Online Photo
Collectionvia Wikimedia Commons
A contemporary of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Josephine Charlotte of Belgium had a very different childhood. It started similarly enough; like Elizabeth, she was the oldest child of two loving parents, who were also devoted to each other, King Leopold III of Belgium and Astrid of Sweden. From their the story changes.

At the age of eight, Little Jo, as she was called, lost her mother in a car accident. Then, when World War II broke out, her country was overrun by the Germans. While Elizabeth spent the war hiding in plain sight in the relative comfort of Windsor Castle, Josephine Charlotte and her family were in captivity. After D-Day, they were moved out of Belgium and formally placed under house arrest. They lived in decidedly unregal conditions and often went hungry. After the war, the family was not allowed to return home because King Leopold was unjustly accused of collaborating with the Nazis. Once a plebiscite--for which his now grown daughter was allowed to return to Belgium to vote--returned him to the throne, the family had to endure the king's newfound unpopularity on another front. He had secretly married a commoner, Liliane Baels. Josephine Charlotte was devoted to her father and her new mother-in-law, but her love could not protect them. Leopold was forced from the throne and Josephine Charlotte's brother Baudoin became king.

In the meantime, her grandmother Dowager Queen Elisabeth, and her godmother, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, were working up a plan to marry Josephine Charlotte to the future Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg. It is still unclear whether this was truly a dynastic match, which the couple tolerated dutifully or whether it was a genuine love match between two people who happened to be royal (as the case between Elizabeth II and her hubby who was born Prince Philip of Greece). Their wedding day was racked by rainy weather and a family feud over the order of precedence concerning the bride's nonroyal stepmother. Josephine Charlotte was visibly shaken, seen to cry and even to faint in the church. Nevertheless, the crowds saw only happiness as she and Jean rode in an open car in the rain and made many balcony appearances.

As Grand Duchess, Josephine Charlotte bore five children, including the current Grand Duke, and took up many noble causes related to youth, family and health issues. However, she also engaged in contemptuous behavior toward her daughter-in-law, the current Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, who had been born a Cuban commoner. Josephine Charlotte did not approve of her background, and Maria Teresa has openly admitted that her mother-in-law was very unkind to her.

Josephine Charlotte spent her leisure time in outdoor pursuits, from gardening to water skiing.

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary since her death from lung cancer at the age of 77.

For more about her wedding, read the extensive description on the Unofficial Royalty Site and on Luxarazzi with more about her wedding gown on The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendour.

For a bio, visit The Cross of Laeken blog.

For info about her jewels, check this link on the Luxarazzi blog.

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