Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Princess Louise of Orléans, Queen of Belgium




Princess Louise of Orléans, born “Louise Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle d'Orléans”, was the eldest daughter and second child of Louis Philippe I, King of the French, and his wife, Princess Maria Amalia of Naples and Sicily. Louise was born on April 3, 1812 in Palermo, Sicily and through her father (who was the son of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans and Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon) and her mother (the daughter of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria), she was a descendant of the royal houses of France, Spain, Poland, Sicily and Naples, and the Holy Roman Empire. Her close ancestors had an especially important role in the French Revolution; her mother’s aunt, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, was executed along with her husband, King Louis XIV, in 1793, while Louise’s paternal grandfather, Louis Philippe II, became an active supporter of the Revolution and even helped to arrest the King and Queen before he was beheaded himself soon after Marie Antoinette. Some of her famous ancestors on her father’s side are Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Madame de Montespan, and King Louis XIII. On her mother’s side, she was a descendant of Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France.

Louise of Orléans
(Magdalena Dalton, 1840)
Louise’s parents met when Maria Amalia’s family had been forced to flee Naples for Sicily after the invasion of Napoleon in 1806. Here in Sicily, Maria Amalia happened upon Louis Philippe d'Orléans, her third cousin once removed, who also had to escape his home because of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon. Three years after they met, they married in Palermo on November 25, 1809 when Maria Amalia was twenty-seven and Louis Philippe was thirty-six. They lived in Palermo during the early years of their marriage, where Maria Amalia gave birth to her first three children, including Louise. Louise had one older sibling, Ferdinand Philippe, Duke of Orléans, and eight younger siblings, six of whom survived to adulthood. Her younger siblings included: Prince Louis, Duke of Nemours (who married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the first cousin of Queen Victoria. He was also the father-in-law of Duchess Sophie Charlotte in Bavaria), Princess Clémentine of Orléans (the wife of Prince August of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, another first cousin of Queen Victoria) and Antoine, Duke of Montpensier (who married Infanta Luisa Fernanda of Spain, the daughter of Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, Queen of Spain).

Louise of Orléans
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1841)
As an infant, Louise lived with her parents and her few closest siblings in age under British protection in Palermo in a palace given to her parents by her maternal grandfather. She was given a religious education fit for a royal princess by her mother and her pious paternal aunt, Princess Adélaïde of Orléans, who both greatly influenced her. The blonde, blue-eyed, fair skinned, and petite Louise was a shy and naïve girl with an amiable personality and a kindhearted nature. She favored humility and modesty over royal luxury and grandeur and liked to indulge in art, reading, writing, and horseback riding. Like her mother, she became a devout follower of the Catholic Church and possessed rather liberal views. When Napoleon abdicated as Emperor of France in 1814, the two year-old Louise went to France with her family but they had to flee again when Napoleon tried to take back his throne in 1815. It wasn’t until 1817 that the family could return to France permanently and take up residence in the Palais-Royal, the former home of Louise’s paternal grandfather. In 1830, after the July Revolution overthrew King Charles X, the government elected Charles’s cousin and Louise’s father, Louis Philippe, as the new King of the French. Louise was eighteen when her father was crowned, an act which somewhat disappointed the liberal-minded Louise and caused a schism in the French Royal Family.

Leopold I, King of Belgium
(Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1830's-40's)
As a Princess of France, Louise’s whole life changed in 1832 when she learned that she was engaged to marry King Leopold I of the Belgians. This devastated her and literally reduced her to tears, as she could not fathom the idea of marrying a complete stranger and German Protestant one at that. But she knew that she had to do her royal duty, even though it meant leaving her beloved family, so she very reluctantly agreed to the marriage, which she called “a sacrifice for a very difficult future”. Leopold, who was born Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was the youngest son of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Countess Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf. He was the uncle of both Queen Victoria and her husband and first cousin, Prince Albert. Leopold was connected to the British royal family not just by blood but also through marriage. In 1816, a year after he received British citizenship, Leopold married the only legitimate child of the future George IV, Princess Charlotte of Wales. Their marriage was a true love match but unfortunately, the young couple’s happiness didn’t last for long. The twenty-one year old Charlotte tragically died in November of 1817 after giving birth to a stillborn son. Leopold was utterly devastated by his wife’s death and never really got over the loss of the woman he considered to be his soul mate. On July 21, 1831, Leopold was offered the kingship of the newly established Kingdom of Belgium, which he accepted. Leopold knew that he had to marry again to secure the Belgian succession, so he chose Louise-Marie. Politically, she was the perfect choice. Leopold wanted to maintain friendly relations with France and since Belgium was a Catholic country, it would be much more appealing for the Protestant monarch to marry a Catholic princess who could produce Catholic heirs. But when the two met at a dinner, Louise was rather unimpressed by her betrothed, who she saw as cold, melancholy, and indifferent. The couple was also opposite in almost every way, while Louise was young, quiet, and innocent, Leopold was mature, experienced, and controlling. She was a Catholic and he was a Lutheran, he was a veteran of the battlefield while she absolutely hated any act of bloodshed or violence. Even their appearances were contrasting; Leopold was tall, dark, and handsome while Louise was small, fair, and, in her own opinion, rather plain.

The Wedding of Princess Louise of Orléans to King Leopold I of Belgium
(Joseph-Désiré Court, 1837)
Nevertheless, the twenty year-old French Princess married the almost forty-two year old King of Belgium at the Château de Compiègne in France on August 9, 1832. The wedding consisted of two ceremonies – a Protestant one for Leopold and a Catholic one for Louise. It was quickly determined that should Louise produce any children with Leopold, they would be raised under their mother’s religion instead of their father’s. When the first Queen of Belgium arrived in her adopted homeland, the people were overjoyed with her kind and compassionate nature as well as her beauty. She even began to warm to her husband and soon fell in love with him, despite her initial misgivings. Leopold grew to care for and respect his young consort as well, although he never loved her as passionately as she loved him. His first wife, Charlotte, always held that special place in his heart and Louise simply could not replace the void she had left behind. He saw Louise more as his closest friend than his romantic lover but he still held a deep respect for her intellect, talents, and character. Most evenings, he would spend a good deal of time with his wife in her salon listening to her as she read aloud to him. He once wrote to a friend: I'm delighted with my good little Queen: she is the sweetest creature you ever saw, and she has plenty of spirit." However, Leopold was never faithful to his loyal wife, as he took a mistress in the early 1840’s named Arcadie Claret and had two sons. Their relationship would last until his death.

Leopold I and Louise of Orléans with their surviving children
At first, Louise had a hard time adjusting to her new home because she found it very different than France, which she couldn’t stop comparing Belgium to. She had an especially difficult time getting used to the Belgian mentality and culture. Eventually, she adapted to the land and began to genuinely care for her husband’s subjects. Though she was embarrassed to be in public settings due to her shy nature (in fact, she was only showed her face when her husband forced her to), behind the scenes she was very active in philanthropic, religious, and educational work. Every morning she made sure she read daily reports about specific poor families and would then go visit their homes to personally help them with her own money. When the weather was poor, she would directly hand out clothes to the needy. She created periodic lotteries for the poor and gave away household items to exhibitions set up specifically for the lower classes. Although she didn’t have a large political role, she did participate somewhat in foreign relations, especially in regards to France, as she had a gift for appealing to people on opposing sides. She maintained very friendly relations with her husband’s niece, Queen Victoria, who she often sent fashionable clothes to as gifts.

Louise did her duty for her husband and her country when she produced a total of four children during her eighteen years of marriage to Leopold. They had three sons and one daughter but their firstborn son died in infancy:

  • Louis Philippe, Crown Prince of Belgium (1833-1834) died after nine months from an inflammation of the mucous membranes
  • Leopold II, King of Belgium (1835-1909) married: Archduchess Marie Henriette of Austria – had issue
  • Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders (1837-1905) married: Princess Marie of Hohenzollern – had issue
  • Princess Charlotte, Empress of Mexico (1840-1927) married: Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico – no issue


Louise of Orléans, Queen of Belgium
(Nicaise de Keyser, 1830's-40's)
Louise was a devoted and caring mother to her children, who all inherited something of their mother’s. Leopold received her prominent nose, Philippe had her introverted and pious personality, and Charlotte (who was later known as “Carlota” in Mexico), shared her mother’s kindhearted nature and passion for learning. But it was Louise’s generosity and charity for others that seems to have been her undoing. She was constantly putting others before herself and worrying about their well being, which seems to have had a detrimental effect on her health. The deaths of her older brother, Ferdinand Philippe, in 1842 and her younger sister, Marie, in 1839 also had a traumatic effect on her psyche and her physical health. She experienced an intense period of stress during the Revolutions of 1848 and the abdication of her father in February of 1848. Louis Philippe quickly fled his country for England where Queen Victoria, who allowed him to live in Claremont House for the rest of his life, welcomed him warmly. But this tense period was completely overwhelming for poor Louise, as she was unaware of the fate of her parents’ lives for some time. As she aged, she became increasingly religious and fretted about a variety of things, including the soul of her Protestant husband and her son Leopold II’s cold personality.

Louise's eldest surviving son:
Leopold II, King of Belgium
 In August of 1850, during a memorial service for Louise’s recently deceased husband, it was quite noticeable just how frail and weak the Queen was. She had such difficulty walking that she had to be held up by her husband to avoid falling over. A month later, Louise was seriously ill with tuberculosis and she was moved to Ostend near the sea in a last-ditch attempt to improve her health. But the move proved to be of no consequence and on October 11, 1850, Louise died at the age of thirty-eight in the presence of her husband, her mother, and her children. The country went into a deep mourning after Louise’s death but no one suffered more than Leopold himself, who praised the memory of his wife unconditionally. Since Louise had wanted to be buried in Laeken, Leopold had the Church of Our Lady of Laeken built specifically for her and buried her remains there in a crypt that became the traditional burial site for the Belgian royal family. 

Leopold survived his wife by fifteen years until his own death on December 10, 1865 at the age of seventy-four. He died in Laeken, just as Louise had, and was buried next to her in the Royal Crypt. Louise and Leopold’s eldest surviving son, Leopold II, succeeded his father as the King of Belgium and ruled until his death in 1909 (ironically enough, Leopold II died at the same age his father had in Laeken, where both Louise and Leopold had died). As the second king of Belgium and the founder of the Congo Free State, he was liable for the extensive atrocities committed during his time on the throne against his colonial subjects in the Congo. In 1853, he married Archduchess Marie Henriette of Austria and had four children, including: Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, the wife of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria (who was the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Elisabeth of Bavaria) and Princess Clémentine of Belgium, the wife of Victor, Prince Napoléon, the Bonapartist pretender to the French throne and the grand-nephew of the original Napoleon.

Louise's youngest children: Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders and
Empress Carlota of Mexico
The second surviving son of Louise and Leopold, Prince Philippe, was made the Count of Flanders in 1840 and married Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the daughter of Karl Anton, Prince of Hohenzollern and Princess Josephine of Baden, in 1867. They had five children, with one daughter dying in infancy. Their surviving children included: Princess Henriette of Belgium, who married Prince Emmanuel, Duke of Vendôme, the son of Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Alençon and Duchess Sophie Charlotte in Bavaria and King Albert I of Belgium. Louise and Leopold’s youngest child and only daughter, Princess Charlotte, married Archduke Maximilian of Austria, the brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, in 1857. Charlotte, who was well known for her beauty, became Empress Carlota of Mexico when her husband was made Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in 1864 by Napoleon III of France. His rule collapsed after just three years when Maximilian was executed in 1867. Carlota, whose mental state collapsed as she aged, spent the rest of her life as a childless widow until her death from pneumonia brought on by influenza in 1927 at the age of eighty-six. 

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