||01-09-2003 12:59 PM
The Snow Princess: Queen Astrid of Belgium, Part 2
The Snow Princess:
Queen Astrid of Belgium (1905-1935)
By Art Beeche
At an evening ball, Astrid, a ravishing Swedish princess, danced all night with one of Europe's best looking princes, Leopold of Belgium. A little timid, Astrid did not dare look into the eyes of her handsome companion. Leopold's furtive eyes only made Astrid feel that all control was being lost to the charms of her dance partner. And as the night progressed, Leopold and Astrid never left each other's side.
Princess Astrid of Sweden was born on November 17, 1905. She was the youngest daughter of Prince Charles of Sweden, Duke of Vastergotland, and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark. Astrid's grandparents were King Oscar II of Sweden and King Frederick VIII of Denmark. Astrid's sister, Princess Martha, married the future King Olaf V of Norway. Her eldest sister, Princess Margaretha married Prince Axel of Denmark, while her only brother Prince Carl, Duke of Ostergotland, married morganatically.
Some months later, King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium invited the press to the royal palace in Brussels. "The Queen and I, declared Albert, would like to announce to you the impending marriage between Prince Leopold, Duke of Brabant and the Princess Astrid of Sweden. We are convinced that the princess will bring joy and happiness to our son. Leopold and Astrid have decided to join their lives without any pressures or reasons of state. Theirs is a true union among people with the same inclinations." Queen Elisabeth, incorrigible romantic that she was, insisted in saying "It is a marriage of love...tell it to our people. Nothing was arranged. Not a single political consideration prevailed in our son's decision." Leopold and Astrid were married in Brussels on November 10, 1926.
Astrid was immediately adopted by the Belgians. She was tender, understanding and profoundly human. Her public and official engagements irradiated enthusiasm. Leopold was her most fervent admirer. The love shared by the young couple was evident to all. In more than one occasion people could see them holding hands, even during official engagements.
Queen Astrid of Belgium (1905-1935)
On October 11, 1927, the Duchess of Brabant gave birth to her first child: a beautiful baby baptized with the name of Josephine-Charlotte. Almost three years later, an heir was born. He was given the name of Baudouin in memory of his deceased great-uncle who was supposed to have been king. Josephine-Charlotte of Belgium married Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg; while Baudouin married doña Fabiola de Mora y Aragón. The couple's youngest child, Albert, married donna Paola Ruffo di Calabria and inherited the Belgian throne from his brother Baudouin in 1993. The present heir to the Belgian throne, Prince Philippe, is the eldest son of Albert and Paola.
In 1930, the Belgian press gave extensive coverage to the birth of the long awaited royal heir. Leopold was on his way to visit some areas away from Brussels when the Duchess of Brabant went into labor. The royal palace immediately sent him a telegram that reached Leopold at a stop during his journey. The royal palace's message announced the impending birth of the couple's second child. Without thinking twice about the day's engagements, Leopold returned to Brussels immediately.
Prince Leopold and King Albert walked anxiously in the garden at Stuyvenberg Palace while the Duchess of Brabant began her labor. Next to Astrid were her mother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, and her mother-in-law Queen Elisabeth. At 4:15 pm the royal physicians proudly announced the healthy birth of a little prince. The sound of cannon silenced the general happiness expressed by the people of Brussels.
At Stuyvenberg, not far away from Laeken Palace, the young Duchess of Brabant, raised in the simplicity of the Scandinavian courts, joyfully raised her growing family. At a small villa in the palace grounds, Astrid cooked for her family. And every time she could, Astrid would stroll along the Avenue Louise with her children. The Court Marshall vehemently protested against these promenades. "They break protocol," he would say. Yet in her simplicity, Astrid would retort by saying "But I'm just another mother, am I not?" She even went as far as joining the crowds during a military revue in an effort to see her promenading husband at the head of his regiment.
On February 23, 1934, just days after the tragic climbing accident which claimed King Albert's life, Leopold and Astrid made their solemn entry into Parliament. The new monarchs were accompanied by Josephine-Charlotte and Baudouin. Leopold swore allegiance to the country's constitution while claiming that he "would give myself entirely to the country." Astrid, transported by the events she was witnessing lifted her young son and offered him to the country. A new reign was inaugurated.
A few months later, on June 6, 1934, Astrid gave birth to yet another little prince, Albert. The popularity of the Belgian royal family new no bounds. Astrid's only regret was not being able to spend more time with the children. In August, 1935, the royal couple, accompanied by their two eldest children, traveled to their villa Haslihorn, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The placid vacation allowed Leopold and Astrid to spend considerable time walking and climbing in the countryside. The day before their return to Brussels, Leopold and Astrid decided to go for one last excursion. Like his father, Leopold was an avid mountaineer, and had climbed the Dolomites several times. The children had already returned to Brussels.
On August 29, 1935, the monarchs left their villa for a last fateful climb. Driving his sports car along the winding, narrow roads of the region, Leopold was looking forward to the day's events. Seated next to him, Astrid helped her husband with directions to their destination. Just a few minutes before arriving at the village of Kussnacht-am-Rigi, Astrid pointed out something to her husband. Leopold took his eyesight away from the road for an instant. Suddenly, the car plunged down a ravine. Queen Astrid was violently ejected from the automobile. Her lifeless body laid on the grass near the wreckage. Witnesses recalled a single scream, "Astrid," as a devastated Leopold held her bloodied body next to his chest.