“Élisabeth de Belgique. Une Reine Entre Guerre et Paix,” by Patrick Weber. (Payot, Paris). 205 pages, 10 illustrations. Text in French.
Queen Elisabeth of Belgium is perhaps best remembered as one of the icons of the First World War. Born a member of the unconventional Wittelsbach family, a niece of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, she was very much a free spirit.
In 1900 she married the future King Albert I of Belgium. Intelligent, with a strong will-power, she was very involved in charity work and the arts. As Queen, her work in the hospital at La Panne during the dark days of the First World War has become legendary, and many men owe their lives to her initiative.
After the war she and Albert travelled widely – to America, Brazil, Portugal, Egypt (where she visited the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamen), India and the Congo. She founded medical and scientific institutions, took up yoga and sculpted. One of her chief interests was music, and the prestigious concours musical international Reine-Élisabeth, which she founded in 1951, still bears her name.
The death of King Albert, followed by that of her daughter-in-law Queen Astrid, hit Elisabeth hard and she did all she could to support King Leopold. During the German occupation she was held under guard at Laeken, but allowed to make cultural and humanitarian visits and was able to help many Jews. After the war she did all she could to safeguard the prestige of the monarchy during the so-called Royal Question and the accession of King Baudouin.
She continued to travel widely – to Poland, China and Russia, which earned her the nickname of the “Red Queen”. Her interest in life and her family never dimmed, right up until her death in 1965.
Patrick Weber, one of my favourite writers, first published this book in 1998. It is now updated as a timely reminder of a fascinating woman. Recommended.