The first Queen of the Belgians, Louise d'Orléans, consort of Leopold I, is a figure I have long found fascinating and sympathetic. Since she was generally shy and retiring, died young, and was soon relegated to a vague, pious memory, she has often been dismissed as boring, neglected or forgotten. She certainly deserves to be remembered, though! Here are some facts about this lady; I hope they will show why she is intriguing and appealing...
- Her full baptismal name was Louise Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle. The Louise was after her godfather, Louis XVIII of France; the Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte after her godmother, the Duchesse d'Angoulême, only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and Louise's first cousin once removed. Her family called her simply "Louise," but the Belgians, for some reason, called her "Louise-Marie."
- She adored her father, the controversial Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans (later "King of the French") but was even closer to her mother, the universally revered Marie-Amélie of Naples. She inherited much of her mother's piety and charity, along with a certain amount of her father's political liberalism.
- At 18, she saw her father take the French throne from the elder branch of the Bourbon family, during the July Revolution of 1830. A tragic rupture ensued between the conservative elder branch and the liberal younger branch of the royal house and Louis-Philippe was branded a treacherous usurper by many. Although Louise always defended him, she seems to have been, like her mother, upset by the events. She took refuge in her books, and, together with her sister Marie, dissolved in tears, while Marie cried out: "They want to make papa king!"
- I think she was lovely, with her golden curls and delicate, distinguished features, but she had the reputation of an "ugly duckling," and did not consider herself a beauty. She was especially criticized for her long Bourbon nose, and joked about it herself.
- Her younger sister, Marie, was an accomplished Romantic artist, and Louise, similarly, had a charming talent for drawing and painting.
- She was a voluminous correspondent, writing thousands of letters in her lifetime, especially to her parents, and most of all, to her mother. Her eldest brother, Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc de Chartres, teasingly decried this "scribomania" and joked that someone ought to cut off her thumb to put an end to it!
- She was deeply loyal and devoted to her family, especially to the Duc de Chartres, although he did not share her religious faith, and to Marie. Both died young and tragically and Louise was most concerned to provide for regular Masses to be offered for the repose of their souls. She wept copiously when obliged to part from her parents and siblings to marry a man who was practically a stranger to her, Leopold I of Belgium.
- Initially indifferent to her husband (and even painfully reluctant to consummate the marriage) she eventually developed a passionate love and admiration for him and a profound concern for his eternal salvation.
- She became Queen as a young girl of 20, gifted but lacking in self-confidence. She thought she would make a lamentable royal consort and considered that her youngest sister, the bold and assertive Clementine, would be much better in the role. Nonetheless, Louise always fulfilled her duties well, winning the love and esteem of the Belgian people.
- She was very tender-hearted, abhorring bloodshed and capital punishment, even in the case of would-be assassins who had attempted her beloved father's life. When Leopold teased her about leaving her as Regent of Belgium while he was abroad, she insisted she would never sign anyone's death warrant. (A striking contrast with her grandfather, the French revolutionary, Philippe Egalité, who was infamous for voting for the death of his cousin, King Louis XVI!)
- Nonetheless, she had a critical eye and something of a vitriolic tongue (and pen). Her sharpness in criticizing, upon her arrival in Belgium, her new subjects' failings created political friction and her alarmed father had to advise her to be more diplomatic.
- She was very intelligent and even her husband, the "Nestor of Kings," came to prize her sound political judgment. She served as a discreet mediatrix between the Catholic and Liberal parties in Belgium.
- Although she was physically fragile and had a quiet, retiring public image, she loved rousing exercise, costume balls, and anything that stirred the blood. She was an enthusiastic horsewoman.
- On a similar note, her favorite color was red!
- Together with her husband, she maintained a close friendship with their niece, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The two young queens shared, among other things, a keen love of fashion and Louise sent Victoria many glamorous dresses and accessories. I thought it a pity that Louise was left out of the recent film, The Young Victoria!
- She was deeply saddened by the downfall and exile of the Orléans family following the 1848 Revolution in France. For eight days, she was left without news of her parents' fate and the anguish and suspense played a major role in shattering her already failing health and contributing to her death from tuberculosis in 1850. Nonetheless, she was hailed as the consoling angel of her ruined family.
- Over the years, she became more and more devoted to God. Her mother called her "my angelic daughter," and her cousin, Caroline of Naples, Duchesse de Berry, who always spoke bitterly of the Orléans family in general, made an exception for Louise. Louise, she declared, was a saint!
Marie-Amélie, Queen, consort of Louis-Philippe, King of the French. Journal de Marie-Amélie, Reine des Français: 1800-1866, presented by Suzanne d'Huart, 1981.
Dyson, C.C. The life of Marie Amélie last queen of the French, 1782-1866. 1910.
Kerckvoorde, Mia. Louise d'Orléans, reine oubliée. 1991.
Lassère, Madeleine. Louise reine des Belges: 1812-1850. 2006.