Belgian Royalty: Queen Elisabeth

One interesting member of the Bavarian Wittelsbach royal family, and perhaps the most beloved, is Princess Elisabeth. She married the Belgian Crown Prince who became King Albert I and she became Queen of that small country. The two of them faced the disaster of German and invasion and occupation during the World War I. Albert's heroic resistance with the Belgian Army in the face of overwhelming German forces saved France, giving the French Army the time it needed to stage the Miracle on the Marne. Elisabeth's exhausting war work endeared forever to the Belgian people. The clothes she selected for her sons (Princes Albert and Charles) were some of the most fashionable I have noted for European princes. Interestingly their Bavarian cousins were dressed in much the same styles.


Bavaria is one of the important states of southern Germany. Bavaria is bounded by Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Austria, and other German states. The Princess Elizabeth was born At Possenhofen castle, located on Lake Starnberg, on July 25, 1876. Bavaria was at the time a part of the newly constituted German Empire. The Princess's future, however, was Belgium--a country the German Empire was to invade launching the tragedy of World War I. A member of the illustrious House of Wittelsbach, she was given the name of her most famous, and romantically well remembered aunt, Elisabeth in Bavaria, Empress of Austria --commonly known as "Sissi." At the time of the little princess' birth, some twenty-odd monarchs ruled over Germany. Some of these rulers were of consequence, others functioned more like little operetta monarchs in small principalities today little remembered. In Bavaria, the little princess' cousins, especially Ludwig II , wildly spent the country's revenues building imaginative fairy tale palaces. Although roundly criticized at the the time, King Ludwig's legacy is now provides the images for which Bavaria is now best known.



Elisabeth's father was Karl-Theodor, Duke in Bavaria, an ophthalmologist of recognized reputation. He was a son of King Maximilian I Joseph who Napoleon had raised from duke to king. He was not content with a life of leasure cto which is royal status woukd have permitted, but instead studied medicine. He was also a patron of thge arts ad enjoyed paintiung as a passtime. He cultivated artistic appreciation among his children.


Her mother was the Infanta Maria-Josepha of Portugal, daughter of exiled King Miguel I of Portugal. Maria-Josepha was the sister of Maria Theresa of Portugal, third wife of Archduke Karl-Ludwig of Habsburg and stepmother of Emperor Karl I , of Maria-Anne of Portugal, wife of Grand Duke William of Luxembourg, and of Maria-Antonia of Portugal, second wife of Duke Robert I of Bourbon-Parma and mother of Zita, wife of Emperor Karl I.


Elizabeth did not grow up in a typoical royal household. She wasraised wu=ith a profound appreciation and love for the arts, including painting, music, and sculpture. She became a talented amateur violinist, Other royals were well educated, although not always with such as focus oin the arts, but where the Duke's children really differed was in connction wuthb their father's eye clinic. There she was exposed to human suffering and the responsibility to try to aleviate it at an early age.

Figure 3.-- Bavarian Princess Elisabeth who became Queen of Belgium dressed her children (Charles, Albert, and Marie-Jose) very fashionably. We assume that she was personally involved in the choice of their clothes, but have no details at this time.

Prince Albert

Elisabeth met her future husband, Albert, under rather sad circumstances. Her aunt, Sophie-Charlotte in Bavaria had married the Prince Ferdinand of Bourbon-Orleans, Duke d'Alencon. The Duchess d'Alencon on May 4, 1897, met with a terrible and untimely death during the fire that consumed the Charity Bazaar in Paris. It was at the funeral for this tragically deceased woman that Elisabeth met dashing Prince Albert of Belgium. At the time that Albert and Elisabeth met, Prince Albert was the heir to his uncle King Leopold II of the Belgians, one of the most hated monarchs of his day. Albert was the second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, and Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a sister of King Carol I of Romania.


Prince Albert was immediately attracted to the beautiful and cultured Bavarian princess. In fact, Albert asked her to marry him not long after they met and Princess Elisabeth accepted. The wedding took place on October 2, 1900. Unlike many royal marriages, Albert and Elisabeth were deeply in love and their marriage was one of life-long devotion.


A little over a year later, on November 3, 1901, their happy marriage was crowned with the birth of a little prince, the future King Leopold III of the Belgians. Two more children joined the royal nursery in rapid succession, Charles on October 10, 1903 , and Marie-Jose on 4 August 1906. This young princess would eventually become the last queen of Italy.


The pleasant quiet life of Albert and Elisabeth ended on December 17, 1909. On this date old King Leopold II of the Belgians died without a male heir. The Belgian crown was thus inherited by his nephew, who ascended the throne as Albert I, King of the Belgians.

Children's Clothes

Elisabeth dressed her children very similarly to the outfits that the Bavarian Crown Prince, Prince Ruppert, dressed his children. We suspect that these may have been elegant styles that the Princes Elisabeth had noticed in Bavaria.

Hair Styles

The princes hair was styled differently at various ages. Some of the younger styles appear quite fanciful. Presumably Queen Elisabeth was the one who decided on these styles. I'm not sure who she may have discussed or if she consulted with the King. The Queen oftem styled the boys hair identically. The only exception to this was when Prince Charles was very young and had not yet had his hair cut while his older brother did have his curls cut. As younger boys they wore bangs and cuurly hair over their ears, but not to shoulder length. She seems to have had their hair cut shorter at about 6 years of age.

World War I

Kaiser Wilhelm II, after declaring war on France and beginning World War I, demanded that King Albert allow the German Army to march through Belgium to attack France. King Albert refused and the Germans promptly invaded Belgium as part of the Schliffen Plan to defeat France. This violated Belgium's neutrality as Britain came to the aid of both Belgium and France. The Belgian royal couple refused to abandon their subjects and stayed on during the country's hopeless effort tried to resist the German onslaught. While the Belgian Army could not stop the Germans, their valiant resistance did slow the Germans down and was a key factor in the eventual Allied success in stopping the Germans on the Marne before Paris--the much acclaimed "Miracle on the Marne". Belgium itself, however, was almost entirely occupied by the Germans through most of the War. There was extensive damage as a result of the fighting. Belgian food production plummeted. There were thousands of war orphans. Starvation was only averted when neutral America provided humanitarian assistance in an effort organized by future President Herbert Hoover. Queen Elisabeth, using the medical knowledge she had acquired at her father's clinic, opened a field hospital where she served as a nurse. European royalty had been active in nursing charities. Queen Alexandra in England was especially active in equipping hospital ships and supporting nursing orders for servicemen. At the time, however, it was unheard of that a Queen would actually personally nurse wounded soldiers. During these dark days, the beautiful, compassionate Queen lifted the spirits of wounded soldiers by given each one a floral arrangement during a lonely Christmas. She sensed intuitively that at certain times, small details assumed great importance to individuals. On Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 Belgium was liberated. Riding next to her husband, now known as the Cavalier King, Elisabeth joined the parades to receive the ovations of the now free Belgian populace.

Post World War Life

The end of the Great War also meant the beginning of a very happy period in Elisabeth's life. She could indulge in her passion for the arts. The royal couple gained worldwide recognition for their valiant defense of Belgium. Belgium was lionized as a hero nation and the infamous rule of Leopold II receded in importance. Foreign travels became commonplace, and everywhere they went, Albert and Elisabeth were received as heroes and greatly admired. She became a patron of the arts and sciebce as well. She forged friendship with notable scientists includig Albert Einstein. she founded the Queen Elisabeth Music Foundation.

King Albert's Death

King Albert I died tragically on February 17, 1934. During a solitary mountaineering trip, Albert fell to his death in the mountains of Marche-les-Dames. Elisabeth received the tragic news at Laeken Palace and in a show of internal fortitude, the Queen did not loose her composure. The magnitude of Albert's death would hit her until days after the royal funeral.

World War II

History seemed to repeat itself in 1940. Belgian was again faced with a massive German invasion. King Leopold III, Albert and Elisabeth's eldest son, were stunned with the onslaught of the NAZI Blitzkrieg. Belgium was invaded and quickly overrun by the advancing German Panzers. During the terrible NAZI World War II occupation, Elisabeth of Belgium found solace in her music and charitable organizations. She reportedly used her German connections to assist in the rescue of hundreds of Jewish children from NAZI deportation and certain death. Belgium had a smaller Jewish poopulation than many other countries, but the German cobducted Belgian Holocaust unfolded as elsewhere. The Germans hunted most of them down and deported them to death camps. The children were the most vulnerable. We have not yet found details on the circumstaces of the Queen's work. After liberated, she offered her palace to be used for HQ of the British XXX Corps. She presented its commander General Horrocks with its mascot, a young wild boar named 'Chewing Gum'. After the War, Israel awarded her the title Righteous Among the Nations

Post-World War II Period

Upon Belgium's liberation, Elisabeth once again dedicated herself to the artistic development and restoration of her devastated country. She created schools, artistic competitions and met with the greatest talents of her time. In fact, in 1958 Elisabeth became the first royalty received at the Kremlin. "I love to travel and meet people from all over the world," declared the Queen Mother of Belgium. "I love art in all its forms, I love seeing the world by myself, especially when that world is in the East." Three years later she paid a visit to China against the reservations of her grandson King Baudouin who said: "Grandmother ... you are going to bother quite a few people." "I know, the Queen replied, "but good thinkers of this country are not going to forgive me for this. Yet, thanks to the Lord those people are fewer and fewer every day." As a result viftgese visits to Communist countries she became known as the 'Red Queen'. We wonder to what extent she raised questions about those suffering under Communist rule suh as the Gulag.


A rain storm darkened the Brussels skyline on November 23, 1965. The Queen lay dying at Stuyvenberg Palace. The Belgium royal family, royalties from around the continent, artists and the people of Belgium in general lamented the loss of a great woman. No other person best summarized Queen Elisabeth's life than her friend Jean Cocteau: "There was in Belgium a modest queen of small frame and large soul who always said.'I'm but an artist.' and in her modesty as an artist Elisabeth said 'I'm just a queen'."


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Created: May 5, 2002
Spell checked: August 1, 2002
Last updated: 7:57 PM 8/28/2012