By Sarah A. Tooley
A Queen of Hearts - Her Upbringing - A Kingly Physician - A Royal Romance - The Difficult Position of the Prince and Princess - The Queen's Flower and its Mission of Love - The Reproach of the Belgian Congo Obliterated - "What the King and Queen are Doing for their People - Their Court Life
No crown has been placed upon the fair head of Elizabeth, Queen-consort of the King of the Belgians, for it is hot the custom of that country to crown its monarchs, but she is abundantly crowned in the hearts of the people by her good and kindly deeds.
She was the Duchess Elizabeth of Bavaria, daughter of the late Duke Charles Theodore, and was reared in great simplicity, being educated privately under the supervision of her father, a man of lofty ideals and considerable skill as an oculist.
He was the nephew of the famous Ludwig of Bavaria, whose excess of genius manifested itself in many eccentricities in his later years. But the world owes the "Mad King" one great debt - he discovered Wagner, and by his patronage helped him on to fame and fortune. Ludwig was the patron of art and music, the friend of the poor, and the builder of many beautiful homes, Indeed, the ducal family of Bavaria have long been noted for their interest in the beautiful things of life and for deeds of beneficence.
With these inspiring traditions, and amidst the surroundings of happy family life, the Duchess Elizabeth was reared, in the centre of the artistic world of Munich. Early she showed an interest in her father's medical studies, and, as she grew older, . accompanied him in his visits to the poor. Blindness is a great scourge amongst the peasantry of Bavaria, and the good Duke Theodore went about giving the afflicted the benefit of the skill which he had acquired, and performed many successful operations.
A Child of the Forest
The young girl became her father's assistant in these ministrations, and learned not only useful medical and surgical knowledge, but her spirit was cultivated to sympathise with those who suffer and are distressed.
She grew up with an intense love of her own fascinating land of legend and romance, and inherited the national love of music. She plays the piano and the violin with considerable skill. Like the poet-queen of Roumania, whose life story has been told on pages 1621 and 1736, the Duchess Elizabeth was a child of the forest and the mountain. She accompanied her father and brothers in their mountaineering expeditions in the Alps, which divide her own land from Bohemia and the Austrian Tyrol. And it was a happy day for her when she procured some of the edelweiss, and the white star bloom became her favourite flower, destined to be used later in the cause of charity.
One season there came to the Bavarian Alps a gallant mountaineer in the person of Prince Albert of Belgium, the chosen heir to the throne. And the story goes that the Prince first intimated his affection for the young Duchess Elizabeth by risking life and limb to gather her a root of the edelweiss, and, on presenting it, he asked the old question which man demands of maid.
The young couple were married in 1900, and took up their abode in one of the old palaces of Brussels, an unpretentious residence.
The position which the Bavarian Duchess now occupied as the Princess Albert was a little difficult in some respects. Prince Albert was the nephew of the reigning king, Leopold If., and, though recognised as heir apparent, the position was not quite the same as if he had been the King's son and the undoubted heir to the throne. His father, the King's brother, had ceded him his place in the succession, but there was always the chance that the King might marry again, and leave a direct heir. The long absences of the King from the country, and his notorious character, practically destroyed social life at the Belgian Court. The Royal palace at Brussels was shut up for the greater part of each year, and when the King was in residence, his youngest daughter, the Princess Clementine, acted as hostess.
The Princess Albert conducted herself, under these circumstances, with the greatest tact and discretion. She lived quietly, and in a sweet and unobtrusive way won the hearts of her husband's future people. She particularly interested herself in the care of the invalid poor, and her medical skill was always at their service. Frequently she went into the poorest parts of Brussels unattended, and acted as a Sister of Charity for the distressed. I have been told by one intimately acquainted with the Queen's life that she never allowed a letter from an ailing and distressed person to pass unanswered, and generally she paid a visit in person to ascertain for herself the facts of the case.
This was the best possible way of guarding against impostors.
There seemed to be nothing that the
Princess would not do to give comfort to invalids and pleasure to the sad-hearted.
A charming anecdote was told me, which illustrates her character. On one occasion, the Princess discovered that an invalid woman whom she was visiting was passionately fond of music, but had no opportunity of hearing any.
" Would you like me to play to you ? " asked the Princess. And the woman, overcome with joy, could only look her thanks.
In the course of her visitations amongst the poor the Princess saw much of the ravages of tuberculosis, and with her husband's co-operation, she founded in Brussels a dispensary called the " Albert and Elizabeth." She has been constantly in the habit of visiting the dispensary and giving practical help in the treatment of the patients.