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Foreign News: The Lonely One

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Ministers in morning coat or resplendent uniform were ranged along one side of the crowded chamber in Brussels’ Parliament (designed for only 200 deputies, it was crammed with 1,000 guests). At the ministers’ left sat the diplomatic corps, to the right were Belgium’s top justices, grave in fur-trimmed gowns. Next to them were Senators and Representatives. Under a huge red velvet canopy stood the throne of Belgium, a formidable chair—newly gilded and fitted with red upholstery—which had been lugged down from the Parliament building’s attic.

At 11 a.m., a tall young man, just a few weeks under 21, entered the chamber alone, walking stiffly and slowly. His large eyes were solemn behind horn-rimmed glasses. His mouth was set hard. His slim, square shoulders seemed a bit too slight for the heavy bullion of the lieutenant general’s epaulets they bore. At the first step of the red-carpeted dais before the throne, he stopped, turned, and bowed right & left. A hush hung over the chamber ; the young man’s black shoes glistened in the subdued light. He raised his right hand with two long, slim fingers pointing upward and in a tensely precise voice, he vowed: “I swear to observe the constitution and the laws of the Belgian people, to maintain their national independence and the integrity of the territory.”

A moment later, on the 120th anniversary of Belgium’s birth as a nation, Baudouin Albert Charles Leopold Axel Marie Gustave, Duke of Brabant, Count of Hainaut and fifth King of the Belgians, sat on his throne for the first time.

A King’s Oath. From a script held in a trembling hand, the new King read a message to his people first in Flemish, then all over again in French: “After having consecrated himself entirely to the country, King Leopold III ended his reign by a gesture whose grandeur and abnegation excite admiration. I thank the country for having paid him unanimous homage…My father inculcated in me respect for the constitution and traditions of the dynasty. I shall remain scrupulously faithful to them.”

There was polite applause. King Baudouin walked out as stiffly as he had come in, and climbed into a waiting Cadillac. As the royal car rolled through the capital’s prosperous streets, cannon boomed and church bells rang out. Some 12,000 soldiers and police lined the streets to hold back the crowds craning for a look at the King they scarcely knew. Later, Baudouin appeared on the palace balcony to answer the cheers of 60,000 gathered below. For exactly 50 seconds, he extended an arm in acknowledgment. Then he went back inside. The crowd called and called again. They slanted pocket mirrors to flash the rays of the brilliant July sun in at the palace windows, but Baudouin did not reappear. “The poor boy must be tired,” sighed one woman. “How can the country know that, if we don’t get a chance to see him?” humphed another. “After all, we don’t ask much of the boy.”

A King’s Place. Few monarchist nations demand less of their sovereigns than Belgium. Of their King, Belgians expect tact, tolerance and conformity to good bourgeois ideals. Belgians—nearly half of whom are French-speaking and mostly anticlerical Walloons, the others predominantly

Roman Catholic Flemings—need a King as a symbol of unity. Belgium’s young dynasty, just over a century old, has usually known its place. Baudouin’s grandfather, mountain-climbing King Albert, became Europe’s best-loved monarch (in October 1918, in trench coat and battered helmet, Albert surprised the stout burghers of Ostend as the first allied soldier to enter that Belgian city on the heels of the fleeing Germans). But he never forgot the lesson his autocratic grandfather and predecessor Leopold I had learned through hard experience: in Belgium, a King is supposed to govern, not to rule. Albert’s son, Leopold III, the father of Baudouin, tended to forget it. But with Leopold’s abdication and young Baudouin’s succession, the Royal Question seemed at last settled. “The crisis is dead,” said one observer. “Long live the King.”

A King’s Childhood. When King Baudouin (born 1930) was a few hours old, his maternal grandmother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, held him up before a cabinet meeting and said: “See how well-developed he is already! He is almost as big as a Premier!” When Baudouin was four, his grandfather Albert slipped on a mountain crag. The mourning bells for the beloved monarch were among the first impressions in the boy’s mind. A year later, his mother, radiantly beautiful Queen Astrid, was killed in an automobile accident on a vacation in Switzerland (the King himself had been driving). Haggard with grief, Leopold returned to his country home at Stuyvenberg. His three children were playing on the lawn: Josephine-Charlotte careening down the paths on her bicycle, five-year-old Baudouin in panting pursuit, and Baby Albert on his nurse’s lap. Unable to speak, the King turned away, sent out a lady in waiting to tell the children the news.

The unhappy family moved to the coldly formal Châateau de Laeken, just outside Brussels. There Leopold and his mother, Queen Elizabeth, with a regiment of nurses, governesses and tutors, supervised young Baudouin’s preparation for the King business. Like his sister & brother, the young prince rose each morning at 7, pattered in to wish his grandmother good morning, did setting-up exercises before breakfast. He was bitter when his sister bested him. “I’m a man,” he told the gym instructor imperiously. “The idea of your thinking I can’t do as well as a girl!”

He never had much fun. By the time he was seven, Baudouin was commuting to the city daily to spend the morning studying in a specially constructed classroom in the royal palace. When he was eight, he was allowed to join a Boy Scout troop—but its members were carefully chosen by protocol officers. He delighted in driving a toy car, but, as often as not, his only playmate would be his unbending, unsmiling governor, the Vicomte Gatien du Pare (who reluctantly played the traffic cop for the young prince). Baudouin seemed to smile as rarely as the vicomte. His happiest times came on vacations, when the royal children were shipped off to a small villa in West Flanders. Henri Baels, the governor of the province, and a self-made man whose people had been fishermen, sent his slim, young daughter Liliane over to play with the royal children. Sportive, lively Liliane promptly became their favorite. She brought gaiety and warmth into Baudouin’s well-regulated days. At the children’s urging, she came to visit them later at Laeken. When King Leopold came home for dinner one day and dropped into the nursery, Baudouin proudly introduced his new friend to his father.

Thus, in the nursery, began one of Europe’s better publicized royal romances which, four years later, found its properly happy ending: the King made the pretty commoner a princess and married her. The marriage did not help Leopold’s popularity, for his nation remembered and still loved Queen Astrid.

Royal Refugees. Baudouin was nine when World War II broke out. In 1940, after 18 days of hopeless resistance, his father surrendered the Belgian armies to the Nazi invaders, chose to stay in his country, a virtual prisoner of the Germans.

In June 1944, with allied armies rolling closer & closer, the royal family was rushed to a drafty old chateau on the banks of the Elbe, where they stayed nearly nine months. Then, in March 1945, the Belgian prisoners were hustled away once more. Driving through Munich just as an air. alert sounded, the family took shelter under a railroad bridge. When Baudouin and his younger brother screamed in terror, Leopold lost his temper and yelled at them to be quiet. A householder on the roadside took the royal D.P.s in for the night. Next day, they traveled to

Austria, where, two months later, they were liberated by General Alexander Patch’s U.S. Seventh Army.

Father & Son. Because of his surrender to the Germans, Belgium no longer seemed to want Leopold. His easygoing, popular brother Charles, a wartime resistance leader, became regent. Leopold and his family went to live in a village in Switzerland, where the exiled King concentrated on golf, Liliane and a stubborn refusal to give up his throne.

Baudouin went to high school in Geneva. Teachers found him an overearnest but not always overapt pupil, except in math. His schoolmates found him friendly but pathetically shy. He never cracked a joke and was never seen with a girl. He was always quick to claim superiority for his father (“He is a great golfer…He is a great motorist . . .”). Said one classmate: “You could literally see the passion in his eyes whenever he spoke of his father.”

Most of the boys at school called Baudouin by an affectionate but slightly mocking nickname, “Baudruche,” a nonsense version of his name (like “Baldy-Waldy” for Baldwin). Each day, Baudouin would ride to school on his bicycle, followed closely by a tutor on another. He deeply resented the close supervision; one day when the tutor wasn’t looking, he let the air out of his tires. “Here,” he told the tutor, “you fix this; I’ll hold your bike.” The tutor complied, and watched open-mouthed as the Belgian prince rode off—alone and, for once, happy.

Introduction to the World. Baudouin was growing up. In 1948, he accompanied his father on a trip to the U.S. “to be introduced to the world,” did the standard sights for princely visitors (West Point, Annapolis, Princeton, but no nightclubs). Belgian tempers were wearing thinner & thinner over the question of Leopold’s return—the Socialists were dead-set against it; the Catholic conservatives were for it. Suddenly, the statesmen seized on the gangling young prince as a key to compromise. Leopold reached an agreement with Socialist Leader Max Buset: he would live in Belgium as King in name only, delegate all constitutional powers to Baudouin until the boy came of age. At that time he would abdicate.

The day Leopold and his son returned from Switzerland, a heavy guard lined the streets of Brussels to protect them from possible attack. It was not a happy augury for the young man who was coming home to his future kingdom.

The young prince’s slight frame was fitted out in olive drab and hung with the ritual cordon and sword. In one swoop, he was promoted from civilian to lieutenant general (Belgium’s highest military rank) with nothing to bolster such splendor but an uncertain salute learned in Boy Scout days, still shaky despite much practice before a mirror.

Boy into Monarch. Few Belgians saw their Prince Royal while he was in final training for the kingship. Every morning at 8:45 sharp for almost a year, his black, limousine entered Brussels almost unnoticed, merged with the traffic of the city and drew up to the palace gates. Baudouin spent the morning reading and signing official papers, receiving dignitaries. He emerged again at noon and went back to Laeken. There was no royal display, no fuss, no court circulars, no grand balls to remind pleasure-loving Belgians that they had a royal family again. An occasional trickle of news seeped out of the palace, e.g., Baudouin had a new motorcycle.

Through his training course in Brussels, he led an austere life. He had little relaxation except an occasional motorcycle ride or an hour or so of his favorite music (Mozart, Bach, Handel). At parties, he might have a glass of wine, more often called for orange juice (he also likes malted milk, a taste he picked up in the U.S.). He was usually in bed by 10.

He still passionately admired his father, bitterly resented his fellow countrymen’s treatment of him. Baudouin began to show a few signs of royal temper, as when he received an antiroyalist minister and left him standing during the audience, or when he snapped at a tutor who was repeating himself: “You said that three days ago.” Although his entourage treated him more & more as a King, his father still seemed to regard him as a boy. At lunch, he would admonish Baudouin to take his elbows off the table. One of the rare visitors to Laeken described a day last December when Baudouin arrived late for a luncheon which his frowning father had already held up for 15 minutes. The prince rushed into the room in his general’s uniform and drew himself stiffly to attention. “Dear Papa, dear maman” he burst out, “I’m terribly sorry. I couldn’t help it. I had to stop to receive Acheson, Bevin and Schuman.”The King nodded gravely, excused the boy and waved him to his seat.

Sneak Preview. One day last summer, the Prince Royal made his first public appearance, somewhat in the style of a Hollywood sneak preview. Without previous announcement, Baudouin sped in a car to the tomb of Belgium’s unknown soldier, deposited a wreath. A dozen or so accidental bystanders were his only public. The consensus was that the princely starlet conducted himself well, but would need a lot more experience in the spotlight before he was a full-fledged royal star.

Since then, Baudouin has made 42 major public appearances. Belgium’s ministers and statesmen have found him disciplined, earnest and intelligent. Even Socialist Paul-Henri Spaak, his father’s implacable political enemy, likes Baudouin, is impressed by his intelligence. More romantic Belgians have seen in the boy’s habit of walking with hands folded behind him, in his leanness and in his shyness a clear resemblance to his grandfather Albert.

As King, Baudouin will continue to do his chores, with his life even more carefully circumscribed: he will sign state documents, listen interestedly but noncommittally to politicians’ special pleas, deliver speeches carefully edited by others. The Belgian constitution states that “no Royal Act is valid unless countersigned by a cabinet minister.” Baudouin has shown no sign of wishing to break out of this constitutional hammer lock, or of wanting to grow bigger than a Premier.

In time, Baudouin will be expected to make a suitable marriage, as carefully edited as his speeches. No one has been picked as yet, but a Belgian princess, 18-year-old Elisabeth de Méerode, * has been favorably mentioned.

For help and guidance, Baudouin will lean on his old governor, now Lord Chamberlain, who advises him in all matters of protocol; on Cabinet Chief Hubert Verwilghan, an official with a gift of explaining intricate political tangles in clear, simple phrases; and on his father.

As ex-King, Leopold will get a pension of $120,000 a year, will probably stay on in Belgium, spending much time at his old palace—as the guest of his son. Belgians wondered last week whether Leopold would go on asking the King to take his elbows off the table.

The nation that Leopold turned over to his son was prosperous beyond the dreams of most of Europe. Belgium, thanks in part to Leopold’s submission to the Nazis, came out of the war almost intact. Her heavy industry is booming, her Congo rich in uranium, her shops and nightclubs are filled.

The Socialists, who support Baudouin, are agitating for new elections (their slogan: “For the new King, a new Parliament!”), are expected to make headway. Catholic Premier Pholien’s fence-sitting cabinet is expected to offer Catholic King Baudouin its resignation, may soon be replaced by a Socialist-Catholic coalition. But Belgium’s biggest problem is outside her borders: the threat of Russian aggression. By 1952, Belgiumhas promised to contribute to the NATO army one full armored division,two infantry divisions, two reserve divisions.

Baudouin’s personal problem: to win the heart and support of his people. He has already inspired their loyalty and a certain affection. Among the crowds that jammed the streets at the end of his big day last week, a motherly Belgian woman watched the new King pass behind a prancing escort of mounted gendarmes in gleaming boots and top-heavy bearskin busbies. “Ah, le pauvre petit,” she murmured. “All alone in his big auto.”

* No kin to Leopold II’s beautiful mistress, Dancer Cleéo de Meérode.

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