23 December 2015

Belgian Royal Brides: Queen Fabiola of Belgium

Time for the third installment of our series on Belgian royal brides! This week, we're discussing the December 1960 wedding of King Baudouin and Fabiola Mora y Aragon; if you missed them, here are links to our earlier posts on the weddings of Queen Astrid of Belgium and Queen Marie Jose of Italy.

King Baudouin was the second child and first son of King Leopold III and Queen Astrid, who was born a Swedish princess. Baudouin's childhood was filled with upheaval. When he was four, his grandfather's unexpected death placed his parents on the throne. His mother died in a tragic car accident when he was five; his father made a controversial second marriage when he was eleven. In 1940, when his father capitulated to the Germans, Baudouin and his family were imprisoned and narrowly avoided a tragic fate.

King Leopold's actions during the war were extremely controversial in Belgium, and as a result, Baudouin came to the throne in a rather unconventional way. Even though Leopold was ultimately exonerated of many of the charges leveled against him during the war, continuing political division led him to abdicate in 1951. As a result, Baudouin became King of the Belgians at the age of twenty.

Baudouin was shy and reserved. He was so committed to the Roman Catholic religion that he reportedly once considered becoming a monk. His devout faith ultimately led him to his future wife. Fabiola Mora y Aragon, the daughter of Spanish aristocrats (and goddaughter of Queen Ena of Spain), was also devoutly Catholic. She was working as a nurse in Madrid in 1959 when she was approached by Sister Veronica O'Brien. A Belgian cardinal had tasked O'Brien with finding a wife for the quiet, lonely king, and she selected Fabiola as the perfect candidate. Baudouin and Fabiola were introduced and quickly bonded, and she accepted his proposal of marriage. Baudouin later confessed in his diary that he felt God had brought Fabiola to him and that O'Brien was his "guardian angel."

On September 16, 1960, the royal engagement was officially announced by the Belgian prime minister, and the couple appeared before the press. Baudouin and Fabiola had actually been engaged for some time before the announcement, but they had managed to keep the relationship so private that the Belgian people were surprised. The engagement announcement had been delayed because of the tragic and complicated political situation in the Congo, which was then a Belgian colony.

Baudouin and Fabiola appeared together in public in Brussels eight days later, where they were greeted enthusiastically by crowds.

In early October, the palace announced that the royal wedding would take place in Brussels on December 15. In the meantime, the couple made visits to various parts of the country, including a successful visit to Antwerp where the locals cheered "Long Live the Queen!" at Fabiola's appearance. Wedding invitations were issued in November, and numerous foreign royals were on the guest list. Princess Margaret, a newlywed herself, was Britain's representative. Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was on the list, as were his uncle, King Olav V of Norway, and Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg (the mother-in-law of his sister, Josephine-Charlotte), and his aunt, Queen Marie Jose of Italy. The exiled Spanish royal family sent four representatives: the Count and Countess of Barcelona, Infante Juan Carlos, and Infanta Maria Cristina.

Fabiola was not only popular in Belgium; she also became something of a superstar in her native Spain. The New York Times noted that she had "replaced movie stars and soccer champions as Spain's current darling" and was "honored and regaled with jewels, cars, and other gifts from official and social groups." She departed Spain ahead of the wedding on December 4. Spain's leader, Generalissimo Franco, and his wife, Carmen, presented Fabiola with a glittering wedding gift: a diamond tiara that could be worn in various configurations.

Fabiola wore the new tiara for the first time with a yellow silk gown at the gala dinner held the night before the royal wedding. Newspapers noted the presence of Princess Margaret at the gala, wearing "a diamond-studded tiara and a gown of lilac silk." (The tiara was the Poltimore.)

Photographs of other royal guests show Princess Irene of the Netherlands wearing her mother's aquamarine tiara and Princess Margaret of Denmark (the groom's maternal aunt) wearing the borrowed Khedive of Egypt Tiara.

Queen Marie Jose of Italy, the groom's paternal aunt, wore her own wedding tiara, the Musy Tiara, to the gala.

Queen Anne of Romania (pictured with the Princess of Rethy) also wore her wedding tiara: the family's Greek Key Tiara, a Romanov heirloom.

Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg (escorted by Baudouin's father, King Leopold) wore the imposing Luxembourg Empire Tiara.

King Baudouin's grandmother, Queen Elisabeth, wore her glittering Cartier bandeau at the reception. Hereditary Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte of Luxembourg, Baudouin's sister, wore one of her wedding gifts, the Belgian Scroll Tiara.

The groom's sister-in-law, Princess Paola, wore the diamond art deco bandeau that had originally belonged to Queen Elisabeth; his stepmother, the Princess of Rethy, wore a diamond Van Cleef and Arpels necklace as a tiara. A reporter for the Associated Press reported that a security officer marveled that "he never had seen so many costly gems in years of guarding royal heirlooms."

On the morning of December 15, the family gathered at the palace in Brussels for the civil wedding ceremony. The couple signed more than twenty documents to legalize their marriage. Four men served as witnessses: for Baudouin, Prince Albert, his brother, and Hereditary Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, his brother-in-law; for Fabiola, the Marqués de Casa Riera, her brother, and the Count of Barcelona, the pretender to the Spanish throne.

Because both the civil and religious weddings were daytime affairs, the only person wearing a glittering tiara was the bride. With her Balenciaga wedding gown, Fabiola wore the Nine Provinces Tiara, which was made as a wedding gift in the 1920s for her late mother-in-law, Queen Astrid. The tiara's distinctive height and design held its own against her wedding veil and immediately announced her new royal status.

The religious ceremony was held at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where Baudouin's parents had been married more than 30 years earlier.

The couple received a papal blessing from a Vatican representative and were married by the same man, Cardinal Suenens, who had instigated the search for Baudouin's bride. They were surrounded by more than two thousand guests and 150,000 pink carnations that had been sent from Spain.

After a drive through the city and a balcony appearance, the couple departed for their honeymoon in Spain. Baudouin and Fabiola sat on the throne of Belgium for three decades, until Baudouin unexpectedly died of heart failure while on holiday in Spain in 1993. They served as a unifying presence in an often-divided nation and had a happy marriage, although their inability to have children was a source of personal sadness. Fabiola remained an important part of the Belgian royal family until her death last December.