Sunday, 29 August 2010

On this date: Death of Queen Astrid 75 years ago

Today is the 75th anniversary of the tragic death of Queen Astrid of the Belgians in a car accident at Küssnacht in Switzerland on 29 August 1935. Her only surviving child, King Albert II, will take part in a commemorative event held in the chapel which was built on the spot where his mother lost her life. As he was barely a year old when Queen Astrid was killed, King Albert has no memories of his mother, but he has shown a great interest in and attachment to her life story.
The Belgian royal family had been spending part of the summer of 1935 at their summer house by the Vierwaldstättersee. Queen Astrid and King Léopold III stayed behind for a few days after the children had been sent back to Belgium. The accident happened when the King, who was behind the wheel, took his eyes off the road for a brief look at the map. The car veered out from the narrow road, down into a meadow, ending in the water. The passengers were thrown out and Queen Astrid was killed when she landed with her head against a tree.
Queen Astrid was 29 years old and had been queen for merely 553 days. Her death came as a great shock to the people of Belgium as well as of her native Sweden, particularly as it happened only a year and a half after her father-in-law, King Albert I, had also been killed in an accident.
A strong legend grew around the memory of the young queen, a legend which to a certain extent survives to this day, although it is no longer as strong as in the days when most people could still remember her. The subsequent events, whereby Belgium was invaded by Germany in 1940, King Léopold refused to follow his government into exile and surrendered himself and his children to the Germans, remarried while in captivity and, following the end of the war, found himself at the core of a prolonged constitutional struggle which ended with his abdication in favour of his 21-year-old son Baudouin, probably also helped strengthen the legend, whereby the young queen who had died so tragically came to symbolise happier days of the past.
This is perhaps best expressed in the title of a book on Queen Astrid which was published fifty years after her death: Astrid, ou le rêve fracasse – “Astrid, or the interrupted dream”.

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