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Clementine, Princess Napoleon

By Arturo Beéche

           Dead for more than four decades, Princess Clementine of Belgium remains a familiar figure among
           her compatriots. Yet, on the other side of the border, most French people have just about forgotten
           the woman who could have been their empress. In 1910 on the occasion of her marriage to Prince
           Victor Napoleon, the press received her as "the newest French princess." Clementine of
           Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, princess of Belgium, was born at Laeken Palace on 30 July 1872. She was
           the third daughter, and last child, of King Leopold II and Queen Marie-Henriette. After the arrival
           of the young princess, the royal couple lost any hope of producing a male heir.

           Raised by a mother who had a terrible and difficult temper, Clementine sought friendship and
           tenderness from her older sister, Stephanie, Crown Princess of Austria-Hungary. The older sister
           on said that she "follows the progress of my young sister...it was me who taught her her first
           words, helped her give her first steps...I shared my happiness with her...and in between study
           hours, I always went by her nursery to kiss her and play with her."

           After Stephanie's departure to Austria, King Leopold II tied to sweeten the life of his young
           daughter, while also keeping her away from Queen Marie-Henriette. Once she became of age,
           Princess Clementine was given her own entourage, and given the independence to travel without
           her mother's approval. "Thanks to you, dear father, I have been able to find happiness," the
           princess exclaimed in a letter to Leopold. To her sister Stephanie she wrote "I cannot tell you how
           very envious I am of those children who know what maternal love is."

           Queen Marie-Henriette died in 1902. After her mother's disappearance Clementine became the
           country's first lady next to her aging father. Yet, a misunderstanding began to develop between the
           two. This growing difference was caused by the figure of an adventuress by the name of Blanche
           Delacroix, the King's mistress.

           During her young life, Princess Clementine had three inspiring loves. The first was for her first
           cousin Baudoiun, heir to King Leopold II. The second was a long and friendly relationship with a
           member of the Belgian court, baron Auguste Goffinet. Her third love was the heir to the
           Napoleonic tradition, prince Victor Napoleon. Baudouin did not return the princess's interest and
           in fact died in his early twenties; an alliance with Goffinet would have been impossible; Prince
           Victor Napoleon she never relinquished.

           Clementine had first met Prince Napoleon in 1888, when the Frenchman visited her parent's palace
           on a social call. Since then, Clementine felt a deep attraction to the Prince telling her sister
           Stephanie that " you can see me with my little air of conqueror...for it seems that my hair and I have
           had some success, particularly with Prince Victor Napoleon Bonaparte, of whom I'm a loyal
           admirer." Unfortunately, King Leopold was seriously opposed to any matrimonial alliance
           between his august daughter and a lowly Bonaparte scion. Added to this situation, the constant
           presence of Blanche Delacroix further estranged father and child.

           At thirty one years of age, Clementine felt time was passing her by. She once again asked her father
           for his permission to marry Prince Victor, but the answer was an emphatically royal no.
           Clementine again asked Leopold II claiming that this was her last chance at marital happiness, yet
           the King continued to hold his ground and even threatened Clementine with disinheritance.

           Left without any options, Clementine and Victor passively awaited King Leopold's death so they
           could marry. When the King died in 1909, Clementine asked the new monarch, King Albert I, her
           cousin and Prince Baudouin's youngest brother, for permission to marry Victor. Albert gladly
           expressed his satisfaction with Clementine's plans. To Stephanie, by now remarried to Prince
           Lonyay, Clementine wrote, "You can imagine the depth of my happiness upon being able to
           correspond the love, loyalty and happiness of the man who for long years has remained next to me.
           God has managed to look at my plight and in his power all has been arranged."

           The wedding took place in Italy in on 10 November 1910. Marriage to Prince Victor transformed
           Clementine from the former first lady of Belgium, into the wife of the French imperial heir.
           Nonetheless, her real happiness was provided by "my good husband, gentle, adoring, tender,
           loving, intelligent, connoisseur of people and things. He is beautiful, this Prince." In another letter
           to Stephanie, Clementine said "Napoleon is a love, I adore him. During the day I spend most of
           time looking for things that please, and at night!...they are exquisite, and I never thought that they
           could be this good."

           Two children crowned the loving marriage of Clementine and Victor Napoleon: Marie-Clotilde
           born in 1912 and Louis born in 1914. During the First World War, Belgium was invaded by the
           legions of the German Kaiser. Clementine and her family sought refuge in Britain next to old
           Empress Eugenie of France, widow of Napoleon III.

           At the end of the war, Clementine and her family returned to Belgium. These were some of the
           happiest years of the Princess' life. Surrounded by her husband and growing children, Clementine
           was happy and satisfied. Whenever she mentioned her family, her deep love for Victor and the
           children became evident, "my daughter is happy, smiling and sweet; she is the picture of her father.
           My son has the sweet disposition, he is very attaching. he is intelligent and observing, loves to sing
           all day....but he does not smile much whenever he has to study." By the time she reached the age of
           fifty, Clementine, the sad princess of yesteryear, had changed into a highly respected, obliging
           princess with a happy family life.

           Sadly, Prince Victor died in 1926 victim of an attack of apoplexy. He was but sixty four years of
           age. Clementine survived him for almost three decades. The final happy chapters in Clementine's
           life where the marriage of her son and the birth of her grandchildren. In 1949, Prince Louis
           married Countess Alix de Foresta, a young French woman with a seducing personality. Passionate
           about history, Alix has played a leading role in restoring the Napoleonic tradition in France.

           In 1950 the law of exile was abrogated in France. The Bourbons and Bonapartes were allowed to
           return to their country. Louis and Alix settled in Paris, and months later she gave birth to twins,
           Charles and Catherine. Two other children were to follow. Clementine's life ended in 1955. No
           longer interested in palatial living, Clementine rented a small villa at Cimiez, near Nice. It was
           there that she died on 8 March 1955.
 

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