Queen Elizabeth II was related to the Belgian King, and had a Belgian tutor as a young girl.
A few days ago I posted about the six visits that Queen Elizabeth II paid to Belgium during her reign. Regular reader Catherine commented that she had heard that the Queen had a Belgian tutor in her youth. While researching this topic, I came across another connection between Queen Elizabeth II and Belgium. Let’s start with that one.
Belgian and British royal families are related
This isn’t so surprising, considering the inter-relations between the various European monarchies. Queen Elizabeth II and Philippe King of the Belgians are related by blood, sharing a common ancestor: Franz, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. He was the grandfather of Queen Victoria, as well as the father of King Leopold I of the Belgians.
Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians, was therefore Queen Victoria’s uncle. King Leopold was actually married to the heir to the throne of England, Princess Charlotte, until she tragically died in childbirth. After the death of Princess Charlotte, Leopold was offered the chance to be the first King of the Belgians in 1831. He remained in close contact with Princess Victoria, becoming a close advisor to her even after she became Queen of England.
Queen Elizabeth II and King Philippe are also related via King Christian IX of Denmark. The Queen was his great-great-granddaughter and the King is his great-great-great-grandson.
Princess Elizabeth had a Belgian tutor
Now to the matter that Catherine mentioned. One of the young Princess Elizabeth’s tutors – for French – was a Belgian lady called Madame Marie Antoinette de Bellaigue. It was quite difficult to discover much information about her. I couldn’t find a photograph, and she seems to be a bit of a mysterious woman. This is what I have found out about her.
She was born Marie Antoinette Willemin in 1904 in Nivelles, Belgium; a descendant of an old line of Belgian nobility. At the age of 24, on 28 June 1928, she married French aristocrat Pierre Vicomte de Bellaigue de Bughas in Neuilly sur Seine. Together they had twins Eric and Geoffrey. The family moved to London in 1934, and in 1939 Pierre de Bellaigue was called up to the French armed forces.
His wife attempted to return to Belgium but due to the war that didn’t work out. Instead, Madame de Bellaigue became a teacher. Her first post was in a private school. She then took charge of the children of Lord Hardinge, who was private secretary to King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth.
Noteworthy is that the Queen’s mother was an ardent Francophile and a fluent French speaker. She insisted that her two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret received a thorough education in the French language. In 1942 Madame de Bellaigue was invited to live with the royal family in Windsor Castle where her two sons regularly joined her during their school holidays.
Madame de Bellaigue thus taught the two princesses everything she could about French culture, customs and the language. She continued this role part-time after the war. In 1948 she accompanied the young Princess Elizabeth during her official visit to France.
Madame de Bellaigue clearly did an outstanding job. Queen Elizabeth II spoke French fluently, and was often congratulated on her excellent pronunciation. It is said that she spoke French with her sister Margaret when she wanted not to be understood.
When on official visits to French-speaking countries, she spoke French. And like her mother, she loved the country and the people. No wonder that both the Presidents of France and Canada gave such warm tributes.
Marie Antoinette de Bellaigue died in 2005 aged 101 years old.
Here, Queen Elizabeth II delivers a speech in French during a visit to Quebec in 1964: