January 26, 1901
The doctors call it "chronic bronchitis and general exhaustion," but in reality Queen Marie Henriette of the Belgians is slowly dying of a broken heart. "Few women of whatever degree have had as much mental suffering as this rich and popular Queen," whose life would have been very different if she had not been born an archduchess of Austria and a granddaughter of the late Empress Maria Theresia.
Archduchess Marie Henriette, as a member of the Austrian Imperial Family, could not marry for love. She would be betrothed in a dynastic alliance with King Leopold II of the Belgians. Her father-in-law, King Leopold I, "a stiff, stern, cranky fellow," who made life miserable for his young daughter-in-law. There were too many rules and regulations issued by Leopold for his family, and Marie Henriette found her spirit quickly broken. King Leopold I would often scold his daughter-in-law in public.
This was compounded by the unquenchable grief that Marie Henriette suffered when her only son died as an infant. Although the couple had three daughters, the loss of a male heir "was a source of much bitterness" to the future Leopold II. Marie Henriette did give birth to three healthy daughters, but only males can succeed to the throne in Belgium.
Queen Marie Henriette wanted crowns for all three of her daughters. Her eldest daughter, Louise, was married in 1875 to Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Princess Stephanie made a far more grand marriage when she wed Archduke Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria.
These two marriages "proved to be the unhappiest two marriages that royalty has made in our time." Prince Philipp "was a brute, according to all accounts," and subjected his wife "to all indignities." Princess Louise eventually fled the marital home. She left her home with her lover, but ended up in debt and dissipation, and was "eventually carried off" to an asylum on the order of her husband. She remains today in a mental institution although she is believed to be sane.
Louise pleaded with her father for help. She turned up one morning at 4 a.m., at her father's place, begging for his help. She was bruised and in tears, a victim of domestic abuse. Louise wanted to be free from her marriage, but her father, unbending as usual," sent her back to her abusive husband. Her "pleading brother her mother's heart," because Marie Henriette could not help Louise. She, too, was a victim of spousal abuse.
Stephanie, too, was married to an unsympathetic man, whose dissipated life led to his tragic death at Mayerling. His legacy was one young daughter, and a wife who could not give him a son. Rudolf had infected his wife with a venereal disease that rendered her unable to have more children.
Marie Henriette, once so full of life, now "no longer cares to live."