Louise: the incredible story of a Belgian Princess Author: MB

Wed 14/02/2018 - 11:21 MB Those of you that live in or have visited Brussels will quite likely have visited the Louizalaan. The almost 3 kilometre-long avenue that begins as a narrow street lined with shops before becoming a wide boulevard reminiscent of the Champs Elysées in Paris is known throughout Belgium and beyond. The Louizalaan has some of Brussels and Belgium’s most exclusive and expensive boutiques and is home to many foreign embassies. But who was one of our country’s most famous streets named after? Who is the Louiza of the Louizalaan?

The plans for the construction of the Louizalaan (known as Avenue Louise in French) date back to 1847. However, it wasn’t until 10 years later and the birth of Princess Louise in 1857 that the plan was given a name.

Princess Louise’s life was incredible to say the least. While the street she gave her name to extolls opulence and glamour, Princess Louise’s ended her life alone and in poverty. She was the first of four children born to King Leopold II and Marie-Hendrika of Austria.

Unwanted and unloved as a child

Louise Marie Amélie was born on 18 February 1858 at Laken Castle (Brussels). Her parents were disappointed that she was a girl and couldn’t become an heir to the throne. Her childhood was one deprived of love and affection.

Various sources state that she had a harsh upbringing and corporal punishment was used to discipline her. Her father King Leopold II especially had little interest in the young Princess Louise, especially after the birth of Prince Leopold in 1859.

Princess Louise’s sister Princess Stefanie was born 5 years later in 1864. The sudden death of Prince Leopold once again left Leopold II without an heir. The birth of a third daughter, Princess Clementine in 1872 did nothing to resolve the issue and Leopold II turned his back on his family more and more.

He saw his daughters as little more than useful pawns in the game of international power broking.

At the age of not quite 17, Louise was the first of the daughters to marry on 4 February 1875. Her new husband, Philipp of Sachs-Coburg was almost 31. The newly-weds were closely related. His mother Clémentine and her grandmother on her mother’s side Queen Louise-Marie were sisters.

Moreover, both their grandfathers on their fathers' sides were brothers. Despite all this and the big age gap, the fact that the groom had plenty of cash meant that no objections were raised.

The marriage between Louise and Philipp was not a resounding success. Things went wrong on wedding night when the inexperienced Princess ran away and hid in the royal greenhouses to escape the sexual advances of her new husband.

She soon learned of her husband’s interest in pornographic literature and images, an interest her wished to share with her.

Shortly after their marriage the couple moved to the Imperial Court in Vienna, where Louise’s mother Queen Maria Hendika had grown up.

Thanks to her background and her husband’s status, Princess Louise gained access to circles close to Emperor Frans Joseph (photo below). The Belgian Princess soon got a taste for life in the cosmopolitan capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She underwent a transformation from a reserved teenager to a glamourous princess.

Géza Mattachich

In 1895, Louise became romantically involved with Count Geza Mattachich (1868–1923), the stepson of Oskar Keglevich, Count of Buzin. Mattachich was a lieutenant in a Croatian regiment of the Austrian army.

In January 1897, she scandalised Vienna by permanently leaving her husband, Prince Philipp, for Mattachich and taking her daughter with her.

They traveled first to Paris, then Cannes, living in other places in the south of France and the rest of Europe. Her son became estranged from her, because he felt her actions had ruined his chance for an inheritance. Her daughter soon left her mother at the advice of her fiancé, the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein.

In 1898, Prince Philipp and Mattachich fought a duel in Vienna, first with guns, then with swords, in which the prince was injured.

Géza Mattachich was arrested in Zagreb and imprisoned for four years for forgery.

Princess Louise and Prince Philipp were finally divorced in Gotha on 15 January 1906, almost eight years after Louise had begun divorce proceedings.

On his release Géza Mattachich went looking for Louise in the psychiatric asylum she had been sent to. He helped her escape and they lived a life on the run in various places, including Paris and Berlin.

Disinherited

His daughter’s divorce provided Leopold II with the perfect excuse to disinherit her. Her sister Stefanie faced a similar fate. It wasn’t until the Belgian monarch’s death in 1909 that the Princesses discovered that their father had left his not inconsiderable fortune to his mistress Baroness de Vaughan and the Royal Trust.

Louise and Stefanie contested the will in the courts. They lost their legal battle. However, the Belgian state agreed to give both disinherited Princesses a considerable sum of money.

Due to the outbreak of WWI they didn’t receive the money until a number of years later.

Death in Wiesbaden

After the war Louise and Mattachich moved back to Paris where she wrote her memoires. In 1923 Mattacic’s health deteriorated and he died in the autumn of that year.

After his death, Princes Louise moved to Wiesbaden in Germany where she died alone and in poverty on 1 March 1924. The contrast between her latter years and the swish Brussels avenue that bears her name couldn’t be greater.