|From right to left: the three daughters of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, Margaretha, Martha and Astrid|
|Astrid (left) with Martha|
Here is a contemporary account of the childhood and education of the lovely bride of King Leopold III of the Belgians. It is somewhat idealized, but I like the focus on Astrid's joie de vivre, as certain revisionist Belgian authors have recently tried to portray her almost as a depressive.
From her earliest childhood the Princess showed a remarkably independent personality and considerable strength of character. Combined with this, she possesses fortunately a strong sense of humour, which the new King much appreciates. The Duchess carries this light-hearted humour into every department of her new life.
The physical training of the Duchess was hardy, for much of her recreation took the form of ski-ing trips, or skating on the numerous waterways of Stockholm. These pastimes she can now share with her young husband, for the Belgian Royal Family enjoy all forms of winter sports. When they go to Switzerland, they take an enthusiastic part in every form of outdoor exercise.
Like the King, the Princess was brought up to take a deep and sympathetic interest in everything that concerned the life of her nation. During the later years of girlhood, one of her hobbies was to collect the folk-lore of her country, the myths and legends in which Sweden abounds.
Midsummer-day is kept as a festival in Sweden, and it is the pretty custom on that day to festoon the doorways of every house with the branches of the silver birch, for which the country is famed. One Midsummer-day the Princess chanced to be walking down a village street, when she came upon a house undecorated — a house in whose doorway there stood an old peasant woman gazing sadly at the birch branches at her feet.
Princess Astrid stopped and spoke. "Aren't you going to put up your branches ? " she inquired kindly.
The old woman, ignorant of the identity of the smiling girl before her, shook her head. "Alas, my rheumatism will not let me," she said, "and there is no one to do it for me."
"Oh, we must remedy that," came the instant reply. "Now, if I may go into your kitchen and fetch a chair, I'll have them up in no time."
The doorway was duly decorated, but, when the old lady learned who had done it, the branches were left there as a permanent souvenir of "when our Princess decorated my house with her own hands."
The home life of the Duke of Brabant's bride was very simple. Princess Astrid and her sister. Princess Marthe, frequently wore national costume, which proved an extremely effective setting for their good looks. There is a quaint tradition, common in many homes in Sweden, which in the Royal Household was never overlooked. At the conclusion of the family meal, the Royal children, when allowed to leave the table, would go first to their mother and then to their father and, kissing them on the forehead, would thank them for the bountiful meal provided.
Princess Astrid's education was not confined wholly to school-room studies. From her childhood the Princess had shown a fondness for culinary experiments. So, believing that every woman should know something of what goes on in her own kitchen, her mother encouraged her in her taste for cooking ; and often the Princess would cook simple dishes for the family dinner-table.
When Princess Astrid became engaged, she took an extensive course in housecraft and mothercraft, with the result that to-day she is, if required, as competent to run her own house as any woman in Belgium. Though she takes no active part in the work of her home, her practical knowledge has made its supervision easy.