A Queenly Godmother

Astrid of Sweden (1905-1935) – princess of Sweden and queen of Belgium

There was a story told by my Belgian grandmother, that she was named after Queen Astrid, who was also her godmother due to a royal tradition. I remember her telling me that as a child, she was once invited to play with the princess, who was of a similar age, but that they fought over a toy.  (My mother recalls that she even got sent home for this.) Her childhood memories of the young princess were not overly positive and it was entertaining to hear.

Unfortunately, the facts don’t quite support the story.

Queen as godmother

This tradition is true and is referred to on the Belgian Monarchy website: “Traditionally, the King and the Queen are the godfather or godmother of the seventh son or seventh daughter in a family, on condition that this succession of sons or daughters is unbroken.” (The Belgian Monarchy, 2020)

However, the honour is only bestowed upon the seventh son or daughter – Astrid Lemmens was the eighth daughter.

I did find a newspaper report that mentioned the queen becoming godmother to a LEMMENS daughter. Only this daughter was not Astrid but her older sister, Elisabeth. And the event had occurred in 1925, before my grandmother was even born (in 1926).

Le Carillon, 1925 Mar 28, p2 c1


A beautiful family

We announced that the Edouard Lemmens-Minne family, living on rue Polder Ste Catherine, had enriched themselves with a seventh daughter, on March 6. The eldest was born on April 12, 1913 in Nieuport. In a letter addressed to the Palace of Brussels, to the Mayor of Ostend, it says:

<The Queen accepts with pleasure to be godmother of the seventh daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lemmens-Minne>. And further: <Our Sovereign entrusts you with the task of having Her represented at the ceremony of the baptism of the child, and asks you to express Her wishes of happiness to the parents of Her new goddaughter>.

Mr. Bourgmestre Moreaux entrusted the care to Ms. Elleboudt-Moulaert, wife of Mr. Elleboudt, our alderman for Public Works.

Une belle familie
Nous avons annonce que la famille Edouard Lemmens-Minne, habitant rue Polder Ste Catherine, s’etait enrichie d’une septieme fille, le 6 mars dernier. L’ainee naquit le 12 avril 1913 a Nieuport. Dans une lettre adressee du Palais de Bruxelles, au Bourgmestre d’Ostende, il est dit:
<La Reine accepte avec plaisir d’etre marraine de la septieme fille de M. et Mme Lemmens-Minne>. Et plus loin : <Notre Souveraine vous confie le soin de La faire representer a la ceremonie du bapteme de Penfant, et vous prie d’exprimer Ses souhaits de bonheur aux parents de Sa nouvelle filleule>.
M. le Bourgmestre Moreaux confia le soin a Mme Elleboudt-Moulaert, femme de M. Elleboudt, notre echevin des Travaux publics.

Le Carillon, 28 Mar 1925, p2 c1

This means the queen did not actually attend her goddaughter’s baptism but instead used a city councilor’s wife as her proxy (Louisa Moulaert, wife of Alphonse Elleboudt). Interestingly, Elisabeth DID meet the queen in 1931, when the royal family visited Ostende and the interaction made the local paper:

De Zeewacht, 1931 July 25, p1 c7 – p2 c1

In the meantime, an endearing act took place. The young Elisabeth Lemmens, the seventh daughter of Mr and Mrs E. Lemmens, of which through mediation of Mrs. Alph. Elleboudt, the Queen is meter, presented herself to the Queen with a flower owl and spoke as follows, while the daughter of H. Schepen Vroome handed over a flower sheaf to Princess Clementine:
Dear Meter,
How proud and happy I am, your baptized child, to be the little interpreter of the population of Ostend, to tell you how welcome you are here, you see that from side to side, and read in flower and flag and festive green, the sincere love and affection of your people. Yes, everything calls out to you, how welcome you are and how your name is praised and honored here. The beating heart of the People that you were expecting for so long now see You full of joy and offer you thanks and honors with great enthusiasm, Dear Queen.
After those words, the Queen took her godchild on her lap and kissed and asked her news of her family. Prince Leopold also took them on his lap and had a conversation with the child.

Intusschen had een aandoenlijk tooneeltje plaats. Het jonge Elisabethje Lemmens, het zevende dochtertje van M. en Mev E. Lemmens, waarvan door bemiddeling van Mev. Alph. Elleboudt, de Koningin meter is, bood zich aan de Koningin met een bloementuil en sprak als volgt, terwijl het dochtertje van H. Schepen Vroome een bloemengarve aan Prinses Clementine overhandige:
Lieve Meter,
Wat ben ik fier en gelukkig, Ik, uw doopkind, de kleine tolk der Oostendsche bevolking te zijn, om U te zeggen hoe welkom gij hier zijt, dat ziet gij t’allen kant, en leest in bloem en vlag en feestelijk groen, de oprechte liefde en verkleefdheid van uw Volk. Ja, alles roept U toe, hoe welkom gij zijt en hoe uw naam hier wordt geprezen en vereerd. Het kloppend hart van ‘t Volk dat U zoolang verbeidde, ziet U nu vol vreugde en bied U, Geachte Koningin, met veel geestdrift zijn dank en hulde aan.
Na die woorden name de Koningin haar petekind op den schoot en kuste en vroeg haar nieuws van hare familie. Prins Leopold nam ze ook op gijnen schoot en voerde een gesprek met het kindje.

De Zeewacht, 25 July 1931, p1 c7 – p2 c1

Queen Astrid was not queen at the time

Not only was Astrid the wrong daughter, the other Astrid was the wrong queen. Upon marrying Prince Leopold, the young Swedish princess was ‘enthusiastically adopted by the Belgians’ and ‘widely loved for her beauty, charm and simplicity’.  But Astrid only became queen in 1934 when her husband’s father, King Albert died. Sadly, she died the following year in an automobile accident in Switzerland [source].

The queen referred to in the above articles would have actually been, Elisabeth, queen of King Albert. It makes sense that Elisabeth LEMMENS was named after her royal godmother.

Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, c.1920

However, my grandmother’s story still has some merit due to being born within a few days of Leopold and Astrid’s marriage. The royal couple married civilly in Stockholm on 4 November 1926 and religiously in Brussels on 10 November 1926 – my grandmother was born 14 November 1926. Considering, the Lemmens family appeared to be strong royal supporters, it is extremely likely that they named her daughter after the princess in honour of this national occasion. So, it appears Astrid LEMMENS was named after ‘the queen’ – she just wasn’t queen at the time.

Argued with a princess

I doubt I’ll ever find out if this part of the story is true. Astrid and Leopold did have a daughter in 1927, Princess Josephine-Charlotte and so would have been around my grandmother’s age. If the story is true, this would be the princess referred to.

Princess Josephine-Charlotte, c1930s

But why would she be invited to tea? Especially since she wasn’t even a god child. If there’s any truth to the story, the answer may lie in her father, Eduard Lemmens’ service to the community [to be expanded upon in a future post].

I’m not ready to dismiss the story completely. The memory seemed quite vivid to my grandmother so it’s possible we simply misinterpreted what she said.  Unfortunately, Astrid LEMMENS is no longer around to set us straight. If only I’d looked into this sooner.



When life gives you LEMMENS…

Grandma Befay's father's parents - Frederick Lemmens
Mevr. Lemmens & Frederick Lemmens (and a mystery daughter?)

I haven’t written a lot about my mother’s side of the family – in fact, I just checked and I don’t seem to have written at all about them!  This saddens me but it’s largely because her family history is centred around Belgium and so the records are not easily accessible to me (physically OR ‘literally’ as I don’t read French or Dutch).  Hopefully that will change with a little help from growing records and Google Translate.

This weekend my mother passed on a photo that my grandmother gave my mother of HER mother’s parents – got that? Basically I got a pic of my mother’s maternal great-grandparents (and maybe a great-aunt in the background).  So that’s great – an ‘ID’ed family photo… almost.  The problem is my grandmother has forgotten their names (!) although she’s pretty sure her grandfather’s given name was Frederick.

So I blow off the digital dust on my Belgian ancestors to check their names to discover I don’t actually have them on there yet.  I know that my grandmother was one of nine children born to Eduard LEMMENS and Gabrielle MINNE.  Eduard himself was one of seven siblings seen in the photo below:

Family LEMMENS (1)
Children of Frederick LEMMENS

(The youngest girl lying on the floor looks most like the mystery woman in the first photo – could it be her?)

Since I don’t currently have a ‘world’ membership, I wasn’t expecting much from searching a Belgian on ancestry, but I actually may have struck lucky!  The very first result was a British 1901 census entry for a Fredrick LEMMENS born in Ostende, Belgium.  My grandmother was born in the coastal city of Ostende, Belgium and the man’s age fit (b.1855), so it immediately interested me.  This man was on board the S.S. Truro in Hull that night and recorded as a ‘Pilot Dutch’ but it didn’t seem to be a Belgian vessel or crew.

1901 census – Fredrick Lemmens aboard the S.S Truro, Hull

A quick glance at some of the other results didn’t show any other connections but Google threw up a record on the Oostende Archives site of a sea fishing captain who “sailed for shipowners” [G. ASAERT, Analytical inventory of fishing reels (1818-1843 and 1860-1910), Brussels (ARA), 1986].  So could that delightful outfit that looked to me like a milkman’s uniform actually be a captain’s uniform? [update: Another descendant of Frederick Lemmens (RV) informs me that he is not wearing a captain’s uniform but was probably his summer jacket. Frederick apparently always wore the hat because he was bald! :)]

Ostende in the 1920s
Next steps: