Princess Juliana – an end of an era

22nd March 2004, Comments 0 comments

During the 20th century, the Dutch monarchy changed from being a stuffy Germanic institution that stayed aloof from the concerns of commoners to a monarchy for all the people. Juliana played a major role in the transformation, writes Cormac Mac Ruair

Princess Juliana was born in The Hague on 30 April 1909, the daughter of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Hendrik.

Queen Juliana: 1948-80

Just 19 years earlier, a special law had been required to allow a woman to ascend the throne when Wilhelmina's father, King William III, died on 23 November 1890.

As Wilhelmina was still a minor, her mother, Emma, served as regent until Wilhelmina turned 18 in 1898. A statue of Queen Emma in Amsterdam depicts her as a severe old lady sitting on her throne, while sycophantic hieroglyphic-like figures pay homage at her feet.

Although the Netherlands was a constitutional monarchy, Queen Wilhelmina retained an absolute veto on all legislation, appointed each member of the Council of State — which advises the government on its legislation — and could dissolve Parliament on her own volition.

When just 20, Wilhelmina proved her metal when she ordered a Dutch warship to defy a British blockade of South Africa to rescue the embattled President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. 

Her marriage to Hendrik, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, was not very compatible and the birth of their only child, Juliana, was considered a near miracle. Juliana was considered a shy and plain girl, not very suitable royal material. Nevertheless, her schooling was geared from a very early stage to the day she would become queen.

But she did not attend school with commoners. A small class was formed at Huis ten Bosch Palace on the advice of the educationalist Jan Ligthart so that from the age of six, the Princess could receive her primary education with children of her own age.

She received her secondary education from private tutors before being appointed to the Council of State in 1927. From that year to 1930, she attended lectures at Leiden University and lived with several other women students in Katwijk.

The Depression in the 1930s had a strong effect on her and she developed a life-long interest in helping — and speaking up for — the underprivileged.

On the death of her father in 1934, she succeeded him as President of the Netherlands Red Cross.

Nazis at the door

As the Nazi menace grew, the Netherlands tried to stay neutral — as it had done in World War I. The police even turned back Jews and left-wingers trying to escape persecution in Germany.

The public and the government remained very nervous of Hitler's intentions and the announcement that Juliana was to marry His Serene Highness Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld in November 1936 only increased the distrust. Bernhard was a member of the SS.

Hitler tried to make propaganda out of the marriage, citing it as an example of the alliance being forged between the two countries. Queen Wilhelmina immediately denounced the suggestion, but the damage was done.

Prince Bernhard — who changed the spelling of his name to the Dutch version and was granted Dutch citizenship — proved himself in the eyes of the public when he fled with the rest of the royal family to London to continue the fight against Hitler after the invasion of the Netherlands on 10 May 1940.

Queen Wilhelmina: 1898-1948

He stayed at Queen Wilhelmina's side in Britain, while Juliana brought their two children to safety in Canada.

Juliana quickly endeared herself to the Canadian people, displaying a simple warmth, asking that she and her children be treated as just another family during difficult times, according to the online Wikipedia encyclopaedia.

"In the city of Ottawa, where few people recognised her, Princess Juliana sent her two daughters to public school, did her own grocery buying and shopped at Woolworth's Department Store."

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When her third child Margriet was born, the Parliament of Canada passed a special law declaring Princess Juliana's rooms at the Ottawa Civic Hospital to be Dutch territory so that the infant would have exclusively Dutch, and not dual nationali

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