Princess Juliana – an end of an era

22nd March 2004, Comments 0 comments

She married a member of Hitler's SS and signed away the jewel in the Dutch colonial crown. She panicked her ministers by taking advice from a mystic and preaching pacifism at the height of the Cold War. Yet Juliana's lasting achievement was winning the hearts of the Dutch public.

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."

'Alien' faith healer

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 nationality.

The bond between Canada and the Netherlands was cemented when Canadian troops led the liberation of the Lowlands in 1944 and 1945. Prince Bernhard took charge of the Dutch forces of the interior in the liberated nation.

Juliana returned to the Netherlands on 2 August 1945 and helped to lead the relief work for the battered country.

Pregnant with her fourth child in 1946, she contracted German measles and the baby, christened Marijke Christina, was almost blind.

The girl's eyesight improved over time, but not before Juliana fell in with a faith healer, Greet Hofmans, who believed that aliens from outer space were living on earth.

Hofman's pacifist ideas soon began to appear in Juliana's public statements  much to the alarm of Bernhard and the Dutch government.

In 1947 and 1948, Juliana acted as regent for the ailing Wilhelmina as 150,000 Dutch troops tried in vain to end the revolt in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Wilhelmina stepped down in September 1948 and one of the first acts of the new Queen was to sign the papers relinquishing control of the prize colony.


More than 1,800 people were killed when the Netherlands was hit by the most devastating storm in 500 years in January 1953. Juliana endeared herself once more with the public by dressing in an old coat and boots and wading through water and deep mud to bring desperate people food and clothing.

But in the corridors of power she was out of favour. On 13 June 1956, an article appeared in the German magazine Der Spiegel which referred to the Queen's Rasputin and the simmering row about Hofmans reached boiling point. It is believed that Bernhard was on the verge of seeking a divorce and was the source of the article.

Prime Minister Willem Drees banned the importation of the magazine into the Netherlands and appointed the Beel Commission to examine the situation. In the end, Hofmans was fired from the royal court, but the commission's findings were never released.

The next crisis struck Juliana's reign when her daughter Irene converted to Catholicism and without the required permission of Parliament married Spaniard, Prince Carlos-Hugo de Bourbon-Parma. The Dutch royal family's religion was traditionally Dutch Reformed, a Protestant denomination.

And apart from having a claim on the Spanish throne, the Prince also had the dubious distinction of being a leader in the Spanish fascist party.

In light of the Nazi occupation less than 20 years before, the Dutch public was not keen to embrace another fascist. Commentators believe Juliana's popularity just saved her from the need to abdicate.

German factor

The storm of protest blew up again in July 1965 with the announcement that Juliana's oldest daughter, Crown Princess Beatrix, was to marry German diplomat Claus von Amsberg.

Queen Beatrix: 1980-present

Prince Claus, as he became known, had been a member of the Hitler Youth movement and was conscripted into the German army in 1944. He was captured by Allied forces before firing a shot.

Queen Juliana initially attempted to stop the marriage going ahead, but eventually allowed it amid noisy street protests. Some people suggested that the end of the monarchy was at hand.

Juliana faced her last major political hurdle in the mid-1970s — again at the hands of a German member of the family.

In 1976, it emerged that Prince Bernhard had accepted a USD 1.1 million bribe from US aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed, to influence the Dutch government's purchase of fighter aircraft.

The Dutch government ordered an inquiry into the affair while Prince Bernhard refused to answer reporters' questions, stating: "I am above such things".

In the end, a compromise was worked out: a toned-down version of the report into Bernhard's entrepreneurial activities was published and he was stripped of several of his official functions.

Juliana meanwhile continued to donate money to and work for charitable causes.

Last days

In 1980, she announced that her powers were weakening and that she would abdicate in favour of her daughter Beatrix.

The coronation of Beatrix was marred by street demonstrations against Claus. But largely thanks to Juliana's efforts over the previous 30 years, the monarchy survived the challenge and continues to be a cherished Dutch institution.

Juliana suffered from Alzheimer's disease from the mid-1990s and passed away in her sleep at Soestdijk Palace on 20 March 2004.

22 March 2004

Subject: Princess Juliana + the Dutch royal family

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