A prince, diplomat and family man

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Having overcome the controversy of his marriage to Queen Beatrix, the German-born Prince Claus will be warmly remembered as one of the most popular Dutch royals. Aaron Gray-Block writes.

Birth, youth and education


Claus Von Amsberg was born on 6 September 1926 at his mother's estate at Dotzinger in the German state of Lower Saxony.

He was the only son of Herr Claus von Amsberg, a German planter in Tanzania. His mother was Baroness von dem Busche-Haddenhausen.

Claus attended primary school in Germany and at the age of 11, moved with his family to Tanzania, where he developed his life-long love of Africa. He attended primary school in Lushoto, Tanzania.

In 1938 he was sent to boarding school in Germany, where he completed his education in 1944.

Towards the end of World War II, he was called up for German military service and served from March until May 1945 with the 90th Panzer Division in Italy. He never saw action and was captured by US forces, but was released in December 1945.

After being cleared by an allied court of any Nazi links, Claus studied law in Hamburg from 1948 to 1956 and later became a German diplomat. He met the then Princess Beatrix in the mid-1960s.

A royal romance and family life

The relationship between Princess Beatrix and the unassuming, intelligent Claus led to great commotion in the Netherlands, with a large proportion of the public being unable to accept that just 20 years after World War II, their future queen might marry a German.

Vocal protests continued up until they were married on 10 March 1966 and despite intense security, protests also occurred on the wedding day itself with festivities overshadowed by smoke bombs.

In 1967, Princess Beatrix gave birth to the married couple's first son, Prince Willem-Alexander. In the years to come, two more boys were born — Prince Johan Friso and Prince Constantijn.

Prince Claus, who admitted he found it difficult to adjust to royal life and at times felt he was a nobody living in the shadow of Queen Beatrix, was confirmed to be suffering from "complaints of a depressive nature" in 1982.

The prince had previously been involved in overseas development, but was forced to resign his various functions because they were sometimes considered to be too politically controversial.

Experts made a link between the Prince's depression and the restraints put upon him by his position as the husband of the head of state and in 1984 Prince Claus resumed his official functions after the government was advised to find more fulfilling work for him.

Prince Claus was appointed inspector general of development co-operation, a newly created function in which he was assigned to help improve the quality and effectiveness of Dutch development aid.

He was also appointed to the board of governors of the Dutch central bank, DNB, and Royal PTT Nederland. He was additionally made chair of the Transport and Public Works Platform.

On reaching the statutory retirement age of 72, Prince Claus resigned from the DNB and PTT boards in 1998.

But he remained serving as the honorary chair of the National Co-ordinating Committee for the Protection of Monuments and Historic Buildings. He was also a patron of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Scouting Netherlands.

Happy moments amid worsening health

In 1991, Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. At the same time the Government Information Service, RVD, revealed that Prince Claus was suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Nine years later, it appeared that radiation treatment after a prostrate operation had adversely affected the Prince's intestines and kidneys and in 2001 a kidney was removed in a German hospital.

Prince Claus was healthy enough to attend the marriage of youngest son Prince Constantijn to Laurentien Brinkhorst in May 2001 and the controversial TV-broadcast engagement of eldest son Prince Willem to Maxima Zorreguieta in the same year.

He was admitted in August 2001 to the Academisch Medisch Centrum (AMC) suffering from what was described as a general worsening in his physical condition, but he was later released and attended the 2 February 2002 marriage of Prince Willem to Princess Maxima.

Just five weeks later Prince Claus was re-admitted to the AMC in Amsterdam for observation and it was revealed that he was suffering from lung embolism, or clots in the lungs. He was also suffering from heart problems.

Despite his worsening physical condition, Prince Claus was able to meet his first grandchild face to face. Eloise was the first child of Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien.

But shortly thereafter, Prince Claus was re-admitted to the AMC and after a slight improvement re-released, but ongoing problems saw him re-admitted for the last time on 17 September.

He died at about 7pm on Sunday 6 October surrounded by Queen Beatrix, his three sons and Princess Maxima and Princess Laurentien.

Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende said in a live televised broadcast on Sunday that Claus' death "comes as a shock to us all, even though we knew for years of his poor health."

"He was a remarkable man who won a warm place in the hearts of the Dutch people," Balkenende said. "With his passing, a great man is gone."

Despite the controversy of his past, Prince Claus will be remembered as one of the most popular members of the royal family and after his death on Sunday, candles and flowers were placed outside the royal palace, Huis ten Bosch, in The Hague.

The body of Prince Claus will be interred at the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft on Tuesday 15 October.

October 2002

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