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The Queens of the Netherlands

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Tuesday, 31 May 2011

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This edited article about the Dutch Royal Family originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 954 published on 3 May 1980.

Juliana, picture, image, illustration

Queen Juliana of the Netherlands by James E McConnell

Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, 71-year-old mother-figure of the Dutch people, is presenting her daughter, Crown Princess Beatrix on 30th April with her birthday gift – the throne of Holland.

It was on Crown Princess Beatrix’s 42nd birthday on 31st January that the queen told her 13 million subjects that she intended to abdicate and hand over the throne to her daughter after a 31-year reign.

Princess Beatrix, who is married to Prince Claus van Amsberg, a former West German diplomat, will become monarch in Amsterdam’s newly-renovated Nieuwe Kerk, the 14th century church in which Queen Juliana herself was crowned on 6th September, 1948, after the abdication of her mother, the late Queen Wilhelmina.

But the crowning, attended by royalty and statesman alike, was not to be a coronation in the British sense. Holland’s new Queen, for instance, was not to carry her regalia of office, such as her crown, sceptre and orb. These were to be merely displayed before her on a table when she took her place, for the brief spell of pomp and splendour, in the old church.

This variation from the form of coronation known in Britain is explained by the fact that, in Holland, there is no archbishop to perform the crowning ceremony, since the country has no recognised established church.

The abdication of Queen Juliana had been expected for some years. Yet it was still a surprise when she finally broke the news on television with the words: “As you get older, you get weaker, and I feel I can no longer accept this great responsibility . . . My daughter, Beatrix, is now ready to accept the throne she has been groomed for.”

When her daughter finally assumes the highest office Holland has to bestow upon her, it is not expected that the royal court at Soestdijk Palace will experience very much change. The new queen has a reputation for more formality than her mother, who always tried to cultivate the common touch by attempting to put people at ease, frequently appearing in public riding a bicycle.

Queen Beatrix will be a more reserved person. She is good-looking, with a warm smile and a good clothes sense. She has a keen, alert mind. Since she was 18, she has attended the weekly meetings of the Council of State – the equivalent of Britain’s Privy Council – and is steeped in the procedures of State and politics.

She and her prince consort live at Drakensteyn Castle, a moated hunting lodge in central Holland, with their three sons, Prince Willem-Alexander, Prince Friso and Prince Constantine.

The popularity of her family has undoubtedly been enhanced by the prospect of a male heir to the throne. There has not been one since 1890, following the death of King William III, when Queen Wilhelmina became monarch.

When Prince Willem-Alexander was born into the House of Orange 12 years ago, the nation put out the flags, and bells pealed out joyfully. The royal family will unquestionably continue to hold the deep affection of its subjects. It has been estimated that one home in every eight in Holland has a portrait of Queen Juliana or a member of her family.

Both the Crown Princess and her husband have, for long, enjoyed the respect of Holland, for their great interest in handicapped children and the development of overseas countries. Both have travelled widely and sometimes ignored the diplomatic niceties.

Once, on a visit to Israel, they were reported to have ignored their ambassador’s advice, and entered the disputed Arab section of Jerusalem, instead of staying within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. On another occasion, when they were visiting East Africa they are said to have borrowed a government plane, without official permission, to make a holiday trip.

Such actions have left their reputation quite untarnished. Unlike Crown Prince Bernhard, German-born husband of Queen Juliana, they are unlikely to be the subject of much adverse comment.

Four years ago Prince Bernhard resigned all his business and military functions after an official inquiry into claims that he had been paid money by the Lockheed Aircraft Company of America. The Dutch government endorsed the inquiry report that Prince Bernhard had been open to “dishonourable requests and offers”, but failed to find any proof that he had taken some £500,000 in pay-offs.

Queen Juliana stood by him. Although she was tempted to abdicate, she was persuaded to stay on rather than cause a constitutional crisis by quitting the throne. Prince Bernhard survived the scandal and managed to restore his reputation. Yet his involvement was always something of a puzzle, since Queen Juliana is reputed to be one of the world’s richest women.

It is widely believed that she holds more than £50 million worth of shares in the Dutch half of Shell, and that she is a major shareholder in the Netherland’s largest bank, the Algemene, of which her grandfather was a co-founder.

To many Dutchmen, Crown Prince Claus remains a more popular figure than his father-in-law, although there was much opposition to his engagement to the Crown Princess, because of his German background. The Dutch well remember the ravages of war brought to their land by Nazi Germany.

Yet the Crown Princess defended her fiance against all criticism, revealing the strength of character which she inherits from her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina.

Parliament finally approved the match and immediately Prince Claus started to learn Dutch, taking considerable pains to master the language. Today, he speaks it fluently; and his quiet charm, modesty and good humour have made him one of the most popular figures in the royal family.

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