The first Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina, was barely 10 years old when she succeeded her elderly father, King Willem III, in 1890. Her three elder half-brothers had predeceased him. Little Wilhelmina was not allowed to inherit her father's Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, however. Female inheritance would not be permitted there for another couple of decades.
|Wilhelmina and baby Juliana
Throughout her reign, Wilhelmina exhibited great strength of character and intelligence. It was she who created the vast fortune that, through careful stewardship by her heirs, has kept the Dutch monarchs near the top of the list of the world's wealthiest people. She also served as an inspiration to her people during both world wars, even when the entire royal family had to be evacuated during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. Using her influence and political acumen, she was able to prevent the Dutch prime minister from making a separate peace with Germany and thereby endangering the Allied war effort. In his own inimitable way, Winston Churchill paid his tribute to Wilhelmina by calling her the only "real man" among the many exiled governments that had taken refuge in England.
It was also during her reign that the country started its greatest efforts reclaim land from the sea--a successful venture that continues to this day, helping make The Netherlands one of the world's leaders in issues concerning both environmental conservation in general and water resources in particular.
Nevertheless, the stress of the war years and recurring illness caused Wilhelmina to decide to abdicate in favor of Juliana in 1948. She devoted the rest of her life to supporting her daughter and her religious interests. She passed away in 1962.
Nearing 40 at the time of her accession, Juliana had already proven her leadership abilities and her fecundity. Where her mother had struggled to have children, Juliana had been much more successful--although all of her four children were girls, this no longer was a problem for the Dutch. Juliana had spent WWII with her young children in Canada. Her third daughter, Margriet, was born in Ottawa. In gratitude for the welcome she received there, Juliana sent tulip bulbs to Canada every year until her death, and a Canadian Tulip Festival is still held annually in Ottawa.
Juliana was one of the first royal heirs anywhere to receive a university education, and was the best educated female heir anywhere, setting a tradition that was followed in Denmark and Sweden, but not in England, where the current Queen Elizabeth II was educated by governesses and occasional private sessions with an Etonian historian. During her mother's illnesses, Juliana had served as regent before ascending the throne. That experience and her excellent training had prepared her to oversee the difficult dissolution of Dutch colonies in Suriname and Indonesia.
It did not, however, prepare her for a great personal crisis. During her final pregnancy, Juliana contracted German measles, which left the infant Princess Marijke (later called Christina) blind. The deeply religious Juliana turned to a faith healer whose intervention did nothing to improve the child's condition or the royal reputation. Much like Rasputin in Imperial Russia, the healer began to influence political decisions. A power struggle developed between the Queen and a faction led by her husband, forcing Juliana to dismiss the healer and many of her other advisors. The marriage survived, but more controversies followed when their second daughter married a Catholic pretender to the Spanish throne and then the eldest daughter and heir married a German diplomat at a time when Dutch feelings about the German occupation were still very sensitive. More devastating controversy followed in the 1970s, when it was revealed that her husband had taken a $1.1 million bribe from an American aircraft manufacturer.
Despite all of this, Juliana maintained strong popularity throughout her life due to her extraordinary interest in charitable activities, particularly the plight of refugees and children. The Dutch also appreciated her down-to-earth persona. It was she who really invented the "bicycle monarchy," choosing this method of transport to be closer to the people and preferring not to be called "Your Majesty."
In 1980, Juliana followed the precedent set by her mother and handed the throne over to her eldest daughter Beatrix. She continued her charitable works until overcome by dementia and died shortly before her 95th birthday in 2004.
Like her mother, Beatrix is well-educated and very popular. Like her mother, she had several children--although her three are all boys. And like her mother, she has suffered her own share of heartache and controversy. As mentioned earlier, her marriage to German Claus van Amsberg was greeted with suspicion and violence, resulting in smoke bombs being thrown at the royal wedding coach. Her own investiture festivities were rocked by violent protests from socialists demonstrating for housing reforms. In 2009, she and the royal family survived an assassination attempt when the assassin missed plowing his car into the royal bus and instead killed several spectators gathered for the Queen's Day festivities. Later the marriage of her heir to the daughter of a former Argentine official who is suspected of involvement in the deaths of thousands and the marriage of another son to an ex-girlfriend of a suspected mafioso also raised alarm. More tragically, that same son, Prince Friso, has been a vegetative state since being caught in an avalanche while skiing last winter. [Prince Friso passed away on August 12, 2013.]
Neverthesess, Beatrix has become a popular monarch. Her personal style is as well-recognized in Europe as Queen Elizabeth's is in the Commonwealth. Her big hats, printed dresses, ruffled collars and vast jewelry collection have been imprinted on the minds of all of her people.
Her abdication announcement was greeted with widespread affection and an outpouring of appreciation. With her departure, the Dutch throne returns to male trusteeship, but this is only temporary as the new King has only daughters, the oldest of whom, Princess Catharina Amalia, will assume the heir's title of Princess of Orange at the tender age of ten--the same age her great-great grandmother was when she started the Queen Streak in 1890.