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Queen of the Netherlands, 1948-1980

Queen Juliana

Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina was born at Palace Noordeinde in The Hague on April 30, 1909, the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Hendrik of Meklenburg-Schwerin, and was christened in the Willems Church in The Hague on June 5, 1909.

Early Life

As the heir apparent to the Dutch throne, the princess had a very sheltered childhood. Her mother made the princess sit on a gilt chair as invited children, ordered to address her only as "Mevrouw" (Madame), played on the floor around her feet. As an adult, she often startled dignitaries by sitting on the floor whenever she could. In 1915, on advice from an educational expert, Queen Wilhelmina established a school at the Noordeinde Palace in which Princess Juliana had her lessons together with three other children -- Elisabeth van Hardenberg, Elise Bentinck and Miek de Jonge. After five years of primary school, Princess Juliana continued her education by receiving private lessons on gymnasium level.

In 1927, Princess Juliana celebrated her eighteenth birthday. Under the constitution, she had officially come of age and was entitled to assume the royal prerogative, if necessary. Two days later her mother installed her in the "Raad van State" ("Council of State").

In September of 1927, Princess Juliana enrolled at the University of Leiden. Although she had lessons from professors who prepared her for her future role, she also followed subjects she found interesting herself, including sociology, international law, history, economics, literature, and religion. On January 31, 1930, she finished her studies and the University of Leiden gave her an honorary degree in literature and philosophy (she couldn't formally graduate as she didn't have a diploma from a secondary school).

After completing her education, Princess Juliana got her own secretariate at the Palace on the Kneuterdijk in The Hague and began representing the Royal House at official events. She also became the honorary chairwoman of the Crisis Committee, in which position she stayed until May 1936. On March 20, 1934, Queen Mother Emma died, and on July 3 her father Prince Hendrik suddenly died. Princess Juliana succeeded her father as president of the Dutch Red Cross, and also took over many of the social works of her grandmother.


In the 1930's, Queen Wilhelmina began a search for a suitable husband for her daughter. At the time, the House of Orange was one of the most strictly religious royal families in the world, and it was very difficult to find a Protestant prince who suited their standards. Princes from the United Kingdom and Sweden were "vetted," but all either declined or were rejected by the princess.

In 1936, Princess Juliana took matters into her own hands. An avid skier, she was attending the Winter Olympics in Bavaria when she met and fell in love with Prince Bernard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, a young German aristocrat with a reputation for being a "man about town." Although her mother did not totally approve of her daughter's choice, she agreed to their engagement. Queen Wilhelmina, then the richest woman in the world, had her lawyers draw up a prenuptial agreement that specified exactly what the German-born prince could and could not do, and what money he would receive from the royal estate. The couple's engagement was announced on September 8, 1936, and they were married at St. Jacobs Church in The Hague on January 7, 1937, exactly fifty-eight years after the marriage of her grandparents, King William III and Queen Emma. After a three-month honeymoon, the newlyweds took up residence at Palace Soestdijk. Their first daughter, Beatrix, was born on January 31, 1938, and Princess Irene followed on August 5, 1939.

World War II

On May 12, 1940, two days after the German occupation had started, Princess Juliana and her two daughters fled to England. After a month they went to Canada, but before they left England Princess Irene was christened at the chapel of Buckingham Palace. Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard stayed in London and travelled to visit the family in Ottawa, Canada, a few times during the war. From Canada, the Princess undertook several travels to Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

Shortly before Princess Juliana's third child Margriet was born on January 19, 1943, the Governor General of Canada, Alexander Cambridge, granted Royal Assent to a special law declaring Princess Juliana's rooms at the Ottawa Civic Hospital as extraterritorial so that the child would have exclusively Dutch, not dual, nationality. Had these arrangements not occurred, Princess Margriet would have been excluded from the line of succession. Soon after the war ended, Princess Juliana expressed her gratitude to Canada by sending the city of Ottawa 100,000 tulip bulbs. In 1946, she donated another 20,500 bulbs, with the request that some of them be planted at the grounds of the Ottawa Civic Hospital. At the same time, she promised Ottawa an annual gift of tulips during her lifetime to show her lasting appreciation for Canada's war-time hospitality; Ottawa has hosted the Canadian Tulip Festival in celebration of this gift every year since.

Although the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, and Princess Juliana had already visited The Netherlands soon afterwards, she and her children did not officially return until August 2, 1945. During her first return, she helped in several aid projects for the Dutch people, and in the spring of 1946 she and her husband visited several countries that had helped the Netherlands during the German occupation. The couple's last child, Marijke Christina was born on February 18, 1947.


Princess Juliana acted as regent for her mother from October 14 to December 1, 1947, and from May 14 to August 30, 1948. On September 4, 1948, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in favor of her daughter, who was formally inaugurated as Queen Juliana at the New Church in Amsterdam two days later.

Princess Juliana in 1947
Princess Juliana in 1947

Juliana's first major act as queen was to sign an act of state granting independence to Indonesia (formerly Dutch West Indies), which she did at Dam Palace in Amsterdam on December 27, 1949.

On the night of January 31, 1953, the Netherlands was hit by the most destructive storm in more than five hundred years. Thirty breaches of dunes and dikes occurred and many towns were swept away by twelve-foot tidal waves. More than two thousand people drowned and tens of thousands were trapped by the floodwaters. Dressed in boots and an old coat, Queen Juliana waded through water and slopped through deep mud all over the devastated areas to deliver food and clothing to devastated areas.

Other major events during her reign included creation of the Benelux customs union, Dutch accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the signing of the Treaty of Rome as one of six founder members of what is now the European Union.

Although Queen Juliana was generally well liked by the Dutch citizenry, several events in her and her family's personal lives tested her relationship with her "subjects." The first began with the birth of Princess Marijke, who was born almost blind. In 1956, a friend of Prince Bernhard introduced the Queen to prayer-healer Greet Hofmans, who was subsequently hired to try and heal Marijke's eyes. Although Hofmans failed to cure the Princess, the Queen kept her on as an adviser and confidante, and even moved her into the palace. The increasing influence of Hofmans seriously affected the Queen's relationship with her husband, who did not share her faith in the "healer." Once the discord between the Queen and the Prince became public knowledge, the Dutch began to openly question the competency of the Queen. Prince Bernhard eventually got Hofmans dismissed, and Queen Juliana was able to repair her image, thanks in large part to her habit of appearing in public dressed like an "ordinary" Dutch woman and preference for being addressed as "Mrs." instead of "Her Majesty."

Another crisis erupted when her daughter Irene secretly converted to Roman Catholicism and, without government or family approval, on April 29, 1964 married Prince Carlos Hugo of Bourbon, a claimant to the Spanish throne and a leader in Spain's Carlist Party. With memories of the Dutch struggle for independence from Roman Catholic Spain and fascist German oppression still fresh in the minds of the Dutch people, the events leading to the marriage were played out in all the newspapers and a storm of hostility erupted against the monarchy for allowing it to happen. In fact, the matter was considered so serious that the queen's abdication became a real possibility. She survived, however, thanks to the underlying devotion she had earned over the years.

The controversy surrounding Irene's marriage had barely subsided when, in July 1965, the royal family announced the engagement of Princess Beatrix to Claus von Amsberg, a German diplomat who had been a member of the Nazi Wehrmacht and the Hitler Youth movement. This announcement led to demonstrations and rallies, and many Dutch began to question the value of having a monarchy. After attempting to have the marriage cancelled, Queen Juliana acquiesced and the marriage took place under a continued storm of protest. Despite the controversy, the people once again decided to forgive their Queen. The public's opinion of Princess Beatrix finally changed for the better in 1967, when she gave birth to Willem-Alexander, the first male heir to the throne in 116 years.

Scandal rocked the royal family again in 1976, when it was revealed that Prince Bernhard had accepted a US$1.1 million bribe from U.S. aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Corporation to influence the Dutch government's purchase of fighter aircraft. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands ordered an inquiry into the affair, while Prince Bernhard refused to answer reporters' questions. Rather than calling on the queen to abdicate, the Dutch people were this time fearful that their beloved Juliana might abdicate out of shame or because of a criminal prosecution conducted in her name against her husband. Queen Juliana chose to stay on the throne, and to stand by her husband. The controversy subsided after Prince Bernhard resigned his various high-profile positions as a lieutenant admiral, a general and an inspector general of the armed forces, as well as from his positions on the boards of many businesses, charities, the World Wildlife Fund, and other institutions. In return, the States-General agreed that there would be no criminal prosecution.

On April 30, 1980, her 70th birthday, Queen Juliana followed her mother's example and abdicated in favor of her eldest daughter, who became Queen Beatrix. Juliana remained active in numerous charitable causes until well into her eighties, but by the 1990's she was beginning to show signs of dementia and her public appearances became less and less frequent. On May 30, 1998, Princess Juliana appeared in public for the last time, at the wedding of her grandson Prince Maurits to Marilène van den Broek. In a letter dated February 23, 1999, Princess Juliana revealed that she was no longer able to accept official invitations because of her old age. Afterwards, only a few photos of her were published, mainly by gossip magazines. In 2001, in an interview on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Prince Bernhard revealed that after a fall in which she broke her hip his wife's memory had become worse and that the last time she had been really well had been at the vacation they spent with their children and grandchildren in Africa on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary in 1997. Juliana died in her sleep on March 20, 2004, at Soestdijk Palace in Baarn from complications of pneumonia.


"Obituary, Queen Juliana of the Nethderlands The Guardian

See Also

World War II
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
European Union

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This page was last updated on 09/14/2018.