|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
A program note from the author. To get the most from this article, go to any search engine and find the theme of the fourth-movement Sarabande of George Frederick Handel's Keyboard Suite in D minor composed in 1731. It'll help set the mood for what follows...
I have a confession to make. I was not, until recently, up on the ins and outs of the last century or so of one of Europe's most enduring monarchies, that of the House of Orange-Nassau, rulers of the Netherlands. I suspect you are not up-to-date on the topic either... and I suspect, therefore, that you'll be as riveted as I am by what I've learned. I kept thinking: if they had been English princes, not Dutch, their larger-than-life existences, founded on the reality of a throne, their astronomical financial resources, royal shenanigans and hijinks, and all the rest -- would have been seized long ago by media producers.
But they are Dutch, hence and oh so wrongly, thought to be dull. I have learned otherwise... and now you will too.
My curiosity about Queen Juliana began by receiving one of the regular emails I get from Sothebys, the famous auction house, which finds me amongst its regular customers. They were having an auction (commencing March 14, 2011) of over 1700 lots of the personal effects of Her Netherlandish Majesty. Since I am a long time participant in such auctions, I dropped everything and went straight for the online catalog. It took several days to go through it all. As usual this auction was an aperture into a life as foreign to me as if the lady had come from Mars.
Daughter of a Queen, Queen Regnant, Mother of a Queen, ex-Queen.
Juliana Louise Emma Maria Wilhelmina was born 30 April 1909 and died 20 March 2004. She was born at the apex of the European royal caste, moving inexorably towards its cataclysmic conclusion, though its princes little suspected most of them were about to perish, with those remaining, dazed, admonished, everything they knew either changed or washed away. Whether before Gotterdammerung or after, Juliana of the Netherlands was always amongst the lucky.
She was born in The Hague, only child of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a German princely state about to face oblivion as a result of the German Kaiser's bombast and miscalculation.
Right from the start, she was already a social reformer... her mother determining that Juliana's education should include other young ladies of suitable family who would be educated along with their future sovereign. Her Royal Highness was 6 years old at the time. Already, without knowing it, she was changing established habits... helping others. She made a lifetime's work of it.
Her good fortune continued with something that didn't happen, namely the Netherlands going to war. Instead they remained neutral in the Great War of 1914-1918. The Dutch and their princess thereby avoided the destruction and ruination of most of Europe where every major dynasty fell except for the newly named Windsors of England. Juliana was to be seared by the flames of global war... but not yet.
Her luck ran out in 1936 at the Winter Olympics in Bavaria where she met Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld. Here she discovered love... its costs would come later.
Prince Bernhard seemed to solve a problem. Princes of suitable pedigree and religion (for the Dutch were strong adherents to the tenets of their demanding faith) were rare. He had the right heritage... he was willing to perform the always tricky role of prince consort (not the king). Importantly, he was good looking and good company in the jaunty German manner.
What no one knew then was that he was textbook perfect as randy rogue, flagrant adulterer, always dubious where money was concerned, with a yearning for Deutchland uber allies and absolutely no regard at all for his new country... or its crown princess and her impending destiny.
In short, a newspaper publisher's dream for selling papers...
Standing against many of her concerned and wary countrymen, who disliked Bernhard right from the start she married her dashing choice 7 January, 1937 and hardly ever had a happily married moment thereafter. Adolph Hitler (who had, let it be recalled, a puckish sense of humor) sent as his wedding present a strong hint that this marriage was really in the nature of an alliance between his acquisitive Nazis... and the Dutch.
Such was the outraged reaction of the nation that Juliana 's mother Queen Wilhelmina and her government were forced to issue the strongest possible denial, though of course many people still doubted... and rightly so. Hitler meant to have the Netherlands, its refineries, its far-flung imperial possessions, the Rembrants and Vermeers he coveted... probably he wanted all the tulips, too. He bagged them all, for a time, but he failed to capture the Royal Family. In the person of Princess Juliana, her two daughters (including future Queen Beatrix) and always her egregious consort, she went to Canada, where she lived a life of quiet simplicity and service, thereby gaining the hearts of Canadians, who can be quick to smell pretension. Quite simply, she set out to capture their hearts... and she did. It was a skill worth having.
She would need it in the eventful years to come, years marked by World War II and the Nazi occupation and spoliation; by her succession as Queen in 1948 upon the abdication of her mother and the simultaneous loss of Indonesia and the golden possessions of the East Indies, producing national despair. Juliana coped with all... until she had to cope with her last child Princess Christina (born 1947) born nearly blind and other afflicted because of her mother's German measles contracted during pregnancy. Desperate to help a much loved child, Queen Juliana, as she was now, sought help and consolation in mystic religion. Her people, sympathetic to her plight, were not as sympathetic to the faith healers in whom she sought solace. Her husband, of course, gave her the same attention he always had... none at all. There were serious grumblings against the dynasty. However a lifetime of service, the simplicity of her ways, and rising Dutch prosperity, saved the woman who as queen, liked to have her countrymen call her ("mevrouw", Dutch for "Mrs"). This covered her shady husband, too, from the fall out from one sexual and financial escapade after another. The woman, the queen he constantly wronged, constantly saved him. Such was her meaning of love.
There are echoes of all this in the over 1,700 items from her possessions in the March, 2011 Sothebys sale, the proceeds going to the Red Cross she ardently supported in life. Personally, I intend to pick up a little silver something for myself. It may be from the Queen's great store...or perhaps even from Prince Bernhard's. He had better, more royal tastes, and from his financial chicaneries he was able to indulge them.