by Susan Flantzer
Queen Wilhelmina holds the record for the longest reigning Dutch monarch, 58 years. Her reign spanned World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Queen Wilhelmina’s father, King Willem III, was the third monarch of the Netherlands and had married his cousin Sophie of Württemberg in 1839. The couple had three sons, Willem (1840–1879), Maurits, (1843–1850), and Alexander (1851–1884), all of whom predeceased their father without any legitimate children. Queen Sophie had died in 1877 and Willem was eager to remarry. After considering some other princesses, the 62-year-old Willem married Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont who was 21 years old. 19 months later, Willem and Emma’s only child Wilhelmina was born on August 31, 1880 at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. At the time of her birth, Wilhelmina was third in the line of succession after her half brother Alexander and her great uncle Prince Frederick of the Netherlands. By the time Wilhelmina was four, both men had died and Wilhelmina was the heir presumptive.
Wilhelmina was named for:
- Wilhelmina: the feminine form of Willem, a traditional name of the House of Orange
- Helena: Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont, sister of Queen Emma, who married Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, Queen Victoria’s youngest son
- Pauline: Pauline of Waldeck and Pyrmont, sister of Queen Emma
- Marie: Marie of Waldeck and Pyrmont, sister of Queen Emma
King Willem III died on November 23, 1890 without producing a son with Queen Emma, so ten-year-old Wilhelmina became Queen. Until Wilhelmina was 18 years old, Queen Emma served as regent. On September 6, 1891, when Wilhelmina was 18 years old, her inauguration was held at Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam.
In May of 1900, Queen Mother Emma and Queen Wilhelmina traveled to Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in present-day Thuringia, Germany to meet with three marriage candidates: Prince Frederick William of Prussia (a great grandson of King Willem I of the Netherlands) and two sons of Frederick Francis II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Only one of the Mecklenburg-Schwerin brothers showed up, Heinrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and it was him that Emma and Wilhelmina selected. The engagement was announced on October 16, 1900. The wedding preparations were overshadowed by the deaths of Wilhelmina’s uncle Charles Alexander, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach on January 5, 1901 and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom on January 22, 1901.
The couple was married on February 7, 1901 at the Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk in The Hague in the Netherlands. Following the wedding, Heinrich became a Prince of the Netherlands and also became known by the Dutch version of his name – Hendrik. Wilhelmina decreed that the Dutch royal house would remain the House of Orange-Nassau and not change to the House of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Although the marriage was a peaceful one, Wilhelmina and Hendrik grew apart due to her religious mysticism and his unfaithfulness and frustrations over his lack of an official role in the Netherlands.
It was imperative that Wilhelmina provide herself with an heir or the Dutch throne would pass to second cousin William Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach , a grandson of Wilhelmina’s aunt Sophie. On November 9, 1901, Wilhelmina had her first miscarriage. In March of 1902, it was announced that the Queen was pregnant again, but a month later Wilhelmina was seriously ill with typhoid. She miscarried again in May of 1902 and her condition was life-threatening. Wilhelmina recovered, however on July 23, 1906 she had a third miscarriage. At the end of 1908, an announcement was made that Wilhelmina was once again pregnant and her only child Juliana was born on April 30, 1909. After Juliana’s birth, Wilhelmina suffered two additional miscarriages in 1912.
Wilhelmina had inherited a substantial amount of money from her father and her half-brother Alexander. She made wise investments which made her the world’s richest woman, as well as the world’s first female billionaire (in United States dollars).
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral, and while Queen Wilhelmina was concerned with the possibility of a German attack, it was an Allied blockade of Germany that affected the Dutch. Dutch ships were included in the Allied blockade of Germany to insure that none of the goods would get to the Germans. This severely restricted Dutch imports. At the end of World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to the Netherlands and was granted political asylum. When the Allied countries tried to gain custody of Wilhelm, Wilhelmina called the Allies’ ambassadors to a meeting and lectured them on the rights of political asylum.
During World War II, three days after Germany began its invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940, the Dutch Royal Family left for London, England. One month later, Juliana, along with her daughters Beatrix and Irene, went to Ottawa, Canada, where they would be safer. Juliana’s husband Prince Bernhard stayed with Queen Wilhelmina in London during the war, although both did make occasional visits to the rest of the family in Canada. Juliana’s third daughter Margriet was born while the family was in Canada. On August 2, 1945, the whole family returned to the Netherlands.
After World War II, Juliana served twice as regent (October 14, 1947 – December 1, 1947 and May 14, 1948 – August 30, 1948) due to the ill health of her mother. On September 4, 1948, after a reign of nearly 58 years, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in favor of her daughter and Juliana became Queen of the Netherlands. After her abdication, she was styled Her Royal Highness Princess Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and retired to her home Het Loo Palace. She made few public appearances, but did appear to support the Dutch people during the terrible floods of 1953.
On November 22, 1962, the Dutch government announced that while there was no reason for immediate concern, Wilhelmina’s health had taken a turn for the worse. On November 28, 1962, Wilhelmina died at the age of 82 due to heart disease. After Wilhelmina’s death, it was announced that her condition during the last weeks of her life was more serious than had been announced. Wilhelmina was buried on December 8, 1962 in the royal crypt at the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. According to her wishes, white dress was the protocol at her funeral.
You Tube: Funeral of Queen Wilhelmina