Wilhelmina of the Netherlands

Mary Stone | March 2, 2023


Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria (The Hague, Aug. 31, 1880 – Apeldoorn, Nov. 28, 1962), Princess of the Netherlands (1880-1890, 1948-1962), Princess of Orange-Nassau and Duchess of Mecklenburg (1901-1962), was Queen of the Netherlands from Nov. 23, 1890 to Sept. 4, 1948, and reigned under the name Wilhelmina. She married her second cousin Hendrik of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. From this marriage, one daughter was born: Juliana.

Wilhelmina was the only child from the marriage of King William III of the Netherlands and Queen Emma. From 1890 until her eighteenth birthday in 1898, her mother was regent. During World War II, she emigrated to England. Due to Wilhelmina”s health problems, Crown Princess Juliana was regent, in 1947 and 1948, for a total of 157 days. Wilhelmina was Queen of the Netherlands for almost 58 years, but actually she reigned for a little less than 50 years. Nevertheless, she is by far the longest-serving Dutch head of state ever.

Wilhelmina was born at 6 p.m. on Aug. 31, 1880, at Paleis Noordeinde in The Hague. She was the only child of King Willem III of the Netherlands and his second wife Emma van Waldeck-Pyrmont. On the occasion of the birth, military parades were held and 51 gun salutes sounded.

Her official names were:

In the first months of her life, her parents called her Paulientje. Eventually they switched to Wilhelmina.

The baptism took place on October 12, 1880 in the Willemskerk in The Hague by Pastor Cornelis Eliza van Koetsveld. Little Wilhelmina wore a white baptismal gown made of Brussels lace, in which all her successors and also King Willem-Alexander were baptized. Her mother held the baby”s baptism. Among those present were 83-year-old great uncle Prince Frederick of Orange-Nassau, uncle and aunt Grand Duke Charles Alexander of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and Grand Duchess Sophie, and maternal grandfather Prince George Victor of Waldeck-Pyrmont.

Of her three older half-brothers from her father”s first marriage to Sophie of Württemberg, only Prince Alexander of Orange-Nassau was alive at the time of her birth. He was so outraged by his father”s second marriage (he closed the shutters of his palace on the day of the wedding) that he refused to see his half-sister. He died when she was four years old. This made Wilhelmina the presumptive heir to the throne. She was not certain that she was actually going to succeed her father until the latter died on Nov. 23, 1890, without leaving a son. According to the Constitution of the time, male descendants took precedence over female descendants. Upon his death, ten-year-old Wilhelmina automatically became queen.

Until her eighteenth birthday, her mother Emma assumed the kingship as regent. In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, according to the concluded inheritance agreement, only male descendants from the House of Nassau were entitled to inherit. The Grand Ducal crown there passed to a distant relative from the House of Nassau, Adolf, head of the Walram branch of Nassau.

On September 6, 1898, Wilhelmina was inaugurated in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Following the inauguration, Wilhelmina came out again with the procession; of this, the famous circus director Oscar Carré made a film recording, which he showed in his circus shortly afterwards and which is among the oldest Dutch film footage.

Two years after her inauguration, a Dutch naval vessel, Hr.Ms. Gelderland, was ordered to sail to Portuguese East Africa to evacuate Paul Kruger, president of the defeated Transvaal, to Marseilles. This gesture (with tacit approval from the British), earned her much goodwill in Europe, although she did little more than respond to a proposal from Foreign Minister De Beaufort. The numerous eulogies to her therefore did not really have her approval. “Never have I seen such an exaggerated movement,” she judged.

She had a very large role as the Dutch head of state in the (failed) peace process of the Second Boer War.

The search was on for a husband for the young queen. British candidates fell out because of the Boer War. “Aber nur ein Deutscher Prinz darf sie bekommen,” wrote German Kaiser Wilhelm II in the margins of a diplomatic official message.

Queen Mother Emma traveled with her daughter to Schwarzburg Castle in Thuringia in May 1900. There, meetings had been arranged with three candidates. Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, grandson of Princess Marianne, had been put forward by the German emperor, and the two brothers of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, sons of Grand Duke Frederick Francis II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, had been selected from the Almanach de Gotha. Of the brothers, only Heinrich showed up. Mother and daughter chose Duke Heinrich zu Mecklenburg-Schwerin. On October 16, the engagement was announced. Wilhelmina and Heinrich were related to each other. Wilhelmina”s great-grandparents were Heinrich”s great-great-grandparents: Russian Tsar Paul I and his wife Maria Fyodorovna.

On February 7, 1901, the marriage took place. Heinrich was called Hendrik from that day on. According to the rules of the time, Wilhelmina as wife should have taken her husband”s name. There would then be a new dynasty on the throne, the House of Mecklenburg-Scherwin. This, of course, was sensitive in the Netherlands. Queen Emma and the Dutch government therefore proposed to use the name Oranje-Mecklenburg. After all, the name Orange was allowed to be passed on through the female line. This was different for the name Nassau. Only the last surviving heir daughter could pass on the name Nassau to her husband and children. But this could not be invoked because male members of the Nassau family were still alive. The most closely related branch of the Nassau family ruled in Luxembourg. After consultation with the family head of the Luxembourg branch, Grand Duke Adolf of Luxembourg, Emma and Wilhelmina obtained permission to use the name Oranje-Nassau.

On Nov. 9, 1901, Wilhelmina suffered her first miscarriage. In March 1902, it was announced that the queen was pregnant again, and in April came word that she was seriously ill. It turned out to be typhoid fever. In early May, Wilhelmina suffered another miscarriage after 4½ months of pregnancy, and the situation was called equally life-threatening. Wilhelmina was the last of the Orange descendants and should she die, the throne would go to a German, Wilhelmina”s second cousin Willem Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, a grandson of Wilhelmina”s aunt Sophie. Over the course of May, her health improved and to fully recover she went to Schaumburg. On Princes Day 1902, Wilhelmina made her first public appearance again. A third miscarriage followed on July 23, 1906.

Also, on February 26, 1908, both queen and prince narrowly escaped a traffic accident. Prince Hendrik drove an open carriage that was hit by a streetcar on the corner of Parkstraat and Oranjestraat in The Hague. The carriage lost three wheels, but horses and occupants were unharmed. In late 1908, another pregnancy of the queen was announced by Prime Minister Theo Heemskerk, and on April 30, 1909, a child was born, later Queen Juliana.

Wilhelmina had two godchildren, both born during the 1916 storm surge, Wilhelmina Lijsje van Riel in Marken and Wilhelmina Aartje Vedder in Spakenburg.

Wilhelmina was a compassionate member of the Dutch Reformed Church and can be counted among the ethical-irenic movement, which rejected both orthodox dogmatism and liberality. She took the initiative in 1905 to found the Society for Folk Song Performances, which sought to evangelize in working-class neighborhoods through song. She supported the founding of the World Missionary Movement (1910) and the World Council of Churches (1948). She greatly admired Frank Thomas, the founder of the Société évangélique de Genève. Abraham Kuyper, who had left the Reformed Church with the Doleantie, considered them a “tearaway.”

In the late 1930s, she joined the Oxford Group of Lutheran pastor Frank Buchman. The goal was to counterbalance the military rearmament of the period through spiritual rearmament. In three radio speeches, which had great resonance, she paid attention to this.

Wilhelmina was thirty-five years under the influence of Sadhoe Sundar Singh, a guru from the then British India, who belonged to the sect of the Sikhs but had converted to Christianity.

Wilhelmina made emphatic use of her powers as queen. Although she knew where her limits lay, she grudgingly respected them. Wilhelmina had a clear Protestant Christian background. Based on the Orange tradition, she attached importance to a strong armed force. She also did not like political bickering and did not have much in common with the politicians of her time, which often led to conflicts with her ministers.

From that background, she was disturbed by the De Meester cabinet, a weak liberal minority cabinet, which received tacit support from the SDAP. The War Department budget was rejected in both 1906 and 1907. As a result, the cabinet fell in December 1907. That gave Wilhelmina room to put her stamp on the next formation. Abraham Kuyper was the strong man in the ARP and the obvious formateur but evoked resistance from Wilhelmina and the other parties. Wilhelmina wanted a moderate course, a strong national defense and disliked Kuyper. Theo Heemskerk, the second-in-command of the ARP, was commissioned by Wilhelmina to form a cabinet, in which Kuyper, to his annoyance, was passed over.

Wilhelmina supported the United States and Britain in a conflict over Mexican oil fields.

After the great powers designated The Hague as the site for the Peace Palace, the nineteen-year-old queen offered one of her palaces as a place where nations could settle their disputes peacefully by submitting them to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. She offered a gala dinner at the conclusion of the first Hague Peace Conference. She saw little in these initiatives – after all, the Netherlands was a neutral country – and attached more importance to strong defense. On this she came into conflict with successive governments, which at the time were striving for a people”s army.

Wilhelmina inherited two million guilders from her half-brother Alexander, who died in 1884, and over 6.9 million guilders from her father. Of the latter amount, eighty percent was in securities. As queen, she received an annual state allowance of 600,000 guilders, as much as her father received from 1849. In addition, she received 50,000 guilders annually for maintenance of her palaces. The income from her crown estates amounted to between 500,000 and 600,000 guilders annually. Wilhelmina paid only land tax. Expenses on court staff in the years 1890-1898 roughly matched her annual income. In 1905, Wilhelmina had 181 staff members. Ten years later there were 205. In the five years prior to 1909, Wilhelmina had to contribute more than 700,000 guilders from her private wealth to meet her expenses. When the Constitution was amended in 1922, her state allowance was doubled. In 1940, the Germans estimated her private fortune at sixteen million guilders. Of that, she took three million guilders worth of securities to England.

During World War I, the Netherlands was neutral, but sympathies at the time were focused on Germany. Wilhelmina, thanks to her mother and husband, had an extended German family. British action at the turn of the century in the Second Boer War was also still fresh in the memory.

After a number of incidents, such as the Germans torpedoing a number of Dutch ships and German submarines stranding on the Dutch coast, Wilhelmina managed to calm things down thanks to her contacts with the German Kaiser. A joint commission was set up to see how great the mutual damage was. Tension rose further when the Allies seized Dutch ships. Wilhelmina spoke of ship robbery. To uphold Dutch honor, it was decided to send a convoy of merchant ships to the Dutch East Indies escorted by warships. When the British wanted to search the ships, the government could do nothing but give in. Colonial Minister Jean Jacques Rambonnet resigned, dissatisfied with the cabinet decision. Wilhelmina was furious and showed her disapproval.

The Germans suspected the Netherlands of collaborating with the Allies and demanded compensation in the form of free passage through Limburg. Wilhelmina again managed to calm tempers through her personal contacts with the German emperor. The compromise, only building material for Belgium but not for the construction of trenches, led to tensions with the Allies.

Commander-in-Chief General Snijders had to divide the Dutch forces to resist both an English, French and German attack. He preferred to concentrate on one opponent and therefore favored an alliance with the Germans because, in his opinion, the Netherlands would be hopeless in a German attack. This prompted the Cort van der Linden government to dismiss Snijders and stick to the neutrality policy. Wilhelmina sided with the commander-in-chief. This led to a conflict with the Cabinet and Minister of War De Jonge. In a conversation between Wilhelmina and De Jonge, harsh words fell between them. Snijders wanted to resign himself, but Wilhelmina asked him in a personal letter to stay on.

Relations between Wilhelmina and the Cabinet had reached a low point in 1918. The situation was saved by the end of World War I and by national elections. A new Cabinet, the Ruijs de Beerenbrouck I Cabinet, relieved that of Cort van der Linden in September 1918. The new Minister of War George August Alexander Alting von Geusau dismissed Snijders as yet after the riots at the Harskamp Armory. He first announced the dismissal to the House of Representatives before Wilhelmina was informed.

Railroad accident near Houten

On June 7, 1917, Wilhelmina was involved in a train accident near Houten on the railroad line between Houten and Schalkwijk. This left eleven slightly injured, eleven carriages derailed and one overturned; Wilhelmina remained uninjured.

Social unrest, encouraged by the disintegration of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German Empires and the Communist revolution in Russia in 1917, also reared its head in the Netherlands shortly after World War I, inspiring socialist leader Pieter Jelles Troelstra in November 1918 to his “historic mistake”: a call for a socialist revolution. A proclamation by Wilhelmina calmed tempers when the differences between extremely rich and extremely poor were also addressed somewhat: hospitals, new housing and limiting the exploitation of workers. Wilhelmina now also began to give more of her own interpretation of kingship. She wanted “contact with all layers of the population in her labor, feeling and thinking.” Ceremonial was drastically reduced, but she could not break the “golden cage.”

After World War I, the German emperor requested political asylum on November 10, 1918. The Ruijs de Beerenbrouck I cabinet granted it to him, against the wishes of the allied powers France, Great Britain and especially Belgium. Wilhelmina avoided any contact with him. She blamed him for lack of leadership and for abandoning his people. The German revolution would also reverberate in the Netherlands, as she would experience.

Historian Beatrice de Graaf showed in 2018 that Wilhelmina had played an important role in the emperor”s arrival in the Netherlands on her own initiative and always managed to keep it hidden from the general public during her lifetime. This escape put the Netherlands in a difficult position, as it could negate the Dutch policy of neutrality toward the Allies. They demanded extradition of the emperor. Moreover, Belgium could use a refusal to extradite to annex Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and parts of Limburg.

The proportional representation introduced by the constitutional amendment of 1917 and the introduction of women”s suffrage (right to stand for election in 1917, right to vote in 1919) in created an electorally stable situation that put the Protestant Christian parties in a favorable middle position. At the same time, to Wilhelmina”s annoyance, parliament was splintered and cabinet crises arose with some regularity. After the necessary rounds of consultation, the same parties formed another cabinet.

According to Fasseur, political wrangling during that period contributed to Wilhelmina”s dislike of political parties and ministers. At the same time, the bickering strengthened her position. In a number of cases she was asked to mediate in a conflict. Between 1922 and 1939, a cabinet had to be formed ten times under her leadership, with Wilhelmina as head of state pulling the strings in the formation process. If she did not like a proposed minister or government program, she made this known to the formateur.

At the Cabinet crisis of 1939, created by what she considered an unnecessary conflict between Colijn and Romme, she expressed her displeasure to Colijn: You then (now you must find other gentlemen. Wilhelmina then tried to put forward Colijn as prime minister of a royal cabinet, but the Colijn V cabinet was voted down in the House of Representatives. Dirk Jan de Geer became formateur. With the De Geer II cabinet at the helm, the Netherlands entered World War II.

Wilhelmina suffered from the extramarital adventures and financial practices of Prince Hendrik, who was uncomfortable with his position as prince consort within the Dutch constitutional system. From the end of World War I, they lived almost separately; due to the docility of the press at the time, the people remained largely unaware of Hendrik”s misdeeds. Wilhelmina charged the Hague chief commissioner Van ”t Sant with supervising Hendrik.

The death of her mother and husband in 1934 made that year difficult for her, not only emotionally, but also because the royal family then consisted of only two people. She would have preferred to abdicate because she believed that the people had grown a little bored with her and because she felt powerless to adjust cabinet policy. However, she did not want to do this to her daughter Juliana before she had arranged her own marriage. From 1937, the monarchy received much-needed reinforcement: Juliana married Prince Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld and in 1938 Princess Beatrix was born as Wilhelmina”s first granddaughter and heir; in 1939 Princess Irene followed.

Together with King Leopold III of the now also neutral Belgium, she undertook some initiatives to keep the peace in Europe, which were to no avail, but did help improve Dutch-Belgian relations. In February 1939 it was decided to build a central refugee camp for Jews fleeing from Germany. A location near Elspeet was chosen. Queen Wilhelmina resisted; she felt that the distance of twelve kilometers from her summer residence Paleis Het Loo was far too short, and the ANWB also protested, arguing that the Veluwe should remain freely accessible. The camp was eventually built near Hooghalen (Central Refugee Camp Westerbork).

On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. The entire royal family fled to London a few days later. Queen Wilhelmina also fled on the advice of General Henri Winkelman. By her own account, her initial plan was to sail from The Hague to Zeeland in an English destroyer and fight there with her troops until help arrived from the Allies. This proved unfeasible, after which the ship set sail for England. Juliana and the children Beatrix and Irene traveled on to Canada a month later in order to secure the dynasty.

In London, she stayed with the Dutch government in exile and sent radio messages to her people, via Radio Oranje. Adolf Hitler she called the “arch-enemy of mankind.” She also once in her speeches expressed her disapproval of the persecution of Jews that was going on in the Netherlands at that time. Despite the penalty imposed on this, the broadcasts were widely listened to in the Netherlands. During the last years of the occupation, she and the color orange became a symbol of liberation. She herself was almost killed during the war by a German bomb that came down close to her home in South Mimms, just north of London. A guard lost his life in the process.

While her daughter and grandchildren were in Canada, her son-in-law Bernhard emerged as an adjutant, committed to the armed forces, although his mother-in-law did not allow him to put himself in danger. During the war, she spoke of a political concept called “renewal,” which stemmed from her frustrations with the pre-war political system. This was never fully developed, but the core themes were as follows: abolition of the columns, even greater power for the Crown and a more unified Netherlands. She had many a conflict with her ministers, who were supporters of the pre-war system. However, she believed that the people would stand behind her.

After her return to the Netherlands, Wilhelmina stayed at the Anneville estate near Breda. Here she consulted a number of Dutch prominent figures to put together a cabinet that could begin reconstruction. In her opinion, people who had distinguished themselves in the resistance should be entrusted with this task. Although she doubted that Drees was innovative enough, she asked Schermerhorn and Drees to form a national cabinet for recovery and renewal together. This led to the Schermerhorn-Drees cabinet. According to Drees, the appointment of two formators, was an idea of Wilhelmina herself.

She ordered the demolition of Palace Het Loo out of anger at the Nazis” use of it. However, common sense prevailed. Out of compassion for the Dutch people, Wilhelmina lived temporarily in a civilian home on Nieuwe Parklaan in The Hague after World War II (September 1945 – April 1946). Furthermore, she made personal visits throughout the country.

Wilhelmina faced a disappointment in the national elections of 1946 regarding the renewal she envisioned; the old political parties and their pillars returned. Wilhelmina had made a mistake; the Dutch wanted nothing of her renewal. Her health also left much to be desired; Juliana had to serve as regent twice (from October 14, 1947 to December 1, 1947 and from May 14, 1948 to August 30, 1948). On May 12, 1948, Wilhelmina announced her abdication in a radio address. After nearly 50 years in office, she abdicated on Sept. 4, 1948. Two days later, the inauguration of Queen Juliana took place. Wilhelmina is the longest reigning monarch in Dutch history. She ruled, when she abdicated in 1948, more than a quarter of the period that the Kingdom of the Netherlands under the Orange was a constitutional monarchy.

After her abdication, she retired to Het Loo. After her abdication, the influence of the Dutch monarchy on government policy declined, but the Royal Family remained popular.

She made several more public appearances during the 1953 flood. She worked on her dynastic interests and business investments into old age, including contact with the American Mellon family and the European Rothschilds. During her last years of life, she wrote her autobiography Lonely but Not Alone.

One of the last times she appeared in public was on the eighteenth birthday of her granddaughter Beatrix in 1956.

The National Information Service announced on Nov. 22, 1962, that Wilhelmina”s health had deteriorated slightly. “However, there is no reason for immediate concern,” was the official comment. On the night of Nov. 27-28, she died in her sleep at Het Loo Palace from the effects of a heart condition. She was 82 years old. Immediately after her death, it was announced that in the last weeks of Wilhelmina”s life, her state of health had been much more serious, than had been made public. Wilhelmina was laid to rest in the chapel of Het Loo. Outside Het Loo, a long line of people braved the cold to pay their last respects to her. Her body was transferred to Lange Voorhout Palace on Dec. 4. Wilhelmina was interred on December 8 in the tomb of Orange-Nassau in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft. In accordance with her wishes, already established in 1919, white was the prescribed clothing at the funeral.

Ten years after Wilhelmina”s birth, Louis M. Hermans published a verse in the magazine De Roode Duivel: Who is papa? The verse led to rumors that King William III would not be Wilhelmina”s father. The rumor circuit pointed to De Ranitz. Although there were no concrete clues, the rumors proved persistent.


  1. Wilhelmina der Nederlanden
  2. Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
  3. Voor herkomst van alle voornamen zie: Cees Fasseur Wilhelmina. De jonge koningin, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, (2009, e-book, naar vijfde druk uit 2001), p. 52-53
  4. Cees Fasseur Wilhelmina. De jonge koningin, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, (2009, e-book, naar de vijfde druk uit 2001), p. 188
  5. Cees Fasseur Wilhelmina. De jonge koningin, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, p. 196 (2009, e-book, naar de vijfde druk uit 2001)
  6. ^ “Queen Wilhelmina”. Life. Vol. 25, no. 7. 16 August 1948. p. 83. ISSN 0024-3019.
  7. ^ Fitzwilliams, Richard (30 April 2013). “What Dutch ”Bicycling Royals” Can Teach World”s Royals”. Cable News Network (CNN).
  8. ^ Queen Victoria”s Journals, Friday 3rd May 1895
  9. ^ Picard, Emile (January 2018). “Queen Wilhelmina and the Boers, 1899-1902”.
  10. ^ Cees Fasseur, Wilhelmina: De jonge koningin, 1998, ISBN 9050185045
  11. “Wilhelmina of Netherlands Dies” (UPI), New York Times, November 28, 1962. pp. A1-A39.
  12. “Caged no more,” Time. December 7, 1962.
  13. “Worried Queen,” Time. November 27, 1939.
  14. Kruit, Pieter C. van der (2014). Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn: Born Investigator of the Heavens (em inglês). Berlim: Springer. p. 218. ISBN 9783319108766
  15. a b c d Jackson, Guida M.; Jackson-Laufer, Guida Myrl; Jackson, Lecturer in English Foundations Department Guida M. (1999). Women Rulers Throughout the Ages: An Illustrated Guide (em inglês). Santa Bárbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 414–5. ISBN 9781576070918
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.