Wilhelmina of the Netherlands

From Academic Kids

For other uses, see Wilhelmina (disambiguation).
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Wilhelmina, the young Queen

Wilhelmina Helena Pauline of Orange-Nassau (August 31, 1880November 28, 1962) was Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 to 1948 and Queen Mother (with the title of Princess) from 1948 to 1962.


Early life

She was the daughter of King William III and his second wife Queen Emma. Her childhood was characterized by a close relationship with her parents, especially with her father who was already 63 years of age when she was born.

King William III died on November 23, 1890 and a special law had to be passed to allow a female to ascend to the throne. However, according to the Dutch Constitution, her mother Emma became Regent for the young Wilhelmina until her 18th birthday.

On August 31, 1898, Wilhelmina was crowned in the New Church in Amsterdam. Although viewed as queen in a constitutional monarchy she in fact had absolute veto power over any legislation, appointed each member of the Council of State, and could alone dissolve the States-General. Wilhelmina would go on to become one of the most influential Dutch monarchs since the days of William I of the Netherlands.

In 1901, Wilhelmina married Prince Hendrik, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. A playboy and a drunkard who is reported to have had several illegitimate children, the marriage was an unhappy one. The birth of their only child, Juliana, on April 30, 1909, was considered a miracle. All over the Netherlands, spontaneous celebrations took place. Juliana was baptized by Dr. J.H. Gerretsen, a profound theologian and preacher (see the biography by CFJ Antonides). A devoted mother, Queen Wilhelmina adored her daughter and spent hours playing with her. She would dress the child herself and look after her personal needs rather than having a maid do everything. The Queen taught her daughter the Protestant Bible, and about every inch of her small country. As a result, she and her daughter would have a strong bond for life.


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Queen of the Netherlands, 1909

Tactful, and careful to operate within the limitations of what was expected by the Dutch people and their elected representatives, a strong-willed Wilhelmina became a forceful personality who spoke and acted her mind. These qualities showed up early on in her reign when, at the age of 20, Queen Wilhelmina ordered a Dutch warship to defy a British blockade of South Africa and rescue Paul Kruger, the embattled President of the Transvaal. For this, Wilhelmina gained international stature and earned the respect and admiration of people all over the world.

In addition to her strong will, Queen Wilhelmina had a keen understanding of business matters and her shrewd investments would make her the wealthiest woman in the world and the first woman to ever accumulate a net worth in excess of a billion dollars. Her investments extended to the United States and to the oil wells in the Indies. During her time, oil would become a major source of wealth, power, and war. She would invest in oil, and today the Dutch Royal Family is the single largest shareholder of Royal Dutch Shell. However, in 1947, while the country was recovering from World War II, the revolt in the oil-rich Dutch East Indies would see sharp criticism of the Queen by the Netherlands economic elite.

World War I

As a nineteen-year-old Queen, she offered the world one of her Royal Palaces at The Hague as a place where countries could come to settle their differences through peaceful arbitration, rather than war. This idea was the foundation of the International Court of the Hague. Wilhelmina's work to prevent World War I is recognized as a brilliant effort that, had other leaders been of equal intellect, might have avoided the ensuing costly disaster.

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Wilhelmina and Juliana, circa 1914

Prior to the outbreak of World War I, a young Wilhelmina visited the powerful Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany who boasted to the child-Queen of a tiny country that "my guards are seven feet tall and yours are only shoulder high to them." Wilhelmina smiled politely and replied: "Quite true, Your Majesty, your guards are seven feet tall. But when we open our dikes, the water is ten feet deep!" After World War I, the Kaiser would beg Wilhelmina for asylum in her tiny country, and the Queen, ever the magnanimous woman that she was, accepted his pleas. She even refused to extradite Wilhelm as a war criminal despite vigorous requests from the victorious powers.

Although she was able to keep her country neutral during the first great war, sizeable German investments in the Dutch economy combined with a large trading partnership in goods, forced England to blockade the Dutch ports in an attempt to weaken Germany.

Civil unrest, spurred by the Bolshevik revolt in Russia in 1917, gripped the Netherlands after the war. A proclamation by the Queen helped settle things down when the problems of the disparity between rich and poor began to be addressed. Hospitals and new housing for the poor were built along with the introduction of wage and working regulations that curbed exploitation. Engineers reclaimed vast amounts of land that had been underwater by building the Zuiderzee scheme. Under Wilhelmina and a progressive government, the Netherlands began to emerge as an industrial powerhouse. The death of her husband Prince Hendrik in 1934 brought an end to a difficult year that also saw the passing of Queen Emma.

World War II

On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and Queen Wilhelmina and her family fled to England. With no real army or the weapons to even attempt a defense against the powerful German onslaught, the country surrendered on May 14, 1940. In England, Queen Wilhelmina took charge of the Dutch government in exile, setting up a chain of command and immediately communicating a message to her people.

Like Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina broadcast messages to the Dutch people over Radio Orange. As always, the Queen pulled no punches, calling Adolf Hitler "the archenemy of mankind". Her late night broadcasts were eagerly awaited by her people who had to hide in order to listen to them illegally under penalty of death. During the war, the Queen was almost killed by a bomb that took the life of several of her guards and severely damaged her country home near South Mimms, England. In 1944 Queen Wilhelmina became only the second woman to be inducted into the Knights of the Garter.

Following the end of World War II, Queen Wilhelmina began riding a bicycle around the devastated countryside to motivate the people, oftentimes walking through mud up to her ankles to talk to displaced people in need of help. Greeted by cheering crowds who poured out their affection for their symbol of national identity, Queen Wilhelmina employed her keen business eye, using her bicycle trips to also check on government reconstruction projects. The country suffered as a result of destroyed infrastructure and although she remained enormously wealthy, the Queen never turned on the heat or electricity in her Palace so long as her own people were doing without.

Later years

The Queen near the end of her reign. Wilhelmina was the only Dutch monarch to ever appear on the country's banknotes.
The Queen near the end of her reign. Wilhelmina was the only Dutch monarch to ever appear on the country's banknotes.

On September 4, 1948, after fifty years as Queen, Wilhelmina abdicated in favour of her daughter Juliana. After her reign, the influence of the Dutch monarchy began to decline but the country's love of their royal family would continue. No longer Queen, Wilhelmina retreated to the Het Oude Loo Palace, making few public appearances until 1953 when the country was devastated by floods. Once again she traveled about, this time the 73-year-old grandmother used a car instead of a bicycle to encourage and motivate her people. Still working tirelessly on her investments, in the world of business, even at her advanced age she thrived, meeting and dealing with economic powerhouses at the time such as the American Mellons of Pennsylvania and the European Rothschilds.

During her last years she wrote her autobiography titled: Lonely but Not Alone.

Queen Wilhelmina died at the age of 82 on November 28, 1962 and is buried in the vault of the Dutch Royal Family at Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Delft, Netherlands.

Preceded by:
William III
Queen of the Netherlands Succeeded by:
da:Wilhelmina 1. af Nederland

de:Wilhelmina (Niederlande) fr:Wilhelmine des Pays-Bas la:Vilelmina (regina Nederlandiae) nl:Wilhelmina van Nederland ja:ヴィルヘルミナ (オランダ女王) pl:Wilhelmina (krlowa Holandii)


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