Dutch mourn Juliana, no-fuss Queen

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the Dutch monarchy is in good order - and it seems remarkably so - former Queen Juliana, who died yesterday at the age of 94, can take most of the credit.

If the Dutch monarchy is in good order - and it seems remarkably so - former Queen Juliana, who died yesterday at the age of 94, can take most of the credit.

She was one of the most popular members of the Dutch royal family in history, and without her, the House of Orange would have died out. Her mother, Queen Wilhelmina, had tried for many years to produce an heir, suffering a series of miscarriages both before and after the birth of Juliana in 1909.

Juliana perfected the common touch in post-war Europe by throwing out protocol, which she called "a natural enemy", and leaving "the golden cage" in search of "real people and their problems", championing closer international relations and refugees' and immigrants' rights.

She also went into battle with successive right-wing Dutch governments. She voiced her dislike of the Cold War during a visit to the US, and sent diplomatic blood pressures soaring with a speech extolling pacifism.

A fervent opponent of the death penalty, she "lost" an execution order for a war criminal soon after ascending the throne in 1948. It was eventually discovered in her office, well after its expiry date. She was determined not to sign any death penalties for war criminals during her reign.

Juliana became the modern face of the monarchy in a country where royalty was respected and tolerated but hardly worshipped. She dropped the form "Your Majesty" in favour of "Madam", while to curtsy and step backwards in her presence was also banned.

After a sheltered and lonely childhood she was determined to hold on to her hard-fought freedoms, such as coffee mornings with her wide circle of women friends from all walks of life and bike trips into the countryside.

The major turning point in Juliana's life was her meeting, possibly arranged by her mother, with dashing German Bernard Lippe-Biesterfeld in 1936. Plain and shy, Juliana was dazzled by the jet-setting worldly aristocrat, two years her junior. German relatives were dispatched to find out more about the poor but intelligent and charming Bernard. They reported back that he was "a bit of a lightweight and fond of cocktails". His membership of an SS motor club was scarcely questioned. The Queen and her ladies-in-waiting were clearly as smitten with Bernard as was Juliana.

The pair married a year after they met, and the eldest of their four daughters, Beatrix, was born in 1938. Juliana's reign was often held up at the height of the British Royal Family's scandals as an example of how a modern European monarchy should operate - down-to- earth and free from scandal. But the marriage appeared to be on the brink of collapse during the 1950s, when a dubious faith healer become a fixture at the palace. She was banished following the findings of a government commission which also investigated embarrassing reports of Prince Bernard's marital infidelities.

Bernard was later to court controversy by accepting a bribe of almost $1m (£540,000) for influencing the Dutch government's choice of Lockheed aircraft in a deal with the US company. When it appeared that he might be criminally investigated, Queen Juliana threatened to abdicate, saying Beatrix would not follow her and that would be the end of the Dutch monarchy.

To avoid such a disaster it was decided instead to strip Bernard of his military honours and forbid him from military duties and the wearing of his war medals and uniform in public.

Juliana's support for Bernard, who had transformed her with the aid of French couture from a frumpy matron to a fashionable Queen with a contemporary hairstyle, was typical. She adored him, while he had a great "affection" for her throughout the years.

If she had not been a Queen she would have liked to have been a social worker, Juliana would tell those she met during her frequent visits to hospitals, convalescent centres and units for refugees and the handicapped. She launched a number of initiatives for developing countries and child welfare throughout the world.

Suffering from senile dementia, she had been looked after by nurses for the past six years at the couple's home, Soestdijk Palace, Baarn.

Now 92, Prince Bernard, despite undergoing numerous operations, continues to travel widely and fulfil public engagements.

Queen Elizabeth has sent a personal tribute to the Dutch royal family.