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Queen Juliana of the Netherlands: The People's Queen

Queen Juliana address the thousands of Dutch after abdicating in 1980.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina was born at The Hague on April 30, 1909, the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and  Prince Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.  As the only heir to the house of Orange, Juliana was brought up in a privileged but constricted environment. She was privately tutored in a class with several other girls.  Queen Wilhelmina herself, according to Dan van der Vat, was “a fierce autocrat who made the princess sit on a gilt chair as invited children, ordered to address her only as ‘Mevrouw’ (Madame), played on the floor round her feet.” But Juliana grew tired of the ceremonies at court. As an adult Juliana, she surprised the governor-general of Canada by sitting on the floor whenever she could.

In 1927, Juliana attended the University of Leiden, where she graduated in international law in 1930. In the 1930’s, she formed the National Crisis Committee to provide relief from the economic depression, which, according to van der Vat, she chaired for five years, “acquiring an intimate experience of economic distress across the nation.” Upon the death of Prince Henry, she took over the presidency of the Netherlands Red Cross in July 1934. In November that year, she was a bridesmaid at the Duke of Kent's wedding to Princess Marina at Westminster Abbey.

Juliana always wanted to keep in control of her life.  She immediately fell for Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld when they met at the winter Olympics in Bavaria early in 1936.  Bernhard pursued Juliana and after discussing the heavy role they would play in the state of the Dutch affairs, they were married on January 7, 1937, exactly the same day Queen Wilhelmina married Prince Henry 58 years before.  They had four daughters:  Beatrix (born 1938). Irene (1939), Margriet (1943), and Maria Christina (1947). Just before the Germans occupied the Netherlands in 1940, Juliana and her daughters fled to England and spent most of the war years in Canada. The Royal Family returned to liberated part the Netherlands in April 1945. Juliana became actively involved in relief operations for the victims of the Nazi occupation. She headed the Council for the Rehabilitation of the People of the Netherlands, working ceaselessly to alleviate the suffering of her displaced subjects.

Immediately after World War II, the Netherlands struggled to maintain its colony in the Dutch East Indies . The Indonesians were demanding for their independence and the Dutch troops, still battered by the wartime trauma, tried to quell the uprising and maintain its grip on its colony. Amidst this crisis, Queen Wilhelma, already reeling behind declining health, abdicated in favor of Juliana in 1948. The following year, Juliana signed the documents granting independence to Indonesia. 
Upon her accession, Juliana, never comfortable with ceremonial and pomp, abolished the curtsey and other formalities which she considered to be outdated; and she spent as much time as she could with her four daughters, claiming that her maternal duties were as important to her as they were to any other woman, The Daily Telegraph wrote.

In 1953, Juliana had to face another tough period of her reign, this time, the devastating flood that wrought havoc in Zeeland, the country's most populated territory. The disaster claimed the life of over 1,600 people but Juliana was quick to come to the rescue, visiting the area by rowing boat or wearing rubber boots. In the aftermath, she was closely involved in the Delta Project, for a new rampart to withstand the North Sea. These manifestations of compassion from the motherly queen easily earned her the love of her countrymen, a factor that kept the Dutch monarchy weather intact, despite the Prince Bernhard's involvement in the Lockheed scandal of the 1970s.

Juliana would throw in her effort where social justice is concerned. In her joint address to the US Congress in 1952, she urged countries to spend less on defense and more on social services. She also funded the International Union for Child Welfare to study about child care and child protection and its possibilities for inclusion in local and regional development plans. Constitutional mandate barred her from promoting legislations, but that did not stop her from influencing the government to promote the welfare of the people. She even went on to greater measures to help Indonesian immigrants in the 1970s.

Warm-hearted and jolly, inwardly a little shy, splendidly rich, and unapologetically round, she made no claim to be beautiful or well-dressed, but she radiated an aura of supreme self-confidence that caused her to be widely loved in Holland, and in many countries besides, wrote The Independent.

Juliana followed the precedence of her mother and abdicated in favor of her daughter, Beatrix, on her 71st birthday, reverting to her former title as Princess of the Netherlands. She, nevertheless, remained active in numerous charitable causes until well into her eighties.  She died in her sleep on March 20 2004, a few weeks before her 95th birthday. 

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