Juliana Biography

Born Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina, April 30, 1909, in The Hague, Netherlands; died of pneumonia, March 20, 2004, in Baarn, Netherlands. Monarch. Princess Juliana of the Netherlands was an institution in her country, a former queen as well as queen mother, royal princess, wife and mother, and her death in March of 2004 was mourned by thousands in the progressive Western European nation. Juliana and her family were among Europe's prototypical "bicycle-riding" royals, whose relatively modest lifestyles contrasted sharply with Britain's more ceremonious House of Windsor.

Juliana inherited the throne through her bloodline. She was a descendant of William I, founder of the House of Orange, who was assassinated in 1584. Her mother was Queen Wilhelmina, who came to the throne at the age of ten; the country was governed by the Queen Dowager until Wilhelmina's eighteenth birthday in 1898. Juliana was born in 1909, Wilhelmina's only child with her husband, the former Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and grew up in the royal palaces in The Hague and Apeldoorn. Her mother was a pious and earnest woman, and Juliana was compelled to address her only as "Madame." She was said to have been a lonely child, with few playmates, and grew into a shy, plainly dressed young woman. Her mother did not allow her to wear makeup, even at the age of 18, when she was installed in the Council of State as part of her role as heir to the throne.

Juliana began to blossom when she entered Leiden University, from which she graduated with a degree in international law in 1930. She twinned her official royal duties with unofficial charity work, but she was also an avid skier, and promptly entered a whirlwind romance with a dashing German prince, Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, after the two met at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Bavaria. They were married in January of 1937, and their first child, the Princess Beatrix, was born the following year. A second daughter followed, but the couple was forced to flee with the two children when the Netherlands was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. Juliana settled in Canada, near a favorite cousin who was a member of the British royal family, and produced a third daughter, Margriet, during the war years. Later, Juliana sent an annual supply of famous Dutch tulips to Ottawa as thanks for its wartime hospitality.

After the war, Juliana and her family returned home, and the hardships of the postwar years were compounded by personal tragedy, when she contracted German measles during her fourth pregnancy. Daughter Marijke (later known as Princess Christina) was born nearly blind. A new era was ushered in a year later, however, when her mother chose to abdicate and Juliana became queen of the Netherlands on September 4, 1948.

Recalling her own lonely childhood, Juliana strove to provide her four daughters with as normal a life as possible. Their family home, Soestdijk Palace, was in the countryside near Baarn, and the girls attended local schools. Juliana was known to buy her clothes off the rack, and could even be spotted in the local supermarket at times. She also loved to ride her bicycle, and the family was often seen in Baarn or on streets of The Hague, like countless other Dutch citizens, doing just that. Along with the modern, modest-living royal houses of Sweden and Norway, Juliana and her family gave rise to the term "bicycle-riding" royals, those whose lifestyles were a drastic departure from that of the world's most famous monarch, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and her brood.

Juliana's aversion to pomp translated into one of her first decrees as queen, which abolished the curtsey rule at court. In 1949, she ended a 346-year legacy of colonial rule by severing Dutch authority over its remaining colonies in the East Indies, including Java and Sumatra. Her 32-year reign was not scandal-free, however: early on, she reportedly grew close to a psychic, who had promised to restore Princess Christina's sight and then seemingly delivered on it, and the woman had to be banished from the royal household in 1956. A more shameful episode occurred 20 years later, when Prince Bernhard was implicated in a bribery scandal involving kickbacks from the Lockheed Corporation, the American aerospace firm. Bernhard allegedly used his influence with Dutch military officials to help Lockheed land lucrative contracts, and he narrowly avoided criminal prosecution for his transgressions. Aghast when the scandal broke, Juliana offered to abdicate, but her daughter Beatrix was unwilling to accede to the throne during a time of crisis. Instead, Bernhard was instead stripped of his public offices.

Four years later, Juliana followed her mother's lead and abdicated on her 71st birthday, in April of 1980. She and Prince Bernhard remained active skiers well into the early 1990s, but her health declined and she reportedly suffered from Alzheimer's disease in her final years. She died of pneumonia on March 20, 2004, at the Soestdijk Palace; she was 94. She is survived by her four daughters and numerous grandchildren; Prince Bernhard did, as well, but he died later that year. Thousands of Dutch paid their respect to the plain, warm-hearted woman who once said she would have been a social worker had she not become queen. Her coffin lay in state at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague for a week, and then an honor guard of 9,000 lined the route from the palace to Juliana's final resting place, at a Delft cemetery next to William of Orange.


BBC.com, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3580397.stm (February 23, 2005).

Guardian (London), March 22, 2004, p. 21.

Independent (London), March 22, 2004, p. 34.

New York Times, March 21, 2004, p. A33.

Times (London), March 22, 2004, p. 24.

—Carol Brennan

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