Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina von Amsberg

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Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina von Amsberg

Beatrix Wilhelmina von Amsberg (born 1938) became queen of The Netherlands in 1980. An intelligent and strong willed woman, she had to reconcile her personal independence with the duties of a constitutional monarch.

Queen Beatrix Wilhelmina von Amsberg was born January 31, 1938, at Soestdijk Palace in Baarn, The Netherlands. As the first-born child of Princess (later Queen) Juliana, the heiress to the Dutch throne, and Prince Bernhard, she was first in the line of succession after her mother. This status was confirmed with the birth of Marijke (later Christine) in 1947, a girl like the three other royal children. Under the constitutional provisions then in force, sons had priority over daughters in the royal succession. Thus, by then it was clear that Beatrix would not be displaced by a younger brother.

In May 1940, together with her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, and her parents and younger sister, Irene, she escaped from the German invasion of the Netherlands, going first to England and then to Ottawa, Canada, where she spent the war years. She lived there in a comfortable but less than palatial home, attended kindergarten and primary school with Canadian children, and acquired an impeccable English accent from schoolmates as well as teachers, although within the family she spoke Dutch of a very pure, cultivated kind.

In August 1945, she returned to her liberated homeland. Residing again at Soestdijk Palace, she continued her education in outside schools, first a progressive experimental school in nearby Bilthoven and then the Baarn Lyceum (secondary school), from which she graduated in 1956. She then enrolled at the University of Leiden (1956-1961), attending regular classes and tutorials and living as much like the other students as was possible in her position. She made friends among other students, who came from a wide range of society. She studied law, economics, and sociology which would aid her in her eventual royal tasks, but stopped short of writing a thesis and obtaining a doctorate in philosophy; instead she earned the degree of "doctorandus, " given to those who passed the general doctoral examination.

Her mother encouraged her to follow her heart rather than accept a husband chosen for political reasons among royalty or at least high nobility. Her choice of a German diplomat, Claus von Amsberg, who was of minor noble rank, aroused bitter controversy because he had served briefly in the German army during World War II. With characteristic firmness, she would not be dissuaded and received the necessary approval of the States General (parliament). The wedding was held in Amsterdam—the politically radical capital, most of whose once large Jewish population had been killed by the Nazis—in March 1966, despite vigorous protests and rioting. Her husband, who took Dutch nationality and was named Prince von Amsberg, quickly overcame the suspicions of the people by learning to speak impeccable Dutch within a short time and by committing himself wholeheartedly to Dutch interests and feelings.

On April 30, 1980, when her mother abdicated the throne, Beatrix immediately assumed the throne as there is no interregnum in The Netherlands. When the new queen was inaugurated (there is no royal coronation in The Netherlands) there was again violence in the streets, directed not so much against her personally as against social conditions, particularly the shortage of housing. Beatrix, inflexible in carrying through the solemn parade and ceremony despite jeers and smoke-bombs, nonetheless displayed comprehension of and compassion for the protesters. She settled into the routine of leadership of the Dutch state. In 1982, she visited the United States during the celebration of the bicentennial of the Dutch recognition of American Independence. She addressed Congress in a speech that she composed, although it was approved by the Dutch government. The speech emphasized, in particular, her country's and her own commitment to peace.

She had three sons, William Alexander (born 1967), John Friso (born 1968), and Constantine (born 1969). Her first born was the heir to the throne not as eldest son but as the first born, because the new Dutch constitution provided that the royal succession not discriminate between males and females. For several years beginning in 1982, Beatrix's husband withdrew from public life as part of his treatment for depression; it was reported that he had found difficulties with his mainly ceremonial public role, especially after Beatrix ascended the throne, which left him without a vigorous, independent career.

Shrewd investments in both the stock market and real estate market allowed Beatrix to become one of the most wealthy women in the world. Besides amassing substantial wealth, Beatrix paid an official visit to the former Dutch colony of Indonesia in 1995 as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of their independence from the Netherlands.

Further Reading

A popular account of Beatrix's life as a child is B. Hoffman, Born To Be Queen (1955). M. Rooy, A Constitutional Question: The Marriage of Princess Beatrix (1966) discusses the politically sensitive issue of her marriage to Claus von Amsberg. For the general history of The Netherlands, especially since World War II, see suggestions for further reading under JULIANA (Vol. 14).

For accounts on Beatrix's royal reign see "Shrewd Managers of Regal Riches" in Fortune (October 12, 1987) and "Queen Travels to Former Colony" in Europe (November, 1995). □