They are less juicy and certainly less frequent than the scandals that have plagued the British royals but the Dutch royal family has had quite a few upheavals and peccadilloes of its own, a surprising number of which, for various reasons, almost spelled the end of the House of Orange.
Inburgering with DN: Lesson 49 – right royal scandals
The playboy prince (1)
For the first item in the peccadillo category, we have to go back to king Willem-Alexander’s great-grandfather, or his gran Juliana’s dad. He was Hendrik van Mecklenburg-Schwerin and a spendthrift, philanderer and inveterate boar hunter which earned him the nickname of Varkensheintje.
Like a true royal playboy he, allegedly, fathered a son out of wedlock. But he did what he was meant to do and, after several miscarriages, he and his wife queen Wilhelmina became the doting parents of their only child Juliana, causing a national sigh of relief among royalists. After a jolly and dissolute life, Hendrik died seconds after having eaten a copious meal, at the age of 58.
The Dutch Rasputin
The consequences of queen Juliana’s friendship with faith healer and pacifist Greet Hofmans at the height of the Cold War were both sad and farcical and almost culminated in a constitutional crisis. Hofmans was invited to the court by Juliana’s husband prince Bernhard, a fact that should not be forgotten in the light of what came after, to “cure” their daughter’s eye problem caused by a bout of rubella during pregnancy.
The two became close and, inspired by Hofmans’ pacifism, Juliana began to vent her ideas in public, raising eyebrows not just at home but abroad. Bernhard, the government, and allegedly the CIA, all huffed and puffed mightily and the Dutch Rasputin, as she was dubbed in Der Spiegel, was duly removed from court. Bernhard asked for a divorce but was persuaded not to go ahead with it, ensuring it was business as usual at Soestdijk. The monarchy was safe.
The Prince and the Backhander
It all started with Watergate in whose murky wake up bobbed lots of corruption scandals, one of which involved American aircraft manufacturer Lockheed and a certain “high Dutch official” (among many others across the globe).
In 1975 all hell broke loose when it turned out it was prince Bernhard, airforce inspector general and self-styled business facilitator to the Netherlands. A “commission of wise men” started digging and found the princely sum of over a $1 million had been channeled into Bernard’s coffers as a thank-you for mediating in the purchase of Lockheed helicopters.
Queen Juliana stood by her man and threatened to abdicate if Bernhard had to stand trial and possibly end up in jail while daughter Beatrix let it be known she would not take over the throne if this were to happen. Rather than facing the constitutional ramifications of this, the government stripped Bernhard of his uniform and functions. Another threat to the royals had been averted.
The Prince and the Nazi party
This one is both old and recent. Bernhard’s membership of the NSDAP is a secret everybody has been in on for years, ever since a copy of his membership card was found in the United States in the 1990s. The original had been lying quietly in an American official’s safe when some years after the war it was discretely returned to him, accompanied by a friendly note suggesting the prince had “earned” to destroy it himself. His membership was terminated in 1936, when he became engaged to heir to the Dutch throne Juliana.
He didn’t, leaving the door open to its discovery, shared by finder and royal archive keeper Flip Maatschalkerweer in his book De Achterblijvers in an explosive little footnote. Bernhard denied his membership of the Nazi party to his last breath, understandable many say, so incompatible is it with his role as “head” of the Dutch resistance by the end of WWII. The find has prompted calls for an investigation into his Nazi-affiliated past.
The Playboy Prince (2)
Yes, it’s prince Bernhard again, who seems to be the main source of scandal in this family. The pipe-smoking and white carnation-wearing prince cut a dashing figure on the ski slopes of Austria where Juliana fell in love with him.
Four daughters later it turned out Bernhard had fathered another daughter called Alexia, born in 1967 from an affair with his French mistress Heléne Grinda. According to journalist Willem Oltmans, Juliana knew about Alexia, who is almost the same age as the current king, and received her at Soestdijk.
It’s also worth noting that Willem-Alexander’s second daughter carries the same name.
The Wedding Tantrum
The current batch of royals have already had their fair share of scandal and commotion. When then prince Willem-Alexander wed Argentine Máxima Zorreguieta in 2002 many objected to the union because of the bride’s father’s role in the Junta.
Jorge Zorreguieta was agriculture minister under Jorge Videla’s bloody regime but Wim Kok, Dutch prime minister at the time, did not think the daughter should be blamed for the deeds of the father and parliament, in the end, gave its consent.
Whew, another constitutional crisis was averted: Willem-Alexander was rumoured to be willing to relinquish the throne for love. Or he was just throwing his toys out of the pram. Jorge Zorreguieta did not attend the wedding in the end.
Willem-Alexander had little patience with the critics saying, mistakenly to an American paper, that Zorreguieta had been absolved of crimes in a letter which turned out to have been written by Videla. Máxima’s famous comment Hij was een beetje dom (he was a bit silly) had been rehearsed.
The Holiday Homes
“We are human, we make mistakes”, Willem-Alexander said half-heartedly when ripples were caused by his purchase of a holiday home in Mozambique. The project turned out to be riddled with bribery scandals, dishonest project managers and promises about development aid which never materialised.
Also een beetje dom, but the house was sold and the royals bought a nice beach house in Greece instead. That too, wasn’t without controversy because locals were suddenly denied a nice stretch of public beach because of security issues.
Another apology was needed when the king and his family were forced to return from a holiday in Greece during the coronavirus pandemic. A bad example for the rest of the population, MPs tut-tutted.
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