I know what you’re thinking. Haven’t we already read about Wilhelmina of Prussia last week? Yes, you would be correct. However, the next Princess of Orange is also named Wilhelmina of Prussia. And you thought all those Williams were confusing! Stay with me, I’ll explain the relation.
This Wilhelmina of Prussia was born on 18 November 1774 as the daughter of King Frederick William II of Prussia and Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt. If you paid attention last week, you’ll know that Frederick William II was the previous Wilhelmina of Prussia’s brother. King William I thus married his first cousin on his mother’s side. Wilhelmina’s named is sometimes also translated in English as Wilhelmine, but to her family she was known as Mimi.
Not much is known about Wilhelmina’s early life. She was educated in several languages, needlepoint and painting. She married William on 1 October 1791 in Berlin and despite the political alliance, it was also a love match. They initially lived in The Hague at Noordeinde Palace and it was there that she gave birth to her first child, Willem (William) Frederick George Louis. The family’s exile to England became even more tragic when just four months later she gave birth to a stillborn child. She left for Berlin a year later and on 28 February a second son, Frederick, was born. He was followed by another stillborn son and two healthy daughters Pauline and Marianna, though Pauline died at the age of six.
She returned to the Netherlands in January 1814 as the wife of its future sovereign. In 1815 she officially became Queen consort of the Netherlands. Between 1815 and 1830 she moved around between four official residences in the Netherlands and Belgium, which at the time was still a part of the Netherlands. This ended in 1830 when Belgium separated from the Netherlands. Their daughter Marianne married Prince Albert of Prussia, also a first cousin and Wilhelmina also visited them often.
Wilhelmina was great lover of art and was taught by Friedrich Bury, though no work from her own hand survives. She was a patron of painter Bonaventura Genelli, who studied in Italy on her expense. She was also patron of several art museums in The Hague and Amsterdam. During her 23-year tenure as Queen she was not very visible and she liked it that way. She was a modest woman, which perhaps made her even more loved by the people. Her health began to deteriorate from the 1820’s but she still traveled often. Her last journey was in the spring of 1837 when she traveled to Berlin for the baptism of her grandson. She died on 12 October 1837 and was interred in the crypt at Delft two weeks later.
Her husband contracted a morganatic marriage after her death. He married her former lady-in-waiting Henrietta d’Oultremont, who was not only Belgian but also a Catholic, which were both sensitive topics at the time. The resistance to this marriage was so great that William decided to abdicate in favor of his son. He did so on 7 October 1840. They married on 17 February 1841. William died just two years but for her care for him she was awarded an allowance and a castle at Aachen, where she died in 1864.
The title ‘Prince of Orange’ was granted to her son William, who later went on to become William II of the Netherlands. It came to be used in similar style to the ‘Prince of Wales’ title in the United Kingdom. Though the Prince of Orange title is automatically granted whereupon the Prince of Wales title has to be invested. Since 1983 the heir apparent to the Dutch throne, whether male or female, bears the title.
Photocredit: Wilhelmina of Prussia in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.