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Granny Knows Best: the grandparents of King Willem-Alexander


Willem-Alexander is the current King of the Netherlands. When he came to the throne in 2013, he was the first king in 123 years after three generations of queens. He is from the House of Orange which has reigned over the Netherlands for over 400 years, firstly as a republic and since 1815 as a kingdom. His grandparents consist of two minor members of the German nobility – who lived many years in Africa – and a Queen and her Prince Consort.

Claus Felix von Amsberg

Claus was a member of the German Neiderer Adel (lower nobility). He was the father of Prince Claus of the Netherlands and grandfather to King Willem-Alexander.

He was born on the 1 September 1890 in Germany, the first son of Wilhelm von Amsberg and Elise von Vieregg, a member of an old aristocratic family.

In World War I, he fought as an officer in the German Imperial Army at the side of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa.

On the 4 September 1924, he married Baroness Gösta von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen, and the couple had six daughters and one son.

In 1928, he moved with his family to the Tanganyika Territory in Africa (now Tanzania) where he was the manager of a German-Anglo tea and sisal plantation and remained there until 1947 when he returned to Germany. He died on 19 December 1953.

Baroness Gösta von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen

Gosta was the mother of Prince Claus of the Netherlands and grandmother to King Willem-Alexander.

She was born on 26 January 1902 in the Kingdom of Saxony, German Empire. She was the daughter of Baron George von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen and Baroness Gabriele von dem Bussche-Ippenburg. Her father was an officer in the Royal Saxon Army and her mother was the heir of the Dotzingen Estate.

By Joost Evers / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Wikimedia Commons

In 1924 she married Claus von Amsberg, and they had a family of six daughters and one son. In 1928, she moved with her husband to the Tanganyika Territory in Africa where he was manager of a German-Anglo tea and sisal plantation. They lived there until 1947, returning to Germany where she lived the remainder of her life. She died on the 13 June 1996 at the age of 94.

Bernhard, Prince Consort of the Netherlands

Born into the German Princely Family of Lippe, Bernhard was the husband of former Queen Juliana, father of the former Queen (now Princess) Beatrix and maternal grandfather of King Willem-Alexander.

He was born in the then German Empire on 29 June 1911. He was the son of Prince Bernhard of Lippe and his wife, Baroness Armgard von Cramm. He was the nephew of the last sovereign Prince of Lippe, Leopold IV.

While at university he joined the Nazi Party and was involved in several Nazi organisations – something he would later deny. However, these organisations were well documented, and he would later admit he had briefly sympathised with Hitler’s regime. He went to work for the large German chemical company IG Farben and was assigned to their office in Paris. He met the then Princess Juliana at the Winter Olympics in Germany in 1936. Her mother, Queen Wilhelmina, approved of the match as he was from a Protestant princely family, and the two were married on 7 January 1937. The couple had four daughters together. Bernhard also had two acknowledged illegitimate daughters from other relationships during his marriage.

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The Dutch people were initially reserved about the Prince because of his German nationality. However, during World War II, while his family lived in safety in Canada, he became a personal aide to Queen Wilhelmina, was a fighter pilot in the British Air Force and helped organise the Dutch resistance. Following the war, he was very involved in the reconstruction effort. These actions won him the support and affection of the Dutch people which he kept to the end of his life, despite his known infidelities and his involvement in a major corruption scandal in the 1970s.

Juliana ascended to the throne in 1948, and Bernhard became Prince Consort. He became a jet setting and charismatic ambassador for the Dutch people. Among his friends on the international stage were Nelson Mandela, David Rockefeller, the Shah of Iran and Ian Fleming. In 1976 allegations arose in the Dutch media that he had received 1.1 million dollars from the US aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Corporation to influence the Dutch government’s purchase of fighter aircraft. The Dutch government held an investigation, but out of respect to Queen Juliana did not press charges.

Queen Juliana abdicated the throne in 1980 in favour of her eldest daughter, Beatrix. She died in March 2004, leaving Bernhard a widower. Bernhard died on the 11 December 2004 at the age of 93.

Queen Juliana of the Netherlands

Juliana was Queen of the Netherlands for 32 years and the maternal grandmother of King Willem-Alexander.

Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina was born on 30 April 1909 as the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

At the 1936 Winter Olympics, Juliana met and fell in love with Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfield; it was a union her mother approved of, and the two were married on 7 January 1937. They had four daughters: Beatrix, Irene, Margriet and Christina. Their marriage would endure through wartime separation and Bernhard’s infidelities for 67 years.

By Croes, Rob C. / Anefo – [1] Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANeFo), 1945-1989, Nummer toegang Bestanddeelnummer 253-8562, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, Wikimedia Commons

During World War Two, Juliana and her daughters went to live in safety in Canada while her husband and mother remained in Europe to support the war effort and the Dutch Resistance. In 1948, Juliana came to the Dutch throne upon the abdication of her mother.

On the night of 31 January 1953, the Netherlands was hit by its worst storm in 500 years. There were more than thirty breaches of dunes and dikes, 1800 people lost their lives, and floodwaters trapped tens of thousands. The sight of their Queen in boots and an old coat wading through the mud to deliver food and clothing to bring desperate people food and clothing would permanently endear her to the Dutch people. She was an informal monarch preferring to be addressed as “Mevrouw” (Dutch for Mrs) rather than the more formal “Majesty”. She was often seen riding her bicycle for exercise and fresh air.

There were some family controversies over the years. In 1964, her daughter, Irene, converted to the Catholicism to marry a Spanish prince. In 1966, her daughter and heir, Beatrix married a German – a move not popular only twenty years after the war. In 1976, her husband was linked to a major corruption scandal; however, no charges were laid. Through it all, Juliana retained the affection and loyalty of the Dutch people.

Juliana abdicated the Dutch throne on 30 April 1980, her 71st birthday. She died on the 20 March 2004, at 94, after several years battling Alzheimer’s Disease.