Dutch queen mother dies

posted 2004-03-20 14:12:21 by doug

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (Reuters) -- Juliana, the people's queen of the Netherlands who helped the country and its citizens recover from World War II and oversaw the independence of the remaining colonies, died on Saturday at the age of 94.

The state information service said she died of a lung infection at 5:50 a.m. (0450 GMT) in the Soestdijk palace where she had lived most of her long life.

Three of her four daughters, including Queen Beatrix, were present when she died and the fourth landed shortly afterwards from the United States. Crown-prince Willem Alexander is returning from holidays in Austria.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in a televised speech that Juliana, who reigned for 32 years from 1948, had been a queen "for the people and not for the directors" and had said she would have wanted to be a social worker if she had not become queen.

"Together with Prince Bernhard, she worked for the reconstruction of our country after World War II. Supported by her religion, she was an indefatigable campaigner for solidarity, community spirit and human dignity," he said.

"With the horrors of war still on her mind, she was a warm supporter of increasing cooperation between European nations," he added. Flags were lowered at Dutch official buildings until her burial and mourners began gathering in the rain outside the palace. The date for the funeral has not yet been set.

Juliana was much loved in the Netherlands. It is her birthday, on April 30, that is still celebrated as the Dutch Queen's Day holiday.

The shy and soft-spoken Juliana ascended to the throne in 1948 and soon captured hearts both at home and abroad as she strove to bring the royal family closer to the people. The royal family spent the war time in Canada.

Bicycling monarch

The "bicycling monarch" shopped at her local supermarket and sent her children to state school. Her popularity prompted the labor party to drop its demand to turn the country into a republic.

Juliana Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina was born in the Hague, the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Hendrik.

Juliana ascended to the throne in 1948

Juliana was not seen in public in recent years. Her health had worsened after breaking her hip in a fall at a friend's house in April 1998. She suffered some loss of memory and was "confused."

Since then she has needed round-the-clock medical care. In 2001, Bernhard announced Juliana had lost practically all her memory.

During her last public appearance, at the wedding of her grandson Prince Maurits and Marilene van den Broek in May 1998, she looked weak and was not keen to have her picture taken.

But even then, Juliana -- a devout Protestant -- caused an uproar in the press after taking Roman Catholic holy communion.

The Dutch royal family has managed to avoid the scandals that have dogged Britain's house of Windsor, but Juliana's reign was not without its problems.

The first major crisis early in her reign was triggered by Juliana's desperation to find a cure for her fourth and youngest daughter who was born in 1947 almost totally blind.

Juliana had German measles just before Christina was born and apparently blamed herself for her daughter's poor eyesight.

Faith healer

She turned to prayer sessions with austere faith healer Greet Hofmans. Juliana's confidence in Hofmans, whose beliefs were sometimes detected in royal speeches, annoyed husband Bernhard.

Foreign press spoke of marital strife and an impending split between the royal couple and a 1956 official enquiry advised Juliana to shun Hofmans to quell the storm of scandal.

The other major upset of her reign was Bernhard's disgrace in the 1976 Lockheed bribery scandal. Commander of the Dutch armed forces, Bernhard was forced to relinquish his military titles and uniform after a government commission found he had solicited bribes from the U.S. plane manufacturer.

After that, the decision of their daughter Irene to convert to Catholicism and marry a Spanish nobleman and the violent public protests surrounding Beatrix's marriage to Prince Claus, a German who fought briefly in the war, paled in comparison.

Juliana handed the throne to daughter Beatrix in 1980 on her 71st birthday, and said then: "Sooner or later everyone who grows old must face the sober fact that their strength is fading... and that it is irresponsible to carry on."

She chose to revert to the title Princess after her abdication, saying this signified she had taken a step backwards and would in future be one of her daughter's subjects. She was seen visibly moved and proud at Beatrix's investiture as queen.

She did not attend the wedding of Willem Alexander to Argentina-born Maxima and may have had only little notice of the birth on December 7, 2003, of their daughter Amalia who will in turn be queen one day.