Wilhelmina: Queen Pretty Face

Churchill called her the only man in the Dutch cabinet, and the American president Roosevelt confessed to having been ‘scared to death’ by her. After William the Silent, Queen Wilhelmina is the most famous representative of the House of Orange, as well as being one of the most influential women of the twentieth century.

Original title
Wilhelmina De Jonge Koningin
Cees Fasseur

Only eighteen when she ascended the throne in 1898, she remained queen for half a century. She soon proved to have a powerful and magnetic personality, displaying a principled distaste for political parties. The picture emerges of a severe, authoritarian and, at the same time, unworldly woman, who had little respect for the constitutional restrictions of her office. She tried to influence cabinet policy and was often in open conflict with her ministers.

The climax of Wilhelmina’s rule occurred during the five years of the Second World War that she spent in exile in London. There she became the voice and symbol of the free Netherlands, while remaining a firm champion of political renewal, something that again led to friction with her cabinet. Fasseur shows convincingly that she made a better choice than another monarch, Leopold III of Belgium, who stayed put and whose conduct verged on collaboration.

Fasseur has struck the right note. His book is lacking in anything that could be called obsequiousness. Its style is lucid and objective while being spiced with irony.

NRC Handelsblad

Fasseur argues that Wilhelmina was the first Dutch monarch who can truly be called ‘modern’. The monarchy became the embodiment of a ‘nation’, a people that felt united through a common language, culture and history. This was unquestionably a revolutionary concept for the Netherlands, which, till then, had been a loose federation of provinces, regions and powerful cities. Although Wilhelmina was convinced of her rights and duties as a monarch in the new style, the book teems with examples of the liberties she took with the constitutional limits of her office. Fasseur however also shows that the constitutional monarchy was strong enough to withstand this haughty, authoritarian hereditary ruler.

With Queen Beatrix’s authorization, Fasseur was the first author to be granted unconditional access to the private archives of the House of Orange. Wilhelmina’s turbulent marriage to the German Duke Hendrik, who was constantly short of money, is dealt with in detail. The result is an original, scintillating and compellingly written portrait of Wilhelmina and her times.

This biography is full of entertaining asides. In a style that is both candid and unemphatic, the facts are placed in the author’s chosen perspective.

de Volkskrant

Fasseur has an eye for the small details that bring a personality to life.

Cees Fasseur
Cees Fasseur (1938-2016), lawyer and historian, was Professor of History at the University of Leiden.
Part ofNon-Fiction
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