The Netherlands: Caged No More

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In her first appearance as Queen of The Netherlands, Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria stood on the balcony of her palace in Amsterdam and stared with a small child's wonder at her cheering subjects.

"Mama," she asked, "do all these people belong to me?" "No, my child," replied the Queen-Regent, "it is you who belong to all these people." It was a hard lesson for a strongwilled, privileged little girl of ten to learn, but Wilhelmina learned it well; long after her abdication in 1948, the people to whom she belonged continued to refer to her affectionately as "the Old Queen." Last week, at 82, the Old Queen died in her sleep at Het Loo, the palace where she had spent her first years and her last.

During her 50-year reign, she was a symbol of continuity in a changing world.

When she ascended the throne, Victoria was still Queen and men still looked to the future with easy confidence. When she stepped down, Holland was clearing away the ruins of World War II, and soon, with the loss of the fabled East Indies, the Dutch empire, once the third largest in the world (after the British and French), shrank to one-fourth of its size.

But through it all the doughty Queen ruled by the motto of the House of Orange: Je maintiendrai—I will maintain.

The Only Man. "Maintain" was not really the word. "Prevail" was more like it. All her life she spoke of the pomp and protocol that enveloped her as "the cage," and she never ceased struggling to escape its confines. As a constitutional monarch she had limited executive powers; yet she learned statecraft so thoroughly that Cabinet ministers were constantly being stumped by her sharp questioning. In exile during World War II, so efficient was she that one escaped Dutch Resistance fighter marveled. "The government in London was a bunch of chattering wives, but there was one man: the Queen."

Frugal and unfrivolous, she epitomized the solid Dutch virtues. Though she dressed like a dumpy Dutch huisvrouw in her frumpy hats, flat shoes and baggy tweeds, she was one of the world's richest women. She had a personal income of $5,000,000 a year from the East Indies alone. Even after Indonesia won its independence, she was worth at least $100 million in real estate, Royal Dutch Shell stock, paintings and bank holdings.

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