Royal Lessons Of Another Era
The royalty I knew was in a different time and a different place. And there was no news media frenzy. Juliana of the House of Orange-Nassau never really wanted to be queen. And when her mother, the stern dowager, Wilhelmina, abdicated in 1948, Juliana stood awkward and tremulous at her investiture and said, "Who am I that I should do this?"
Queen Juliana wouldn't allow police to halt traffic for her car. And so her limousine stopped at red lights, and many a motorist did a double-take, seeing the queen alongside. When she went to the theater, no announcement of her presence in the royal box was allowed. Her family life was dysfunctional, like the Windsors. Her husband, the German Prince Bernhard, was known to have extramarital interests. But not a word of it got into the news media.
Juliana's fourth daughter, Marijke, was born almost blind, which the queen attributed to rubella contracted while performing a royal chore of welcoming Dutch troops back from Indonesia. She sought solace in religious mysticism, and fell under the influence of Greet Hofmans, a strange faith healer.
Under the faith healer's pacifist influence, the queen came to oppose military alliances, including NATO. She insisted on writing her own speeches for an official trip to the United States in 1952. The drafts were full of allusions to resignation and passive acceptance of God's will.
Her foreign minister threatened to resign and precipitate a constitutional crisis. The speeches were toned down somewhat.
In the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, a friend from wartime days, cautioned the queen about the influence of the faith healer, to no avail. Nothing of this appeared in the Dutch press, except one delicately worded editorial questioning the curious-sounding speeches. But I learned the whole story of the queen and the faith healer, in part from Mrs. Roosevelt, in part from Greet Hofmans herself, and in part from Prince Bernhard. Driven to distraction, he had concluded that public exposure might serve as shock treatment to get the queen to drive the faith healer out of the palace.
I sold the article to Life magazine, ignoring threats of retaliation from the Dutch government. But finally, good Dutch friends, warning that I might, single-handed, bring down a monarchy, persuaded me to withdraw the article - a rare event in my career.
In time, the story came out in the German news magazine, Der Spiegel. In time, Greet Hofmans left the palace. In time, I was decorated by the queen, presumably for self-censorship. In time, Queen Juliana, like her mother, abdicated, and her daughter, Beatrix, became queen, the third successive female monarch.
Now, as then, the Queen is photographed only with her consent. Now, as then, the Dutch like their royals and pay little attention to them. And the chances are that the Netherlands monarchy will long outlast the British monarchy.
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.