Royal couple's correspondence depicts far-from-fairytale union

 

LETTER FROM AMSTERDAM:A new book reveals a dark chapter in the relationship of Holland's Queen Juliana and Prince Bernard, writes Isabel Conway 

THAT THE House of Orange is so adept at avoiding controversy and intrusion, enjoying more privacy than most royal houses in Europe, all with the support of the mainstream media, mirrors Dutch society's distaste of prurient accounts of life behind the palace walls.

But there is the whiff of genuine scandal about, and royal skeletons have been taken out and given a shaking as the nation enjoys a rare view inside the gilded cupboard.

Revelations in a controversial new book about a dark chapter in the marriage between the late Queen Juliana and Prince Bernard describe the popular monarch's threatened abdication amid claims that her bullying husband wanted to have her certified as mad.

Marital difficulties, sinister plots, and trench warfare between opposing sides at court, it's all there.

If any of this sounds familiar - remember Charles and Diana's doomed marriage - let us not forget the correspondence. In a reference to Bernard's womanising the queen wrote, "you hypocritical monster, what are you doing in Italy"?

He in turn dashed off a letter urging her not to divorce him and give the family "the status of third-rate Balkan royalty".

Cees Fasseur, author of Juliana Bernard: The Story of a Marriage (published in Dutch), was given exclusive access to parts of the royal archives containing secrets that have lain buried for over half a century.

They confirm much of what royal insiders knew for many years: that this was no fairytale union, being as it was between a somewhat naive queen, besotted with a worldly prince, who in truth was a serial womaniser who may well have married for position rather than love. Juliana who died in 2004, was one of the most popular Dutch monarchs in history, known as the "biking queen" often leaving the "golden cage" in search of "real people".

After Juliana's death, Bernard, who died later the same year, recognised his two out-of-wedlock children. He divided the couple's vast fortune between them and the current monarch Beatrix and his three other daughters.

Fasseur reveals the intrigues - particularly the influence of female faith healer Greet Hofmans, who became Juliana's most trusted confidante and adviser - which almost led to the abdication of the late monarch, a royal divorce and a constitutional crisis.

By 1956 fears were widespread about the far-reaching influence of Hofmans, a Rasputin-like figure who was creating deep rifts in the marriage, and who had split the court into two warring camps. Ironically, the faith healer was introduced to Juliana by Bernard, who was interested in alternative healing and hoped she could help cure an eye disease suffered by the couple's youngest daughter.

Although the baby was not healed, Hofmans developed a close friendship with the queen. The faith healer, describing herself as an instrument of contact between supernatural forces and mortals, persuaded the infatuated Juliana not to discuss anything with the government without consulting her first.

The last straw for Bernard was Hofmans' advice to him to feed milk and meat juices to his horses to improve their performance. She was a fake and a charlatan, he concluded. But the queen would not hear of having her banished from her court. Soon afterwards death threats accompanied by hand grenades were sent in letters to Hofmans and high-ranking courtiers, including the queen's private secretary.

Two former wartime Dutch resistance fighters had by then suggested violence, but Fasseur says he does not know if Bernard, who had close ties with the former resistance, knew about the threats or indeed if he was behind the order to send the assassination threat to Hofmans.

In the end the enemy was banished and peace was restored between the warring sides, but only after the Beel Commission investigated the crisis.

Its findings are revealed in Fasseur's book, together with details about Bernard's extra-marital affairs. The prince was ultimately ordered to improve his behaviour towards his wife. Later he became embroiled in controversy for accepting a $1 million dollar bribe from aircraft manufacturer Lockheed for securing a Dutch military contract.

Queen Juliana had alleged during the commission hearings that her husband was bullying her to such an extent that her life had become "hell".

She claimed he wanted her certified as mad so that their teenage daughter Beatrix, now on the throne, could take over.

There has been surprise that Queen Beatrix, having refused all requests in the past to release archive material laying bare a painful period in her parents' life, at last agreed that the secret documents would be made public.

"She knew it couldn't remain a secret forever; the days of hiding information, even when you are a queen, are numbered," one royal observer has noted.