Every house has traces of its former inhabitants. Soestdijk has had many over the years, and I went there in search of its royal women. Soestdijk Palace has only been open to the public since 2006, and its future is still uncertain. The last inhabitant, Queen (then Princess) Juliana, died at the palace in 2004.
We do not know for certain how old the palace is. It was a homestead when it was bought by Amsterdam mayor Cornelis de Graeff and his wife Catharina in 1638. The first royal woman associated with Soestdijk is Mary Stuart, daughter of James II and later Mary II of England. She was married to William III of Orange (and later William III of England).By the time she stepped over the threshold, it had undergone several renovations. Her apartments were on the north side of the palace.
Because the inventory lists have survived we know how her rooms were furnished. In her antechamber, there were six tapestries displaying Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Not a coincidence since this area was used for hunting. In her bedroom were six tapestries displaying the coat of arms of Orange-Nassau surrounded by wreaths of flowers. From her bed, she looked towards three windows. The room also had several chairs and six tabourets. Her ceiling was painted was an image of, again, the goddess Diana. Behind her rooms was a gallery that she filled with porcelain vases, dishes and bowls. Her husband’s apartments were all the way on the other side of the palace.
Mary enjoyed coming to Soestdijk Palace even after the bigger Loo Palace was built. After the Glorious Revolution Mary never returned to her second country. She died in 1694, aged only 32, of smallpox.
The second royal woman was Marie-Louise of Hesse-Kassel, wife of John William Friso, Prince of Orange. Marie-Louise initially lived in Leeuwarden, where her husband was stadtholder. They had a daughter, Anna Charlotte Amalia (later Hereditary Princess of Baden-Durlach). While pregnant with her second child her husband tragically drowned during a heavy storm. He had been travelling on a ferry. Six weeks later, she gave birth to a boy. She was now regent for her son. Marie Louise spent her summers at Soestdijk and even transferred furniture from another castle to furnish it. The palace underwent a bit of remodelling as it needed repairs anyway.
It was in the gardens of Soestdijk that her son fell from his horse and injured himself gravely. He grew up with a hump on his back. Nevertheless, he ended up marrying Anne, Princess Royal. She became a grandmother, and when both her son and Anne died, she was asked to become regent for her grandson. She left for Leeuwarden and never saw Soestdijk again. She died in 1765 at the age of 77.
The third royal woman was, of course, Anne, Princess Royal or Anne of Hanover. She was the daughter of George II of the United Kingdom. She was short and had a pock-marked face. Even though she had heard of her future husband’s deformity, she was charmed by him anyway. They married in London and lived in Leeuwarden. They had two children, Princess Carolina of Orange-Nassau and the future William V. Her husband, William IV, died when her son was only three years old, and she became regent. Anne spent long summers at Soestdijk. She even bought extra land to expand the property.
Mary Stuart’s old apartments were altered. The colour green became the central colour with a few exceptions like a red armchair. Her son slept in the southern apartments. She did not live to see her son marry. She died in 1759.
The fourth royal woman was Wilhelmina of Prussia. She was 19 years old when she married the 17-year-old William V. On the way from Berlin to The Hague the pair stayed at Soestdijk. Their main residence would be in The Hague, and the couple had five children. Three would survive infancy. The couple avoided Soestdijk, after an attack in 1787. William V and Wilhelmina eventually had to flee the country. William V would be the last stadtholder, and he died in exile.
In 1813 her son would return to the Netherlands and be hailed as its King. Wilhelmina returned as well and died in 1820 at Loo Palace.
The fifth royal woman is perhaps the one who has left the most traces at Soestdijk Palace. Anna Pavlovna of Russia was the wife of William II of the Netherlands. She was the daughter of Russian Tsar; Paul I. He was murdered when Anna was only five years old. Her older brother became Tsar Alexander I.She would marry William II after the Battle of Waterloo where Napoleon was defeated. Her husband had fought at Quatre-Bras (or his men anyway!) and Waterloo and was thus considered a hero. He had even been injured. This had helped him win her hand in marriage.
Soestdijk had fallen into ruin during the French years and in 1815 architects went to work on rebuilding the palace as a summer residence for William and Anna. This was also the time the Needle of Waterloo was built. That still stands today, right across from the palace. In 1834 and 1825 Anna went to Russia to spend time with her family members and returned with a ton of Russian furniture. These were used for Soestdijk. After William I’s abdication, her husband became King, and she became queen, but she spent a lot of time alone at Soestdijk. After a reign of only nine years, her husband died unexpectedly. Anna turned Soestdijk Palace into a Waterloo Memorial. A huge painting covers the wall of what used to be two of the rooms of Mary Stuart’s apartments.
Anna lived at Soestdijk for another 15 years. When she died, she left the palace to her youngest son, Henry.
Cannon room, designed by Anna Pavlovna of Russia.
The sixth woman of Soestdijk is thus Henry’s first wife. Amalia of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Henry had been born at Soestdijk in 1820. They married in 1853. Amalia didn’t change much of Soestdijk interior. Modern time came to Soestdijk with the arrival of the railways. Henry gave permissions for a rail line over the lands of Soestdijk. Out of gratitude, the pair received their own royal waiting room at Baarn station.
Amalia died in 1872.
Prince Henry’s second wife is our seventh royal woman. Her name was Marie of Prussia. In order to save the Orange-Nassau dynasty, Henry married again, as his first marriage had been childless. At the age of 57, he married 23-year-old Marie. He died six months later, and this marriage also remained childless. Marie returned home, and she remarried to Albert of Saxe-Altenburg.
The eighth royal woman was Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont. This room was designed by her, and just recently employees of Soestdijk found her embroidery in this table.
Emma was born in 1858. She married the much older William III of the Netherlands in 1879. He had three sons from his first marriage to Sophie of Württemburg, but all would predecease him. Their only child, the future Queen Wilhelmina, was born in 1880. When William died in 1890, Emma became regent for their daughter. When Wilhelmina came of age in 1898, Emma decided to withdraw to Soestdijk. She began to modernise the building. Plumbing and electricity were added. She celebrated her 75th birthday in Soestdijk in August 1933. Afterwards, she left for her winter palace (Lange Voorhout), and she died there on 20 March 1934.
The last of our royal women is Juliana of Orange-Nassau. She was the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Juliana lived in the palace the longest of all the royal women, and she was also its last inhabitant. She married Prince Bernhard von Lippe-Biesterfield in 1937. The palace was used as an official residence during this time. It was Bernhard who had the modern heating installed. Their first child, Beatrix, was born at Soestdijk. The war forced the family into exile in Canada, but they returned to Soestdijk after the war. She invited many important guests to Soestdijk over the years, from Winston Churchill to Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann.
When she abdicated in 1980, she withdrew to Soestdijk. She died on 20 March 2004 with Bernhard following later in the year.
The future of Soestdijk Palace is still undecided.
Queen Emma’s dining room
Note the smaller seat. At Emma’s request, her seats were smaller so her feet could reach the ground.
Her seats have this monogram on the back
Maria Feodorovna, Anna Pavlovna of Russia’s mother
Gorgeous ceiling in the Empire Salon
The Stuc hall
Again, this ceiling!
Anna Pavlovna’s image above the door
William of Orange
Queen Emma’s reception room (hardly used) with some pictures
Anna Pavlovna with a TV-interview with Queen Juliana in the foreground
William II’s heroic actions
Battle of Waterloo
Prince Bernhard’s office
Both Juliana’s and Bernhard’s office were practically empty. They had a very 70’s feel to them, and both had huge windows facing the gardens. There was one room where we couldn’t take pictures, at the request of (I guess) Princess Beatrix. It was a sort of living area/library. Again, basically empty except for some jade clocks, empty bookshelves and checkered curtains.
This is Queen Wilhelmina’s chalet. She received this for her 12th birthday. How pretty is this?
Statue of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard
Overall I had a good time at Soestdijk. Employees knew what they were talking about and the tour was interesting. However, there is hardly any information in the rooms and on the paintings, so you need to take the tour to get more information. Over six employees told us not to take pictures in the library, which we could also see from the entrance. (Yes, we get it, thank you!).
Unfortunately, there were no English books in the small shop. I guess that’s because they don’t know if the palace is going to stay open. I bought Thera Coppens – Tien Vrouwen van Soestdijk ISBN 978-90-8669-033-6, which I have used for this blog post.