Princess Pauline of Orange-Nassau was born on 1 March 1800 as the third child and eldest daughter of Wilhelmina of Prussia and the future King William I of the Netherlands, known as the Prince of Orange at the time. She was born in Berlin, where the family was living in exile after the French First Republic had declared war on the stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. Her elder brothers were the future King William II of the Netherlands and Prince Frederick. A sister named Marianne would be born in 1810.
Her father was not present at her birth and did not return to Berlin until the middle of April, just in time for her baptism. She received the names Wilhelmina Frederika Louise Pauline Charlotte. The name Pauline was for Emperor Paul I of Russia which led to some trouble in the family. Pauline’s aunt Louise wrote to her mother, “So, your latest grandchild is now a Christian and Mimi (Wilhelmina of Prussia) calls her Pauline because she thinks it is the most beautiful of the names. Last year, I would have admired her choice as a gesture to Paul, but since the Emperor has abandoned us so abruptly, it now seems to me to be reprehensible and ill-considered flattery.”1 As a response to the dissatisfaction over her name, she was nicknamed “Polly.”
The family spent the summer and fall in Fulda, and the winter and spring in Berlin. From 1804, the family lived in the Niederländische Palais at the Unter den Linden, which had been loaned to them. They also had the use of Schönhausen, a country residence. The children usually stayed behind in Berlin and only visited Fulda a handful of times. The children also sometimes stayed with their grandparents at Oranienstein and in 1805, Pauline spent the entire winter making garters for her grandfather, which she presented to him for his birthday.
Berlin was occupied by the French in 1806, and the family was forced to flee again. Pauline’s mother was still weak from giving birth to a stillborn son in August. They travelled towards Königsberg but were forced to stop at Freienwalde when Pauline fell ill. Her father wrote, “Pauline has a mild indisposition, […] but I expect she will be fully recovered in a day or two.”2 On 15 December, Pauline was diagnosed with “nerve fevers” (probably typhoid fever). Her father still had hope and wrote, “She seems to be doing better.”3
Six-year-old Pauline never did get better. She died in the early hours of 22 December. A heart-broken William wrote to his mother, “We had so hoped that Pauline’s illness would pass, our prayers would be heard and she would be spared. Unfortunately for us, Providence has decided otherwise, and since 4.30 this morning we have been plunged into deep mourning. Death has ripped our child, our hope and our love, away from us. […] She leaves behind an empty void. Mimi and the boys are hanging in there, but this new test of Providence is heavy for us.”4
While William stayed with Pauline, Wilhelmina and boys left for Berlin that very same day. She wrote the following day, “My love, the children and I, we arrived in Berlin at 1 o’clock this night, finally. I have taken plenty of precautions, for myself and the boys. We shall overcome it. I have not seen General Clarke yet. God willing, you are well. I hope we shall be together again soon. Write to me about our poor little girl, as soon as you have buried her. I am worried about you. […] The children talk about their father all the time, they say a thousand sweet things.”5
William arranged for her funeral in Freierwalde and wanted to follow the others to Berlin. Neither he, nor Wilhelmina was initially granted access to the city. Eventually, Wilhelmina and the boys were let in. Napoleon was informed of young Pauline’s death and approved of Wilhelmina’s stay in Berlin, but he was not so kind to William. William was arrested and deported over the Oder and was ordered to go to the Prussian King.
Three weeks later, a devastated Wilhelmina wrote, “What a calamity, what a disaster that we have lost Pauline, our sweet, sweet little one. I can’t stop crying.”6 In 1815, Pauline’s father became King of the Netherlands, yet Pauline remained buried in Freienwalde.
In 1911, Freienwalde’s owner Walter Rathenau found a weatherworn tombstone with Pauline’s name on it. He immediately wrote to Queen Wilhelmina, and she sent Baron Gevers and Squire Van den Bosch to assess the situation. They exhumed the remains and transported them back by train to the Netherlands. On 7 April 1911, Queen Wilhelmina’s husband Prince Henry awaited the remains and not Wilhelmina herself, to avoid attracting too much attention. She had white lilies and a palm-branch placed on the coffin. He made sure that Pauline found her way to the Royal Crypt in Delft, where her parents were also buried. She was placed in between them. Pauline was home at last.7