On 10 July 1936, the dashing Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld proposed to Princess Juliana and after some consideration, she accepted him. The engagement was meant to remain a secret for three months, but the news leaked, and so it was officially announced on 8 September. Bernhard endeared himself to the public by attempting to speak Dutch at the announcement, making the resistance against a German prince a little less. Their wedding took place on 7 January 1937 – also the wedding anniversary of King William III and Queen Emma. Their honeymoon took them all over Europe and ended in Paris, where Bernhard and his “aunt” Allene completely made over the previously rather dowdy Juliana. Allene had also brought Juliana a dietician who had helped her lose some weight and Juliana had gotten a new haircut. Wilhelmina almost didn’t recognise her.
After their honeymoon, Bernhard and Juliana moved into Soestdijk Palace which they renovated to their taste. Juliana’s first pregnancy was announced on 15 June 1937. Juliana was still only two months pregnant when she made the announcement herself via radio. On 31 January 1938, the future Queen Beatrix was born. It had not been an easy labour, but Juliana recovered well, and the baby was healthy. Despite now having a new baby, Bernhard spent most of the time away from his family. On 5 August 1939, Juliana gave birth to a second daughter – named Irene.
In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Juliana and her two daughters had been sleeping in a shelter by Huis ten Bosch and Wilhelmina ordered her heir to leave the country. The initial plan was for her and her daughters to go to Paris, but that was soon no longer an option. England was plan B. On 12 May, they finally managed to board a British ship. The goodbye between mother and daughter was difficult. Bernhard accompanied his wife and daughters to England but he was an officer in the army and felt that he should be staying. Bernhard immediately returned to the Netherlands when Juliana was safely in London. The Netherlands capitulated on 15 May, and he was forced to return to England. Meanwhile, Wilhelmina had been forced to leave as well. At London Liverpool station, Bernhard and King George VI awaited her.
Wilhelmina believed her daughter and granddaughters would be safer in Canada. On 2 June 1940, they boarded the Sumatra. On 17 June, she spoke on the radio, “Please do not regard me as too much of a stranger now that I have set foot on these shores which my own ancestors helped to discover, to explore and to settle. […] Whatever you do, do not give me your pity. No woman evert felt as proud as I do today of the marvellous heritage of my own people… Pity is for the weak, and our terrible fate has made us stronger than ever before. But if you want to show us in some way that we are welcome among you, let me ask you one favour. Give us that which we ourselves shall give unto you from our most grateful hearts – give us that which just now we need more than anything else. You people of Canada and the United States, please give us your strengthening love.”1
Despite the circumstances, Juliana felt at home in Canada, and she even had a relative there in the form of Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. She had a freedom there she had not known before. She could go out and about without being recognised and was able to go to the movies and the public pool. Although Bernhard had remained in England, he visited her from time to time. She became pregnant again in 1941 but suffered a miscarriage in September. She was again pregnant the following year, which resulted in the birth of Princess Margriet on 19 January 1943.
On 2 August 1945, Juliana and her daughters returned to the Netherlands – a country ravished by war. Juliana resumed her position as President of the Red Cross, wanting to be useful. However, there would soon be a more important task waiting for her. Wilhelmina’s health had been declining, and she wanted to abdicate. Before that, Juliana would act as regent twice. From 14 October 1947 until 1 December and again from 12 May 1948 until 30 August 1948. Just before the regencies, Juliana gave birth to her fourth and final child, a daughter named Maria Christina (first known as Marijke, later as Christina). Tragically, she was born nearly blind after Juliana contracted rubella while pregnant. This would lead to the introduction of a faith healer at court, who would nearly bring down the monarchy.
Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in her daughter’s favour on 4 September 1948 at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. At noon, the balcony doors of the palace swung open, and Wilhelmina presented Juliana to the public as the new Queen with visible emotion. She shouted, “Long live our Queen!” Wilhelmina reverted back to the style and title of Her Royal Highness Princess Wilhelmina.
Two days later, on 6 September, Queen Juliana was inaugurated at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. Before taking the oath, Juliana spoke the now-famous words, “Who am I that I get to do this?”2