Queen Emma, born Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, was born on 2 August 1858 and was just 20 years old when she married the 61-year-old King William III of the Netherlands. Their only daughter and the future Queen of the Netherlands was born on 31 August 1880.
When William died on 23 November 1890, Emma became regent for their 10-year-old daughter. She oversaw the education of her daughter while running the country, as a foreigner and a woman at that. She handed over the reins of government upon her daughter’s 18th birthday, and by then, she looked much older than her 40 years. To thank her for her regency, the public gave her 300,000 guilders, most of which she spent on founding a tuberculosis charity – a disease which had killed her younger sister. When her daughter married in 1901, Emma moved to the Lange Voorhout Palace. She would also often spend her summers at Noordeinde Palace.
From 1909 until 1927, she was once more appointed as regent in case Wilhelmina died during the minority of her daughter Juliana. Wilhelmina’s husband, Henry, was believed to be less suited to the task.
In March 1934, Emma fell ill with a cold that developed into pneumonia. When it was believed that the danger had passed, Emma quietly passed away in her sleep during the early morning of 20 March. She was 75 years old.
Wilhelmina later wrote in her memoirs, “This time, however, we soon received a telephone call from the doctor, who advised me to return immediately because Mother had suddenly fallen ill and her condition gave rise to anxiety. We left at once. A few tense days followed. Juliana and I were with her at the Voorhout day and night, and Henry paid several short visits, with the doctor’s consent. On the 20th of March, God called her to Him. On the 27th, we accompanied her to her last resting-place in the vault of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft, where she lies beside my father. Since the end of her Regency, she had devoted herself entirely to suffering humanity. The warmth of her interest and her intuitive understanding of the circumstances of those who suffered as well as of those who nursed them caused many a heart to rejoice in the course of the years. Mother’s feelings went out to all, and she was a regular visitor in all classes of society.”
She added, “The news of her death caused general grief and regret among our people. We were particularly moved by the small tokens of love which were laid besides her bier, and perhaps even more by the expressions of those who came to say a last farewell. We, as members of the family, were affectionately included in this spontaneous demonstration of love. At her funeral, the national anthem of Waldeck-Pyrmont was played for the last time.”1
On 30 March, Wilhelmina wrote to her former governess Miss Winter, “For me, the sun for ever has gone, you will understand.”2
Emma was interred in the royal crypt in Delft.