She wrote in her memoirs, “Although during the last few months his suffering was such that I could no longer visit him, this period left a deep mark on my life. The atmosphere at The Loo was dominated by his illness. Everything became strained. When his illness was at its worst Mother spent all her time at his bedside, and I hardly saw her. How much it means to a child when her Mother disappears out of her life, and for such a long time! The last night she did not come to bed at all – I had been sleeping in her room for some time – and that night I felt that something terrible was happening upstairs in Father’s room. People tried to hide it from me, but yet I knew what that terrible thing was.”1
On 20 November, Wilhelmina’s mother Emma left behind her dying husband to swear the oath of regency in her husband’s name in The Hague. She told the States-General, “In these serious days, where the King’s condition fills us all with sadness, I will act as regent of the Kingdom. The King, my beloved and honoured consort, has given me the highest example of royal duty and working in the interested of the Country and the People, which has always set the House of Orange apart. I consider it my duty to follow his example. May God ease the suffering of our King and take the Netherlands under His holy wing.”2
When Emma returned to the Loo Palace later that day, his condition had deteriorated considerably. He had grown restless, and his kidneys were failing. The following night, he suddenly stood up and threw off the covers. His feet were swollen so he could not walk, and his servant told him to get back into bed, upon which the King asked, “Who gives the orders here, you or me?” They were his last words.
William fell back to sleep and only occasionally awoke during the following two days, unable to recognise anyone. He died on 23 November 1890, at 5.45 in the morning. His funeral took place on 4 December – the date was specifically chosen by Emma so that the Dutch people could still celebrate St. Nicholas’ eve. On 8 December, Emma once again took the oath of the regency – this time in her daughter’s name. The 10-year-old Princess Wilhelmina had become the Netherlands’ first Queen regnant.