When the future Queen Wilhelmina was born on 31 August 1880, her elder half-brother Prince Alexander, Prince of Orange was still alive – as was her uncle Prince Frederick of the Netherlands. Under the semi-salic law in the Netherlands, she was thus third in the line of succession. However, Prince Frederick died in 1881, leaving two daughters – Louise and Marie. Prince Alexander was unmarried and sickly, and he too died in 1884. Wilhelmina was now the heiress to the throne and was set to become the first Queen regnant of the Netherlands. But how does one educate a Queen? Especially one that would be expected to rule from a young age – her father was already 63 years old when she was born.
From her early youth, Wilhelmina had been raised bilingual – in French and Dutch. On 1 August 1886, an English governess named Miss Elizabeth Saxton Winter was employed, and Wilhelmina would grow very fond of her, and they would keep in touch for the rest of Miss Winter’s life. She set out to “train your character, to make a bold and noble woman out of you, unflinching and strong.”1 Most of all, Wilhelmina would be taught a sense of duty and perseverance. Wilhelmina grew up an only child but sometimes other children were invited to the Palace.
However, when it became clear that her father would not live to see her 18th birthday, her education was sped up. Her education focussed on three languages, French, German and English but also included subjects just for her, like constitutional law and the organisation of the army. Her teacher was Frederik Gediking, who ran a county school in The Hague. He sometimes found it difficult to formally address his special student, and he was not allowed to shake her hand. Miss Winter attended all the lessons with Wilhelmina.
In 1890, her father died at the age of 73 and Wilhelmina became Queen at the age of 10. Her mother Emma would act as her regent until her 18th birthday. From now on, Emma made sure Wilhelmina was seen as the future of the monarchy. Between 1892 and 1896, she and Wilhelmina visited every major city and providence in the Netherlands. Emma also took it upon herself to become her daughter’s teacher in religious matters.
From August 1890, lessons were intensified with a more teachers Dr J.J. Salverda de Grave, F.J.L Krämer, P.J. Blok and C.M. Kan. Emma wanted her to learn history, especially Dutch history, because she believed it was the only way for Wilhelmina to know her people as she was so separated from them by protocol and etiquette. By 1896, her basic education was considered to be completed. The following two years would focus mainly on her constitutional duties.
When she took up her duties, she was by far the best-educated 18-year-old in the Netherlands. However, it had been a lonely childhood surrounded by people who were much older than her. She later wrote in her memoirs, “Most of the lessons were interesting and there were breaks at the right moment, just when I began to feel tired. My secondary and academic education were combined. I never went beyond secondary level in science and foreign languages (French, German and English). My favourite subjects were Dutch and history.”2