After the death of Alexander, Prince of Orange, it became clear that it would be Wilhelmina who would succeed her father, and she would probably be a minor too. A regent would be required, and the Dutch Constitution demanded that a situation like that should be dealt with in a new law.
The last time this had been done was in 1850 when King William III’s sons were still minors. Back then, his brother Prince Henry was designated as regent, but he had now died as well. A conclusion was soon reached, Emma should be appointed regent – she really was the only viable option. However, even King William had his doubts, though he eventually agreed. The law designating Emma as regent was approved with a large majority of 97 to 3 on 1 August 1884. Emma would rule as Queen Regent from the death of her husband until Wilhelmina’s 18th birthday (at the time all other Dutch people did not reach their majority until their 23rd year).
The three people who voted against the law would have preferred to see a man act as regent, though they failed to say who that man should be. And Emma was not only a woman, but she was also a foreigner and quite young. They were not convinced that Emma knew the Netherlands enough to be able to rule it.1
On 20 November 1890, as William lay dying, Emma was called for the regency in her husband’s name. It was clear that he would not recover this time. He died in the early hours of 23 November with only Emma and Count Dumonceau by his bedside. The ten-year-old Wilhelmina officially succeeded him as Queen of the Netherlands but on 8 December 1890, Emma swore an oath in front of the States-General as regent and as her custodian.
The text of the oath as per the current law of 1994 goes as follows,
“I swear allegiance to the King2; I swear that I will maintain and uphold the Statute of the Kingdom and the Constitution in the exercise of the royal authority, as long as the King has not reached the age of 18 years. I swear that I will defend and save the independence and the territory of the Kingdom with all my might; that I will protect the freedom and the rights of all Dutch people and residents; that I will use all means available to me by law to maintain and improve the welfare, as a good and loyal regent must do. So help me, God almighty!”3
- Wilhelmina, de Jonge Koningin by Cees Fasseur p.77
- Although Dutch law continues to speak of a “King”, a Queen regnant also falls under this
- Wet beëdiging van de regent