In early 1880 the new Queen Emma of the Netherlands realised she was expecting. By March, rumours were circulating around the country. In the evening of 30 August 1880, Emma went into labour at Noordeinde Palace and her husband was by her side throughout. A Princess was born the following day at six o’clock in the evening, much to (almost) everyone’s joy. A 51-gun salute welcomed the Princess. King William showed no disappointment in the gender of his fourth child. She received the names Wilhelmina (a traditional Orange-Nassau name) Helena Pauline Maria (after three of Emma’s sisters). The following day, William registered the birth himself and insisted on showing off the newborn Princess to the gentlemen in attendance, calling her “a beautiful child.”1
At the time of her birth, the future Queen was third in the line of succession. At the time, the Netherlands operated on a semi-salic line of succession, and so, she was behind her elder half-brother Alexander (the only one of her three half-brothers still living) but also behind her great-uncle Prince Frederick. Prince Frederick died in 1881 without any surviving sons, followed by the unmarried Alexander in 1884, leaving Wilhelmina as her father’s heir at the age of four.
Emma would not nurse the newborn Wilhelmina herself – she had two wetnurses, one at Noordeinde Palace and one the Loo Palace. And while her parents were overjoyed, several newspapers expressed their disappointment with headlines like, “It’s only a girl!”2 Only a son could have saved the royal house, with a girl the crown would inevitably pass to another house. Nevertheless, congratulations began pouring in soon after the birth. Emma’s sister Pauline wrote to William that little Wilhelmina would be the joy of the rest of his life.3
The first years of her life appear to have been happy. She was appointed a governess named Cornelia Martina, Baroness van Heemstra, in 1882. She also had a carer named Marie Louise de Kock and a nanny named Julie Liotard, who also taught her French and so Wilhelmina was raised bilingual. Wilhelmina would remain the only child of her parents though she did not mind this, and she later wrote about the joy of having her parents all to herself.4 When it became clear that she would become Queen sooner rather later, her education began in its earnest.