The Year of Queen Wilhelmina – The death of Alexander, Prince of Orange




alexander orange
(public domain)

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands had three elder half-brothers, but she would not know any of them. The three sons of the marriage of her father, King William III of the Netherlands and his first wife Sophie of Württemberg, were William (nicknamed Wiwill), Maurice and Alexander. Maurice fell ill with meningitis in early 1850, and he died at the age of six on 4 June 1850. Though William and Sophie’s marriage was famously unhappy, they managed to reconcile long enough for Sophie to fall pregnant again. Alexander was born on 25 August 1851. His elder brother William had become Prince of Orange, the title for the heir to the throne, in 1849 when their father became King.

willem alexander sophie maurice
(public domain)

The birth was a little premature, and Sophie took a long time to recover. She was initially feverish and restless, as was her young son. It soon became apparent that young Alexander was the opposite of his lively elder brother William. Sophie worried about him and spoiled him. As he grew older, Sophie admitted that he was “a strange boy with a character filled with contrasts.”1 He wasn’t sent to school and was instead homeschooled by his overbearing mother. When travelling, the pair often visited areas known for their good air. Doctors did not give any conclusion as to what, if anything, was wrong with Alexander, but Sophie concluded that he was facing “a life of misery.”2 He had a growth spurt in 1867 that left him with a slightly curved spine.

After his 18th birthday, he also travelled to spas without his mother. At the end of 1869, he even went on a long trip onboard a naval ship to the Mediterranean. Sophie was devastated and wrote, “My boy is leaving in the first week of December, and since the date has been set, it feels like my death sentence has been signed.”3 He also took classes at University but never graduated.

In 1874, Alexander moved into his own palace in The Hague, but by the end of the year, he was off travelling again. His mother hoped that he would meet a nice and suitable Princess, and she focussed on Princess Thyra of Denmark. This match never took place. Sophie wrote, “My sons are well. If only they would get married, then I would have no reason to complain.”4 His elder brother William had fallen in love with a Dutch Countess and his father absolutely refused to give his permission for their marriage. William moved away to Paris, where he lived a debauched lifestyle.

On 3 June 1877, Alexander lost his mother. He was devastated and wrote, “I am now so lonely and abandoned in this big world that your affection is a support to me to keep walking the path of life. My life is broken, my happiness, my daily life, the conversations with my beloved and lamented mother – destroyed.”5 Sophie laid in state for three days and Alexander refused to leave her side. As her coffin was lowered into the crypt at Delft, Alexander threw himself onto the coffin as he wept. William, whose return to the Netherlands for the funeral of his mother would be the last visit, had to pull him off. From then on, Alexander began to save everything that had something to do with his mother.

In his loneliness, his thoughts returned to marriage, and this time the focus was on Frederica of Hanover, but she was in love with someone else. Alexander gave up all thoughts of marriage and wrote, “Give me the freedom to walk my lonely path of life alone. I know very well that with the passing of my dear mother, I am now completely alone in the world.”6 He began collecting butterflies and miniatures, slowly turning his palace into a museum. He wrote, “My sadness has had a strange development.”7

King William III was also thinking of marrying again, much to the dismay of his sons. Alexander saw the remarriage as an insult to his late mother, but he kept the high ground and remained polite. He was not present for the wedding of King William and Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont in Arolsen in January 1879. He left for France and told his staff to keep the palace windows shut as a sign of mourning. When he returned, he refused to meet Emma. On 11 June 1879, his elder brother William died in France at the age of 38. Alexander was summoned and placed a picture of their mother in his brother’s hands. Alexander now became the new Prince of Orange.

As the new Crown Prince, Alexander requested a meeting with his father, but he also unwillingly came face to face with his new stepmother. He decided against leaving and bowed for her. However, they don’t have a conversation as Alexander was rather angry with his father for putting him in this situation. To escape the situation, Alexander went to stay with his aunt Marie of Württemberg in Switzerland. He refused to appear at the opening of parliament, and a following newspaper article was personally rebuffed by Alexander. His speaking to the press led to quite a commotion, and newspapers quickly sold out. He withdrew into his own palace even more, and his parrot and dog were his only companions.

alexander orange
(public domain)

On 31 August 1880, Emma gave birth to Alexander’s half-sister Wilhelmina. Alexander would never meet her. By May 1884, Alexander was seriously ill with typhoid fever. King William was in Karlsbad while Emma and Wilhelmina were spending time in Kissingen, and none of them seemed too concerned with Alexander’s health. On 3 June, the first newspaper reports appeared. Despite his illness, Alexander ordered wreaths to be placed on his mother’s coffin on the anniversary of her death. When William was finally informed that Alexander was probably dying, he was convinced by his doctors to stay in Karlsbad. Alexander ordered his brother William’s bed – to one in which he had died – to be brought to him so that he could die in it as well.

The end came on 21 June 1884. His last words were, “Help me, please help me. I can take no more.”8 He died at 2 in the afternoon. King William ordered the windows at Noordeinde Palace to be shut. However, he delayed his return to the Netherlands, and so Alexander remained unburied for nearly a month. He was finally interred in Delft on 17 July. King William was the first to leave the funeral.

With his death, King William now had just one living legitimate child… Wilhelmina.

  1. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.22
  2. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.27
  3. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.31
  4. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.55
  5. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.61
  6. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.63
  7. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.63
  8. Alexander, de vergeten kroonprins by Fred J. Lammers p.192






About Moniek 1780 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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