Wilhelmina of Prussia was born on 18 November 1774 as the daughter of King Frederick William II of Prussia and Frederika Louisa of Hesse-Darmstadt. Not much is known about her early life. She received an education in several languages, needlepoint and painting. She married her first cousin William, then Prince of Orange, on 1 October 1791 in Berlin, and it was considered to be a love match.
They first lived in The Hague at Noordeinde Palace, and it was there that she gave birth to her first child, William. The family’s following exile to England became even more tragic when she gave birth to a stillborn child just four months later. She left for Berlin a year later, and on 28 February, she gave birth to a second son named Frederick. He was followed by another stillborn son and two healthy daughters Pauline and Marianne, though Pauline would die at the age of six.
She triumphantly returned to the Netherlands in January 1814 as the wife of the future sovereign. In 1815, she officially became the first Queen consort of the Netherlands. Between 1815 and 1830 she lived in the four official residences in the Netherlands and Belgium – which at the time was still a part of the Netherlands. This union ended in 1830 when Belgium officially separated from the Netherlands. Their daughter Marianne married Prince Albert of Prussia, who was also Marianne’s first cousin and Wilhelmina visited them often.
Wilhelmina was a great lover of art, and she was taught by Friedrich Bury, though no work from her hand has survived. During her tenure as Queen, she was not a very visible Queen, and she liked it that way. She was considered to be a modest woman, which made her even more loved by the people. Her health began to deteriorate from the 1820s, but she still travelled. Her last journey was in the spring of 1837 when she went to Berlin for the baptism of her grandson. She died on 12 October 1837. She was interred in the royal crypt at Delft two weeks later.
Her husband married her former lady-in-waiting Henriette d’Oultremont, who was not only a Belgian but also a Catholic. The resistance to this marriage was so great that William decided to abdicate in favour of his eldest son. He did so on 7 October 1840. He married Henriette on 17 February 1841. William died just two years, but Henriette was awarded an allowance and a castle at Aachen, where she died in 1864.
The title ‘Prince of Orange’ was granted to her eldest son William, who went on to become King William II of the Netherlands. Since 1983, the heir apparent to the Dutch throne, whether male or female, bears the title of Prince(ss) of Orange.
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