Discussion of the wedding of the current Dutch king and queen often includes the political controversy surrounding the family of the bride. But Queen Maxima was far from the first Dutch consort to have a complicated background — fifty years ago today, a Dutch royal wedding took place that had almost been derailed because of the groom’s controversial early life. On what would have been their golden anniversary, let’s have a look at the wedding of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus.
Princess Beatrix met her future husband, Klaus von Amsberg, first at a dinner party and then again at the 1964 wedding of another pair of royals: Moritz of Hesse and Tatiana of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. (Tatiana is the sister of Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, who would later marry Princess Benedikte of Denmark.) The romance blossomed on a ski trip (also organized by Moritz) the following winter.
Beatrix is the eldest of the four daughters of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and her German-born husband, Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld. At the time of her wedding, Beatrix was the heir to the Dutch throne. Klaus was a commoner, born in northern Germany, who had a career with the German foreign service. His parents had noble roots; his father was an untitled noble, and his mother was born a baroness.
The press caught on to Beatrix’s romance when she was photographed with Klaus. When the engagement was announced in July of 1965, however, the match was almost immediately met with public disapproval. Only twenty years had elapsed since the end of World War II, and Beatrix’s prospective bridegroom had been both a member of the Hitler Youth and a German soldier in the final months of the war, serving in Italy with an armored division. Klaus met these facts directly, noting that his membership in the youth organization had basically been compulsory, and that “he did not like it.” The New York Times noted that Klaus explained during the couple’s engagement interviews “that he did not think it right to condemn a man simply because he had worn the German uniform.”
The Netherlands had been occupied by Germany during the war, and the royal family had gone into exile. Beatrix’s father, Prince Bernhard, and grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, had stayed in London, while the young princess had fled to Canada with her mother and her sister, Irene. (A second sister, Margriet, was born while the family was in Ottawa.) Memories of the harsh treatment that the Dutch people, especially the country’s Jewish population, had received at the hands of their German occupiers were still extremely strong in 1965. For some, the prospect of a German soldier as a consort to their future queen was unthinkable.
Beatrix stood firm in her resolve to marry Klaus, but even her mother, Queen Juliana, was apparently initally reluctant to give her permission. She ultimately gave the couple her blessing, but another, even bigger obstacle stood in the way: the Dutch parliament. If she had married without the approval of parliament, Beatrix would have lost her place in the line of succession. Only a year earlier, Beatrix’s younger sister, Princess Irene, had given up her succession rights so that she could marry Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma. (That wedding had been so fraught with controversy because of both religion and politics, in fact, that the Dutch royal family watched it on television rather than attending.)
In September, a group of Dutch professors and clergymen petitioned parliament to reject the bill that would approve the marriage. The National Committee of Former Resistance Fighters also issued a letter of protest. In the end, the marriage was approved by parliament in November 1965 with a vote of 132 to 9. A public opinion poll at the time found that 72% of the Dutch population approved of the marriage, while 14% opposed it and another 14% were indifferent. The New York Times noted that “nearly all expressions of unhappiness about the match are suffixed with a disclaimer about Mr. von Amsberg. He is generally thought to be all right, his past usually, but not always, excused as having been unavoidable for a young man in Nazi Germany. Young women find him attractive.”
Beatrix broke with tradition when she decided to hold the wedding festivities in Amsterdam — both her mother and grandmother had married in The Hague. Even the choice of Amsterdam, a city that had been treated particularly harshly during the German occuption, was viewed controversially. Even so, the wedding was set for March 10; the civil ceremony would be held at the town hall, and the religious ceremony at West Church.
The bride was deeply involved in planning all aspects of the wedding festivities, which stretched over three days in Amsterdam. On the first day, guests gathered for dinner at a hotel and then moved on to the Royal Palace for a ball. Press coverage from the day provides scant glimpses of jewels: Beatrix wearing the family’s Antique Pearl Tiara, Princess Paola of Belgium in her art deco bandeau, Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte of Luxembourg wearing the Belgian Scroll Tiara. On the second day, royal guests took boat cruises on Amsterdam’s famous canals, toured the city’s diamond industry, or visited the Rijksmuseum before gathering for another gala dinner.
On the morning of March 10, the twin concerns of politics and weather kept the crowds small. Police estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 people lined the carriage procession route, but many present felt that estimate was high. It was a windy, rainy day in Amsterdam, dampening both the processional and the smoke bombs detonated by the approximately 1000 protesters who had gathered. At least seven of these bombs were hurled during the day, including one just before the couple arrived at the church and another as they departed. Security was tight, with nearly 8,000 police and soldiers on patrol. The police even requested to use the Anne Frank House, which is near the church, as a canteen; however, the memorial declined, noting that “a memorial to a Jewish girl who was taken away with her family to a Nazi concentration camp should not [be] used as a police post, no matter what the occasion.”
The bride wore a white satin dress with a sixteen-foot train made by a Dutch designer, Caroline Berge-Farwick. Beatrix’s tulle veil was held in place by the enormous Wurttemberg Ornate Pearl Tiara. She also wore pearl earrings and the diamond and pearl strawberry leaf brooch that had belonged to Queen Sophie of the Netherlands. The couple traveled in the elaborate golden coach that was built in 1898 for the coronation of Beatrix’s grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina.
Beatrix had six bridesmaids: her sister, Princess Christina; Princess Christina of Sweden; Lady Elizabeth Anson (stepdaughter of Prince George of Denmark); Claus’s sister, Christina von Amsberg; and two friends, Joanna Roell and Eugenie Loudon. The party also included two page boys and two flower girls.
To comply with Dutch law, a brief civil ceremony was held before the religious wedding. The certificate that they signed after these secular vows showed the changes that had been made to the groom’s name. The spelling of his name had been changed after the engagement to Claus van Amsberg, and after the wedding vows, his title became Prince Claus. The group of witnesses who also signed the civil marriage certificate included the bride’s uncle, Prince Ernst Aschwin of Lippe-Biesterfeld, as well as a member of the British royal family, Princess Alexandra. Another witness was especially politically significant: Dr. Willem Drees, the former Dutch prime minister who had also been a leader of the resistance movement during the war.
When the couple arrived at the church for the wedding ceremony, 1800 guests waited inside. Beatrix’s parents and her sisters, including Princess Irene and Carlos Hugo, were all present.
The foreign royals in attendance included King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of the Belgians (who smuggled a tiara into a daytime wedding by wearing her Spanish Wedding Gift Tiara as a necklace); Prince Albert and Princess Paola of Belgium; Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte of Luxembourg; Prince Charles of Luxembourg; Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent; Princess Alexandra and Sir Angus Ogilvy; King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie of the Hellenes; Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark; Infante Juan Carlos and Infanta Sofia of Spain; Infanta Pilar of Spain; Princess Benedikte of Denmark; Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg; Princess Margaretha of Sweden and John Ambler; and Crown Prince Harald of Norway.
Although protests were a concern outside the walls of the church, the wedding ceremony proceeded smoothly. The New York Times reported that the couple “whispered to each other from time to time, exchanged fond looks as they pledged their troth, and had some difficulty in slipping the gold rings on each other’s fingers.” Both the civil and religious vows omitted the promise to “obey.”
Beatrix and Claus’s engagement and wedding may have been fraught with controversy, but their marriage turned out to be strong and enduring, lasting until Claus’s death in 2002. Claus even managed to win over the Dutch public, regularly polling as one of the most popular members of the royal family later in his life. The couple had three sons: King Willem-Alexander, the late Prince Johan Friso, and Prince Constantijn.