COFFEE WITH A QUEEN
IT WAS at 541 Acadian Avenue, Rockcliffe, Ottawa, just before the war ended. It was a lovely day and I came through the bottom of the garden just about the time the young woman in a dirndl skirt and a white blouse ran down the veranda steps, waved, and then stopped to hush a baby in a carriage. I’d remembered it particularly because that was the last time I saw the Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands before she left her modest wartime home in Canada to return to her own country.
It would be different now, I thought, as the big, silver KLM Flying Dutchman came out of the clouds and the cold Canadian winter, to land into a summer-warm, blossom-laden spring day in Holland.
The canals were busy with traffic, the trees fresh green, and the yellow daffodil fields sharp lashes of brightness on the flat, canal-striped fields.
Here, a new Queen—a reigning monarch since Sept. 6, 1948—in her own ancient land . . . the whole thing would be completely different. In Canada she had been, though warmly welcome, an exile. Here she was at home with her family: The Princess Wilhelmina, her mother, Prince Bernhard von Lippe-Biesterfeld of the Netherlands, her husband, and her children, the little Princesses Beatrix, Irene, Margriet and Marijke. I was glad I’d brought a hat. I wondered about my curtsy.
It was at the hotel at Baarn, out-side the capital city Amsterdam, that first mellow morning as I was registering, that a young man in grey slacks spoke to me offhandedly. “I hear you are to see our Queen,” he said.
“I hope to,” I said, “sometime while I am here.” “It’s tomorrow morning at 11,” he said and went off.
There must come an engraved invitation with the many crests of the royal family, surely, I thought. It never turned up. But a taxi did, the next morning.
There are five magnificent royal palaces in Holland, the state Palace on the Dam, in Amsterdam; the ancient residence, Nord einde, at the seat of the government. The Hague; the summer Palace Soestdijk. the royal family’s favorite residence; a somewhat smaller summer palace Huise ten Bos (House in the Woods) near The Hague; and Princess Wilhelmina’s country place, the Palace Het Loo. Besides this there are a number of shooting boxes, villas and occasional residences.
We went to the Palace Soestdijk. It’s on a main highway out of Amsterdam, set back beyond a vast green courtyard in a beechwood park. It’s a huge, white, low house with curved wings giving it the look of a gigantic crescent moon with a thousand eyes. An unobtrusive iron railing fences off the footpath, the bicyclists’ right-of-way and the road. My taxi went snappily by the one lone guard at the high gates and drew up at the right wing steps at the end of the wide, half-moon drive. I put on my gloves, took them off, pushed my hat farther back, and mounted the steps.
An elderly footman in blue, with big brass buttons and a cheery sort of face, flung the door open. He greeted me almost affectionately and led me at a brisk pace down a long curving hall, walled by windows facing the drive. In the little sitting room there was a half-finished portrait of the young Queen, painted with the pretty decorum of a court portraitist. I’d had barely time to look at this when my cheery chum was back.
With a bow he said: “Would mademoiselle prefer to wait in the garden?”
We raced down the long hall again, through a gracious simple room, and to a wide veranda and easy steps to the lawn. The sun was bright on the stately green-trunked trees. There was a pond with daffodil beds flanking it carelessly and wild ducks nattering at one another. Birds sang busily, but in Dutch, so I don’t know what kind of birds they were.
A very tanned young woman and I raced at the last moment to keep a small child from tumbling into the pond. Three frisky Sealyhams assisted with barks and bounces.
The happy footman kept marching down toward the white garden chairs, couch and a table with an embroidered cloth on it, by the pond under the trees. The child skipped along with the eager, precarious step of the very young to investigate me. For a bit she kept a shy distance but the Sealyhams didn’t.
The child began to skip and sing to herself. She had the sweet, little thin voice of a baby, extraordinarily true. She came and leaned against my knee, singing absently. The sun shone. The dogs barked. The grass had a spring tang.
A Bow from Juliana
AND THEN the small girl caught sight of something and started away, and as I turned to watch her a woman in a bright yellow dress ran out of the open doors, down the stairs, across the grass. The child, in her eagerness, fell. The woman stooped to help her, and waved to me.
So I got up and went to meet Juliana, the Queen of the Netherlands.
She is a tall, slender woman—thinner than she was in Canada. She came quickly, with a vitality and strength of movement that made you move forward more quickly too. When she smiles she is extremely lovely, her rather sombre face lighting up, her very blue eyes smiling too. When she reaches out, almost eagerly, to shake hands, she bends forward with a gracious little bow almost as though she were paying homage to you instead of you to her. Hatless, coatless, in the well-cut, bright yellow dress, the garnets in her ears sparkling, she ran forward across the green lawn.
“How is Canada? It feels a long time since, doesn’t it? Will you have coffee? Shall we have it out here or do you think it’s too cool?” It was the friendliest welcome you could have.
Though the day was unseasonably warm, the
The smiling woman in the yellow dress was Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands. “How’s Canada?” she asked Eva-Lis in the palace garden
little breeze was cool and Her Majesty the Queen picked up an old army blanket off the garden couch and wrapped it around her shoulders. Yet still the yellow daffodil banks behind her blended with her yellow dress.
She talked with her eyes and hands, as well as her mind. Her English is idiomatic, accentless, with a precise sense of the right word that allows for vivid pictures and much humor. She doesn’t bother to talk off the surface of her mind; there is nothing stereotyped about her conversation.
The footman brought coffee, cookies, American cigarettes. The breeze rippled the lake, the wild ducks dove and nattered. Little Princess Marijke danced about, singing her sweet wordless songs. She’s only two and a bit.
“We like to live here,” the Queen said. “It’s so
pleasant for the children and close to their school. You really ought to go to see their school. It’s a remarkable experiment. The principal’s Kaas Boake—Cornelia, really. Kaas is the short for if, all the children call him just Kaas. He started it all.”
She turned to look back upon the white, halfmoon palace, pulling the grey blanket closer about her. “We use this wing here, you see,” she said. “Those big windows—the ones that don’t match the other wing —we put it in, my husband and I. You push a button and the whole glass wall moves aside and the garden moves in. It’s pleasant. Mother will perhaps say we’ve mucked up the architecture.” She laughed.
On the fiagstoned veranda opening from the big friendly room a footman was setting a table for lunch, in the open. On a Continued on page 54
Continued on page 54
Coffee With a Queen
Continued from page 13
balcony above the tanned nurse was taking more sun. The breeze ruffled the fresh spring scents in the air.
The Queen talked of her land, its labor ÿind social aspects; of the best soil for bulb fields—and the beauty of their blossom time; she recalled Canadian occasions; recent skiing holidays in St. Anton, Austria; of spring and the garden.
As she walked through the park j again, and across the bright rooms to ( see me to the door, she said; “You’ll see the children at school. You’ll be j interested.”
As I went away I kept thinking of the Dutch claim that their national characteristics are simplicity, naturalness, sense of duty, levelheadedness, dislike of ostentation. And I thought their Queen symbolized it all.
Her Majesty never used such expressions as “The Prince,” about Prince Bernhard; or “The Princess” or “Her Royal Highness” about her mother Princess Wilhelmina. It was always, simply, “my husband,” or “my mother.”
I’d looked up her inauguration I address made at the time of her coronation last fall and been deeply struck by t he warm simplicity of such phrases as “My dear mother, led by grandmother's love, wisdom and common sense, assumed the heavy task, supported later by father’s fine personality . . .” Here spoke the Queen of an empire, of her family close to her, i to her people, equally close.
1 kept remembering the Queen, walking alone on Ottawa streets, selling in a Red Cross shop, helping at various wartime enterprises, and telling a story about her small daughter Beatrix. Which is this: One day the Queen had gone to the end of the garden to watch for the children coming home from school, and had got to the high hedge I just in time to hear 'Prix say to a schoolmate, “Will you come and play with me today?” The little Canadian boy had answered, “Sure. But I ha »e to ask mummy first. She’s particular who I play with.”
The simplicity and naturalness that calls up her amused laughter on such occasions, her dignified modesty on others, are deep enough to open to her the homes of her people. She doesn’t depend on a minister in striped pants, top hat and heavy portfolio to tell her what the people think.
All Hollanders know that some day there may be a knock on the door and the Queen may walk in, sit down in the kitchen and have a friendly chat. She
has often driven from her palace in a small car, walked down the streets of the university town of Leyden where she herself went to school, stopped in a house beneath the willows by a slowly flowing canal, and had a cup of tea.
“The most remarkable thing,” said a woman close to her, “is that after the first few minutes she has been able to make the people so at ease, free them from awe, that they talk to her as to an old friend. I think this is one of her greatest gifts. She can adjust herself so thoroughly to any background that other people are entirely comfortable in her presence.”
I agreed completely. I couldn’t have felt more at home on a Timagami wharf than I did in the royal gardens of Soestdijk after the Queen came. “But how do you suppose she does it?” I asked.
“Well,” said her good friend, “I think it’s partly because she wants to. Partly because she really does like people and in doing so doesn’t think of herself. And partly because she is so incredibly well-informed on so many subjects that she can always talk interestingly to people about things they are most interested in.”
The Queen Might Turn Up
I don’t think her knowledge comes only from the fact that she did graduate as Doctor of Law, of Literature and of Philosophy at Leyden, as well as studying Church History, History of the Islam and Adat Law (customary laws in Indonesia) but also from her love of her own land.
The Queen knows (she spoke of it by the pond in the gardens at Soestdijk) the sort of soil tulips grow best in, the sort of fertilizer you should put on polder lands—lands captured from the sea and the sort of measures that make labor-management relationships easier, or a young criminal into a human being. She isn’t book learned only. She’s learned by seeing and talking to people firsthand.
She writes her speeches herself. Whatever she says the people of Holland know she thinks.
“You can tell,” said a man in Utrecht who knows her, “when a royal pronouncement comes from the Queen. It’s to the point. The words are chosen so they have only the direct meaning and not official prevarications. It speaks to your heart. I don’t suppose, at any time, she has made a speech she did not write herself.”
The Queen’s forte is her judgment of people. Apparently she has often made decisions that have amazed and pleased people. She doesn’t stick to the strict
line that best families should have the best choices. She judges people by their abilities. She has two secretaries. One is Baron Baud (he made me check on the spelling of his name) who has known her mother too; the other a Miss Henny Sneller, Doctor of Law, who was chosen because of her interest in social welfare. The Queen is deeply interested in this aspect of the nation’s life.
She makes unannounced, impromptu visits to youth hostels, to old people’s homes, to prisons for young criminals— and if things aren’t up to mark the officials hear about it. So everywhere they are kept on their toes. The Queen might turn up at any time. One must be ready for it.
Her day even now, since she took over the duties of state from her mother, centres around her husband (“He can get ever so much more work done than I in half the time”) and her daughters. She gets up early to breakfast with the children before they are driven to school, for 9 p.m. opening.
Then, unless there are any official appointments anywhere in the country, she attends to her desk. All government decisions come to her. She answers much of her enormous mail personally. Also, either in the morning, or at early cocktails she receives ambassadors (Canadian Ambassador to The Hague, His Excellency Pierre Dupuy, and General Symonds visited her while I was in Holland) as well as members of her government and visiting dignitaries from other countries.
If possible she tries to have no appointments after four, so as to be free for the children when they come from school. Saturday afternoons and Sundays are also family days.
Knocking on Palace Doors
She gives as much time as possible to her four small daughters. Beatrix, heir to the throne (her name means “she who brings happiness”), was born on Jan. 31, 1938. Second daughter, born, Aug. 5, 1939, was named Irene, meaning “peace,” ironically enough, for before she could be baptized the Germans had overrun Holland, Prince Bernhard had taken his wife and family to England and the small girl was baptized at Buckingham Palace. In Ottawa the third princess, Margriet, was born on Jan. 19, 1943, and
baptized in St. Andrew’s Church. Small Marijke, the o«e who sings and plays with the Sealyhams in the garden, was born at Soestdijk Palace on Feb. 18, 1947.
Family holidays are customary. The royal family have their own motor yacht and spend many summer week
ends in it. Sometimes the three older girls spend part of their holidays at Kaas Boake’s summer camp “Terschelling” and the Queen and Prince Bernhard turn up to see them, like any normal parents when their children are away. The lake lands and canals of Friesland and Zealand are as familiar to them from holidays as their own Soestdijk garden and park.
Always the Queen’s interest returns to the children. To Trix with her sturdy manners, her self-confident intelligence, interest in art and writing. To Irene who follows her father as an adept equestrian, has tomboy ability at sports. To Margriet, the elflike small child with wilful humor and quickly aroused sympathies.
Her husband, the Consort Prince Bernhard, is the Inspector General of the Army and the Navy, and shares the Queen’s home interests. He brings his friends home, and entertainment is brisk for both Dutch and international friends at whatever palace the royal family is staying.
The most formal of the five main royal palaces is the state Palace on the Dam, in Amsterdam. It is equivalent to Buckingham Palace, and used as the seat for formal and state occasions, for entertaining heads of other states and visiting royalty.
I wandered over there one morning when Amsterdam streets were full of pushcarts filled with tulips, daffodils, narcissus and hyacinths, and bicyclists in thick streams made long life seem improbable. Barges were jostling in the canal of the Rokin and bargemen were throwing their caps in the air as they shouted at one another. I walked across a little bridge from which Rembrandt painted.
A gallery of pillars and arches faces the square of the Dam, and there are a number of doors there. I knocked on all of them, but nobody heard. So I circled the huge place, knocking on every door I found until 1 came to another big door at the back, facing a busy street. Here was a bell. I rang it.
A tall, lean, jovial character threw open the door, beamed at me and said: “Aha, the lady the Queen sent!”
My footsteps echoed in the halls as we went down their resounding length, by the 300-year-old copper doors 1 couldn’t move by myself, through the marble Court of Justice toward Great Hall. Here, in this vast place, Juliana grew up. I kept trying to see a blond child playing here, but all I could conjure up were striding visions of William the First; the mincing courtiers of Napoleon’s brother’s reign; the dignified old Queen Wilhelmina whose regality matches the palace.
Here, on the balcony, Juliana of the the Netherlands appeared immediately after the abdication ceremony of her mother, and her own coronation, to receive the acclaim of the people.
But it was not that memory of the historic, happy, magnificent day that brought alive to me the Palace on the Dam. It was an incident which happened not so long ago while the royal family was in residence there.
The three eldest children and their grandmother, the Princess Wilhelmina, had been playing in Great Hall. It’s quite roomy for play. A hundred feet high, 120 feet long, magnificently marble carved with significant figures, crystal Empire chandeliers hanging from the ceiling that’s painted to represent the dome of the sky, and mosaicked into the floor an accurate constellation of stars.
They’d been playing that game where one player turns her back and the others try to creep up to her, but must go back to the beginning if caught moving. The Princess Wilhelmina hadn’t been particularly good
at this, and when the children tired of the game they ran out on the balcony fronting the Dam Square.
There, below, across the cobbled square and by the little park, Amsterdamians in their Sunday best were promenading. There, too, below, was an old vendor beneath a gay cluster of balloons. The three small princesses flew down the marble stairs, through the small door under the archway, beside the massive ancient iron one, and out into the crowd.
Of course they were recognized by the hundreds but no one did anything about it beyond smiling warmly at the small blond girls. After all, it was their own business if they were going to squander their allowances on balloons.
The House in the Woods
The Great Hall seemed a fine place to fly the things, and they had a marvelous time until one of the balloons escaped and weaved up, up toward the magnificent heights of the hall.
Now this is the picture I like. And you can draw whatever significance your experience dictates from it. The vast hall, that had seen such scenes as Juliana’s coronation ball when 300 people, including most of the great and near great of the world, ribboned, uniformed, bejeweled, sat down to dine in the scent of 3,500 roses and the light of thousands of candles. Here, three children, their faces turned up to watch an escaped balloon ascend. Beyond, on the sunny square, hundreds of people whose day was made because three little girls had wanted balloons.
The balloon stayed there for some weeks, swaying gently in the draughts. Finally, when the next great occasion arrived, half a dozen workmen painstakingly and on special ladders captured it. A balloon has become a Dutch legend.
At the Palace on the Dam, as well as at the other royal palaces, apartments are always ready for immediate .use of the royal family. These are as simple, comfortable rooms as you can make them, though naturally by custom, necessity, and because the furniture’s always been there, they are regally appointed. While the Queen and her husband prefer the relative simplicity of their own arrangements in the right wing of the Soestdijk Palace, they do, and must, on occasions stay elsewhere.
For diplomatic receptions, state functions, opening of Parliament and such, they turn up at the Nordeinde Palace, in The Hague, where the Parliament sits and the embassies are located. The city is about an hour by train from Amsterdam, about the same length of time by car from Soestdijk.
But if the royal family comes to The Hague for personal reasons they stay at the Huis ten Bos, only some 15 minutes by car outside the city. It’s a three-story, two-winged building amid destroyed gardens. The Germans cut the trees and dug up the lawns and flower beds to build their bunkers here. V bombs were fired off 200 metres from the palace. Six hundred windows were broken.
This is a lovely place, reminiscent of France, because of the architecture of Daniel Marot who introduced the Louis XVI style to Holland. But while there are Jacob de Wit paintings on the walls, and the cupolaed Great Hall in the centre part of the building is famed for its paintings all over the world, there’s still no plumbing, and electricity was only put in in 1920. But the Dutch are going to do something about this.
In July of this year Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard will have been married 12 \ > years, which in Holland is the brass celebration. The sensible
Dutch people racked their brains fora suitable present and discarded the idea of a hooked rug or a silver tray. They came on their bicycles to look at the Huise ten Bos, and they saw the slender, weak hopefulness of the young trees Princess Wilhelmina had planted along the main drive as a present for her daughter. And so the Dutch, every single one of them loving the green things which grow on their seabesieged land, had a unanimous idea. They’d give the Queen, for a present, a garden at the house in the woods. And just for good measure they decided to throw in the plumbing too.
I thought of these magnificent, historic places the morning I went to see the royal children at school. Surely, I thought, with such medieval splendor for a background the Queen must have picked something pretty dignified for her children’s schooling. Did princesses have special desks, special chairs, in their classrooms, I wondered?
The school “Children’s Community” is at Bilthoven, which is a suburb of Utrecht. Distances in Holland are so short that this means it’s only some 15 minutes by car from Soestdijk Palace at Baarn, half an hour from Amsterdam. The cab got lost, looking for the principal’s house.
We stopped at a sprawling villa with a lot of 10-and 11-year-olds running about the garden, under the widespreading trees. Two sturdy blond boys came to argue about the proper direction. A bevy of little girls came to stare; a child with honey-yellow hair in a blue cotton print, cardigan and matching socks seemed oddly familiar. Then she smiled and nudged a friend and I recognized from Canada, Princess Irene, now nearly 10 and lovely with gaiety. The occasional traffic streaked by on the public street beyond the unwalled garden. The little girls skirmished away.
Mr. Kaas Boake wasn’t at the Werkplaats, a rambling settlement of old houses, barns, pigsties and chicken houses converted into classrooms and occupied by industrious-looking pupils. But he bicycled over from his house and took me around. He runs his school on the theory that freedom of choice, agreement instead of majority rule, and a lack of force are the basis of good life. He feels domination has become synonymous with power politics and that the fundamental problem of mankind is not who will have the power to dominate, but to learn to live together by common consent like one large family. There are 135 students, including the royal children.
A Future Queen Sweeps Floors
In a sunny room kindergarten characters were preparing for their lunch hour. They had a healthy tan, most of these small blond types, but none better than the bright golden glow on one six-year-old with that honey hair, quick laughing eyes and dancing feet, whose family resemblance was unmistakable—Her Royal Highness, the Canadian-born Princess Margriet, who was sitting cross-legged in a splash of sunlight on the floor, pulling up her socks. She wasn’t paying too close attention to the story being read; she was too busy tickling the neck of the small boy next to her.
We paused en route at the house where we’d asked the way. Her Royal Highness Princess Irene was now bent over an obviously often worked-out mathematics problem, and looked relieved to take time off to say that her English was a little rusty—which it didn’t appear to be—and that she was beginning to forget Canada.
“It’s so long ago,” said she with the wistfulness of a ni ne-year-old.
At the oldest building (these buildings are scattered about Bilthoven) a sewing class sat about an open doorway. Here Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix, Heir Presumptive to the Throne of the Netherlands, was bending moodily over a ratber soiled piece of embroidery she’d been working on, she admitted, for some years. “I don’t like sewing much,” she said with a quick slanting smile at the teacher that took away the sting. “I like painting, and particularly modeling, best.” She had her mother’s pure English, perhaps with a slightly more pronounced English accent.
Later, she trailed in with the rest of her class to the classroom where the monitor for the day, a dark girl, checked on her classmates’ desks. Trix’s hand went up with the rest at the pointed questions.
A slender boy spoke of next week’s work. Then the dark girl allotted the cleaners who’d have to sweep the room, turn up the chairs, generally tidy up. One of them was the Heiress Presumptive to the Throne.
There is a story that she once tried to get away from these chores on strength of being a princess, but she didn’t get very far with this project with either her classmates, her teachers, or her parents.
Another story the Dutch tell with particular relish is of the gay Irene who (this story has small variations) snitched an apple off a peddler’s cart, and was made to walk home from school by her father who heard of it. She was blithely at the Palace by the time Prince Bernhard arrived with the other two schoolgirls.
“How did you get here so quickly? You didn’t walk,” he said.
“Hitchhiked,” said Her Royal Highness.
“Back you go,” said her father, and took her where he’d left her first and watched her walk home.
In ways like these the ruling house of the Netherlands turns its back on the royal prerogatives of a tradition-laden past. Here’s another instance:
One day I visited the private royal archives in a big stone house set in a verdant garden. There, everything concerning the House of Orange has been painstakingly preserved. The golden pen Juliana used to sign her marriage certificate; the wooden one with which the old Queen wrote Wilhelmina when she abdicated; the wooden bicycle ridden by William III; the spade with which Juliana planted a tree at her country house when she got engaged; toys and papers and letters and plates made for hundreds of special royal occasions.
As I was leaving I said to the keepers of the family treasures:
“And the Queen comes often here and brings the children to learn the past of the family?”
“Hardly ever. Hardly at all,” they said.
The Dutch show their love for their royal family and repay them for their lack of ostentation by allowing them personal freedom. The Queen may walk to her shops, the princesses may buy their balloons, Prince Bernhard may drive his car, unstared at, not followed.
The Queen’s interests do not linger in past glories or triumphs but in her people—social welfare, labor conditions, and that international good will which will assure their future. To the best of her ability she will always follow this path. ★