Prince Claus of the Netherlands (1926-2002)

After having spent about half of 2002 in hospital, Prince Claus of the Netherlands died on October 6, 2002, at the age of 76, surrounded by his wife, Queen Beatrix, their sons, Willem-Alexander, Johan Friso, and Constantijn, and his two daughters-in-law, Princess Máxima and Princess Laurentien. He died of a combination of Parkinson's disease and pneumonia. Although his death was not totally unexpected, many people including the family had hoped that he would improv e. Also the almost weekly updates of the Government Information Service almost never said anything new, only mentioning that the prince was weak and fragile and that doctors described his condition as worrying. The prince, who had become enormously popular in the Netherlands after a difficult start and even was voted one of the most popular members of the royal family early in 2002, will be sadly missed by many people in the Netherlands.

Prince Claus was born on September 6, 1926 at Dötzingen near Hitzacker, Germany, as Claus Georg Wilhelm Otto Friedrich Gert von Amsberg. He was the only son of Claus von Amsberg and Baroness Gösta von dem Bussche-Haddenhausen and had six sisters of whom only one was older than him.

He spent his youth alternately in Germany, at his mother's family estate, and in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) where his parents had settled in 1929. Like all German boys of his age Claus had to join the Hitler Youth. After some months of training he served with the 90th Panzer Division in Italy in the last two months of World War II, but did not see active combat. Claus was taken prisoner by the Americans and worked in camps in Italy and Great Britain as a driver and interpreter. He returned home on Christmas Eve 1945.

After the war had ended Claus still had to finish secondary school and finally passed his exams in 1947. He had to work to pay for his study. After he graduated, he worked for a bank in Hamburg, before starting to study law at the University of Hamburg in 1952. After passing his final examination he entered the German Foreign Service in 1957 and passed his Diplomatic Service examination a year later. From 1958 to 1961 he was successively Third Secretary and Second Secretary at the German Embassy at Ciudad Trujillo (now Santo Domingo), Dominican Republic. Then he moved to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he was Second Secretary. In 1963 he was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bonn, where he worked in the department responsible for economic relations with Africa south of the Sahara until August 1965.

In 1964 Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Claus von Amsberg met at a dinner in Germany. They met again at the party the evening before the wedding of Prince Moritz von Hessen and Princess Tatjana zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. A week later Claus and Beatrix arranged a meeting in Bad Driburg and then the hide-and-seek game started. It was not until May 1st, 1965 that photographer John de Rooij discovered them in the park of Drakesteyn Castle. Some days later the photos were published in the English newspaper Daily Express as the Dutch press found it too risky to publish them and the relationship became known. As many people still hadn't forgotten the war, people found it hard to accept that their crown princess would marry a German. A researcher didn't uncover anything wrong in his past. The engagement was announced on June 28, 1965. 'It is OK', Queen Juliana said. The wedding, only disturbed by a smoking bomb, took place in Amsterdam on March 10, 1966. At that moment Claus von Amsberg became Prince Claus of the Netherlands. The couple lived at Drakesteyn Castle until 1981. They had three sons: Willem-Alexander (1967), Johan Friso (1968), and Constantijn (1969).

Prince Claus did his utmost best to learn the Dutch language and culture as soon as possible. In the 1970's he took on many functions, especially in the area of development cooperation, a field that he was very interested in until the end of his life. In April 1980 the life of the family changed when Beatrix became Queen of the Netherlands. In 1981 the family moved to Palace Huis ten Bosch near The Hague. In October 1982 Prince Claus was admitted to a clinic in Basel, Switzerland, with a heavy depression. It wasn't until 1984 that he was able to resume his engagements. In 1991 he was admitted to hospital again with signs of depression. It became known that the prince had Parkinson's Disease since 1987. Since then Prince Claus was admitted to hospital frequently. He spent about half of the year 2002 in hospital. He happily was able to enjoy the birth of his first grandchild, Eloise, in the beginning of June.

The lying-in-state from Thursday to Sunday brought more than 90,000 Dutch people to Palace Noordeinde, although people sometimes had to wait more than three hours to go inside. Flowers lying near Palace Noordeinde, Palace Huis ten Bosch as well as the Palace at the Dam Square in Amsterdam, were often accompanied by small letters, cards, and drawings. On the day of the funeral, Tuesday October 15, thousands of people lined the nine-kilometre route from Palace Noordeinde to the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft and were standing at the market in front of the church in Delft. Close family members accompanied the coffin on its last journey. Among the royals who attended the funeral were King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik of Denmark, both Grand Ducal couples of Luxemburg as well as representatives of other royal families.

The moving funeral service was full of music of Johann Sebastian Bach and was led by the Rev. C.A. ter Linden. In his tribute, Huub Oosterhuis, a known Catholic theologian, recalled that he watched this year's Queen's Day on television with Prince Claus in his hospital room. "'Look, there they are,' he said, 'they're doing it well. And that's where I would stand,' he pointed, 'that was my place, by her side.' He was beaming. 'When I was young,' he said, "I wasn't sure where I belonged: in Germany, in Africa, and then the Netherlands in addition to that. But now I belong with them.'" After the tribute, the coffin of Prince Claus was taken into the Orange-Nassau family vault. Only Queen Beatrix, the Prince of Orange, Princess Máxima, Prince Johan Friso, Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien, Prince Claus's five surviving sisters (Sigrid, Rixa, Barbara, Theda and Christina) as well as Prince Johan Friso's girlfriend Mabel Wisse Smit, followed and had a last moment to say goodbye. After the service the royal family and their guests left for Palace Noordeinde, where guests had an opportunity to offer their condolences to the family.

Netty Leistra
Royal Watch
November 2002

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