The marriage of the Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander with Máxima Zorreguieta has resulted in a hype in The Netherlands. Hardly anyone, however, remembers the previous Dutch Crown Prince. His name was Alexander and he lived in the 19th century. He had progressive ideas and scientific and cultural interests, but he was also his mother's darling. After his mother's death he became extremely melancholic. He locked himself up in his residence, leaving only to visit his mother's vault.

Crown Prince Willem Alexander Karel Hendrik Frederik of The Netherlands (1851-1884) was the youngest son of King Willem III of The Netherlands (1817-1890) and his first cousin Sophie of Württemberg (1818-1877) 1. Around his birth on August 25, 1851, his parents were already fighting like cat and dog. King Willem did not hesitate to whip his wife with his riding whip. Queen Sophie often had trouble hiding the scratches and bruises inflicted by her husband. Sophie was an intellectual, progressive in thoughts, but melodramatic in behaviour. Willem could be jovial, but he was also hot-tempered, coarse and capricious2. Both were pig-headed and Sophie's snobbery brought out the worst in Willem.

In the first four years of their marriage, the Princes Willem (1840-1879), nicknamed "Wiwill", and Maurits (1843-1850) were born. When Prince Maurits suffered from meningitis, Sophie wanted to consult another physician for a second opinion, but Willem refused. After Maurits' subsequent death, Sophie left her husband and returned to Württemberg, but she was persuaded to return. In the short period of reconsiliation Prince Alexander was conceived. The couple set up separate households in 1855. From then on Sophie and her youngest son usually resided in the Palace known as "Huis ten Bosch".

Queen Sophie took it upon herself to provide for Alexander's education. Sometimes she invited children of the court officials to come and study or play with the little Prince. Alexander (to the right) was a shy, timid and hypersensitive boy with a weak constitution. He became his mother's darling. In domestic quarrels, Alexander usually chose his mother's side. Lord Stanley described Queen Sophie as "very talkative, very clever, very odd; easily excited [..] not the least formal, not causing stiffness, as royal people always do".

Both the King and the Crown Prince could often be found in the luxurious brothels of Paris, where they both shared the favours of the famous Cora Pearl. In 1860, 20-year-old Crown Prince Wiwill was the cause of a scandal, when he became acquinted with the courtesan Elisabeth Cookson in France. Arriving in The Netherlands, she soon became the mistress of King Willem III (to the right). After a couple of months, the father was forced by public opinion to send her back to France, where she continued her relation with the son.

King Willem appointed 10-year-old Alexander as luitenant of a regiment of grenadeers in August 1861. Meanwhile, his mother tried to instill progressive ideas and cultural interests in her youngest son. In April 1866 the royal family attended a performance of the musician Franz Liszt. Later that year Alexander travelled with his mother to Switserland to improve his health. The next year his physical condition detoriated further. His spine had become somewhat crooked and his left shoulder was higher than his right one. Because of his weak spine, he was forced to wear an iron corset from 1867 onwards. It resulted in a liver injury.

Alexander and his mother travelled to the spa of St. Seine l'Abbaye near Dijon in France in May 1868. Back in The Hague, Queen Sophie (to the left) invited sons of noble families for a discussion group to enable 17-year-old Alexander to meet other young men. After his 18th birthday in August 1869, Alexander was allowed to travel in the Mediterranean. Subsequently, he studied history and constitutional law at the University of Leiden for 4 years. His mother visited him once a week in Leiden. In 1874 Alexander established himself at the Kneuterdijk in The Hague. As private secretary he hired Willem Johannes Dominicus van Dijck (1850-1909), whose father was an illegitimate half-brother of King Willem III. In 1874 Alexander travelled through Norway, Russia and Germany. In the following winter he suffered from health problems and travelled to Algiers for a change of climate. His other interests, beside travelling, were his collections of old letters, manuscripts, butterflies, carriages, wine, miniatures and paintings.

Queen Sophie became seriously ill in May 1877. Her death on the 3th of June was a great blow for 25-year-old Alexander. During the funeral cermony he fell upon the coffin in tears, even kissing it. The King, however, was mainly irritated by all words of prise for his hated wife. From then on, Alexander started collecting all things that remembered him of his mother. When King Willem III proposed to sell Queen Sophie's juwels, Alexander bought them for 75 000 guilders.
After the funeral, Wiwill returned to Paris immediately. Alexander had no one to fill the gab his mother had left behind. Over the years Queen Sophie had tried to find suitable wives for both her sons, but all her efforts had come to nothing. Around 1874 Wiwill (to the right) himself had proposed a marriage with countess Mattie of Limburg-Stirum (1854-1932). Although the government had consented to the marriage, King Willem III had refused his permission3. Early 1878, Alexander made some inquiries for a possible marriage with Princess Friederike of Hannover (1848-1926), but she preferred a German baron4. In September that year King Willem III announced his marriage to the 41-year-younger Princess Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont (1858-1934). Wiwill was furious because he was still not allowed to marry Mattie, while Alexander was furious because his father had found a replacement for his beloved mother5. Once, when Alexander was to have a meeting with his father in Noordeinde Palace, he accidentally met his young stepmother. He bowed formally and gave her a hand-kissing. Immediately afterwards, he angrily left the palace. From then on he refused to speak with his father.

Since his mother's death, Alexander's melancholy had increased. He wrote: "If happiness on earth exits, it is not meant for me."6 The next year Wiwill became ill and Alexander travelled to Paris to visit him. After Wiwill's death on June 11, 1879, Alexander's depression deepened further. The new Crown Prince withdrew into his residence at the Kneuterdijk. With his friends7 Alexander kept contact through correspondence. His letters could be ironic, but usually they were mainly tedious. He had inherited his father's assertiveness, but from his mother he inherited a tendency to dramatise. When people started to critise him, because he rarely appeared in public, he send a letter to a Newspaper to defend himself. Although few people read his tedious epistle, the fact that a Prince had written a newspaper piece made all headlines.

In the summer of 1880 Alexander travelled through France and Switserland, when he received tidings that his halfsister Wilhelmina had been born. He would never meet her. In 1881 he wanted to succeed his great uncle as grand master of the Dutch Freemasons. After much strife, the next year he was chosen as the new grand master. On his mother's birthday, however, he refused to preside a Freemason meeting. Soon rumours of an abdication started, because Alexander was seriously annoyed by all criticism.

In 1883 Alexander (to the right) visited as usual the royal vault in Delft on the dying days of his mother and brother in June. From then on he refused to leave his residence and kept the curtains closed. He filled his days with reading and tending his collections. His health deteriorated. In the spring of 1884, he received General Weitzel2 in his dressing-gown with a blanket around his shoulders. His skin was pale, he had scanty hair and his body had become stout. By the end of May Alexander suffered from typhoid fever and diarrhoea. He died on June 21, 1884. At that time, King Willem III was in the spa of Karsbad in Germany. He announced 4 weeks of mourning, but remained abroad. It wasn't until July 17, that Crown Prince Alexander was finally buried with his beloved death in the royal vault in Delft.

Copyright © 2001 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.



Content: Joan Bos. Design: Klaas Vermaas. Info: FAQ.