Historian cracks Queen Juliana’s unstable image in Hofmans affaire
Queen Juliana was not, as is often claimed, a monarch with an unstable character who was completely under the influence of spiritual healer Greet Hofmans. Furthermore, her religious circle of friends was not a sect with a political agenda. That is what Han van Bree concludes on the basis of a new archival study. Dissertation defence on 24 June.
Divorce and abdication on the horizon
In 1956, escalating tensions around Queen Juliana became international news thanks to an interview with an anonymous source published in the West German magazine Der Spiegel. The possibility of a divorce and an abdication loomed large due to the perception that she was completely under the influence of spiritual healer Greet Hofmans. Together with Hofmans and her circle of friends in Baarn, the queen organised religious conferences at Het Loo Palace. The interview in Der Spiegel had suggested that the group had political ambitions. This image of a queen who was very impressionable spread far and wide. A juicy detail behind this story is that it was later leaked that the person interviewed was none other than Prince Bernhard himself.
Hofmans not a dangerous schemer
Van Bree concludes on the basis of his research: ‘Juliana was not a passive victim. Her correspondence and the conference reports show that she adopted a critical stance and was an outspoken participant in discussions.’ He also found no evidence that Greet Hofmans was a dangerous schemer, a sort of Rasputin, as is often suggested. ‘There is a striking discrepancy between the person and people’s perception of her. Hofmans did present herself as someone who was in contact with a higher power, but at the same time she always emphasised that everyone needed to make his own choices.’
Private archives and interviews with former staff examined
The Leiden PhD student is the first historian to study the crisis from the perspective of Juliana, her friends and dismissed staff members. To do this, van Bree examined never before consulted private archives of conferences at the Oude Loo castle (1951–1957), as well as the correspondence of Juliana and other individuals involved at the time. He also spoke with a few former staff members, old friends of the queen and descendants of those involved.
A plea for pacifism
Van Bree analysed the reports and the participants in these conferences, and he shoots down the suggestion that the group was aiming for political power. ‘Participants discussed what God’s intention was for the world and believed that man must be more humble. They pleaded for pacifism, but that was mainly a religious and spiritual mission, not a political one.’
Why did Juliana break off relations?
To ward of the crisis Juliana made a painful sacrifice: she broke off relations with Hofmans, the circle of friends in Baarn and a few close staff members. She stopped attending conferences at the Oude Loo. Van Bree’s research question is: how did it happen that in 1956 the queen was so vulnerable that she had to give up something so dear to here in order to save her marriage and the monarchy?
Women had to keep a low profile
The historian argues that the crisis in the royal court should be seen in the light of prevailing attitudes of the time. Women were not taken very seriously, and they were expected to keep a low profile. Correspondence shows that Juliana’s friends stimulated her independence. ‘Bernhard didn’t like the way that Juliana was taking an increasingly independent line. That was a threat for him. Even the Beel Committee, the committee that investigated the crisis, failed to pay due attention to what Juliana had to say.’
Another important aspect is the fact that the crisis was unfolding during the Cold War and that Bernhard was an advocate of a stronger Dutch army. An impassioned plea for pacifism quickly came to be seen as political interference, according to van Bree. He argues that the way Juliana acted was far from emotional. ‘In the end, she made a very rational choice in order to save both her marriage and the monarchy.