Prince Bernhard (1911-2004)

Prince Bernhard was the elder son of Prince Bernhard von Lippe and Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm. He was married to Queen Juliana. Prince Bernhard died on 1 December 2004.

Youth and education

Prince Bernhard was born in Jena in Germany on 29 June 1911. The Prince spent his early years at Reckenwalde, the family estate in East Prussia (now Woynovo in Poland). He attended secondary school in Züllichau and Berlin, where he gained his leaving certificate in 1929.

He went on to study law at the commercial college in Lausanne, and at the universities of Munich and Berlin. He was awarded his Referendar Juris degree in Berlin in 1935. After graduating, the Prince became Secretary to the Board of Directors at the Paris office of I.G. Farben. He worked there until his engagement on 8 September 1936 to Princess Juliana. On 27 November of the same year, he became a Dutch citizen.

Marriage and family

On 7 January 1937 Prince Bernhard married Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and was accorded the title of Prince of the Netherlands. The royal couple chose Soestdijk Palace as their home. Four daughters were born to Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard: Princess Beatrix in 1938, Princess Irene in 1939, Princess Margriet in 1943 and Princess Christina in 1947.

After the German invasion on 10 May 1940, the royal family was forced to flee to the United Kingdom. For safety reasons, Princess Juliana and her children departed for the Canadian capital, Ottawa, while Prince Bernhard stayed with his mother-in-law Queen Wilhelmina in London. Between 1940 and 1945, he played an active part in the Allied struggle against Nazi Germany, both in London and, from September 1944, in the Netherlands. As Supreme Commander of the Netherlands Armed Forces, he was present when the terms of surrender were negotiated in Wageningen in May 1945. He was reunited with his wife and family in the Netherlands in August 1945.

Prince of the Netherlands

On 4 September 1948 Princess Juliana succeeded her mother as Queen of the Netherlands. From that date to the date of Queen Juliana's abdication in 1980, Prince Bernhard, as the Queen's Consort, bore the title 'The Prince of the Netherlands'. The Prince accompanied his wife on state visits and attended official receptions.

Prince Bernhard played an important role in many fields. He was a member of the supervisory board of Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM), Hoogovens and the Royal Netherlands Industries Fair, chair of the National Disaster Fund, member of the board of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Commander of the Netherlands Order of St John of Jerusalem, honorary chair of the Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB) and the Royal Tropical Institute, and patron of the Netherlands Olympic Committee, the Society for the Preservation of Nature Reserves, and the Jewish National Fund, to name but a few.

Public appointments


After the Second World War, Prince Bernhard played an important part in the economic reconstruction of the Netherlands. He made goodwill visits to many countries to promote Dutch trade relations. From 1954 to 1976 the Prince was chair of the Bilderberg Group, a debating forum for politicians, businesspeople and other prominent figures from Europe, the United States and Canada. The Group meets informally once a year at different venues to discuss current political, economic and social developments. It takes its name from the venue of its first meeting, the Bilderberg Hotel in Arnhem.

Military career

Shortly before his marriage, Prince Bernhard swore the oath of allegiance as an officer and was commissioned in a number of military ranks. In 1939 he became Aide-de-Camp Extraordinary to Queen Wilhelmina. During his stay in London, he gained his pilot's wings. In 1941 he became Honorary Air Commodore in the RAF and in 1964 was promoted to Honorary Air Marshal.

In 1944 Queen Wilhelmina appointed him Supreme Commander of the Netherlands Armed Forces and the Netherlands Forces of the Interior (the military resistance). In September 1945 the Prince was honourably discharged from these posts and, at the same time, appointed Inspector-General of the Royal Netherlands Army. For his services during the Second World War, Prince Bernhard was awarded the highest military decoration - the Cross of Commander of the Military Order of William - in 1946. For his achievements as a pilot on active service, he received the Flying Cross. In 1984 he was awarded the Resistance Cross.

In 1946 Prince Bernhard was appointed Inspector-General of the Royal Netherlands Navy, and Inspector-General of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1953. In 1954 he was appointed General of the Royal Netherlands Army, Air Marshal of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Admiral of the Royal Netherlands Navy. In 1970 the three posts of Inspector-General were combined into one - that of Inspector-General of the Armed Forces.

In the mid-1970s, American aircraft maker Lockheed approached government officials in several countries in order to help it sell certain products - among them Prince Bernhard in his capacity as Inspector-General of the Armed Forces. A committee appointed by Prime Minister Joop Den Uyl found no proof that the Prince had received any payments.In September 1976, following the enquiry, the Prince retired from military duties.


Prince Bernhard was the founder of the Prince Bernhard Fund, which was set up in London in 1940. The original aim of the Fund was to collect financial contributions for the Allied war effort. The Fund now supports culture and nature conservation projects in the Netherlands through grants, assignments, prizes and scholarships. In 1999 the Fund's name was changed to the Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund.

The Prince was also a governor of the Erasmus Prize Trust, which he founded in 1958. Every year, the Trust honours people or organisations for outstanding services to culture in Europe.
From 1956 to 1977, Prince Bernhard was chair of the European Cultural Foundation, which was founded by the Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont in Geneva in 1954.

Nature conservation

Prince Bernhard was highly committed to nature conservation. In 1961 he established the World Wildlife Fund (now the World Wide Fund for Nature), a global force in nature conservation. As the WWF's first president, Prince Bernhard regularly visited countries in Asia, Africa and South America. On his retirement in 1977, he was appointed Founder President and remained President of the Netherlands Branch of the WWF.