Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld

Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld
Prince consort of the Netherlands
Tenure September 6, 1948 – April 30, 1980
(&0000000000000031.00000031 years, &0000000000000239.000000239 days)
Spouse Juliana of the Netherlands
Beatrix of the Netherlands
Princess Irene, Duchess of Parma
Princess Margriet
Princess Christina
Alicia von Bielefeld
Alexia Grinda
Full name
Bernhard Leopold Frederik Everhard Julius Coert Karel Godfried Pieter of Lippe-Biesterfeld
House House of Lippe
Father Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld
Mother Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm
Born June 29, 1911(1911-06-29)
Jena, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Died December 1, 2004 (aged 93)
Utrecht, Netherlands
Burial December 11, 2004
Nieuwe Kerk, Delft
Occupation Military Officer (Inspector General)
Aviator (Air Marshal)
Religion Reformed Protestant

Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld (Bernhard Leopold Frederik Everhard Julius Coert Karel Godfried Pieter; June 29, 1911 - December 1 2004), later Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, was prince consort to the late Queen Juliana, and father of six children; one of them is the current monarch, Queen Beatrix.

Although his private life was rather controversial, Bernhard was generally regarded as a charming and popular figure by the majority of the Dutch for his performance as a pilot and activities as a liaison officer during World War II, his work during post-war reconstruction, and for assisting specific individuals.

The German-born prince helped found the World Wildlife Fund (later renamed World Wide Fund for Nature), becoming its first president in 1961. He also established the 1001 Club: A Nature Trust in 1970 to fund the organization.

He helped found the Rotary International and was one of two founders of the international Bilderberg Group, which meets yearly in order to discuss the future of the world and issues concerning Europe as it relates to corporate globalization.

Early life

Bernhard was born Bernhard Leopold Friedrich Eberhard Julius Kurt Karl Gottfried Peter of Biesterfeld in Jena, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, German Empire the elder son of Prince Bernhard of Lippe (younger brother of the reigning Prince of Lippe) and Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm. Because the marriage of his parents did not properly conform to the marriage laws of the House of Lippe and was therefore morganatic, Bernhard was born with the title of "Count" only. In 1916, the Reigning Prince of Lippe, Leopold IV, granted Bernhard the title of "Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld".

After World War I, Bernhard's family lost their German principality and the revenue that had accompanied it. But the family was still wealthy and Bernhard spent his early years at Reckenwalde, the family's new estate in East Brandenburg thirty kilometers east of the Oder-river, (now the village of Wojnowo, Greater Poland Voivodeship in Poland), near the city of Züllichau (Sulechów). He received his early education at home. When he was twelve, he was sent to board at the gymnasium in Züllichau and several years later to board at a gymnasium in Berlin, from which he graduated in 1929.

Bernhard suffered from poor health as a boy. Doctors predicted that he would not live very long. This prediction might have been the key to Berhard's reckless driving and the risks that he took in the Second World War and thereafter. The prince wrecked several cars and planes in his lifetime.

Bernhard studied Law at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and in Berlin, where he acquired a taste for fast cars, horse riding, and big-game hunting safaris. He was nearly killed in a boating accident and an airplane crash, and he suffered a broken neck and crushed ribs in a 160 km/h (100 mi/h) car crash in 1938.

Bernhard was a member of the Nazi Party, the Sturmabteilung and a special branch of the SS called the "Reiter SS"-. The Prince was not a Nazi by conviction; these memberships made life easier for an ambitious young man. The Prince later denied that he belonged to SS, but these are well-documented memberships. This German aristocrat was never a fierce champion of democracy, but there are no accounts of him ever having made fascist or anti-semitic remarks.

Allegiance to the House of Orange

In the 1930s, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Prince Bernhard's younger brother, Aschwin, publicly declared his support for the Nazi Party. Prince Bernhard was a member of the honorary German Reiter SS Corps (SS Cavalry Corps). The Prince eventually went to work for the German chemical giant, IG Farben, the then fourth largest company in the world, that still operates to this day in the firms BASF, AGFA and Bayer. After a period of training, he became Secretary to the Board of Directors at the Paris office in 1935. Because he was a Protestant of royal rank (the Lippes were a sovereign house in German Empire), Bernhard was acceptable to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands as a suitable husband for her daughter, Princess Juliana. Bernhard's appropriateness as consort of the future Queen would later become a matter of some public debate.

Prince Bernhard's political affiliations with the Nazi regime have received much attention. Various members of his family and acquaintances were aligned with the Nazis prior to and during the war - a number of these being entertained shortly before and joining the royal wedding party, which occurred on 7 January 1937 in The Hague. Protocol demanded that the prospective Prince-Consort be invited to an audience with his head of state, the German dictator, Adolf Hitler. Hitler himself gives a rendering of the conversation he had with Bernard, in his ‘TischGespraeche’ (TableConversations). The ‘TableConversations’ contains a collection of monologues/remarks/speeches, which Hitler used to give during lunch/dinner-time to those who were invited to the table by him. Bernhard himself has called Hitler a tyrant in a public speech on the BBC.

The Prince's brother, Prince Aschwin of Lippe-Biesterfeld, was an officer in the German army. Although the secret services on both sides were interested in this peculiar pair of brothers, no improper contacts or leaks of information were discovered. The Prince showed himself to be a loyal Dutch citizen and officer. He cut off relations with those members of his family who were enthusiastic Nazis. As a sign of his "Dutchness" he spoke only Dutch when negotiating the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands. The Prince was known to be very fond of smart uniforms and medals. He made a point of wearing his medals in the English "Court style". The Dutch armed forces wear their medals in the "Prussian style". The Prince's deliberate disregard of the regulations was not widely noticed but it is a clear sign of his allegiance.

The Prince's mother was no admirer of the Nazis and got into trouble for refusing to hoist a swastika flag on her country seat at Reckenwalde. The Nazi government did not take kindly to her, as the mother of an allied general and was evicted from her home.

World War II

Prince Bernhard as Commander of the Dutch armed forces in 1944 after the liberation of Eindhoven

Prince Bernhard began to make himself popular and trusted in the eyes of the Dutch people at the outset of World War II. During the German Invasion, the Prince, carrying a machine gun, organised the palace guards into a combat group and shot at German planes. The Royal Family fled the Netherlands and took refuge in England. In disagreement with Queen Wilhelmina's decision to leave the Kingdom, the young prince consort aged 28, initially refused to go and wanted to oppose the Nazi occupation from within its borders. But eventually agreed to join her as head of the Royal Military Mission based in London. Once safely there, his wife Princess Juliana and their children went on to Canada, where they remained until the end of the war.

In England, Prince Bernhard asked to work in British Intelligence but the War Admiralty, and later General Eisenhower's Allied Command offices, did not trust him sufficiently to allow him access to intelligence information. However, on the recommendation of Bernhard's ethnically-German friend and admirer, King George VI, and after being personally screened by intelligence officer Ian Flemming on behalf of Churchill, he was later permitted to work in the allied war planning councils.

On june 25 1940, three days after France fell to the German warmachine, Bernhard spoke on the Overseas Service of the BBC, calling Hitler a German tyrant and expressing his confidence that Great Britain would defeat the German Empire.

In 1940, flight Lieutenant Murray Payne instructed the prince to fly a Spitfire. The Prince made 1,000 flight-hours in a Spitfire with the RAF's 322 "Dutch" squadron wrecking two planes during landings. He remained an active pilot throughout his life and flew his last airplane 53 year later, with his grandson and heir to the throne, who inhereted his passion for flying.

As "Wing Commander Gibbs(RAF)," Prince Bernhard flew over occupied Europe in a B-24 bomber attacking V-1 launch pads, he was in a B-25 Mitchell bomber bombing Pisa, over the Atlantic ocean bombing a submarine and in an L-5 reconnaissance plane over occupied Europe. Prince Bernhard was awarded the Dutch Flying Cross for his "ability and perseverance" (Dutch: "bekwaamheid en volharding"). [1]

In 1941, Prince Bernhard was given the honorary rank of wing commander in the Royal Air Force. He then trained as a pilot and gained his wings later that same year.

From 1942 to 1944, Bernhard flew as a pilot with the Royal Air Force. He also helped organise the Dutch resistance movement and acted as personal secretary for Queen Wilhelmina.

Queen Wilhelmina erased the word "honorary" (the exact words were " à la suite") in the decree that promoted Bernhard to General. In this unconstitutional manner, she gave this Royal Prince a position that was never intended by either Parliament or her ministers. The minister of defence did not choose to correct the Monarch and the Prince took a real and important role in the Dutch Armed forces.

By 1944, Prince Bernhard became Commander of the Dutch armed forces. After the liberation of the Netherlands, he returned with his family where he became active in the negotiations for the German surrender. He was present during the armistice negotiations and German surrender in Hotel de Wereld ("The World Hotel") in Wageningen in The Netherlands on 5 May 1945, where he refused to speak German.[2] [3] The Prince was a genuine war hero in the eyes of most of the Dutch and even kept cordial relations with the communists who fought against the Nazis. In the post-war years the popular Prince earned respect for his hard work in helping to reinvigorate the economy of the Netherlands.

Postwar roles

Prince Bernhard and Queen Juliana with president Harry S. Truman in 1952

After the war, the position of Inspector General was created for the Prince. He was made a member of the board of supervisors of Fokker Aircraft, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and within a few years was invited to serve as an adviser or non-executive director of numerous corporations and institutions. There have been claims about KLM helping Nazis to leave Germany to Argentina in KLM flights, while he was on the board of the KLM [2]. After a 1952 trip with Queen Juliana to the United States, Prince Bernhard was heralded by the media as a business ambassador extraordinaire for the Netherlands.[4]

With his global contacts, in May 1954, he was a key figure in organising a meeting at the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands for the business elite and intellectuals of the Western World to discuss the economic problems in the face of the then growing threat from communism. As a result of the success of this first meeting, it became an annual affair known as the Bilderberg Group. The idea for the European Union, first proposed by Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950, was encouraged at Bilderberg.

Prince Bernhard was a very outspoken person, who often flouted protocol by making personal remarks on subjects about which he felt deeply. Almost until his last day he called for more recognition for the Polish WWII veterans, who played such an important role in the liberation of the Netherlands. It was only after his death that the Dutch government took the decision to publicly recognize the important role of the Polish army in the liberation of the Netherlands. On 31 May 2006 at the Binnenhof in The Hague, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix awarded the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade with the Order of William, the highest possible decoration for the armed forces.

Scandals and insinuations

Much has been said and written about the extraordinary life of Bernhard by both journalists and historians and not in the least by himself. A long list of scandals or rumours in which it is often hard to distinguish fact from fiction. More so as Bernhards own statements sometimes contradict themselves. As since his passing sources are less compelled to maintain confidentiality and secrecy, as well as the fact that there is less potential harm done onto the constitutional monarchy, more and more insinuations and accusations are either being confirmed or discarted.

The Hofmans Affair

Statue of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard in the garden of Soestdijk Palace[5]

In the middle of the 1950s, Prince Bernhard was involved in what some considered a personal vendetta against Greet Hofmans, a faith healer and hand layer. For nine years she was a friend and adviser of Queen Juliana, often residing at Palace Soestdijk. Originally, Hofmans was introduced to Queen Juliana on the initiative of Prince Bernhard in 1948 to treat the eye sickness of Princess Marijke Christina. This illness arose because Juliana was infected with rubella during pregnancy. Hofmans developed a great influence on the Queen, encouraging pacifist ideas. In the period of the Cold War this caused a crisis in the royal household. Reputedly it reached the point where it threatened the marriage of Juliana and Bernhard.

Outside the Netherlands, a great deal was written about the Hofmans affair. On 13 June 1956, an article appeared in the German magazine Der Spiegel with the title Zwischen Königin und Rasputin, literally translated as Between Queen and Rasputin, which, as the title already indicates, painted a less than flattering picture of Hofmans. Later on, Bernhard admitted that he personally provided the information for the article. It is thought that by doing this he hoped to have Hofmans removed from the court. The Prime Minister, Willem Drees, had to act and appointed a committee of "three wise men" (elder statesmen) to advise the royal couple. The Prince got what he wanted; Hofmans was banished, and various friends and supporters of the Queen in the Royal Household had to give up their office.

In 2008 the report of the "three wise men" has been made public and is part of the book "Juliana & Bernhard" by historian Fasseur, who was also granted access to the private royal archive by the Queen. Bernhard was reprimanded for leaking confidential information to the international press, but although both Juliana and the Queen mother Wilhelmina mention their fear for a "German putch" (i.e. Juliana's abdication followed by Bernhard's rule on behalf of their adolescent oldest daughter and successor to the trone) Juliana was forced to break all relations with Hofmans.

The book does somewhat rehabilitate Bernhard as it clearly shows the prince only resorted to bringing in the international press after much and often dramatic and desparate pleeding with his wife to distance herself from the Hofmans clan. Fasseur said: "Bernard was obviously a free spirited chap, who independently went about his business. But he was still very much a family man. I got the feeling he was the only one that was seeing things were getting completely out of hand and tried to salvage the situation as much as he could."[6]

The royal family did not edit the book, nor did they have a preview before printing. But after reading it endorse its interpretations of the accounts leading up to dismissal of Hofmans.

The Lockheed Scandal

Scandal rocked the Royal Family in 1976 when it was revealed that Prince Bernhard had accepted a US$1.1 million bribe from U.S. aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Corporation to influence the Dutch government's purchase of fighter aircraft. He had served on more than 300 corporate boards or committees worldwide and had been praised in the Netherlands for his efforts to promote the economic well-being of the country. Prime Minister of the Netherlands Joop den Uyl ordered an inquiry into the Lockheed affair, while Prince Bernhard refused to answer reporters' questions, stating: "I am above such things"[7].

The Dutch and international press headlined the stories for months, providing proof of Prince Bernhard's Reiter SS membership and details of his numerous extramarital affairs, including the purchase of a luxurious Paris apartment for his mistress, Hélène Grinda, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter, Alexia. (Bernhard also had a second illegitimate daughter, Alicia, in the USA.)

On 26 August 1976, a toned-down, but nonetheless devastating, report on Prince Bernhard's activities was released to a shocked Dutch public. The Prince's own letter of 1974, to Lockheed Corporation, demanding "commissions" be paid to him on Dutch government aircraft purchases was very damaging evidence of improper conduct by the Inspector General of the Dutch Armed Forces. Criminal charges were not pressed by the government out of respect for Queen Juliana, whose later abdication was tacitly understood to be directly related to her husband's conduct.

Prince Bernhard resigned as Inspector-General of the Dutch armed forces. The fact that this meant he was not allowed to wear a uniform in public, did not stop him from attending the funeral of Lord Mountbatten in London 1979 in full colours.

The Prime Minister, Joop den Uyl, made a statement in Parliament and told the delegates that the Prince would also resign from his various high profile positions in businesses, charities, and other institutions. The States-General voted against criminal prosecution. Prince Bernhard turned over the presidency of the international World Wildlife Fund to the British Duke of Edinburgh. The Dutch Royal family worked hard to rehabilitate the Prince's name, though other scandals were to be revealed in later years.

Project Lock

In 1988, Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana sold two paintings from their personal collection to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund. The paintings sold for GBP700 000, which was deposited in a Swiss WWF bank account. In 1989, however, Charles de Haes, director-general of the WWF, transferred GBP500 000 back to Bernhard, for what De Haes called a private project. In 1991, newspapers reported what this private project was: Prince Bernhard had hired mercenaries - mostly British - to fight against poachers in nature reserves. The paramilitary group infiltrated organisations profiting from illegal trade in ivory in order to arrest them.

This 'Project Lock', as it was called, seemed to have backfired enormously, however. The "private army" of Bernhard had not only infiltrated in the illegal trade, they were also participating in it. To make things worse, Irish reporter Kevin Dowling discovered that the South African army was also involved in the trade, hinting at connections between the army of Bernhard and the WWF and the struggle for maintaining apartheid. Moreover, he claimed members of the South African run counterinsurgency unit Koevoet (Afrikaans/Dutch for "crowbar"), were trained under Project Lock.

In 1995, Nelson Mandela called upon the Kumleben Commission to investigate, among other things, the role of the WWF in apartheid South Africa. In the report that followed, it was suggested that mercenaries from Project Lock had planned assassinations of ANC members and that mercenaries had been running training camps in the wildlife reserves, training fighters from the anti-communist groups UNITA and Renamo. Although Prince Bernhard was never accused of any crime in its context, the Project Lock scandal dealt another damaging blow to the Prince's name.

More controversy

Bernhard wearing his trademark carnation, 1999.

Yet more controversy came on 30 October 2002, when he paid the fines of two Albert Heijn supermarket staff members, who were convicted of assaulting a shoplifter after they detained him.

In an interview published after his death, on 14 December 2004, Prince Bernhard admitted that he had accepted more than one million dollars (US) in bribes from Lockheed. He acknowledged it was a mistake and claimed that all of the money went to the WWF. He said: "I have accepted that the word Lockheed will be carved on my tombstone."[8] He also admitted to having fathered two illegitimate daughters in the years following his marriage[9].

In February 2008, Joop den Uyl's biography claimed that the official report investigating the Lockheed bribe scandal also presented proof that the Prince had accepted money from yet another airplane maker: Northrop. The former Prime Minister claimed he had not made the information public to protect the Dutch monarchy.[10]

The 2009 publication ‘HRH: High Stakes at the Court of His Royal Highness‘ by historian Harry Veenendaal and journalist Jort Kelder alleges that the prince in 1950 attempted to oust the young government of the newly founded Republic of Indonesia and place himself at the head of the Islands as viceroy similar to Lord Mountbatten's role in British India. This was particularly contentious as in 1949 the Netherlands had already officially recognised its former colony as an independent nation. [11]


Prince Bernhard is father of six children, four of them with Queen Juliana. The eldest daughter is the current Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix (1938). His other daughters with Juliana are Irene (1939), Margriet (1943) and Christina (1947).

He had two illegitimate daughters. The first is Alicia von Bielefeld (born June 1954), whose mother has not been identified. A landscape architect, she lives in the United States. Prince Bernhard's sixth daughter, Alexia Grinda (a.k.a. Alexia Lejeune or Alexia Grinda-Lejeune, born in Paris in November 1967), is his child by the French socialite and fashion model Hélène Grinda (born 1944, wife of Stanislas, 6e Baron Lejeune (1945 - 1998), son of Edgard-Louis, 5e Baron Lejeune (born 1915), and wife Claude de Bonardi du Mesnil (1914 - 1967), by whom she has a son Cyril, 7e Baron Lejeune, born 1972, and daughter of Jean-Paul Grinda (1900-1975) and wife Françoise Blason). Although rumours about these two children had already spread, it was made official after his death.


Funeral of Prince Bernhard in Delft in 2004

In 1994 the Netherlands feared for his death when he had a colon tumor removed and suffered severe complications (shocklong). In December his daughter Queen Beatrix rushed to the hospital straight after landing from a trip to Africa. But by Christmas the death threat was averted and spring the next year he recovered enough to go home. His health problems continued in 1998 when he had a prostate swelling and in 1999 when he suffered difficulties breathing and talking. He did, however, attend the wedding of his grandson, right after having prostate surgery. In 2000 the country feared for his life again when he suffered neurological complications and continued breathing problems. Two days after intensive medical (and media) attention the Royal Press Office issued a statement the Prince was reading newspapers again.

Over the following years Bernhard retained his fighting spirit and continued to shine at the military parades on the national liberation day celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. Only when his wife Juliana passed away in May 2004 the terribly upset Prince became exceedingly fragile. Up to the last moment it remained uncertain if he could attend the Royal funeral, which he eventually managed to attend. He said his final farewells to his war comrades on liberation day in May and in November that same year he was diagnosed with untreatable cancer. [12]

Prince Bernhard died of cancer at the age of 93 in an Utrecht hospital (the Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht - University of Utrecht Medical Centre) on 1 December 2004; until his death he suffered from malignant lung and intestinal tumors. On 11 December he was interred in a lavish state funeral at the Nieuwe Kerk, Delft. Bernhard's funeral was different from those of Prince Claus and Queen Juliana in that Bernhard's coffin was transported on the undercarriage of a cannon instead of in the traditional carriage used when the coffins of Prince Claus and Queen Juliana were transported to Delft. Together with the playing of many military marches and the forming of guards of honour by Second World War veterans this gave the funeral procession a military character as the late Prince, a Second World War veteran, had wished. As a final tribute to his former military role in the Royal Netherlands Air Force, three modern F-16 jet fighters and a World War II Spitfire plane performed a low fly-by during the funeral in a classic missing man formation.

Contemporary media coverage and popular culture

Drawn impression of James Bond by Ian Flemming

In the years after Bernhard passed away his life story still fascinates many and is the inspiration for literature, theatre, television and even comic books. [13] In 2010 fact and fiction of the life of Bernhard is portrayed in a Dutch television series[14]. In the series it is insinuated that writer Ian Fleming, who personally knew Bernhard from their war efforts in London, based some features of his fictional character James Bond on Bernhard, who was for instance known to enjoy Martini Wodka shaken and not stirred. Next to his reputation as a womanizer Prince Bernhard was also well-known for his love for fast planes, fast cars and speeding. Apparently Winston Churchill said that he only knew of one person who was having a great time during WWII, and that it was Prince Bernhard[15].

Titles and honours

  • Count Bernhard of Biesterfeld (1911-1916)
  • His Serene Highness Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld (1916-1937)
  • His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld (1937-1948) [16]
  • His Royal Highness The Prince of the Netherlands (1948-1980)
  • His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld (1980-2004)

On 15 September 1964, Queen Elizabeth appointed Prince Bernhard to the honorary rank of Air Marshal in the Royal Air Force.[17]


  1. ^ Source: Interview with the Prince, 1993, Henny Meyer, published in "Het Vliegerskruis" 1997)
  2. ^ DE WERELD - herdenking en interview met Prins Bernhard 35 jaar na de bevrijding;embed=1 Video footage of 1980 commemoration of the German capitulation at 'Hotel de Wereld' in Wageningen, opening speech by the Prime Minister, and interview with Prince Bernhard.(Dutch)
  3. ^ TE WAGENINGEN Historic video footage (black and white, no audio).
  4. ^ BEZOEK AAN DE VERENIGDE STATEN Historic video footage of the Royal visit to the USA.
  5. ^ Video footage of Queen Beatrix revealing the statue in the Palace garden on 19 May 2009.
  6. ^ Interview (Dutch) with historian Fasseur.
  7. ^ Times article
  8. ^ Times article
  9. ^ [
  10. ^ | Nieuws, Sport en Evenementen op Radio, TV en Internet | Nederlandse Omroep Stichting
  11. ^ Dutch newspaper article about the book release.
  12. ^ ANP (National Press Association of the Netherlands) news coverage summary.
  13. ^ Comic book 'Agent Orange' by artist Varekamp
  14. ^ Trailer of the tv series
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Decree about the titles and names of Prince Bernhard after his marriage with Princess Juliana - Website with Legislation concerning the Royal House of the Netherlands (Dutch)
  17. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43434, p. 7765, 11 September 1964. Retrieved on 2009-06-03.
Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld
Born: 29 June 1911 Died: 1 December 2004
Dutch royalty
Title last held by
Hendrik of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Prince consort of the Netherlands
6 September 1948 – 30 April 1980
Succeeded by
Claus van Amsberg

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