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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 08:17 GMT
Obituary: Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands

Prince Bernhard
Prince Bernhard: The Netherlands' tainted consort

As consort to former Dutch Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Prince Bernhard was a popular figure, despite his involvement in the infamous Lockheed bribery scandal of the mid-1970s.

Prince Bernhard of Lippe Biesterfeld was German by birth, but became a naturalised Dutchman shortly before his marriage, in 1937, to the heir to the Dutch throne.

The young German was introduced to his future wife during 1935, before the romance reportedly developed on skiing jaunts to Switzerland.

When the Nazis tried to make political capital from the wedding, Queen Wilhelmina asserted, "This is the marriage of my daughter to the man she loves...not the marriage of the Netherlands to Germany."

Under scrutiny

When the Germans invaded the Low Countries in 1940, Prince Bernhard escorted the Royal Family to safety in England, but returned himself to serve with what remained of the Dutch army.

And during the closing phase of the war, the prince returned to Europe to organise the Dutch forces of resistance and prepare the way for the Canadian liberators.

Prince Bernhard with his daughter Beatrix, now Dutch Queen
Bernhard with his daughter, Beatrix, now Dutch Queen
When Princess Juliana succeeded to the throne in 1948, Bernhard played his part in the public life of his adopted nation, promoting Dutch trade and industry, especially abroad.

As inspector-general to the Dutch armed forces, he was a member of various services advisory councils.

Early in 1976, this side of his activities came under scrutiny after evidence was given to a United States Senate sub-committee that a "high Dutch official" had received bribes from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in connection with the sale of military aircraft to Holland 15 years earlier.

'Open to dishonourable requests'

A subsequent Dutch government inquiry found that the Prince had acted "in a completely unacceptable manner" in his relations with Lockheed.

He had shown himself to be open to dishonourable requests and offers, and had allowed himself to be tempted to take initiatives which were bound to place him and Dutch policy in a dubious light.

Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard
Bernhard's business dealings threatened Queen Juliana's monarchy
To avoid a constitutional crisis after Queen Juliana had threatened to abdicate as a result of the findings, Prince Bernhard faced no criminal proceedings.

In the wake of the scandal, Prince Bernhard resigned from all his armed forces functions, and also gave up most of his business activities. Even so, Dutch exporters selected him for their 1977 man-of-the-year award.

In the meantime, the Prince had established a reputation as an accomplished horseman, and often competed in riding and jumping events at international shows.

Bilderberg conference

Best known outside his country for his becoming the first president of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961, Bernhard raised $10m in two years by running a club subscription scheme among his friends.

His work for the organisation continued, after the Lockheed scandal forced his resignation from the presidency.

Bernhard with Prince Philip
Bernard with friend and fellow conservationist, Prince Philip
The prince was also instrumental in setting up the annual Bilderberg conference, named after the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland.

The conference was designed for high-powered policy makers to have "regular discussions to help create a better understanding of the complex forces affecting western nations".

It is credited with prompting the establishment of the European Community.

A lifelong fan of fast cars, for his 88th birthday, Prince Bernhard bought himself a present of a 200 mph Ferrari, despite the fact that his age and infirmity precluded him from driving it himself.


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