Prince Bernhard (1911-2004) was prince-consort of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, but in many ways he acted as though he was the monarch. Cormac Mac Ruairi looks at his legacy.
Prince Bernhard was not renowned for his subtlety, yet he made up for this by his unstoppable urge to enjoy life to the full.
But that will to live finally succumbed to years of mounting health problems on 1 December 2004. Cancerous tumours eventually got him at the age of 93.
His death heralds the end of the old royal regime which saw the Netherlands through the turmoil of the German occupation during World War II.
The war years and the post-war reconstruction were in many ways Bernhard's finest. But some of his many critics continue to insist the prince wasn't even sure which side he was on during the Netherlands' darkest hours.
Others claimed Bernhard was at the centre of a right-wing conspiracy by industrialists and politicians to dominate the world.
Such was his ability to win friends and offend in equal measure; it will probably take some time for history to give its final judgement on Bernhard's legacy.
To begin with, he was German — a twist of fate that helped colour people's views of him.
He was born in Jena, Germany, in 1911 with a very definite royal spoon in his mouth. The eldest son of Prince Bernhard von Lippe and Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm, his full name was Bernhard Leopold Friedrich Eberhard Julius Kurt Karl Gottfried Peter zu Lippe-Biesterfeld.
At an early age, he learned that few might have been of blue blood, but the ravages of war and revolution can take away some of the privileges of being high-born. His father lost his municipality and the revenues it accorded the family after World War I.
But times were nowhere as bad for his family as they were for millions of other Germans who lived through the hunger, revolution and inflation caused by their country's defeat in 1918.
The young Bernhard was raised on the family's new estates in Eastern Prussia and he was educated at home until the age of 12. Later, he went to a gymnasium school in Berlin before studying law in Switzerland and Berlin.
Although the family had lost its principality, Bernhard enjoyed the life of a jet setting prince to the full. He loved horseback riding, flying, big-game hunting and fast cars. (On his 87th birthday, Bernhard gave himself the latest model of Ferrari.)
He nearly killed himself twice in his youth — once in a boating accident and later in an airplane crash.
Despite his joie de vivre and constant striving for new physical challenges, the young Bernhard also saw himself as a real entrepreneur and a member of the elite.
He was appointed secretary of the Board of Directors of German chemical giant IG Farben. It was a prestigious name at the time, but given the company's association with the Nazis and the Holocaust, his choice of career continued to cloud Bernhard's reputation for years to come.
Several obituary writers have noted that Bernhard's political antenna was often his undoing. As a student in the early days of the Nazi regime, he and some of his fellow students joined the SS.
Bernhard claimed years later that he was totally opposed to the Nazi ideology, but joining the SS enabled them to continue their education. In the months before his death, evidence that Bernhard had also been a member of Hitler's National Socialist NSDAP party hit the newspapers.
In the mid-1930s, fears were brewing of a new war in Europe. The announcement of the engagement between Bernhard and Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands wasn't greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm among the Dutch public.
Bernhard didn't help when he visited Adolf Hitler, who suggested the marriage was a sign of an alliance between the two countries.
Although he was bestowed with Dutch citizenship for the wedding, the prince insensitively briefed an SS officer about the political situation in the Netherlands, including the Dutch Nazi party, just days before the nuptials.
But some of his critics insist to this day that Bernhard knew exactly what he was doing.
Bernhard appears to have sorted out his priorities by 10 May 1940 when the Germans invaded. Armed with a machine gun, Bernhard helped lead the royal family to safety in England.
Once there, he asked to work for British Intelligence, but lingering doubts about his loyalties deprived the prince of the James Bond role he would so dearly have loved.
Instead, he flew for the RAF and helped his wife run the government-in-exile and was allowed to work on war planning councils. But when Operation Market Garden proved a bridge too far at Arnhem, there were dark mutterings that Bernhard — now commander of the Dutch forces — had betrayed the plans to the Germans.
Present at the German surrender at Wageningen in the Netherlands on 5 May 1945, Bernhard showed his sincere, but insensitive side when he said he felt sorry for the general who signed on behalf of the German forces. The officer was charged with war crimes.
If the war provided Bernhard with a chance to escape the confines of being a prince-consort, the early post-war years were heaven for him.
Although the Dutch Constitution did not provide him with any official role, he was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State and served on councils of all branches of the military.
He renewed his jet setting lifestyle as an unofficial ambassador and general Mr Fix It for the Netherlands. He was never shy of accepting 17-gun salutes to mark his arrival in a foreign country and it is said he also used the time abroad to indulge in extramarital affairs.
He served on the boards of dozens of companies, including Dutch plane maker Fokker and Dutch carrier KLM.
He truly earned a place in the history books — and on the pages of numerous websites that cater in conspiracy theories — when he helped organise an all-male meeting of key business and intellectual figures at a Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands.
Officially, the annual meeting was a forum to discuss economic issues in Western Europe and the threat of communism. Unofficially, the Bilderberg Group, say some amateur theorists, is a right-wing conspiracy to dominate the world.
Ironically, Bernhard, the big-game hunter, also found time to set up the conservation organisation World Wildlife Fund.
His high-flying career came crashing down in 1976, when it emerged that Bernhard — in typical cavalier style — seemed to think it was okay to accept "commissions" from US plane manufacturer Lockheed for his help to influence the purchase of a new fighter jet for the Netherlands.
It was hardly Bernhard's finest hour. The scandal allowed the media to take another look at his SS links as well as his extramarital affairs and his links to several dodgy business personalities.
The government was forced to tone down the final report of the inquiry into the Lockheed scandal as the then Queen Juliana threatened to abdicate if Bernhard was carpeted.
The final report could not find evidence he accepted a USD 1.5 million bribe from Lockheed, but it did say he had acted in such a way as to create the impression he was open to "doing favours".
The findings were damning enough to strip Bernhard of his business positions. He also lost his military titles and was prevented from wearing a Dutch military uniform ever again.
This punishment — though mild compared to a lengthy jail sentence — hurt Bernhard deeply.
He constantly harked back to the camaraderie he experienced during the war years and made a point of attending Liberation Day ceremonies and other events for veterans. He seemed happiest when taking a salute from old soldiers at the annual 5 May Wageningen Liberation Day celebrations.
When his daughter Beatrix became Queen in 1980, Bernhard was firmly relegated to the sidelines. This didn't stop him writing letters to the media or even ringing up editors to outline his view on the big story of the day.
In the last few years, Bernhard fought a constant battle against ill health. Though slowed, he still managed to make headlines — and find himself on the right side of public opinion — when he offered to pay any fine imposed on two have-a-go supermarket workers charged with roughing up a knife-wielding robber.
Some critics in the gossip press suggested he had less time for his wife, Juliana, who had Alzheimer's in the last few years before her death in March 2004.
Yet her death seemed to mark a serious decline in Bernhard's health. There were concerns he was too ill to attend the funeral, but true to form, he was there — looking frail and ill — but he was there.
In mid-October, the Government Information Service RVD announced Bernhard had an inoperable tumour. For once, Bernhard seemed to accept that this was one battle he wasn't going to win. His declared wish was to die in Soestdijk Palace, the home he had shared with his late wife of 67 years.
But life doesn't always have a fairy-tale ending.
In a no doubt well-meaning act, the prince was rushed to hospital when his doctors decided he could no longer be treated at home. When he got there, the prince took control of his life for one last time.
He told his doctors not to treat him any further. Prince Bernhard — an important part of Dutch history — passed away at 6.50pm on 1 December 2004.
His body was brought back to Soestdijk at 10pm.
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