His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who died aged 93, was the energetic and likeable German-born consort of the former Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; his unremitting endeavour on behalf of his adopted country, most notably his leadership of its armed forces during the Second World War, was, however, sadly overshadowed by his disgrace in a financial scandal in 1976.
The Prince's involvement in this came to light in December 1975, when a former executive of the Lockheed aircraft company, Ernest Hauser, made available to the Wall Street Journal a diary he had kept from 1961 to 1964. Hauser was then customer relations manager at Lockheed's sales office in Western Germany. The diary was examined at a US Senate investigation into multi-national corporations, which revealed Lockheed's long-standing practice of bribing foreign politicians to clinch deals.
In the diary, Hauser recorded Prince Bernhard's demands for commission for helping to promote sales of Lockheed Starfighters to the Dutch Air Force. In an interview with the BBC in August 1976, Hauser claimed that the Prince had an insatiable appetite for money and was paid more than $1 million by Lockheed.
Moreover, he said, the Prince had sent a hand-written letter to Lockheed stating that, if he did not receive $4 million, the US aircraft company would never do business with the Netherlands again.
An official Dutch commission of inquiry into the scandal, headed by Prime Minister Joop Den Uyl, censured the Prince. Although they doubted the authenticity of Hauser's diary, and found no evidence that Bernhard had actually exerted influence on the Dutch airforce's choice of aircraft, the report said that he had "shown himself open to dishonourable favours and offers" and had "harmed the interests of the State". In fact, it was revealed yesterday that the Prince admitted, in a series of interviews given between 1996 and 2002 (on condition that they were made public only after his death), that he had received a $1 million "sweetener" from Lockheed.
At the time of the scandal, Prince Bernhard claimed that he had intended to give what money he received to the World Wildlife Fund, of which he was president; yet the commission portrayed him not as a weakling led astray by temptation, but as a schemer deliberately abusing his royal position for personal gain.
The scandal forced the Prince to resign from all his public offices, including that of Inspector-General of the Armed Forces. He was stripped of military honours and forbidden to wear uniform. He also gave up his associations with the business world, and even with the World Wildlife Fund.
Coming on the heels of revelations about the Prince's close friendship with a young Frenchwoman, the improbably named Poussy Grinda, the crisis was a grievous shock to both the Netherlands and the House of Orange. But Queen Juliana stood by her husband, and was dissuaded from her initial impulse to abdicate by the obvious affection in which her subjects continued to hold her.
Prince Bernhard was born at Jena, Germany, on June 29 1911 into the princely family of Lippe. He was the eldest son of Prince Bernhard of Lippe, who was the younger brother of the titular ruler of Lippe-Detmold, a small principality near Hanover; in 1908 Bernhard Lippe-Biesterfeld had distinguished himself by turning his back on the Kaiser after Wilhelm had failed to acknowledge his salute at a military review. As a result, the Lippe-Biesterfelds were personae non grata at the German Court, and the boy baptised Bernhard Leopold Friedrich Eberhard Julius Kurt Karl Gottfried Peter grew up at Reckenwalde, the family's 18th-century manor house in Brandenburg.
He was partly brought up by a nurse who was half Chinese and half English, and so learned to speak English before he knew German. His earliest memory was of being operated on for a throat infection at the age of two; for six months after the tracheotomy he had to wear a silver tube in his windpipe to enable him to breathe, and so could communicate only by grunting.
Bernhard was educated at the Arndt Gymnasium in Berlin and at Lausanne and Munich Universities, although he was a reluctant student and his work was undermined by persistent ill-health, eventually diagnosed as pleurisy. In 1930 he had six pieces of rib removed to clear the infection, leaving a hole in his back which allowed him to smoke a cigarette and exhale through the rear lining of his coat.
Having taken a law degree, he went to work for the German dye corporation I G Farben in Paris. Prince Bernhard had already become worried about the growing influence of the Nazis, and was contemplating going to live abroad, when in 1936 he met Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands at the Olympic Winter Games at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
After their engagement was announced by the Crown Princess's mother, Queen Wilhelmina, head of the House of Orange, Prince Bernhard was questioned in an official inquiry about his political ideas because of fears about Holland's Nazi neighbours. He convinced the Queen and the Dutch government that he was completely opposed to Hitler, despite having been a member of the SS when he was a student.
He had joined, he said, because had he not been a member of such an organisation it would have been made harder for him to pass his law exams; moreover, membership brought with it the free use of a garage. He resigned from the party in 1937 - although his letter, now in the National Archives in Washington, DC, ended with the words "Heil Hitler".
To underline his dislike for Nazism, the Prince renounced his German citizenship to become a Dutch subject. He received in return the approval of Queen Wilhelmina and her government, as well as a cluster of honorary Dutch military Orders and a captaincy in the Royal Dutch Hussars.
The Nazis described the wedding, on January 7 1937, as an alliance of the two countries; but Queen Wilhelmina at once set the record straight: "This is the marriage of my daughter to the man she loves. This is not the marriage of the Netherlands to Nazi Germany."
There was pressure from Berlin to have Deutschland Über Alles sung at the wedding; but Prince Bernhard refused point-blank, and also banned the Swastika from the street bunting. Hitler responded by trying to confiscate the passports of the Prince's family so that they could not attend the wedding.
On the day before the ceremony, Bernhard was created Prince of the Netherlands, with the style of Royal Highness. He and the Crown Princess, heiress to one of world's largest royal fortunes, settled at Soestdijk Palace, near Utrecht. They spent their first Christmas together in hospital after Prince Bernhard broke his neck in a motor accident, but he soon recovered; and before the outbreak of the Second World War two daughters were born, Princess Beatrix in 1938 and Princess Irene in 1939.
When, in May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands (which had declared itself neutral), the Dutch royal family escaped to England in the Royal Navy warship Codrington. In London, Queen Wilhelmina proclaimed a Dutch government-in-exile.
Prince Bernhard insisted on returning (without the Queen's permission) to the Netherlands, where he joined Dutch troops fighting their final battles against the German invaders. He then escaped to England again, where King George VI tried to find him a job in Intelligence; but, much to his embarrassment, the War Ministry refused him as Bernhard was German.
Queen Wilhelmina appointed Bernhard liaison officer between the Dutch and British forces, and in 1941 the Prince was given the honorary rank of wing commander in the RAF. He trained as a pilot, gaining his wings in 1941. Thereafter he often flew with his Sealyham terrier, Martin, which logged more than 1,000 flying hours with his master before his death in 1954.
During the war, Crown Princess Juliana and their children lived in Ottawa. Prince Bernhard made several visits to Canada and it was in Ottawa that their third daughter, Princess Margriet, was born in 1943. In September 1944, with Dutch troops now fighting in France, General Eisenhower appointed the Prince as Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch Forces. On Queen Wilhelmina's orders, he also took charge of the Dutch resistance forces (his brother Aschwin had spent much of the war working for their counterpart in Germany itself). The Prince played a vital and rather under-appreciated part in fusing the amorphous Dutch resistance factions into one unified force which eventually spear-headed the Allied advance into the Netherlands. After the war, the Dutch royal family returned to a shattered nation. Almost the entire Jewish community - 112,000 people - had been exterminated, and the rest of the population had suffered terrible privations in the freezing winter of 1944-45. The Crown Princess and Prince Bernhard led the work to rebuild their nation.
In 1947 a fourth daughter, Princess Christina, was born to the couple. The next year Queen Wilhelmina celebrated her golden jubilee and then abdicated in favour of her daughter.
With Queen Juliana on the throne, Prince Bernhard began to look around for the best way to play the difficult role of consort. He took an interest in foreign affairs, made goodwill tours of Dutch colonies, and helped to promote Dutch business abroad. At home, he concentrated on supporting Dutch cultural activities, on increasing pan-European ties, and on setting an example of leadership to his wife's people.
Family life in Soestdijk Palace was largely harmonious, although it had been disrupted by the strange affair of Greet Hofmans. In 1948 the Prince, who had an interest in alternative medicine, had introduced Greet Hofmans, a woman faith-healer, to the Queen and suggested that she could help to cure the near-blindness of their baby daughter, Princess Christina.
But subsequently Prince Bernhard came to resent the influence the faith-healer was wielding over his wife. Hofmans had been given a suite of rooms at the palace, and was said to have obtained jobs for her friends and tried to interfere in government matters.
After two years of growing strife between himself and Queen Juliana, the Prince ordered Hofmans, whom he suspected of witchcraft, out of the palace. The faith-healer took up residence in a caravan nearby, where she was visited by the Queen and Princess Christina. The rift between the Prince and the Queen over the matter grew wider for several years until it exploded into a public row in June 1956.
The question of divorce, and of abdication, was openly aired in the Dutch and international press, but eventually discounted. Under official and public pressure, however, Queen Juliana agreed to stop seeing the faith-healer, and the royal couple were reconciled. They remained largely out of the spotlight until the revelations about the Prince's dealings with Lockheed.
In 1980 Queen Juliana, like her mother before her, abdicated in favour of her daughter, Princess Beatrix, who soon proved herself a splendidly competent ruler. Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana (the style to which she reverted) retired quietly to the Soestdijk Palace, where the Prince had more time to indulge his love of horses, fast cars, skiing and big game hunting in Africa. He kept a flat in Paris and owned property in Acapulco.
On May 10 1991, the anniversary of the Liberation of Holland and 15 years after his fall from grace, Prince Bernhard was once again permitted to wear the insignia of a General of the Dutch Armed Forces. Princess Juliana died in March 2004.
Copyright The Daily Telegraph (2004)