Wilhelmina was enthroned on 6 September 1898. On 7 February 1901 in The Hague, she married Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Nine months later, on 9 November, Wilhelmina suffered a miscarriage, and on 4 May 1902 she gave birth to a premature stillborn son. Her next pregnancy ended in another miscarriage on 23 July 1906. During this time period, Wilhelmina’s heir presumptive was her first cousin once removed William Ernest, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and next in line was his aunt (and Wilhelmina’s cousin) Princess Marie Alexandrine of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. As it was assumed that the former would renounce his claim to the Dutch throne, and that the latter was too elderly and sickly to become Queen, Marie Alexandrine’s eldest son Prince Heinrich XXXII Reuss of Köstritz stood in line to succeed Wilhelmina, assuming she had no surviving children. Heinrich was a German prince with close associations with the Imperial family and the military; and there were fears that were the Queen to remain childless, the Dutch Crown “was bound to pass into the possession of a German prince, whose birth, training, and affiliations would naturally have led him to bring Holland within the sphere of the German Empire, at the expense of her independence, both national and economic”, according to one contemporary publication. The birth of Juliana, on 30 April 1909, was met with great relief after eight years of childless marriage. Wilhelmina suffered two further miscarriages on 23 January and 20 October 1912.
Wilhelmina was well aware what was expected of her by the Dutch people and their elected representatives. At the same time, she was a strong-willed and forceful personality who spoke and acted her mind. These qualities showed up early in her reign when, at the age of 20, Queen Wilhelmina ordered a Dutch warship, HNLMS Gelderland, to South Africa to evacuate Paul Kruger, the embattled President of the Transvaal.
Wilhelmina had a stern dislike of the United Kingdom partly as a result of the annexation of the republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State in the Boer War. The Boers were descendants of early Dutch colonists, to whom Wilhelmina and the people of the Netherlands felt very closely linked. In conversation with her former governess Elisabeth Saxton Winter, she once teasingly referred to the Boer soldiers as “excellent shots”. She was not amused to hear that a Dutch medical relief team was planning to accommodate the needs of both Boer and British wounded soldiers.
Before the First World War started, the young Wilhelmina visited the powerful German Emperor Wilhelm II. The Emperor thought he could impress the queen of a relatively small country by telling her, “My guards are seven feet tall and yours are only shoulder-high to them.” Wilhelmina smiled politely and replied, “Quite true, Your Majesty, your guards are seven feet tall. But when we open our dikes, the water is ten feet deep!
The Netherlands remained neutral during World War I. However, the Allies included the Netherlands in their blockade of Germany, intercepting all Dutch ships and severely restricting Dutch imports to ensure goods could not be passed on to Germany.
Wilhelmina was a “soldier’s queen”; being a woman, she could not be Supreme Commander, but she nevertheless used every opportunity she had to inspect her forces. On many occasions she appeared without prior notice, wishing to see the reality, not a prepared show. She loved her soldiers, and was very unhappy with most of her governments, which were always eager to cut the military budget. Wilhelmina wanted a small but well trained and equipped army.
In the war, she felt she was a “Queen-On-Guard”. She was always wary of a German attack, especially in the beginning. However, the chief violation of Dutch sovereignty was the Allied blockade.
In June 1917, as she returned from a two-day visit to Zaltbommel, she was on the train that derailed at Houten. Wilhelmina was unharmed and helped take care of the injured.
Civil unrest gripped the Netherlands after the war, spurred by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Socialist leader Pieter Jelles Troelstra wanted to abolish the existing government and the monarchy. Instead of a violent revolution, he hoped to do this by winning control of Parliament in an election, supported by the working class. However, the popularity of the young Queen helped restore confidence in the government. Wilhelmina brought about a mass show of support by riding with her daughter through the crowds in an open carriage.
Furthermore the Russian revolution cost her almost 20% of her financial assets, forcing her to entertain at a quite different level than before the war.
At the end of World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm fled to the Netherlands, where he was granted political asylum, partly owing to his familial links with Queen Wilhelmina. In response to Allied efforts to get their hands on the deposed Kaiser, Wilhelmina called the Allies’ ambassadors to her presence and lectured them on the rights of asylum.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Netherlands began to emerge as an industrial power. Engineers reclaimed vast amounts of land that had been under water by building the Zuiderzee Works. In 1934, both Wilhelmina’s mother Queen Emma and her husband, Prince Hendrik, died.
Most of the 1930s were also occupied by the need to find a suitable husband for Juliana. This was a difficult task since Wilhelmina was very religious, and insisted that her daughter’s hand be given to a Protestant of royal birth. Several prospects from the United Kingdom and Sweden either declined or were turned down by Juliana. Finally, Wilhelmina found a suitable match for her daughter in Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, a German aristocrat. The marriage initially drew some controversy due to rumours that Bernhard was pro-Nazi. It was subsequently confirmed that he had indeed been a member of the Nazi Party and of the so-called Reiter-SS (SS Cavalry Corps), as was proved by the Dutch national institute for war documentation, NIOD.