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Emma, mother of the modern monarchy

15 September to 29 October 2017

Every autumn, Escher in The Palace joins in with the festivities surrounding Prinsjesdag. In 2017, the theme of the Prinsjesdag festival was ‘Time to find common ground’. It was a good reason to raise the profile of Queen Mother Emma. We did this in conjunction with the National Archive. The presentation was held in the finest room in Emma’s winter palace: the ballroom. There, the original ‘Troonrede’ (the Dutch equivalent of the Queen’s Speech) from 1891 could be seen as well as some remarkable memorabilia from the visits Emma took to the Dutch provinces.

When King Willem III passed away after a period of illness in 1890, his successor Wilhelmina was still a minor. Consequently, Emma van Waldeck-Pyrmont stood in as regent until her daughter was old enough. Emma is perhaps not the most well-known member of the House of Orange, but she did a lot to ensure the continued existence of the monarchy. This despite her regency (1890-1898) starting on the back foot: she was young, she was not from the Netherlands (was of German origin) and she was a woman.

Tribute by the Dutch people presented to Queen Emma, 31 August 1898, Royal Collections, The Hague (inventory number: A47-VIIID-01)
Silver Angel donated on the occasion of a visit by Queen Wilhelmina to Maastricht, Royal Collections, The Hague (inventory number: MU / 2806)

In a time in which women in the Netherlands still did not have the right to vote, Emma was the first female head of state to sit on the Dutch throne. In a time of increasing nationalism and polarisation – then of all times – she managed to unite the Dutch people and carve out a positive image for the royal house.

Emma was not only dutiful, intelligent, resolute and impartial, she was also more visible than her predecessors. Through a sophisticated publicity campaign, she managed to create a positive image for the royal family and travelled throughout the country with her daughter. In so doing, she not only prepared the young Wilhelmina for her future reign, but she also prepared the country for her daughter. Emma was the mother of the modern monarchy.