Death of Dutch princess recalls Monmouth College’s royal wedding party
MONMOUTH, Ill. — The death of Princess Christina of the Netherlands at age 72 on Aug. 16, 2019, was noted with sadness by certain Monmouth College alumni and former faculty, who once shared a personal connection with the youngest daughter of Queen Juliana.
The story behind that royal connection isn’t exactly a fairy tale, but it is quite a tale. It begins on a Friday in early May 1975, when Monmouth College history professor Mary Crow received a large white envelope in the mail. Inside was an engraved invitation from Queen Juliana to attend the royal wedding of her daughter Princess Christina on June 28 in Utrecht.
Soon, Crow’s phone began to ring, as faculty colleagues who had also received invitations called to inquire if she planned to attend the festivities. They needn’t have asked, as Crow, who was an inveterate world traveler and photographer, was already planning her itinerary.
“Usual financial caution was thrown to the four winds,” Crow would later write, “with the universal justification that none of us would ever again in this life receive an invitation from a queen and her consort.”
It was indeed a rare opportunity, as only 1,100 guests were invited to the royal event. So why were several Monmouth faculty members among them? Turns out they had not only been professors of the groom, but were also former colleagues of the groom’s mother.
The backstory begins in September 1961, when Edenia Guillermo, a 45-year-old professor, fled Cuba, shortly after Castro took power. She brought with her two sons — 21-year old Gilberto and 15-year-old Jorge.
“My parents did not want us to go to the Cuban schools because all the schools teach Communist indoctrination — even the private schools have been nationalized,” Jorge said in a 1963 interview, adding, “Castro took everything away from, everyone and we were no exception to the rule. So my mother decided we should leave while we were permitted to because she knew that later on no one would be allowed to leave or enter Cuba.”
Guillermo’s sons were allowed to enter the U.S. on one-year student visas. Gilberto enrolled at M.I.T., where he studied theoretical physics, and two years later Jorge enrolled as a freshman at Cornell College in Iowa. After the brothers’ visas ran out, they were given permits to stay indefinitely because of the ongoing Cuban situation and were classified as refugees.
In 1963, Jorge enrolled as a freshman at Cornell College in Iowa. Meanwhile, his mother, who had been director of education for the province of Havana and held two Ph.D.s, got a job teaching in a grade school in Wyoming and then a high school in Pennsylvania.
In 1964, largely through the efforts of Monmouth College Spanish professor Dorothy Donald, Guillermo was recruited for a tenure-track Spanish position at Monmouth College, where she arrived in the fall of 1965. She immediately arranged to have Jorge transfer to Monmouth, and the two shared an apartment.
After Jorge graduated from Monmouth in 1968, he made his way to New York City, where he initially worked for Chase Manhattan Bank, then became assistant director of a preschool in Harlem for disadvantaged children. When a mutual friend introduced him at a 1972 dinner party to a young woman named Christina van Oranje who had previously volunteered as a music teacher at the preschool, he had no idea she was an heir to the Dutch throne. (The name van Oranje signified her ancestry in the royal House of Orange.)
Jorge and Christina shared a love of music — she was an accomplished pianist and singer; he was writing a book on opera — and they dated a few times. Gradually, their relationship grew more serious, and Jorge learned the princess’s complex life story.
The youngest of four daughters of Queen Juliana, Christina was born nearly blind, after her mother contracted rubella during pregnancy. Juliana’s feeling of guilt over the birth defect caused her to turn to a female faith healer named Greet Hofmans to try to restore Christina’s sight. A royal scandal ensued when Hofmans moved into the palace and exerted such influence over the queen that some compared her to Rasputin, who was called by Tsarina Alexandra of Russia to heal her hemophiliac son.
The crisis, which lasted eight years, split the Dutch court into two camps — one supporting the queen and one the king — and nearly led to a divorce. Hofmans was finally ousted from the court in 1956.
From an early age, Christina had developed an independent streak. At age 16, she switched to a new school of her own choice and moved out of the royal palace, sharing an apartment with a friend. She reportedly took great pleasure in trying to lose a private detective who would constantly tail her. After earning a teaching degree, she left the Netherlands for Canada, where she studied music at McGill University.
Despite their substantial social and religious differences (the royal family was Dutch Reformed protestant and Jorge was a devout Catholic), the couple’s romantic bond flourished.
On Valentine’s Day, 1975, Queen Juliana and her consort, Prince Bernard, publicly announced the engagement of Christina to Jorge. To avoid potential scandal as occurred in 1964 when Christina’s sister Princess Irene married a Catholic prince, Christina formally renounced her rights to the Dutch throne, for which she was ninth in line.
Although Jorge’s mother had left Monmouth the previous year for a teaching post at Hood College in Maryland, she had made many strong friendships during her nine years at Monmouth and honored them with wedding invitations.
The group of Monmouth faculty that traveled to Utrecht for the June 28 wedding consisted of Mary Crow, Vicki Fritschi, Charles Speel and his wife, Emma Janis, and Paul McClanahan and his wife, Ruth. They were joined by retired faculty members Gracie Peterson and Dorothy Donald. Emerita professor Eva Cleland also received an invitation, but it arrived too late for her to change her existing European travel plans.
On the night before the wedding, the Monmouth invitees staged their own pre-nuptial dinner at a restaurant in Utrecht. They were joined by Professor William Urban and his family (who had been in Germany), Mark Buchholz ’71, who was working in Arnem, Netherlands, and Jorge and Edda Prats of Knox College (Edda had previously taught at Monmouth).
Edenia Guillermo spent the night in the royal palace.
On the day of the wedding, streamers of orange flew above the Dutch flag throughout the country, and although Christina had renounced the crown, the entire ceremony was carried live on Dutch television. As Queen Juliana and her husband entered the church, walking between them was Professor Guillermo.
Most of the ceremony was recited in Dutch, but the vows were spoken in English. Two ministers performed the wedding — one from the Dutch Reformed Church and the other from the Roman Catholic Church.
The Monmouth party of eight was among the 128 guests invited to a private reception in the Great Hall of the University of Utrecht. Each of the guests was personally introduced to the Queen and her consort by Jorge Guillermo.
The newly married couple returned to New York City, where Christina taught at a Montessori School and through the efforts of her father, Jorge landed a marketing position with KLM Airlines. The airline job made it convenient for the couple to indulge in a new hobby — collecting fine art from across the globe. In 1984, they moved back to the Netherlands, living in the royal palace while they built themselves a new house in a royal park. It would eventually be filled with Old Master paintings and antiques.
The couple had two sons and a daughter. Christina converted to Catholicism in 1992, but the marriage failed in 1994 and two years later they divorced. Christina returned to New York to be with her children, who were in school in the United States. Interested in dance and sound therapy for the visually impaired, she worked with a music foundation in the Netherlands. She sang at her parents’ funerals and recorded several CDs. After her mother’s death in 2004, she lived in London and Italy.
Christina was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2018. Shortly before her death, she made the news when she auctioned off several works of art she had inherited through the royal family. A drawing by Rubens brought $8.2 million.
Jorge studied art history and theology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and authored books on images of Cuba, Dutch castles and, most recently on ancient sibyls (oracles). In 1999, he moved to London, where he lived with his daughter, Juliana. He later moved to Condom in the south of France and has since dropped out of the public eye.
Professor Edenia Guillermo retired from teaching in 1983 and died in Florida at age 88 in 2002.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian for Monmouth College.