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Prince Claus, 76; Won Over Dutch With Charm

October 07, 2002|From Associated Press

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Prince Claus, the German-born husband of Queen Beatrix who employed wit, charm and patience to overcome Dutch hostility and win the affection of his adopted nation, died Sunday. He was 76.

Claus had been in and out of intensive care for several months with respiratory and heart problems. Doctors at the Amsterdam Medical Center said he died of Parkinson's disease and pneumonia, according to a government statement.

"He was a remarkable man, who won a warm place in the hearts of the Dutch people," Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende said in a live televised broadcast. "With his passing, a great man is gone."

Beatrix, 64, and the royal couple's three sons were at Claus's bedside when he died, Dutch television reported.

It will be the first royal funeral since the death of Beatrix's grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, in 1962. Her mother, Queen Juliana, abdicated in 1980. Claus' body will be taken to the royal palace in The Hague on Monday, the government said. His body will be kept there to let the public pay respects. Claus will be buried in the Oranje-Nassau family tomb in Delft. No funeral date was set.

Claus' entry into Dutch society was hard fought, because the nation still bore scars inflicted by the Nazi army in which he had served.

It helped that he and the queen produced the first male heir, Willem Alexander, to the Dutch throne in nearly a century. The couple had two more sons, Prince Johan Friso and Prince Constantijn.

Claus appeared frail during one of his last television appearances in March 2001, when he and the queen announced the engagement of Crown Prince Willem Alexander to an Argentinian investment banker, Maxima Zorreguieta. Claus advised his prospective daughter-in-law to learn the Dutch language and customs, as he had done 35 years earlier.

Though born a German aristocrat, Claus showed a humility that appealed to the unassuming Dutch. In 1997, he asked the public to refrain from marking his birthday because it coincided with the funeral of Britain's Princess Diana.

During a speech at an African fashion show in 1998, Claus expressed admiration for Nelson Mandela's casual style of dress. In what he called "the Declaration of Amsterdam," he ripped off his own necktie and tossed it at his wife's feet, calling it "a snake around my neck."

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