November 01, 1982 12:00 PM

Last month’s ceremonial reopening of the Dutch parliament only confirmed a distressing rumor for citizens of the tiny European nation. Queen Beatrix’s German-born husband, Prince Claus, 56, was unmistakably ill. Some spectators whispered in alarm at his appearance. The Prince seemed to have aged rapidly. His face was stiff and gray as parchment. “I admired his courage,” an old friend of the royal couple said later. “Claus could barely stand on his feet that day.” In fact, he had just been discharged from a hospital, and on Oct. 1, the prince consort of the Netherlands again sought treatment—he was admitted to a psychiatric clinic in Basel, Switzerland, suffering from deep depression.

Palace officals saw the crisis building for months beforehand. Usually kind and unfailingly courteous, Claus had begun to lose control. He had begun shouting at people and throwing things in anger, according to palace sources. “Claus is totally overworked,” confides a friend. “And now he’s worse off because he tried to hide his problem too long, partly because he is an introvert and because he knew that his wife, Beatrix, would want to publicly announce his illness.”

Although the 16-year marriage is said to be a happy one, Claus apparently has chafed at his secondary role. “How could I ever have been so naive to marry the Crown Princess of the Netherlands?” he once groaned to a friend. The couple’s wedding was controversial in Holland (it was marked by mass demonstrations) because Claus, a member of the von Amsberg family, minor German nobility, had served in the Hitler Youth and the German army in World War II. The former diplomat was cleared of deeper involvement with the Nazis. Since then he has won wide acceptance as a hardworking royal, and a good father to his sons—Willem-Alexander, 15, Johan Friso, 14 and Constantijn, 13.

No one in Holland accuses Claus of being lazy. He earns his $395,000 annual state income with a backbreaking agenda of official openings, receptions and ceremonies. In early 1982, while coping with asthma and emotional problems, he nonetheless played his role in state visits to West Germany and the U.S., where he and the 44-year-old Beatrix were guests at an official White House dinner. The prince holds 38 part-time jobs, but he was forced to resign from the one he prized most. He was an active president of Holland’s National Council of Development Aid Strategy, which used to allot funds to national action groups, until officials ruled the organization too political for royal involvement.

Claus’ problems probably date from April 30, 1980, when Queen Juliana abdicated in favor of her daughter. Claus inherited the difficult role vacated by Juliana’s husband, Prince Bernhard. (Also a German, Bernhard had been disgraced in 1976 for allegedly accepting a $1.1 million business bribe.) The new Queen and her husband had to move out of their cozy castle, Drakensteyn—a relaxed home in the woods east of Amsterdam, which Claus had cherished—into the coldly formal Huis ten Bosch palace on the outskirts of The Hague. The changes plunged Claus into a black depression. “He felt helpless against the common tendency in the Netherlands to spoil queens,” explains a friend. “The trouble is that Beatrix loves being the focus of all attention, loves to be engulfed in constant applause.” It was physically hard for Claus to keep up: “These women of Orange simply can’t be beaten,” the friend says. “They are strong as horses.”

The Prince is under the care of Dr. Paul Kielholz, a world-famed specialist in treating depression, who believes the prognosis is good. Kielholz has stated that most of his patients are cured within three to four weeks with a regimen of complete relaxation, massage and medication. He usually administers vitamin B and albumen, which Kielholz says helps build up “the substance that passes on the signals of the brain to the rest of the body,” and occasionally small doses of antidepressant drugs. In the meantime, the Prince’s illness has drawn a heartening flow of sympathy and affection from his countrymen. Bales of get-well letters, flowers and phone calls have flowed into the clinic. The Queen has visited once and no doubt told him about the homemade signs she sees at public appearances these days: “Welcome Beatrix and our best wishes for a speedy recovery of Claus.”

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