A royal visit to Groningen in 1937

My British royalty-friend Bobby Golden lately sent me a small article about a “royal” visit to my city Groningen in January 1937. A day after the wedding of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard in The Hague Major and Lady May Abel Smith headed for Groningen on a mission connected to another big event that year. Lady May Abel Smith (1906-1994) was born as Princess May of Teck as daughter of Prince Alexander of Teck (later Earl of Athlone) and Princess Alice of Albany, and after 1919 became known as Lady May Cambridge, when the family renounced all Germanic titles. She married Henry Abel Smith in 1931.

Their presence at the Dutch royal wedding wasn’t strange. Lady May was a great-granddaughter of the British Queen Victoria. Her maternal grandparents were Victoria’s son Prince Leopold, The Duke of Albany, and Princess Helena zu Waldeck und Pyrmont. Helena was a sister of Queen-Mother Emma of the Netherlands, the grandmother of Juliana. Several years after her wedding, in World War II, Juliana and her daughters would be welcomed in Canada by May’s parents. The Earl of Athlone, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, Major and Lady May Abel Smith had arrived with the night boat from Harwich to Hoek van Holland in the early morning of 5 January 1937. Also staff of the Duke of Kent, who was to arrive at Ypenburg Airport near The Hague later that day, travelled by boat. While the staff had to travel to The Hague by train, the four royal guests were picked up by cars from the royal house and arrived at Palace Noordeinde after 2pm, where they were received by Queen Wilhelmina for about three quarters of an hour. They stayed at the Hotel Paulez at the Korte Voorhout.

The reason why they travelled to Groningen on 8 January 1937 was to buy a horse on request of the Duke of Kent. The couple was accompanied by W. Count van Limburg Stirum, Baron Rengers and Jonkheer de Beaufort. It wasn’t just a horse, but a piebald horse that was to be used to carry kettle-drums in the Coronation procession of King George VI on 12 May 1937.

It was a preliminary sale. May and her husband selected a horse, and a photograph of the horse was to be submitted to the King for his approval. He was to decided about the purchase, and I haven’t figured out whether the horse was indeed chosen. Horse dealer Dirk Bolt received the guests with coffee and “Groninger koek” (kind of cake). Then the group moved to the Hotel De Doelen to have lunch. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to trace any pictures of the visit.

While the Hotel Paulez in The Hague was bombed in 1945, the Hotel De Doelen in Groningen still exists, although it just nearly escaped the same fate as Hotel Paulez in 1945. It is the eldest still existing hotel of Groningen and is situated at the Grote Markt, in the middle of the city. The eldest walls are from the 13th or 14th century. Built around 1730, in the 18th century it was in the possession of the noble family Alberda van Dijksterhuis. In 1798 the house turned into a tavern with the name De Doelen. The house next door became part of the hotel in 1876, but is now a pub, De Drie Gezusters. Since 2000 the owner was Sjoerd Kooistra, who died in 2010. He had the hotel renovated and turned into a three star hotel. After his death his firm Plassania Beheer became bankrupt, and the hotel and several pubs were bought by Grietje van der Veen and Henk Wustenveld, who had always worked for Kooistra. 2017 they sold the hotel and pubs to the firm Meijer Beheer. A steakhouse now is situated below the hotel. I assume it was all a bit more posh back in 1937.

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