Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will abdicate this year and be succeeded by her eldest son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become the country’s first king in more than a century.
Beatrix, who turns 75 on Jan. 31, will cede the Dutch throne to Willem-Alexander on April 30, she said in a televised address to the nation from her Huis ten Bosch palace in The Hague yesterday. Beatrix succeeded her mother, Queen Juliana, when she abdicated in 1980.
“I am not abdicating because this office is too much of a burden, but out of conviction that the responsibility for our nation should now rest in the hands of a new generation,” Beatrix said in the speech. “It is with the utmost confidence that I will hand over the kingdom to the Prince of Orange on April 30.”
About 7.4 million people watched the speech on television last night, the Dutch ANP news agency cited a spokesman for Stichting KijkOnderzoek, the primary provider of official audience ratings. The Netherlands has a population of 16.8 million.
Willem-Alexander, 45, married Argentina’s Maxima Zorreguieta, 41, a former investment banker, in 2002 and has three daughters. He will be known as King Willem-Alexander, the government’s information office said, making him the first monarch to bear the name. The Netherlands has had female heads of state since King Willem III died in 1890. Juliana’s mother, Wilhelmina, also gave up the throne in 1948.
Maxima is the daughter of Jorge Zorreguieta, a former Argentine minister during the military regime of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her family won’t attend the inauguration on April 30 because of the possible sensitive nature of his presence, ANP reported yesterday, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Maxima’s parents didn’t attend their daughter’s wedding on Feb. 2, 2002.
Beatrix “did a very good job, as she managed to reconcile the paradox of someone who needs to be warm and human while also having to keep her distance simply because she’s the queen,” Reinildis van Ditzhuyzen, historian and author of several books on the royal family, said in an interview on Dutch NOS television.
In 1966, Beatrix’s marriage to Claus von Amsberg, a former German diplomat who served in that nation’s army during World War II, drew protests that deteriorated into rioting, with smoke bombs thrown at police. That reflected continuing bitterness over Germany’s wartime occupation of the Netherlands. Prince Claus died Oct. 6, 2002, at the age of 76.
During the war, the Dutch royal family fled to the U.K. in May 1940 as German troops swept across the border. In June of that year Juliana took her children to Canada. The family returned to the Netherlands on Aug. 2 1945, according to the website of the royal family. Queen Beatrix graduated in law from Leiden University in 1961.
Willem-Alexander becomes king at a time when the role of the Dutch monarch in politics has been reduced. The sovereign previously played a key part in the formation of governments. Parliament decided early last year, though, that it should oversee the process of agreeing on new coalitions without the involvement of the monarch, and the Liberal and Labor parties formed a government under the new rules after elections in September.
The queen also suffered a personal tragedy last year after Friso van Orange, her second son, who’s 44, suffered massive brain damage in a skiing accident in Austria. He may never regain consciousness.
Willem-Alexander, who has the title at present of Prince of Orange, studied history at Leiden University and served in the Royal Netherlands Navy. He became chairman of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation in 2006. The new king will resign from his membership of the International Olympic Committee, a spokesman for the Dutch Olympic Committee told ANP yesterday.
“I know that they will fulfill their new role in a very convincing manner,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised speech last night, referring to the future king and Princess Maxima. Beatrix is “a queen at the heart of our society,” Rutte said.