notes, finds & fragments of research
This evening, at seven o’clock, a special broadcast was aired by all national (Dutch) television and radio stations; it was announced rather suddenly at the end of the afternoon. Expected for some time, but unexpected, impressive and well executed in its timing, it is typical for her style as a monarch. Her Majesty, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, has announced her upcoming abdication on April 30th this year; after having (proverbially) sat on the throne for thirty-three years.
She will hand over the crown to her eldest son, His Royal Highness, the Prince of Orange – who might just become King Willem IV, his regnal name is still uncertain I believe. But one thing is certain, for the first time since the death of King Willem III in 1890, well over a hundred and twenty years ago, there shall be a King ánd a Queen of the Netherlands, as his wife Her Royal Highness, Princess Máxima shall become Queen-consort. Queen Beatrix was the third female monarch in her own right, with a prince-consort. Her husband, the highly-respected Prince Claus (1926-2002), passed away ten years ago.
Her Majesty’s speech, in a quick translation:
(the original in Dutch can be found here)
” As it is common knowledge, I am hoping to celebrate my 75th birthday in a few days; I am grateful that is has been granted to me to approach this day in good health. At the end of this year, we commemorate that, two-hundred years ago, our nation became a kingdom, by which a new era began in our history. The concurrence of these two special occasions has for me been the reason to decide to abdicate the throne this year. After having contemplated this for several years, it seems to be the right time to now effectively take the step.
I have always considered it an exceptional privilege in having geen able to dedicate a large part of my life to serving our country, and to bring my interpretation to the task of monarch, within the assignment given to me. In this, Prince Claus has been a great support to me for many years.
To this very day, this wonderful task has brought me much fulfilment. It is inspiring to feel close to people, to share in their sorrows and in their times of happiness and national pride. This I have also experienced in the Caribbean parts of our Kingdom, where I have always found much warmth and kind-heartedness.
The reason for my abdication is not because the task is becoming too heavy a burden for me, the decision has been made from the conviction that the responsibility for our country should lie in the hands of a new generation. It is with great confidence that on April 30th of this year I shall hand over the crown to my son, the Prince of Orange. He and Princess Máxima have been fully prepared for their future task. They shall serve our country with dedication, loyalty to the constitution, and giving their own interpretation to the monarchy with all their talents.
Despite the fact that I take this step in favour of my successor, I am reassured by the thought that this will not mean a farewell from you, and I hope to still enjoy meeting many of you. I am truly grateful for the confidence you have given me through the many beautiful years in which I was allowed to be your Queen. “
To me it marks the end of an era, as she was the monarch under whose rule I was born, she had ascended the throne a year before as successor to her mother, Queen, then Princess Juliana (1909-2004). In my family there is an ancient tradition of serving the monarchs of those countries they lived in, or of those they belonged, or were loyal to, as diplomats, military and court-dwellers; and although that actual service has faded out around the time of the major World Wars – we were all brought up with the idea that a monarchy serves a purpose and should be preserved. And this is also my personal belief. Of course, the monarchy does not exist any longer in the traditional sense, but as it is proven in modern monarchies: Although a historical office, it can be a vital part of the democratic constitution. Yes, it is hereditary and by all means unequal – but would anyone wish to trade places with them? If you have a realistic view on what it would mean for a person to be the (future) monarch or to be part of that family… you would kindly decline. It is a life in the traditional way of serving, whereas in the past a family had the power to decide over their country and its peoples, they are now very much ruled themselves by that nation. It is perhaps the most ungrateful task of all, they have to maintain the fairy-tale and represent their nation. When one looks around in Europe there is a mix of (constitutional) monarchies and republics. And most of the former are solid countries with a sense of tradition and stability, where the politicians also may relentlessly make a mess of things, but at least it doesn’t harm the reputation of a country due to the simple fact that the head of state stands above it all, who feels and displays their responsibility as the monarch, even though their powers to actually change things are highly limited. Presidents who are holding the office as head of state for a few years, may perhaps feel the responsibility but they do not always act the part and are constantly aware of their party politics and their own future ‘after office’. These few historical families, they were born to it, they are locked to it – by the grace of their peoples and by their own dedication. I still feel that no person can represent a country in such a way, with that kind of rooted tradition, appearance, stability, and even glory, as a monarch and their family. And Queen Beatrix, even just by this speech she delivered, proved that point.
The Dutch monarchs have always kept up the tradition of abdicating (albeit not always voluntarily); where most monarchs only pass the crown to their successor on their death, they retire at some point. And I think there will be few people in the Netherlands denying that this particular Queen does not deserve her retirement from the throne. Despite her solid reputation as a business-like woman, she has shown the nation that she was always there on the crucial moments. She also held up the tradition of not complaining and carrying on with your duties; despite the heavy blows one is given through life; for example, the death of her husband, and the terrible accident of her second son who’s been in a coma for nearly a year now. She deserves spending her remaining years, may there be many, in good health and surrounded by her (grand)children without the affairs of state.
And the country? The media will go crazy for a few days. We can look forward to endless reports about the smallest detail, and constant overviews on her reign. And then there is the big day, April 30th, which by no coincidence is also Queen’s Day. A new king, and Queen will be inaugurated (not crowned) – and she will become Princess of the Netherlands. Then slowly the new stamps, coins, and portraits of the royal couple will seep into daily life; then, of course, Prince’s Day, the official opening of the parliamentary year, which will be the second official task of the new monarch; and finally the celebration of being a Kingdom for two-hundred years. I think it will be an orange-coloured year.
As Her Majesty said, she won’t be disappearing.
But it is most definitely – the end of an era.