Friday, June 21, 2024

Queen Beatrix, The Royal Soul of The Netherlands

On the 30th of April 2007, the people in the Netherlands, its territories and Dutch people across the world celebrated the 27th anniversary of Queen Beatrix’s ascension to the throne as well as her official birthday. From the time of her ascension in 1980 to her abdication in 2013, Queen Beatrix was one of Europe’s most popular monarchs who has kept the dignity and grace of the Dutch royal family while maintaining its relevance in Dutch society. She is simultaneously loved and respected by her people and in the following pages PASSIONS pays tribute to this extraordinary woman and her people.

Born to reign

A cherubic baby girl, the then Princess Beatrix as an infant in 1938.

Queen Beatrix was born on the 31st of January 1938 (although she celebrates her official birthday on the 30th of April), Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard, Princess of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe-Biesterfeld. Since her ascension to the throne, she has carried the formal title of “Beatrix, by the Grace of God, Queen of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, etc. etc. etc.” The three etceteras after her last named title cover the various titles, many long dormant, that her forebears the Princes of Orange had.

Top: The then Princess Beatrix (right) and her younger sister Princess Margeriete (left) during their younger days.
Below: An heir is born – The then Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus with their firstborn son, then Prince Willem-Alexander in 1967.

When she was born, Princess Beatrix (as she was then known as) became heir presumptive to the throne of the Netherlands. Her mother, Princess Juliana, was the only child of Queen Wilhelmina and therefore heir presumptive to the throne. As the Dutch royal family practiced the concept of agnatic-cognatic primogeniture, her ascension to the throne was only presumed as the birth of a son will mean that her younger brother would become heir apparent. That though did not happen, although her parents Princess (later Queen) Juliana and Prince Bernhard had three other daughters – Princess Irene, Princess Margriet and Princess Christina. Queen Beatrix is also, interestingly enough, in the line of succession to the British throne (at number 787) as she is also a direct of descendant of Sophia, the Electress of Hannover.

A childhood in exile

Europe during the time of her birth was one that was arguably the most turbulent in modern history. Just south of the Dutch border in Germany, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were fanning the waves of Germany militarism and advocating the annexation of other countries, either as part of the Greater German Reich or as living space for the soon to be expanding Aryan race. As Dutch people were seen as “Germanic” people and the Netherlands a strategic territory with its access to the sea, it was inevitable that the eyes of its bigger neighbour would be turned on it.

And so it proved in May 1940 when the Wermacht launched its blitzkrieg on the Netherlands. The conduct of members of the royal family during the invasion though could explain why the royal family commands such great respect in a country that is not exactly extremely royalist, so to speak. Her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, was determined to remain behind and organise the resistance against the Germans in the province of Zeeland. She was persuaded against such a move though and went into exile in Britain along with the rest of the royal family. And then there was her father, Prince Bernhard, whose conduct during the war made him a national hero in the Netherlands. Although he was German by birth and even at one time a member of the NSDAP and the SA (which he joined as a matter of convenience rather than conviction), he showed where his loyalties lied when he helped organise the anti-German resistance and even flew combat bombing sorties against Germany as an RAF pilot.

The Netherlands was invaded and occupied and the young Beatrix was thus brought up in exile at least until the liberation of the country in 1945. As mentioned above, at first the royal family made their way to Britain. However, a month later, Princes Juliana took her two daughters Beatrix and Irene to Ottawa, Canada where the young Princess Beatrix attended nursery school and primary school.

A woman of education

One can therefore say that Queen Beatrix did not have a typical childhood, at least not the typical childhood one would associate with a member of a royal family. As she was living in exile, she received an education in a normal school just like any other person. This was later continued when the royal family returned to the Netherlands as she continued her primary education at De Werkplaats, a progressive school and then the Incrementum, a part of the Baarnsch Lyceum in 1950 for what can be called her secondary education.

By then, she was already first in line to the throne as her grandmother Wilhelmina had abdicated in 1948 passing the throne down to her mother Juliana. The year 1956 was therefore a significant one for the then Princess Beatrix. Not only was it the year she graduated from the Incrementum, it was also the year of her 18th birthday and as stipulated in the Dutch Constitution, she was ready to assume her royal duties. Thus Queen Juliana installed her in the Council of State, which is the advisory body to the Dutch Government.

Royal duties aside though, the young Princess continued her education by enrolling at Leiden University where she attended lectures that can only be described as apt for anyone who would become a monarch. These include lectures in sociology, jurisprudence, economics, parliamentary history and constitutional law. Furthermore, she learnt about the cultures of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles (which makes up part of the wider Netherlands), international law, history and European law.

It can therefore be said that Queen Beatrix is a woman of education. In fact, if she were not a monarch, her law degree and university education would make her qualified to be a professional career woman.

Marriage and controversy

In 1965, Princess Beatrix, by then 27 years old, became engaged to Claus von Amsberg, a German aristocrat who was working as a diplomat for the German foreign office. To say that the engagement was controversial was putting it mildly as the future Prince Claus had been a member of the Hitler Youth and was even conscripted in the Wermacht during the Second World War. For a nation that had been occupied by Nazi Germany only 20 years ago, it was not a popular choice for certain segments of society.

Nevertheless, the marriage took place on the 10th of March, 1966 amidst some protests, admittedly. To be fair though, her marriage to Prince Claus wasn’t the only controversial one in the history of the royal family. After all, her mother’s marriage to her father, Prince Bernhard was not exactly without raised eyebrows given Prince Berhnard’s earlier membership of the NSDAP. Her younger sister, Princess Irene, was also embroiled in a controversial marriage when she secretly converted to Catholicism and married the Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne, Carlos Hugo. As Princess Irene was then second-in-line to the throne that was by convention headed by a Protestant descendant of a man who overthrew Spanish Catholic rule, her marriage was just as controversial.

Public furore over her marriage to Prince Claus soon died down and before his death in 2002, he was regarded as one of the most popular members of the Dutch royal family owing to his strong involvement in social justice issues. Ironically, a slightly toned down controversy also erupted in 2002 when her son and heir-apparent, Prince Willem-Alexander, the Prince of Orange married Princess Maxima, an Argentine woman. Unlike the marriage of his aunt, the Prince of Orange’s marriage to a Catholic was not an issue. The controversy in this case though came from the fact that Princess Maxima’s father, Jorge Horacio Zorreguieta Stefanini was a civilian member of the brutal military dictatorship led by General Videla in Argentina. Today, Princess Maxima is considered to be the most popular member of the Dutch royal family.

Three generations of the Royal House of Orange-Nassau.

Queen Beatrix

On the 30th of April, 1980, Queen Juliana abdicated the throne and Princess Beatrix was installed as Queen Beatrix in the investiture ceremony. It was not an extremely easy task to replace her mother who was a well-loved and extremely popular monarch whose dislike of formality contrasted with her daughter’s liking for protocol. An example of the difference in style between the two queens can be seen in how people address them. While Queen Juliana preferred to be called “madam”, Queen Beatrix reintroduced the address “your majesty” for people addressing her.

Some have therefore said that as far as personal warmth is concerned, the less formal Queen Juliana was seen to be closer to the people. However, it would be wrong to say that Queen Beatrix is cold and aloof from her people. While she may not have her mother’s sense of informality, she (Queen Beatrix) is seldom if never seen in public without being close to the people and without a huge smile and a friendly disposition that makes her loved and respected by the Dutch people. She can thus be best described as being akin to a grand dame, who is admired and respected for her professionalism and sense of duty, loved as a matriarch would be loved but not with a great sense of familiarity.

Nevertheless, her personal popularity is extremely high and in a nation like the Netherlands, which is arguably one of Europe’s most liberal societies, which is extremely impressive for any monarch. Unlike her distant cousins, the Windsors of Great Britain, the House of Orange-Nassau under Queen Beatrix has never come under as heavy an attack by the media during her reign. This though can be probably attributed to a Dutch law that restricts what the monarch may say in public and which prevents the press from quoting her private pronouncements, so as to avoid controversy.

During the 25th anniversary of her investiture in 2005, Queen Beatrix received a personal approval of 92%, which is more than what many political leaders will ever receive in a democratic state. What’s more impressive is that the Netherlands has a sizable number of republicans who, while they may oppose the institution of a monarchy, approve of Queen Beatrix personally. After all, for many people, she is the embodiment of the Dutch soul and she has managed to balance out the duties and expectations of a monarch with a modern, gregarious attitude that has made her the embodiment of the Dutch soul.

Probably the best tribute anyone can pay to this Queen who has managed to capture the hearts of a people who may not be the most pro-royalist people around comes from a survey which states that if the Netherlands were to become a republic, she would be the most popular choice to be president. And why not? She is highly educated, she is well qualified, she is respectable, she is charming and she is elegant. Whether one is Catholic or Protestant or Jew or Muslim, Caucasian or Surinamese, rich or poor, she was not just their queen in name, she was their queen in the heart and the soul.

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