Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard van Oranje Nassau. Since 1980 she’s been the queen and symbol of the Netherlands. As head of state, Queen Beatrix is elevated above all other institutions. It is her task to unite all Dutch citizens. “In accepting this office I have vowed to propagate respect for the nation.”
It wasn’t easy at first. Both her marriage in 1966 to the German Prince Claus so soon after the end of the Second World War and her swearing in as queen exactly 30 years ago this month caused an uproar that echoed far beyond the country’s borders.
‘No home, no throne’
On 30 April 1980 Beatrix took the oath as head of state in Amsterdam’s New Church, as angry squatters nearby chanted geen woning, geen kroning [literally: no home, no coronation – although the Netherlands does not, in fact, crown its monarchs]. It did nothing to change her conviction that she would approach her role as monarch in a different way to that of her predecessors.
From the start it was clear the new queen wanted to break with the ‘domesticity’ that had characterised the reign of her mother, Queen Juliana. Her approach was and is one of professionalism and competence, with a greater distance between monarch and people. Beatrix wanted to be addressed as ‘Majesty’ and not ‘ma’am’, as her mother preferred. She selected the best advisers on the basis of their expertise and not on the basis of friendly relations. The Queen’s Day parade past Soestdijk Palace – where Juliana lived - had become too folksy for her liking. She did away with it, and revived more dignified traditions.
The queen is closely involved in the substance of government. State visits are prepared in minute detail, and she likes to utter more than just the obvious pleasantries. Over the years this has earned her an excellent reputation as ambassador for the Netherlands.
More than her predecessors, Queen Beatrix has always kept strictly within constitutional boundaries. She has made an art of impartiality, and has never been caught expressing so much as a trace of the pacifism for which her mother was famous. Nevertheless, within her own boundaries she has introduced a number of significant innovations. For example, the hereditary monarchy has been fundamentally altered: men and women are now entirely equal in succession to the throne. Amalia, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, will remain the heir to the throne even if she one day has a brother.
The greatest innovation is that Queen Beatrix, renowned for maintaining tight control, loosened the reins when it comes to her three sons’ choice of spouse. Not one of them is married to a member of a foreign royal family. In fact, the family is becoming increasingly Dutch – between them Beatrix and her sister Princess Margriet have seven sons, and only one has a foreign wife. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander is married to Argentinian-born Máxima Zorreguieta. When the protestant prince takes the throne, Queen Máxima will sit beside him as a Roman Catholic ‘commoner’ – a sign that Beatrix is not dogmatic and has moved with the times.
With her professional approach and carefully nurtured distance between monarch and people, Beatrix has turned out to be an impeccable queen – so impeccable it’s almost dull. This is probably why people gloat over the occasional blots on her copybook that have come to light. And take such delight if for once the immaculate haircut becomes dishevelled, as happened in 1999 when the Queen went to express her sympathy with the victims of Hurricane Lenny in Curaçao.
When Beatrix does show her emotions, such as after the Enschede firework disaster of 2000 or the 2009 Queen’s Day attack, it’s greatly appreciated. Elevated she may be, but it’s when she occasionally shows her feelings that she is most successful in uniting her subjects.