AMSTERDAM - The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix says she will abdicate her throne in April to make way for her eldest son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander. Here are some questions and answers about the Netherlands' House of Orange and how it's a little different than, for instance, the British monarchy.
A DUTCH MONARCH CAN JUST UP AND QUIT?
Absolutely. Unlike in Britain, where Queen Elizabeth holds religious titles and seems to see it as her duty to rule until she is no longer able, the Dutch monarch is more or less a government job. The queen or king is the head of state and falls under the purview of the prime minister. Queen Beatrix is turning 75, and she's been in office for 33 years. There's really nothing in the way of her stepping down to enjoy her immense personal wealth and her hobbies, which include skiing and horseback riding.
WILL SHE BE MISSED?
There are a few republicans who want the monarchy abolished. But the large majority of Dutch — probably even most republicans — like the queen and think she has handled her job with grace. She has been part of Dutch lives for a generation, through national tragedies and triumphs. In casual conversation, people refer to her simply as "Bea." As former Prime Minister Wim Kok put it, when he heard the news she was stepping down: "I got goose bumps. You know it's coming, but still, it's the end of an era." Beatrix's abdication speech drew 7 million viewers out of a population of 16.8 million — close to the 8 million who watched the soccer World Cup final the Dutch lost in 2010.
WHO'S THE NEW KING?
That would be Crown Prince Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand. The Dutch informally call him "Wim-Lex," which is a step up from "Prince Pilsner," the nickname the tabloids gave him during his boozy university days.
Willem-Alexander's image improved as he became a family man with three young daughters and developed a career as a diplomat and water management expert. The prince's wife, Argentine investment banker Maxima Zorreguieta, is probably more popular than he is.
In line with the professional attitude of the Dutch monarchy, Willem-Alexander has served on various international water management boards, while soon-to-be Queen Maxima has been involved in promoting microfinance projects in developing countries.
WHAT'S HE GOT THAT I HAVEN'T GOT?
Apart from the wealth and titles he inherited by accident of birth, Willem-Alexander can: pilot jet planes, skate a 200-kilometre marathon along frozen canals in sub-zero weather conditions, and run the New York marathon. The 45-year-old has served on a U.N. advisory panel and been a member of the International Olympic Committee — a job he regretfully quit Tuesday because it could conflict with his kingly duties.
SO WHAT ARE THE BEST DUTCH ROYAL SCANDALS? WHAT DO THE TABLOIDS SAY?
Well, Beatrix's father, Prince Bernard, had his share. German-born, he served the Allies well in World War II, and is reputed to have flown combat missions. Later in life, he had extramarital affairs and got tangled up in bribery accusations.
YOU'RE TELLING ME YOU'VE GOT NOTHING ON BEATRIX OR WILLEM-ALEXANDER?
Well, nothing directly on Beatrix. Willem-Alexander once crashed a car. And he was criticized by some for running onto the field and celebrating along with the Dutch women's hockey team after they won the bronze medal at the Olympics in Atlanta, although others saw that as a good thing.
But the most serious scandals they faced arose from their marriages. That's not because the character of any spouse was in question, but rather because of his or her family background.
Beatrix's marriage to her husband Prince Claus was initially resisted by the Dutch public, with many residents upset about his service with the Nazi army in World War II and membership in the Hitler Youth. He served in Italy near the end of the fighting and was quickly taken prisoner. As royal consort, he eventually became popular for his quiet, modest and honest nature.
Princess Maxima's father, meanwhile, was Agriculture Minister in Argentina in the murderous Videla regime of the late 1970s. Out of diplomatic considerations, her family won't be attending when she is sworn in as queen and Willem Alexander is inaugurated as king on April 30.
"SWORN IN"? "INAUGURATED"? I THINK THE WORD YOU'RE LOOKING FOR IS "CROWNED."
Nope. Willem-Alexander won't be getting a crown placed on his head, or become overlord of all Dutch people. This goes back to the difference between the Dutch and British royal houses. The Dutch monarchy is not just more modern in viewing the kingship as more of a profession than a perhaps divinely ordained role, it's literally more modern. It was founded after the American Revolutionary War, and, more importantly in European terms, after the French Revolution. Dutch monarchs are inaugurated at a meeting of the upper and lower houses of the Dutch Parliament, where they promise to serve and uphold the country's constitution.
As a commoner, you are still supposed to address the monarch as "your highness," though, if you happen to bump into him or her at cocktail party. It's protocol.
WILL THERE BE A PARTY TO USHER IN THE CHANGES? AND WHO GETS TO GO?
Most definitely. And everyone.
April 30, Queens' Day, rivals New Year's Eve as the biggest bash of the year in the Netherlands. There hasn't been a king on the Dutch throne in more than 100 years, but this year's celebration will probably be the last Queens' Day until one of Willem-Alexander's daughters — presumably the oldest, Catharina-Amalia — someday replaces him.
But next year there will be a King's Day at around the same time.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said Queen Beatrix doesn't think it's appropriate that she receive a big going away gift or that an excessive amount of money be spent on the celebration, given that the Dutch economy is in a weak patch. But — this party being held in Amsterdam, which has a reputation to uphold — he said it wouldn't be a sober affair either, where all they serve is "a little glass of fruit juice."