THE NETHERLANDS

Hard work, modern image endeared Queen Beatrix to suspicious nation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 5:30am
AFP

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The Netherlands' Queen Beatrix, who on Monday announced she would abdicate in favour of Crown Prince Willem Alexander in April, won over her subjects by giving the monarchy a modern, hard-working image.

Stepping into the shoes of her much loved mother, Juliana, in 1980 at the age of 42, Beatrix quickly set out to make her mark on the country she was destined to rule by birth. Contrary to her mother's unobtrusive style of rule, Beatrix refused to be relegated to ribbon-cutting; she changed the mode of address from "madam" to "majesty" and turned one of the royal homes in The Hague, the seat of government, into a working palace.

Here she received heads of state in her affable though formal manner and met weekly with her prime minister to discuss matters of government, earning the nickname "chief executive officer of the Netherlands".

The queen, who turns 75 tomorrow, said in an address to the nation that her birthday and the 200th anniversary of the monarchy in 2013 "were the reason for me to step down" in favour of the eldest of her three sons. "I'm not standing down because public service is too heavy for me, but because of the belief that responsibility for our country should be in the hands of a new generation," she said. "This seems a good moment to take this step."

Prime Minister Mark Rutte spoke of "a queen in the heart of the community … She has always done her utmost for Dutch society, being visible and with enormous energy," he said. "She has grown into a Dutch icon."

Born on January 31, 1938, as the first child of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhardt, Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard, princess of Orange-Nassau, lived with her family in exile in Britain and Canada during the second world war.

After completing her law studies, she married West German diplomat Claus von Amsberg in March 1966, prompting violent demonstrations against the future queen's union with someone who had worn a Hitler Youth uniform as a boy.

Riots also preceded Beatrix's coronation on April 30, 1980, following her mother's surprise abdication. But a humble approach soon started winning over her calvinist subjects.

An opinion poll in April 2009 found 85 per cent of Dutch citizens felt Beatrix was performing well as head of state.

A spate of misfortunes was met with public sympathy. Last year her middle son, Friso, was left brain-damaged by an avalanche. Husband Prince Claus died in 2002, followed by her mother and then father in 2004.