Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Birthday Your Majesty


Born on this day in 1938 at Soestdijk Palace - to Dutch Crown Princess Juliana and Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld - the early life of Princess Beatrix was an uncertain one to say the least, born as she was under the threat of war; joined in the nursery a year later by Princess Irene, as infants the two princesses had to be spirited away out of the Netherlands ahead of an advancing Nazi horde...

They went first to London, where her grandmother Queen Wilhelmina stayed to manage the government-in-exile, and then to Ottawa, where the royal family lived in Stornoway, the official residence of that country's Leader of the Opposition. While in Canada the two sisters were joined by a third, Princess Margriet. Nowadays, each spring the Canadian capital still comes alive owing to millions of tulip bulbs donated by a grateful Dutch people.

The Royal Family returned to Holland in August 1945, and were shortly thereafter joined by yet another sister, Princess Christina, in 1947. Having reigned since November 1890, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in September 1948, making Juliana the Queen and ten-year-old Beatrix the heiress presumptive.

Beatrix was installed in the Council of State on this date in 1956, her 18th birthday, at which time she began to take on royal duties while pursuing her education at Leiden University, studying the usual mix of history and constitutional law. The education of Princess Beatrix coincided with the move towards independence of many of the Netherlands' overseas possessions, such as Indonesia and Suriname.

About the only controversial thing Beatrix has ever done was to fall in love with Claus von Amsberg, a German diplomat; their wedding day in March 1966 was marred by protests across the Netherlands, where memories of the recent war were still very much fresh. Their procession was picketed by the Provo, who were not content to chant 'Claus, raus!*' at them but also threw smoke bombs at their carriage. Not only was Beatrix given a test of her resolve that day, the country's well-known reputation for tolerance was tested as well; in both instances they passed with flying colours... Over time Prince Claus came to be a well-respected member of both the Royal Family and Dutch society.

Beatrix has seemed at times like a one-woman bulwark against republican sentiment in the tiny European kingdom, with only her personal popularity managing to preserve both the dignity and the reality of the crown. Following the abdication of her mother in April 1980 protests by squatters against the new queen's investiture turned violent, and led to an overhaul of the country's already massive social programs.

The mother of three princes - Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, Johan-Friso, and Constantijn - at the age of 73 Her Majesty shows no signs of slowing down, although given the precedent set by her mother and grandmother she may yet abdicate as a form of retirement. Widowed since the death of Prince Claus in October 2002, in addition to the affairs of state Queen Beatrix manages one of the largest personal fortunes in Europe, much of which takes the form of property and works of art held in trust for the nation.

*Meaning 'Claus, out!' in German; all things considered, rather a witty slogan.

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