PrevIndexNext
NL Guides

The Dutch Royal Family

The House of Orange-Nassau, the Dutch Royal Family

...[Willem-Alexander] comes across as a friendly figure with a quick smile and a readiness to enjoy life

This ancient Germanic royal family lineage can be traced back to the 13th century. Its most significant member, as far as the history of the Netherlands is concerned, was William the Silent, the Prince of Orange, who rose to political power at the end of the 16th century with the object of removing the Spanish occupiers. His efforts led to the establishment of an independent Dutch State after the Eighty Years War (1568-1648).

Recent past—abdication of Beatrix for Willem-Alexander

Queen Beatrix came to the throne in 1980 after the abdication of her mother, Queen Juliana. Beatrix carried out her stately duties in a professional manner but never missed out on the chance of a friendly talk with bystanders during walkabouts. In tune with public thought, she was quick to speed to the scenes of often horrific disasters, such as the Bijlmer plane crash in Amsterdam in 1992 or the huge fireworks factory explosion in Enschede in 2000. She always seemed genuinely shocked at such scenes and would take the time to comfort relatives and survivors personally.

Perhaps some of this humanity was born out of her experience of personal tragedy and controversy within her own family. As a young woman in 1966, she chose to marry a German diplomat, Claus van Amsberg, who had once been a member of the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht. The union was seen as an insult to the Dutch by those who had survived the horrific German occupation during WW2. A specially formed government commission eventually declared that the marriage could go ahead, and Claus, despite poor mental and physical health, supported Beatrix fully in all that she did and ended up being held in real affection by the Dutch people. He died in 2002 after a long period of illness. In her abdication speech in 2013, Beatrix movingly remarked that Claus was 'the best choice she had ever made'.

Mother of three sons — Willem-Alexander b.1967, Johan-Friso b.1968 and Constantijn b.1969 — she as good as lost Johan-Friso, who went into a coma after being caught up in an avalanche in 2012 in the Austrian resort of Lech, where the family go every year. Johan-Friso lies in a coma in a hospital bed in London but is not expected to regain consciousness. It has been speculated that this tragedy made Beatrix decide to abdicate sooner rather than later.

In January 2013, Beatrix announced that she would relinquish the throne in favour of her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, who was 'inaugurated' (the Dutch don’t 'do' coronations any more) on Beatrix’s last Queen’s Day, 30 April 2013. His wife, Máxima, is queen - but only as a consort; she could never accede to the throne even if Willem-Alexander died. In her abdication speech Beatrix was at pains to point out that she was not stepping down as a result of infirmity or old age (she was soon to turn 75). She simply felt it was time for the next generation to take over, and Willem-Alexander was, in her eyes, ready for the task.

As far as her offical royal status is concerned, Beatrix is now referred to by the title she had before becoming queen: 'Princess Beatrix'.

Willem-Alexander—the current monarch

King Willem-Alexander was born in 1967 and graduated from Leiden University with an academic degree. He also received an education specifically designed to prepare him for the throne and diplomacy in general. Despite this rather formal education, he comes across as a friendly figure with a quick smile and a readiness to enjoy life. At University, he was known in his fraternity as 'Prince Pils' due to his taste for beer. Unfortunately, he would discover (like his grandmother, Juliana) that a kindly character alone cannot prevent scandal. His love of sport led to his being elected to the International Olympic Committee in 1998, a move strongly condemned by many Dutch social commentators, as it could potentially have brought his political neutrality into doubt. He survived the storm, however, and was re-elected in 2007 for a futher eight years before resigning upon the announcement of Beatrix’s abdication. Willem-Alexander’s dedication to the cause of sports has never been in doubt and he was most famously seen enthusiastically cheering on the Dutch football team when Holland co-hosted the European Championships in 2000. He has also regularly been spotted at various other international (olympic) sports events cheering on and even chatting with the members of the Dutch teams.

In his personal life too, he has courted controversy. When he announced his engagement in 2002 to Argentinian investment banker Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, the Dutch media indignantly printed stories about her father, who had been Argentinian Minister of Agriculture during the years of a violent junta reputed to have killed as many as 30,000 during their time in power. As with Beatrix’s husband Claus, the Dutch government asked a specially appointed commission to look into the matter. They concluded that Máxima’s father had not been guilty of any excesses and the marriage was officially approved. As a concession to public opinion, Máxima’s father agreed not to attend the wedding ceremony in Holland.

On his inauguration, the new King gave notice of his intention to invest the monarchy with his own personal stamp by calling for an unscheduled stop during a celebratory boat cruise along the river IJ in Amsterdam. He wanted to thank, in person, top Dutch DJ Armin van Buren and the Royal Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra for their joint celebratory concert at the Ziggodome, a concert the king himself had helped arrange, and despite worried looks on the faces of his security team had Máxima and the children accompany him as they shook hands with various musicians.

He has also made it known that he does not require to be addressed as 'your majesty', leaving the manner of address entirely up to the individual concerned. Furthermore, he decided his title would simply be 'King Willem-Alexander' rather than the perhaps more logical Willem IV (his great-grandfather was Willem III), adding that he had always been Willem-Alexander, and 'not just a number'. The queen, Máxima, echoed his informal approach, saying that she had always publicly been known as just 'Máxima', and that’s the way it would remain.

Willem-Alexander and Máxima have three children of their own, all daughters: Catharina-Amalia (b.2003, the crown princess), Alexia (b.2005) and Ariane (b.2007). The family lives in Wassenaar, near the Hague, and the royal couple appear to have done all they can to protect their daughters from media attention and baying packs of paperazzi. With three beautiful daughters, an exotic wife and the Dutch crown, he seems to represent the perfect nuclear family the Dutch public perhaps subconsciously covet. As for his royal duties, he can always call on the ready advice of his mother, a fact immediately illustrated as the family made the traditional post-inauguration appearance at a balcony of the Palace on the Dam in Amsterdam. The new king, his queen and their children were all looking out hesitantly over the massed crowds beneath when their mother was heard through a nearby microphone telling them all to 'give a bit of a wave'!

The Princess of Orange—Amalia

Catharina-Amalia Beatrix Carmen Victoria, Princess of The Netherlands, Princess of Orange (to give her her full title) was born in 2003 and has enjoyed as 'normal' a Dutch childhood as her parents could arrange for her in the full glare of publicity. The family promised to appear for occasional photo-shoots in exchange for an agreement with the press that they would not try to photograph the children outside of these events.

Princess Catharina-Amalia lives with her parents and younger sisters Alexia and Ariane in Wassenaar, in the Eikenhorst building on the Horsten estate. There she goes to the public Bloemcamp school. In her free time, she enjoys hockey, judo, ballet, horse-riding and playing the violin.

Now the first in line to the throne, she will maintain this position even if the king and queen should ever have a male child at some point in the future. The law in Holland now states that the throne must pass to the first-born, whether boy or girl. It remains to be seen how Amalia will bear up to the pressure of her position in the future but she does already have a bit of wilful look about her...