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Holland Park Press

A Roman Catholic Queen

6 February 2013 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Last week even dyed-in-the-wool republicans joined the chorus of approval for Queen Beatrix and pledged their trust to Willem-Alexander (the Dutch Crown Prince). ‘And to Máxima (his wife),’ they added quickly.

In the past few days Her Majesty couldn’t put a foot wrong. It was just a ‘coincidence’ that she announced her abdication on the birthday of Jorge Zorreguieta, the controversial father of Máxima. At the same time people maintained that Her Majesty is meticulous in her preparation. Well, it’s one or the other.

It’s a shame that Prince Bernhard is no longer alive. His pronunciation of ‘Jorge’ was wonderful: with a heavy German accent. Besides, at one point he had a son-in-law called Jorge and he was a friend of Jorge Zorreguieta, so he had plenty of practice.

Was Queen Beatrix really that popular during her reign? She never hit the top spot in the opinion polls. Her mother, Juliana, was the most popular royal during her lifetime. Later Máxima took over the number 1 spot. It’s only now, just before her abdication, that Queen Beatrix finally edges in to become the number 1 royal. This is primarily due to her role as a mother and grandmother.

Since the foundation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1813, there has been a tradition of the king abdicating. King Willem I moved to Berlin with a Roman Catholic countess to enjoy his retirement. Likewise, Queens Wilhelmina and Juliana abdicated and reverted to the title of princess. It’s not yet clear which title Queen Beatrix will adopt: princess or queen mother. I think she’ll go for the latter.

After the Queen had addressed the nation the people didn’t go to the palace gates in droves to thank her. There were no flowers attached to railings, no cheering or flag waving, just a few journalists in the drizzle. ‘I expect it will get a bit busier later on,’ said a shivering news reporter.

The Queen is very much respected, and she has barely put a foot wrong, but she’s not tremendously well liked, and repeatedly showing live pictures of the palace gates doesn’t change that. Someone remarked, ‘I had to walk my dog, so I thought: let’s check out the neighbours.’ In the end they had to fall back on interviewing people in an electronics shop in Arnhem.

The new Dutch queen is a Roman Catholic, because Máxima hasn’t renounced her religion. In the end, the royal family also represents the Roman Catholic section of the population – something that truly delights my 88-year-old mother and my 86-year-old aunt, who still remember how in their youth Roman Catholic emancipation took flight after centuries of discrimination.

In contrast to the English kings, Dutch kings are not crowned; instead they are inaugurated by both chambers of parliament after the king has put his name on the dotted line in the Palace on the Dam. So there is no secret ritual performed in the presence of a senior member of the church, possibly hidden by a tent. The Dutch crown is a gift not of God but of the people, which is actually quite republican.

Máxima and Willem-Alexander apparently complement each other, even in the literal sense. During joint interviews Máxima often utters the first and final words, while all the time she keeps a watchful eye on Willem-Alexander.

Last week she was the first to comment on Beatrix’s abdication: it was an honour to succeed her mother-in-law. Well, that’s not quite right, but we know what she means.

Willem-Alexander put things right a couple of days later when he responded: ‘It’s an honour to succeed my mother.’ Without meaning to, he only drew more attention to Máxima’s gaffe.

Willem-Alexander will not reign as King Willem IV but rather as King Willem-Alexander, breaking with the tradition of naming himself after the Dutch founding father, Willem of Orange. Besides, he has the support of a popular, exuberant, Roman Catholic queen. The Dutch royal family is no longer Calvinistic but flamboyant. Long live the Queen!

Yet power is transient: before you know it your remains, like those of Richard III, are being dug up from under the tarmac of a municipal car park.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
arnold jansen op de haar

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