A New King

If you are hoping for an overdose of royal pomp, glittering ceremony and all the crowned heads of Europe at the investiture of King Willem-Alexander on April 30, you may well be disappointed.

The signs were ominous from the first. The very day Queen Beatrix announced her decision to step down on her mother’s birthday – Queen’s Day – prime minister Mark Rutte was quick to say the festivities would be sober, low key and within strict budgetary limits.

This, he said, was in line with the express wishes of Beatrix and her son. Beatrix even let it be known she did not want the traditional ‘gift from the nation’, because it would inappropriate in these difficult times. (As one of the richest women in the world, she could perhaps offer to foot part of the bill herself, but that is another issue.)

After the warnings about budgets came the flurry of assurances from palace officials informing the foreign press corps this will be no coronation. Yes, it will be attended by foreign government officials, ambassadors and members of other royal houses who are, says the state information service, ‘not reigning heads of state’. Some 500 commoners will also be invited to attend. But no crown will be placed on Willem-Alexander’s head and there will be no religious overtones.

Instead, King Willem-Alexander will be sworn in as the new official head of government, and his investiture will be a carried out in a ‘special meeting’ of the upper and lower houses of parliament – which will just happen to take place across the square from the Royal Palace in Amsterdam in the Nieuwe Kerk.

Although the crown (too heavy to wear), the orb and scepter, a copy of the constitution and other royal regalia will be placed on a cushion in front of him, they will remain there, untouched, throughout the ceremony. Willem-Alexander will, however, wear the traditional ermine robes first used by Willem II in 1840.

As regards the investiture itself, the new King will raise his right hand and swear he will be ‘faithful to the constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of his office’. And once he has said his bit, all 225 members of the Eerste and Tweede Kamers (first and second chambers) will do the same – one by one. Hardly riveting television.

At least we will be able to see them on the telly because they won’t be wearing big hats. Yes, big hats are out. Official instructions from parliament have apparently suggested small fascinators are acceptable but nothing large that hides the face. This is because we are supposed to be able to identify all those female senators and MPs as they swear their oath of allegiance.

No big hats, no crowns… the investiture is shaping up to be a traditionally Dutch event – pragmatic, well-organised and a little dull.

We should not, of course, forget the fact the Dutch monarchy is relatively young – founded in 1815 following the appointment of King Willem I. Since then we have had Willem II, Willem III, Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix. At least the new King is breaking with tradition and calling himself Willem-Alexander not Willem IV.

He is changing another tradition as well. From 2014, Queen’s Day will become King’s Day and be celebrated on April 27, Willem-Alexander’s birthday. Beatrix had left the date on her mother Juliana’s birthday because it is too cold to party on January 31.

Beatrix also got rid of the stuffy ‘file past’ at Soestdijk palace, where Juliana’s loyal subjects would queue up to pay their respects. Instead, Beatrix brought in the ‘meet and greet’ family visits, in which two towns are singled out for the royal walkabout and silly games. This year, Amstelveen and De Rijp had been chosen for the honour, but those events have now been cancelled. Next year they’ll get the King.

So, this year’s event will be the last Queen’s Day for some time – at least until Princess Amalia takes over from her dad.

When Beatrix was inaugurated in 1980, the event was marred by riots and tear gas. It was at the height of the squatting movement and the slogan used by the punks, anarchists and other protestors was ‘geen woning, geen kroning’ – ‘no home, no coronation’ – which shows they had not quite grasped the nuances of the ceremony itself. But then the official term ‘troonwisseling’ literally means change of thrones, which sounds more like a television fantasy series than the enactment of an important part of the Dutch constitution.

This time round, Amsterdam and palace officials will not be leaving anything to chance. Amsterdam’s Mayor Eberhard van der Laan has already hinted that parts of the city may be closed off to the general public. What he actually said was, the festivities would be as open as possible and he hoped he would not have to seal off parts of the city. But otherwise how are all those honoured guests – and that includes foreign royals, ambassadors and other dignitaries – going to get to the church on time? Will they have to fight their way through the drunken Queen’s Day crowds? Not very likely.

And as for the drinking, at press time the city council was poised to give Van der Laan sweeping rights to ban alcohol in parts of the city – to head off the threat of violence and public disorder. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the celebrations would be sober. Perhaps he meant it in more ways than one.

Whatever happens, after April 30, Queen’s Day will be changed forever and we’ll have to wait until Willem-Alexander has had enough of being King to get it back again. Amalia’s birthday is on December 7 – just two days after that other great Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas. Not exactly the right time of year for a street party either. Perhaps she’ll keep it on the same day as her dad.

Robin Pascoe
2013 Spring

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