LONDON – With an exchange of smiles and the flourish of a pen, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated the throne and her son Willem-Alexander took her place Tuesday to become the country’s first king in more than a century.
In a simple morning ceremony in Amsterdam’s royal palace, Beatrix, 75, signed the document that ended her 33-year reign. Willem-Alexander added his name a few seconds later. Mother and son then clutched hands and smiled, their status transformed.
Willem-Alexander, who turned 46 on Saturday, is the first male monarch to reign over the Netherlands since 1890, a 123-year span that has seen three women ascend to the throne and resign in turn in favor of the next generation.
Thousands of Dutch cheered in Amsterdam’s Dam square as now-Princess Beatrix, King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, appeared on the palace’s balcony less than half an hour after the official handover of power.
“Dearest mother, today you relinquished the throne (after) 33 moving and inspiring years,” Willem-Alexander told Beatrix as the crowds shouted in acclamation. “We are intensely, intensely grateful to you.”
Though historic, the change at the top was accompanied by far less pageantry and splendor than would be found at the same event in Britain, whose monarchy is a much more ancient and ritual-laden institution.
As king, Willem-Alexander is the country’s head of state. The post is largely ceremonial; the prime minister remains the country’s political leader in the Netherlands’ parliamentary democracy.
On the balcony, the new king and his wife were eventually joined by their three children. All are daughters, meaning that once Willem-Alexander’s reign is over, the Netherlands is virtually guaranteed to have a female monarch once again.