The Queen of the Netherlands announced last night that she was abdicating in favour of her son and heir after 33 years on the throne.
In a broadcast on Dutch state television three days before her 75th birthday, Queen Beatrix said she was stepping down because she believed ‘the responsibility should now lie in the hands of a new generation’.
The new king, Willem-Alexander, the 45-year-old Prince of Orange, will take over as monarch on April 30. He will be the first male to accede to the Dutch throne since 1890. His mother has ruled the Netherlands since April 30, 1980.
The change will be interesting to royal watchers in this country, given that our Queen is 86 and last year celebrated her 60th anniversary on the throne.
In April 2011, Prince Charles became the longest-serving heir apparent in British history.
The previous record, of 59 years, two months and 13 days, was set by his great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII.
Charles, now 64, became heir apparent at the age of three when his mother acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952.
She is the second longest reigning British monarch behind Queen Victoria, who ruled for 63 years.
But the Queen has always made clear that she takes very seriously her coronation vow to devote ‘her whole life’ to her country and it has long been accepted that it is unlikely she will ever abdicate.
Queen Beatrix has close ties to our Queen and to Prince Charles.
In her televised address, Queen Beatrix said she had been thinking about abdicating for several years but now was the ‘moment to lay down my crown’.
She said: ‘I do not step down because the office is too heavy, but with the conviction that the responsibility should now lie in the hands of a new generation. I am grateful for the many years that I have been allowed to be your queen.’
She added that Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, her oldest son, would ‘serve our country with dedication, faithful to the constitution’.
Queen Beatrix, who wore a plain blue dress as she addressed her people, said that she is still in good health and that her role has given her ‘great satisfaction as I shared the sorrows and joys of you all’.
But there was speculation in the European media that the accident suffered by Prince Friso, 42, was the reason for her departure from the throne. Germany’s biggest newspaper, Bild, asked: ‘Has her son’s ski accident broken her heart?’
In March last year Prince Friso was buried in an avalanche in Austria. His brain was starved of oxygen and he has been in a coma ever since. He is being treated at a London hospital.
Willem-Alexander, who will be King William IV, is married to Maxima Zorreguieta, who was born a commoner in Argentina. Princess Maxima is the daughter of minister who served in the military junta in the late 1970s. They have three daughters, Amalia, nine, Alexia, seven, and Ariane, five.
Queen Beatrix became the Dutch monarch when her mother Queen Juliana, who reigned for 31 years, abdicated due to her age and deteriorating mental health.
The style of Queen Beatrix’s reign is characterised as more detached and ‘business-like’ than that of her mother. But Beatrix has been praised for being a stable factor in volatile Dutch politics.
She also had to undergo personal hardships. Her husband Claus died in 2002, her mother Juliana and father Bernhard died in 2004.
Photo: Beatrix and her husband Claus admire their newborn son, Prince Alexander, at their residence Castle Drakensteyn in Baarn, Netherlands
In 2009, Beatrix and her family were the target of an apparent attempt on their lives when a man tried to crash a car into their open-top bus during a parade. He killed seven people watching the parade.
Prince Charles admitted last November that he might be losing his chance to become ruler.
In remarkably candid comments, the Prince of Wales said: ‘I’ll run out of time soon. I shall have snuffed it if I’m not careful.’
David Cameron last year rejected any suggestion that the Queen might abdicate, or that the crown might skip a generation and go straight to Prince William.
Queen Beatrix life and reign
1938: Born in Baarn in the Netherlands as the first daughter to Crown Princess Juliana
1940: Flees to Canada with her mother following the outbreak of World War II, but returns five years later following German surrender.
1966: Marries German aristocrat Claus von Amsberg, a diplomat in the German foreign office.
1980: Ascends the throne following the abdication of her ailing mother, Queen Juliana.
2002: Her husband Prince Claus dies, followed by her mother in 2003 and her father in 2004.
2009: Witnesses the attack on a Queen's Day parade where eight people are killed after a man ploughs his car into a crowd.
2012: Second son Prince Johan Friso is left in a coma after being hit by an avalanche in Austria.