Monday, February 4, 2013

The Dutch Royal House of Oranje-Nassau

Queen Beatrix Of The Netherlands Announces Her Abdication
Queen Beatrix

I was introduced to some basic Dutch history on the 'inburgeringscursus' (the Dutch citizenship course). But the news that Queen Beatrix will abdicate on Queen's Day - 30th April 2013 - made me curious to find out more. Having employed my best internet research techniques, I'd like to share my slightly improved understanding of the history of the Dutch royal family, and its connections with England - namely William of Orange.

Even though there has only been a monarchy in the Netherlands since 1815, the House of Oranje-Nassau (or Orange-Nassau) has played a central role in the governance and rule of the country since the 16th century. The dynasty was a result of the marriage between Hendrik III of Nassau-Breda from Germany and Claudia of Chalon-Orange from Burgundy, France in 1515. The most significant member of the family in relation to the history of the Netherlands was William I of Orange (also known as William the Silent - this was his style in negotiations) who rose to political power at the end of the 1500s with the aim of removing the Spanish occupiers from the Netherlands with what became the Eighty Years War. 

At this point the country was not a kingdom. It became the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1579, a union of provinces, each ruled by a 'stadthouder' and often one of these ruled the whole group. In 1648 the Eighty Years War ended and Spain finally acknowledged the existence of the independent Dutch republic. Members of the Oranje-Nassau family maintained the status of the ruling stadthouder throughout most of this period of Dutch history until the kingdom was formed later (1815).

William of Orange
It was stadthouder William III, who married his cousin Mary Stuart (daughter of James II of England)  in 1677, who is connected to British and Irish history, and inspires the Orange marches in Northern Ireland today. With the help of a Dutch fleet and the support of the anti-catholic English establishment, the protestant William overthrew the catholic King James II, and became King William III of England in 1689. (It was a coincidence that he was the third William in England as well as the Netherlands.)

As a protestant William III was involved in several wars against the powerful catholic king of France, Louis XIV, and many protestants considered him a champion of their faith. In terms of Ireland, the significant event for William was the Battle of Boyne in 1690. The deposed catholic King James battled protestant William in an attempt to regain his crown (for Ireland as well as England and Scotland). The battle across the River Boyne on the east coast of Ireland was won by William, marking the defeat of James' in relation to the crown, while helping to ensure the continuation of protestant ascendancy in Ireland. 

Back in the Netherlands
William III died in 1702 without children resulting in a short break in the line of Dutch stadthouders. In 1747 Fresian stadthouder Willem Friso, a descendent of William of Orange, was appointed stadthouder of Holland, when a period of inheritance for the House of Orange began, but this was broken again when France occupied the Netherlands in 1795.

In 1815, after the French occupation, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established. The first head of state was William I, the son of William V (the numbering of the Williams went back to the beginning again as they were now kings). Initially the monarchy was absolute, meaning the king had ultimate power and was head of state as well as head of the government. William I pushed through many changes that set the nation on the course towards industrialization and wealth. This regal power and influence continued  until the end of the reign of William III in 1890, although it slowly declined.

Queen Wilhelmina was crowned in 1890, and though she tried to reassert authority, she was generally unsuccessful and in the end introduced a new concept to the Dutch monarchy instead - the popular monarch. She received nationwide support from the nation during the Second World War. She fled to London, refusing evacuation to Canada, and sent encouragement to her people through radio broadcasts into the occupied Netherlands.

After Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948, she was followed by her daughter Queen Juliana whose style was different style to her mother's. She gained popularity with the people for the 'neighbour and housewife' air about her. She was more homey and down-to-earth, even regularly seen riding her bike.

Then in 1980 Queen Juliana abdicated to make way for her daughter, Queen Beatrix. The monarchy now has few real powers and only countersign official documents as a formality.

The Dutch monarchy is unusual in that it has an above average amount of abdications, and Queen Beatrix has continued the trend. When she abdicates on 30 April her son Willem-Alexander will become king. The process and ceremony is relatively simple. On 30 April Beatrix will abdicate by simply signing a document, and at this point Willem-Alexander automatically becomes king. He will then be inaugurated in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, in a secular rather than religious ceremony.

Queen's Day (Koninginnedag)
This year will be the last Queen's Day to be celebrated on 30 April - and there seem to be plans to make it a special one. Traditionally this is a Dutch national holiday that celebrates the queen's birthday (in a very orange way). With a new king it will change in 2014 to Koningsdag (King's Day) and the date will become Willem-Alexander's birthday - 27 April. The first King's Day will be held on 26 April though, because his birthday falls on a Sunday.

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