ONE of Europe’s longest-serving monarchs, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, is to abdicate after 33 years on 30 April.
She will make way for her eldest son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become the nation’s first king in more than a century.
Her announcement to the Dutch people came nine months after another son, Johan Friso, slipped into a coma after a skiing accident.
Observers said concerns for his fragile health had led to her decision, although her broadcast to the nation three days before her 75th birthday did not admit as much.
“It was not because the office was too heavy for me, but because the responsibility for this country should lie in the hands of a new generation,” she said in her speech. “It is a good time to take this step, which I have considered for a few years now.”
Every TV and radio outlet in the Netherlands carried her abdication speech, during which she sat in a plain blue dress.
“I am grateful for the many years that I have been allowed to be your queen,” she said, adding that she was still in good health and that her role had given her “great satisfaction as I shared the sorrows and joys of you all”.
After her address, prime minister Mark Rutte expressed his respect and admiration for the queen. He recalled her role in helping the victims of disasters, such as a fatal fire at a firework factory three years ago.
“She is an icon of the Netherlands,” he said.
Queen Beatrix, who had close ties to the Queen and Prince Charles, became Dutch monarch when her own mother, Queen Juliana, who reigned for 31 years, abdicated due to her age and deteriorating mental health.
Before she spoke to the nation, there had already been reports that the accident suffered by Prince Friso, 42, was the reason for her decision to abdicate. “Has her son’s ski accident broken her heart?,” asked Bild, Germany’s biggest newspaper. “It would seem so.”
Prince Friso was caught in an avalanche in Austria in March last year. His brain was starved of oxygen and he has been in a coma ever since.
Neurological tests showed he suffered massive brain damage due to a lack of oxygen after being buried.
It remains unclear whether he will ever regain consciousness and come out of his deeply comatose state. Even if he does, he could be in a permanent vegetative state.
The skiing tragedy came three years after a would-be royal assassin killed eight people when he drove his car into crowds watching the queen and other members of the royal family who were taking part in a national holiday parade.
Willem-Alexander is married to Máxima Zorreguieta, the daughter of a former minister of Argentine military dictator Jorge Videla.
Our Queen will never give up her throne
Last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations brought a flood of speculation that Queen Elizabeth could be about to abdicate in favour of the Prince of Wales, below.
However, historians and those who know her well were quick to deny the possibility she would consider such an option.
She may be 12 years older than Beatrix, but Elizabeth, who came to the throne at 25, has made it clear she considers hers to be a job for life.
Her uncle Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson in 1936 – the first time in history the Crown had been surrendered voluntarily.
In all other cases, abdications have been forced. But all royal abdications have to be effected by an act of parliament.
Richard II was forced to abdicate after the power was seized by his cousin while he was abroad. During the Glorious Revolution of 1688, James VII and II fled to France, dropping the Great Seal of the Realm into the Thames. It was decided by parliament that he had abdicated. Earlier, Mary, Queen of Scots, had been forced to abdicate her throne in favour of her son James VI – later James I of England.
A friend of the Queen has said she would never abdicate voluntarily. “The promise she made before God to dedicate her life to her country and to her people all those years ago is one that she takes as seriously today.
“As far as she is concerned, that has been it. And that will be it, for the rest of her life.”