THE Netherlands celebrated the swearing in of its first king in more than a century yesterday as he pledged to use his ceremonial position as head of state to steer his country through uncertain economic times.
• Willem-Alexander becomes the first Dutch king for over 100 years as Queen Beatrix abdicates throne
• Popular monarch ended 33-year reign by signing abdication act in Amsterdam’s Royal Palace
King Willem-Alexander, 46, was invested amid pageantry and heightened expectations as the nation of 17 million people struggles through a prolonged recession.
His investiture marks a generational change in the House of Orange-Nassau, after Queen Beatrix, 75, decided to abdicate and end her 33-year reign. She appeared tearful as she rang the changes in a televised signing ceremony which drew thousands of orange-clad admirers to the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.
Just over four hours later, King Willem-Alexander, wearing a fur-trimmed mantle, swore an oath of allegiance to his country and its constitution in the historic New Church. The ceremony was attended by royal guests from 18 countries, including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
In a speech, Europe’s youngest monarch underscored the ceremonial nature of monarchy in a free society but also the symbolic and economic value a king can deliver on state visits aimed at drumming up trade.
“I will proudly represent the kingdom and help discover new opportunities,” he said.
The investiture ceremony was the final formal act on a day of high emotion within the House of Orange-Nassau and was to be followed by an evening boat tour around the historic Amsterdam waterfront.
The new king gripped his mother’s hand and looked briefly into her eyes after they both signed the abdication document in the Royal Palace on central Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
Beatrix brimmed with emotion as she then appeared on a balcony decked out with tulips, roses and oranges, overlooking 25,000 of her subjects.
“I am happy and grateful to introduce to you your new king, Willem-Alexander,” she told the cheering crowd, which chanted: “Bea bedankt [Thanks Bea]”.
Moments later she left the balcony and King Willem-Alexander, his wife and three daughters waved to the crowd.
“Dear mother, today you relinquished the throne. Thirty-three moving and inspiring years. We are intensely, intensely grateful to you,” the new king said.
The former queen becomes Princess Beatrix and her son becomes the first Dutch king since Willem III in 1890.
The new king’s popular Argentine-born wife became Queen Maxima and their eldest of three daughters, Catharina-Amalia, became Princess of Orange and first in line to the throne.
Willem-Alexander has said he wants to be a 21st century king who unites his people; not a “protocol fetishist,” but a king who puts his people at ease. He will do so as unemployment is rising. European Union figures show Dutch unemployment continuing to rise but it is still well below the EU average.
“I am taking the job at a time when many in the kingdom feel vulnerable and uncertain,” said Willem-Alexander. “Vulnerable in their work or health. Uncertain about their income or home environment.”
Amsterdam resident Inge Bosman, 38, said she doubted Willem-Alexander’s investiture would give the country much of an employment boost.
“Well, at least one person got a new job,” she said.
Els Nederstigt, 38, said she got up at 5:30am to travel to Amsterdam and sat on a camping stool close to the Royal Palace wearing an orange cowboy hat and tiara.
“It’s a special moment. I was a very small girl when Beatrix came to the throne so this is the first change in the monarchy I can really experience,” she said. “We were here when Willem-Alexander and Maxima got married and what you remember is that you were there – you forget how early you had to get up and how tired you were.”
The square was overwhelmingly orange, but one blue and white Argentine flag being held up in front of the palace was emblazoned with the Dutch text: “Netherlands thanks for loving and having faith in Maxima.”
Security was tight with thousands of police and an untold number of civil servants assisting in the logistics.
Police arrested two protesters on Dam Square – one wearing a white shirt indicating he was a republican – shortly after the abdication for not following officers’ orders to leave. Amsterdam police released both without charge shortly afterward.