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Beatrix: a queen who transformed Dutch royalty


THE HAGUE, April 26, 2013 (AFP) - The Netherlands' energetic Queen Beatrix, who on Tuesday will abdicate in favour of her son Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, has won many Dutch hearts in her almost 33 years on the throne by giving the monarchy a modern, hard-working image.

Stepping into the shoes of her much-loved mother Juliana in 1980 at the age of 42, Beatrix quickly set out to make her mark on the country she was destined to rule by birth.

Contrary to her mother's unobtrusive style of rule, Beatrix refused to be relegated to ribbon-cutting, changing the mode of address from "madam" to "majesty" and transforming one of the royal palaces in The Hague, the seat of government, into a working palace.

Here she received heads of state in her affable though formal manner and met weekly with successive prime ministers to discuss matters of government, earning the nickname "chief executive officer of the Netherlands".

She also signed laws and played an important role in Dutch politics by appointing a so-called "formateur", who explores possibilities for coalition government after general elections.

Last year's polls in which Prime Minister Mark Rutte was elected to head government for a second term marked the first time she was not actively involved in the formateur's appointment.

Born on January 31, 1938 as the first child of queen Juliana and prince Bernhardt, Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard, princess of Orange-Nassau, lived with her family in exile in Britain and Canada during World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands.

After completing her law studies, she married West German diplomat Claus von Amsberg in March 1966 -- prompting violent demonstrations against the future queen's union with someone who had worn a Hitler Youth uniform as a boy.

Riots also preceded Beatrix's coronation on April 30, 1980 following her mother's surprise abdication after a 31-year reign, when Amsterdam squatters protested the high cost of the ceremony.

But the new queen's humble approach soon started winning over her subjects.

"Not power, personal desire nor a claim to hereditary power but only the desire to serve the community can give substance to a modern monarchy," she said in her enthronement speech.

Known colloquially as "Trix", the 75-year-old queen radiates a bourgeois allure in her immaculately pressed, practical dresses and suits and a stiff helmet hairdo that a staggering collection of hats cannot tease out of place.

"Only perfection was good enough for her. She worked very systematically, high in the sky like a bird of prey, no detail on the ground escaped her," former prime minister Dries van Agt said of the queen.

"The (royal) court is really run like a business," according to historian and court advisor Henk Wesseling.

A former servant said: "She can get pretty angry when things around her go wrong or if she is confronted with unexpected situations. Under all circumstances she wants to be in control of the situation."

American magazine Forbes in 2011 listed Beatrix as the world's 14th-wealthiest royal, with an estimated net worth of $200 million (150 million euros).

She has three sons, the oldest of whom, Willem-Alexander, is succeeding her as monarch.

Never a slave to opinion polls

A spate of misfortunes in the later years of her career was met with an outpouring of sympathy from her subjects.

The latest tragedy struck last year when her middle son, Friso, was left brain-damaged after being buried by an avalanche while skiing off-piste in Austria.

Her husband, prince Claus, died at the age of 76 in 2002, followed by her mother and then her father in 2004.

And on Queen's Day, April 30, 2009, the nation was plunged into shock when a man ploughed his car into festivalgoers in the central city of Apeldoorn, narrowly missing an open bus transporting Beatrix and members of her family.

Seven bystanders were killed in what the driver confessed was an attack on the royal family.

In an emotional, televised address to the nation shortly afterwards, Beatrix spoke of her "deep shock".

Opinion polls in the following days said support for the queen had risen sharply, with 43 percent saying she should stay on the throne -- up from 27 percent before the attack.

Beatrix, however, has never been a slave to polls.

"I find popularity dangerous... superficial and temporary," she once said in an interview with Dutch public television.

Speculation rose over an abdication when in 2006 renovations were announced at Beatrix's distinctive octagonal-shaped Drankensteyn castle, where she will move later this year.


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