It’s been a momentous day here in the small country of The Netherlands. This morning, at 10:10, Queen Beatrix signed the document that confirmed that she has abdicated in favour of her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, who has now become King. The first Dutch King since the 19th Century.
This signing took place in the Dam Palace, which started out life as the Amsterdam City Hall in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century.
Now, I’m no monarchist, but I was moved by the day’s events. Right from the moment that Queen Beatrix announced she welcomed everyone to the ceremony, and the roar of approval from the crowd outside in the Dam Square brought a smile to her face as she realised that the Dutch people were watching and supporting this move.
Not that Beatrix has been a bad Queen. Far from it. She has become beloved by us in a way that could only have been dreamed of when she became Queen in 1980. Then, there were protests and smoke bombs in the Dam.
Following the signing of the Abdication document, this afternoon was the inauguration of the new King. I found it almost astonishing.
I grew up in the United Kingdom, where the British Monarchy is seen as something established by God. There is a Coronation, where the crown is placed on the head of the new monarch by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Religion and Monarchy are completely intertwined.
In stark contrast, here in The Netherlands, the Monarch is not crowned. Instead, King Willem-Alexander was inaugurated in a ceremony that involved the State – not the Church.
The King pledged his allegiance to the democratic process, and affirmed his responsibilities to the citizens. He made a good, and thoughtful speech, honouring the service of his mother, and promising that he would do his best for the Dutch citizens and the State. In return, the State, in the form of the members of the Dutch parliament, signalled their assent to his assumption of the role of king. And they did that individually – each standing when their name was called, and either swearing by God, or a simple “I promise”. It was interesting to see how many members did not invoke God. Another indication of how secular the Netherlands is, and how the United Kingdom still is not.
King Willem-Alexander pledged his allegiance in front of symbols of the State – the books of the Law of the Land – as well as symbols of his own status, the crown, sceptre and orb. He also had five representatives of the Dutch people present to bear witness, and to bear symbols of the importance of the citizen to Dutch society. They were his “Koningwapenen”, or Kings of Arms. One of them was André Kuipers, Dutch physician and astronaut.
As I say, I was moved. The importance of ritual to humans is unmissable, and touches something deep within us.
I wish Willem-Alexander, and his very impressive wife, Máxima, all the best in their new roles as King and Queen of the Netherlands. I think that they will both do well.