Willem-Alexander yesterday became the first king of the Netherlands since 1890, ascending a throne largely stripped of political power, but still invested with enormous symbolic significance for the Dutch people.
Blinking back tears, former Queen Beatrix stepped out onto the balcony of the Royal Palace and presented her son to crowds of orange-clad well-wishers who had gathered in Dam Square from early yesterday.
“Some moments ago I abdicated from the throne. I am happy and thankful to present to you your new king,” said Beatrix, 75, who retired after 33 years in the role, following in the tradition of her mother and grandmother.
She now takes the title princess.
An estimated 25,000 people massed in the square — many dressed in the color of the House of Orange or wearing orange wigs, hats, feather boas and pretend crowns — cheering as the abdication and automatic succession were broadcast live.
Wearing a sober purple dress, Beatrix signed the abdication document in front of the Dutch Cabinet, Willem-Alexander, 46, and his wife, Maxima, a former investment banker from Argentina.
The investiture ceremonies have provided a welcome excuse to celebrate at a time when plummeting house prices, rising unemployment and slumping consumer confidence have pushed the country into recession.
April 30, or Queen’s Day, has always been an occasion for partying, and Amsterdam has been awash with orange for days. Houses were covered in bunting and flags, and shop windows were stuffed with orange cakes, sweets, clothes and flowers.
Many people took Monday off work and started celebrating in earnest from Monday evening. Nearly a million people were expected to join the street party with dancing to bands and DJs, helping create a carnival atmosphere.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at the weekend the celebrations would lift the mood of the nation and might even have a positive economic impact.
The government has promised to keep the cost of the pageantry down — the ceremonies will cost about 12 million euros (US$15.7 million), excluding the bill for the extensive security measures.
Like their counterparts in Britain and Sweden, the Dutch royals are broadly popular; 78 percent of Dutch are in favor of the monarchy, up from 74 percent a year ago, according to an Ipsos poll.
The couple are expected to bring a less formal touch to the monarchy. Willem-Alexander is a water management specialist, a useful expertise in a country where much of the land is below sea level, and Maxima campaigns for the poor to have better access to financial services.
The throne was stripped of its political influence by an act of parliament last year, and the monarch no longer appoints the mediator who conducts exploratory talks when forming government coalitions.
Britain’s Prince Charles and Japan’s Crown Princess Masako, who is making her first foreign trip since falling ill a decade ago, were among 2,000 visitors at the official investiture ceremony in the 600-year-old Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, yesterday afternoon.
There, the king swore an oath to uphold the Dutch constitution before lawmakers.
The Dutch monarch is not crowned, since, in the absence of a state church, there is no cleric available to carry out the coronation.