After more than 100 years of rule by female heads of state, the Netherlands is set to have a king on its throne once again.
Queen Beatrix announced during a pre-recorded television speech broadcast tonight that she will abdicate on April 30 and will be succeeded by her son Willem-Alexander. The crown prince will become the first king of The Netherlands in more than 100 years.
“I am deeply thankful for the trust that you have given me in the many beautiful years that I was allowed to be your queen,” Beatrix said in the speech, given at 7 p.m. local time and lasting less than three minutes.
She called it “an exceptional privilege” to have been monarch. She alluded to the “great support” that her late husband, Prince Consort Claus, had been to her. The prince consort died in 2002.
Beatrix will be succeeded by her son, Willem-Alexander, who will be the first king of the Netherlands since 1890. Since King William III died that year, there have been four queens: Emma (as queen regent while Wilhemina was underage), Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix. While the husbands of the latter three were "prince consorts," Willem-Alexander's wife, Argentina-born Máxima Zorreguieta, will hold the title of queen.
Beatrix follows in a tradition established by Wilhelmina, her grandmother, who abdicated in 1948 to make way for Juliana, Beatrix's mother, to take the throne. Juliana in turn abdicated to Beatrix, who assumed office as queen of the kingdom of the Netherlands on April 30, 1980. That day was her predecessor Juliana's birthday, and a national holiday celebrated by Dutch citizens, who mostly dressed in orange.
From 2014 on, the holiday will be called Kingsday and will instead be celebrated on April 27, Willem-Alexander's birthday.
The announcement is a major news event in the Netherlands. Thirty minutes after the speech, all ten domestic "trending topics" on Twitter were related to the news.
In her speech tonight, Beatrix said that she had already been considering stepping down “for a few years.” But she stressed that she is not abdicating because the job is too tough, but because it is time for “a new generation” to take over.
The queen has recently had difficult times in her personal life. Her son Johan-Friso has been in a coma since a skiing accident in Austria in February last year. And in 2009, a man drove into a crowd of people in the city Apeldoorn during a public appearance by Beatrix. The driver killed seven people in what appeared to be an attempt on Beatrix's life. The driver was also killed in the attack, so his motive has never been completely uncovered.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. The king or queen is officially head of the government, but does not have much political power. Beatrix met with the prime minister every week. The monarch was also involved in hosting coalition talks between political parties after elections, but the Dutch parliament changed that tradition last year.
The monarchy is widely supported by the Dutch population. In 2011, 87 percent of the respondents of pollster TNS NIPO's survey said they wanted the Netherlands to remain a constitutional monarchy – a number that has been similarly high for decades. Even populist politician Geert Wilders, who has been critical of the queen in the past, called Beatrix “an example for many.”