Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard was born January 31, 1938, the first child of then Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld. Princess Juliana was the heir presumptive at the time, placing Beatrix in the direct line of succession. The laws in place at that time would have given precedence to any male issue, so it was not immediately certain that Beatrix would eventually be Queen. Even so, her Godparents were carefully chosen among the European nobility and included King Leopold III of Belgians; Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone; Princess Elisabeth of Waldeck and Pyrmont; Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg; and Countess Allene de Kotebue.
A mere two years after Beatrix’ birth, World War II broke out and Germany invaded The Netherlands, forcing the royal family to leave the country. Queen Wilhelmina evacuated the royal family which consisted at that time of Queen Wilhelmina, the Heir Presumptive Princess Juliana, Prince Bernhard, Princess Beatrix and young Princess Irene, Beatrix’ younger sister. The entire family fled to London to avoid the Blitzkrieg. After a month in London, Beatrix, her mother and younger sister continued their journey across the Atlantic to Ottawa, Canada, where they would live until the end of the War.
It was in Canada that Beatrix began her education at a local public school. Beatrix resided in a very comfortable home, but it was by no means palatial. Her attendance at the local public school, Rockcliffe Park, gave Beatrix a flawless grasp of English, which she speaks like a native. Her mother made a point of speaking only Dutch in their home, making Beatrix bilingual almost from a very early age. During their stay in Canada, Princess Juliana gave birth to another daughter, Margriet.
Some five years later, in 1945, the royal family was able to return to Soestdijk Palace in Baarn, Netherlands, their ancestral home. Beatrix was enrolled at a progressive school in Bilthoven, where she continued her education. During that time, she experienced many changes to her situation. She spent her most formative years living in fairy normal circumstances, only to return to a palace at the age of seven. When her youngest sister was born in 1947, it cemented the fact that Beatrix would probably one day be Queen. In September 1948, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated and Princess Juliana became Queen of The Netherlands, elevating Beatrix to heir presumptive. She was only ten years old.
Even with all of the upheavals that she experienced in her childhood and youth, Beatrix remained dedicated to continuing her education and completed her graduation exams in arts and classics in 1956, the same year she turned 18. At that time she was considered a legal adult and assumed the Royal Prerogative and joined the Council of State. She also started her first term at Leiden University, where she studied a wide variety of topics in order to give her the necessary background to successfully guide a country. Everything from jurisprudence to economics crossed her desk while at University. She also began visiting various international organizations in Europe. Not content with a Bachelor’s degree, Beatrix continued her studies until she obtained her law degree in 1961.
Once her education was completed it was time for Beatrix to step out onto the national scene and make her mark. One of the first public decisions she made was highly controversial. Beatrix became engaged to the German diplomat Claus von Amsberg in 1965, a choice that was highly contested due to Claus’ service in the Hitler Youth and Wehrmacht before and during the War. The protest at the wedding in March of 1966 was large and resulted in a battle between the police and citizens. Over time, the Dutch populace came to realize the wisdom of Beatrix’ decision and in 2002, when Prince Claus passed, his death was mourned by the entire country.
The marriage of Beatrix and Claus seems to have been happy, and the couple had three sons: Prince Willem-Alexander, The Prince of Orange (b. 1967), Prince Johan-Friso (now known as Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau) (b. 1968), and Prince Constantijn (b. 1969).
Although Queen Beatrix has some of the highest approval ratings in Europe, her reign has not been without its bumps along the road. In 1980, when Queen Juliana abdicated in favour of Princess Beatrix, there were protesters in the streets. The housing crisis in the Netherlands was extreme, and the populace protested the coronation as a result. What many of the protesters failed to realize is that the Queen has little to do with domestic politics and decisions; in essence the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with an elected government, though she does have limited power should the government fail to sort itself out.
The first twenty years of her reign were surprisingly smooth, with little negative to say. However, 2002 would begin a time of great personal tragedy for Queen Beatrix, 22 years into her reign. In October of 2002, her husband Prince Claus died after a long illness, only eighteen months later Dowager Queen Juliana died; she had suffered from senile dementia for many years. In December of 2004, her father lost his battle with cancer. This was a very trying time for Queen Beatrix and she held herself with grace throughout. Although few direct quotes are available, a policy against quotes from Queen Beatrix has been in place since shortly after her coronation, Queen Beatrix did reflect on her years as a ruler. In 2005 she was granted a rare honorary doctorate from Leiden University and addressed the nation with a live speech during her acceptance.
The first decade of the new Millennium also marks great family troubles for the Dutch monarch. Two of her sons made controversial choices for their wives, causing great public upheaval. Willem-Alexander chose Maxima Zorreguieta, an Argentinian woman who, although nothing was found against herself, was controversial because of her father’s role in the government under the Videla regime. In the end, the government did not oppose the marriage, but Maxima’s father was not allowed to attend the wedding. Friso, on the other hand, fell in love with Mabel Wisse-Smit, who turned out to have had a relationship with a drug kingpin. Unlike Willem-Alexander, Friso had to give up his rights to the Dutch throne in order to marry the woman of his choice. He still has the title Prince of Orange-Nassau, but is no longer a Prince of the Netherlands.
Even with high approval ratings, there are those of the public that resent royalty. In April of 2009 a man named Karst Tates attacked the royal family during the Queen’s Day celebrations. The shock and outrage were tremendous, as there are no other recorded physical attacks on Dutch royalty in the modern age. Karst Tates ran his car into a parade aiming for the bus carrying the royal family. He missed his target, but killed five other people instantly and left two others in critical condition. His actions may have been a reaction to the wealth of the royal family which was listed in a 2009 Forbes issue at US$300 million.
In all, Queen Beatrix’s reign has been relatively peaceful and encompassed and era or rebirth and renaissance for the Dutch people. Rebuilding after World War II was difficult, but the country has made a successful recovery and Queen Beatrix has carefully balanced the needs of her people and her own ambitions to be the best ruler she could.
Queen Beatrix has received many decorations throughout her long reign.
- Grand Master of the Military William Order
- Grand Master of the Order of the Netherlands Lion
- Grand Master of the Order of Orange-Nassau
- Grand Master of the House Order of Orange
- Grand Master of the House Order of the Golden Lion of Nassau
- Grand Cross in the order of the Netherlands Lion
- Honorary Commandor in the order of Johanniter in the Netherlands
- Chain in the Order of the Liberator General San Martin (Argentina)
- Grand Cordon in the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
- Chain in de National Order of the Southern Cross (Brazil)
- Grand Cross with Cordon in the Order of Stara Planina (Bulgaria)
- Chain in the Order of Merit (Chile)
- Grand Cross Special Class in the Order of Merit of Germany
- Knight (Dame) in the Order of the Elephant (Denmark)
- Grand Cross in the order of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopia)
- Grand Cross with Chain in the order of the White Rose (Finland)
- Grand Cross in the order of the Legion of Honour (France)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the Redeemer (Greece)
- Grand Cross in the Order of Saint Olga and Saint Sophia (Greece)
- Lady (Dame?) in the Order of the Garter (UK)
- Grand Cross in the Order of Victoria (UK)
- Royal Victorian Chain (UK)
- Grand Cross First Class in the Order of the Indonesian Republic (Indonesia)
- Order of the Pleiades Second Class of Iran
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Italy)
- Grand Cross in the National Order (Cote d’Ivoire)
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of the Chrysanthemum (Japan)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the Star (Yougoslavia)
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of Al Hussain bin Ali (Jordan)
- Grand Cross in the Order of Al-Nahdah (Jordan)
- Grand Cordon in the Order of the Pioneers (Liberia)
- Chain in the Order of Vytautas the Great (Lithuania)
- Grand Cross in the Order of Civil and Military Merit of Adolf of Nassau (Luxembourg)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the Oak Crown (Luxembourg)
- Honorary Dame (?) Grand Cross in the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta (Malta)
- Grand Cross First Class in the Order of the Aztec Eagle (Mexico)
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of Ojaswi Rajanya (Nepal)
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of Saint Olav (Norway)
- Special Grand Cross “van het Ereteken voor Verdienste jegens de Republiek Oostenrijk)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the Sun (Peru)
- Knight (Dame?) Grand Cross in the Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
- Grand Chain in the Order of Henry the Navigator (Portugal)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the 23d August (Romania)
- Chain of the Order of the Star (Romania)
- Grand Cross in the National Order of the Lion (Senegal)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the Double White Cross (Slovakia)
- Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece
- Grand Cross in the Order of Isabel La Catolica (Spain)
- Grand Cordon in the Honorary Order of the Yellow Star (Suriname)
- Knight (Dame) in the House Order of Chakry (Thailand)
- Grand Cross in the Order of the Republic of Tunisia
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of the Liberator (Venezuela)
- Grand Cross with Chain in the Order of the Falcon (Iceland)
- Grand Cross in the Order of Good Hope (South Africa)
- Knight with Chain in the Order of the Seraphim (Sweden)
Newly born Princess Beatrix with her mother Crown Princess Juliana, 1938. © Nationaal Archief . No known copyright restrictions.
Christmas at Soestdijk Palace. After the service, Queen Juliana and Princess Beatrix serve hot chocolate and a breadroll. The Netherlands, Baarn, 22 December 1960. © Nationaal Archief . No known copyright restrictions.
Queen Beatrix reading the speech on Prinsjesdag 2008 by Flickr member Radio Nederland Wereldomroep and used under Creative Commons licence.