Saturday 04 December 2021

Willem-Alexander: the first Dutch king in 123 years

With just three days to go before he officially becomes king, crown prince Willem-Alexander celebrates his 46th birthday on April 27.

Willem-Alexander, the Netherland’s first king since 1890, will be less focused on affairs of state and more on fulfilling his role as a binding force in the community at large, royal watchers say.

The new king made it clear in a television interview earlier this month he will be less of a stickler for royal protocol than his mother, and has dropped his objections to a more ceremonial kingship.

During the interview, Willem-Alexander said he sees his future role as continuing to build on the tradition of his predecessors. ‘It is a tradition which represents the continuity of this country and its stability. But I also want to be a king who can unite people in the 21st century,’ the future king said.

‘Willem-Alexander’s kingship will be less formal and cultural than his mother’s,’ historian James Kennedy told the NRC. ‘It will be more about voluntary work and sport and their value.’

Willem-Alexander was born on April 27, 1967 with a string of titles, and lived in the Drakensteyn castle near Hilversum until his mother became queen. The family then moved to The Hague.

The prince attended a normal primary and secondary school and then went to the United World College of the Atlantic in Llantwit Major in Wales where he passed his International Baccalaureate in 1985.

The prince did two years of military service with the navy and in 1987 started a history degree course at Leiden University. He graduated in 1993, after collecting the nickname Prince Pils (beer) for his love of partying.

On July 3, 2001, he married Máxima Zorreguieta, a controversial move because she is the daughter of a former member of Argentina’s military junta. The couple have three children, Catharina-Amalia, Alexia and Ariane.

The couple hit the headlines in 2009 when their decision to buy a holiday house on an exclusive development in Mozambique was heavily criticised. The house has since been sold.

Willem-Alexander has since taken a more international role. He is chairman of the UN secretary general’s advisory board on water and sanitation(I thought he quit recently) and was embarrassed last year when he took part in a toilet-throwing contest.

‘I joined in on April 30 for a laugh but not without thinking with some embarrassment about the 2.6 billion people on earth who do not have the most basic structures to perform their daily needs in a decent way,’ the prince was quoted as saying.

He is also a keen sports fan and the only Dutch member of the International Olympic Committee. His exuberance at sports events, during which he has climbed over barriers to congratulate the winners, has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Using the name W A van Buren he has taken part in the New York marathon and in the Elfstedentocht, the 200 km skating race around the 11 cities of Friesland.

Keen on his privacy, the prince and his wife have taken legal action against photographers who have taken pictures of them and their children on holidays.

Commentators on Monday said Willem-Alexander is likely to be a headstrong monarch, like his mother. ‘But he has been well-prepared for the role’, one said.

Others pointed out that when asked as a young man about his future role, he said he hoped it would be delayed as long as possible.

Although many expected the prince would take the title Willem IV, the prince will be known as king Willem-Alexander and his wife Máxima will have the title queen.

Asked in the pre-investiture interview why he did not want to be named king Willem IV, the prince laughed and said he did not want to be a number. ‘Willem 4 is in a field, next to Bertha 38,’ he said, referring to the way cows are named and registered.

Photos courtesy Nos television and RVD

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