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King Willem-Alexander
King Willem-Alexander

On April 30th, 2013, Queen Beatrix abdicated her throne to her son Willem Alexander.  This event was the first time since 1890 that there has been a King of the Netherlands, and was therefore quiet a significant event.

All of the attention surrounding this event has raised a significant amount of curiosity about the how the monarchy in the Netherlands actually works.  Here is an overview of its history and current role.

History of the Monarchy

The Netherlands did not actually become a monarchy until 1815.  However, for hundreds of years prior to that occurrence, following the French occupation, the Royal House of Orange had been quite influential in the region.

In 1815 the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established, and, at the time, was comprised of the Netherlands and Belgium.  Belgium later split off and became its own kingdom in 1830.  William Frederik, the first monarch, was crowned King of the Netherlands in 1815 and the House of Orange continued to reign in successive years.  For the first 75 years, the Netherlands was ruled by kings.  However, in 1890, King William III died and was succeeded by his wife Emma who became the first reigning Queen of the Netherlands.

One queen succeeded another from that day until April 30th of 2013 when Willem Alexander became the new king.

How the Monarchy Works

The system that is present in the Netherlands is known as a constitutional monarchy. This simply means that the scope and authority of the monarch is controlled by the constitution adopted by the Netherlands.  It is therefore not a pure monarchy, and much of the constitution is devoted to the job description of the monarchy.

The law of absolute cognatic primogeniture, which means the firstborn, regardless of gender, determines succession.  This is what has allowed the succession of queens as well as kings in the Netherlands.

The king or queen acts as Head of State, and therefore, the moment one king of queen is no longer in power, the next immediate assumes the role.

The constitution of the Netherlands institutes a government in which the Monarch and his ministers function as one and are not allowed to be in disagreement.  The Monarch is placed above the reach of the law. Should there be a failure on the part of the monarch, the minister in charge of that area would be held responsible.  It is for this reason that the monarchy makes very few decisions whatsoever, and rarely exercises any power at all.

More About History Than Headship

Though the monarchy has actual authority; due to the nature of the constitution, he/she rarely exercises it, and in many cases, is barred from doing so.  Some have said that since the monarch is not actually “ruling”, the position is merely symbolic rather than functional.  Whatever the case, the monarchy is enshrined in law and has been a part of the history of the Netherlands for the last 200 years.  It would appear that there will be a king or queen in the Netherlands for some time to come.

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