With an exchange of smiles and the flourish of a pen, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated the throne and her son Willem-Alexander took her place Tuesday to become the country's first king since 1890.
In a simple morning ceremony in Amsterdam's royal palace, Beatrix, 75, signed the document that ended her 33-year reign. Willem-Alexander, 45, added his name a few seconds later. Mother and son then clutched hands and smiled, their status transformed at a stroke from queen and crown prince to princess and king.
Willem-Alexander is the first male monarch to reign over the Netherlands in 123 years, a span that has seen three women ascend to the throne and resign in turn in favor of the next generation. (In the Netherlands, the monarch's eldest child is heir to the throne regardless of gender, unlike in Britain, where a son takes precedence over older sisters. The British Parliament is currently amending that rule.)
Thousands of Dutch — many of them clad in orange, the color of the royal House of Orange-Nassau — cheered in Amsterdam's Dam Square as Princess Beatrix, King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, appeared on the palace's balcony less than half an hour after the official handover of power. "Dearest mother, today you relinquished the throne (after) 33 moving and inspiring years," Willem-Alexander told Beatrix as the crowds shouted in acclamation. "We are intensely, intensely grateful to you."
As institutions of hereditary privilege go, the Dutch monarchy is a relative newcomer, created after the Netherlands won its independence from Napoleon about 200 years ago.
As king, Willem-Alexander is the country's head of state. The post is largely ceremonial; the prime minister remains the country's political leader in a parliamentary democracy.