A palace feud rocks Dutch royalty

Published March 9, 2003|Updated Aug. 31, 2005

It sounds like something out of a medieval melodrama: The queen stands at the top of the palace staircase, glowering at the upstart princess below. The younger woman glares up at her aunt and sovereign with unconcealed loathing, snarls a veiled threat of revenge and storms out.

In today's version, the princess hires lawyers and launches a media offensive.

Princess Margarita de Bourbon de Parme, fuming over perceived snubs by Queen Beatrix, is telling tales of an overbearing monarch and arrogant, philandering princes, enthralling the nation with vivid imagery such as her description of the staircase confrontation.

The affair has shocked the normally placid Dutch, who revere their queen as a wise if distant figure and think of their 200-year-old monarchy, the House of Orange, as something out of a fairy tale.

Margarita's allegations surfaced in the respected Dutch weekly HP/De Tijd, in a four-part series called "Orange Bitters."

Among her claims: the queen sometimes drank "rather too much"; one of the princes, while waving to crowds from his horse-drawn carriage with one hand, made concealed obscene gestures with the other; the queen's late father, Prince Bernhard, had a 20-year affair with his secretary; and Margarita's own father had an illegitimate child with a Dominican nanny.

In a statement, the flabbergasted royal family didn't answer each allegation but said it "couldn't recognize itself as portrayed" by Margarita, and quickly retreated again behind the palace walls.

Only a year ago, the Dutch rejoiced in the marriage of Beatrix's son, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, in a romantic spectacle that boosted the family's popularity.

Now the Dutch media suddenly have a trove of unfiltered royal dirt.

"It struck like a bombshell," said Fred Lammers, a biographer of Beatrix and Prince Bernhard. "In Britain, when servants leave the court the first thing they do is write a book. Here, nobody leaks anything."

Margarita describes herself as a constant victim of snubs, including that she and her commoner husband, Edwin de Roy van Zuydewijn, were not invited to Willem-Alexander's wedding or the burial of Beatrix's husband, Prince Claus, who died last year.

But her most provocative allegations were that the royal family launched a smear campaign that ruined de Roy van Zuydewijn's business, and that Beatrix had improperly used her office to have the secret services investigate him.

She said she had hired a lawyer and might sue the family for damages.

"They abuse their power and that's not right," she said in a nationally televised interview.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende confirmed that de Roy van Zuydewijn was vetted but insisted it was a routine security procedure for anyone marrying into the royal family.

He denied as "too crazy for words" the princess' claim that a conversation between her and the spokesman for both queen and prime minister was recorded.

Balkenende beseeched the family to end the feud. "It can't go on like this: the public offensive must stop," he said. "It's painful to watch, and it's bad for the country's image."

Beatrix is thought to be one the world's richest women but has cultivated an image of good mother and able stateswoman. She has a formal role in the formation of new governments, and regularly consults with the prime minister, prompting some politicians to complain that she tries to exert undue influence over policy.