Written by Benjamin Roberts
Five years ago, when the Dutch Crown Prince, Willem Alexander ascended the Dutch throne, he became the first king in more than 120 years after a stretch of three female monarchs. His public image among the Dutch was lukewarm to say the least. Every since he enrolled as a history student at the University of Leiden in 1987 and was photographed with a beer in his hand, the Dutch media belittled him as “Prins Pils” [The Beer Prince]. After he graduated and fulfilled tasks in water management, the negative image around him still stuck. When he married Maxima Zorreguieta, the daughter of the Argentinian secretary of agriculture during the Videla regime of the 1970s and 1980s, the Dutch press had a field day criticizing the prince’s choice in a marriage partner.
Today, five years into his reign, Willem Alexander’s image has made a 180-degree turnaround. According to the Koningsdag-enquête 2018 (King’s Day survey), that is conducted annually, 73% of the Dutch public have a positive image of the 51-year old monarch and consider him an asset to the Dutch economy. Moreover, 25% believe that Willem Alexander fulfills his role better than his mother, Queen Beatrix, who reigned for 33 years and was known for her professionalism and in-depth knowledge of Dutch internal affairs and politics. In fact, when Queen Beatrix’s coronation was held hat Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk on April 30, 1980, she was not a welcomed guest in Amsterdam. The ceremony and tour by horse carriage through Raadhuisstraat was marked by smoke bombs and street fighting between radical protesters and units of the military police. In the 1980s’ Amsterdam was faced with a large-scale housing problem and on the day of the queen’s coronation took to the streets and jeered slogans “Geen kroning, zonder woning” (no coronation without housing).
In the first few years after the start of Queen Beatrix’s reign, the new monarch had to outdo the heart-felt image of her mother, Queen Juliana, who reigned from 1948 to 1980 and abdicated in favor of her daughter. With her motherly image of the country (Juliana appeared in an official interview serving coffee and cake to journalists in her home), for the new monarch Beatrix, who was more business-like, her mother was a tough act to follow. However, the new queen chose to keep the national holiday Queen’s Day on April 30th (instead of her own birthday on January 31st, which was a clever one. Celebrating the monarch’s birthday and having a day off would not have been good for the monarchy in the middle of winter, when the weather is cold and damp. It did not take too long for the Dutch to admire their new sovereign, which seems to be a pattern.
According to the national survey, Willem Alexander’s popularity is also due to his personal qualities, which are quite different from his mother’s. Unlike his mother, the new king focuses more on economic development in the various regions of the Netherlands, as well as proactively working like an ambassador of Dutch companies abroad. The survey also indicates that he addresses current problems in the country, such as the series of earthquakes in the province of Groningen, which were and are still caused by extensive drilling for natural gas. According to the survey, 70% of the Dutch appreciate that the king uses the monarchy to address social problems. The survey also revealed that 45% thinks the new king is more approachable and more spontaneous than his mother, which is a character trait that the Dutch, who in general are more calculated, appreciate in others. It is safe to conclude that the Dutch are more than satisfied with their new king.