So here’s the real question about the Tuesday ceremony in Amsterdam in which Queen Beatrix abdicated and passed the robe (they don’t wear crowns) to her son, Willem-Alexander, who just turned 46: Did Britain's Prince Charles, who was in attendance, look on and think, "How much longer before I get my turn to be king?"
Certainly, he could be forgiven for envying the Dutch monarchs’ tradition of retiring off the throne, as they have tended to do in the short 200 years that the monarchy has existed as a reigning presence in the Netherlands.
The most stunning thing about Willem-Alexander’s accession is that he’s a guy. His predecessors have been his mother, his grandmother and his great-grandmother. Beatrix, who held the title for 33 years, relinquished it at the age of 75 — downright youngish for European royals — and made her son the youngest reigning sovereign on the Continent.
She signed an act of abdication, followed by smiles and kisses all around, singing and lots of photos and video footage of everyone looking healthy and happy. It seemed more like a wedding than the grave passing on of power after the painful loss of a parent. (In fact, in Britain, the heir to the throne accedes immediately after the death of a king or queen, but the festive coronation is put off for months to allow for a period of mourning before a party-like occasion.)
There was some criticism from animal welfare advocates about the new king's ermine-lined robe that he donned for his investiture, but Willem-Alexander sought to quell that by saying the robe was really old and not newly made of newly killed ... well, you get the idea. (Still, a questionable costuming choice.)
Mostly, though, the Dutch celebrated. My friend and colleague, Times columnist Gale Holland, who is visiting Amsterdam, tells me that the city was the scene of one big street party, complete with people selling sausages outside their homes.
Watching all that, Charles, who is 64, graying and about to be a grandfather, may be wondering if the Dutch have a more sensible approach to royal optional term limits.
Or maybe he knows better than to let his mind go there. The 1,000-year monarchy of England is steeped in tradition and the belief that one is anointed to be head of state and church. (The Dutch don’t see it like that.) Of course, the monarch of Britain doesn’t rule the people or make policy or get the country into or out of wars. But certainly Queen Elizabeth II sees her duties as those of an exalted figurehead, and she’s taken them seriously, famously making a radio announcement upon the death of her father, the king, that she would devote herself to the service of her country for her entire life.
That was slightly more than 61 years ago. Now 87, she has given no indication that she’s done with the job. And she comes from hardy stock. Last year she stood for hours on the royal barge during a rain-soaked and tedious outdoor tribute to her 60 years on the throne, then followed that up with a nicely done cameo as herself in a James Bond film spoof for the opening of the Summer Olympics in London.
Surely no one would hold it against her if she entertained the possibility of abdicating and spending some time in retirement. (OK, someone would object, but many would not.)When it comes to Britain, abdication does have the tainted association with King Edward VIII giving up the throne to marry an American divorcee and then living out his life as a pampered jet-setter.
But this is a new age. Even the pope resigned this year, and that was hardly seen as irresponsible. If anyone could abdicate and not have it considered a blemish on the historical record, Elizabeth could.
That said, if she wants to keep being monarch, no one should complain. Frankly, I think Elizabeth is modern enough to consider a kind of honorable abdication in the next few years — deciding that she’s fulfilled her promise to the British people and allowing her eldest son to have a go at it before he, himself, is elderly.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles thinks that too.
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