Born on January 31, 1938, at the Soestdijk Palace in Baarn, Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard was just two years old when her family fled to Britain (and later to Canada) following the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Her sisters Irene, Margriet and Christina were born one, four, and nine years after her.
After school, "Trix", as she is known, went to Leiden University, where she concentrated on subjects which would stand her in good stead for her future role, emerging with a degree in politics in July 1961.
And then came Claus, and later, marriage. The House of Orange ignored the furore surrounding the betrothal and Claus, who received the title of Prince of the Netherlands on their wedding day, was later cleared of having deeper links with the Third Reich. The couple went on to have three sons – giving Willem-Alexander two brothers named Johan Friso and Constantijn.
But Prince Claus seemed to have some difficulty adapting to life as the monarch's consort. "How could I ever have been so naïve as to marry the Crown Princess of the Netherlands?", he is reported to have commented to a friend. And he was treated several times for severe depression in a psychiatric clinic. He passed away in 2002, at the age of 76.
When Beatrix, then first in line to the Dutch throne, became engaged to German diplomat Claus von Amsburg in 1965, there were angry demonstrations on the grounds that her fiancé had been educated in a Nazi environment and had links with the Hitler Youth.
By strange coincidence a similar controversy arose in the next generation when her son and heir, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, decided to marry Argentine economist Maxima Zorreguieta in March 2001. Her father had served as a minister with the Argentinian military dictatorship – not something the Dutch, with their strong record for human rights, were happy to countenance. The Queen, however, dealt with the matter intelligently and firmly, consulting the Dutch prime minister, Wim Kok, before an official announcement was made.
Ascension to the throne
In 1980, Beatrix's mother, Queen Juliana, made the surprise announcement that, after 31 years on the throne, she was abdicating in favour of her eldest daughter. "As one gets older one realises sooner or later that one's powers decrease and that one cannot fulfil one's duties as before," she told the nation in a televised address.
Five months later, Beatrix was crowned amidst some of the worst street violence ever witnessed in the country, as squatters clashed with police in the streets, angry over the sums being spent on the coronation when the capital was suffering from a desperate housing shortage.
In the following years, the outgoing and gregarious sovereign, who is believed to be the second richest woman in the world, won over her people, gaining consistently high approval ratings. Their sympathy and support was one of the few consolations when Johan Friso was involved in a serious skiing accident in 2012.
The queen's son was buried under an avalanche in Lech, Austria and was left in a permanent coma. Friso was transferred to a specialist hospital in London where he was cared for until he was moved to Huis ten Bosch after his coma had evolved into a minimally conscious state. He died on 12 August 2023.
One year after the accident, just ahead of her 75th birthday, Beatrix appeared on TV to tell the nation that it was time to "place the responsibility for the country in the hands of a new generation". She abdicated four months later, becoming HRH Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.