In the wealthy hamlet of Lage Vuursche in The Netherlands orange flags have been flying for days in honour of Queen Beatrix, the country's hugely popular sovereign, who has abdicated. Following the inauguration of her son Prince Willem-Alexander, the royal is moving to Drakensteyn Castle, the marital home she shared in the village with her late husband Prince Claus.
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Some 33 years after taking a solemn oath to serve the Dutch nation, the 75-year-old matriarch has also reverted to her original status as a Princess. It was on the 49-acre estate of Drakensteyn that the couple raised Alexander and his brothers, Johan Friso and Constantijn. Beatrix once said the 18 years they spent together there were "the happiest" of her life. Residents of Lage Vuursche, which has a population of 1,460, remember a fairly informal relationship with their royal neighbours. According to Agence France Presse, youngsters in the village were often invited over at Christmas to mingle with the family over hot chocolate and carols.
Having handed over to her son and vacated the imposing Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague, Beatrix will return to the peace of her fairytale 17th-century moated castle. Although she will no longer be head of state, she will receive a salary of €466,000 (₤392,607) and €947,000 (₤797,851) to spend on staff and costs. Nor does she intend to disappear from public view altogether. The outgoing monarch still has a number of engagements in her diary for the next few months. Beatrix is regarded with great affection and respect by her people, even in republican quarters.
The head of the House of Orange announced plans to step down in January following a Dutch tradition – both her mother Juliana and grandmother Wilhelmina abdicated. Commentators universally agreed that the manner of her leaving was as gracious, wise and no nonsense as her reign. She came to the throne following difficult times in the Sixties and Seventies. Her marriage in 1966 to German diplomat Claus von Amsberg, who had been a member of the Hitler Youth as a teenager, provoked protests. Then, on the day of her inauguration in 1980, anarchists clashed with police over the cost of the ceremony amid a severe housing shortage.
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, the daughter of an Argentine politician who had served as minister in the country's military dictatorship. Beatrix backed the couple quietly and firmly, displaying the dignity and decisiveness that became the hallmark of her rule. Eventually the Dutch grew to love the effervescent Latina as much as her husband. As well as the trials of her public life, Beatrix has faced personal challenges. Her husband Prince Claus was treated for depression apparently brought on by being in her shadow as consort. He passed away in 2002, at the age of 76. Within a year of his death, she lost her mother and father to serious illnesses. More heartbreak came when Friso, her middle son, was involved in a skiing accident. He has been in a coma ever since and receives specialist care at a clinic in London.
For more than a year the devoted mother has combined her duties with supporting his wife Mabel at his bedside. No one can begrudge the courageous matriarch for retiring to spend time visiting him and taking care of her eight grandchildren. Her old acquaintances will certainly be glad to see her. AFP reported that outside one café near Drakensteyn Castle stood a blackboard reading: "Majesty, you can always borrow a cup of sugar from us. "We're looking forward to your return."