If you want to blame anyone for all the fuss and the fact that church bells are clanging away as if a Crown Prince had just been made King (which he has), I think you would have to lay it all at the feet of William the Silent, Prince of Orange. Take a wander out into the walking street of Wassenaar and you will see more orange articles of clothing than any right-minded citizens anywhere should have in their possession. You will also see multitudes of children attempting to flog all their unwanted toys, puzzles and books, but that is another story.

William the Silent 1533-1584

William was a complicated fellow, born in Germany, raised a Lutheran, educated by Catholics, ending his days as a Calvinist.  He was married four times,  spent much of his life fighting the Spanish rulers of the Netherlands, despite the fact that he had been groomed to serve under the Habsburgs as a member of the court of Margaret of Parma, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands.

Favoured by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, he was rapidly promoted, and became commander of one of the Emperor’s armies at the age of 22. He was made a member of the Raad van State, the highest political advisory council in the Netherlands. When Charles abdicated in favour of his son, Philip II of Spain, in 1555, the gout-afflicted Emperor leaned on William’s shoulder during his abdication ceremony.

A brief summary of his life runs to several pages on Wikipedia. German born, he usually spoke French.  William’s resolve to oppose the King’s policies originated in June 1559 when he was sent to Paris as a hostage to ensure the fulfilment of the conditions of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis at the end of the Hispano-French war.

The duke of Alva and King Henry II of France openly discussed the extermination of the Protestants in both France and the Netherlands. William kept silent, but decided for himself that he would not allow the slaughter of so many innocent subjects. Suffice it to say that he was a key figure in the liberation of the Dutch from the Spanish yoke, even though he did not live to see it. Some of the legacy of William–

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He is the ancestor of the Dutch monarchy. The flag of the Netherlands (red, white and blue) is derived from the flag of the prince, which was orange, white and blue. The coat of arms of the Netherlands is based on that of William of Orange. Its motto Je maintiendrai (I will maintain) was also used by William of Orange. The national anthem of the Netherlands, the Wilhelmus, was originally a propaganda song for William. It was probably written by Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, a supporter of William of Orange. The national colour of the Netherlands is orange. The orange sash of the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle was in honour of the Dutch Dynasty of William the Silent, since the order’s founder, Frederick I of Prussia’s mother, Louise Henrietta of Nassau, was the granddaughter of William the Silent.

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Willem Alexander and Beatrix

April 30th is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, an official celebration of the birth of the Queen, even though she was actually born on my birth date, January 31. Nobody in the Netherlands wants to celebrate anything at that time of year. Beatrix wisely commandeered her mother’s birth date to celebrate as her own. Even though Beatrix did manage to alienate a sizable minority of the Dutch population by marrying a German, she has managed to maintain the popularity of the monarchy and the holiday. Rather than remaining at the palace and letting the Dutch people come to her, Beatrix usually visits two towns each year for Koninginnedag celebrations and she honours citizens for their service to the Netherlands.

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Koninginnedag is the one day of the year that the Dutch government permits sales on the street without a permit and without the payment of value added tax. ING Bank did a survey in 2011 and found that one in five Dutch residents planned to sell at the free market and estimated they would earn €100 per person for a total turnover of €290 million. Even the Queen has been known to buy at the vrijmarkt; in 1995 she purchased a floor lamp.

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While Queen’s Day celebrations take place throughout the Netherlands, Amsterdam is a popular destination for many revelers. Often the city’s 750.000 residents are joined by up to 1 million visitors. In recent years Amsterdam authorities have taken some measures to try and stem the flow of visitors as the city simply became too full. Those taking part in the festivities commonly dye their hair orange or wear orange clothing in honour of the House of Orange-Nassau. This colour choice is sometimes dubbed “orange madness”, or in Dutch, oranjegekte.

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This may be the last Queen’s Day celebration for quite some time, since Beatrix has decided to step down after thirty-three years and let her son, our neighbour, Willem-Alexander, take up the royal reigns. I am frankly grateful that Willem’s family overlooked my invitation even though I didn’t have anything more important on the agenda. Neither my wardrobe nor my Dutch is really up to dealing with an event of that importance.  But who says we can’t celebrate? Long live the King, or Prince Pils as he was called during his student days. He did enjoy his beer. I’ll drink to that. It’s Dutch as Dutch can be.

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