HOLLAND's respected Queen Beatrix has announced her abdication in favour of her heir apparent Prince Willem-Alexander in a surprise announcement as the country prepared to celebrate her 75th birthday.
Queen Beatrix's announcement in a short televised speech continued a family tradition started by her grandmother Queen Wilhelmina, who abdicated in 1948 after a reign of 58 years.
The Dutch monarch assumed the throne in 1980 when her own mother, Queen Julianna, resigned and had maintained the popularity of the House of Orange despite a series of family controversies.
Queen Beatrix praised her son Prince Willem-Alexander as a talented and capable successor "fully prepared" for his future role. She said he would assume the throne on April 30 at the high point of a year of celebrations to mark the end of the Napoleonic occupation in 1813. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was established two years later.
"I am not abdicating because this office is too much of a burden, but out of conviction that the responsibility for our nation should now rest in the hands of a new generation," she said.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, also broadcast to the nation to thank Queen Beatrix for her long record of service. "Since her coronation in 1980s she's applied herself heart and soul for Dutch society," he said. "She has grown into a Dutch icon."
Unlike her predecessors Queen Beatrix has not been troubled by mental or physical health problems. Willem-Alexander will become the first Dutch king since Willem III, who died in 1890.
Queen Beatrix, was one of Europe's original bicycling monarchs, who maintained a slimmed down "common-touch" royal household, headed by a modern monarch who had graduated in law from Leiden University in 1961.
However, she tested Dutch goodwill on several occasions in her lifetime, most notably when she married Claus von Amsberg, a German diplomat who had been a member of the Hitler Youth. (© Daily Telegraph, London)