Beatrix, who abdicated in 2013, has lived an interesting life

By Diana Pearl
January 31, 2017 03:17 PM
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Happy Birthday, Princess Beatrix!

The former Dutch monarch turns 79 today, and although she abdicated in 2013 in favor of her son, King Willem-Alexander, she’s still a formidable presence in the Dutch monarchy. And in her nearly eight decades, she’s lived quite an interesting life — here’s just five reasons why.

1. She abdicated the throne after 33 years.

Like her mother, Queen Juliana, and grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina before her, Beatrix abdicated the throne. For Beatrix, that time came at the age of 75, in 2013. She announced her abdication in January, and formally signed the papers in April, just in time for Queen’s Day, an annual day of celebration in the Netherlands. Beatrix said that she was abdicating because it was time for the next generation to take over, and that her son was ready for the job.

Her mother abdicated in 1980 after 32 years on the throne, and went on to live another 24 years. Her grandmother was on the throne for nearly 60 years, since the age of 10, when her father died (but not officially until her 18th birthday, in 1898.) She abdicated in 1948, and lived for another 14 years. Since the 19th century, six Dutch monarchs have abdicated (though not all successively.) It’s a tradition that even Beatrix herself was anticipating continuing back in the late ’70s. “Why, I have been trained for the job of queen all my life,” she told a friend, PEOPLE reported at the time. “It’s simply not fair to let me wait so long.”

Though she’s given the top job to her son, Beatrix still carries out duties on behalf of the royal family, and may continue to do so for years to come.

2. She lived in the United Kingdom and Canada during World War II.

Born in 1938, just as war was breaking out in Europe, Beatrix spent some of the first few years of her life in Canada and the U.K. After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, then-Queen Wilhemina left her country for the U.K., and soon after, then-Princess Juliana, Beatrix’s mother, fled to Canada, where they lived in Ottawa. Beatrix’s younger sister, Margriet, was born on Canadian soil, and Beatrix started her education in Canada.

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They returned to the Netherlands five years later, in 1945, after part of the Netherlands had been liberated from Nazi occupation. As a thank you, Juliana gave the Canadian people 100,000 tulip bulbs — the Netherlands’ signature flower — a practice she continued until the end of her reign in 1980.

3. Her husband was a member of the Hitler Youth.

Beatrix was the subject of a scandal when the palace announced her engagement to German diplomat Claus von Amsberg. From a noble, though untitled, German family, Claus was a member of the Hitler Youth and the subgroup Deutsches Jungvolk as a child, as was required by law at the time. In 1944, when he turned 18, he was drafted into the German armed forces, where he fought in Italy and was taken as a prisoner of war by the United States.

He became engaged to Beatrix just 20 years after the conclusion of the war, when anti-German sentiment was still strong in the Netherlands. This feeling prompted some outrage among the Dutch people. There were protests, orange Swastikas painted around Amsterdam, and a petition to parliament to not grant permission for the marriage, which earned 65,000 signatures. Even Prime Minister Jo Cals reportedly said of the engagement, “A German, what a pity.”

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But with the support of her parents, including Beatrix’s own German-born father, Prince Bernhard, they were able to overcome the backlash. Claus and Beatrix traveled the country, meeting with the Dutch people, and eventually, Claus came to be a popular member of the family. He died in 2002.

4. Her second son died after spending 18 months in a coma following a skiing accident.

Beatrix and Claus had three sons during their marriage: Willem-Alexander, Johan Friso and Constantijn. Tragedy struck in 2012 when Friso, then 42, was buried by an avalanche while skiing in Austria. He suffered severe brain damage from the accident and was in a coma for 18 months before he died in August 2013. Williem-Alexander said that both Beatrix and Friso’s wife, Mabel, had tried to visit him daily “to give him a chance.”

Friso had removed himself from the line of succession to marry his wife Mabel Wisse Smit, whom parliament didn’t approve of due to her past connection with a Dutch drug lord. Despite this bump in their relationship, the duo went on to marry and have two children, Luana and Zaria. Friso, nicknamed the “Prince Brilliant”, was educated at UC Berkeley and two Dutch universities. He worked in finance, with stints at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Co. and as the CFO of the company Urenco.

5. She’s well-connected with the other European royal families.

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Although she may no longer be a monarch herself, Beatrix still shares a close connection with other European heads of state. She’s a cousin to King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, and a godmother to his eldest daughter and heir to the throne, Crown Princess Victoria. She’s distantly related to Queen Elizabeth II — and sits at about 888 on the British list of succession — as well as being a close friend of hers.