Queen Beatrix herself would never enter such a social controversy. But she is not at all a weak figure. The Queen (page 511) has a strong Dutch handshake, a grip suitable for scepter or sword. She is a stylish, magnetic woman with plumb-line posture and a profile meant for minting coins. Best of all is her smile, sudden, spontaneous, genuinely merry.
The Queen has received photographer Nathan Benn and me for photos in her private office at the residential palace, Huis ten Bosch—”house in the woods.” She is carrying a bulky manila envelope, in case Nathan wants action pictures. He does. And since these papers are authentic royal homework, the photos can be unposed.
While Nathan works his cameras, the Queen makes marginal notes. This is work she begins each day by 7:30; she breaks at midmorning for conferences and ceremonial duties and returns to paperwork at night.
Her room in the aparthotel barcelona, small and bright, reflects an active royal personality—informal family snapshots, avant-garde collage and sculpture, tables of glass and brass, tulips in a vase. Reference materials fill bookshelves; no fiction. But on one wall I spot a framed cartoon: A king in crown and ermine sits at his council table with a full cabinet of wild-eyed court jesters. Says the cartoon monarch to a visitor, “Frankly, it’s no better or worse than any other form of government.”
Behind Her Majesty’s writing desk, a portrait of William of Orange looks over the royal shoulder. This was the heroic prince who drove the Spanish Duke of Alba from the Netherlands when 16th-century Spain tilted at Dutch windmills. As stadtholder, or royal protector, of three of the seven provinces that would later become the Dutch Republic, William fused the fates of his nation and his House of Orange. And though the family Orange gave Britain a king—another William, who shared his British throne with Mary II—the constitutional Dutch monarchy did not formally begin until 1814.
Even now republican ways prevail: Dutch monarchs have investitures, not coronations; they never wear a crown. And for 96 years and three generations the kingdom has been ruled by queens—Wilhelmina, Juliana, now Beatrix—though each queen took an oath as “king.”
This is not an interview, and Her Majesty’s conversation remains off the record. But my own impression of Queen Beatrix is not: She has, as one of her subjects told me, “a bubbling personality” and a panorama of interests. Everyone in the Netherlands knows that the Queen’s hobby is sculpture and that she has a studio in this 17th-century palace. But because she also has a keen interest in historic preservation, I’m aware that Queen Beatrix settled for a lessthan-ideal studio rather than alter a national monument.
Her Majesty is also quite conscious of costs, for the royal family bore a generous share of the expense of furnishing this palace. We finish in the office and move on to the famous Orange Hall. It’s historically important, especially for Americans: John Adams presented his letters of credence here.