Prince Willem-Alexander (R) of the Netherlands and his wife Princess Maxima are seen during the annual summer photocall in Wassenaar on this July 7, 2012 file photo. Queen Beatrix, who turns 75 on Thursday, announced she was abdicating in favour of her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become king on April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/Files (NETHERLANDS - Tags: ROYALS POLITICS) 

A new king for the Netherlands

From a boozing Casanova to the first king of the Netherlands in a century - Prince Willem-Alexander will take to the throne alongside his Argentine-born wife Princess Maxima after his mother's abdication.


Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, the oldest reigning Dutch monarch, announced her abdication on Monday evening in a sudden move three days before her 75th birthday.


After 33 years on the throne following her mother's abdication in 1980, Beatrix said she would relinquish the crown at the end of April, leaving the monarchy to Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, the oldest of her three sons.


The queen went on national television and radio on Monday evening to announce the departure, having recorded the broadcast earlier in the day. The prime minister, Mark Rutte, delivered a statement on television shortly afterwards, with both stressing that the crown prince had been intensively prepared for the role of monarch.


NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 28: (NO SALES/ NO ARCHIVE) In this handout image supplied by the RVD Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst (Dutch Information Office), Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands makes a televised announcement of her intended abdication in favour of her son Prince Willem-Alexander on January 28, 2013 in The Netherlands. (Photo by RVD via Getty Images)

Stepping down ... Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands announces her intended abdication on TV. Photo: Getty

"The queen was there for us in good times, but also in bad times. Her knowledge and compassion made her an icon of the Netherlands," Mr Rutte said in his statement.

The popular 74-year-old has kept a relatively low profile, aspiring to an image of homely normality by, for example, riding her bike in The Hague. She is also said to be a member of the Bilderberg Group and is ranked among Europe's wealthiest royals.


But behind the scenes, Beatrix took an intense interest in national politics. Although a constitutional monarch, the queen is officially a member of the Dutch cabinet and until last year she had the right of initiative in proposing who should try to form a government in the complex Dutch coalition system.


Netherlands' Crown Prince Willem Alexander and Princess Maxima are seen arriving at Westminster Abbey before the wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton in central London on this April 29, 2011 file photo. Queen Beatrix, who turns 75 on Thursday, announced she was abdicating in favour of her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become king on April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files (NETHERLANDS - Tags: ROYALS POLITICS)

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, who will become king of the Netherlands on April 30, 2013, with his wife, Princess Maxima. Photo: Reuters

"Almost 75, [after] 33 years of rule, she's quitting when she's at the top of the world," said a diplomat.


Widowed a decade ago on the death of Prince Claus, a German aristocrat who served as a German diplomat, Beatrix has been visited by intense family misfortune over the past year. Her second son, Friso, was badly injured in a skiing accident in Austria last February and has been in a coma in a London clinic ever since. His wife, Princess Mabel, a commoner prominent in NGO circles in the 1990s in the Balkans, lives in London with their two daughters.


The abdication secures the Dutch throne for Crown-Prince Willem-Alexander at the age of 45. His wife, Princess Maxima, is Argentinian and her family have been involved in court controversies over the past 18 months stemming from her father's role as agriculture minister in the Argentine junta between 1976 and 1981.


Relatives of one of the thousands of "disappeared" killed under the junta sought to mount a criminal case in the Dutch courts 18 months ago. Last March, the Dutch prosecutor's office ruled there were no grounds for charging the father, Jorge Zorreguieta.


The ascent to the throne of Willem-Alexander means the Netherlands will have its first king in more than a century. Abdication is also in the tradition of the Dutch monarchy. Beatrix's mother, Queen Juliana abdicated in 1980, her mother, Queen Wilhelmina, in 1948.