SPECIAL: King's Day 2019 Live Extravaganza

Joe and Julian bringing History of the Netherlands to the streets of Amsterdam, King’s Day 2019. Photo by David Cenzer.

Joe and Julian bringing History of the Netherlands to the streets of Amsterdam, King’s Day 2019. Photo by David Cenzer.

The entire country of the Netherlands has just celebrated its most festive day of the year: King’s Day!

King Willem Alexander’s birthday is on the 27th of April. As tradition demands, and in honour of him, everybody dutifully got dressed up in orange and proceeded to get drunk and sell all of their old stuff on the street.

Being dedicated podcasters, we decided to create a special episode, separate from the series chronology, in which we explore who exactly King Willem Alexander and his ancestors are, look at what they did to induce this bizarre collective frivolity in such a modern and progressive country, as well as recount how this day of monarchy-madness came to be. We recorded it in the morning before the party and then hit the streets to interview people off the street, to discover their favourite facts about Dutch history.

Working hard on a public holiday, let it be forever known that we truly are dedicated podcasters.

In case you were thinking that we don’t take this seriously, may we present to you, the King:

Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand van Oranje-Nassau van Amsberg, by the Grace of God, King of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange-Nassau, Jonkheer van Amsberg, Marquis of Veere and Flushing, Count of Katzenelnbogen, Vianden, Diez, Spiegelberg, Buren, Leerdam and Culemborg, Burgrave of Antwerp, Baron of Breda, Diest, Beilstein, the town of Grave and the lands of Cuyk, IJsselstein, Cranendonk, Eindhoven, Liesveld, Herstal, Warneton, Arlay and Nozeroy, Hereditary and Free Lord of Ameland, Lord of Borculo, Bredevoort, Lichtenvoorde, Het Loo, Geertruidenberg, Clundert, Zevenbergen, Hooge and Lage Zwaluwe, Naaldwijk, Polanen, St Maartensdijk, Soest, Baarn, Ter Eem, Willemstad, Steenbergen, Montfort, St Vith, Bütgenbach, Dasburg, Niervaart, Turnhout and Besançon.

Image  Source

Image Source

King Willy, for short.

The Oranges 🍊 and the Nassaus

As was typical of the inheritance system of feudal Europe, the House of Oranje-Nassau was created out of deaths and marriages, and all within the ever constant wheeling and dealing conducted by nobles; a game played by anybody who bore a title, the object of which was the question of: who would get this or that title, land and/or resources? In 1515 a marriage alliance brought the families of Nassau-Breda and Châlon-Orange together, one part German and one-part French. It is interesting that this family, out of all the noble families entwined in this game of territory-grabbing, a half-German, half-French one would be the one that, over the course of 500 odd years, would come to be the eventual monarchs of a land whose very identity has been in no small way forged by the ebbs and flows of power emitted between Germany and France.

William of Orange - The Silent One

William the Silent, the Father of the Fatherland. Do you recognise him from something?

William the Silent, the Father of the Fatherland. Do you recognise him from something?

William of Orange had already been born to the title Count of Nassau in 1533, but he also inherited the lands and titles of his cousin, Rene of Châlon, the Prince of Orange, in 1544. A condition of the will was that William, up until now raised a Lutheran, be given a Catholic education henceforth. He was sent to the lowlands, and in Breda and Brussels he was raised as a ward of the governess of the lowlands, Mary of Hungary.

During these years, he became close with the Emperor, Charles V, himself from Ghent, and his son, Phillip.

Charles V abdicated his titles in 1555. His empire had been extensive, and he split it between his brother and his son. Phillip became the King of Spain and, among many other titles, also became the Lord of the Netherlands.

But these were tumultuous times. During Charles V rule the Protestant Reformation had occurred, and was, by the end of it, becoming more and more inflamed. He had made some attempts to calm the farm, but was still super Catholic himself, and his son had been raised as such. Phillip II, as he was now crowned, was pretty much what today would be called a Catholic Extremist.

He and William were fairly close, and in 1559 he appointed William as the Stadhouder of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht. Stadhouder means ‘place-holder’, and this position essentially made William the representative of Philip in the northern lowlands.

At the same time, the popular vibe of Protestantism was spreading into the urban centres of the lowlands. William, having been raised first as a Lutheran, but then as a Catholic, had sympathy for those lowlander nobles whose sentiments began to sway that way.

Philip, however, had no such sympathy. His plan was the eradication of the Protestant faiths. The conflict arose between the lowlander counts and their Protestant leanings, and the fierce and unbending Catholicism of the state and personage to whom they owed allegiance. In the middle of it all, was William.

When push came to shove, Philip and the people who answered to him shoved William a little bit too far, and he ended up running into exile in Germany, gathering forces, and returning to the lowlands to incite a rebellion that would throw Spain and the northern provinces of the Netherlands into warfare that would linger, for the most part, for the next eight decades.

For our purposes, in understanding what King’s Day is today, what matters is that William in these early days, when the lowlands was still just a collection of fiefdoms, took. a hold on the fate of these regions, and became the figurehead of a national consciousness, which remains to this day.

As an example of this, the Dutch national anthem derives from a marching song written during the conflict by Adrian Valerius. The lyrics, by Philip de Marnix, are in recognition of the plight of William, caught between the conflicting pressures of his people and his boss.

Het Wilhelmus (Dutch version)

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
ben ik, van Duitsen bloed,
den vaderland getrouwe
blijf ik tot in den dood.
Een Prinse van Oranje
ben ik, vrij onverveerd,
den Koning van Hispanje
heb ik altijd geëerd.

Official English translation:

William of Nassau, scion
Of a Dutch and ancient line,
I dedicate undying
Faith to this land of mine.
A prince I am, undaunted,
Of Orange, ever free,
To the king of Spain I've granted
A lifelong loyalty.

Essentially, the song is from William’s point of view. This first verse declares his credentials, proclaims faith in the lands that he now feels responsible for, claims freedom as a Prince of Orange, and then reminds everyone that he is still a vassal of the King of Spain. And the Dutch sing this to this day. Weird.

Anyway, this is how this particular family became entrenched in the midst of power in the Netherlands. They would not be kings, just yet, but they were big players.

Princes of Orange after William the Silent

William was assassinated in the midst of the rebellion. The position of Stadhouder had now come to represent the leader of the rebellion. His eldest son, also William, had been captured and taken to Spain as a hostage. Therefore his second son, Maurice, was appointed Stadhouder and took over the military leadership of the fledgling country.

Maurice had a big stick which he was not afraid to use.

Maurice had a big stick which he was not afraid to use.

Over the 17th century, the Netherlands established itself as a mercantile Republic. During this period, it enjoyed its greatest prosperity and scope of global influence. This century also included prolonged warfare against Spain, but also against England and, eventually France, Sweden and some Germans too.

The Princes of Orange were not always allowed to be strong stadhouders, if at all. The republic and its wealth was driven by its navy, and some of its most important trade battles were fought on the sea.

When the entire country was attacked simultaneously by the French, British, Swedes and forces of Cologne and Munster, however, in 1672, the population began to cry for the leadership of an Orange prince, who could take control of a neglected army, and repel the invaders. William III, a young man determined to bring his title back into absolute prominence, did just that

He would end up riding a wave that, only about 15 years later, would bring him all the way across the English Channel and onto the English throne.

The Monarchy (ruled by a Frenchman). La Monarchie.

The Republic would persist until the 1790s, when it was replaced by a French military occupation that would result in Napoleon putting one of his brothers on a brand-new crown. Louis Bonaparte was the first ever King of Holland.

This didn’t last long, however, as Louis wanted to be his own man and Napoleon had determined that HE was the only one in the family who could be his own man. He sacked his brother and just made the Netherlands a part of France.

Following Napoleon’s defeat, however, the Princes of Orange were once more looked at to provide a leadership of the Netherlands. William V put his hand up as the Sovereign of the Netherlands. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, he declared that this was now a Kingdom, and he was now the King.

Willem I, King of the Netherlands.

Willem I, King of the Netherlands.

So, finally, the Orange-Nassau family had done it. They were Kings. Woohoo. But it would not be smooth sailing ahead. Pretty soon the Belgians decided to rebel and seek a Belgian king. Furthermore, the 19th century around Europe saw great strides made in the social and political imaginations of people all across Europe. King William II was forced to erode most of his own power in the Netherlands, in the wake of the 1848 Revolutions in major European cities and states.

King William III was not a good roll on the monarchy dice. He irritated pretty much everyone, and under his tenure the monarchy’s popularity plummeted. Fairly late in life he married Emma, and when he died in 1890, she became the regent on behalf of the only surviving child that the dead king had, his 5 year old daughter Wilhelmina.

Princess’s Day to Queen’s Day to King’s Day

To stoke the public imagination for the monarchy once more, after William III’s contemptuous rule, it was decided that Princess’ Day , marking Wilhelmina’s birthday, would be celebrated in Utrecht. This would be the birth of what has become, today, King’s Day.

Wilhelmina was succeeded in abdication by her daughter, Juliana, in 1948, and the celebration continued, now on Juliana’s birthday, April 30th. In 1966, Beatrix married Claus van Amsberg, a German prince who had been a member of the Hitler Youth and in the German Wehrmacht. Due to the post-war resentment many felt towards Germany, the marriage was extremely unpopular and actually sparked riots. Watch the video below and you’ll see rebellious youths hurling smoke bombs at the royal couple as they drive towards the ceremony at the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. Claus would go on to become one of the most popular members of the royal family.

When Julian abdicated, Beatrix became Queen in 1980. Her investiture was marked by riots once again, this time led by squatters who were pissed off about the lack of affordable housing in the country. The slogan was “geen woning, geen kroning”, no house, no coronation. Check out the video below.

The violence of the riots ended up causing more damage to the squatters’ reputation than Beatrix’s. Queen’s Day was an entrenched custom by this point, but Beatrix’s birthday is January 31, which is a terrible time for a public party. So she made a royal decision and kept the date of Queen’s day on her mother’s birthday.

When, in due turn, she abdicated in 2013, her son Willem-Alexander took over. So, for the first time, King’s Day was celebrated. The date was moved forward three days, as his birthday is April 27, so he was able to wave his big, orange scepter (which we imagine Dutch Kings to always have with them), and King’s Day is celebrated on his birthday.

It has rained on every single one so far.

Fact checking of live interviews:

  1. The Massacre of Naarden happened in 1572. The Spanish did, indeed, lay waste to the town of Naarden.

  2. King Willy was indeed jokingly known as Prins Pils prior to being Big Willy.

  3. Queen Maxima’s father was Jorge Zorreguieta, who was an Argentinian minister for Agriculture during the military dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla from 76-81. It was a fiercely debated issue when Willem-Alexander married his Argentinian fiance, Maxima. Her father, in the end, was prevented entry into the Netherlands due to this background. He died in 2017. He is seen by some as a ‘bad man’. Maxima’s hair is indeed better now than when she first became a princess.

  4. The Dutch did not invent carrots. We will tackle this myth.

  5. The Dutch did not want to kill all the Catholics, but Catholicism was indeed illegal.

  6. The Polder System of organisation and decision-making is very much a thing.

  7. The ‘Boy who stuck his finger in the dike’ is a myth that originates from a novel called Hans Brinker; or, the silver skates: A story of life in Holland. It was written in the US, by American author Mary Mapes Dodge and published in 1865. It is very much not a Dutch story.

  8. The Austrian Crown is, indeed, all over Amsterdam. This is due to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, granting Amsterdam the use of his crown’s image in the 1480s., in return for the city loaning him 10,000 pounds of gold. It’s absolutely fascinating, and we will cover it for sure in the future.

  9. Hitler was not German.

Maxima, then and now. Note the improved hair.

Maxima, then and now. Note the improved hair.

Some impressions of King’s Day