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Editorial: Royalty Check; Fewer Absolutes Among Monarchs

We confess that in the crush of pressing news business, we kind of lost track of the activities of European royalty. Turns out we should have paid attention.

We were astonished to learn earlier this week that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands had abdicated at age 75 after 33 years on the throne. Not only that, her decision was greeted with enthusiasm by her subjects, even though she remains popular with the laid-back Dutch as a champion of cultural and ethnic diversity.

Of course, royal abdication was notably given a bad name by King Edward VIII’s 1936 decision to renounce the English throne in order to marry an American divorcee. But there was no scandal attached to Beatrix’s decision to step down, which was first announced in January (see, we really haven’t been paying attention). Instead, it was impelled by the desire to make way for a younger generation, specifically her son, Willem-Alexander, and his Argentine-born wife, Maxima.

That the new king and queen have no intention of allowing stuffiness to creep into their reign can be inferred from Willem-Alexander’s vow that they will not be “protocol fetishists.”

This was all very refreshing, and made more so when we learned from The New York Times that the new king — at age 46, Europe’s youngest monarch — is a water management specialist by profession, while his wife, 41, was an investment banker before embarking on her fairy tale romance with the heir to the Dutch throne. Who knew that kings and queens had day jobs before ascending the throne? Talk about the common touch. What’s more common that punching a time clock, at least figuratively.

Besides enhancing the image of investment bankers, Maxima is apparently quite popular with her new subjects despite being a commoner and a Roman Catholic in a Protestant stronghold, mostly because she has added a bit of glamour to an otherwise decidedly low-key family.

Nonetheless, this somewhat relaxed approach to monarchy perhaps accounts for the institution’s continuing popularity with the Dutch people, tens of thousands of whom crowded shoulder to shoulder in the square outside the royal palace to cheer their old queen, now returned to princess status, and her successors following the abdication. Many in the crowd wore orange, the royal color, and more than a few donned inflatable orange crowns given out by the national lottery. (Yes, we know it sounds absurd, but probably no more absurd than NFL fans who dress in team colors to watch the game at home on television.)

Bart Koops, a business executive, could barely contain his enthusiasm when interviewed by the Times outside the palace. “Monarchy is what unites us and makes us Dutch,” said Koops, noting that Dutch royals are much less formal than their British counterparts and very much in tune with the tolerant spirit of the Netherlands. “Look at the countries that don’t have royalty. They are missing something.” Maybe he’s got a point.

Speaking of changing times among royalty, they apparently are not confined to the Netherlands. According to the Times, the prospects for the survival of Sweden’s royal family, troubled by scandal, have been improved by the popularity of the crown princess — who married her personal trainer in 2010.