A tradition of abdication – Luxembourg & The Netherlands

The declaration of Queen Juliana's abdication - Photo by Royal News

Luxembourg and the Netherlands both have a tradition of abdication, which can perhaps be explained by the fact that they were once in personal union. As the first steps have been made by Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg to abdicate, take a look at the history of abdication in the two nations.

From 1815, King William I of the Netherlands was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg. He also became the first to abdicate in 1840, following the disappointment of the loss of Belgium and his intention to marry his late wife’s lady-in-waiting, Henriette d’Oultremont. Officially, his reasons for abdication were the changes to the constitution that limited the monarch’s powers, and they may have played a role as well. On 7 October 1840, King William I officially abdicated in favour of his eldest son, who became King William II of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Abdication of King William I (RP-P-OB-88.675 – Public domain via Rijksmuseum)

The former King later wrote to Henriette, “Everything went very well yesterday. What had to be done was done in an appropriate manner. […] Public life has given way to private life, and the son is now charged with the duties that have rested on the father for so many years. May God help my son. May He bless him and grant him all that is necessary to fulfil the difficult and important task that rests on him with honour and for the happiness and satisfaction of all. You will certainly say, my dearest friend: Amen.”1

King William II reigned from 1840 until his death from illness in 1849. He was succeeded as King and Grand Duke by his eldest son, now King William III. He had been reluctant to accept his new position as he loathed the constitutional changes in 1848 that his father had agreed to, and he said he couldn’t possibly govern that way. Apparently, it took quite a bit of persuading from his mother for him to accept becoming King.  William III had three sons by his first wife, Sophie of Württemberg, but all three predeceased him. Following Sophie’s death, he remarried the much younger Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, who became the mother of his eventual heir, Queen Wilhelmina. As William left no son, Wilhelmina succeeded him in the Netherlands. However, in Luxembourg, there was a family pact that mandated male-only succession.

Thus, King William III was succeeded as Grand Duke of Luxembourg by a distant family member, Adolphe, Duke of Nassau. He reigned from 1890 until his death in 1905 and was succeeded by his eldest son, William IV, Grand Duke of Luxembourg. He would be the last male member of the Nassau, and he and his wife had six daughters. According to the family pact, “a daughter, and if there are several, the first-born, or in her absence, the next heir of the last male line, to the exclusion of all other more distant ones, should be called to succeed.” 2 William confirmed his eldest daughter, Marie-Adélaïde, as his heir and she succeeded him, briefly under the regency of her mother, in 1912.

Marie-Adélaïde reigned throughout the First World War, but her perceived support of the German occupiers led to great unpopularity. On the parliament’s advice, Marie-Adélaïde abdicated the throne in favour of her eldest sister, Charlotte, on 14 January 1919. She had written in October 1918, “In any new arrangements necessitated by the probable end of war, there is no need to show consideration for my person; I am contemplating abdication. For the future of the  Luxembourg dynasty, the securing of heirs is an essential condition. I shall never marry. My sister Charlotte has entered into an engagement with her cousin Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma. An early marriage is desirable.” 3

Following her abdication, she wrote, “By virtue of the report submitted to me by the Government concerning the conference recently held in Paris between them and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I have decided to renounce the crown of the Grand Duchy. In the fulfilment of my duties, I have always been animated by love for my country and by the desire to further its material and spiritual welfare. I wish to spare the  Luxembourg people any difficulties which might hinder the Government in the adjustment of the economic future of the country with the neighbouring nations.” 4 Following a referendum, Charlotte regained the love of the people and reigned until her own abdication in 1964. Marie-Adélaïde died of influenza in 1924.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a young Queen Wilhelmina had grown up and reigned independently since her 18th birthday. She led the neutral Netherlands through the First World War but was forced to make her way to England when the Second World War broke out. Queen Wilhelmina’s decision to abdicate certainly caused some raised eyebrows with her British cousins, who had been left reeling by the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. When the future Queen Elizabeth II dedicated her entire life to her people at the age of 21, Queen Wilhelmina commented, “She has definitely settled better to the inevitable than me and has raised herself higher above it.”5

In her memoirs, Wilhelmina wrote, “It was only after the period of transition following the liberation that I felt justified in seriously considering the question of abdication. An incentive was provided by my daily duties, which were more numerous than before the war and left my spirit little or no time for relaxation, which did not help my fitness at moments when special demands were made of me.” 6 On 12 May 1948, Wilhelmina announced her intention to abdicate in a speech on the radio. The date had some significance as the date of her father’s inauguration 99 years earlier. On 31 August 1948, a grand celebration took place in the Olympic Stadium of Amsterdam where she spoke the words, “I have fought the good fight.” 7 She would officially abdicate on 4 September 1948, 50 years and four days since the start of her personal reign. The new Queen was her only surviving child, now Queen Juliana.

Queen Juliana reigned from 1948 until her abdication in 1980, even though she had dreaded becoming Queen. The day before her official abdication, Juliana looked back on her reign with the words, “Life is beautiful but hard.” 8 The following day, Juliana signed her abdication, and her eldest daughter became Queen Beatrix. Like her mother before her, Juliana returned to using the style and title of Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana.

Over in Luxembourg, Charlotte reportedly felt her age when she expressed her desire to abdicate in favour of her eldest son.9 She passed some duties to Jean in 1961 before fully abdicating in 1964 at the age of 68. With the solemn words, “We, Charlotte, by the grace of God, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and Duchess of Nassau, proclaim that we are renouncing the crown of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in favour of our beloved son, the Crown Prince (sic) Jean.” She cited the length of her reign and “the limit that wisdom imposes to any human activity.” 10

In the Netherlands, Queen Beatrix reigned from 1980 until her abdication in 2013. According to the official website, she was convinced that the responsibility for the country should now go to a new generation. She also thanked everyone for the trust they had given her during the many beautiful years of her reign.11 She was succeeded by her eldest son, now King Willem-Alexander, who still reigns today.

Back in Luxembourg, Grand Duke Jean reigned from 1964 until his abdication in 2000. He gave up some royal duties to his eldest son, Henri, in 1998 before completely abdicating in 2000. According to the official website, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told the retiring Grand Duke, “You are one of us, and you have never given us the impression that you are different from us. (…) We have been and remain proud of you.” 12

Grand Duke Henri recently announced his intention to sign away some royal duties to his eldest son, Guillaume, thus paving the way for his abdication.

© SIP / Claude Piscitelli

The reasons for the abdication in the Netherlands and Luxembourg started off as rather diverse, but in more recent times, it was more of a way of making way for a new generation to take over. Or as Queen Wilhelmina poignantly wrote in her memoirs, “When we entered, we found a somewhat subdued atmosphere, which was, however, soon improved by my happy and cheerful manner. How numerous were and are my reasons for gratitude, in the first place, my confidence in Juliana’s warm feelings for the people we both love so much and in her devotion to the task that was awaiting her and her ability which she had proved on various occasions. Then also the fact that my office was transferred to her during my lifetime and that I might have the opportunity to see something of her reign. Really, there was no room for sadness in my heart.” 13

  1. Koning Willem I by Jeroen Koch
  2. Des Fürstlichen Gesamthauses Nassau im Jahre 1783 erneuerter Erbverein
  3. Marie Adelaide by Edith O’Shaughnessy p.166
  4. Marie Adelaide by Edith O’Shaughnessy p.207
  5. Wilhelmina, Krijgshaftig in een vormeloze jas by Cees Fasseur p. 535
  6. Lonely but not alone p.235
  7. Wilhelmina, Krijgshaftig in een vormeloze jas by Cees Fasseur p. 538
  8. Juliana by Jolande Withuis p.701
  9. The New York Times
  10. The New York Times
  11. Koninlijk Huis
  12. Grand Ducal Court
  13. Lonely but not alone p.237

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Be the first to comment on "A tradition of abdication – Luxembourg & The Netherlands"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.