King of the Netherlands

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King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, 2013

King of the Netherlands ( Dutch : Koning der Nederlanden ) is the title of a Dutch state organ. The king is considered the head of state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and thus of the four countries Netherlands , Curaçao , Aruba and Sint Maarten . The king is also part of the governments of these four countries, as well as chairing the Dutch Raad van State .

The king is also head of the royal house . Besides him, it consists of a few direct relatives. Membership is stipulated by law ( Wet lidmaatschap Koninklijk Huis , 2002). The much larger royal family with the other relatives must be distinguished from this.

Originally, the king had a strong position in the state, so that despite the constitution and parliament, he was able to rule primarily through decrees. However, during the 19th century, its power was severely restricted. The current King of the Netherlands has many rights in theory, but is without power in political practice.

Terminology, title and gender

Wapenbord with the coat of arms of the king’s lordships, Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam
The Dutch crown as a royal insignia. At coronations, for example, it is not placed on a head, but exhibited.

In the Dutch constitution, the head of state appears as a king . Before the constitutional reform in 1983 it was also called Kroon in many places , which sometimes meant the king as an individual, sometimes the government. But there are still places where Koning or Koninklijk actually mean the government. However, a koninklijk besluit , a royal decree, is not a decision of the king, but one of the government (to which the king and ministers belong). The constitution does not explicitly name the king as head of state, but this is taken for granted.

Dutch law (with the exception of the constitution) is preceded by a preamble in which the king is mentioned as follows:

Wij Willem-Alexander, bij de gratie Gods, Koning der Nederlanden, Prins van Oranje-Nassau, enz. enz. enz.
We Willem-Alexander, by God's grace, King of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange-Nassau, etc. etc. etc.

In addition to the prince title of the Orange, the king has many other titles, even if they are no longer used:

There used to be other titles, such as Duke of Limburg.

The constitution uses the term koning (king). A woman can also be king in the sense of the constitution. In 1891 a law stipulated that when a woman wears the crown, the term Koning is to be reproduced in official documents as Koningin (Queen).

The following inequality results for the spouses. The wife of a male head of state can bear the title of queen, as is Queen Maxima , the wife of King Willem-Alexander . That arises from tradition. The husband of a female head of state, on the other hand, is not allowed to call himself a king, but has to be content with the designation prince consort ( prins-gemaal ) or prince of the Netherlands. Otherwise, the wrong impression could arise that this husband is the king for the purposes of the constitution. Queen Beatrix's husband was Prince-Consort Claus .


The Dutch government consists of the king and the ministers. Since 1848 the constitution has stipulated that the king is onschendbaar (inviolable) and that the ministers are responsible. The position of the king is expressed, among other things, in the signing of laws and royal decrees (of the government), each of which is countersigned by a minister or state secretary. At the end of the formation of the government, the king signs the appointments of ministers and state secretaries, which are then sworn in before him.

According to the constitution, the king is chairman of the Council of State ( Raad van State ). However, it is a purely ceremonial and symbolic function. The vice-president of the State Council is responsible for conducting official business.

Until 2012, after parliamentary elections, the king appointed an informateur or formateur , who formed the government. This role has since been held by the Chairman of the Second Chamber of Parliament . However, the king is to be informed of the results of these processes and, in general, of government work.

Once a year the king reads out the speech from the throne ( Prinsjesdag in September), which was written by the cabinet.

The king has the same function in the remaining three countries of the kingdom, i.e. in Aruba , Curaçao and Sint Maarten . Since the king lives in the Netherlands, he is represented by a governor in each of these three countries. The king appoints this governor, but does not play a role in his selection.

Ministerial responsibility

A constitutional monarchy like the Netherlands is characterized by ministerial responsibility . According to the constitution, the king is inviolable, the ministers are responsible. An act of the king does not take effect until it is countersigned by a minister. The minister then takes responsibility.

If the king exercises his constitutional duties, he has been supported by the king's cabinet since 1841. This office (not to be confused with the government cabinet) regulates the communication between the king and the ministers as well as with other state organs. This office is also a ministerial responsibility.

The king is inviolable. This means that he cannot be called to account by any state body for his actions. This also applies to actions as a private person. However, he can be charged under civil law, for example if he is supposed to pay damages. In such a case, the king is represented by an agent. He has to comply with the criminal law, but cannot be prosecuted (with one exception: before the International Criminal Court ). The ministers then take on no criminal responsibility, but a political one. When it comes to very serious crimes, the call can be loud that the ministers should endeavor to have the king declared incapacitated.

Representative tasks

In addition to formal rights and duties, the king nowadays has a representative function and looks after the interests of the Dutch population in various ways.

The king's task is to bring people and groups together and to support the work of people and organizations that have a social bond function. Through his work he contributes to the stability of society and to the continuity and prosperity of the country. It expresses the sentiments of citizens about happy and sad events of national importance.

In addition, the king represents the Kingdom of the Netherlands internally and externally. He makes regular working visits to provinces and municipalities and also travels to the Caribbean parts of the kingdom . He also has several state visits every year , and he receives heads of state and government who in turn pay a visit to the Netherlands.

In addition, the king is a regular guest at congresses , opening events , anniversaries , commemorations and similar occasions. In this way, he draws attention to socially valuable initiatives and supports developments and activities that are useful in this context.

King as a private person

The king is a natural person like other people. In some cases, however, different norms apply to him than to other natural persons in the Netherlands. This is how the law determines who becomes the guardian of an underage king. Guardianship does not have to be in the same hands as a regency. A king also has basic rights like other people. As a public official, however, his rights are limited.

The problem with the king is that it is difficult to separate private person and office from one another. In principle, a king as a private person is free to express his opinion, including about the government. As a public official, however, he is not allowed to do so. This initially only applies to public occasions. But something that the king says in private can become public, and this automatically becomes a statement by the king as a public official. But the ministers must take responsibility vis-à-vis parliament for every act of the king.

Change of throne

Meeting on the occasion of Queen Juliana's abdication in 1980, her daughter
Beatrix next to her

Under constitutional law, a distinction must be made between the king as an official on the one hand and the office of the king, i.e. the function of the koningsschap , on the other. A distinction is to be made between the office and the koninklijk gezag , the powers of the office.

The koningsschap is obtained through succession, as described in the constitution (Art. 24). To do this, you have to be the legal descendant of King Willem I (the first official in 1815). Succession occurs when a king either dies or resigns from the koningschap .

A successor can only be a legal descendant of the king. Until 1983 this was the oldest son, since then the oldest child. First the descendants of the king and then those of his parents or grandparents and then their descendants are taken into account. An unborn child can also be a successor. No one can become a successor who has been legally excluded from inheritance. The constitution provides for a special procedure in parliament for this. No one can become or remain a king who enters into marriage without having obtained parliamentary approval. This also applies to the children from such a marriage. In 1964, the so-called "Irene Question" (Dutch: kwestie Irene ) caused a political crisis, which concerned whether a follower of the Roman Catholic faith could also ascend the throne in the traditionally Protestant Netherlands. The background was the engagement of Princess Irenes to the Spanish heir to the throne Carlos Hugo of Bourbon-Parma and her accompanying conversion to Catholicism. Irene's renunciation of a possible succession to the throne and the transfer of the wedding to Rome meant that the question of the monarch's faith was not officially answered conclusively.

You become king when your predecessor leaves office: For example, when Queen Wilhelmina abdicated, her daughter Juliana became the new queen at the same moment. The successor cannot refuse to inherit in advance; the successor does not have to agree to the succession. Only when he has become king can he abdicate himself. The new king also receives royal powers without any further action, such as without taking an oath.

However, someone can exercise royal powers without being king himself, for example a regent . That happened in 1890 when King Wilhelm III. died, leaving a widow and an underage daughter. At this point in time, the daughter Wilhelmina inherited the koningschap . But the Koninklijk gezag was exercised for eight years by the queen widow Emma as regent. A king can temporarily resign his powers, for example through illness, and is also replaced by a regent. Furthermore, Parliament may, by law and after consulting the Raad van State, declare the King incapable of exercising its powers. As an exception, this law does not have to be signed by the king (Art. 35 GW).

The reign is usually exercised by the presumed heir to the throne, provided that he is of legal age. If this does not exist, parliament can designate the regent by law. Around 1981 Prince Claus was appointed in the event that Queen Beatrix should die before her sons came of age. Otherwise, the Raad van State would exercise royal powers until a regent is appointed.

Public officials

Willem I 1815-1840
Willem II 1840-1849
Willem III 1849–1890, a few days before his death, his wife Emma became regent
Wilhelmina 1890–1948, until her 18th birthday (August 31, 1898) her mother Emma was regent
Juliana 1948-1980
Beatrix 1980-2013
Willem-Alexander 2013 – today

Individual evidence

  1. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, p. 25, p. 27.
  2. ^ Position - The king as head of state. In: The Dutch royal family. Retrieved June 3, 2020 .
  3. ^ Presidency in the Council of State - The King as Head of State. In: The Dutch royal family. Retrieved June 3, 2020 .
  4. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 70/71.
  5. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 75/76.
  6. Integrate, represent, motivate - the king as head of state. In: The Dutch royal family. August 28, 2017, accessed June 3, 2020 .
  7. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 38-39.
  8. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 40-41.
  9. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, p. 29.
  10. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 29/30.
  11. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 30, 33.
  12. J. Bosmans: State Competent vormgeving in Nederland . 12th edition. tape 2 . Van Gorcum, Assen 1999, ISBN 90-232-3510-X , p. 74-75 .
  13. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 30/31.
  14. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 31-33.
  15. ^ BP Vermeulen et al .: De Koning in het Nederlandse staatsrecht . Ars Aequi Libri: Nijmegen, 2005, pp. 33/34.