Some think André looks like Bruce Willis. And it’s true that his close-cropped head with piercing eyes, snub nose and shy smile will remind you of the hero who’s afraid of no-one and nothing. Every Saturday morning some of us, ‘sporters’, have cappuccino together after we’ve done our sweaty thing at Sport Accent Personal Health Center.
André is a ten-year old boy in the body of a man in his fifties who’s frequently sad because his mother passed away last year. Most of the time he’s cheery though, well-spoken and extremely civilized. He has a job as a candle maker. In his spare time he is a tenor in a Scheveningen choir and he loves everything that has to do with Dutch Royalty.
André met Queen – now Princess – Beatrix several times and one of his treasures is a letter signed by Her father Prince Bernhard, who expressed his regret that he was not able to attend a concert of André’s choir.
Last Saturday morning our conversation was about the Royal Celebration in The Hague. André said goodbye because he had to rush off to the Binnenhof where all Royalty would assemble in order to celebrate the first day of the two-year celebration of two centuries of Dutch Monarchy. He said he was especially looking forward to seeing Princess Beatrix. From afar. I suppose. But you never can tell. Maybe André has a hidden streak of ‘John McClanean’ brashness that we had not noticed yet.
André is a convinced Royalist like many other Dutchmen. Orangism is a strange tenacious phenomenon. Strange because the Netherlands was a Republic before it became a Monarchy. Most people don’t even know that it was a Republic (1588-1795) for a longer period than a Monarchy (1815-now). Strange too that most of this period the nation was more or less ruled by sovereigns of the House of Orange. Four centuries of members of the Orange family have been the frontpiece of the nation.
Saturday morning, while we were having our cappuccino’s, thousands of Dutchmen gathered at Scheveningen. Hague theatre director Aus Greidanus had trained hundreds of amateurs, soldiers and sailors to act the scene that had taken place on this spot two hundred years ago. The only professional actor was the staunch republican Huub Stapel (famous for his role as sleazer Johnnie in the 1986 film ‘Flodder’).
What happened in 1813? The French occupying forces had left the Netherlands. In the period that they’d reigned the Low Countries from 1795-1813 they had transformed the Republic into a Kingdom. Napoleon’s brother, Louis (Lodewijk) Napoléon Bonaparte (1778 – 1846) was the King of Holland from 1806 – 1810. The Dutch were quite fond of him and called him Lodewijk de Goede. In the last three years of the French period, emperor Napoléon annexed Holland to France because he needed soldiers for his battles.
When Napoléon fell in 1813, the last stadtholder had died and his son Willem-Frederik of Orange was in London. In November 1813, several leading Dutchmen requested his return to the Netherlands, not as the umpteenth stadtholder but as the country’s sovereign. November 30th he landed at Scheveningen beach where he was welcomed by a group of loyal Orangists. And that’s what Saturday’s celebration was about.
Two years later Willem Frederik took the title of king Willem I in Amsterdam. And so our monarchy started.
Tomorrow more about the strange word KONING, king.
(photo: Mirjam Ruijters, thanks!)