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Juliana prepares to step down

"Everyone who is getting old is sooner or later confronted with the sober fact that powers diminish and that one cannot carry out one's task as one used to. And then there comes a moment when it's no longer justified to continue carrying out duties. I feel that the moment has come to resign as your Queen."

With those words, spoken in the informal, no-nonsense style that had endeared her to her subjects throughout a 31-year reign, Queen Juliana of The Netherlands told a national television audience that she would abdicate on her 71st birthday this April 30. The occasion for the surprise announcement: the 42nd birthday last week of Crown Princess Beatrix, who will succeed her mother on the throne.

Juliana's abdication followed a precedent set by her strong-willed mother, Queen Wilhelmina, who passed the crown on to her in 1948. From the beginning of her popular reign, Juliana combined a deep-seated sense of royal duty with an instinctive dislike of pomp and protocol. More matronly than regal in bearing, she would ride a bicycle and shop at open markets like any Dutch housewife. But she also took her job as constitutional monarch seriously, and occasionally even played an active political role. In 1977 she reportedly delayed the formation of a new coalition government by insisting that the socialists be included.

The greatest challenges of her reign, however, came not from the political arena but from troubles within the royal family itself. In the 1950s she nearly caused a constitutional crisis by her involvement with Faith Healer Greet Hofmans, whose help she had sought to cure her semiblind youngest daughter, Maria Christina. Another shock came in 1964; although the House of Orange has been staunchly Protestant for 400 years, Daughter Irene converted to Catholicism in order to marry Carlos Hugo, an exiled Spanish prince. Two years later, Crown Princess Beatrix caused a public outcry by marrying German Diplomat Claus von Amsberg, who had served in the army of the Third Reich and had been a member of Hitler Youth. The bitterest blow of Juliana's reign was the public disgrace of her husband Prince Bernhard, whose role in the Lockheed bribery scandal was exposed in 1976. Like other crises, the Lockheed affair brought out the iron in Juliana's character. "Mammie," as the family calls her, fought like a lioness with then Premier Joop den Uyl, threatening to abdicate on the spot if her husband were subjected to the humiliation of a public trial. After an official investigation, Den Uyl agreed to drop the matter on the condition that Bernhard resign from all official duties.

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