Prince’s Day, the third Tuesday of September, is when the Dutch monarch reads a speech to the joint Houses of Parliament outlining the government’s plans for the year ahead.
The occasion sees King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima ride in the Golden Coach – which, due to its being under restoration, will be replaced by a Glass Coach for the next four years – from The Hague’s Noordeinde Palace to the Ridderzaal, the ornate “Knight’s Hall” that is the centerpiece of the gothic Binnenhof.
“The Hague is almost unique in being the seat of government but not the capital,” says Remco. “It was the home of the aristocracy and the burghers in places like Amsterdam were wary of them having too much power. The first King of The Netherlands [William I] needed money, so he made Amsterdam the capital because it was the richest city of the time. The Hague became the seat of government because the palaces were already here.”
As befits a country whose king, queen and prime minister are all regularly seen riding their bikes in public, I can wander through the parliament buildings. I follow a school group through a doorway and find myself in the Ridderzaal itself. The royal throne from which the king reads his speech is against one long side, like a church pulpit, with the queen’s throne standing beside and behind it.
The room is 26 meters high and its ceiling is made from Irish oak, pinned together with dowels but no nails. The hall was at one time a courtroom, and the beams are decorated with carved heads whose big ears supposedly reminded witnesses to tell the truth.
The grandeur of such a place, in fact the entire Prince’s Day ceremony, accompanied by booming salutes from cannon and jingling cavalry escort, can distract the visitor from the reality that it is Amsterdam, not The Hague, that is the Dutch capital.