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The Royal 2010s: a decade of abdications

By Floris Looijesteijn - Flickr:DSC02261, CC BY 2.0, Wiki Commons

The old decade is making its final bows and in days, the 2010s will be part of history. For Europe’s ruling houses, it’s been a momentous ten years and among the most striking and significant moments of that decade have been the abdications that swept in a new, younger set of monarchs.

From the expected change of ruler in the Netherlands to the surprises in Belgium and Spain, the 2010s will be remembered as the decade of abdications.

The Netherlands

The wave of change that altered the face of modern European royalty began on January 28th 2013 when the then Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced her abdication. In a short TV broadcast, she confirmed she would step aside later that year as she felt it was time to ”place responsibility… the hands of a new generation”. The move had been widely anticipated and followed the pattern set by her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, and mother, Queen Juliana, who had both abdicated. Beatrix, in her speech to the Netherlands, said she had been considering the move for several years. It paved the way for the country to get its first king in over a century as her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, prepared to take over with the support of his popular wife, Maxima.

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Beatrix chose to abdicate on April 30th 2013, Queen’s Day, and the 33rd anniversary of her own accession. Events marking this change of reign took place across several days with leading members of Europe’s ruling houses in attendance. Soon after 10am local time on April 30th, Beatrix she signed the instrument of abdication which ended her reign before appearing to cheering crowds alongside her eldest son. Willem-Alexander’s inauguration as King of the Netherlands took place later that afternoon with his mother now taking the title Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands. The former queen was widely praised at home and abroad for her reign.


Just weeks after the expected transition in the Netherlands, the King of the Belgians surprised many with his own abdication announcement. Plans were already in place for celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the reign of Albert II when the monarch said he would be stepping aside before reaching that milestone. Speaking to the Belgian people in a recorded message on July 3rd 2013, Albert said the move was for health reasons and would take place imminently. Belgium’s National Day, July 21st, was selected for this royal milestone.

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In the days beforehand, Albert and his wife, Queen Paola, made some farewell visits across the land they had unexpectedly come to rule. On July 21st they attended a Te Deum at the Cathedral of St Michel and St Gudule in Brussels before Albert signed away his throne in a ceremony at the Royal Palace. The inauguration of his elder son, Philippe, as King of the Belgians took place later that day. Despite the speed of the abdication process, the decision to mark the change on the country’s national day meant there were plenty in the Belgian capital to cheer the new monarch and his popular wife, Queen Mathilde, the first Belgian born consort of her country. Albert and Paola retained their titles of king and queen while the former ruler was lauded for his effective stewardship in times of political crisis.


Perhaps the most unexpected abdication of all came in Spain. The country’s royal family had seen its popularity plummet as the 2010s wore on but it was widely expected that King Juan Carlos, who took the throne in 1975, would rule until his death. However, on June 2nd 2014 his plans to step aside were announced by the country’s then Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, before Juan Carlos himself made a public broadcast later that same day. The necessary laws were quickly passed to allow the king to give up his crown. With the support of his consort, Queen Sofia, Juan Carlos began the final preparations to bring his reign to a close.

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He signed the instrument of abdication on June 18th 2014 in a short ceremony at the Palacio Real in Madrid. It took effect at midnight meaning Juan Carlos’ eldest son became King Felipe VI of Spain as the clock struck in June 19th. Felipe’s accession was marked by the symbolic presentation of the Captain General’s sash by Juan Carlos on the morning of June 19th before a ceremony in the Spanish parliament, the Cortes, and a balcony appearance by the new monarch accompanied by his wife, Queen Letizia.

As the 2010s come to an end, Royal Central will continue to look back at some of the major stories of the past ten years.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.