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Culture

Dutch Queen Embroiled in Own Feud

Royal scandal, new to the Netherlands, has become a matter for the Dutch Parliament, which is looking into allegations against the queen.

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More than a little nosey: The Netherland's Queen Beatrix stands accused of spying on her niece.

No, it's not the scandal prone British royals' latest round of indiscretions. Nor is it another feud in Monaco. The gossip keeping the tongues of royal watchers wagging these days -- allegations of secret bugging, a smear campaign, an illegitimate child -- have centered on the usually Teflon-coated Dutch royal family, namely its matriarch Queen Beatrix.

More than just fueling newspaper sales, the scandal has now drawn the attention of the Dutch parliament, which convened a special hearing on Tuesday to debate whether the queen was guilty of abusing her power. The alleged victim of the queen's wrongdoing, her niece, has demanded a public apology and filed a lawsuit against former Prime Minister Wim Kok.

A Drama Played Out in the Headlines

The saga began last month when Princess Margarita de Bourbon de Parme gave a series of interviews to the Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd. One article, however, was not enough to contain this princess' litany of accusations. The magazine ran a special four-part series titled "Orange Bitters," chronicling Margarita's misadventures in the House of Orange. "I was loyal to my family my entire life, but the moment I expected support there was none," she said.

The articles were followed by a television interview, adding fuel to the fire and reminding many of Princess Diana's historic appearance on the BBC at the height of her marital troubles with Prince Charles. "They abuse power and that's not right," Margarita said in the television interview.

Among Princess Margarita's accusations are claims that the queen's late father, Prince Bernhard, had a 20-year affair with his secretary and that her own father had an illegitimate child with a nanny. But these nuggets of scandal were just bonus disclosures made by a chatty royal driven to talk by her own perceived suffering at the hands of a woman she paints as the queen of mean.

Königliches Niederländisches Brautpaar

Princess Margarita and husband Edwin de Roy van Zuydewijn

Margarita (photo) says Beatrix ordered the Dutch secret service to tap her home and private conversations with her husband, Edwin de Roy van Zuydewijn, a commoner whom she married last year. According to the princess, the queen was unhappy with her choice of husband and hoped to use the information to ruin his name and business, thereby prompting a split. This information, she says, was shared with members of her family, including her father and brother.

What's more, Princess Margarita, daughter of the queen's sister, Princess Irene (who gave up her claim to the throne to marry a Spanish aristocrat), says she was deliberately excluded from family events. Indeed, since the princess is fourth in line to the throne, her absences from the wedding of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and the funeral of Queen Beatrix's husband, Prince Klaus, last year were notable.

The princess suspected that negative press reports were based on information illegally obtained by her own family and appealed to the country's then prime minister, Wim Kok, for help before going to the press herself.

Seeking an Explanation

Early on, the Netherlands' current prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, tried to put a damper on the story. He appealed to the parties involved to work things out and put this episode behind them. "It can't go on like this: The public offensive must stop," Balkenende said. "It's painful to watch, and it's bad for the country's image."

But Margarita and her husband have not been so easily appeased and are willing to see this through. "The queen must apologize to us publicly," Zuydewijn told the German magazine Stern. "We will not be satisfied with less." That and €33.7 million ($36.3 million) in damages from the queen for ruining his reputation and business interests.

On Tuesday, they filed a lawsuit against Kok, accusing him of fraud, forgery and the divulging of professional secrets.

And though Balkenende initially played down the allegations, he has since acknowledged that the information service looked into Zuydewijn's background at the queen's request. He claimed this is standard procedure for someone marrying into the royal family. Still, he conceded it was a mistake that the ministers in charge of the two departments involved -- the justice and interior ministries -- were not informed of the investigation. He has since withdrawn the queen's power to request an inquiry without his personal consent.

Nonetheless, Dutch parliamentarians were not satisfied by Balkenende's explanation of the queen's actions and called a special hearing on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

Thom de Graaf, a parliamentarian from the centrist D66 party, told the Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad that Balkenende's explanation was not enough. The secret service could only investigate Zuydewijn if he were a potential threat to the democratic rule of law, for which there was no evidence.

Others found it difficult to understand how certain details were leaked to the princess' father and brother, yet the heads of the Justice and Interior ministries were not informed of these activities. The Algemeen Dagblad, a Dutch daily, said the current crisis could have "constitutional undertones" for the country.

A First for the Dutch

For now at least, Dutch royal watchers who may have found their own home-grown royals a bit of a snooze in the scandal department no longer have to look across the channel for fodder. "It struck like a bombshell," Fred Lammers, a biographer of Beatrix and Prince Bernhard told the Associated Press. "In Britain, when servants leave the court the first thing they do is write a book. Here, nobody leaks anything." This sign-of-the-times has likely not pleased Queen Beatrix. The royal family has denied the allegations, making just one statement thus far -- released shortly after the initial magazine interviews -- stating that it was surprised by the accusations and didn't care to comment further because of "love for the princess." But many parliamentarians -- and the princess -- are hoping the queen will soon have more to say -- by way of a reasonable explanation or public apology.