“Prinsjesdag”: The Speech from the Throne
This is the day on which the Queen addresses a joint session of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament in the Ridderzaal or Hall of Knights in The Hague. The Speech from the Throne sets out the main features of government policy for the coming parliamentary session. The occasion is prescribed by the constitution, article 65 of which states: ‘A statement of the policy to be pursued by the Government shall be given by or on behalf of the King before a joint session of the two Houses of the States General that shall be held every year on the third Tuesday in September or on such earlier date as may be prescribed by Act of Parliament’.
The Speech from the Throne has no fixed order of sequence: over the years it has varied considerably as regards length and content.Until 1983, the annual session of parliament was opened on the third Tuesday in September. However, the revision of the constitution in that year changed the length of a parliamentary session from one year to four. This means that Prinsjesdag is no longer the official opening of the parliamentary session.
Origins of the name
Prinsjesdag or Prince’s Day was originally instituted to mark the birthday of Stadholder Prince William V (8 March). In the 18th century it was one of the country’s most popular public holidays. In the Patriot era (1780-1797) it provided an opportunity for demonstrations of loyalty to the House of Orange. This is probably why the name was chosen in the 19th century for the ceremonial opening of Parliament.
The third Tuesday in September
The constitution has long stated that the opening of parliament should take place on a fixed date, but it was only with the revision of 1887 that it was laid down that it should be the third Tuesday in September. Originally, in the first half of the 19th century, it had been the first Monday in November and then the third Monday in October. When annual budgets were introduced by the 1848 revision of the constitution, more time was needed to debate them and so the opening date was brought forward by a month. But Monday was unsatisfactory.
Many members of parliament from distant parts of the country found it difficult to reach The Hague early on Mondays. So that they did not have to leave home on a Sunday, the 1887 revision of the constitution moved the opening of parliament to a Tuesday. Even though Prinsjesdag has not represented the official opening of the parliamentary session since 1983, the third Tuesday in September still remains in the constitution as the day on which the Speech from the Throne is delivered.
The Hall of Knights
The Speech from the Throne is delivered in the Ridderzaal or Hall of Knights in the Binnenhof in The Hague , which was built by Count Floris V of Holland in 1280. However, from 1815 to 1904, the Speech was given in the assembly room of the Lower House. After an extensive restoration at the beginning of the 20th century, the Hall of Knights – now with a gothic throne on the dais and the flags of the provinces hanging from the ceiling – once again became a worthy setting for state ceremonial.
Just before 12.30 p.m., the members of the two Houses assemble, sitting opposite the throne and on its left and right side. The ministers and state secretaries and the Council of State are on the left. They and the members of parliament all sit in the ‘enceinte’, an area enclosed by unobtrusive wooden barriers symbolising the fact that the head of state is in conference with parliament and the Council of State. The presence of the Council of State dates from its standing at the beginning of the 19th century as the most important body advising the head of state. Although its nature has changed considerably since then, it has retained its place at the ceremony in the Hall of Knights because it is still the Crown’s supreme advisory body. Indeed, under the constitution the Council of State may, if necessary, exercise the royal prerogative.
Elsewhere are the seats for the members of the other High Councils of State, senior civil servants, high-ranking officers of the armed forces, senior members of the judiciary, the Queen’s Commissioner in the province of South Holland , the mayor of The Hague , the representatives of foreign heads of state and specially invited guests.
Shortly before 1 p.m. the Speaker of the Upper House, who presides over the joint session, opens the meeting, and then appoints a number of ushers from among the members of the two Houses for the Queen and her entourage.
The procession to the Binnenhof
On the stroke of one, the Queen, normally accompanied by other members of the royal house, leaves Noordeinde Palace for the Binnenhof, escorted by court dignitaries and a military guard of honour. The Queen travels in the golden coach.
The route taken to the Binnenhof has changed over the years. The procession used to pass through the Stadhouderspoort or Stadholder’s Gate, between the Binnenhof and the Buitenhof, as it was high enough to allow the golden coach to pass underneath it. But when the flagstones were renewed in 1925 the road was raised somewhat and the gate became too low. Since then the golden coach has approached the Binnenhof from the other side, past the Mauritshuis through the Middenpoort (Middle Gate) and Grenadierspoort (Grenadiers’ Gate), though even these gateways are barely higher than the tip of the crown on the top of the coach.
Guards of honour and military bands stand outside Noordeinde Palace and at the Binnenhof. From the moment the procession leaves the palace, salutes are fired at one-minute intervals to let the people know that the head of state is on her way to the joint session of the States General.
Ceremony in the Hall of Knights
When the Queen arrives in the Binnenhof the band by the steps strikes up the national anthem. The Queen and the other members of the royal family salute the flag and mount the steps of the Hall of Knights, above which hangs a canopy. At the entrance to the Hall they are received by the ushers. The Speaker announces the arrival of the head of state, the sign for everyone present to rise. The Queen then proceeds to the throne, from where she delivers her speech.
After the Queen’s closing words, the Speaker cries ‘Long live the Queen’, which is followed by three cheers from everyone present. The first time this happened was in 1897, when the young Wilhelmina accompanied her mother, Queen Regent Emma. This brings to an end the joint assembly of the two Houses; it is a purely ceremonial occasion, with no political discussion.
The royal party is escorted to the door, and the Speaker declares the session closed. The guard of honour forms once again in the Binnenhof as the Queen leaves the Hall of Knights, and the procession returns to the palace.
(Text originally from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but has been removed from their site and can thus not be linked to anymore.)