Unusually, controversy has haunted recent Royal marriages in Europe. First, it was Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon who shook his country when it was revealed that he was planning to marry a single mother. After the outrage died down, he married his Mette-Marit and she promptly became the nation’s sweetheart. In its own way, the marriage of Holland’s Crown Prince Willem-Alexander to the Argentinian Maxima Zorriegueta caused enough eyebrows to be raised – the proposed match was discussed in the Dutch parliament! But having just celebrated their first wedding anniversary, the vibrant Latin has matched Mette-Marit’s feat in Norway – she is now the sweetheart of the Dutch. Maxima met her Prince at a party in Seville. The Argentinian blonde had been told there would be a prince at the fiesta, but she had no clue who it might be. She wasn’t to know that not only would she meet the mystery royal, but that it would be the start of a romance that would lead to her becoming a member of the House of Orange. It was not, however, a case of love at first sight – when Willem-Alexander came to visit her in New York, where she was working with an investment bank, three weeks later, says Maxima, “I’d nearly forgotten what he looked like.”
Maxima was born May 17, 1971, to Jorge Zorreguieta and Maria del Carmen Cerruti in Buenos Aires. Her father was a wealthy landowner, but it was his political background that was to haunt his daughter. Meanwhile, she was educated at the English-style Northlands School in Buenos Aires, gaining a bilingual baccalaureat in 1988, and going on to study economics at the Universidad Catolica de Argentina.
Although Maxima had met her Prince while she was working for Germany’s Deutsche Bank and based in New York, the world first heard of her in August 1999, when the pair made their first appearance in public. They had been dating seriously, but Maxima thought it best kept hidden from her parents. “I would tell them something different, but at some point I had no other remedy than to say: ‘He’s the prince of Holland.’”
But the romance was not a fairy-tale – Maxima and Willem-Alexander walked into a storm when it emerged that, during the Seventies, Maxima’s father had served as Argentina’s agriculture minister during the rule of General Videla’s military dictatorship, infamous for human rights violations. Under Videla’s rule, any opposition was cruelly stamped out and many people were murdered or disappeared without trace. Was the daughter of a man like Mr. Zorreguieta worthy of marrying a Prince of the Netherlands? demanded the voices of dissent in the Dutch media.
Questions were asked in parliament. Had Mr Zorreguieta been personally involved in the crimes? If not, how much did he know and when did he know it? Some suggested that Willem-Alexander should give up his right to the throne, if he insisted on marrying Maxima. And Willem-Alexander hinted that he might do just that. In the end, the matter was settled. The prince could marry Maxima without forfeiting his succession, but Jorge Zorreguieta would not be invited to attend the wedding.
It was an uncomfortable compromise, and for Willem-Alexander the furore over Mr Zorreguieta has a particular edge of bitterness. His own father, the German Claus von Amsberg, had been the subject of similar controversy when he married Beatrix. At the time, Germans were about as popular in the Netherlands as Argentine junta members are today. That may have contributed to the princely couple’s dogged refusal publicly to disavow Jorge Zorreguieta.
Prime minister Wim Kok gained much respect for his negotiation of the situation. In the end, approval for the marriage was granted by the Dutch parliament (necessary by law for Willem-Alexander to remain heir to the throne) but Maxima’s father was not invited to the wedding. Maxima candidly accepted the protocol that would keep her father away from her big day. “As a daughter I find it terrible that my father won’t be there,” she said, “but that’s the way it is, and I understand the feelings of the Dutch on the question.” But political feeling had long been determinedly expressed amongst the Dutch, a noteworthy example being when theDutch soccer team met Argentina in the final of the World Cup in Buenos Aires in 1978. The Dutch players pointedly refused to be introduced to General Videla, thus avoiding the traditional handshake of these occasions.
Maxima was granted Dutch nationality on May 17, 2001. This provoked complaints from the left wing, since such a grant before marriage is not customary in the Netherlands (but requested by Dutch law for a royal bride). It is typically only possible after the marriage and often takes several years. Throughout the controversy – the Dutch parliament even went so far as to debate the issue – Queen Beatrix continued to embrace her son’s girlfriend. And on January 31, 2001, on the Queen’s 63rd birthday, she posed for photos alongside the couple, giving the relationship her royal stamp of approval. Two months later, accompanied by the happy couple and her husband Prince Claus, the monarch praised Maxima as “an intelligent modern woman” in a rare nationally televised address.
Becoming the Crown Princess of the Netherlands did not mean that Maxima, who has dual Argentine and Dutch citizenship, planned to lose her identity. She maintains: “I am Latin and I will continue being Latin in respect to some aspects of my culture. I dance, I sing – and I will keep on dancing and singing.” And does Willem-Alexander join in on the fun? “I keep trying to push him,” she says of her husband’s efforts on the dance floor. “His hips are a little rigid!”
(First published in Royalty Magazine Volume 18-06.)