Inside Queen Maxima’s life: from a fairy tale romance to sister’s tragic death. And how her father’s links with the junta that killed thousands in Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ threatened to wreck her royal wedding
- Queen Maxima of the Netherlands celebrates her 52nd birthday on May 17
- The Dutch Queen is from Buenos Aires and met her royal husband by chance
- Read here: How Europe’s royals are related to the late Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands is one of the most popular royals Europe, applauded for intelligence, charisma, humanitarian work – and an impressive collection of hats!
Maxima was not born in Holland. Rather, she grew up tens of thousands of miles away in Argentina before moving to New York, where she was a high-flying investment banker, working 16 hours a day.
But all that changed when she met an unassuming Prince at a party in Spain, leading to what seemed to be a fairy tale romance.
Queen Maxima and King Willem-Alexander have now been married for more than two decades – with a decade on the throne. But there have been plenty of obstacles to overcome along the way, including the tragic death of a sister and Dutch public anger about her father’s involvement in the military junta responsible for the ‘dirty war’ than killed thousands.
The Mail’s new Royals section looks back on the life of Queen Maxima as she is prepares to turn 52 in May.
The future Queen was educated at the English-style Northlands school in the city where she received a bilingual baccalaureate in 1988, speaking fluently in her native Spanish and English. Pictured: Maxima in her childhood years, around 1977
Maxima graduated with a degree in economics from the Universidad Católica Argentina before moving to the United States to work in a number of banks in New York
Maxima Zorreguieta was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 17 1971 to Jorge Horacio Zorreguieta and Maria del Carmen Cerruti de Zorreguieta. Pictured: Queen Maxima in the Netherlands in 2017
Maxima Zorreguieta was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 17, 1971 to Jorge Horacio Zorreguieta and Maria del Carmen Cerruti de Zorreguieta.
Her father was an established politician, serving as the Minister of Agriculture under the regime of General Jorge Rafael Videla, commander in chief of the army and a member of the right-wing junta than ran Argentina.
His involvement in the dictatorship would later become an issue for Maxima to confront.
It is remembered as the period of the ‘dirty war’ against political opponents in Argentina. Up to 30,000 people died.
Maxima spent her childhood in Buenos Aires with two brothers, one sister and three half-sisters.
The future Queen was educated at the English-style Northlands school in the city, where she received a bilingual baccalaureate in 1988, speaking fluently in her native Spanish and English.
She later learned to speak Dutch as well as conversational French.
She went on to study at the Universidad Católica Argentina, where she graduated with a degree in economics in 1995.
While at university, Maxima revealed her strong-willed nature by confronting a priest in a theology class who said ‘women should serve men’ to which she retorted ‘why am I actually studying then?’ leading her to be removed from the class.
After graduating, she had a brief stint working in Buenos Aires before relocating to the United States where she took on a series of high-flying roles.
Maxima Zorreguieta was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 17 1971 to Jorge Horacio Zorreguieta and Maria del Carmen Cerruti de Zorreguieta. Pictured: baby Maxima in 1971
A photo of Maxima as a small girl taken around 1972
Maxima spent her childhood growing up in the Argentinian capital alongside her two brothers, one sister and three half-sisters. Pictured: Maxima with her mother and brother in 1974
The future Queen was educated at the English-style Northlands school in the city where she received a bilingual baccalaureate in 1988, speaking fluently in her native Spanish and English. Pictured (right) with friends in Buenos Aires
These included being vice president of Latin American Institutional Sales for the finance house HSBC James Capel Inc. in New York before moving to Deutsche Bank, where she became vice president of Institutional Sales.
Little did she know that in April 1999, while on holiday in Seville, she would meet the love of her life.
The pair had both been attending a party at the annual Seville Spring Fair where she bumped into her future husband Prince Willem-Alexander.
During their chance encounter, the future King decided to keep his royalty a secret, not disclosing to Maxima he was a prince until later on.
When he declared his royal status, she thought it was a joke.
The fact Maxima was unaware of his royal ties, however, did not seem to put a dampener on their relationship as two weeks later Willem had flown out to New York to meet her.
Although they were in a serious relationship, Maxima did her best to keep the prince’s identity secret.
She said: ‘I would tell them something different (about Willem) every time, but at some point, there was nothing for it other than to say: “He’s the Prince of the Netherlands.”’
Willem and Maxima making their first public appearance in 2001. The future King decided to keep his royalty a secret at first. When he finally admitted the truth, she thought it was a joke
Prince Willem and Maxima announcing their engagement in 2001. They met two years earlier
The newly weds waving to the crowd on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam in February 2002
Maxima and Willem attend the Wedding of Princess Martha Louise of Norway in Trondheim
The next year, in May 2000, Maxima relocated to work at the European Union Representative Office of Deutsche Bank in Brussels, Belgium.
Soon after the move, in 2001, Willem proposed to Maxima while ice-skating on a pond near Huis ten Bosch Palace.
The couple were married on February 1 2002 at Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk, however, it was not straightforward leading up to the wedding and her father’s past threatened their marriage.
It became a point of national debate in the Netherlands whether Maxima could become part of the royal family because of her father’s ties with the junta.
Maxima’s father, born on January 18 1928, into a wealthy farming family, served as the Minister of Agriculture in the 1976-83 dictatorship.
During the period of ‘The Dirty War’ up to 30,000 people are believed to have been tortured and killed.
It is estimated that between 7,000 and 9,000 political prisoners ‘disappeared’ under Videla’s charge, with many being dumped in the Rio de la Plata River from airplanes.
During the dictatorship, up to 400 babies of political prisoners were stolen, being put up for adoption or given to military police couples.
Maxima’s father served as the Minister of Agriculture in the 1976-83 dictatorship. During the period of ‘The Dirty War’ up to 30,000 people are believed to have been tortured and killed. Pictured: General Jorge Rafael Videla (left) with Maxima’s father
Maxima’s father was neither invited nor welcome to the wedding on Dutch soil. Her mother chose to stay away, too. Pictured Jorge and Maria del Carmen Cerruti Zorreguieta in 1979
Jorge Zorreguiet in 2000. He was never convicted, unlike the leader of the junta, Videla, who was jailed for 66 murders, 306 kidnaps, 93 cases of torture and child kidnappings
The junta pursued political opponents, union members, student activists and social workers, rousting people from their homes and torturing them in clandestine detention centres.
Known as a technocrat while heading the Agriculture Ministry, Maxima’s father was one of the longest-serving civilian Cabinet ministers during the regime.
But he denied knowing anything about the human rights abuses committed under the regime.
While he was shamed for his role in the regime he was never convicted unlike the leader Videla who was convicted of 66 murders, 306 kidnappings, 93 cases of torture and a number of child kidnappings. He died in 2013 in jail.
Maxima and Willem were only allowed to marry after the Dutch parliament investigating her father’s past concluded that the future Queen had known nothing of the war atrocities. She had been in primary school during the junta years.
The controversy almost led to King Willem to renounce the throne to ensure he could be with Maxima, Hello! Magazine reported in 2016.
But the Dutch royal family backed Maxima in the months leading to their wedding, with Queen Beatrix famously defending her future daughter-in-law when questions were raised about whether Maxima was suitable for the royal family.
Throughout the dispute, Beatrix continued to welcome Maxima into her family, even including her in official royal photos leading up to their marriage.
Then Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima with their younger daughters Princess Amalia and Princess Alexia. They would have three children together
Queen Maxima with King Willem-Alexander and daughter Catharina-Amalia, Princess of Orange, during their royal tour of the Dutch Caribbean Islands in early 2023
Princesses Amelia, 19, (left) Princess Alexia, 17 (centre) and Princess Ariane, 15 with Maxima
Her late husband, Prince Claus, called Maxima an ‘intelligent, modern woman’ in a rare television address made to announce the engagement.
While the wedding was able to go ahead, Maxima’s father was neither invited nor welcome on Dutch soil. Her mother, too, stayed away.
Speaking about the issue ahead of her big day, Maxima said: ‘As a daughter I find it terrible that my father won’t be there but that’s the way it is, and I understand the feelings of the Dutch on the question.
‘When we’re in the church, we have to say, “This is our day”. I think I won’t see anyone there but Alexander.’
After marrying into the royal family, she continued to keep her Argentinian citizenship alongside her Dutch citizenship.
She said: ‘I am Latin, and I will continue being Latin. I dance, I sing, and I will keep on dancing and singing.’
Her husband said at the time: ‘I fell in love with this Maxima: spontaneous, interesting, nice.
‘It wasn’t always, nor will it be easy, but I hope that she stays the same person as she is now.’
Maxima overcame the controversy surrounding their marriage amazingly, winning over the Dutch people with her smile, charisma and intelligence.
The couple celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary earlier this year.
The most recent polls suggest that Queen Maxima is the most popular member of the royal family.
In 2013, Queen Beatrix stepped down after 33 years on the throne, making way for Williem and Maxima to take her place.
Maxima became the first Dutch Queen Consort since 1890.
Throughout her two decades in the royal family, Maxima has taken on a number of official roles.
This includes being a patron, along with her husband, of the Orange Fund, an organisation created by the couple to provide ‘social welfare and cohesion in the Netherlands’.
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands with the Prince and Princes of Wales at Ascot, 2019
The late Queen Elizabeth greets Queen Maxima at Horse Guards Parade in October 2018
Maxima overcame the controversy surrounding their marriage, winning over the Dutch people with her smile, charisma and intelligence. This year marked their 21st wedding anniversary
Queen Maxima is also a member of the Council of State, which provides independent advice on legislation and governance.
Alongside her royal duties, the Queen has also put her economic skills to good use.
In 2009 she was appointed the UN’s Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA).
Through this role, she advises the Secretary-General on how to make financial services accessible to all, including those on low income.
This helps small businesses across the world open banks or savings accounts, as well as get insurance or loans.
In 2011 she was also made an honorary chair of the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), where she looks to build relationships between the UN and G20, to once again improve inclusive finance across the world.
The couple have three children together, Princesses Amelia, 19, Princess Alexia, 17 and Princess Ariane, 15.
Her father, who died of cancer at age 89 in 2017, was permitted to attend the three christenings of his granddaughters as the Dutch government considered these a private event, rather than a state matter.
A year after her father died, Maxima was hit with another tragedy when her sister Inés Zorreguieta, 33, took her own life.
This led to Maxima cancelling her royal visits to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, leaving her husband to carry out the duty alone.
Speaking on her return to royal duties, two weeks after her sister’s sudden death, the Queen made a tearful statement to the press.
Following a visit to Proton Therapy Center in Groningen she said: ‘People who are sick, yet who hope for a cure. My dear, gifted little sister Inés was sick too. She could find no joy, and she could not be cured.
‘Our only comfort is that she has now at last found peace. And I would like to say how very grateful we are for the countless letters, messages and tokens of sympathy that we have received.
Maxima and Willem, then Crown Prince and Princess, in Stockholm, 2006
Queen Maxima and Princess Beatrix reportedly have a close relationship. Pictured: The Queen and Princess in November 2019
Queen Maxima dancing with locals during the royal tour of the Caribbean islands this year
‘They have really helped us. I’d also like to say thank you for the respect that everyone has shown my family in this very dark period.’
Last year, Maxima shut down any perceptions that marrying into the royal family was a ‘fairy tale’, adding that life as a modern Queen is a lot of hard work.
She told Al Jazeera: ‘I don’t think this fairytale exists. I think it is more hard work than anything else I have ever done, and I was a banker in New York working 16 hours a day.
‘It is a lot of responsibility and there is a responsibility for us to make a change somewhere, which is something I take very seriously.’
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