Every year, on the third Tuesday of September, the monarch of the Netherlands rides over in his carriage from his city palace in the Hague to the houses of parliament. Upon arrival he reads out a speech to the members of the legislature, outlining the government’s plans for the year ahead.
Both the formal address and the short drive over are steeped in protocol and attract various audiences -one suspects- with various motives: primary school pupils and their teachers, royal family enthousiasts, locals, journalists, law enforcement, parliamentarians. Still, there seems to be an overarching importance attached to the observation of protocol and the authenticity thereof. “In terms of ritual, the cognoscente can be pleased, even if this is a day nobody wanted” (“Qua rituelen komt liefhebber niets tekort, maar dit is een Prinsjesdag die niemand wilde” -Volkskrant) headlines a national newspaper, referring to the long wait for a new government following elections last March, yet to be concluded. Meanwhile, one can relish in sighting the king and queen in their 1826 glass carriage, and seeing the Dutch cavalry ride by in traditional dress. One can listen to the voice of the king transmitted from speakers along the route, whilst queueing for french fries, sharing a toast with neighbours, or visiting a make-shift toilet.
This draws out the question what audiences congregated this day are watching for: form or content, law or protocol, ritual, tradition, or politics? And how through their presence audiences are performing their part in the proceedings.