Dutch Prince to Tie the Knot

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- Once again, Europe is being treated to the storybook spectacle of a royal wedding: queens and princesses in regal finery, gilded carriages clattering over cobbled streets, adoring crowds paying tribute to their sovereign.

Still, a royal marriage is not what it used to be. Rather than a union of blue bloods or an alliance of powers, most royal couples today tend to look, well, ordinary.

On Saturday, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, the 34-year-old Prince of Orange and heir to the Dutch throne, weds Maxima Zorreguieta, 30, an Argentine beauty who has so captivated the nation that she outshines her betrothed.

She has even managed to overcome the rumblings provoked by her father having served for two years in the Argentine dictatorship of Jorge Videla.

Her lack of aristocratic blood is no problem for the Dutch, who take pride in being average and avoid standing out. Members of the royal family are treated here more like local celebrities or sports heroes -- honored rather than revered.

Many Dutchmen shrug off the powerless monarchy as irrelevant, but prefer to keep the tradition rather than trade it in for a figurehead president.

Even die-hard republicans, who want the monarchy dismantled and who plan to hold demonstrations on the wedding day, admit Maxima has given the royals renewed sparkle and popularity.

With all the pomp that the Royal Court can muster, the eldest son of Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus will ride from Amsterdam's 594-year-old Nieuwe Kerk, or New Church, with his bride in the same horse-drawn carriage used 100 years earlier for the wedding of his great-grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina.

It is a marriage that recalls ancient times, but also reflects modern tragedies.

Maxima's father, Jorge Zorreguieta, is a wealthy rancher and businessman who served as agriculture minister in the Argentine regime that jailed, killed or kidnapped thousands of political opponents who were never seen again.

The royal family thought they had put the issue to rest when Maxima, appearing in public for the first time at the formal engagement last March, denounced the Videla regime and said her father would not attend the wedding.

During that televised news conference, Maxima surprised viewers with her fluent Dutch and managed to appear charming, assertive and self-effacing.

But the controversy was not entirely buried. Further inquiries resulted in a government-sponsored report that concluded Zorreguieta had been aware of human rights abuses, even if he did not participate in them.

The prince then ruffled feathers by dismissing the report as "an opinion." The palace published what amounted to an apology, reiterating that "the prince and his bride-to-be reject the regime" in which her father served.

Parliament has yet to decide whether Maxima will have the title of queen when her husband ascends the throne, or remain a princess, the title she is granted on her wedding day. She will not be in line to become sovereign.

Many Dutchmen see Maxima as a Princess Diana figure. Graceful and popular, she is marrying a prince often seen as lacking charisma and commonly described as "not very clever" -- an impression strengthened by what is seen as his bungling of the Zorreguieta affair.