At around 12:30 on Prinsjesdag, the members of the Senate and House of Representatives enter the Ridderzaal.
They sit opposite and to the left and right of the throne. The ministers and state secretaries sit to the left of the throne. Behind them sit members of the Council of State, the government’s highest advisory body. They all sit in the ‘enceinte’ or enclosure, an area enclosed by unobtrusive wooden barriers, symbolising that Parliament is meeting. Outside this area are seats for the other High Councils of State, senior civil servants, high-ranking officers of the armed forces, senior members of the judiciary, the King’s Commissioner of the province of South Holland, the mayor of The Hague, ambassadors, special representatives and invited guests.
The President of the Senate presides over the joint session, which begins just before 13.00. The President appoints a number of members of parliament to act as ushers to meet the King and the other members of the Royal House at the entrance to the Ridderzaal. The President then announces the arrival of the head of state, which is the signal for those present to stand for the entrance of the members of the Royal House. The King and Queen take their seats on the thrones and the other members of the Royal House sit to the right of the thrones, as do the Grand Master of the Royal Household, the Mistress of the Robes and other Officers of the Royal Household. The Adjutant General and the other aides-de-camp sit on the left. The King then delivers the Speech from the Throne.
When the King has finished speaking, the President calls out ‘Long live the King!’ to which those present respond by giving three cheers. The ushers escort the King and the other members of the Royal House to a side room. The President then declares the joint session closed. The Golden Coach is ready when the King leaves the Ridderzaal, and returns to Noordeinde Palace by the same route. On their arrival, the King and the other members of the Royal House make a brief appearance on the palace balcony.
The first person to spontaneously call out ‘Long live the King!’ after the Speech from the Throne was Johannes Hendricus Donner, a member of the House of Representatives, in 1897. Other parliamentarians took over the tradition. Since 1946 it has fallen to the President of the joint session to call for three cheers.
On Prinsjesdag, the King invites a number of representatives of Dutch society to witness the events of the day at Noordeinde Palace. The guests and the members of the Royal Household who are not involved in the proceedings take their places under the colonnade in the palace forecourt. From here they have an excellent view of the departure of the procession for the Binnenhof. They can watch the rest of the Golden Coach’s journey and the delivery of the Speech from the Throne on television inside the palace.
The clothes and hats worn by the female members of the Royal House are much discussed. In 1977 Erica Terpstra, an MP for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), wore a hat in the Ridderzaal for the first time. Since then, the wearing of hats, some more striking than others, by female attendees has become a tradition and the hats are frequently a topic of conversation on Prinsjesdag.