Princess Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid was born on 16 April, 1940, at Frederik VIII’s Palace in Copenhagen, the eldest child of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark (elder son of the reigning King Christian X) and his Swedish-born wife Ingrid, the only daughter of the Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden (later King Gustaf VI Adolf). In addition to the Danish and Swedish royal houses, Margrethe also had strong links to the British Royal Family (her late maternal grandmother, after whom she was named, was Princess Margaret of Connaught, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.) Margrethe was born at a time of great national crisis in her Danish homeland as, only a week earlier, troops of the German Third Reich had occupied Denmark. The princess’s birth would later be referred to as ‘a touch of sunshine.’ in an otherwise bleak landscape. Nevertheless, the new-born did not even feature in the line of succession, despite the fact that Crown Prince Frederik was the current heir, as it was not possible for a woman to ascend the Danish throne.
Margrethe was christened on 14 May at the Holmens Kirke in central Copenhagen by Provost Dr Michael Neiendam. Given the circumstances, it was hardly a time for a large celebration. Indeed, the occupation period was a dramatic time for the Danish royal family, who had to walk a difficult path in relation to the German occupying power. King Christian X seemed to catch the mood of the moment when he set out resolutely, most mornings, to ride through the streets of Copenhagen, to be greeted with great enthusiasm by his subjects. He soon became a national icon among the population for this symbol of opposition. Meanwhile, both the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had difficulty accepting Denmark’s ‘cooperation’ with Germany but soldiered on with their life. Some would argue that it was more a process of ‘negotiation’ for, whereas in other occupied countries an independent German administration was established, in Denmark, it was still the Danish authorities that had the formal responsibility for governing. However, matters changed in late August 1943, when extensive sabotage activity (for instance the Danish navy sunk many of its own ships at Holmen) and unrest (including strikes and protests) in several Danish major cities led to the imposition of martial law by the Germans. The King was placed under house arrest for around six weeks and the Danish parliament ceased to function. The birth of another daughter, Benedikte, in April 1944, provided a welcome addition to the royal family, not to mention a playmate for Margrethe who was now often pictured with her parents. Meanwhile, opposition to the German occupiers continued apace with further strikes in Copenhagen and other towns in Zealand, Lolland-Falster and South Jutland. Then, in September 1944, several thousand Danish police were sent to concentration camps by the increasingly embattled occupiers.
Denmark was finally liberated on 5 May 5, 1945, at 08:00, by British forces led by Field Marshal Montgomery. An exception, however, was Bornholm, which was liberated by Soviet forces. In August 1946, Ingrid gave birth to a third daughter who was named Anne-Marie. She was seen by many Danes as a symbol of a liberated Denmark. The three sisters would form a tight bond which survived marriage and many decades later would provide comfort in widowhood. Ingrid was a relatively strict mother who liked order and routine. For instance, the children had their meals earlier than their parents and went to bed at a reasonable hour. What has recently been revealed, and briefly discussed by Margrethe herself, was the future king had a problem with alcohol. However, his wife was an invaluable support to him in the battle to fight this addiction which he eventually overcame. Margrethe would later reflect that ‘there was something or other’ but it certainly did not seem to impact greatly on the equilibrium of a happy childhood home. One occurrence which did make an impression was a car crash in the summer of 1948, when Margrethe’s mother was at the wheel of her Ford Mercury and hit a tree near Graasten Palace. Anne-Marie and her eldest sister were in the front seat next to their mother. Margrethe recalled, ‘Suddenly there was a loud bang. The next thing I know, I woke up in a hospital bed at Sønderborg Hospital with a bandage around my head.’ This may account for the present-day Queen of Denmark’s preference to be driven rather than to drive herself.
On 20 April, 1947 Margrethe’s grandfather, King Christian X died and her father was proclaimed King Frederik IX. Although the heir to the throne was now Frederik’s younger brother, Hereditary Prince Knud, Margrethe would recall that when she was aged twelve, she was aware of discussions taking place to change the rules of succession in her favour. Interestingly, this period coincided with the ascension of her kinswoman, 26-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, to the throne of the United Kingdom (and numerous other realms), following the death of her father King George VI in February 1952. In later years, Margrethe would also remember how, some five years earlier, the then Princess Elizabeth had made a speech to the people of the British Empire from Cape Town, on her 21st birthday, dedicating her ‘whole life whether it be long or short’ to ‘your service.’ This broadcast made ‘an enormous impression’ on the young princess. In Denmark, changes were eventually enacted via The Succession to the Throne Act of 27 March 1953 which introduced conditional female succession in Denmark as of 5 June. This meant that a female descendant of the current reigning sovereign could now inherit the throne, providing that there was no male heir, which, of course, in King Frederik IX’s case, there was not as all his children were daughters. The princess was now referred to as Crown Princess Margrethe. Interestingly, in 2009, this Act was amended such that the eldest child, regardless of gender, will inherit the throne.
Margrethe received a good education but it was not that of a typical Danish girl of the period. From 1946-1949, she was tutored privately, along with six other girls, at the Amalienborg. She then spent a spell at the well-known N Zahle’s School for Girls. She found it hard to concentrate at school and admitted to being shy. Subsequently, during the 1955-1956 school year, the (by now) Crown Princess was a pupil at the North Foreland Lodge, a reputable girls-only boarding school in Hampshire, England. She returned to Copenhagen to complete her schooling, again at the Amalienborg, where teachers from several local high schools gave her instruction in their particular subjects. By the age of 17, the Crown Princess had started to smoke cigarettes, after having been offered one by her parents, who were both avid smokers (the King preferred a pipe, while Queen Ingrid used a tortoiseshell cigarette holder) although it has been said that they perhaps hoped that having tried some, she would not care to pursue the habit. When Margrethe graduated in 1959 with excellent grades, the press photographed her wearing the traditional matriculation cap which is worn in Denmark, accompanied by her (only) classmate Birgitte Juel. But even at this time the future queen had led a relatively sheltered life. For instance, at the age of 14, Queen Ingrid arranged for her daughter to participate in dancing classes which were held in private homes. The group was specially selected and composed of twelve girls and twelve boys.
On her 18th birthday, 16 April 1958, Margrethe was admitted to the Council of State, a body mainly composed of government ministers of cabinet rank, which meets around fifteen times a year for the coordination of government policy and the granting of royal assent to bills, the purpose of which are explained by the relevant minster. If required, she was now able, as heir to the throne, to chair meetings of the Council, in the King’s absence. Like her male predecessors, it was felt that the future queen should have a military education and so she enrolled for a period of training in the Danish Air Force.
Given her academic talents and future role, it was decided that the Crown Princess should proceed to university. In 1959, Margrethe studied philosophy at the University of Copenhagen before enrolling, in 1960, at Girton College, Cambridge from where, in 1961, she received a Diploma in Prehistoric Archaeology. She later studied political science at Aarhus University (where she lived on campus, often cooking for herself.) and, in 1963, attended the Sorbonne in Paris. She later moved to England in 1965 to complete her studies at the London School of Economics. However, archaeology would remain her enduring interest and she later admitted in a documentary that had circumstances been different, ‘If you had asked me when I was an 18-19 year old, there was no doubt; Then I would have studied archaeology. I would have spent ten years doing that and hopefully obtained a good job.’
While Margrethe was still undergoing her academic studies, her youngest sister, Princess Anne-Marie, became engaged to her third cousin, Crown Prince Constantine of Greece. He was also a Prince of Denmark, his great-great grandfather being King Christian IX of Denmark. The couple married on 18 September 1964 and, as Constantine had by then ascended the throne as King Constantine II of the Hellenes, following the sudden death of his father on 6 March, Anne-Marie was now known as the Queen of the Hellenes. This event caused the Danish press to speculate on who Margrethe might marry (and when!) They would have to wait a further two years for the answer. During her period at the London School of Economics, Margrethe was introduced at a dinner party to a charming French diplomat (then accredited to the French Embassy in London) of aristocratic lineage, Henri Comte de Laborde de Monpezat. They met again at a wedding of a friend in Scotland, in April 1966, when he invited her out to lunch. The Crown Princess had never been out on a ‘date’ with a member of the opposite sex and found that, although she had little appetite for the meal itself, the sparks were certainly flying between the two lunch partners. On September 2, 1966, Ekstra Bladet’s correspondent Sven Peter Sabroe revealed that an engagement was imminent. On 5 October, the engagement was formally announced and the duo appeared together on the balcony of the Amalienborg. The couple were married on the 10 June 1967 at the Holmens Kirke, with a reception for four hundred guests afterwards at Fredensborg Palace. Henri was now styled as His Royal Highness Prince Henrik of Denmark. The newlyweds soon settled into an apartment in the Amalienborg’s Christian IX’s Palace. They were also given the use of Marselisborg Castle, near Aarhus which was renovated using monies received from a ‘folk fund’ raised at the time of their nuptials. Henrik was already a talented linguist (he had lived in French Indochina) and spoke French, English, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and now focused on learning Danish, although he and Margrethe invariably spoke French together in private.
The following year, on 26 May, the Crown Princess gave birth to a son, Frederik. His arrival was soon followed by another boy, Joachim, on 7 June 1969. These developments in Margrethe’s life galvanised her for the future, she feeling that ‘the home front was ready and there.’ She was fortunate in that the boys enjoyed a good filial relationship, as she acknowledged in a 2022 interview with Billed Bladet, ‘Since the boys were very young, they have been aware that there is a difference in their roles. However, this has not posed any problem in the brothers’ upbringing.’ She added, ‘Frederik and Joachim have always been a great support for each other. I remember thinking how incredibly lucky I was to have two boys who got along so well and who didn’t suffer from any jealousy.’
On 31 December 1971 Margrethe’s father made his New Year speech at 6 pm prompt. He looked tired and unwell. Immediately thereafter he took to his bed at the Amalienborg with suspected influenza. The traditional New Year receptions due to take place on 5 and 6 January were cancelled by the Court Marshall’s office. On 3 January King Frederik was admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack. Margaretha was appointed Regent the following day, although by 5 January her father’s health had improved somewhat and this change for the better would continue over the next few days. Unfortunately, on 12 January, the King’s condition deteriorated and preparations were in hand for the transition. His Majesty died at 7.50pm on 14 January with Queen Ingrid and all his children and sons-in-law at the bedside. Later that evening the flags of the Royal Guard were moved from the late King’s home, the Frederik VIII Palace to Christian IX’s Palace, the new Queen’s residence, a neat way of signifying the new reign of the latest incumbent of one of the oldest royal houses in the world, stretching back some 1000 years to the times of Gorm the Old.
On 15 January, Queen Margrethe appeared on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace alongside Prime Minister, Jens Otto Krag who proclaimed, as tradition dictated, three times, ‘King Frederik the Ninth is dead. Long live Her Majesty Queen Margrethe the Second.’ The Queen was clearly affected as she made a brief speech to her subjects. Her Majesty was then joined on the balcony by her husband who bowed and kissed her hand. Both waved to the crowds before retreating indoors. The uncertainty she had displayed as a child now seemed to disappear as she had a kingdom to run and she admitted, ‘It was as if everything my father had taught me came into its own.’ His memory and example were of tantamount importance to her, for as she admitted in 2012, ‘He was a wonderful father and I loved him very much.’ There was no time for unnecessary self-reflection, ‘You pull yourself together.’ She also believed firmly that, ‘The least one can do is one’s best.’ There was certainly a hill to climb for at time of her accession, the monarchy had an approval rating of around forty-five per cent. However, Margrethe acknowledged that where the monarchy was concerned, ‘nothing can be taken for granted,’ and she was certainly of the view that ‘you give your life to your country.’
From the beginning of her reign, Margrethe’s year has always been planned well in advance. The Amalienborg Palace (more specifically Christian IX’s Palace) is Her Majesty’s official base in Copenhagen and is used mainly in the winter months, although the Queen usually appears on the balcony on her birthday, 16 April. This is also the setting for the Queen’s New Year televised broadcast to her people. However, in spring and in the autumn, the Queen is in residence at Fredensborg Palace, located some 24 miles north of Copenhagen. This palace is often used for State Banquets and other official occasions. Christmas and Easter is usually celebrated at Marselisborg Castle, as are periods in the summer.
From the outset she was accessible to the public. For instance the Queen holds an audience at Christiansborg Palace on a number of Mondays throughout the year for members of the public who register in advance to attend. This is to give the Queen’s subjects the opportunity to personally thank Margrethe, for example, for the award of a royal order or medal, a royal appointment or for the Queen’s participation at an event or a visit. Throughout the conversation, only the person seeking the audience and the Queen are present. This tradition dates back the reign of Christian V. During these public audiences Margrethe wears a brooch bearing the insignia of the Order of the Elephant. This was a gift from her father on her 18th birthday in 1958.
The Queen also reaches out to her subjects when she makes her traditional New Year speech on Danish television. This is usually viewed by 2.5 million of her people. As a general rule, they are based on a draft speech provided by the Prime Minister’s office. Next, the Queen, with the help of her Private Secretary, personalizes the speech. During the filming of a 2010 Danish TV documentary “The Royal Family from Within” she states, ‘I’ll take it up and work on it and maybe add more from my own side. I’m trying to make it a speech that I can really vouch for myself.’ This process can take some time as she thinks it all through. It has to be the correct balance for as her then Private Secretary, Henning Fode noted, ‘Here the Queen has a political space that she uses and where it is fully acceptable and fully accepted that she uses that space in her New Year’s speech to express some opinions on essential societal problems.’ These can include immigration or climate change. Appropriately, in 31 December 2021, she sent thanks to those who had helped in the fight against the coronavirus. Margrethe delivers the speech ‘live’; it is not pre-recorded.
The Queen makes use of the Royal Yacht Dannebrog for expeditions to various Danish towns and cities in order to carry out an extensive range of official engagements (with dates varying from June right through to September.) The Dannebrog is also used as a base for visits further afield, particularly to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the Queen having visited both on 10 occasions using this mode of transport. The Crown Princely couple have also used Dannebrog to travel to these destinations. Yet some engagements are more spontaneous such as her visit to Afghanistan in March 2011 to visit the Danish Battle Group of Task Force Helmand at Camp Price, where she was pictured alongside officers in a green jumpsuit and trainers.
Queen Margrethe regularly speaks to the press. This extends to international news organisations such as Britain’s ITV or CNN in the United States. She can be outspoken, certainly more so than say Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II. In a recent interview with Weekendavisen, she gave a damning assessment of Vladimir Putin (whom she had met in 2011 and 2014) ‘I remember thinking he was not pleasant. I have never seen such cold eyes in my life.’ Yet, royal historian Lars Hovbakke Sørensen acknowledges that in speaking so frankly, Margrethe is being more political than in past times.
Margrethe receives important overseas guests such as heads of state, heads of government or foreign ministers in private audience which usually take place in Christians IX’s Palace at the Amalienborg. The monarch also receives foreign ambassadors to the Kingdom of Denmark either at Fredensborg Palace or Amalienborg who, before they can perform their duties as an official envoy, must hand over their credentials. They are conveyed to the relevant palace in a covered carriage accompanied by a court chamberlain. Often other members of the embassy staff, such as the military attache are included. The Queen also receives outgoing ambassadors in audience before they leave Denmark.
As a constitutional monarch, the Queen’s role is particularly limited. She certainly does not wield political power-at least not overtly-although she doubtless has influence. There is certainly an ample opportunity for dialogue between Margrethe and her Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) when these politicians meet with Her Majesty to report on the latest political developments. Nevertheless, Margrethe openly admits that she was ‘brought up to be outside [day-to-day] politics.’ Ultimately, she has observed that ‘I should be able to be completely impartial.’ As head of state, she participates in the process to form a government, taking soundings from representatives of the various political parties. According to the website of the Danish Royal House, ‘the monarch [then] calls on the party leader with the most seats in parliament to form a government’. Furthermore, although the monarch signs acts of parliament, such legislation only becomes law when it is countersigned by the government minister of the relevant department responsible for the law.
The Queen, although more than content to undertake her public role to the full, has been keen to emphasise the need for a private life free from media intrusion, especially in these times when there is ‘more pressure’ from the press and social media: ‘We do need to have a home base which is unassailed where we can be at peace and where we can recuperate.’ She has been at pains to emphasise that this had nothing to do with maintaining the mystique of the monarchy; rather it is a case of ‘You can’t work if you aren’t able to relax.’
Prince Henrik, meanwhile, had to establish a role for himself at the Danish Court as he was the first male consort in Denmark’s history. Not an easy matter when there are no established boundaries, no dedicated funds initially with which to run an office and you are also being criticised for speaking indifferent Danish with a foreign accent! Nevertheless, he soon became involved with many organisations including, in 1972, assuming the role of President of the World Wildlife Fund in Denmark. He was also Patron of the Danish Red Cross and Honorary President of the Royal Danish Yacht Club. Furthermore, in 1974, the Queen and the Prince bought the Château de Cayx, located in the Cahors district of France. Although this would become a much-loved holiday home for the family, it had also been acquired for a commercial purpose as the Prince went on to successfully produce and sell wine for a period of more than 40 years. And of course it maintained the Prince’s links with his homeland and could act as a bolt hole if required. Certainly, there were many rumblings over the years about Henrik’s dissatisfaction over his role and place in the royal hierarchy. It certainly did not help that when the Queen was unable to attend the traditional New Year reception in 2002 for ambassadors and diplomats, it was Crown Prince Frederik who was called upon to deputise for his mother rather than Prince Henrik. Perhaps in attempt to make his role more defined, in 2005 he was given the title of Prince Consort. Press reports indicated that this still did not meet with his total approval. Some sources stated he would liked to have been known as King on the basis that if a King’s wife is known as Queen, then why should a Queen’s husband not be known as King? In a recent interview with Weekendavisen’s Editor-in-Chief, Martin Krasnik, the Queen blames herself for not paying more attention to Prince Henrik’s challenges in connection with his role and calls her younger self ‘ hilariously naïve’, for not anticipating these hurdles. Perhaps she is being a trifle hard on herself as, after all, while he was learning to play ‘second fiddle’ (as she puts it), Margrethe was herself adjusting to her new role as Sovereign.
In widowhood, Queen Ingrid remained a strong presence in her eldest daughter’s life. She certainly knew of the aforementioned difficulties with Prince Henrik, even sending, according to the British diarist Nigel Dempster, for a copy of an article which had appeared in the British press on the subject. Although she became increasingly frail, Ingrid’s mind remained sharp to the end. To Margrethe, her mother was, ‘a constant support and joy for me.’ Her death, on 7 November 2000, at her home, the Chancellery, in the grounds of Fredensborg Palace, was a blow, for Ingrid’s advice and wise counsel (always given quietly but firmly behind the scenes) had been a source of comfort to her daughter. Fortunately, all of the family (including Crown Prince Frederik, who had been in Australia for the Olympic Games but rushed home for he and his grandmother had always been very close) were at her bedside. The funeral took place in Roskilde Cathedral and was attended by the Kings and Queens of Sweden, Norway and Belgium, the Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Spain, Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine Charlotte of Luxemburg and Britain’s Prince Charles. Also present were many members of the extended Swedish Royal Family including Ingrid’s brothers Carl Johan and Sigvard Bernadotte. In keeping with tradition, Queen Ingrid was laid to rest next to her husband, King Frederik IX.
However, as in all families, new family members were welcomed into the fold. In May 2004, Crown Prince Frederik married an Australian marketing executive, Mary Donaldson in a ceremony held at the Cathedral Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen. The couple had met at the Olympics in Sydney in September 2000. Frederik’s mother formally gave her consent to the marriage at the a State Council meeting on 8 October 2003. The Queen and her daughter-in-law established a good rapport. Margrethe informed CNN in an interview in 2012 that she thought Mary, with whom she had a ‘warm relationship’, was ‘very competent’ and that she was ‘very confident in her.’ It perhaps helped that the new Crown Princess tactfully often asked her mother-in-law for advice on her public role. The couple have four children: Christian (who is second-in-line to the throne), Isabella and twins Vincent and Josephine.
Prince Joachim had actually been the first of the brothers to marry in 1995. His first wife was Alexandra Manley, a marketing executive, who was born and raised in Hong Kong. The couple had two sons, Nikolai and Felix. However, the marriage foundered (some say she preferred city life; while Joachim preferred living in the country). The duo separated in September 2004 and divorced the following year, with Princess Alexandra taking the title of Countess of Frederiksborg on her remarriage in 2007. Prince Joachim also remarried in the same year. His second wife is a Frenchwoman Marie Cavallier who had worked in advertising and finance. They have two children, Henrik and Athena and currently live in Paris where Prince Joachim, a Brigadier-General, is Military Attaché at the Royal Danish Embassy. The Queen’s face was said to light up when any conversation involved a mention of her two daughters-in-law and, during the 2022 interview with Billed Bladet, Margrethe emphasized that she enjoyed a very close relationship with both Crown Princess Mary and Princess Marie.
It has been said that the Scandinavian royalties had a more informal lifestyle than their British counterparts. This was perhaps true, but only to a point. For instance it is hard to imagine Queen Elizabeth II hanging out of a window at Windsor Castle, her hair somewhat unkempt and wearing night attire, to be serenaded by staff and family. Yet this is exactly what Margrethe and Henrik did at Marselisborg Castle on the 25 anniversary of their marriage. However, Margrethe is also a stickler for good manners, not to mention protocol. “I don’t think we went to school together,” she once rebuked a young journalist, who did not address her correctly. Nevertheless, she still has the ability to laugh at herself, as was proved when the Queen made a surprise appearance at a farewell performance by actor Ulf Pilgaard in 2021. For some forty years he had appeared in Denmark’s famous Circus Revue, often parodying Queen Margrethe with a queenly-style dress, tiara atop his head, dangly earrings and cigarette at a jaunty angle in his mouth. Margrethe gamely came on stage and presented Ulf with a small gift-said in the press to have been an ash tray-as a memento of this occasion.
The Queen has for many years been involved designing sets and costumes for television and theatre productions. This she acknowledged, came for ‘a need to express myself.’ Her natural talent was augmented by help and supervision from those with more experience and expertise. For instance, in 1987 she was in charge of costume design for the Danish television production of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “Hyrdinden og skorstensfejeren” [The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep] and as recently as November 2022, at the age of 82, she was at work on a production of the “The Nutcracker” at the Tivoli Theatre (with which she has a long association stretching back some thirty years-this is her fifth production there). The hope was at that time expressed that Margrethe might be involved in the Tivoli’s 2023 production “The Snow Queen.” As videos of her at work reveal, she is literally very hands on in her approach. The Queen is paid for the work she does and this money is given to her charities. She has found this to be ‘hard work’ but ‘great fun.’ In addition, Margrethe has embroidered copes for the clergy, made a decoupage drinks tray (‘pieces of imagination’) for use in a guest room and fashioned a zany floral raincoat out of a waxcloth tablecloth. This is perhaps not surprising from an individual who once admitted that she dreamed in vivid technicolour. Indeed, her talents seem almost without limit: What other Queen Regnant has translated works by Simone de Beauvoir into their native language? She herself acknowledges that one needs ‘a certain amount of confidence and perhaps, madness!’ It has to be said that it must also be a wonderful diversion from her everyday role as sovereign.
In terms of holidays, later in the summer the Queen will spend time at Graasten Palace, often in the company of her sisters, as this palace is filled with memories of their childhood and time spent privately with their parents (King Frederik and Queen Ingrid had adopted this as the family’s summer home as far back as 1935, when they were still Crown Prince and Crown Princess). The Queen usually takes a holiday, in February, at Gausdal in Norway and, in August, she enjoys a break with family members at the Château de Cayx. Her Majesty can also make use of a hunting lodge at Trend near Bjørnsholm Bay, Limfjorden. This was purchased by her parents in 1935 using monies received as a ‘folk gift’ at the time of their marriage.
During her New Year’s Eve speech in 2015, Margrethe indicated that Prince Henrik was to retire from public life. On 14 April 2016, he renounced the title of Prince Consort and was thereafter to be referred to as Prince Henrik. According to the Danish Royal House’s head of communications, this decision had been made on the basis that this title was better suited to the Prince’s new life in retirement. In the summer of 2017, it was revealed in the press that Prince Henrik did not wish to be buried beside the Queen at Roskilde Cathedral as he had never been treated as an equal in life, so he should not be treated as an equal in death. This view which was greeted with a mixture of incredulity and annoyance. Apparently, Margrethe had known of her husband’s decision for some time. There seems little doubt that by this stage the Prince was stricken by dementia. A close friend of Margrethe throughout her long life, Birgitta Hillingsø, states in a recent book by Thomas Larsen, that the diagnosis of Henrik’s dementia came somewhat late, the implication being that it had affected his reasoning over a longer period of time than was perhaps realised. Birgitta added that, ‘it was really a hard few years for her…but she never complained.’ Indeed, she would later praise him for his ‘love and support.’
2022 was a very special year for both of Europe’s reigning Queens. The senior monarch, Queen Elizabeth was celebrating an amazing seventy years on the throne, while Queen Margrethe was celebrating a reign of fifty years. Although the 96-year-old British Queen appeared very frail and was largely confined to ceremonial duties at Windsor Castle, her Berkshire home, Her Majesty managed to make an appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, on 5 June, during a weekend of celebrations for her Platinum Jubilee (although her actual day of ascension had been 6 February, 1952). Margrethe was in awe of her sister sovereign, telling Britain’s ITV that, ‘the way she has faced her duties, the way she is dedicated-also she does it with a smile.’ The Danish monarch also commented on Elizabeth II’s ‘clear’ voice and ‘marvellous sense of humour.’ Margrethe also opined that, although Elizabeth had only the previous year lost her husband Prince Philip, ‘She is still bearing up beautifully.’ Indeed, at this time there seemed no reason to think that she might live to attain her centenary, as had her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived to be 101. Then suddenly, on the evening of 8 September, a news flash over the BBC and other networks stated that Elizabeth II had died peacefully at her Scottish summer home, Balmoral Castle. Although not many people realised it at the time, this left Margrethe as the sole Queen Regnant in the world. Furthermore, she had also assumed the (admittedly informal) position as the doyenne of the European monarchical scene being the longest-reigning monarch in Europe. In terms of the world-at-large, only the Sultan of Brunei has currently ruled longer.
On 11 September 2022, there was what can only be described as a televised dinner (attended by 1000 guests) with music-some would say ‘a party’ at Christianborg Palace as part of the celebrations for Queen Margrethe’s Golden Jubilee. This was attended by Scandinavian royalties and presidents, as well as distinguished guests from all over Europe. Yet, Margrethe was somewhat pensive when she rose to make her speech to those gathered. She asked that everyone in the Great Hall stand and observe a minutes silence to the memory of her kinswoman, friend, and mentor Queen Elizabeth II whose recent death ‘has made a big impact on us’. However, it was very much Margrethe’s evening and Crown Prince Frederik made an emotional speech concerning ‘generations with the same mission’ taking ‘the helm’ of the Kingdom: ‘I follow you as you followed your father and as Christian will follow me.’ Yet, he also emphasised to his mother that currently, ‘You alone have the helm.’ On 19 September, the Crown Prince accompanied his mother to London to attend Elizabeth II’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. Margrethe was also later part of a select group of royalty who attended Elizabeth’s interment at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle, led up the steep steps to the West Door by her nephew, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece (Crown Prince Frederik had to leave earlier to fulfil prior engagements overseas).
On 28 September, to the bewilderment of the Danish nation (who had only recently given their sovereign an 80% approval rating) and most members of her own family, Queen Margrethe announced her decision to slim down and modernise the Danish monarchy by stripping her youngest son Prince Joachim’s four children, Nikolai, 23, Felix, 20, Henrik, 13, and Athena, 11, of their titles as princes and princess of Denmark which they had held since birth. Furthermore, they would also no longer be referred to as ‘His (or Her) Highness.’ This was to take effect from 1 January 2023. ‘It is a consideration I have had for quite a long time,’ Margrethe told reporters after the decision was announced. ‘I think it will be good for them in their future.’ The four grandchildren are now styled as His (or Her) Excellency the Count (or Countess) of Monpezat. Prince Joachim publicly criticized his mother for her action relating to his ‘sad’ children asking, ‘Why should their identity be removed? Why should they be punished in such a way?’ Apparently eldest grandchild Nikolai, who spoke of his ‘shock’ at the decision, also now wondered what name would be placed on his passport. The Queen subsequently conceded in a further statement that, ‘I have made my decision as Queen, mother and grandmother, but, as a mother and grandmother, I have underestimated the extent to which much my younger son and his family feel affected.’ There has been speculation that the Queen made the decision about the titles to avoid Crown Prince Frederik having to deal with such things when he becomes king, a fact Margrethe recently confirmed in Martin Krasnik’s Weekendavisen interview.
The Queen spent Christmas Eve of 2022 privately in the company of her sister Benedikte and some friends on the Djursland peninsula. Crown Prince Frederik and his family were on a Christmas visit to the Crown Princess’ family in her native Australia; while Prince Joachim and his family (wife Marie and all four children) were also ‘overseas’, doubtless licking their wounds. As usual, on the last evening of the year, 31 December, the Queen was back at the Amalienborg, to make her traditional New Year’s speech at 6pm. Queen Margrethe once again opened up about ongoing drama relating to Prince Joachim’s children losing their royal status, a decision which was due to come into effect in a matter of hours: ‘Difficulties and disagreements can arise in any family, including mine,’ adding ‘That the relationship with Prince Joachim and Princess Marie has run into difficulties causes me hurt.’ Yet, within days she was back at work, attending a diplomatic reception on 3 January.
Nevertheless, regardless of this recent development, both sons joined their rather frail mother and Princess Benedikte in Athens for the funeral, on 16 January 2023, of King Constantine of the Hellenes who had died on 10 January of a stroke (although his health and mobility had been in decline for many years.) At the graveside at the royal burial ground at Tatoi, Margrethe stood stoically behind her mourning sister, Queen Anne-Marie, her hand gently placed on the widow’s arm to provide reassurance, while to the rear, Princess Benedikte kept a careful watch over both her siblings. Margrethe and all of the Danish royal party later lunched with the Greek Royal Family at the Grand Bretagne Hotel. Frederik and Joachim then travelled together out to the airport, where they amicably parted ways-Joachim to fly back to Paris to his job at the Danish Embassy, while Frederik returned to Copenhagen as, the following day, he had official duties to undertake in relation to the UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture 2023 events. Margrethe and Benedikte returned to Denmark next day, giving them a chance to provide comfort to their youngest sister. Yet, the media, Denmark’s TV2, even found a reason to find a link between this sad occasion and the stripping of titles from Prince Joachim’s children with the headline, ‘The Queen has cleaned up the Royal Family, but Constantine’s descendants are still princes and princesses of Denmark.’ TV2 pointed out that, ‘This is despite the fact that they have very little affinity with the country.’ Historically, the link goes back to when a Prince William of Denmark, the younger son of the future King Christian IX of Denmark, was selected in 1863 by the Great Powers to be Greece’s new monarch. He was to be known as King George I of the Hellenes. This decision was ratified by the Greek Parliament at the Danish prince’s insistence. According to historian Emma Paske, the King of Denmark, realising the volatile political situation in Greece, arranged a ‘safety net’ whereby the descendants of George I should bear the titles of princes and princesses of Denmark, so that they always had Denmark to come back to. Whether that will now change remains to be seen but Paske argues that this is a matter for the head of the Greek family, not Queen Margrethe.
On 8 February the Royal House issued a statement indicating that Margrethe was about to undergo surgery on her back (some twenty years ago she had an operation for spinal stenosis.) Then on 16 February, the Queen’s interview with Martin Krasnik received widespread coverage in the Danish press and on social media. Margrethe had been in a reflective mood (perhaps not surprising given that she was about to undergo surgery and had only recently buried her brother-in-law), noting that ‘The crucial thing is that you grow heartily with your country and become deeply connected to it. That has been my ideal.’ She also spoke of Ukraine. While some of her subjects still commented on the royal titles question on Det Danske Kongehuse Instagram page, most praised ‘ our super, cool Queen’ and frequently mentioned her ‘intelligence’ ‘skill’ and ‘wisdom’.
On 22 February Queen Margrethe underwent what was describe as ‘extensive back surgery’ at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Her condition was described as ‘good and stable under the circumstances.’ Her Majesty now required a longish period of convalescence and rehabilitation. Crown Prince Frederik (and during his absence abroad in India Princess Benedikte) acted as Regent. By the end of February, Margrethe was already out of bed and walking a little. On 3 March the Danish Royal House website indicated that she had been discharged from hospital and was back in residence at the Christian IX Palace. There are certainly tentative plans afoot for the Queen to embark the Dannebrog, in early June, for yet another summer tour in the Bornholm Municipality and Ertholmene archipelago, followed by visits to Nordsjælland and Halsnæs Municipality.
As Queen Margrethe recently explained in the interview with Weekendavisen, ‘The crucial thing is that you grow deeply with your country and become deeply connected to it. That’s been my ideal.’ There is little doubt that she has achieved this and more. Like Queen Elizabeth II there will be no abdication by Margrethe from her duties as sovereign (as has been the case in the Netherlands and Belgium) although doubtless Crown Prince Frederik will, as he is currently doing, take on an increasing amount of the day-to-day work.
We wish Her Majesty a speedy recovery.
Robert Prentice is the author of the biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times (link below for e-book) Hard Copy also available from Amazon.