Danish Royal Family

Getting to know the Danish royal family

On January 14, 2022, Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II marked the 50th anniversary of her reign over the Kingdom of Denmark. After addressing the public, her jubilæum was celebrated with her family in Amalienborg palace which is the primary residence of the Danish royal family. 

It was noted that celebrations will be scheduled later in 2022, when it is again advisable in regard to COVID19 health and safety requirements.

The public was also made aware that Her Majesty will not relinquish the throne of Denmark until her death. The news was met with great happiness from her Danish subjects and national wishes of long life for this beloved matriarch of the royal family.

Denmark has a royal family?

Many North American visitors are unaware that Denmark has had a continuous monarchy since 936AD and quite possibly longer. It is one of the many sweet surprises found in this hyggeligt Nordic nation

With its reputation as a thriving and innovative social democracy, the importance of the Danish royal family to the average Dane could easily be overlooked by the casual tourist. But to Danes, the royal family is an inextricable part of Danish culture and history as well as present day esteem.

Denmark is a venerable nation with a rich and lengthy history which predates Shakespeare’s publication of Hamlet by nearly 700 years. 

The gravitas of this prolonged existence as a nation, and the Danish point of pride in it, is difficult to relay to newcomers from the (Danes are quick to point out) very young nation of the United States. 

But stand in the central courtyard of Amalienborg Palace, or look across the narrow straight to Sweden from the roof of Kronborg Castle, and the most misanthropic visitor will feel the poignancy of Denmark’s royal history.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Bill Ebbesen

Who is the Queen of Denmark?

Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II is the reigning monarch of Denmark. She inherited the throne January 14, 1972, the day her father Frederik IX died. He had fallen ill shortly after giving the New Year’s Eve address to the nation. 

Two weeks later he suffered a heart attack. When Margrethe became Her Majesty Queen of the Kingdom of Denmark, she took the mantle passed down her royal lineage for almost 1000 years.

Margrethe II ascended the throne at a time when the monarchy was losing popularity. The people were moving forward into the last quarter of the 20th century, and the majority population believed the monarchy was no long needed and was an archaic tradition that had outlived its meaningfulness. 

Yet, the fact that Margrethe was able to ascend the throne was itself an indication the monarchy was also moving forward. During the 1950’s, parliament had amended Denmark’s constitution to allow a female heir to take the throne if she had no male siblings. 

Margrethe was the oldest of three daughters. When her father died, the mantle fell to her. 

In 2009, a further constitutional amendment stated that in future the eldest heir would ascend the throne, whether male or female.

Do the Danish royals live in castles?

The word ‘castle’ describes earlier structures that were built as much as protective fortresses as they were for a nobleman’s residence. The Danish word slot is translated into English as ‘castle’, and is often used when referring to the royal residences even when it is actually a palace. 

As in English, castle and palace are often used interchangeably in Danish.

Denmark has nearly 200 castles and palaces, the majority of which are still standing. Of these, several of the palaces are still used as expansive residences for the Danish royal family. 

Some standing castles are now privately owned and have been refurbished into grand family residences with no access to the public. Others remain open to the public and can be explored independently or with a tour guide. 

A few have only foundations remaining, the walls having been long ago torn down to use in building roads and other nearby structures. Then as now, fortunes failed and finding the means to pay debts was sometimes necessary.

Historical highlights of the Danish monarchy

https://www.kongehuset.dk/en/the-monarchy-in-denmark/the-royal-lineage/

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Bruun Rasmussen

Gorm the Old (Gorm den Gamle) 

Gorm the Old is considered the first authenticated King of Denmark (reign 936-958/964). Although there is evidence kings came before, his name is the first to be documented in a written source. 

The Jelling stones are located in Jutland and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Gorm the Old erected the first to honor his wife. The runic inscription reads: King Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyrvẻ, his wife, Denmark’s adornment. 

The second was erected by Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth, to honor his father.

The Jelling stones hold further significance because this statement is the first confirmed reference to Denmark as a kingdom.

Danish Royal Family

Harald Bluetooth (Harald Blåtand, reign c 970-c. 975/986)

Harald Bluetooth is the namesake of Danish company Bluetooth Technology, and he was the son of Gorm the Old. He was the first King to convert to Christianity and encouraged its spread throughout Denmark and Norway. 

After conversion, he transferred his father’s remains from the traditional burial mound (founded c. 500 BCE) to a newly built church nearby.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Louis Moe

Sweyn Forkbeard (Svend Tveskæg, reign c.987-1014)

Sweyn Forkbeard was known for making raids into England and later successfully invading and assuming the role of King of England on Christmas Day 1013. He died some weeks later, but his son and grandsons continued to reign over England for the next 26 years.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: KDLarsen

Margrete I (reign 1387-1412)

Perhaps the most notable historical Danish monarch was its first queen. Although her title was never official, she proved successful in uniting Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. By all historical accounts, she was likely one of the greatest leaders in the history of Europe.

She may have died from poisoning from a political rival, but this remains mere speculation based on the circumstances of the time. She remained the only woman sovereign of Denmark until HM Queen Margrethe II ascended the throne in 1972.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Lucas Cranach the Elder

Christian II (reign 1513-1523)

Christian II was Denmark’s king for ten years, and was forcibly deposed by Frederik I then lived his final years in prison. 

The lasting significance of this transition was after Frederik I lost the throne to Christian III, a precedent was set. This precedent set forth the tradition of Danish Kings alternating between Frederik and Christian.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Pieter Isaacsz

Christian IV (reign 1588-1648)

Christian IV is well remembered because he built many of the lavish palaces and structures throughout Denmark that are still in use today. Frederiksborg Palace is possibly the most beautiful of these. 

His reign lasted almost 60 years, and during that time Denmark was as economically prosperous as it had ever been and as geographically expansive as it would ever be.

His clever method for creating revenue was to make ships pay for passage through Denmark’s narrow waterway access to the Baltic Sea. Fortifications along the waterway, including Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, ensured that boats would pay for passage or risk being destroyed by the Danish military. 

Whenever the king needed more revenue, the passage rates would increase. This system continued until 1807 when the British defeated the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Peder Als, Gotthard Wilhelm Åkerfelt

Christian VII (reign 1766-1808)

Christian VII was mentally insane. His story and the usurpation of his power by his physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, is the subject of the 2012 Danish movie A Royal Affair.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: RhinoMind

Christian X (reign 1912-1947)

Christian Xis HM Queen Margrethe’s grandfather. Best remembered for his open resistance to the German occupation during WWII, he would ride his horse Jubilee through the streets of Copenhagen unaccompanied and without a guard. 

In this way, he demonstrated he would not cower before the Nazi regime. 

In 1943, Adolf Hitler ordered Danish Jews to be arrested and deported to death camps in Germany and Poland. Instead, Christian X financed a plan put forth by the Danish resistance. 

With the widespread help of Danish citizens, transport was arranged for 7233 Danish Jews plus non-Jewish spouses across the water to neutral Sweden. Nearly 8000 people escaped to freedom and certain death.

Denmark’s royal family tree 

Since 1513, Danish kings have alternated between Christian and Frederik. The current Queen of Denmark is the daughter of Frederik IX, so she stands in for the name Christian. Her oldest son is also named Frederik, and will be Frederik X when he one day ascends the throne.

View full family tree here.

Her Majesty “Daisy”

She captured the hearts of the Danish people the day she stood on the balcony of Amalienborg  Palace, dressed in mourning for her father who had died only hours before. This 31-year old mother of two young sons seemed nervous yet dignified as she addressed the Danish crowd filling the palace square.

She humbly accepted what was bestowed upon her, and she thanked the crowd before her and all people of Denmark, whom both her father and she loved so dearly. When she and her husband, Prince Henri de Laborde de Monpezat (m. 1967-d. 2018), turn to go inside, it is visible that Queen Margrethe’s eyes are filling with tears. 

So began the reign on one of the most loved monarchs in history. Her subjects often refer to her as Daisy, which is her familial nickname since she was a child. So normative is its usage that she has been known to sign official documents with the name. 

Sources differ on its origination, but it was likely a combination of differentiating her from her grandmother, also named Margrethe, and the flower to which her Danish name is closest, marguerite. This flower’s English name is a daisy.

The Danish royal family persons of interest

His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, Count of Monpezat (born May 26, 1968):

Frederik is the oldest son of HM Queen Magrethe and the heir-apparent to the throne. He earned a Master of Science degree in Political Science from Aarhus University, and was the first royal to do so. 

Frederik has served in all three branches of the Danish military (Army, Navy, Air Force), including completion of the Frømandskorpset training which is the Danish equivalent to the U.S. SEAL teams.

Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat (born Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, February 5, 1972):

Mary is the wife of Frederik. Originally from Australia, she met HRH Frederik when he attended the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. At the time, Mary was working in marketing as an account manager. 

In 2003, HM Queen Magrethe approved their engagement and marriage even though Mary was a commoner and a foreigner. The wedding took place May 14, 2004.

Together they have 4 children:

  • Prince Christian Valdemar Henri John, born October 15, 2005.
  • Princess Isabella Henrietta Ingrid Margrethe, born April 21, 2007.
  • Prince Vincent Frederik Minik Alexander, born January 8, 2011.
  • Princess Josephine Sophia Ivalo Mathilda, born January 8, 2011.

Mary won the hearts of the Danish people early on, and she continues to be loved and admired for her patronage of the fashion industry as well as her involvement in humanitarian causes. 

She is dedicated advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and is head of the Mary Foundation, which works to prevent social isolation and its resulting impact on individuals and society. The foundation focuses primarily on bullying and well-being, domestic violence, and loneliness. 

His Royal Highness Prince Joachim of Denmark, Count of Monpezat (born June 7, 1969):

Joachim is the younger brother of HRH Frederik and the youngest child of HM Queen Margrethe. He has been married twice and has four children, two with his first wife and two with his current wife. 

He attended the Royal Danish Military Academy and later served as a platoon commander and Danish Officer. In 2020, he was awarded the rank of Brigadier General. 

Her Royal Highness Princess Marie of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat (born Marie Agathe Odile Cavallier, February 6, 1945)

Marie is the second wife of Joachim. Their engagement and wedding was approved by HM Queen Magrethe even though Marie was a commoner and a French citizen. They have two children together, Prince Henrik and Princess Athena. 

Marie is also step-mother to her husband’s two older children, Prince Nikolai and Prince Felix. Her royal patronages include work with UNESCO, the national Annual Literature Prize and the Danish AIDS Foundation. She was the first Danish royal to attend Copenhagen Pride in 2016. 

The royal family of Denmark is, like most things Danish, curiously low-key and lacking the grandiose displays often associated with royalty. 

The royal children attend public schools and universities, and it is not uncommon to see HRH Crown Prince Frederik or HRH Crown Princess Mary mingling at school functions or walking their dogs on the streets of Copenhagen.

It is said that until very recently even the queen could walkabout the city unescorted by body guards or Danish secret service because anyone attempting to cause her harm would face the wrath of Danes en masse

While it is likely there are always protections in place, and occasionally a body guard is quite obviously present, a casual observer gains the correct impression that the Danish royal family is very much a part of the Danish people and not set apart unnecessarily.

Danish Royal Family
Credit: Varde Kommune

Why is Denmark’s queen so loved?

Much of it is due to the queen’s vibrant personality. She is perfectly mannered yet wholly authentic in every situation. Whether addressing the nation or creating artistic displays for the public’s enjoyment, she is viewed as involved and engaged.    

Much of her popularity likely results from remaining apolitical throughout her reign. All Danes can love her equally regardless of political disagreement, and she obviously loves the Danish people in return. 

In the past, she has commented that her father’s advice was to accept the outpouring of love from her subjects, and not simply wave in acknowledgment; he advised that she must really take it in to be deserving of it.   

Her tenure as queen has consistently improved the royal family’s approval rating which is now at 82%. Queen Margrethe has modernized the monarchy through her keen intellect, artistic abilities, and presence among her people. 

She allowed both of her sons to marry for love, rather than protocol. Her daughter-in-laws were commoners and foreigners before marrying their husbands.

In her youth, she studied archeology and went on several excavations in Europe, Africa, and South America. She is also an accomplished painter and illustrator. In the 1970’s, she was the artist for the Danish translations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien. 

She has designed costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet production of A Folk Tale and for the Danish movie De Vilde Svaner (2009). Most recently she is designing the background sets for the Netflix movie Ehrengard (2023), based on Danish author Karen Blixen’s novel of the same name.

HM Queen Margrethe II is also notably a chain smoker. At 81, the only concession she has made in this regard is to smoke only in private (usually).

Where are the best places to see Danish royals?

Despite the Danish Royals presence in and around Copenhagen, it may be difficult to catch a glimpse unless a public event involves a member of the royal family. But it is very possible to enjoy the palaces and castles that are part of Denmark’s royal heritage, some of them current residences of the Danish royal family.

Friendly tours for groups or individuals:

Danish Royal Family

Amalienborg Palace

This is the official residence of Denmark’s Royal Family. Located in Copenhagen, the palace is actually made up of 4 connected palaces. The Danish royal family has held residence here since 1794 when the original Christiansborg Palace burned down. 

Every day at 12:00, visitors are able to watch the changing of the palace guard ceremony.

Danish Royal Family

Frederiksborg Castle

This castle and the castle gardens are arguably the most breathtaking in Denmark. Christian IV built the Renaissance castle from 1600-1621, but it burned in 1859. 

The castle is now part of the National History Museum of Denmark. Its lavish interior holds a vast collection on painting and historical pieces from over 500 years.

Danish Royal Family

Kronborg Castle

Every summer, an outdoor production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is performed here over several weekends. Kronborg is located 45 minutes north of Copenhagen in Helsingør. 

It is this castle that served as inspiration for the storied Prince of Denmark and most famous of skulls, poor Yorik.

Danish Royal Family

Christiansborg Palace

Located in Copenhagen, the current building was completed in 1928 and sits on the ruins of the original Christiansborg Palace. For 800 years, this location has served as Denmark’s center of power and was the original royal family residence until it burned in 1794. 

It now houses the Danish Parliament and various state functions.

Danish Royal Family

Rosenborg Castle

Here there is a museum which houses Denmark’s crown jewels and coronation thrones, and 400 years of royal treasures. Both Rosenborg Castle and the adjoining King’s Gardens were built by Christian IV, and became his favorite royal residence during his reign. 

It is located in central Copenhagen.

Danish Royal Family

Fredensborg Palace

Still in use as one of the royal residences, it is possible to take guided tours of both the palace and the gardens during the summer months. The palace can also be seen clearly from Esrum Lake, which is situated northwest of Fredensborg.

The castles listed are a sampling of those serving as royal residences as well as those with impressive displays of art and various royal treasures. All are within Copenhagen or, in the case of Kronborg and Fredensborg, within a 45 minute drive. 

Public transportation via trains and buses are also available to make exploring easier, whether in the city or traveling to the countryside. If these aren’t castles enough, there are many others from which to choose.

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