An homage to the life and reign of Queen Margrethe II

Looking back on the Queen of Denmark's spectacular 52-year reign.

Fifty-two years ago, King Frederik IX unknowingly gave his final New Year’s address to the people of Denmark. Just two weeks later on January 14th, 1972, he died unexpectedly, leaving his 31-year-old daughter, Crown Princess Margrethe, as the new Queen of Denmark. 

So it’s fitting that, exactly 52 years on, Queen Margrethe would announce her abdication in her own New Year’s address. The first Danish royal to abdicate in 900 years, this means the succession of her son, Crown Prince Frederik on January 14, 2024 will coincide with the 52nd anniversary of his mother’s own accession to the throne.

Queen Margrethe was born Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid, a name that reflected the deep and rich royal history embedded within her immediate family. Margrethe is a Danish stylised variation of Crown Princess Margareta of Sweden, her grandmother. Alexandrine meanwhile, a nod to her paternal grandmother, Queen Alexandrine of Denmark and Iceland. 

Undated picture taken in the year 1949 shows King Frederik IX of Denmark with his three daughters (from left) Princess Anne-Marie, Princess Benedikte and Princess Margrethe. Danes were on January 1, 2024 slowly coming to terms with Queen Margrethe's surprise announcement that she will abdicate on January 14, 2024 in favour of her son after 52 years on the throne. (Photo by Inga AISTRUP / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by INGA AISTRUP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images) queen margrethe

The arrival of Frederik IX’s first child on April 16, 1940, should have been a momentous occasion. However, just one week earlier, Denmark had been rocked by the surprise invasion of Nazi German forces. Then Crown Prince Frederick and his father, King Christian X impassionately gave encouragement to the Danish Resistance. For their troubles, they were imprisoned by the Germans for three years. When Margrethe’s grandfather died on April 20, 1947, Frederik – who had been acting as regent for his father – became the new king. 

But Frederik IX’s ascension to the throne proved a problem. At the time, only male heirs could inherit the throne thanks to a set of laws that were constructed in the 1800s. Because of this, it was thought that Margrethe’s uncle Prince Knud would inherit the throne over one Frederik’s three daughters (Margrethe was followed by Princess Benedikte of Denmark in 1944 and now-Queen Anne-Marie of Greece in 1946).

But in 1947 a major shift took place in Denmark when lawmakers began the process of updating the constitution to allow female succession to the throne. Six years later, two successive Parliaments and the people of Denmark approved the new Act of Succession. 

Though Margrethe would not be made queen for another two decades, she told her biographer Anne Wolden-Ræthinge in 1989, that on the day of the new Act of Succession being passed in 1953 – she became heir presumptive and future Queen.

DENMARK - APRIL 01:  On April 1, 1955, Princess MARGRETHE of Denmark, who has just been confirmed to the Church of Fredensborg's Palace, poses between her parents, Queen INGRID and King FREDERIK IX of Denmark.  (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images) queen margrethe

“[Becoming queen] has been my purpose in life since the age of 13,” she stated.

By the time she turned 18, Margrethe was not only a diligent university student, she was also dutifully training to one day become Queen. Her father, King Frederik, had allowed Margrethe to be given a seat in the Council of State – a formal committee that acts as an advisory body to the monarchy.

When she wasn’t a Queen-in-training, Margrethe had her head in the books. The then-Princess had studied prehistoric archaeology, political science and was studying at the London School of Economics when she met the love of her life. 

Margrethe had been invited to a friend’s dinner party where she met an acquaintance, Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, who at the time was legation secretary at the French Embassy in London.

Whilst the regal pair would inevitably kick off what has been described as a fiery and deeply passionate life-long love, Margrethe admitted to her biographer that Henri did not exactly catch her eye at first.

“But apart from the fact that I found him very likeable, I did not really take much notice of Henri de Monpezat. He was just a young man I met occasionally, and in fact, I believe it was he who noticed me, and not the other way round,” she recalled.

Queen Margrethe of Denmark and her husband Prince Henrik at Marselisborg Palace in Aarhus in 1972. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

However, for Henri, it was love at first sight.

Margrethe saw Henri a few months later at a friend’s wedding in Scotland where they had a chance to connect. On the way back to London, Henri insisted to Margrethe that he see her again. 

Soon after, the pair struck up an ultra-secretive romance where they would often use pseudonyms and other tactics to hide their love from the prying eyes of the press. Just one year later in October 1966, Henri proposed with a Toi et Moi ring. The Toi et Moi ring – meaning you and me in French – featured two gorgeous diamonds side by side, which represents the meeting of lovers.

Soon after, Henri moved to Denmark to be with his future bride. He changed his name to Henrik in order to sound more Danish and also converted from Catholicism to Lutheran.

On June 10, 1967, the pair held a low-key wedding; Henri officially becoming Prince Henrik; Queen Margrethe’s royal consort. The duo welcomed Prince Frederik – their son and the heir to the throne on May 26, 1968. The following year, the couple welcomed their second son, Prince Joachim.

For the next four years, Margrethe spent precious time with her family and particularly her two sons. In the evenings, Margrethe would often sit by the princes’ bedsides and read to them. She became particularly fascinated with J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

In fact, Margrethe was so taken with the novels that it inspired her to draw up a number of illustrations. Since she was a child, Margrethe had been a keen and talented artist – something she inherited from her Princess Margareta of Spain. 

After drawing the illustrations, Margrethe posted them to J.R.R Tolkien under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer – which was an anagram of her full name. J.R.R Tolkien was taken aback by how similar Margrethe’s interpretations of the book were to his own. By 1977, her illustrations appeared in the Danish copies of the books. 

However, by then, Margrethe had become far too preoccupied for art. On January 14, 1972, Margrethe’s beloved father and King of Denmark, Frederik IX had fallen ill and died suddenly. At 31-years-old, Margrethe became the first Queen of Denmark in 560 years since the death of Queen Margaret I in 1412.

“At that time, we had New Year’s breakfast in the morning and New Year’s dinner later, and I had to represent my father as head of the family. I remember very clearly thinking that this is not a one-time event. It is rather the first time of many. I got it right. Dad died only 14 days later,” Margrethe recalled in an interview with Danish magazine, Billed Bladet.

“It was in many ways an emotional moment. I was afflicted with grief and had just said goodbye to my father, and half an hour later, I received the lifeguard’s flags and was very conscious that now this was serious. Now it was time to step up! ”

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark gives a New Year's speech from Christian IX's Palace, Amalienborg Castle, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on December 31, 2023, announcing her upcoming abdication. Denmark's Queen Margrethe II announced in her traditional New Year's address that she would be abdicating on January 14, 2024 after 52 years on the throne. (Photo by Keld Navntoft / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by KELD NAVNTOFT/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

The idea of stepping up in the face of immense grief was a stoic characteristic that has underpinned Queen Margrethe’s reign from 1972 until now.

“My beloved father, our King, is dead. The task that my father had carried for nearly 25 years is now resting on my shoulders. I pray to God to give me help and strength to carry the heavy heritage. May the trust that was given to my father also be granted to me,” Margarethe said in her first address as Queen.

On Sunday January 14, 2024, Queen Margrethe will wrap up an incredible 52 years on the throne. In her time, she has steered the country through numerous crises – including more recently Coronavirus and the war in Ukraine. Whilst doing this, Margrethe has also privately dealt with her own personal turmoil, including the death of her husband, Prince Henrik in 2018.

Margrethe will step down after not only being the longest-reigning Danish monarch, but also Europe’s longest-reigning monarch following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 as well as the world’s last reigning Queen. In her absence, a new era of Danish royalty will be heralded as Crown Prince Frederik and Australian-born Crown Princess Mary step up for their duties.

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