Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Europe’s longest-reigning monarch, has announced she will step down from the throne on January 14th, 2024 after 50 years as head of state. Her eldest son, Crown Prince Frederik, will succeed her as King Frederik X.
Background Lead Up to Abdication Decision
Speculation about the 82-year-old Queen’s abdication plans have circulated for years. However, in recent months there were growing signs Margrethe was preparing to hand power to her son.
In September, the Royal House stripped four of Margrethe’s grandchildren of their titles, signaling she was streamlining the monarchy ahead of an impending transition. There were also reports of tensions between Crown Prince Frederik and his Australian-born wife Crown Princess Mary. Some speculate the Queen stepped down now to stabilize her son’s marriage before he takes the throne.
|Grandchildren stripped of titles in September 2023
|Nikolai (eldest son of Prince Joachim)
|Felix (second son of Prince Joachim)
|Henrik (youngest son of Prince Joachim
|Athena (youngest child of Prince Joachim)
Margrethe fuelled abdication expectations in her 2023 New Year’s speech, where she reflected “it is natural for me to consider when the right time would be to hand over the baton to the next generation.” The palace later confirmed her “desire to make sure the monarchy always remains in tune with the times” was behind the decision.
The Queen timed her abdication to mark the 50th anniversary of her accession on January 14th, 2024. She announced the news in a televised speech on December 31st, 2023, stating “It is my duty and my desire as Queen to ensure that the monarchy always shapes itself in keeping with the times. I have therefore decided that the time has come for me to hand over the position that means everything to me.”
Historic Reign Ends
Queen Margrethe II’s 50-year reign made her Europe’s only ruling female monarch following Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September 2022. She was the first woman to hold the position of reigning Queen of Denmark since Margrethe I, who ruled from 1375-1412.
Margrethe II became Queen on January 14th, 1972 at age 31 following the death of her father, King Frederick IX. At the time of her accession, women did not have equal rights under Danish law. Margrethe modernized the role and made the Danish Royal family popular at home and abroad. She also helped guide Denmark into the European Union in 1973.
The artistic and chain-smoking Queen, nicknamed the “Ashtray Queen”, was renowned for breaking the mold of European monarchs. She studied at universities in Denmark, France and England, is an accomplished translator, artist and archaeologist, has illustrated several books, and even designed costumes and sets for theatres and ballets.
Margrethe also oversaw great change for the thousand-year old Danish monarchy. In 2009, she stripped her husband Prince Henrik’s title away after he complained he didn’t want to be buried next to his wife because he was never made her equal. Henrik died in February 2018.
She is passing the throne to her elder son Crown Prince Frederik on her Golden Jubilee after half a century steering the Danish Royal Family into the modern era. Frederik will be Denmark’s first native-born king since King Christian X, who died in 1947.
Denmark Crowns First ‘Australian-Born Queen’
Alongside the abdication, Margrethe’s announcement has sparked celebration in Australia that their very own Mary Donaldson, who married Frederik in 2004, will become Queen Consort. Mary is set to make history as the first Australian-born queen in modern history.
The 50-year-old former real estate agent and her husband Crown Prince Frederik have long been viewed as the ideal royal couple. Their fairy tale romance started by chance at a Sydney pub during the 2000 Olympics. Frederik proposed four years later and their royal wedding in Copenhagen drew feverish attention from Mary’s homeland.
20 years after that first fateful meeting, Australia’s very own princess will now be crowned Queen Consort of Denmark on January 14th. Margrethe anointing another outsider, just as she blazed a trail for female monarchs, has prompted much fanfare down under.
“She’s making Australians very proud… Princess Mary is definitely very special to us” said leading Australian monarchist Susan Maree Arnold. Flag-waving events have been planned across the country in the lead up to Mary’s coronation ceremony.
Back in Denmark, Mary has quickly become the Crown Princess. The devoted mother of four has embraced her royal duties and lead campaigns promoting health, sustainability and women’s rights. Her elegant Antipodean style has graced the covers of magazines worldwide.
“Mary has been the absolute darling of the Danish people since she came here and got engaged to Crown Prince Frederik” said eminent royal expert Lars Hovbakke Sørensen “The couple are very popular and seen as picture perfect.”
The Australian Women’s Weekly proclaimed Princess Mary is “on her way to becoming the Grace Kelly of the 21st Century”. Both inside and outside Denmark, expectations will be high for the beautiful and compassionate Australian to continue winning hearts as the nation’s first foreign-born Queen Consort in over 500 years.
New King Outlines Vision for Modern Monarchy
While the abdication has sparked mixed reactions within Denmark, Crown Prince Frederik looks well positioned to ensure public support for the continuance of the world’s oldest monarchy into the modern era.
In his 2023 New Year’s address, the 54-year old Crown Prince emphasized the need for the Danish Royal house to be environmentally conscious and attentive to representing all people.
“The monarch has a special responsibility. It must always seek renewal, whilst remaining true to itself” he said, signaling his intention to follow his mother’s lead and continue adapting and modernizing the institution.
Frederik highlighted sustainability as a key issue he will champion. It aligns with his track record promoting climate change awareness and technologically progressive thinking described as ‘woke’ by some local media. He drives an electric car and had solar panels installed at the family’s residence.
The popular Crown Prince has overcome initial hesitancy by some about whether the former Olympic sailor was up to the job and carved his own path mixing easy-going charisma with serious dedication to royal duties. He has represented Denmark advancing commercial ties with Asia and integrating immigrants and refugees.
This signals Frederik will likely continue focusing on issues he’s carved out as his own – climate change, science and technology, sports and defense while also adapting to future demands. “I will do everything I can to maintain the unity of our country” Frederik pledged at the conclusion of his speech, aiming to smooth over reservations about hereditary rule held by some Danes as he assumes the throne.
Coronation Ceremony to Take Place in Two Weeks
Queen Margrethe II and Crown Prince Frederik will both participate in an official inauguration ceremony at Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Palace on Saturday, January 14 to mark the monarchical transition.
Christiansborg has been the site of major royal events since its completion in 1928. The Palace is home to the Danish Parliament, Supreme Court and Prime Minister’s office and is rich in political and royal history.
Coronations have not traditionally been held in Denmark’s modern constitutional monarchy, but this ceremony has been arranged to enable Queen Margrethe to preside over the start of her son’s reign. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and government ministers will also attend the high-profile event.
On the streets of Copenhagen, locals are hopeful about their new King. “Frederik seems very nice and down to earth. I think he will do a good job as our King” said Carsten Dalgaard. The inauguration will be broadcast on national TV and huge crowds are expected to line the city’s streets to celebrate the historic transition from Denmark’s beloved ‘Ashtray Queen’ to Crown Prince Frederik as monarch.
The following day a nationwide brunch is being held so Danish communities can toast King Frederik X and Queen Mary together during the first hours of his reign. Meanwhile, lively celebrations for Australia’s future Queen continue ramping up down under in anticipation of the coronation of one of their own.
What Comes Next?
Queen Margrethe II leaves the throne enormously popular with Danes after a momentous fifty years helming the nation. She unified the Danish people under her colorful leadership and leaves the institution well prepared for transition to the next generation.
Her son, the new King Frederik X, outlined a vision connecting the future to an illustrious thousand-year past while continuing to modernize the monarchy. With Australian-born Crown Princess Mary at his side as Queen Consort, the new royal couple are positioned to increase continuity evolving the royal family’s role in Danish national life into the 2030s and beyond.
There remains some opposition to hereditary monarchical power amongst Danes that King Frederik will need to manage. However, support for the royal family has grown in recent decades according to polls. Over three quarters of Danes voted to retain Queen Margrethe II during the last referendum on the constitutional monarchy in 2009.
Republican voices will look for King Frederik to justify why hereditary privilege warrants Denmark forgoing the right to elect its next Head of State. While the abdication has initiated some political debate about holding another referendum, Frederik’s humble persona and reformist stance makes it more likely calls for an elected head of state will be isolated.
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