Saturday, January 14, 2012
Margrethe II: Forty Distinguished Years
Forty years ago today, on January 14, 1972, King Frederik IX (a music-loving sailor who liked nothing better than to conduct the Danish National Radio Symphony in his spare time) died, deeply mourned by his family and subjects. In a break with the unique alternating Christian/Frederik pattern that had persisted in Denmark for 459 years since 1513, he was succeeded by his eldest daughter who became Queen Margrethe II. Today Margrethe II, cheered this morning by loyal crowds in Copenhagen after paying her respects with her sisters and their extended family at their father's tomb, celebrates four decades at the head of the ancient Danish Monarchy, the only kingdom in Europe to have maintained both its monarchy and its independence continuously since medieval times. [While Norway and Sweden have also always had monarchies, it was Denmark that dominated the 1397-1523 Kalmar Union, forged by the remarkable Queen Margrethe I (1353-1412).]
It would be difficult to imagine a more gifted and accomplished head of state than Queen Margrethe. In addition to her constitutional duties, the Queen has studied archaeology, designed scenery and costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet, designed some of her own postage stamps, and illustrated the Danish edition of The Lord of the Rings to whose translation the multilingual Queen reportedly contributed as well. Surely this is one queen who may very well have become a well-known figure in her own right even had she not been born royal, but Denmark is all the better for having had her as its Queen. Individuals as talented and likable as Queen Margrethe rarely rise to the top of presidential republics, certainly not continuously for forty years! No wonder that the Danish monarchy is the most solidly popular in Europe, with over 80% support from the public.
As long ago as 1905, when Margrethe's great-great-grandfather Christian IX "Grandfather of Europe" (1818-1906) still reigned and France and Switzerland were the only republics in Europe, the longevity of the Danish monarchy was foreseen. A republican journalist ruefully admitted, "Denmark is by Our Lord chosen as the country that shall retain the monarchical principle until the end of time. When the rest of the world have dismissed their monarchs Denmark will be preserved as a small prehistoric country with a fairytale king, who on the great days of celebrations will ride in a golden coach while the golden apples dance in the fountain in the Old Square. And all the tourists of the world will make pilgrimages to Denmark to see how things were done in the old days." While I of course long to see the monarchical principle thrive widely outside Denmark as well, there can be no doubt that this ancient kingdom indeed retains something of the fairytale spirit and always will.
Recently the Queen [whose English like that of many educated Europeans is flawless, though it's worth noting that her maternal grandmother was Princess Margaret of Great Britain (1882-1920)] reflected on her reign and touchingly expressed her admiration for her British counterpart who is also celebrating a Jubilee this year. While I fervently support all ten of Europe's reigning sovereigns, and feel a particular ancestral connection to the British Monarchy, I've always had a special affection for Queen Margrethe due to her wide-ranging artistic interests, obvious intelligence, and sparkling personality. And in 2000 the Kingdom of Denmark (to which I returned the following summer) was the first current European monarchy I'd ever visited, before I ever set foot in Britain. I'm sure all readers will join me in expressing congratulations to Denmark's outstanding Queen as she and her lucky people celebrate forty years on the throne.