A Look Into The Life Of Newly-Abdicated Queen Margrethe II

We explore the life and work of Margrethe II: a life-long artist and intellectual who served her country for 52 years before her abdication. 

December 2023 marked a significant change in the monarchy of Denmark. Its now former queen, Margrethe II, announced her plans to abdicate the throne during her annual New Year’s Eve speech on live television, reports AnneClaire Stapleton of CNN. The news surprised many, most especially her Danish subjects. The decision comes not long after the royal underwent a major back surgery early last year, which led her to reflect on her role and future. 

The newly-abdicated Queen Margrethe II
The newly-abdicated Queen Margrethe II/Photo by Johannes Jansson via Wikimedia Commons

“The surgery naturally gave rise to thinking about the future — whether the time had come to leave the responsibility to the next generation,” explained the 83-year-old monarch during her speech, as per BBC. This makes Margrethe II only the second monarch to voluntarily step down from the throne in all of Danish history, according to Emily Burack of Town & Country. The gap is a long one, as the last royal who abdicated was King Eric III in 1146, since he chose to join a monastery. 

Margrethe II and her son, King Frederick X at Christiansborg Palace
Margrethe II and her son, King Frederick X at Christiansborg Palace/Photo by Keld Navntoft via Instagram @detdanskekongehus

Though Margrethe II has stepped down from the throne, having taken her final carriage ride in Copenhagen as queen, she leaves behind a meaningful legacy that future generations of Danes will surely remember. Read on to learn more about the queen who captured the hearts of her citizens through her authenticity, intelligence, talent, and steadfast patriotism: 

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The Unexpected Monarch

Margrethe II was born Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid in a tumultuous period of Danish history: April 16, 1940. As per Rebecca Armitage and Lucy Sweeney of ABC News, her parents Frederik (eldest son of Denmark’s King Christian X) and Ingrid (the only daughter of the crown prince of Sweden) were under house arrest in Amalienborg Palace as Hitler’s forces took over. Margrethe was the eldest of two younger sisters, Princess Benedikte of Denmark and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece, and the royal couple had no sons. 

King Frederik IX with his wife Queen Ingrid and daughters, Margrethe and Anne Marie, in 1954
King Frederik IX with his wife Queen Ingrid and daughters, Margrethe and Anne Marie, in 1954/Photo by Willem van de Poll via Wikimedia Commons

The young princess, whom loved ones referred to as “Daisy,” was never meant to rule the country as her ancestors had. The reason for this being rules of succession that had been in place since 1853, stating that only male heirs could inherit the throne, Armitage and Sweeney explain in their feature.

Yet Margrethe’s father was determined to change things once he ascended the throne after World War II, wanting to ensure that his daughters were eligible to rule. After the approval of two parliaments and the nation’s citizens, Denmark passed a constitutional amendment that made Margrethe the throne’s future heir at 13 years old. 

After her father’s passing in 1972, the young Margrethe became the first Danish monarch under the new Act of Succession at 31 years old, as per the royal family’s official website. From then on, she served the country with an unwavering devotion that many can only compare to the late Elizabeth II. Both women were the world’s only female sovereigns for years, with Elizabeth II ruling for 70 years before her passing and Margrethe ruling for 52 before her abdication.  

A Woman of Knowledge 

Margrethe was an inimitable ruler, as she happened to be both an intellectual and artist, juggling multiple passions as she performed her political duties as queen. Her love for knowledge extended well beyond her stellar performance as a boarding school student in England. As per ABC News, the young monarch had a “flair for languages,” trained with the Danish Women’s Flying Corps, practiced the visual arts, and even pursued archeology in Cambridge University, all on top of studying the ways of royal diplomacy. 

A young Margrethe in 1966
A young Margrethe in 1966/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Artist at Heart

Throughout her life, Margrethe II pursued a variety of arts, with a whole section of the Denmark royal family website dedicated to her works. These include paintings, embroidery, découpage, church textiles, and yes, even stage costumes. 

The former queen also happens to be the illustrator behind Danish and British editions of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. In the 1970s, she submitted her illustrations to the famous author under the pseudonym “Ingahild Grathmer,” according to Denmark’s official website. Tolkein was so impressed—a rare occurrence as the writer rarely welcomed artistic renditions of his work—he even wrote compliments on the pieces. People later found these drawings upon his passing in 1973 and the rest, as they say, is history. 

An edition of Tolkein’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” featuring one of the queen’s illustrations
An edition of Tolkein’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” featuring one of the queen’s illustrations/Photo from the National Museum of Women in the Arts website

Margrethe would continue to captivate her subjects with her unabashed authenticity, as she openly smoked and had an aversion to mobile phones and the internet, as per Jacqueline Howard and Oliver Slow of the BBC. In 2003, she even commissioned an artist to create a stunning glass sarcophagus that would serve as her final resting place when she passes, reports ABC News

The Queen’s Love

One cannot talk about Margrethe II without discussing the love of her life, late husband Henri de Laborde de Monpezat. At 25 years old, while studying in the London School of Economics, the then-princess met Henri while he was working as a secretary in the French embassy, explains ABC News. They continued to foster their relationship, though kept it private until the Danish Royal Court announced their wedding in 1966, according to Heaven LeeMiller of Royal Central

Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik in 1967
Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik in 1967/Photo from IMS Vintage Photos via Wikimedia Commons

The couple married in 1967, and from then on Henri took on the title “His Royal Highness Prince Henrik of Denmark.” He also converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism, as per ABC News. They went on to establish a more modern monarchy for Denmark through their shared love for knowledge and the arts. In their ABC News feature, Rebecca Armitage and Lucy Sweeney add that the couple traveled all across the country, getting to know their subjects and welcoming Danes from “all walks of life.”

The late Prince Henrik with Queen Margrethe II
The late Prince Henrik with Queen Margrethe II/Photo via Instagram @detdanskekongehus

A Lifelong Commitment 

The two remained together until Prince Henrik’s passing in February 2018. The couple have two sons: eldest King Frederik X and youngest Prince Joachim of Denmark. Much of the public is aware that the royal couple experienced ups and downs throughout their marriage, as Henrik struggled to fit into royal life and a new culture, while Margrethe balanced her duties as queen. 

Margrethe II and Prince Henrik with their two songs, Frederik and Joachim
Margrethe II and Prince Henrik with their two songs, Frederik and Joachim/Photo by Klaus Gottfredsen via Instagram @detdanskekongehus

Yet during her 2012 Jubilee celebration, Margrethe had this to say, reported Hello! magazine: “Right from the first day I had my husband at my side. You, my dear Henri, have stood by me and been of encouragement and inspiration for me in the work that we perform. This day is your anniversary as well as mine.”

To this, the late Prince Henrik replied: “Dear Queen, dear wife, dear Daisy: I am the first man in the kingdom to admire you.” 

A New Future for Denmark

King Frederik X takes his mother’s place on the throne, along with his wife and now queen consort, Mary—the very first Australian-born royal in Denmark’s history. Much like Princess Kate Middleton, the new queen did not come from an aristocratic family, having been born to parents that work in academia, reports Elise Taylor of Vogue

King Frederik X and his wife, Queen Mary
King Frederik X and his wife, Queen Mary/Photo via Instagram @detdanskekongehus

According to the BBC, King Frederik X possesses a strong commitment to the environment. Denmark’s subjects, and the global community, expect the 55-year-old to continue where his parents left off, creating a more modern monarchy with his liberal values and focus on alleviating the climate crisis. 

Margrethe with an infant King Frederik X
Margrethe with an infant King Frederik X/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Guardian adds that the prince ensured his children would experience a normal upbringing, even sending them to state schools. As historian Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen puts it, the royal couple does not “represent a potential revolution compared with the queen,” but rather, “a careful transition adapting to the times,” adds The Guardian

Banner photo by via Instagram @detdanskekongehus.

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