Golden Jubilee: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

After commemorating a half century since the death of her father, Margrethe celebrated 50 years as the country’s monarch in a flurry of events this month…

Xander Brett

On 14th January 2022, the Danish royal train drew up at Roskilde station, 35 km south of Copenhagen. Disembarking, a sombre Queen Margrethe II was driven to the city’s cathedral, where she laid a wreath at the tomb of her father, King Frederik IX. His death, fifty years earlier, had marked the start of Margrethe’s reign. Back in January, though, the final throw of coronavirus – Omicron – had postponed the following days’ milestone celebrations. Margrethe took her parliamentary thank you, then left it at that. And, so it was, six months later, we’d gathered in Copenhagen for another crack at the whip.

Only problem was, the plan appeared to have been derailed again. The previous Thursday, a statement from Balmoral had announced that Queen Elizabeth II was drawing her final breath. Close family had gathered for the end of a 70-year-reign, and in Denmark, her third cousin released a heartfelt letter to King Charles: his mother would be missed “terribly”, and had been “a towering figure among the European monarchs.” Margrethe then cancelled all large-scale public appearances. Gone was a balcony wave at Amalienborg Palace. Gone, too, a carriage ride to lunch (and another balcony appearance) at Copenhagen’s town hall. Fellow Nordic heads of state, however, were already on their way, and it would be an overreaction to cancel entirely. So, instead, it was decided, events would start at Item 3 on the agenda: a performance at the Royal Theatre. The Queen makes costumes in her spare time, and is known to adore the performing arts. There was surely no better way to begin.

(Left) Crown Princess Mary, Prince Christian, Princess Isabella and Crown Prince Frederick (Right) Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen attends the service of commemoration at Copenhagen Cathedral

Still taking stock in Amalienborg Square, on Saturday morning I found TV2 scanning an empty balcony. It was too late, apparently, to fill their schedules back up, and the hosts had already arrived at their temporary studio to go on air. At Kongens Nytorv, another studio, built to cover a full day’s events, was being repurposed to anchor one feed from London (the proclamation of Charles III) and another from Copenhagen (the anniversary of Margrethe II). Heading inside, the producers pulled me up a chair, and I took a walk with Ulla Essendrop, who’d be hosting coverage with long-time stalwart Kåre Quist (Denmark’s answer to Huw Edwards). “While, of course, we’re not a nation in mourning,” Ussendrop gestured as we strolled over for coffee (the catering truck, truly, was the essence of Danishness, complete with glowing candles and small flags), “we know we need to get the balance right. Naturally, we’re going to have a positive tone, but it’s one that’ll reflect the deep parallels between our two monarchies.”

Around us, banners congratulated Margrethe on her achievement, tourists being filled in about what was taking place. Ussendrop’s programme would be broadcast live on DR1 (Denmark’s premier channel) for almost 12 hours straight. The opening three hours, she explained, would cover events from a live stream and two correspondents in London, flitting back and forth to a rotating panel of royal experts in Copenhagen. The former courtier (and guest on The Nordic Podcast), Christian Eugen-Olsen, was one of those experts, arriving in a cloud of scent, before changing to ceremonial dress for an appearance at the theatre. At 2pm, Essendrop would change her jacket, and the focus would shift to Queen Margrethe, leading up to the variety show at 8pm, which was also DR’s responsibility to produce.

Leaving the production area, I took a drink at the Hotel d’Angleterre, then headed over to the Royal Theatre, awaiting arrivals. The television team had put up a drone, a swarm of protection officers had dispersed to each corner of the building, and a bear skinned, blue-trousered guard of honour had filed into place on the front steps, facing the reception line. Buses turned to minibuses, then cars, as soldiers, sailors, politicians, and former prime ministers walked the red carpet, collecting programmes, facing the press, then entering the foyer for champagne on the balcony. Meanwhile, at the stage door, dancers (and a rather confused looking Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), were making their way in. At 7:45pm, it was showtime. Inside, the bell rang. Outside, a flurry of blue lights proceeded the arrival of Queen Margrethe. Elegantly climbing the steps in a flowing red dress, she was handed flowers by a girl at the entrance, taking her seat to a rendition of the national anthem in the royal box. Her Jubilee celebrations, now, were finally underway.

Next morning, after breakfast, I re-joined the press corps at Copenhagen Cathedral. This was to be a morning of reflection, with a service of thanksgiving that would also be broadcast live nationwide. I was shown to my seat on the left-hand balcony, while, below me, clergy bustled to and fro, putting the final preparations into effect. A Greenlandic choir completed vocal exercises opposite, while the royal choir practiced above an organ to my left. By 9:45am, Count Ingolf of Rosenborg had arrived with the prime minister, bodyguards tracking her movement in parallel on the corresponding aisle. Count Ingolf, now 82 and almost disabled, was heir presumptive until 1953, when laws were amended to permit his older cousin, Margrethe, to succeed the throne. Frederick IX had only daughters, and Margrethe’s two younger sisters, Benedikte and Anne-Marie (the last Queen-consort of Greece), were both present at the weekend ceremonies. Just before 10am, repeating the order of the night before, and arriving in the same vast Viking Bus, the Nordic heads of state were shown in, accompanied by their own adjutants and security. We stood for Margrethe, and the service began, complete with a fascinating arrangements of pews: one side facing the front (where acoustics meant the priest spoke into an alcove to be heard), the other facing the sermon, presented from a pulpit opposite me.

(Left) The President of Finland, Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, President of Iceland, Count Ingolf of Rosenborg and Countess Sussie, The King and Queen of Norway, Former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his wife Anne-Mette Rasmussen (Right) Queen Margrethe II

Prayers, music, and hymns filled the hour and, as the dignitaries left, I was ushered out of a back door, hotfooting it to Amalienborg Palace, where the Royal Yacht Dannebrog was moored up on the quayside. A small crowd (including a surely disproportionate helping of Scots) had gathered in interest and anticipation. The last of Margrethe’s guests (they’d been driven straight from the cathedral by car) were being welcomed aboard. The captain whistled, a radio barked orders, and the steps were heaved up as a collection of policemen stood guard. This is the ship Margrethe uses to tour the constituent lands of her realm: Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. It’s where she enjoyed so many happy memories with her late prince-consort, Henrik, who died in 2018. And it’s also the vessel that took her on a Jubilee summer tour in June, stopping for a ceremony in Aarhus. Appearing on deck as the boat (unexpectedly, to me at least) pulled away, Margrethe was seen chatting to the King of Sweden. The presidents of Finland and Iceland beamed, asking each other, jokily, how to wave like a royal, while, inside, distant relatives from Germany were already starting to tuck into lunch.

There’d be more delicacies later as, after a rest at home, Margrethe and her trailing guests were driven to Christiansborg Palace (the imposing ‘Borgen’ castle), for a gala dinner and entertainment that, this time, TV2 was in charge of producing. Faroese scallops, Greenlandic muskox, and a Jubilee cake, accompanied by fruit from the garden at Fredensborg Palace (the Danish Windsor Castle), all washed down with a cuvée spéciale from Margrethe’s vineyard at the Château de Cayx in southwest France. In came Prince Joachim and Princess Marie, then the Crown Prince and Princess, rounding the corner and continuing their journey down a long corridor lined with Nutcracker-style guardsmen (they, very kindly, even stood to attention for journalists like me). Guests queued to bow and courtesy to their Queen, seated on a throne, and a minute’s silence was held for Elizabeth II. In a week’s time, of course, Margrethe would be on her way to London for that Queen’s funeral.

DR’s studio, covering both the proclamation of King Charles and the celebrations of Queen Margrethe

The Golden Weekend complete, last Friday 23rd September, the royal family were at Christiansborg once more, finishing her celebratory year with a dinner from the government, who are based in the building. Coronavirus, the death of Elizabeth II… this proved no straightforward celebration (of the kind, indeed, celebrated by her aforementioned cousin earlier this year). But what better way, in fact, to mark an historic milestone. The coronavirus pandemic showed an adaptability and resolve that has so endeared Margrethe to her nation. The death of the ‘world’s queen’, meanwhile, has passed responsibility to Margrethe, who now rules as the world’s longest serving, and only female, monarch. Her son and heir, Crown Prince Frederik, described ruling, in his gala speech, as like steering a ship. “It’s about being able to read wind conditions,” he explained. “It’s about knowing your vessel and crew, and about finding your footing on the open sea.” Well, for fifty years, Margrethe seems to have skippered the ship of state with ease. And, as her Jubilee celebrations rightly showed us, a loyal nation, and a now newly interested world, can only thank her for it.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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