Denmark remakes royal tradition with a new king — but no crown

COPENHAGEN — Denmark will be reinventing tradition on Sunday when 83-year-old Queen Margrethe II, Europe’s longest-serving monarch, gives up the throne, and her 55-year-old son becomes King Frederik X.

Margrethe is the first Danish monarch to abdicate since Erik III in 1146. So this weekend’s events will set a precedent for what such a transition of power might look like in the context of Denmark’s modern constitutional monarchy.

Some elements will be familiar to those who watched the British ceremonies after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the coronation of King Charles III eight months later. There will be a proclamation, a balcony scene, a king’s speech and a procession.

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There will even be a gold carriage — though only one. Margrethe will ride in it to Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish government, where she will sign her abdication declaration. Frederik, as the new king, will get the carriage on the way back, while his mother goes by car.

But as a London-based correspondent who regularly covers the British royals, I was immediately struck by the simplicity of what Denmark has planned. There will be no exceedingly heavy bejeweled crowns, no anointing of the monarch with holy oil behind a screen. Whereas the British like to go big on the pomp and pageantry, invoking ancient symbols of power, the Danes seem to take a more businesslike approach.

“The Brits are very heavy on mysticism. You have this old man being massaged with mysterious oils — it’s very weird,” said Jakob Steen Olsen, a royal commentator for Denmark’s Berlingske newspaper.

“The Danish way is meant to show the link between democracy and royalty,” he said, as a contrast to “how it was in the old days.”

“In those days, the king decided over us and our lives, now it’s the other way around,” Olsen told me. “We have democracy. They serve us, not the other way round.”

According to modern Danish tradition, the prime minister is not just a guest at the succession of the throne, but the person who proclaims the new monarch. On the balcony of Christiansborg Palace on Sunday, Mette Frederiksen will turn in three different directions, saying, “Long live his majesty, King Frederik X.”

The Danes do have an anointing throne — made with a unicorn horn, according to legend, or narwhal tusk, modern analysis says. But they did away with anointing when they abolished absolute monarchy in the late 1840s. The throne is kept on display in Copenhagen’s Rosenborg Palace.

And the crown? It’s now reserved for monarch funerals, when it is placed atop the coffin.

In Britain, people who object to how much the royals cost taxpayers often point to the “bicycling monarchies” of Scandinavia, which manage to get by on much less. And the Danish monarchy has become an even smaller operation since Margrethe stripped four of her grandchildren of their prince and princess titles.

In 2022, Danish royals were allotted $13 million in public funds; the British royal family received $109 million. Elizabeth’s funeral that year cost another $200 million. The tab for Charles’s coronation has yet to be released, but some estimates put it as high as $125 million.

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So might Denmark this weekend provide an alternate model for Britain, too?

“If it’s too ordinary, does the magic disappear?” asked Olsen. “Or is the old-fashioned idea of an elevated, godlike royal house changing?”

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