Denmark’s popular Queen Margrethe II, who will abdicate on Sunday aged 83, is Europe’s longest-serving monarch and last reigning queen after the death of Britain’s Elizabeth II.
The chain-smoking artist has been hailed for modernising the monarchy in her half-century as queen.
She acceded to the throne at the age of 31 on January 14, 1972, on the death of her father, Frederik IX.
Exactly 52 years to the day, she will pass the baton to her eldest son, Crown Prince Frederik, after citing her age and health issues in her shock New Year’s Eve abdication announcement.
“Queen Margrethe is a very good storyteller and she controls her own story,” Cecilie Nielsen, royal expert at public broadcaster DR, told AFP.
“In deciding to abdicate, she also gets to pick the exact moment to step down.”
The queen said major back surgery she underwent in February 2023 “gave cause to thoughts” about stepping down.
She will remain known as Queen Margrethe after her abdication.
When she became queen, she took the name Margrethe II in recognition of Margrethe I, who ruled Denmark from 1375 to 1412 but never formally held the title of queen.
At the time, only 45 percent of Danes were in favour of the monarchy, most believing it had no place in a modern democracy.
But the cultured Margrethe has managed to stay away from scandal and modernise the institution, allowing her two sons to marry commoners and slimming down the monarchy.
The Danish royal family is now among the most popular in the world, enjoying the support of more than 80 percent of Danes.
Margrethe is Europe’s only reigning queen, although four countries — Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden — have crown princesses.
– Resentful husband –
Nicknamed “Daisy” by her family and subjects, she repeatedly insisted over the years that she would never step down.
“I will stay on the throne until I drop,” she had said.
Aged 82, she rode a rollercoaster at Copenhagen’s famed Tivoli amusement park, her hat fastened securely on her head.
But life has not always been smooth sailing for Margrethe.
Her French-born husband, Prince Consort Henrik, was known for his flamboyant style and frequent outbursts of anger. He repeatedly expressed disappointment that his title was never changed to king when his wife became queen in 1972.
In 2002, he made headlines when he fled to his chateau in southern France, complaining he did not receive enough respect in Denmark. He later said he did not want to be buried next to his wife because he was never made her equal in life.
Henrik died in February 2018, five months after being diagnosed with dementia.
Margrethe displayed the same steeliness in her recent very public quarrel with her youngest son, Prince Joachim, after she stripped his four children of their princely titles in 2022 to slim down the monarchy.
– Uniting force –
The queen was born in Copenhagen on April 16, 1940, just one week after Nazi Germany invaded her country.
The eldest of three sisters, Denmark’s law of succession then barred women from inheriting the throne.
It was changed in 1953 following a referendum, under pressure from successive Danish governments mindful of a need to modernise society.
“She has managed to be a queen who has united the Danish nation in a time of large changes: globalisation, the appearance of the multicultural state, economic crises in the 1970s, 1980s and again in 2008 to 2015, and the pandemic,” historian Lars Hovebakke Sorensen told AFP.
– Queen of arts –
With sparkling blue eyes and a broad smile, Margrethe is known for her relaxed and playful side, as well as for her involvement in Denmark’s cultural scene.
A painter as well as a costume and set designer, she has worked with the Royal Danish Ballet and Royal Danish Theatre on numerous occasions.
She was recently nominated for Denmark’s equivalent of an Oscar for her work on the Netflix film “Ehrengard”, in both the set design and costume categories.
She studied at Cambridge and the Sorbonne in Paris, and is fluent in English, French, German and Swedish.
She has also translated plays, including Simone de Beauvoir’s “All Men Are Mortal” with her husband, under a pseudonym.
But it is primarily her paintings and drawings that have caught the public’s eye.
She has illustrated several books, including a Danish 2002 edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, and her paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in Denmark and abroad.