Sunday, 28 November 2010

New books: Amalienborg, its inhabitants and its court

Amalienborg is the title of a book just published by Gyldendal in Copenhagen, written by Jørgen Larsen and Thomas Larsen and illustrated by Bjarke Ørsted. The title is however somewhat misleading, as this is not really a book about Amalienborg itself, but about the workings of the institution which has its headquarters there, i.e. the Danish monarchy. The book benefits from being written by political journalists with a more analytical approach than what is often the case with books on royalty.
The book opens with two chapters on the origins and history of the complex of four mansions that is Amalienborg, followed by interviews with Queen Margrethe, Henrik the Prince Consort and Crown Prince Frederik. The Queen, known to be articulate, is interviewed in no less than four chapters, but only one of them deals directly with her own relations to Amalienborg, her winter home for most of her life. In that chapter we get to hear about her and her husband’s views on interior decorating and how they reasoned when Christian IX’s Mansion was turned into their home following their 1967 wedding, which is quite interesting reading.
She also says quite much about her mother’s role in relation to Amalienborg, but this is strongly coloured by a daughter’s fond memories of her mother. She tells us how “well-informed” Queen Ingrid was about old houses and how they should be taken care of, but as the recent renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion has shown, Queen Ingrid did great harm to that building, often by overruling professionals who had other ideas.
In the other chapters Queen Margrethe speaks about various other things, such as wartime memories, her New Year speeches and her worry that today’s children are not allowed to be children as long as in her days. The chapter in which Prince Henrik is interviewed is more of a portrait of the man, to a great extent based on earlier interviews and his memoirs.
Queen Margrethe, probably the only one among the current European monarchs who could be described as an intellectual, is always a great interview subject, as she is very knowledgeable, has a sharp mind and a wonderful turn of phrase. Some highlights from these interviews are: “I am not without opinions, but they are for personal use”, “When people have sat down to listen, something should be said” (about her New Year speeches, which contain much more than the platitudes and pleasantries of her father’s days), and “Particularly when we want to be modern we end up being very conservative” (about Danish interior decoration in general). But Queen Margrethe has given so many interviews that one tends to feel that one has heard a lot of it before.
To my surprise I found that the most interesting interview in this book was that with Crown Prince Frederik. The Crown Prince and his family now live partly at the Chancellery House at Fredensborg and partly in Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg, both buildings which were the homes of his beloved grandmother Queen Ingrid. Crown Prince Frederik speaks of the privilege of being able to live in the same houses as his forebears (a faint hint of cigarette smoke and perfume can sometimes be felt in his grandmother’s former homes) and also gives an interesting insight into the reasoning behind his and Crown Princess Mary’s choice to decorate their mansion with works of contemporary art as well as his own interest in modern art.
It is also interesting to note how he during the past decade or so has grown closer to his mother while at the same time becoming less critical of his own upbringing than he used to be in interviews and speeches. And this is perhaps where Crown Prince Frederik dares to say on behalf of his father what Prince Henrik himself has never gone so far as to say publicly, namely that he felt the needed to turn certain things around when he arrived in Denmark. According to the Crown Prince “he did away with parts of the conservatism which my grandmother and grandfather represented in his eyes. My grandfather was the patriarch, and what daddy did was always right”.
Except for the interview with the Crown Prince I found those chapters which deal with the working of the royal court the most interesting parts of the book. We get to meet some of the key courtiers – the Lord Chamberlain, the Private Secretary, the Master of Ceremonies, the Head of the Information Department – as well as many of the unsung heroes, who provide the reader with an insight into the work of the library, the furniture restoration workshop, the garage, the cleaners, the equerries, the Life Guard and others.
Also interesting are the chapters dealing with the challenges facing the monarchy today, both in relation to the media and in relation to politics and public opinion. The final chapters outline some interesting developments and trends relating to the monarchy in modern days, including the more critical voices which have appeared recently, for instance in connection with the debate over changing the Act of Succession.
(As a disclaimer I should add that although I am repeatedly mentioned and referred to in the book I have not contributed to it and am thus not partial when I review it).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, but should be signed - preferably by a name, but an initial or a nick will also be accepted. Advertisements are not allowed. COMMENTS WHICH DO NOT COMPLY WITH THESE RULES WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED.