Sunday, 3 April 2011

At the road’s end: Élie, 5th Duke of Decazes and Glücksbierg (1914-2011)

When Margrethe II succeeded to the throne of Denmark in 1972 it was seriously considered creating her husband Duke of Fredensborg. However, the idea was dropped, duke not being a very Danish title and mostly associated with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which were lost to Prussia in 1864.
But there is nevertheless one Danish dukedom in existence and yesterday the funeral of the man who had held that title for very nearly seventy years took place at Bonzac in Gironde. Élie, 5th Duke of Decazes and Glücksbierg died in Morges on 17 March, two months short of his 97th birthday.
The Danish title derives from his great-great-grandfather, Élie de Decazes (1780-1860), a favourite of King Louis XVIII of France, who created him a count in 1815. On 9 July that year, when Louis XVIII returned to Paris after Waterloo, Decazes was appointed Prefect of the Police and 2 ½ months later he succeeded the dreaded Fouché as Minister of Police. He later became Minister of the Interior and was in effect the leading figure of the moderate royalist government long before he actually became Prime Minister in November 1819. His premiership was however a brief one and he was forced to step down in February 1820, following the outbreak of revolution in Spain and the assassination of the Duke of Berry, heir presumptive to the French throne.
The circumstances under which he was created a Danish duke are quite peculiar. A commoner by birth, the royal favourite was due to marry Countess Egidia de Beaupoir de St-Atalaire, whose parents were allegedly keen on his being granted a higher title than that which he already had already been given by Louis XVIII. It has also been said that Decazes being about to be appointed Foreign Minister (which he eventually never was) played a role in this matter.
As the bride-to-be was the niece of the Dowager Duchess Anna Caroline of Braunschweig-Bevern, who in her first marriage had been the wife of Friedrich Wilhelm, the last Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, it was apparently decided to approach King Frederik VI of Denmark with the idea that Decazes might be created Duke of Glücksburg. This was done by way of Duke Wilhelm of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Beck, King Frederik’s brother-in-law, who was in Paris to inspect the Danish troops dispatched to France as part of the peace agreement of 1815.
The Kings of Denmark and Saxony had been the only European monarchs to stick to Napoléon until the bitter end and King Frederik was therefore apparently keen on ingratiating himself with the new French ruler. Thus he agreed to create Decazes a Duke, not of Glücksburg, but of Glücksbierg, a non-existing place. The new Duke was supposed to build himself a manor in Denmark or Schleswig, something which never happened. The family did on the other hand eventually acquire an estate in Gironde.
The most puzzling aspect of this story is to me why Louis XVIII could not himself have created Decazes a duke. In his work Huset Glücksborg i 150 år (1975) the author Bo Bramsen wrote that King Louis did not “dispose over any suitable dukedom”, but this did not prevent him from making his outgoing Prime Minister Duke of Decazes in 1820, so that his favourite ended up with two dukedoms – one Danish and one French.
What complicates matter further is that the extinct dukedom of Glücksburg was eventually revived by Frederik VI in 1825 and given to his brother-in-law Wilhelm of Beck, the same man who had acted as go-between for Louis XVIII and Decazes seven years before. And Wilhelm’s younger son Christian eventually became King of Denmark when the House of Oldenburg became extinct in the male line in 1863, so that the House of Glücksburg now reigns in Denmark. It has supposedly created some consternation for the protocol department when a Duke of Glücksbierg has made known his intention to attend funerals of Danish kings.
The recently deceased 5th Duke, Élie Ludovic Henri-Christian de Glücksbierg et de Decazes, was born in Chantilly on 16 May 1914, the eldest of the five children of Louis, the 4th Duke, and grandson of Isabelle Blanche Singer, heiress to the Singer sewing-machine company.
He succeeded to the dukedom upon the death of his father on 2 June 1941, by which time he had for nearly four years been married to Solange du Temple de Rougemont, who bore him five children: Edith in 1938, who married Count Georges de Montebello, a descendant of Marshal Lannes; Marie Isabelle in 1941, who married Jean, the Count de Sabran-Pontevès; Séverine in 1943, who married Henri-François, the Marquis de Breteuil; Gabrielle in 1945; and Louis in 1946.
Their daughter Séverine died in 2009 and on 2 January this year the old Duke suffered the loss of his wife of 73 years. She was at that time described as “the Dowager Duchess” in the journal of the Danish nobility, which although premature proved prescient as the Duke survived her for only two months. A mass was sung for him in the church of Préverenges on 25 March.
The late Duke was an Officer of the Legion of Honour, a Commander of the Order of Dannebrog and also held the War Cross of 1939-1945 and the Grand Cross of the Sovereign Order of Malta. Supposedly he only visited Denmark twice: firstly for the wedding of the current Queen and Prince Consort in 1967 and secondly for the funeral of King Frederik IX in 1972.
He is succeeded in his dukedoms by his only son, Louis, now the 6th Duke of Glücksbierg and Decazes, who is 64, unmarried and childless. Next in line are the new Duke’s cousins, Jacques-Marie, 66 years, married, but childless, and Jean-Marie, 62, unmarried and childless; their uncle Edouard, who will turn ninety in May; and finally the latter’s only son, Frédéric, who is 52, unmarried and childless. Thus it seems increasingly likely that the only Danish dukedom will become extinct with the death of the current generation.


  1. Thank you. That is the kind of stories which I like! I particularly enjoyed the information that the duke like a royal person just announced his attention to attend the funeral of King Fredrik IX.
    Did you as most great newspapers have this obituary ready in a drawer waiting for the duke to pass away? There must be quite an amount research behind the article. Are you going to publish or have you already published this information somewhere else?
    Martin Rahm

  2. No, I do not normally prepare obituaries in advance and this did in fact not involve particularly much research as I was already fairly familiar with the Glücksbierg story. But there are some loose ends which might be worth investigating if one should write something more significant about it, such as the reason why Louis XVIII could not himself make Decazes a French duke in 1818, but was able to do so two years later. As for the moment I have no immediate plans to publish anything elsewhere about this (there was however an obituary in Berlingske by a retired Danish journalist who used to cover France for Billed-Bladet). Indeed part of the reason why this blog exists is that it offers me the opportunity to write exactly such shorter pieces on topics I do not plan to write proper articles about.

  3. Thank you for the blog. Sometimes I just think it seems like a waste to publish your articles only here!And how many persons are /were familiar with the Glücksbierg story and have followed it -like you-from the eightteenhundreds until our days?
    Martin Rahm

  4. Thank you for that, but I *do* publish a lot of articles in periodicals, newspapers, magazines etc (there is a list of 73 published works in the right column of this website), so what ends up here are mostly the "left-overs", in addition to the news. The blog also serves as some sort of notebook for me, where I can write down shorter notices about topics which interest me and perhaps someday something of it will make it into a proper, published article. In the meantime I am happy to share the information with others who may find something of interest in it.

  5. Jacques-Marie Decazes and his brother Jean-Marie are both married and have sons who could inherit the family's titles. Also, the second branch of the family, the vicomtes Decazes, whose descendants may inherit the Danish ducal title, have at least three male heirs born after 1989. JY

    1. Hm, then the genealogy I consulted three years ago must have been out of date. Do you have any details about these potential heirs?

  6. Unfortunately, the Decazes family seems to have become publicity shy. This is the information I have at the moment. JY

    3f) Jacques-Marie Louis Pedro Decazes de Glücksbierg (*Savigné-l'Evêque, Sarthe 19 Dec 1944); x Remaucourt, Ardennes 20 Jun 1975 Bernadette Marie Constant (*Remaucourt 23 Jun 1947)

    1g) Cécile Marie Marguerite (*Chêne-Bougeries, Genève 1977)

    2g) Éloïse (*Chêne-Bougeries)

    3g) Jacques (*Chêne-Bougeries)

    4f) Jean-Marie Élie (*Vevey, Vaud 6 Mar 1949); x Corinne Rachel Moussingué Missipo Bébé (*Douala, Cameroun 14 Jul 1958)

    1g) Louis-Jean Philibert Madiba (*Paris)
    1e) Nicolas, 5th vicomte Decazes (*Persac, Vienne 24 Oct 1920, +Persac 3 Sep 2009); x Le Coudray-Montceaux, Essonne 24 Jun 1949 Christiane Herbet (*Paris XVe 14 Nov 1925)

    1f) Caroline Marie Christine Ida (*Paris VIIIe 18 Mar 1950); x Persac 5 Jun 1971 (div) Jean-Pierre Aymé (*Paris XVIIe 4 Jul 1946)

    2f) Anne Marie Thérèse Cécile (*Neuilly-sur-Seine 9 May 1954); x1 (div) Bertrand Ciavaldini; x2 cte Henri-Marc de Montalembert (*14 Jan 1951)

    3f) 6Guillaume René Michel Pierre (*Neuilly-sur-Seine 12 May 1958); x Patricia Chandon-Moët (*1965)

    1g) Augustin (*Paris 20 Nov 1989)

    2g) Léonard (*1994)

    3g) Edwina (*1995)

    4g) Théodore (*1998)

    2e) Marie Louise Thérèse Marthe (*Persac 11 Nov 1923); x Persac 29 Jul 1947 Charles-Henri Marie Balsan (*Paris XVIe 16 Apr 1922, +Velles, Indre 9 May 1972)

    3e) Emmeline Marie Odile (*Persac 15 Jul 1934); x Persac 27 Jun 1958 Antoine Gustave Alphonse Denis (*Bordeaux 6 Jun 1927)

    1. Thank you for this interesting information; I am glad to see that the only Danish dukedom has a future after all.


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