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.