Tuesday, 28 May 2013

On this date: Danes voted for altered succession sixty years ago

The funeral of Count Christian of Rosenborg (by birth Prince of Denmark) tomorrow will miss by only one day the sixtieth anniversary of the referendum which deprived his branch of the Danish royal family of the crown and bestowed it upon the current Queen Margrethe II. The events of 1953 would drive a wedge between King Frederik IX and his younger brother, Hereditary Prince Knud, who were thereafter not on speaking terms for the remainder of their lives.
Until 1953 only men were eligible to inherit the Danish throne, so the birth of a daughter to Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Ingrid in 1940, after five years of marriage, was of no significance for the succession. On the other hand, the Crown Prince’s younger brother, Prince Knud, had had a son that year, Prince Ingolf, and two years later he fathered another son. This son was named Christian, the name which was “reserved” for the eldest son of Crown Prince Frederik. According to Ingolf, the choice of name caused things to go “completely wrong” between Frederik and Knud.
The succession issue was not resolved by the birth of two more daughters to Crown Prince Frederik, which meant that Prince Knud upon his brother’s succession to the throne in 1947 became heir presumptive.
The Danish Constitution of 1915 had by then become outdated in several ways, but it was a complicating factor that changing it required the consent of 45 % of the entire electorate in a referendum. A new constitution had been defeated in 1939 as turn-out had been too low to bring the approval rate over the required 45 % of the electorate.
But after the Second World War an MP by the name of Poul Thisted Knudsen had the idea of linking a new constitution with a new Act of Succession which would allow a princess to inherit the crown if she had no brothers. This was apparently seen as something which would interest the voters more than lowering the age of suffrage and abolishing the bicameral system and might thus cause enough voters to turn out for the changes to be approved by more than 45 % of the electorate.
Indeed this did interest voters, but the problem for Prince Knud’s family was that the debate soon took the form of a choice between King Frederik’s attractive daughters and Prince Knud and his sons, who were portrayed as ugly and stupid.
In the referendum held on 28 May 1953 the new Constitution and the Act of Succession narrowly received the support of the required 45 %. The Constitution and the Act of Succession were signed into law by King Frederik IX in a State Council on 5 June 1953, Denmark’s national day. At that moment Prince Knud lost everything, and Prime Minister Erik Eriksen later told the historian Tage Kaarsted that Prince Knud had attempted to sabotage the signing of the laws.
Now fourth in line of succession, Prince Knud knew that he would never inherit the throne, yet he was, rather oddly, now given the title of “Hereditary Prince”. According to an interview with Ingolf for his seventieth birthday in 2010, King Frederik IX and Hereditary Prince Knud never spoke again except at official events and when King Frederik came to his brother’s home to confer the Order of the Elephant on Ingolf on his 21st birthday in 1961.
While this might seem irrational, as the changes to the succession had not been instigated by King Frederik and he had at the outset been sceptical, it seems Hereditary Prince Knud, like many others, may have thought that Queen Ingrid was the mind behind the amendment. This she would later firmly deny, as has Queen Margrethe done, but after the referendum Queen Ingrid did write a letter of gratitude to Poul Thisted Knudsen, whose idea it had been.
When King Frederik IX died on 14 January 1972 he was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Queen Margrethe II, who has now reigned successfully for 41 years. Full cognatic succession was introduced in 2009.
Hereditary Prince Knud outlived his brother for four years, dying on 14 June 1976, and according to Ingolf he “would have liked very much to have those years as king”. He died a bitter man and left instructions that his funeral should take place without any public attention.
Much against the will of his mother, Hereditary Princess Caroline-Mathilde, Ingolf thereafter brokered a reconciliation with his cousin, Queen Margrethe. Eventually Caroline-Mathilde herself, who died in 1995, became reconciled with Queen Ingrid.
As some sort of compensation for losing the crown, Ingolf annually receives 1.5 million DKK from the state. He became a farmer, while his elder sister Princess Elisabeth embarked on a career in the Foreign Office and his younger brother Christian served in the Navy.
As they did not receive King Frederik’s consent, Ingolf and Christian lost their royal titles when they married commoners in 1968 and 1971, respectively, and were both created Count of Rosenborg. Princess Elisabeth lived for 20 years with the filmmaker Claus Hermansen, but the couple never married because, as she has explained in an interview, she had no desire for children and wanted to keep her royal title. As Count Ingolf is unable to have children, Christian would have been heir presumptive to the throne if Ingolf had become king.
Today the relationship between the two branches of the family seems correct, but not particularly warm. The children of Prince Knud are invited to major events, but privately the cousins see little of each other.


  1. A very interesting article, thank you. It illustrates well why the argument so often brought out against reforming succession laws - e.g., "Why are the politicians hurrying to tinker with it when Prince William's child will not reign for another 50 years?" - is nonsensical.

    May I ask another question? Do you know whether the cool relationship between the branches is linked to King Frederik IX and Queen Margrethe II's decisions to strip Elisabeth (hypothetically), Ingolf, and Christian of their royal titles upon marriage? It has been noted that the status of their spouses surely was not the reason, as Margrethe's and Joachim's spouses were not considered to be of royal birth.

    1. Yes, the 2009 amendment was done at a favourable time - coming between the birth of Princess Isabella and the birth of Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine meant that it happened at a time when no living person was affected by it (although the "theoretical" nature of it seems to have made it more difficult to mobilise voters).

      I have never heard the loss of titles being mentioned as a contributing factor to the cool relationship, but indeed it is possibly to imagine that it did at least not ease Prince Knud's bitterness (but that is speculation).

      Ingolf and Christian probably knew what they could expect, given what had happened to Prince Oluf and Prince Flemming earlier in the reign of Frederik IX. One reason for treating Prince Knud's sons differently from Princess Margrethe (I will leave out Prince Joachim, as that was another monarch's decision) might have been that Ingolf and Christian married Danes, while Margrethe married a foreigner. Another might be that the Danish court considered Henri de Laborde de Monpezat a count - he actually was not, but the Danish court has always insisted that the Laborde de Monpezats were counts. And there was a precedence which might have allowed Frederik IX to consent to Princess Margrethe's marriage to a nobleman while withholding consent to Prince Ingolf's and Prince Christian's marriages to non-aristocratic women, namely that he had in 1950 consented to the marriage of Prince Georg to a British noblewoman (Anne, Viscountess Anson, née Bowes-Lyon). Georg thus retained his title and his succession rights, but strictly speaking Anne was as much of a commoner as the wife of Georg's brother Flemming, who had lost his rights by marrying Ruth Nielsen the previous year.

      The reason why Georg was allowed to remain a prince was that George VI, whose wife was Anne's aunt, had put pressure on Frederik IX. The royal title was very important to Prince Georg, while Flemming insisted he could not have cared less as long as he got the woman he wanted. But by having consented to Prince Georg's marriage to a noblewoman, Frederik IX had an "excuse" for consenting to Princess Margrethe's marriage to a nobleman.

      It is by the way interesting to note that Count Christian's death announcement in Berlingske last weekend refers to him as "Greve Christian af Rosenborg (født prins til Danmark)", a formula which was not used for Count Flemming.

    2. The speculation which I read actually went the other way around - i.e., that Frederik IX and Margrethe II's decisions were influenced by the distant relationship with Ingolf and his siblings. (I included Margrethe II because, as you noted, she apparently would have removed Princess Elisabeth's title if the princess married, despite allowing her own sons to marry "commoners.")

      I had forgotten about Anne Anson, but thank you for reminding me. I presume that the Danish monarchs never publicly explained why consent was granted or withheld, but your explanation seems quite plausible.

    3. Indeed no explicit reasons have been given, so we may only speculate, but personally I think it would have been hard to justify using cool personal relations as the reason for withholding consent and withdrawing titles. And Prince Flemming, whose parents were close friends of King Frederik and Queen Ingrid, was treated exactly the same way, so I do not think personal relationships influenced it.


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