Thursday, 25 February 2010

The man who would be king

Wednesday last week was the 70th birthday of Count Ingolf of Rosenborg, the man who would now have been King of Denmark but for the constitutional changes of 1953 which altered the order of succession to allow his cousin Margrethe to inherit the throne. In an interview with Billed-Bladet (no 6-2010), Count Ingolf talks openly about how those events caused much bad blood within the royal family.
The 1853 Act of Succession, which had been left unaltered by the Constitution of 1915, allowed only men to inherit the throne and as King Frederik IX had three daughters and no son, his younger brother, Prince Knud, was the heir presumptive. The relationship between the two brothers had apparently never been very close, but it was the new Act of Succession which damaged it beyond repair.
The then Crown Prince Frederik married Princess Ingrid of Sweden in 1935, two years after Prince Knud had married their first cousin, Princess Caroline-Mathilde. The latter couple had a daughter, Princess Elisabeth in 1935, followed by a son, Prince Ingolf in February 1940. Two months later, and after five years of childless marriage, Crown Princess Ingrid gave birth to a daughter, Princess Margrethe.
Margrethe remained the couple’s only child for four years, and according to Count Ingolf, things “went completely wrong” when his younger brother was born in 1942 and the parents chose the name Christian, which would have been the name of the son Frederik “had counted on having”.
Crown Princess Ingrid gave birth to Princess Benedikte in 1944 and Princess Anne-Marie in 1946 and after three difficult pregnancies she was advised not to have further children. This meant that it was now almost certain that Prince Knud would eventually succeed his brother on the throne. When Christian X died in 1947 and Frederik IX was proclaimed king, Prince Knud officially became “the Heir to the Throne”.
The Constitution of 1915 had become outdated and in 1939 a new constitution had been put up for approval in a plebiscite, but the low turnout meant that it did not receive the approval of the required 45 % of the entire electorate and was therefore defeated. After the war one decided to try again and the MP Poul Thisted Knudsen had the idea of linking the new constitution, which expanded the electorate and abolished bicameralism, to a new Act of Succession whereby a princess would be allowed to inherit the throne if she had no brothers (full cognatic succession was introduced in 2009).
Unfortunately few cared to think about the principles involved in such a change, but the debate rather took the form of a choice between King Frederik’s daughters or Prince Knud and his family. The latter were often portrayed as ugly and stupid, but, as the author Peder Christoffersen has pointed out, even though they did have protruding teeth, “they were completely normally gifted, just like Frederik, but unlike Ingrid, who was unusually gifted”.
The plebiscite was held at the end of May 1953 and the new Constitution and Act of Succession narrowly received the support of the required 45 % of the electorate. Count Ingolf says he was bullied in school next day and that his siblings “simply laughed at it”. He admits he was disappointed, but adds: “One has of course gotten used to it. Said okay, that is obviously how life is meant to be. Then one just has to go on in a different way”. Count Ingolf points out that he was only thirteen at the time and that it was a much harder blow for his father, who “lived with the awareness throughout a long life”.
The new Constitution and Act of Succession received the royal assent in a State Council held at Christiansborg Palace on 5 June 1953. August Tørsleff’s painting of the historic scene, a detail of which is seen above, can hardly be called great art, but the expression on Prince Knud’s face is revealing. Prime Minister Erik Eriksen later told the historian Tage Kaarsted that the Prince during the State Council itself had tried to sabotage the signing of the constitution.
When he left the meeting, Prince Knud was fourth in line of succession. Although he was no longer the Heir to the Throne, he was accorded the title “Hereditary Prince”, which might seem ironic as it was now clear that he would inherit nothing.
The two brothers hardly ever spoke again. “I think my parents only saw King Frederik and Queen Ingrid when they met at official functions”, Count Ingolf says, “except for my 21st birthday, when I was to receive the Order of the Elephant from King Frederik because I had come of age. It happened during a lunch at my parents’ at Sorgenfri [Palace], but then they did of course have a reason!”
King Frederik died in January 1972, Hereditary Prince Knud in June 1976. “He lived three [in fact four] years after King Frederik’s death. He would have liked very much to have those years as king”, Count Ingolf says of his father, adding that “he died as a bitter man”.
After their deaths Ingolf felt it was time to put an end to the family conflict and approached his cousin Queen Margrethe, much against the will of his mother. “Why are you mixing with them?” the Hereditary Princess said, but Ingolf “did simply not find it right that the older generation’s problems should continue to bother us. We of the next generation were not to have our lives ruined because our parents could not get along [...]”.
In the end Hereditary Princess Caroline-Mathilde came to appreciate the reconciliation brokered by her eldest son and she and Queen Ingrid also had time to reconcile before their deaths.
Count Ingolf, who lost his royal title when he married a commoner in 1968, annually receives 1.5 million DKK from the civil list as some sort of “compensation” for losing the throne. He says Queen Margrethe has “managed wonderfully during those 38 years she has now been on the throne [...]”.


  1. .."...The then Crown Prince Frederik married Princess Ingrid of Denmark in 1935..:

    Am sure you meant to write Princess Ingrid of Sweden instead ....

  2. You are of course right - I shall correct it at once. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. You refer to the Constitution of 1915 concerning the succession law at the time, but wouldn't be natural to refer to the succession law of 1853, which was the document that actually regulated the succession? Article 1 in the 1915 Constitution only talks about the succession indirectly.


  4. It is my understanding that the Act of Succession at any time counts as part of the Constitution, but I have now rephrased that sentence to make it clearer.


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