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Denmark's Queen Margrethe II announces surprise abdication

By Camille BAS-WOHLERT / AFP Published Jan 01, 2024 9:33 am

Denmark's popular Queen Margrethe II, Europe's longest-serving monarch, said Sunday that she would abdicate on January 14 and pass the baton to her son Crown Prince Frederik.

Margrethe, 83, has reigned for 52 years and has been Europe's only reigning queen after the death of Britain's Elizabeth II.

She has been hailed for subtly modernizing Danish royalty in her half-century on the throne.

She made the surprise announcement during her traditional New Year's Eve speech broadcast on Danish television, citing her age and health issues.

"In two weeks time I have been Queen of Denmark for 52 years," she said.

That length of time would take its time on anyone, she added. "One cannot undertake as much as one managed in the past...

"On 14th January, 2024 –- 52 years after I succeeded my beloved father -– I will step down as Queen of Denmark. I will hand over the throne to my son Crown Prince Frederik."

The chain-smoking queen has repeatedly said she would never abdicate, but back surgery she underwent in February "gave cause to thoughts about the future -- whether now would be an appropriate time to pass on the responsibility to the next generation".

The queen, known for her artistic talents, has been hugely popular in Denmark.

"She has managed to be a queen who has united the Danish nation in a time of large changes: globalization, the appearance of the multicultural state, economic crises in the 1970s, 1980s and again in 2008 to 2015, and the pandemic," historian Lars Hovebakke Sorensen told AFP.

"The basis of her popularity is that the queen is absolutely non-political," he said.

Queen of arts

With sparkling blue eyes and a broad smile, she is known for her relaxed and playful side, as well as for her involvement in Denmark's cultural scene.

A painter as well as a costume and set designer, she has worked with the Royal Danish Ballet and Royal Danish Theatre on numerous occasions.

She studied at Cambridge and the Sorbonne in Paris, and is fluent in English, French, German and Swedish.

She has also translated plays, including Simone de Beauvoir's "All Men Are Mortal" with her French-born husband under a pseudonym.

But it is primarily her paintings and drawings that have caught the public's eye.

She has illustrated several books, including a Danish 2002 edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", and her paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in Denmark and abroad.

Crown Prince Frederik, 55, is meanwhile the embodiment of the country's relaxed, liberal monarchy.

Passionate about the environment, he has discreetly imposed himself in the shadow of his mother, championing Denmark and its drive to find solutions to the climate crisis.

"When the time comes, I will guide the ship," he said in a speech celebrating his mother's half-century on the throne.

"I will follow you, as you followed your father" in leading the thousand-year-old institution, Prince Frederik added.

He met his wife Mary Donaldson, an Australian lawyer, at a Sydney bar during the 2000 Olympic Games.

They have tried to give their four children as normal an upbringing as possible, sending them mainly to state schools.

Their eldest, Prince Christian, who recently turned 18, was the first Danish royal to go to daycare.

Frederik and Mary are "modern, woke, lovers of pop music, modern art and sports," said historian Sebastian Olden-Jorgensen, adding that they would represent a careful transition to the times.

Frederik has said that he sees himself complementing his mother, a polymath who is an accomplished writer and artist.

"You paint, I exercise. You dig for buried objects from the past, I buried my head in order not to be recognized during my time in the armed forces. You are a master of words. I am sometimes at a loss for them," he joked during the queen's jubilee celebrations. (AFP)