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‘Insanely popular’: Why are the Danish royals so important to Danes?

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
‘Insanely popular’: Why are the Danish royals so important to Danes?
Denmark's newly-proclaimed King Frederik and Queen Mary, along with their children, wave to crowds following the abdication of former Queen Margrethe who reigned for 52 years. Photo: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

Denmark’s royals boast popularity ratings of over 80 percent, while the percentage of Danes with a negative view of King Frederik, Queen Mary and Queen Margrethe is in single figures. Why is this?


In a poll carried out by Epinion in early January on behalf of Danish public broadcaster DR, Queen Margrethe and Australian-born Queen Mary had a whopping 89 percent support among Danes, with King Frederik just behind on 86 percent. 

So, just how important are the Danish royals to Danes?

“It’s easier to answer the question of how popular they are,” Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen, Copenhagen University historian and expert on the Danish royals, told The Local. 

“And they are insanely popular. Only 15 percent [of Danes] are republicans, and these republicans are spread across the left and right sides of the political spectrum and across age groups. So there’s no republican majority in any age group, any part of the political spectrum or any part of the country.”


“If you look at the way the changing of the throne was celebrated over the weekend, with the many, many thousand people who turned up, then you can say that the royals aren’t just popular, but also have a huge importance to the population.”

Over 100,000 people turned out when King Frederik's accession to the Danish throne was announced, according to Danish media. Photo: Claus Bech/Ritzau Scanpix

It’s hard to say precisely how much the royal family means to Danes, Olden-Jørgensen said, as it’s to a large degree about how they make people feel more than anything else.

“They are valued, and they express a feeling of belonging, a feeling of continuity, a feeling of national community, that’s all very much the case, and is how at least 80 percent of the population feel,” he said.


The new King Frederik and Queen Mary are often credited for modernising the royal family and improving its popularity, although the royals - and Frederik’s mother, Queen Margrethe - have been immensely popular for decades.

“The Danish royal family has been popular for a very, very long time, and you can see that in polls,” Olden-Jørgensen said. “But in recent years it’s been even higher. So it’s not like it was bad before.”

He puts this down in part to the authority held by Margrethe in her 52 years on the throne, who he agrees feels like a family member to many Danes.

Aske Julius, a 27-year-old living in Copenhagen, told AFP that Margrethe is "the embodiment of Denmark... the soul of the nation.”

"More than half of the Danish population has never known anything else but the queen," he said.

“That’s the benefit of being real people, a family, rather than an institute,” Olden-Jørgensen said. “It’s hard to really feel something for the state or for the prime minister, but it’s easier to have a human connection to a person like the queen or a family like the royal family.”

“There’s a real strength in being a royal family with a certain distance from politics.”

Another reason for the family’s popularity, he said, is the new generation of royals, King Frederik and Queen Mary, who are often referred to in Danish as being down to earth or folkeligt, literally ‘of the people’.

"He feels like one of us ... He tries to be a lot like normal people," onlooker Berit Nissen told AFP at the accession event on Sunday.

"They raised their children like normal families do," she said, referring to the couple's decision to send their kids mainly to state schools.


Frederik was also the first Danish royal to marry a commoner, when he and Mary wed in 2004.

“Frederik made a really smart decision when he married Mary, as she’s taken on the role almost perfectly,” Olden-Jørgensen said.

Frederik mentioned his wife both in his accession speech on Sunday, and in his letter to parliament on Monday.

“Together with Queen Mary, we will put all our energy into serving the entire Danish kingdom with all the time we are given,” he wrote in his message to parliament, read by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

King Frederik X and Queen Mary in the Parliament Hall, at the royal couple's first official visit to parliament in their new roles. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

“It is our hope that we succeed in serving in benefit of all the kingdom and in winning the trust of the people.”

Frederik’s decision to include Mary in his speeches does not surprise Olden-Jørgensen.

“It’s both beautiful, and also natural,” he said. “Obviously, he’s the king, he’s the head of state. But also, being the king, they’re usually a couple, and a queen almost always means a great deal.”

“So him mentioning her was almost obvious, but since she also carries out her role so well, it’s really unavoidable.”

It’s not yet clear what Frederik will be like as king, Olden-Jørgensen said, with no indications in his speech or letter to parliament about his plans for the role.

“We were all waiting for something exciting, and waited and waited for him to say something that could indicate a direction or some form of statement, but it never came,” he said.

“He’s had his special areas - everyone knows he likes sport and pop music - but that’s not really enough to be a serious king. So we still don’t really know what he’s planning for the future.”

The only thing conspicuously absent from Frederik’s statements was religion, Olden-Jørgensen said.


“He left out all obvious religious references, but that’s also what we expected from him,” he said.

King Frederik X of Denmark waves to the crowd from the balcony of Christiansborg Palace. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

This is reflected in his chosen motto, too. Unlike his mother’s, ‘God’s help, the people’s love and Denmark’s strength’, Frederik’s - ‘United, bound, to the Kingdom of Denmark’, is non-religious.

“From what he’s said and done until now, he’s never made any kind of indication that he has any sort of religious view. He’s spoken very little about religion and Christianity, and what he’s said has indicated a certain amount of distance.”


“So for the future, what he wants to do as king, what he maybe wants to change so there’s a distinction between him and Queen Margrethe, we still don’t know anything about that.”

"I think he's going to be a great king. I'm looking forward to seeing how he's going to do it and see him show more of himself," René Jensen, a Copenhagener fitted out for the day in a red velvet robe and crown, told AFP on Sunday.


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