In January, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark celebrated the 50th anniversary of her reign, the beginning of her Golden Jubilee year, in a way that emphasized family togetherness. She hosted a private dinner for her two sons, Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim, their wives, and her eight grandchildren in the banquet hall at her Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. Later, the Kongehuset released an official photo that showed the queen surrounded by her smiling family. Now, just eight months later, they are in the middle of a very public spat after the royal family announced that Joachim’s children would surrender their titles of prince and princess on January 1—and he suggested that he and his family were caught off guard.
The move to change their titles wasn’t so unusual—a somewhat similar series of events happened in Sweden’s royal family in 2019—and it has been clear that Joachim’s children would be expected to find their own sources of income ever since a May 2016 announcement that only Frederik’s oldest son, Prince Christian, would receive a government stipend for royal work when he turns 18. But, similar to the question of whether or not Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s children will receive the titles that the law allows for, the fallout from the queen’s decision is a sign that Europe’s royal families are still trying to figure out that legendary heir-and-spare problem.
The saga started on Wednesday, when Lene Balleby, the Kongehuset’s director of communications, released a statement explaining that Joachim’s four children can only use their secondary titles of count and countess of Monpezat beginning in January, and their titles of prince and princess would be discontinued. ”Prince Joachim’s descendants will thus have to be addressed as excellencies in the future,” the statement read. “The Queen’s decision is in line with similar adjustments that other royal houses have made in various ways in recent years.” Until now, Prince Nikolai, Prince Felix, Prince Henrik, and Princess Athena, who range in age from 23 to 10, have been addressed as highnesses and have occasionally appeared at official events with their father, who is considered a working royal.
At a Copenhagen National Museum event later that same day, Margrethe explained that she had made the decision with her grandchildren’s future in mind. “It is a consideration I have had for quite a long time and I think it will be good for them in their future,” she said, according to Hello. “That is the reason.” In response to a question about whether her grandchildren feel “ostracized” by the move, she responded, “I haven’t seen it myself, I must say.”
Joachim seemed to contradict his mother’s optimism when he later suggested to a reporter that he felt blindsided and unhappy about the change in his children’s status. “We are all very sad,” he said in an interview with the Danish outlet Ekstra Bladet, per Hello. “It’s never fun to see your children being mistreated like that. They themselves find themselves in a situation they do not understand.”
Though the royal house said he was informed that a change was coming in May, Joachim disputed the timeline. “I was given five days’ notice,” he said, per Hello. “In May, I was presented with a plan, which basically stated that when the children each turned 25, it would happen. Athena turns 11 in January.”
In response to Joachim’s comments, Balleby released another statement. “We understand that there are currently many emotions in the game, but we hope that the wishes of the royal family to make the royal house future-proof will be respected,” she said, according to Hello.
Even if it was ultimately a miscommunication among the families and their staff, it reflects something deeper that has been roiling in the Danish family for decades. Joachim married his first wife, Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg, and had his first child years before Frederik met and married Crown Princess Mary in 2004. When Nikolai was born in 1999, he was the center of attention in the Danish press and even did one of his first engagements at the age of two, at a Legoland ride opening.
Joachim had served in the military and received a stipend for being a working royal from the mid-1990s on. In a 2002 interview with Vancouver’s Scandinavian Press, Joachim mentioned that his own role was dependent on the then small size of his family. “Typically in a large family the older you get the more you will withdraw, or the fewer appearances you will have which is good for you personally as a kind of retirement,” he said. “The smaller the family, the less so. There will always be something for you.” He said he knew his son was growing up in the public eye but thought that the burden would be lessened when his brother married and had children.
In the years since Joachim made those comments, the family has gotten much larger. Frederik married Australia-born Mary Donaldson, who became Crown Princess Mary, and the couple had four kids, Prince Christian, Princess Isabella, Prince Vincent, and Princess Josephine. Joachim had another son, Felix, with his first wife, and after their divorce, he married Princess Marie, and they had two children, Henrik and Athena.