On September 28, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark shocked the world—and some of her own family—when she announced that the four children of her second son, Prince Joachim, would be stripped of their royal titles of prince and princess. As of January 2023, Felix, Athena, Henrik, and Nikolai will be known as the counts and countess of Monpezat.
“With her decision, Her Majesty the Queen wishes to create the framework for the four grandchildren to be able to shape their own lives to a much greater extent without being limited by the special considerations and duties that a formal affiliation with the Royal House of Denmark as an institution involves,” the palace announced.
Prince Joachim publicly voiced his dismay, as did his wife, Princess Marie, who claimed her daughter, Athena, aged 10, was being bullied in her Paris school over the loss of her title. Even more importantly to Queen Margrethe II—whose family has enjoyed Danish approval ratings of close to 80%—it has angered some of her long-loyal subjects and sparked international conversations.
The scandal could not be more ill-timed. This year, the 82-year-old monarch celebrated her Golden Jubilee. With the death of her third cousin and friend Queen Elizabeth II, Margrethe is now the longest-reigning living monarch in Europe.
Unlike her tight-lipped, unknowable cousin Elizabeth, Margrethe II is outwardly flamboyant and approachable. Nicknamed the “Ashtray Queen,” Margrethe is a highly educated, chain-smoking, six-foot-tall “eternal student,” known for her brightly colored clothing, love of archaeology, fluency in five languages, and artistic abilities, which include illustrating J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and designing costumes and scenography for European stage productions.
Margrethe’s air of affability has made her a beloved figure in Denmark. The queen has been spotted walking out of a grocery store chomping on a hotdog, and enthusiastically riding a roller coaster. But for all her outward quirks, at heart she is—much like Queen Elizabeth was—devoted to tradition, and first and foremost devoted to the crown. “Margrethe has approached her long reign with an extreme sense of duty,” says author and former royal reporter Trine Villemann, a pointed critic of the royal family with controversial opinions. “She truly believes that her position was given to her by God, and being a deeply religious person, she feels a huge sense of obligation.”
This devotion to crown and country has often seemed to drive her immediate family members to distraction.
Margrethe was born in Copenhagen on April 16, 1940, only a week after Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. Nicknamed “Daisy,” she was the oldest of the three girls born to King Frederick IX and Queen Ingrid, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
When she was five, Denmark was liberated, and two years later, her father ascended the throne. In Queen in Denmark: Margrethe II Talks About Her Life, written by Anne Wolden-Ræthinge and published in 1989, Margrethe recalls her father encouraging her before an appearance on the balcony to accept the adoration of her constituents. “Don’t just stand there and wave, open your arms!”