Interested in the history of the Danish monarchy? You’re not alone! Luckily, there’s a lot of lineage to discuss. The history of Danish royal family goes back much further than the reign of the current royal house of Denmark! The unified Kingdom of Denmark was founded (and made Christian) by the Viking Kings Harald Bluetooth and Gorm the Old in the 10th century.
Amazingly, today’s members of the royal family can be traced back to King Harald Bluetooth. This means that Danish royalty is descended from the Vikings.
The original monarchy was elective; it became hereditary in the 17th century. In 1849, it then became a constitutional monarchy. But let’s rewind: what did the Danish monarchy in the Viking age look like?
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The Danish royal family tree
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History of the Danish monarchy
The history of the Danish kings goes back 1200 years, at least. The Jelling stones record the stories of the first kings, including Harthancut, his son Gorm the Old, and Harald Bluetooth. In Bluetooth’s time, the Danish kingdom stretched from modern day Germany (Dannevirke) to southern Sweden, as well as Norway. Two generations later, with Canute the Great (Knut in Danish), was considered the peak of the Viking age, as Canute and his father, Swyen Forkbeard, both expanded their empire into present-day England. This period was called the North Sea Empire, or the Anglo-Scandinavian Empire.
One of the most important familial lines of the Danish royal family is the Royal House of Oldenburg. The family is a Germany dynasty that then became connected with Denmark when Count Christian I was elected king of Denmark in 1448, followed by Norway in 1450 and finally Sweden in 1457.
The House of Oldenburg is still relevant today because Denmark’s contemporary royal family is a direct (patrilineal) descendant. The branch of the royal house from which they come is the House of Glücksburg, which is also connected to King Charles III of the United Kingdom and King Harald V of Norway through Danish King Christian IX.
Into the first half of the 17th century, the line of succession was elective in concept, but in practice the kingdom was typically passed down to the king’s son or next of kin. This tradition continued on until the disaster of the Second Northern War (1657), in which first Denmark and then Sweden faced catastrophic consequences for war-mongering. In Denmark’s case, King Frederik III embarked on a war of revenge in Sweden, thinking that his new ally, The Netherlands, would step in.
Given that Denmark was the aggressor in this case, the Netherlands remained neutral. At the same time, cold-weather caused the Great Belt (a strait between the Danish islands of Fune and Zealand) to freeze, so that King Charles X Gustav of Sweden marched his army right across the ice. The Danish kingdom ended up losing many parts of Eastern Denmark as well as two counties in Norway.
Three months later, King Charles X Gustav decided to push his luck and wage war again; his ultimate goal was to bring all of Scandinavia under his rule, and so he sent his army to capture Copenhagen. Instead of the immediate surrender that the Swedish army expected, the Danes put up a fight. Because they were being attacked, their alliance with the Netherlands kicked in, and they received both personnel reinforcements and supplies. Denmark stood up to the attack.
Shortly thereafter, King Charles X Gustav died suddenly, and The Treaty of Copenhagen was signed, giving Bornholm back to Denmark and Trøndelag back to Norway. The treaty’s outcome created lines separating Norway, Sweden, and Denmark that still exist in many ways today.
It was after this series of battles and treaties that absolutist monarchy with male primogeniture came to the Danish kingdom in 1660-61. This means that accession to the throne could only be passed through the male family members.
For nearly two centuries, the monarchy was absolute, but by the 19th century, cultural feelings about how the monarchy should operate within a country were changing. When Frederik VII came to power in 1848, he was under immense pressure to change the monarchy to a constitutional one, which he did with the June Constitution of 1849.
At the same time, Denmark tried to formally annex Schleswig-Holstein, an area of what is now northern Germany, which by that time had become a Duchy with the Danish king presiding over the region as a Duke. This resulted in the The First War of Schleswig (1848-51), after which Denmark maintained their control and held up King Frederik VII as a war hero, despite the fact that he had not taken part in any battles. In the Second War of Schleswig (1864), Prussia won this territory.
Just prior to the second war, in 1863, Christian IX ascended to the throne after having been selected as the heir presumptive (Frederik VII had no sons) with the approval of the great powers of Europe. Known as the “Father-in-Law of Europe,” Christian IX was the first Danish monarch to come from the House of Glücksburg, the royal branch that would go on to produce royalty across the continent.
Back to Schleswig-Holstein – yes, that old chestnut – if matters seemed settled after two wars, they were not. In 1920, the region was the cause of a constitutional crisis when King Christian X used his reserve power granted to him by the Danish constitution to dismiss the entire government. He did so because he believed that, post WWI, Schleswig-Holstein should be reunified with Denmark.
The Treaty of Versailles actually left this up to two plebiscites (direct votes of an electoral body), one in the north of the region and one in the central area of the region, but Christian X felt that regardless of the vote, both areas should become part of Denmark. This was at least partly due to the belief that Germany should be left in as weak a state as possible following the end of the war.
King Christian X ordered Prime Minister Carl Theodor Zahle to move ahead with the king’s wishes, but Zahle refused; Denmark had been a parliamentary democracyy since 1901 and the Prime Minister intended to keep it that way. A few days after his refusal, and after some tense words between the two men, Zahle resigned.
That’s when Christian X really messed up: he dismissed the entire Danish parliament and installed his own cabinet, under Otto Liebe. Public reaction was swift: the people were outraged, and there was movement towards a total overthrow of the monarchy.
Rather than let this be his hill to die on, Christian X dismissed his de facto government and backed down into the symbolic role that the monarchy takes today. This is the last time that a Danish monarch tried to exert executive power over the government and is known as the Easter Crisis of 1920.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, the royal family has modernized slightly, first with the Act of Succession in 1953 that allowed for women to be in the line succession. In the case of this act, women were only secondarily in line. This means, for example, that if Queen Margrethe had a younger brother instead of two younger sisters, her brother would have been in line for the throne.
In 2009, the rules were once again updated such that primogeniture did not prioritize men over women, but rather that the throne simply goes to the eldest child. That brings us up to today!
Who are the members of the Danish royal family?
The Danish royal family consists of Queen Margrethe II, who has been the reigning monarch since 1972, and her immediate family members. This includes her husband, Prince Consort Henrik until his passing in 2018, her elder son Crown Prince Frederik, and his wife Crown Princess Mary.
The family also includes Prince Joachim, Queen Margrethe’s younger son, and his wife Princess Marie. Queen Margrethe’s grandchildren are notable members of the royal family as well.
Since September 2022, Queen Margrethe changed change the royal titles of some of her grandchildren, specifically those of Prince Joachim and Princess Marie, from prince and princess to count and countess of Monpezat, allowing them to pursue private lives free of royal duties while still maintaining their place in the line of succession.
Read more about that later: What was the Danish royal family feud?
This decision is part of a broader trend of royal “slimming” seen across European monarchies.
HM Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
Margrethe Alexandrine Þorhildur Ingrid became HM Queen Margrethe II in 1972, at the age of 32. She is currently the longest running head of state, and a very popular one at that, with an approval rating of over 80%.
In 1953, the Act of Succession gave women the right of succession to the Danish throne, but only in a secondary capacity. It was as a result of this act that Margrethe became Queen of Denmark. She was the eldest daughter of Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid (originally of Sweden), and had two younger sisters: Benedikte and Anne-Marie.
She married French diplomat Henri-Marie-Jean-André de Laborde de Monpezat in 1967, who then became Prince Henrik of Denmark. Less than a year later, she had her first child, Frederik. Another year after that, her second son Joachim was born.
The role of the Danish monarch is not political; she does not express political opinions publicly. She is meant to represent Denmark abroad and be a “unifying figure” domestically. She formally appoints the government following elections, holds a meeting with the Prime Minister every Wednesday (when they are in the country), and presides over the Council of State.
Margrethe is not only known for her role as monarch. She is also an accomplished artist and illustrator, including doing the illustrations for the Danish version of The Lord of the Rings series. The Queen speaks five languages: Danish, English, Swedish, French, and German.
When she was born in 1940, Danish silversmith company Georg Jensen produced their now-beloved Daisy collection in her honor. As a result, her nickname is “Daisy.” The Queen’s fashion sense; unique, elegant, and sometimes eccentric, has cemented her as a style icon.
Queen Margrethe is well-known as a heavy smoker, although she stopped smoking publicly in 2006, and apparently quit after her spinal surgery in 2023.
Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark
Crown Prince Frederik, also known as HRH Prince Frederik, is next in line for the Danish throne. Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim, his younger brother, grew up very close, as they were only a year apart.
His Royal Highness Prince Frederik married Crown Princess Mary in 2004 and has four children: Prince
Christian, Princess Isabella, and twins Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine.
He is the first Danish royal to earn a Master’s degree: he has an MSc. of political science from Aarhus University. In addition to his studies, Frederik has undertaken military training, undertaking an education from Frømandskorpset, the naval elite special operations forces, as a frogman (e.g. scuba diving in a military capacity).
The Crown Prince speaks four languages: Danish, English, French, and German. His particular areas of interest are scientific research, environmental studies, and sports.
Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark
Born Mary Donaldson in Tasmania, Australia, Crown Princess Mary met Prince Frederik in 2000 during the Summer Olympics in Sydney.
She has a dual Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Law, as well as graduate certificates in advertising. She worked as an account manager and director for various advertising agencies in Australia and internationally before eventually moving to Denmark to be with Frederik.
After their marriage in 2004 at Vor Frue Kirke, Mary and Frederik had four children, the first of which was born in 2005.
Princess Mary supports a number of charitable causes, including an anti-bullying campaign. Notably, she is the first royal to serve as a patron for an LGBTQ+ event, when she was a patron of WorldPride in 2021.
Denmark’s royal family has a tradition of naming the first child son “Frederik” or “Christian.” Following the Danish tradition, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary named their first son Prince Christian. His full name is Christian Valdemar Henri John, Prince of Denmark, Count of Monpezat.
Isabella Henrietta Ingrid Margrethe, Princess of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat, is the second child of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary.
Vincent Frederik Minik Alexander, Prince of Denmark, Count of Monpezat, is the child of the Crown Prince and Princess. Prince Vincent of Denmark has a twin: Princess Josephine.
Josephine Sophia Ivalo Mathilda, Princess of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat, is the child of the Crown Prince and Princess. Her twin is Prince Vincent.
Joachim Holger Waldemar Christian, Prince of Denmark, Count of Monpezat, is the second child of Her Royal Highness Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Prince Joachim’s education is in agrarian economics, and he owns a number of farming and forestry operations. He is also a decorated military officer, rising to the position of colonel of the reserve. He then rose to a brigadier general when he became Defense attaché at the Danish Embassy in Paris in 2020.
Prince Joachim’s first marriage was in 1995 to Alexandra Christina Manley, with whom he had two children: Count Nikolai and Count Felix. They divorced in 2005. He married Marie Cavallier in 2008 and they have two children: Count Henrik and Countess Athena.
As of January 2023, Prince Joachim’s four children were stripped of their “prince” and “princess” titles, instead being referred to as His or Her Excellency, as well as Count/Countess of Monpezat. Prince Joachim and his family all expressed displeasure at this change.
Princess Marie of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat, is the wife of Prince Joachim. She is originally from France. although she also lived in Switzerland and the US. Before moving to Denmark in 2007, Marie worked in marketing for a number of advertising agencies.
Princess Marie is the stepmother to Count Nikolai and Count Felix, and also has two children with Joachim: Henrik and Athena.
Count Nikolai (formerly known as Prince Nikolai), is the eldest son of Prince Joachim and his first wife, Alexandra.
In 2018, he signed with Scoop Models and began working as a model. In 2019, he entered Copenhagen Business School for a degree in Business Management and Service Administration.
Count Felix (formerly known as Prince Felix), is the second child of Prince Joachim and his first wife, Alexandra.
He received Army Lieutenant Training at the Royal Danish Military Academy. He has modelled, including for Danish silver brand Georg Jensen.
Count Henrik (formerly Prince Henrik) is the third child of Prince Joachim and the first with his second wife, Princess Marie.
Countess Athena (formerly Princess Athena) is the fourth child of Prince Joachim and the second with his second wife, Princess Marie.
Princess Benedikte of Denmark, Dowager Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, is the younger sister of HM Queen Margrethe and the second child of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid.
She has three children with her late husband, Richard, 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, who died in 2017.
Benedikte is known for her deep affiliation with the Guide/Scout organization, which she took part in as a child. She is now involved as a chairperson and patron.
HM (formerly Princess) Anne-Marie of Denmark, is the youngest sister of HM Queen Margrethe and the third child of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid.
She married Constantine, King of Greece, in 1964 and had five children with him. They were forced to flee Greece in 1967 after a failed coup attempt, and first found refuge in Rome, then eventually moved to London.
In 1980, they founded the Hellenic College of London, a bilingual institution, which ran until 2005. Constantine died in 2023.
Where does the Danish royal family live?
The royal family in Denmark has several residences. The official royal household of the family is Amalienborg Palace, in the centre of Copenhagen. The Queen lives in Amalienborg in winter.
Her autumn and spring residence in Fredensborg Palace. in Fredensborg, on the eastern coast of Lake Esrum. In summer, she lives in Marselisborg Palace in Aarhus.
Is the Danish royal family popular?
Yes! The family is generally well-liked and celebrated across Denmark. They are often the subject of positive royal family news stories, found in magazines such as Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet and Danish newspaper BT.
Queen Margrethe II is considered the most popular monarch with the world, with an approval rating of over 80%. Prince Frederik and Princess Mary, as well as their kids, are also particularly popular with the media.
What was the Danish royal family feud?
“Feud” is perhaps a strong word, but that is the word that got tossed around in the media in September of 2022. At that time, Queen Margrethe announced that she would be changing the royal titles of prince and princess of four of her grandchildren – those of Prince Joachim and Princess Marie – to count and countess of Monpezat.
The Queen noted that she had given the change a lot of thought, and that she felt it best for her grandchildren’s futures, as without the title of prince or princess, they would then be free of royal duties and able to pursue private lives.
She explained, “I have made my decision as Queen, mother and grandmother, but, as a mother and grandmother, I have underestimated the extent to which much my younger son and his family feel affected.”
The children still maintain their place in the line of succession, but they are no longer obligated to the more formal elements of royal affiliation. Lest one think this is about money: it’s actually not. None of the royal grandchildren are granted an allowance as adults, excepting Prince Christian, who is the eldest son and second in line to the Danish throne behind his father, Crown Prince Frederik.
Prince Joachim and Princess Marie’s response was swift and unprecedented; they openly expressed complete shock and upset at the decision. This public display threw the royal family for a loop.
Joachim and his family eventually moved to Washington, DC, in the USA in January 2023.
Since the announcement of the title change, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary have expressed support for the choice, while the Queen has further explained that she made this choice so that her son, Frederik, wouldn’t have to.
This move is part of the Danish monarchy staying in line with royal “slimming” that has taken place across European royal families, including Sweden’s monarchy.
Who is next in line for the Danish crown?
Currently, Crown Prince Frederik is next in line for the Danish crown. Second in line for the crown is Frederik’s eldest son, Prince Christian.
Is the Danish royal family related to the Swedish royal family?
You bet they are. Danish Queen Margrethe II is the first cousin of Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav. Swedish King Gustav VI Adolf is grandfather to both.
See the full Scandinavian royal family tree.
Is the Danish royal family related to the British royal family?
Of course they are! Most of the European royals are connected through Britain’s Queen Victoria, who had nine children and 42 grandchildren. Queen Victoria is the great great great-grandmother of King Charles III (therefore great great-grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II) and the great great-grandmother of Queen Margrethe II.
See the full Scandinavian royal family tree.
Is the Danish royal family related to the Vikings?
Yes! HM the Queen can trace her ancestry back to Harald Bluetooth, the first king of Denmark. The rune stones at Jelling, Denmark, were inscribed by King Harald about 1,000 years ago. That’s something you probably won’t find out via 23andme, right?
What religion is the Danish royal family?
While the entire royal family of Denmark is not required to be one religion, the monarch him or herself must be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark (also known as the Danish National Church).
Though it’s not required, all family members are part of the Danish National Church, and almost all those marrying into the family have converted.
Religion is not a major part of the the royal family’s visibility in the country, but it is a portion of the monarch’s responsibilities. Along with Parliament (Folketing), the monarch constitutes the secular head of the state church, which means the monarch fulfils certain tasks such as authorising texts to be used in the church and appointing bishops.
What is the Queen’s speech?
At 6 pm on New Year’s Eve, the current monarch gives short speech that addresses, in general terms, ups and downs of the past year. The speech is broadcast over television and radio, and is typically filmed from Amalienborg Palace.
This tradition was started in 1941 when King Christian X gave a radio address. While the event may seem a little old fashioned, it’s actually a very big deal for Danes; they gather around the television or radio to hear it, and often plan dinner parties or New Year’s events around it. The next day, you’ll hear people discussing what the Queen said. If you’re new to Denmark and there for New Year’s Eve, make sure to tune in!
Want to learn more about Scandinavian royals? See your complete guide to the Swedish royal family.
Graphics by Freya McOmish.