Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

Queen Margrethe II has the reputation of being Europe's most intellectual monarch a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that the Danish queen attended no fewer than five universities, including Cambridge. She is also the first reigning queen (her namesake Queen Margrethe I acted as regent for her five-year-old son Olaf when he was elected king in the 14th century) in a country which has been headed by the same family for 49 generations.

The arrival of Margrethe Alexandrine Thorhildur Ingrid Oldenburg on April 16, 1940, at Copenhagen's Amalienborg Palace, a week after the country had been invaded by German forces, was interpreted as a ray of hope by the Danish people. At birth she was not the heir to the throne, however. That position was held by her father's younger brother, as by Danish law only males could succeed, but in 1953 the constitution was amended, allowing females to ascend in the absence of male heirs.

When the future of the 13-year-old princess the eldest of King Frederik IX's three daughters became clear, her royal training began in earnest. Initially educated at the palace, she received her school qualifications in 1959 before going on to study Political Science at numerous European universities. She spent 12 months at Copenhagen University, followed by a year's study of Archaeology at Cambridge. From there she enrolled at the prestigious Danish university Aarhus and attended the Sorbonne, rounding off her education at the London School of Economics in 1965.

It was in the British capital that, at a dinner party, she met her future husband, French diplomat Conte Henri de Laborde de Monpezat. "The sky just exploded," commented Margrethe later. The couple were married on June 10, 1967. "I have never been able to imagine getting married without being madly in love," she said. The couple have two sons, Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim.

After her father died on January 14, 1972, a tearful Margrethe emerged onto the palace balcony to wave to the crowds gathered below to wish their new queen well. In the three decades since then her popularity has soared, and it is said that were she not the monarch she would be elected president. Over the winter months she holds private audiences with seven of her subjects every fortnight, giving her visitors the opportunity to discuss any subject they wish to raise.

As well as being a hands-on queen she attends weekly meetings with the government and writes her own speeches Margrethe is a talented artist. It was her illustrations, under the pseudonym of Ingahild Grathmer, which accompanied the 1977 edition of JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings. She is also skilled in embroidery, Christmas seals, church textiles and painting.

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