The Danish royal family have long been held up as the ultimate embodiment of what a modern-day monarchy should look like.
Although no more inexpensive to fund than other minor European monarchies, the younger members of the House of Glücksburg have managed to render themselves almost comically accessible.
Crown Prince Frederik and his wife, Mary, an Australian former model, have famously earned a reputation as the “bicycling royals,” for their habit of taking turns cycling to school with their children. Their fondness for cycling around Copenhagen and its famous waterfront district, Nyhaven, has also endeared them to Denmark’s modern and ecologically minded citizens.
As Sara Lilja Steensig, a Danish-born journalist living in Finland, told The Daily Beast: “Danes love the royals. Over 70 percent support the monarchy. It’s not rational but we do. Frederik is charming and funny and people relate to him. He just seems like a really nice guy.”
So it is an unwelcome change of pace for the family to find themselves the subject of scurrilous gossip in recent months, occasioned when Princess Marie, wife of the younger of the two princes, Prince Joachim, implied she and her husband had been exiled to France amidst suggestions they were exasperated with Joachim’s elder brother’s dismissive attitude towards them.
The very public scandal has been a shock for those Danes who take a certain pride in the fact that the young royals are able to go about their business largely unmolested by catcalls or demands for selfies. Among a population of 6 million, many citizens claim a personal connection either by school, family, military service, friendship or business ties to at least one member of the royal family.
Partly because of the work the young royals have done to make themselves seem so normal—they are a living caricature of the ideal Dane: educated, tolerant, and sensible—the Danish royal family remain hugely popular.
For example, a recent New Year’s speech by the elderly Queen Margrethe II, who flouts Danish commonsense orthodoxy by being an enthusiastic smoker, was watched live by over half the population. Queen Elizabeth’s last Christmas speech in the U.K., by contrast, was watched by 8.2 million people out of a population of 66 million.
The recent scandal began when Prince Joachim's family moved to Paris at the start of 2019 as part of a military training program. It was billed as a short-term assignment, however, the family never moved back to Denmark.
Then Marie and Joachim gave an interview to the country’s premier celebrity gossip columnist, Jacob Heinel of Danish magazine See and Hear. While he was chatting to Joachim about his new role as an attaché to the Danish embassy in Paris, and their plans to stay in France, Marie interjected.
Heinel described the extraordinary interview to The Daily Beast: “Suddenly, Marie cuts in and says, ‘You know, it wasn’t our choice.’ I said, ‘Excuse me your royal highness, you have to elaborate what you mean by saying it wasn’t your choice to move to France,’ and she said, ‘Well, I’m not going to elaborate but it wasn’t our choice. I want people to know that it wasn’t our choice.’”
Heinel said that when he asked her if she had been unhappy in Denmark, she, “absolutely said no, she would have loved to stay in Denmark.”
Heinel says that royal historians and analysts in Denmark believe Joachim and Marie were effectively exiled after losing an internal power struggle in the royal household.
The couple had spent the first years of their marriage living in a remote castle in the province of Jutland, and relations between the courts had seemed amicable. But when Marie and Joachim moved from the frozen countryside to Copenhagen, Heinel says, it became apparent that the town was not big enough for both families—and that Frederik and Mary considered the move an interposition on their turf.
“There was never anything in the calendar for them,” Heinel recalled.
Like all surviving European monarchies, the Glücksburgs know that their future existence depends on public support, and a key part of retaining that support is reigning in extravagance. The Danish royals get about $12 million a year from the taxpayer.
“The establishment wants a slim and modern monarchy. They don’t want Joachim and Marie to interfere in this,” Heinel says.
While Joachim receives state funding of around $600,000 a year, in the next generation only Frederik and Mary’s direct heir, Christian, will receive such funds.
“They want to avoid this happening again,” says Heinel.
Observers of Danish life appear supportive of the royal house’s strategy. Danish photojournalist Suzanne Lassen, for example, told The Daily Beast: “The two princesses are very different people, and people think it is probably for the best for everyone if Joachim and Marie live in France. She will be nearer her home and Joachim was educated in France. They can’t really compete with the Crown Prince and his family who are very beloved.”
“The Crown Prince and his wife, Mary, are very popular in Denmark,” said the Danish-born, London-dwelling film director Miki Mistrati, the auteur of several award winning documentaries exploring the ethical violations intrinsic to the coffee and chocolate trades. “All the attention is always on the Crown Prince. The other brother—not so much. No one really knows anything about Marie. They have not been in Denmark for a long time.”
The Danish royal family have been helped to keep any possible tensions under wraps by the loyalty of their people, Mistrati said, “Compared to the royals in the U.K., there have been very few scandals, and the Danish people like it that way. Such things are not really seen in the papers because they support the royal family. The public like the fact that they have their privacy.”
Indeed the story may well have disappeared with little more than a brief showing in See and Hear were it not for the curious similarities to the ongoing estrangement of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry from their British royal family. Now the tale has become tabloid fodder for European gossip magazines.
Heinel thinks it is a saga which may run and run.
“Marie from the beginning has been outspoken, and as a reporter I love her honesty. She doesn’t just shut up, she speaks her mind, and I don’t think the last word on this matter has been said.”
A spokesperson for the Royal Danish Court told The Daily Beast that they wouldn’t comment on personal matters.