Elizabeth II and Margrethe of Denmark: two queens at the service of their people

Neither was born to rule. However, they will go down in history as sovereigns of exceptional longevity. Endowed with very different characters, they have embodied for several decades, each in their own way, an absolute devotion to their royal duty.

“I declare before you that my whole life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service and to that of the great Imperial Commonwealth to which we belong.” The voice is clear, and does not tremble. Broadcast by radio from South Africa to the whole world, it nevertheless belongs to a 21-year-old young woman, crown princess of the British monarchy who, despite her youth, is perfectly aware of the fate that awaits her and the scale of the sacrifices it requires.

On the other side of the planet, in the kingdom of Denmark, a 7-year-old girl who is still only the eldest daughter of King Frederick IX listens attentively to the words spoken by her distant cousin. “She has always been an inspiration to me, long before my father died, confided Margrethe II in 2012 to BBC cameras. I remember when she said she wanted to ‘dedicate’ herself to her people. often rethought because ultimately that’s really what it’s all about: how to give yourself entirely to a nation.”

In a wink of fate, the change in the Constitution which repeals the Salic law still in force in Denmark to allow the young Princess Margrethe to succeed her father, Frederick IX having had only daughters, was promulgated in Copenhagen on 5 June 1953, just three days after the coronation of Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. The young queen naturally becomes a model to follow for the one who is then 14 years old and must face her new role at a time when the classic upheavals of adolescence appear. “It was after the 1953 Constitution that I had my critical period […] There are so many things that are in turmoil at that age; as far as I’m concerned, my insecurity and my unease were due to a clever mix of constitutional law and hormones”, she confided with humor to journalist Anne Wolden-Ræthinge in a book of interviews* Yet it is difficult to imagine two women more different than the wise and reasonable Elizabeth II and the whimsical and impetuous Margrethe.

Two women, two queens with different styles

The first has always been a child full of temperance who knows, almost instinctively, and even when she is not yet called to reign, to conform to what is expected of her. Lady Glenconner, who was the childhood friend of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret before becoming the youngest lady-in-waiting, still remembers the civilized nature of the future sovereign: “Elizabeth was more reasonable than her sister, confided- her in 2020 at Point de Vue. ‘Margaret, you mustn’t do that!’, she said when she surprised us pacing the immense corridors of Holkham Hall on a tricycle.” “Lilibet applies to behave as an adult”, summarizes for her part the journalist Isabelle Rivère in the biography which she devoted to the queen**.

Conversely, the eldest daughter of Frederick IX and Ingrid of Denmark shows very early on a sensitive and impressionable child, passionate about reading and archeology but often impatient, even a bit temperamental with those around her, especially her two little sisters, the princesses. Benedikte and Anne-Marie. She will take care to channel her bubbling character by always making room in her schedule as sovereign for her artistic activities, whether it be the translation of the works of Simone de Beauvoir into Danish, the illustration of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, costume design for ballet productions and even, more recently, a collaboration with Netflix. So many “violins of Ingres” which allow him to release from time to time the pressure which the Crown weighs while satisfying his thirst for intellectual food. An essential valve that Elizabeth II finds in horse riding.

Since her first pony, Peggy, a Shetland offered by her grandfather, King George V for her fourth birthday, the British sovereign’s unconditional love for horses has never wavered. Rider, breeder and even gambler, the Queen only recently gave up her weekly ride in Windsor Park and her face lights up the moment you talk to her about her beloved stallions. . “Horses are his passion, his breath of fresh air and his secret garden”, confided to us in 2018 Mathieu Alex, director of the Norman stud farm of Montfort & Préaux where one of the royal stars stays.

If she was able to preserve a share of freedom to satisfy her passion for equestrian sports, the Queen of Great Britain remains the pivot of a monarchical institution that is much more restrictive than its Scandinavian version.

To her, each year, the opening of Parliament, duly crowned and adorned with a costume hardly less imposing than that of her coronation, during which she was “blessed and crowned” and as such anointed with holy chrism which makes she the head of the Anglican Church. To her, too, the weekly meeting with her Prime Minister for which she assimilates each week preparatory notes and files. To her, finally, the reserve and the inevitable distance imposed by an age-old protocol from which it is difficult to derogate. Not an interview granted in seventy years of reign, where Margrethe engages each year, from her summer residence in Cayx, in France, in informal exchanges with local journalists and regularly gives interviews to the Danish press.

Faithful to the reputation of simplicity of the kingdoms of the North, Margrethe II is able to appear unexpectedly on a theater stage to celebrate the farewell to the stage of the most famous comic actor of the country who caricatured it with happiness for years. . Citizens who so wish have the possibility, every two weeks, of being received in audience by their queen, in groups of seven. these sequences for the freedom of improvisation that they reserve for her in the face of fellow citizens who have come to share their daily concerns with her.

The same determination to assume their charge

If their styles diverge, the two queens have in common to have made it a condition of their royal vocation the possibility of making a love marriage, whether with Philip Mountbatten or with Henri de Monpezat. Of a rather shy and conciliatory character, the young Elisabeth, then crown princess, would not flinch for a second when it came to imposing the man she fell in love with at the age of 13, was he considered by a part of the Court as too poor… or too German.

At 21, she married the man who would be her husband for almost seventy-four years. Margrethe chose a French aristocrat whose original and sometimes angry character will not always be understood by the Danish people, until this last will to refuse to be buried near his wife as if to signify, beyond the death, his resentment at never having been made king consort. A wish that the sovereign respected by scattering her ashes in the Baltic Sea. Because it was in the thick of a booming sentimental and family life that Elisabeth and Margrethe were both confronted with the crushing mission of taking over the scepter of a much-loved father. One was 26, the other 31.

Both had been married for barely five years, mothers of two young children. For each, the death of the king came suddenly and unexpectedly, precipitating them on the throne prematurely. On January 15, 1972, in freezing cold, Margrethe appeared on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace to be presented to her people by the Prime Minister at the time. A triple “Hurray” then rises from the huge crowd gathered despite the freezing temperature, popular enthusiasm alone capable of carrying the young sovereign who later confided that she felt strangely “euphoric” in the days that followed as she felt that the task her father had been preparing her for since she was 13 was finally making sense.

The same serene seriousness can be read on the face of Elizabeth II on the day of her coronation. His determination to assume his charge by embodying the strength and pride of his country has never wavered one iota. The British were able to find her, intact, in her speech delivered at the height of the covid crisis, in the spring of 2020, inspiring them with hope with the same conviction as when she addressed the children of her country at war. , from Windsor Castle, in 1940: “Better days will return. We will find our families. We will meet again.”

* Queen’s jobby Margrethe II of Denmark, Fayard editions.

** Elizabeth II, in the privacy of the reignby Isabelle Rivère, Fayard editions.

Elizabeth II and Margrethe of Denmark: two queens at the service of their people