The Merits of a Monarchy: The Denmark Example

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

My Baltic Sea cruise ended in Copenhagen, Denmark. Now, I had three days to explore this fascinating city.

My travel companion, Susan, and I decided a city tour would be a good introduction to Copenhagen, and would also help us get our bearings. We met up with our charming tour guide and our little group set out for a morning of adventure.

Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark

After a delightful walking tour our knowledgeable guide saved the best for last, the destination everyone was waiting for: Amalienborg, the winter home of Denmark’s monarch and other nobility, and the Christiansborg Palace, the site of official monarchical functions. Yes, Denmark has a monarchy and it is very popular among the citizenry.

The first palace, Sophie Amalienborg, was built on the site of the present day palace and completed in 1673. However, the palace burned to the ground in 1689. The second phase was planned by Frederick IV, king of Denmark and Norway, at the beginning of his reign in 1699.

One of the four town mansions, Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark, photo Denise Ames

Construction took place during the 18th century but fires and additions have altered its original looks. The construction plan showcased four palaces surrounding a plaza, each a town mansion for a chosen noble family. Their exteriors are identical, but interiors are different.

We also saw the Christiansborg Palace, which is the site of official state functions, such as banquets, state dinners, public audiences, meetings, royal christenings, lyings-in-state, and other ceremonies. Our guide timed it just right so we could see a changing of the guard. Also, the Royal Stables, which provide the ceremonial transport by horse-drawn carriage for the royal family, is located here.

Changing of the guard, Copenhagen, Denmark, photo Denise Ames

When we think of a royal family we usually think of the British royal family, complete with intrigue, glamour, scandal, and riches. According to our guide, the Danish monarchy is quite different.

The current monarch is Queen Margrethe II (born 1940), who has been Denmark’s reigning monarch since 1972. Her son Crown Prince Frederik (born 1968) will be the next one to succeed to the throne. The oldest of his four children, Prince Christian (born 2005), will continue the line into the future. 

Frederick’s Church, behind royal palace, photo Denise Ames

Queen Margrethe II is the first female monarch of Denmark since Queen Margrethe I (1376-1412). But more female monarchs are likely in the future, after a 2009 referendum in which Danes decided girls should be on equal footing when it comes to the line of succession. The oldest child in each monarch’s family will now be the presumptive next monarch, whether that child is a boy or a girl.

The Danish royal family enjoys remarkably high approval ratings in Denmark, ranging between 82% and 92%. Our guide said that the Danish monarchy doesn’t spend a lot of time on pomp or circumstance. The children of the Royal Family attend ordinary public schools, and the adult members of the family are often seen shopping, dining, or riding their bicycles in public just like any other Dane. Perhaps these ordinary features add to their popularity.

Actually, the Danish monarch has a limited role in the government under the Danish constitution, which is mostly ceremonial.

Danish royal family

I found it interesting that the Danish people show such love and respect for their monarchy. As an American, I am rather skeptical of the continuation of monarchs in so many countries around the world. I find it a relic of the past that should be jettisoned, mainly because of expense. But there is more to the enduring popularity of monarchs that I and many other Americans overlook.

I have found that humans are born with behaviors that predispose us to respect hierarchical structures, such as a monarchy. Although most monarchs have been neutered of their official political power, their ceremonial functions have proven to be quite enduring. As humans, we seem to like the allure, pomp, ceremony, intrigue, and ritual these monarchs provide for us.

Queen Margrethe II, Denmark

The Danish monarch provides a link to the past that unites all Danish people together despite their geographic or cultural differences. The everyday events of the royal family are a handy and common topic of conversation among ordinary Danes. As Americans escalate their cultural divide into two ferociously contending groups, it is reassuring to see that the Danish people have been able to ameliorate this problem.

One of the ways the Danes are able to find unity together as a nation is through their common love and respect for their monarch and the noble family. Perhaps the economic costs are worth the intangible social unity the monarchy provides. It has triggered me to reconsider my anti-monarchical views.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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