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Demoted grandchildren, a determined Queen and an ‘unedifying’ public spat. Inside Europe’s new royal scandal

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark will strip four of her grandchildren of their royal titles, a decision she says ‘will be good for them’, writes Chelsea Ritschel

Saturday 08 October 2022 22:36 BST
Prince Henrik of Denmark dies aged 83

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark has announced her intention to strip four of her grandchildren of their royal titles, a decision that left some members of the Danish royal family shocked and “saddened”.

The monarch’s decision was announced in a statement shared by the royal palace on 28 September, in which it was revealed that the children of the Queen’s second son, Prince Joachim, would no longer have prince or princess titles, nor His/Her Highness titles.

The ruling will impact the Queen’s grandchildren Prince Nikolai, 23, Prince Felix, 20, Prince Henrik, 13, and Princess Athena, 10, who, from 1 January 2023, will instead go by their titles of Count and Countess of Monpezat.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, the Danish monarch, 82, revealed that she had been mulling over the change, which she believes will be in the best interest of her four grandchildren, for some time.

“It is a consideration I have had for quite a long time and I think it will be good for them in their future. That is the reason,” she said, according to Hello Magazine. When the Queen was asked if the ruling was for the “sake” of her grandchildren,  she replied: “Yes, of course.”

In the statement shared by the Danish palace, it also noted that the Queen had come to the decision after witnessing similar changes to other monarchies. “The Queen’s decision is in line with similar adjustments that other royal houses have made in various ways in recent years,” the statement said.

However, the announcement has seemingly sent shockwaves through the Danish royal family, with the Queen’s son, her former daughter-in-law, and one of her grandchildren sharing their sadness over the decision in the days since.

According to the monarch’s former daughter-in-law, Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg, who shares Prince Nikolai and Prince Felix with her ex-husband Prince Joachim, the decision left the children feeling “ostracised”.

“We are all confused by the decision. We are saddened and in shock,” Alexandra said in a statement from her press adviser to Danish magazine Se og Hør, according to People. “This comes like a bolt from the blue. The children feel ostracised. They cannot understand why their identity is being taken away from them.”

Prince Joachim, 53, also expressed grief over his mother’s decision, as well as the impact he believes it will have on the lives of his children.

According to Joachim, who shares Prince Henrik and Princess Athena with his second wife Princess Marie, he considers his mother’s decision to strip his children of their titles a “mistreatment”.

“We are all very sad. It’s never fun to see your children being mistreated like that,” he told the national newspaper Ekstra Bladet, according to People. “They find themselves in a situation they do not understand.”

The prince also alleged that he had been given just “five days’ notice” about his mother’s intention, as he said it differed from a similar plan he had been presented in May.

“In May, I was presented with a plan, which basically stated that when the children each turned 25, it would happen,” the father of four said. “Athena turns 11 in January.”

The same sentiments were repeated by the Queen’s grandson Nikolai, who told Ekstra Bladet that the siblings are “very sad” about the change.

“We are, as my parents have also stated, in shock at this decision and at how quickly it has actually gone,” Nikolai said. “I am very confused as to why it has to happen like this.”

According to the 23-year-old royal, who revealed that he’d known about the Queen’s decision for a little over a week, the hardest part was when his grandmother’s plans were made public. “It is clear that it hits even harder now that it has been published,” he said.

In response to her family’s publicised grief, Queen Margrethe issued a second statement through the palace on 3 October, in which she acknowledged that their reactions have affected her, but explained that her choice “has been a long time coming”.

“In recent days, there have been strong reactions to my decision about the future use of titles for Prince Joachim’s four children. That affects me, of course,” she wrote. “My decision has been a long time coming. With my 50 years on the throne, it is natural both to look back and to look ahead. It is my duty and my desire as Queen to ensure that the monarchy always shapes itself in keeping with the times.

“Sometimes, this means that difficult decisions must be made, and it will always be difficult to find the right moment.”

The Queen then addressed the logistics of her decision, as she explained “holding a royal title involves a number of commitments and duties that, in the future, will lie with fewer members of the royal family”.

According to the Danish ruler, the decision to adjust the size of the royal family was one that she viewed as a “necessary future-proofing of the monarchy”. The monarch’s comments come after she revealed in her previous statement that the ruling was “in line with similar adjustments that other royal houses have made in various ways in recent years”.

In the statement, the Queen went on to acknowledge that, while she made her decision as “Queen, mother and grandmother,” she “underestimated” the hurt it would cause as a “grandmother and a mother”.

“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,” she wrote. “That makes a big impression, and for that I am sorry.”

The Queen concluded the statement assuring the public and the members of her family hurt by her decision that her “children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren are my great joy and pride”.

“I now hope that we as a family can find the peace to find our way through this situation,” she wrote.

Speaking to The Independent about the Queen’s ruling, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams noted that it follows almost “exactly” the decision made by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, who announced in October 2019 that the children of Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill, and Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia, would lose their HRH titles.

At the time, the Swedish royal palace also announced the King’s five grandchildren would no longer be expected to perform official royal duties.

According to Fitzwilliams, both scenarios follow the idea that, “if you’re not directly the Crown Prince or Princess, that if you subsequently had a title, it would, in a sense, be an incumbrance”.

He made the comparison to Britain’s Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who decided not to bestow titles on their children, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor and James Mountbatten-Windsor, Viscount Severn, who will not carry out royal duties.

However, unlike in Denmark, the reaction from the Swedish royal family to the slimmed down monarchy was largely positive, with Princess Madeleine revealing at the time that she believed her and Chris’s children, Leonore, Nicolas and Adrienne, would be “getting a greater opportunity to shape their own lives as private individuals in the future”.

Prince Carl Philip also revealed that he saw the King’s decision as a “positive,” as he noted his children “will have freer choices in life”.

According to Fitzwilliams, the differences in the way the Danish royal family has responded to the news of a slimmed-down monarchy shows what happens when you “remove titles without agreement, as Queen Margrethe has clearly done”.

“If you remove titles without agreement, as Queen Margrethe has clearly done, you risk being involved in an unedifying public row as she now is,” he said. “It is one thing not to grant a title. It is undeniably harsh to remove one without consent, when there has been no breach of etiquette or misbehaviour.”

However, not everyone in the Danish royal family has condemned the Queen’s decision, as Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who shares Prince Christian, 16, Princess Isabella, 15, and twins Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine, 11, with Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik, suggested that, while the change may be hard for her nieces and nephews, it is also the right thing to do.

“I can understand that it is a difficult decision to make and a very difficult decision to receive,” Princess Mary told reporters on 30 September, according to Hello Magazine. “Change can be difficult and can really hurt. But this does not mean that the decision is not the right one.”

While the monarch’s ruling will impact Princess Mary’s nieces and nephews, it will not affect the titles of her own children. However, she noted that that does not mean they will keep their titles forever, as she suggested she and her husband may consider removing their children’s titles “when the time comes”.

“We will also look at our children’s titles when the time comes,” Mary said, referring to their eldest son Christian, who is second in line to the throne behind his father. “Today we do not know what the royal house will look like in Christian’s time, or when Christian’s time begins to approach.”

While Fitzwilliams acknowledged that the thought process behind such decisions typically stems from the belief that a royal title can be a burden, he noted that a slimmed-down monarchy can also have its downsides. According to the royal expert, one such example is the number of patronages and charities that will benefit.

“The issue is, if you have a royal patron, it gives tremendous cachet to an institution, it helps attract donors, and it gives it a very good reputation,” he explained, adding that, with slimmed down monarchies, many of these institutions will “have to do without royals linked to them”. “It is the one debit of the slimmed-down process, and that is that fewer charities benefit,” he said.

He noted that this is likely true in families such as the British royal family, which has seen a decrease in the number of senior royals as a result of Prince Andrew being stripped of his titles and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to step back.

However, Fitzwilliams also acknowledged that there are positives associated with the decision to remove a royal title, such as less attention from the press and the public. “The positive is that you’re completely free without a title and the interest in you is much less,” he said.

While there are both upsides and downsides to a slimmed-down monarchy, Fitzwilliams noted that the statements from members of the Danish royal family condemning Queen Margrethe’s decision “show that, in slimming down a monarchy, you don’t please everybody”.

In a statement to newspaper BT, a spokesperson for the Danish royal palace said on 29 September: “As the Queen stated yesterday, the decision has been a long time coming. We understand that there are many emotions at stake at the moment, but we hope that the Queen’s wish to future-proof the Royal Palace will be respected.”

As for whether the Danish monarch’s decision will have any effect on the British royal family, Fitzwilliams said that it is unlikely, even despite the ongoing speculation about whether King Charles III will decide to bestow royal titles on his grandchildren Archie and Lilibet, the son and daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

On the royal family’s website, the couple’s children are still referred to as “Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor” and “Miss Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor,” despite a Letters Patent issued by King George V in 1917 stating that grandchildren of a British monarch could be princes or princesses.

According to Fitzwilliams, while the decisions among monarchies are “totally separate,” it “doesn’t mean that Charles hasn’t got plans”. “We’ll have to wait and see what they are,” he said.

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