Saturday, February 17, 2018

HRH Prince Henrik of Denmark, 1934 - 2018

The Danish royal family is in mourning for the death of His Royal Highness Prince Henrik, the husband of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II. The consort passed away at the age of 83 on Tuesday, 13 February after having been hospitalized since January with a lung infection. His health deteriorated considerably in recent years, most significantly with the announcement in 2017 that he had been diagnosed with dementia. 


Prince Henrik's passing comes a year after the death of Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Burleburg, the husband of Queen Margrethe's second sister, Princess Benedikte. The only surviving husband of Denmark's trio of royal sisters is 77-year-old King Constantine II of Greece, the spouse of the youngest sister, Queen Anne-Marie. 

Denmark's first-ever male royal consort lived a life that was anything but ordinary. Born as Henri de Laborde de Monpezat in France, he spent part of his childhood in Vietnam, then part of French Indochina, and later returned to Asia as an adult to study. Service in the French army during the Algerian War preceded his work in the diplomatic service. Henri was posted to the French embassy in London when he met Princess Margrethe of Denmark, eldest daughter of King Frederick IX and heir to the Danish throne. They married in June 1967, at which point Henri changed his name to Henrik, was given the rank of a Danish prince, and changed his faith from Catholicism to Lutheranism. Prince Henrik and Princess Margrethe welcomed two sons within the next two years - Prince Frederik (born 1968) and Prince Joachim (born 1969) - and he became the royal consort with his wife's accession as queen in 1972. 

Henrik's Gallic temperament, artistic flair, and cosmopolitan tastes in many ways made him an ideal match for his wife, who is renowned for her artistic abilities and could arguably be regarded as Europe's best-educated monarch. Nevertheless, he found it difficult to fully acclimate himself within Danish society even five decades after marrying into its royal family. The Danish press took to lighthearted mocking of his prominent French accent, but more seriously were his numerous outbursts over his subordinate position to his wife. 

In 2002, he quite openly stropped off to his vacation home in southern France after the royal court chose his son, Crown Prince Frederik, to host a New Year's banquet in place of the indisposed queen. The prince consort took offense at being bypassed in favor of his son, venting his frustrations to the press from his self-imposed exile in a manner not often seen from royalty. He even refused to accompany his wife to the wedding of the future King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands. Eventually he reneged and came back home to Denmark, but the incident marked the prince thereafter. His willingness to speak frankly about his unhappiness stands in marked contrast with his British counterpart, Prince Philip, who rarely if ever took to publicly expressing his well-known frustrations with being a male consort. 

Prince Henrik's behavior in recent years had attracted more unflattering attention. His wife's announcement that he would be stepping down from public duties in 2016 was followed by more public outbursts later that year, in which he derided the fact that he was never made "king consort" and claimed he was the subject of gender discrimination since the wives of male monarchs are made queen and he was stuck with remaining as simply a prince. Then Henrik declared that as a result of having been denied equal footing with her in life, he would not be buried beside the queen in Roksilde Cathedral, the traditional burial place of Danish monarchs and their consorts. Such behavior did not appeal to the unassuming Danes, and even Queen Margrethe often responded to her husband's rants with a roll of the eyes. 

The Danish people's considerable admiration for their queen, however, meant that there would always be some amount of respect for her husband, and in this sad time they have paid tribute to their widowed monarch and her late husband with a modest outpouring of affection that is typical of the country. Whatever their feelings towards him in life may have been, there can be no denying that Prince Henrik brought a considerable amount of flavor and zest to the Danish royal family. 

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