Did you see it? The cheering crowds, the children with their little flags, the tear and the kiss?
Maybe you didn’t, because you have an enormous, expensive monarchy which behaves like an enormous, expensive TV drama (wait, didn’t someone….)? Maybe not, because Scandinavia doesn’t feature so strongly in the British media?
But watching German TV, there was a fascination and acknowledgement of the quiet, mature transition of the monarchy in Denmark at the weekend. Afflicted by poor health, the extraordinarily popular Queen Margarethe II has retired (abdicated) and in an almost comical scene, with a smile, beckoned her son, the new King Frederik X, to take her royal seat at the head of the table of counsellors.
He was proclaimed, not by courtiers dressed in something out of the 15th century, but by the Prime Minister dressed in normal business attire. There was a wave from the balcony, and a kiss for the new Queen Consort. No coronation. And everyone cheered.
Why are the Danish royal family so popular with their people? In a word, proximity. Without claiming to be anything other than royal and therefore naturally privileged, the royals, foremost the outgoing Queen, have always engaged with ordinary people – in a society that likes to think of itself as relatively classless – work extremely hard and seek to be great ambassadors for their small country.
They are aware that theirs is one of the oldest monarchies in Europe, in one of the oldest countries in Europe. It may be small and somewhat on the periphery, but it is a proud nation with a proud heritage.
They are also standard bearers for Denmark when abroad, and Margarethe is very popular in Germany, especially in the North, where she helped to heal old wounds in the relationship of Danes and Germans resulting from the first half of the 20th century.
Are the Germans to the South envious? They have nothing to complain about their Federal President, sober, thoughtful and an excellent ambassador for the country. But there is something about a monarchy as a representative of continuity, heritage, and yes, national identity and pride.
The celebrations at the weekend, and the farewell to Margarethe as Queen, were patriotic certainly, but didn’t seem to be nationalistic. Denmark’s royal family is not seeking to portray some image of being an imperial monarchy with world power, and the transfer of the throne (note, without a coronation) will have cost a fraction of Operation Golden Orb.
But it effectively, and relatively cheaply, portrayed an image to its neighbours of the pride of the Danes in their own country and heritage, and that a sober, hard-working, proximous royal family can work wonders for projecting the image of a small country.
Much the same can of course be said of the Netherlands, not far away.
And takeaways for a British readership? Next time you change the monarch, how much of the taxpayer’s money do you feel needs to be spent on orbs, ermine, courtiers and all?
What image should the British monarchy portray, post empire (sorry, you still have the Falklands), out of Europe, and still riddled by class and privilege? It’s a mid-sized country, by global standards, but with a rich, and largely positive heritage (perhaps excepting the last ten years), and a lot of soft power.
Charles is inevitably the product of his upbringing in an imperial-hangover monarchy of the 1950s and 1960s, but can William – with not too long to wait – make a cultural shift?
Can the monarchy still be relevant to the UK, or just be the basis of yet more episodes of that TV drama?
Meantime, long live the seemingly charming, humble King Frederik X, and I hope everyone had a lovely day in Denmark.