Final Resting Place for Danish Prince Who Yearned to Be King: Not Beside the Queen
Posted February 16, 2018 4:55 p.m. EST
He finally got his wish — just not the one he coveted the most.
In life, Prince Henrik of Denmark railed against what he saw as the ultimate injustice: As the husband of Queen Margrethe II, he was not granted the title of king. He was known for years as her prince consort, then just prince.
Unhappy with the title, which he considered a mark of gender inequality, the Danish royal announced last summer that he did not want to be buried beside his wife. And so it will be.
The prince died Tuesday at 83 after falling ill. His burial after a small funeral service next Tuesday will be a significant break with Danish royal tradition.
He will not be buried alongside the queen.
Rather, he will be cremated. Half his ashes will be spread over Danish waters and the other half buried in the private gardens of Fredensborg Castle, north of Copenhagen.
“It’s a completely new type of royal burial,” said Karin Kryger, an art historian. “It’s unprecedented.”
“The sharing of the ashes could be likened to a medieval tradition of burying the corpse in one place and the heart in another,” she added.
Henrik’s choice reflects a public grudge he had held for more than 30 years, as he fought an often public battle with his wife over his title. They were married in 1967, and he wanted to be king consort, but she wouldn’t let him, historians say. He asked to be a majesty, but again was denied.
As he grew older, he frequently shared his grievances with the public. The issue grew into a scandal that saw Danes mostly side with their queen, and perked up ears around the globe.
“She was stubborn,” said Ulla Terkelsen, a senior correspondent for Denmark’s TV 2. “The title he wanted didn’t exist; there was no precedent. She could have created a title, but she didn’t want to.”
The last time Denmark was ruled by a queen was from 1387-1412: Margrethe I. She was married to the king of Norway, so that union offered no historical precedent for a possible solution to Henrik’s problem. Margrethe I was the first royal to be buried in Roskilde Cathedral, in eastern Denmark.
After her reign, 39 kings and queens followed. Henrik is the first royal to choose a different burial site, and he will also not get a public monument.
For years the prince’s complaints fell on deaf ears and added to a public image of Henrik as arrogant and detached.
A native of France, he had a penchant for high brow poetry and goose liver pate, which didn’t help with the public’s perception, unfairly or not. He spoke six languages, was a skillful pianist and a military pilot who fought for France during the war in Algeria. As his waistline increased, a tabloid nicknamed him “King paunch” and published unflattering photos.
But in a post on Facebook, the Danish minister of culture, Mette Bock, denounced critics for “hypocrisy” and said obituaries would be written “about this fantastic human being who was exciting, different, sparkling and entirely his own.”
When Henrik made his surprising announcement that he didn’t want to be buried beside his wife, as was the custom, their elaborate plans for a shared final resting place went out the window.
Those initial plans involved commissioning a glass sarcophagus for two, held by elephants made of silver.
After his decision on the burial, and another public spat in which he claimed his wife had “made a fool out of him,” the royal house announced that Henrik had dementia. He fell ill during a private trip to Egypt and was treated in Denmark for a benign tumor in the lung.
The couple’s son Crown Prince Frederik rushed back from the Winter Olympics in South Korea last week to visit his ailing father at a Copenhagen hospital. The cause of death has not been announced.
Henrik’s coffin, draped in a Danish flag bearing the royal coat of arms, was taken on a stately procession through the streets of northern Copenhagen on Thursday. Thousands of people lined the route as the hearse was followed by the queen, their two sons, Frederik and Prince Joachim, and other family members to Amalienborg Palace. Thousands paid tribute on social media and left flowers at the royal castles.
His coffin will be on public display for three days beginning Saturday in Christiansborg Palace Chapel, only yards away from the Church of Holmen, where he married the queen 50 years ago.
His final resting place in the private garden of Fredensborg Castle will not be open to the public.
But Danes should not take it as a slight against their homeland, said Kryger, the art historian, who pointed out that in the end, he had chosen Denmark over his native France.
“He chose to have his ashes spread in Danish waters and a funeral service in Denmark,” she said. “I think it shows his love for Denmark.” The love may by more mutual than years of public mockery of Henrik suggests. With his death, the tide may have turned and changed the public view of the prince.
“Earlier, public opinion sided with the queen, but today, people see it as charming when he spoke his mind,” said Terkelsen, the senior correspondent. “He didn’t keep a stiff upper lip, but said what he felt.”
While he never became king, he may have won the kingdom in the end.
“He was a modern royal,” she said. “People came to appreciate that.”