On April 9, 1940 Nazi Germany overran the virtually defenseless nation of Denmark on its way to invading Norway that same day. Germany’s reason was strategic. Germany was dependent on Norway’s natural resources for arms and materials. Its official justification was more altruistic: to “protect” Denmark from potential Franco-British invasion.
Danish King Christian X was told that, if Denmark didn’t capitulate, the German Luftwaffe would decimate the capital. The King reluctantly agreed.
Denmark’s cooperation with Germany had its advantages. Only a hundred Danish Jews perished at Nazi hands during World War II. When Hitler ordered Denmark’s Jews rounded up and sent to concentration camps, Danes smuggled 8000 to safety in Sweden. The King was once quoted as saying that if Denmark’s Jews were forced to wear yellow stars (for identification), then he and the Danes would all wear yellow stars. (The Nazis never enforced the policy.)
A week after the invasion, the King’s son, Crown-Prince Frederik and his wife gave birth to baby girl. Though the birth brought a ray of hope to one of Denmark’s darkest hours, no one imagined she might be queen, and that one day the country would celebrate her birthday as a holiday. For the Danish throne always passed to a male. Even if the king had no sons, the crown would go to a male relative.
But eight years after the war, when Princess Margrethe was 13, the Constitutional Act of 1953 amended the rule of royal primogeniture, allowing the first-born daughter to inherit the throne if the king had no son. Even then no one could be sure Margrethe would be queen, or that King Frederik IX wouldn’t have a son.
On January 15, 1972, the day after the death of her father, the 31 year-old princess became the Queen of Denmark, the first Queen Regent since 1412.
Queen Margaret I had ruled first on behalf of her underage son Oluf back in the 1370’s. When Oluf died unexpectedly in 1387 at age 17, Margaret became Queen Regent. During her 25 year reign, Margaret unified Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Apparently this made the men-folk look bad, so they didn’t allow another woman to take the helm for 550 years.
Though not quite as powerful as her namesake—the power of the Danish monarch waned significantly in the 19th and 20th centuries—Queen Margrethe II is the undisputed head of the oldest consecutive royal line of monarchs in Europe. Consisting of 50 kings and 2 queens, the Danish royal line dates back to Gorm the Old and the Viking days over 1000 years ago.
Other memorable Danish Kings include:
- Harald Bluetooth
- Sweyn Forkbeard
- Canute the Great
- Magnus the Good
- and Valdemar the Victorious