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Denmark’s King Frederik X takes the throne after abdication of Queen

Denmark’s King Frederik X has taken the throne after the abdication of his mother Queen Margrethe II, looking emotional as he waved to the thousands who gathered in the capital Copenhagen to witness the start of a new era.

For many in Denmark, his mother Margrethe was the only monarch they had ever known. But her shock abdication, after more than five decades on the throne, paved the way for her son, the former crown prince, to succeed her.

The handover took place at a cabinet meeting at Christiansborg Palace in the capital, when Margrethe signed a declaration of her abdication, officially transferring the crown to Frederik.

Large crowds gathered in the streets, despite frigid weather, the occasional burst of song riding across the sea of people as they awaited the historic moment.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen then publicly proclaimed the King’s accession from the balcony of the palace – a tradition in place since the constitution of 1849.

Frederik followed with a short speech, before being joined by his Australian-born wife Queen Mary and their four children, including the Crown Prince Christian, the new successor to the throne.

“Today the throne is passed on. My hope is to become a unifying king of tomorrow,” Frederik said. His mother, he said, “will be remembered forever as an extraordinary regent.”

Denmark's King Frederik X and Queen Mary, together with their children from left, Princess Josephine, Crown Prince Christian, Princess Isabella and Prince Vincent wave after the proclamation, at Christiansborg Palace. - Martin Meissner/AP
Denmark's King Frederik X and Queen Mary, together with their children from left, Princess Josephine, Crown Prince Christian, Princess Isabella and Prince Vincent wave after the proclamation, at Christiansborg Palace. - Martin Meissner/AP
Thousands of well-wishers flocked to Christiansborg Palace to see the newly installed monarchs. - Martin Meissner/AP
Thousands of well-wishers flocked to Christiansborg Palace to see the newly installed monarchs. - Martin Meissner/AP

Prime Minister Frederiksen expressed “a deepfelt and devoted thanks” to Queen Margrethe on behalf of the nation.

“To be queen and king is a link in a more than thousand-year-long chain. When one steps aside, the next is standing at the ready. And the crown prince that now becomes our monarch is a king that we know, a king that we like, and a king that we trust,” she said.

Among the thousands lining the capital was 45-year-old Kasper Wiigh Larsen. “It brought tears in a joyful way to see him do so well up on the balcony, both with his speech and when Mary came out and held his hands and finishing with a kiss,” he told Reuters.

Britain’s King Charles III - who had his coronation last summer - was among the first to congratulate the new king and queen.

“I look forward to working with you on ensuring that the enduring bond between our countries, and our families, remains strong, and to working together with you on issues which matter so much for our countries and the wider world,” he said in his message.

Abdications are rare for the Danish monarchy and the Queen is stepping aside after more than five decades. - Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AP
Abdications are rare for the Danish monarchy and the Queen is stepping aside after more than five decades. - Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AP
Queen Margrethe II is travels in the Golden Wedding Anniversary Coach, escorted by the Guard Hussar Regiment's Mounted Squadron to sign the declaration of her abdication. - Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters
Queen Margrethe II is travels in the Golden Wedding Anniversary Coach, escorted by the Guard Hussar Regiment's Mounted Squadron to sign the declaration of her abdication. - Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters

Margrethe, 83, was Europe’s longest-reigning monarch and the world’s last reigning queen. She announced her historic tenure would come to an end after 52 years in a stunning live address on New Year’s Eve.

She said she had been reflecting on “whether now would be an appropriate time to pass on the responsibility to the next generation” following a recent surgery on her back and had come to the decision “that now is the right time.”

The queen appeared emotional herself after she put down her signature to the Council of State, making her handover official. Stepping aside for her son, she said “God save the King” before exiting the room.

Although no longer the ruling monarch, Margrethe will continue to be titled as Her Majesty and can be installed as acting regent, according to the Danish Royal House. This means that she will be able to perform duties as head of state when both King Frederik or Crown Prince Christian are not able, such as if they were overseas. Other Danish royals who can also assume the role of acting regent if required include Mary, Frederik’s brother Prince Joachim and his aunt, Princess Benedikte.

While the Danish monarchy is one of the oldest in Europe, stretching back more than 1,000 years, there is no traditional crowning moment. As such, world leaders and high-profile dignitaries were not in attendance, with the Danish changeover being a significantly more low-key occasion in comparison to the global spectacle and pageantry of King Charles III’s coronation.

Still, the streets were crammed with well-wishers enjoying the spectacle.

Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, and its royals perform an important but symbolic ambassadorial role in addition to signing off any new legislation. Formal powers lie with the elected parliament and its government based at Christiansborg Palace.

And it was here that King Frederik X visited for the last time as crown prince on Sunday, and departed as the ruling monarch of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Frederik during the drive to Christiansborg Castle. - Nicolai Lorenzen/Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters
Frederik during the drive to Christiansborg Castle. - Nicolai Lorenzen/Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters

Birgitte Borup, culture editor at Danish newspaper Berlingske, told CNN the transition between monarchs will feel “very different” to 1972 “simply because the queen is alive.”

“It’s the first time in 900 years a Danish king or queen has abdicated. It will be a more festive occasion than the last time when a young Margrethe took over,” she explained. “The queen’s decision to abdicate was shocking but most Danes seem to understand that she wants to pass on the torch due to declining health.”

It’s incredibly rare for a monarch to abdicate in Denmark. The last Danish monarch to do so was King Eric III when in 1146 he relinquished the crown to join a monastery. But the practice is more common in other European royal houses.

Borup said Denmark was “entering a new modern era” and while Frederik has enjoyed broad support from Danes during his time as crown prince, as monarch he will have work to do.

“He might continue making the monarchy more accessible to the people. His main challenge will be maintaining a popular and relevant monarchy in the years to come.”

Celebrations almost 9,000 miles away

It’s not just those from the nordic country celebrating Margrethe handing the baton to her son. King Frederik X is ruling alongside his Australian-born and hugely popular wife, Queen Mary – which will undoubtedly delight her proud admirers back home.

Their royal romance started with a chance encounter at a Sydney bar during the 2000 Olympics Games. Sales executive Mary Elizabeth Donaldson, born in Hobart, Tasmania, was initially unaware she was chatting away with a real-life prince.

Back then, Justin Tynan was the manager of Sydney’s Slip Inn, the venue near Darling Harbour where the future King and Queen of Denmark crossed paths. “I do recollect her, I mean … she’s quite a striking woman. But the focus, I suppose, was on Frederik because he was the one paying for the drinks!” he told CNN.

The watering hole popular with tourists has over the years continued to celebrate Mary’s milestone moments. It held a live screening of the couple’s grand wedding at Copenhagen cathedral in 2004 and, two years later, marked the birth of their first son, Prince Christian, who is now the new crown prince and heir to the throne.

It was the center of Sydney’s celebrations again, with Danish flags flying over the bar, Danish-inspired hots dogs and a special cocktail in honor of the new Queen.

Meanwhile, the Australian federal government marked the special occasion with its own unique gift on behalf of the nation. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a donation of 10,000 Australian dollars (around $6,000) for the protection of one the most well-known but endangered marsupials in Mary’s home state.

“The story of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark is one Australians have followed closely and hold dear to their hearts,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Crown Princess Mary grew up in Tasmania, and so it is fitting Australia marks this occasion with a gift to support the conservation of the Tasmanian devil.”

Australian Prime Minister wished "the very best" to the Danish royal couple, pictured, ahead of Frederik's accession. - MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima
Australian Prime Minister wished "the very best" to the Danish royal couple, pictured, ahead of Frederik's accession. - MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Ima

Back in Denmark, the royal couple have earned supporters and worked to modernize the monarchy, raising their four children - 18-year-old Christian, 16-year-old Isabella and 13-year-old twins, Vincent and Josephine - with as normal as upbringing as possible and sending them to regular state schools.

The Danish royal family is more informal than their British counterparts. They have been praised for being down-to-earth and can often be seen out and about, shopping, dining or riding bicycles like other members of the public.

The climate crisis, sustainability, public health, the rights of women and girls are just some of the themes of Frederik and Mary’s duties that have helped endear them to the public.

Borup said that Mary might not have been born a royal, “but you’d think she was.”

“She carries herself with such grace and is an amazing representative for the nation of Denmark,” the Berlingske culture editor said. “She’s known to always be well prepared, and she’s taken on some pretty substantial tasks, such as shining a light on domestic violence.

“When Mary and Frederik met in Australia, the story used to be that she was lucky to run into a fairytale prince. I think time has shown he was even luckier.”

CNN’s Hilary Whiteman, Angus Watson, Teodora Preda, Catherine Nicholls and Max Foster contributed reporting.

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