Danish royal rift: Inside Prince Henrik's devastating dying wish

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·6-min read

Prince Henrik was married to Queen Margrethe of Denmark for 51 years, until he died on 13 February 2018. During that time, the royal couple had a somewhat tumultuous union, with Henrik at one point fleeing the country for several weeks in a rage. He made no secret of his dislike for playing second fiddle to his wife — and later his son and heir — and stubbornly carried his grievances to the grave when he died.

Away from his marriage, Henrik was a published poet, an avid cook and a hands-on grandfather to his eight royal grandchildren.

Danish Queen Margrethe II and her husband Prince Henrik (L) take part in the ceremony to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Dybbol in Sonderborg, Denmark, 18 April 2014. 150 years ago, the Germans and Danes fought over Schleswig-Holstein. The war climaxed with the Battle of Dybbol. The anniversary on 18 April will be widely celebrated in Denmark. Photo: BODO MARKS/dpa | usage worldwide   (Photo by Bodo Marks/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Danish Queen Margrethe II and her husband Prince Henrik had a rocky marriage. Photo: Getty Images.

Who was Prince Henrik?

Born in a town near Bordeaux, France on June 11, 1934, Henri Marie Jean André de Laborde de Monpezat married Danish Princess Margrethe in 1967. After their wedding, his French name, Henri, was changed to a Danish one, Henrik.

As well as renouncing his birth name, Henrik was also obliged to give up his French citizenship, religion, career and homeland when he joined the royal family

When Margrethe’s father, King Frederick died in 1972, she became Queen, and Henrik became Prince Consort. The couple had two children together, Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Joachim.

Princess Margrethe of Denmark and her husband Prince Henrik with their children Princes Frederik and Joachim during a visit to Greenland in 1970. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Prince Henrik and the then-Princess Margrethe with their sons, Princes Frederik and Joachim, during a visit to Greenland in 1970. Photo: Getty Images.

Why was Prince Henrik never king?

It’s a tradition in most monarchies that males do not take the title of King when their wife becomes Queen. However, Henrik was not happy about this and spoke openly about feeling overlooked in his role as “supporter and counsellor” to the Queen.

In 2002, Queen Margrethe was unable to attend a New Year’s Day reception, so the couple’s son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Frederik, was given the role of host at the function. Prince Henrik took offence to this, and left Denmark for three weeks, saying he felt: “pushed aside, degraded and humiliated” after being given “third place in the royal hierarchy.”

He said: “For many years I have been Denmark's number two. I've been satisfied with that role, but I don't want to be relegated to number three after so many years.”

After Queen Margrethe went to find him in France, he returned to Denmark and resumed his public life.

Danish royal house poses on front steps in the inner courtyard for the annual photo session on July 15, 2016 at Graasten Castle in Denmark.  (From L-R) Crown Prince Frederik, Prince Vincent, Prince Henrik, Princess Josephine, Prince Christian, Princess Isabella, Queen Margrethe and Crown Princess Mary. / AFP / Scanpix Denmark / Henning Bagger / Denmark OUT        (Photo credit should read HENNING BAGGER/AFP via Getty Images)
Henrik with his wife and son, Crown Prince Frederik, along with his daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Mary, and his grandkids in 2016. Photo: Getty Images.

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In 2008, Queen Margrethe II announced that her male descendants would also bear the title of Count of Monpezat, in recognition of Prince Henrik's ancestry — something that was said to appease her husband. Henrik spoke openly of his “great joy” that his grandchildren — including Crown Prince Christian, who is second in line to the throne — would have an element of his French heritage in their name.

In 2017, Henrik’s frustrations returned, and he announced he would not be buried with Queen Margrethe when they died thus breaking the 459-year tradition of Danish spouses being buried together. His secretary announced: “It is no secret that the prince for many years has been unhappy with his role and the title he has been awarded in the Danish monarchy. For the prince, the decision not to be buried beside the queen is the natural consequence of not having been treated equally to his spouse - by not having the title and role he has desired.”

Queen Margrethe was said to have reluctantly accepted his decision, and when Henrik died in 2018, his wishes were honoured. Instead of being buried in Copenhagen’s Roskilde Cathedral, where Queen Margrethe will have her body interred, his ashes were scattered at in Danish waters, and in the gardens at Fredonsborg Palace.

Were Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe happily married?

Henrik had no problem speaking openly about the frustrations in his marriage, including saying: “My wife does not give me the respect a normal wife must give her spouse.”

He also raised eyebrows when he said he was too ill to attend Margrethe’s 75th birthday but was spotted socialising in Venice a few days later. Queen Margrethe has never spoken publicly about the couple’s marriage.

COPENHAGEN/DENMARK. 23 April 2015_Prince henrik queen husband was absent from H.M.the Queen 75 years birthday celebration due to illness and later prince was sport in Venice itay and danish media including two tabloid Bt and Wxstra Bladet are among hard critic his beer aware in and absent from celebration (Photo by Francis Joseph Dean/Deanpictures) (Photo by Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images)
Danish tabloids reported that Prince Henrik skipped the Queen's 75 years birthday celebration on April 23, 2015, to visit Italy instead. Photo: Getty Images.

Did Prince Henrik have any nicknames?

The Prince became known by reporters as “the world’s grumpiest royal,” due to his regular grievances with his life.

How did Prince Henrik die?

Prince Henrik died of a lung infection, passing away “peacefully in his sleep” with his wife and their two sons by his side at Fredensborg Palace, in February 2018.

In September 2017 he had been diagnosed with dementia, with the palace issuing a statement saying: “The diagnosis implies a decline in The Prince’s cognitive functional level.…and can be accompanied by changes in behaviour, reaction patterns, judgement and emotional life and may therefore also affect the interaction with the outside world.”

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - FEBRUARY 20: Queen Margrethe (R) together with Crown Prince Frederik (R-2nd) his son Prince Christian, Crown Princess Mary together with Princess Isabella, Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine attend as the coffin of Prince Henrik, the husband of Queen Margrethe is carried from the Parliament Palace Church to the hearse on February 20, 2018 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The funeral was held as a private ceremony and only attended by the family. (Photo by Ole Jensen - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Prince Henrik's private funeral was held on February 20, 2018, in Copenhagen before his ashes were scattered in Danish waters and in the gardens at Fredonsborg Palace. Photo: Getty Images.

What did Prince Henrik do?

Before he married Margrethe, Henrik served in the French Army during the Algerian War, and then worked in the diplomatic service. When Margrethe became Queen, he became the first male consort in Danish history and said his role was to “support” his wife.

When did Prince Henrik retire?

The prince gave up his official royal duties on 1 January 2016, after Queen Margrethe announced her husband would be “winding down.” In April that year, in an attempt to make a further point that he had never been given the title of King, he gave up his title of Prince Consort.

What were Prince Henrik’s hobbies?

Prince Henrik was an accomplished poet and was published in several French poetry collections. He was a good pianist, and also loved cooking, often appearing on Danish television shows talking about how he made family meals at home using French cooking as inspiration.

DENMARK - OCTOBER 04:  Crown Princess MARGRETHE of Denmark poses with her fiance Count Henri DE LABORDE of MONTPEZAT at the castle of Fredensborg on October 4, 1966. The young man obtains Danish citizenship as well as the title of Prince HENRIK of Denmark in June 1967, one month before Princess MARGRETHE's enthronement.  (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
The newly-engaged pair pose at Fredensborg castle on October 4, 1966. Photo: Getty Images.

How did Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe meet?

When the then-Princess Margrethe was studying at the London School of Economics, Henrik was working at the French Embassy in London as a secretary for the French Foreign Ministry. The couple met in the English capital and dated for a year before Henrik proposed to her.

How much was Prince Henrik worth?

When Henrik and Margrethe were first married, he complained he had not been given a salary and had to ask his wife for money to buy cigarettes. Eventually, he was given a salary, but most of his money belonged to Margrethe – all $40million of it.

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