COPENHAGEN: Denmark turned a page in its history on Sunday as Queen Margrethe abdicated the throne and her son became King Frederik X, with more than 100,000 Danes turning out for the unprecedented event.
After a final procession in a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Copenhagen, the hugely popular 83-year-old queen signed a declaration of abdication at Christiansborg Palace - a first in 900 years in Denmark - ending her 52-year reign and automatically making her son monarch.
She then left the Council of State, also attended by the government, the new king, his wife and their 18-year-old eldest son, the new Crown Prince Christian.
She left the room with tears in her eyes, saying: “God bless the king.”
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was to proclaim 55-year-old Frederik the new king on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace, the seat of parliament and government, at 3:00 pm (1400 GMT), with his wife Queen Mary at his side.
Denmark’s monarchy traces its origins to 10th-century Viking king Gorm the Old, making it the oldest in Europe and one of the oldest in the world.
The new king and queen take the throne at a time of huge public support and enthusiasm for the monarchy. The most recent survey done after Margrethe announced she would abdicate indicated that 82% of Danes expect Frederik to do well or very well in his new role, while 86% said the same about Mary.
Australian-born Mary is the first commoner to become queen in Denmark.
“It’s just exciting that an ordinary person like us becomes a queen. It’s very exciting!” said Judy Langtree, a retiree waiting outside Christiansborg who flew with her granddaughter from Brisbane, Australia to watch the succession.
Despite the freezing winter weather, huge crowds had gathered along the procession route and outside Christiansborg, bundled up in warm parkas and some wrapped in Danish flags to catch a glimpse of the new sovereign.
Copenhagen police had predicted a turnout of more than 100,000 people in the streets.
This is only the second time a Danish sovereign has stepped down - the last one was Erik III, almost nine centuries ago in 1146.
There was a heavy police presence in the capital, which was decked out in red-and-white flags for the occasion.
‘Soul of the nation’
Aske Julius, a 27-year-old Copenhagen resident, called Margrethe “the embodiment of Denmark... the soul of the nation.”
“More than half of the Danish population has never known anything else but the queen,” he said.
Portraits and banners around the capital thanked the queen for her years of service, with cheeky signs in the metro declaring “Thanks for the Ride, Margrethe”.
Others read “Long Live the King”.
Apart from the abdication, the protocol was largely similar to previous royal successions in Denmark.
No foreign dignitaries or royals were invited, and there is no coronation or throne for the new monarch.
Margrethe chose to abdicate exactly 52 years to the day after she took over from her father, Frederik IX.
“There’s a lot of symbolism around this day,” Cecilie Nielsen, royal correspondent for Danish public broadcaster DR, told AFP.
The queen stunned Danes when she announced her abdication in her annual televised New Year’s Eve address, after having repeatedly insisted she would follow tradition and reign until her death.
Even her own family was only informed three days prior.
She attributed her decision to health issues after undergoing major back surgery last year.
Opinion polls show that more than 80 percent of Danes support her decision.
Margrethe will retain her title of queen and may represent the royal family on occasion.
Experts say that passing the baton to her son now will give him time to flourish in his role as monarch, after gradually taking on increasing responsibilities.
“She thinks the crown prince is totally ready to take over. And she wants to avoid a situation like in Great Britain where Prince Charles became King Charles after the age of 70,” historian Lars Hovbakke Sorensen said.
Like his mother, Frederik, who had been crown prince since the age of three, enjoys the support of more than 80 per cent of Danes.
He is expected to bring his own style to the monarchy, which dates back to the 10th century Viking era.
“He understood that he could not copy (the queen) and has managed to define his own image, his own ties to the Danish people,” another historian, Bo Lidegaard, told AFP.
While his mother is known for her love of the arts and is an accomplished writer and artist, Frederik is an avid sportsman who champions environmental causes.
In Denmark the monarch’s role is largely ceremonial, but he or she does sign legislation, formally presides over the forming of a government and meets with the cabinet regularly.