On Sunday afternoon, King Frederik X became the sovereign of Denmark, carving another name into a lineage that stretches back to the sixth century. Despite the weight of the history that comes along with the change, the official transfer of power happened after his mother, Margrethe II, signed a bit of paperwork inside Christiansborg Palace. A photograph of the moment later released by the Kongehuset depicts a low-key atmosphere somehow still heavy with anticipation. Margrethe handles a pen while Frederik, in full regalia, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, and now Crown Prince Christian are all looking intently at her hand.
It’s a far cry from what happened as soon as the new monarch and his Council of State left the private room. A later video set to the tune of Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” shows the king on the way to the Christiansborg balcony while his wife, Queen Mary; three other children, Princess Isabella, Prince Vincent, and Princess Josephine; and younger brother Prince Joachim watch as he walks out to meet the prime minister. Tens of thousands of Danes gathered outdoors in the palace complex to watch the moment unfold. For decades, the royal family of Denmark have been considered one of the most popular monarchies, and on Sunday, they showed the world exactly what that means.
In a brief speech, the prime minister complimented the new king. “To be queen and king is a link in a more than thousand-year-long chain,” she said. “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.”
Unlike the moment in May 2023 when King Charles III was proclaimed on a gilded throne, Denmark’s historic coronation chair was sitting in Copenhagen’s Rosenborg Museum on Sunday morning; it hasn’t been used since the 1840 coronation of Christian VIII. In 1972, Margrethe’s proclamation on the same balcony happened mere hours after she watched her father die at Copenhagen Municipal Hospital. The unfussy joy of the moment was a reminder of why monarchies can survive even when some of the pomp and circumstance is put aside for modernization. It also made the subtle case that an elderly monarch’s abdication could allow a new era to begin without extinguishing the old.
The full meaning of the day didn’t become clear until Frederik was joined by his new queen and their four children on the palace balcony. Mary wore a form-fitting white dress by Danish designer Soeren Le Schmidt, and her arrival was greeted with rapturous cheers. The nation didn’t just get a new king. Now they have a queen consort who can combine the constancy of her mother-in-law with a Kate Middleton–like track record as an advocate for children and a Michelle Obama–inflected talent for fashion diplomacy. Denmark has a population of about 6 million people, but as an economic and cultural power, it punches way above its weight. It’s the country that brought both Legos and hygge to the rest of the world, and now a new royal couple is serving as its national ambassadors.
According to royal watcher Gertrude Daly, who runs the comprehensive site Gert’s Royals, it was Australian-born Mary’s official entrance to the family in 2004 that made the global royal watchers community take notice. For one, the pair famously had a meet-cute at a bar during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, which was reminiscent of the plots of a few different romantic comedies from around the same time. (2004’s The Prince and Me starring Julia Stiles even set its royal fantasy story in Denmark.)
That said, Mary’s favorable reception by the Danish public has more to do with her embrace of the culture, which started with her learning the native tongue when she moved there full-time. “Some other foreign spouses have not always taken as much of the initiative because you don’t need to. You can just speak English,” Daly explained. “But to learn Danish is very impressive.”
It has also helped Mary embrace the dark sense of humor that is unique to Danish culture. “She learned Danish so well that Danish people see her as one of their own,” Danish PR rep Morten Pelch told The Guardian. “She even gets our humor.” (In a recent memoir, Mary herself pointed out that Australians also share a gift for “black humor,” so that part came naturally.)