The queen of Denmark has announced that she is to abdicate after 52 years on the throne.
Announcing the surprise news to the nation in her new year speech, Queen Margrethe II said she would step down on 14 January, the 52nd anniversary of her accession, leaving the throne to her son, Crown Prince Frederik.
Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik arrive for Christmas high mass at Aarhus cathedral last week.
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Queen Margrethe, who will continue to hold the title Her Majesty, became queen on 14 January 1972 after the death of her father, King Frederik IX.
In a speech from Christian IX’s Palace at Amalienborg, the queen said: “I have decided that now is the right time. On 14 January 2024, 52 years after I succeeded my beloved father, I will step down as Queen of Denmark. I leave the throne to my son, Crown Prince Frederik.”
Back surgery in February made her reassess her position and consider “if the time had not come to leave the responsibility to the next generation”.
“Time is running out, and the ills are increasing. You can no longer overcome the same things as you once could,” she said.
The Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, thanked the queen for her service. “On behalf of the entire population, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Her Majesty the Queen for her lifelong dedication and tireless efforts for the kingdom,” she said.
“Although the duty and position of monarch has been handed down for more than 1,000 years, it is still difficult to understand that the time has now come for a change of throne.
“Many of us have never known another monarch. Queen Margrethe is the epitome of Denmark and throughout the years has put words and feelings into who we are as a people and as a nation.
“In the new year, Crown Prince Frederik will be proclaimed king. Crown Princess Mary will become queen. The kingdom will have a new monarch and a new royal couple. We can look forward to all of this in the knowledge that they are ready for the responsibility and the task.”
The Australian-born Mary Donaldson became Crown Princess of Denmark in 2004 on her marriage to Crown Prince Frederik. She grew up in Tasmania, eventually moving to Sydney where she met Frederik during the 2000 Olympics. She moved to Copenhagen in 2002 before the couple were married two years later.
Queen Margrethe had been of “undeniable importance” to Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, Frederiksen said, for which she is recognised “with equal parts gratitude and admiration”.
Margrethe II has been one of the most popular public figures in Denmark. She often walked the streets of Copenhagen virtually unescorted and won the admiration of Danes for her warm manners and her talents as a linguist and designer.
A keen skier, she was a member of a Danish women’s air force unit as a princess, taking part in judo courses and endurance tests in the snow. She remained tough even as she grew older. In 2011, at age 70, she visited Danish troops in southern Afghanistan wearing a military jumpsuit.
As monarch, she crisscrossed the country and regularly visited Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the two semi-independent territories which are part of the Danish realm, and was met everywhere by cheering crowds.