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Family Portrait, XIII

The royal succession of Denmark in 1863 was particularly complicated. Frederick VII, the ruling king was neither likable nor pleasant. He had a complicated private life, and to tops things off he was without a legitimate child. He had a sister Charlotte, pictured above, who was married to a German prince, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. However, it wasn’t Charlotte who would inherit the rights of the throne, but rather her daughter, Louise of Hesse-Cassel. Only Louise declined, passing the rights to her husband Christian, a prince of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderbourg-Glucksburg. Christian was the youngest son from a poor, long removed branch of the House of Denmark. The family lived in northern Germany, in a medieval castle surrounded by a moat. One day they were brought to Denmark, where they became the crown princes. Although the couple was without any money, King Frederick VII left to them the smallest of the royal palaces, the Yellow Palace.

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The Danes were rather suspicious of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, and showed the royal couple little kindness. What were these Germans doing here? Then the Second Schleswig War broke out. Bismarck acted with cruelty, inhumanity, and injustice towards Denmark. Suddenly Christian and Louise were national symbols of Denmark, heroes of the Danish resistance. Although they lost the war, their popularity increased throughout their long reign. Louise was modest, discrete, and possessed and iron temperament. He gave orders and commands, never losing her soft smile. Christian fulfilled his constitutional duties. Later, a foundation was formed from the royal assets they left to people of Denmark.

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Christian and Louise had many children, and raised them in the Yellow Palace. The girls slept two to a room; their clothes were often patched, as the family didn’t have enough money to but new ones. And yet happiness abounded in the palace, despite the lack of comfort. Education was a priority; the children were highly cultivated and spoke many languages. Dagmar, pictured when she was a child, who grew up in relative obscurity, would find herself at the head of the largest empire in the world, after marrying Alexander III of Russia.

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Things changed through the years for Christian IX and Louise. Their children’s lives were exceptional and their marriages extraordinary, the family was seemingly related to all of Europe. One daughter became Queen of England, another the Empress of Russia, one son become the King of Greece, and the other would one day become King of Denmark. This led, of course, to more children. Every year the entire family would gather during the summer at one of the many uncomfortable Danish castles. The children were all overjoyed, as they were free to joke and play games all they liked. My father Christopher was particularly happy there, where he was free to run around like a madman with all his cousins, a freedom that was unknown at the palace of his parents in Athens. The parent, who occupied quite a few thrones, passed the days discussing Europe and the political world, while the grandparents were busy making sure everyone was happy.

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The two brother-in-laws met every summer during this family vacation. The Dane became King Frederick VIII, the Englishman, who was for the moment the Prince of Galles, waited many years for his mother, Queen Victoria, to pass to paradise before becoming King Edward VII. To be frank, he was bored to death at the Court of Denmark, where the society, while elegant, was a bit banal. According to legend, he sought and found consolation with a few of the local countesses.


by Prince Michael of Greece