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Danish Monarch Revered for Being Exception to Rule


COPENHAGEN — Danish Queen Margrethe II set sail this week for a cruise through her crannied Nordic kingdom. But Danes don't expect to hear much about the weeklong royal outing. The queen, you see, is rarely big news here.

As head of one of the world's oldest reigning monarchies--dating back 52 sovereigns to Viking ruler Gorm the Old in the 10th century--Queen Margrethe carries impeccable regal credentials. She lives in a Rococo palace in the heart of the capital, Copenhagen, spends summer holidays at a chateau in France and serves as the titular head of the Danish state.

But as Queen Margrethe celebrates her 25th jubilee this year, Danes say she is most revered for what she is not.

"She is not Queen Elizabeth," said salesclerk Nina Korsholm, speaking of the monarch's higher profile relation across the North Sea. "We like it that way. She is one of us. She's not someone who acts superior or detached."

So ordinary can be Queen Margrethe that she sometimes does her own shopping, traipsing home to Amalienborg Palace with purchases under her arm. She is an accomplished artist who has been known to work for her stipend, designing sets at the Royal Theater, illustrating works by J. R. R. Tolkien and translating a book by French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir.

The no-nonsense monarch offers no apologies for the cigarette that dangles perpetually from her lip, and her annual New Year's address typically includes a blunt admonishment of her 5.2 million subjects--most recently, for the country's growing intolerance of immigrants.

"She is one of those rare people who is able to speak to the conscience of a nation," said Hans Jorgen Nielsen, a political scientist at Copenhagen University. "Even the left-wing [anti-monarchists] listen to her. She has consistently enjoyed a favorable rating of 80% to 90%."

The festivities marking her silver anniversary--a milestone similar to one that lurched the British royal house into a public tizzy in 1977--have been adoring but restrained. There has been a state banquet in Parliament, a ceremonial carriage tour of the capital and a special performance of the Royal Ballet.

This week's royal cruise is one of several official outings planned in Denmark and its possessions, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

But tourist shops in Copenhagen report that jubilee and other royal souvenirs are a hard sell, especially when compared with trinkets depicting this city's legendary mermaid or renowned storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen.


Danish royal watchers say the low-key relationship between ruler and ruled has helped build the monarchy's popularity. There is an unspoken axiom in Denmark that the six members of the royal family do not abuse their privileges, and, in exchange, the public keeps a respectful distance.

In the most notable example, royal watchers say, it is well known that Crown Prince Frederik, 28, invites girlfriends to spend the night at the royal residence. But he does not flaunt such trysts, nor are they typically noted outside gossip columns.

"We all think he has a right to live his own life and meet the girls he wants to meet. We treat the royal family as a normal family--we couldn't have it any other way in Denmark," said Annelise Weimann of Billed Bladet, a weekly magazine.

That is not to say Danes are indifferent about their monarchy.

Several months ago, a Swedish newspaper journalist scolded Queen Margrethe for her unrepentant public smoking, which has even included lighting up at a center for asthmatics.

The Danes reacted with indignation, with one tabloid screaming: "Mind Your Own Business, Sweden!"

To defuse the international incident, an apologetic Swedish newspaper rented an electronic billboard in Copenhagen's main square. "Our readers beg the Queen's pardon," it flashed.

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