He Keeps Forgetting He’s King
Frederik of Denmark is the most democratic, most muscular and most tattooed of kings. He doesn’t mind ruling as long as it doesn’t interfere with sailing, romping with his three daughters, conducting orchestras and exchanging wisecracks with his subjects
TO THE average Canadian, whose conception of monarchy comes from the more conventional House of Windsor, King Frederik IX of Denmark is something of a shock. That he stands six feet six inches in his socks and develops his muscles by mail order, discusses on the radio the problems of raising three daughters, invites his subjects to telephone him at the palace, hates protocol, loves to lead a symphony orchestra and wisecracks like a Scandinavian Bob Hope is not intrinsically remarkable. But attached to a venerable crown these characteristics become truly surprising, particularly so to those people whose direct contact with their own sovereign is often just a mechanical wave of the hand in a ceremonial setting.
The highest honor the fiercely democratic Danes can pay their sovereign is to say, as they so often do, “He is a good king because he is just like us.” This means that Frederik is tolerant, well-educated, frank, funny, informal and highly individualistic. This is quite appropriate since he heads what his subjects think, with some justification, is Europe’s most democratic nation.
In his guide-book We Danes and You, Morgens Lind in a jocular description of Danish character has said: “Nobody in Denmark looks down on a man who is a millionaire. Similarly it is accepted that a man can be just as good as his neighbor even if he happens to be a count or a prince.” And to emphasize that their king is just as good as they are the Danes cannot resist embroidering the truth, although this is quite unnecessary.
At Fredensborg, the royal palace in south Jutland, people insist that Frederik rides daily through the town on a bicycle, breezily greeting everyone he sees. Actually, he does this rarely. Usually he drives a Rolls-Bentley which sentimentally bears the license plate 461, his naval cadet number.
In October 1950 when Mr. and Mrs. Winston Churchill were at Fredensborg, a young kindergarten teacher took her class out to the palace road to watch the visitors leave. The time of their departure was unknown and the children stood restively on the roadside, their spirits and their homemade banners wilting. When a man drove by and asked if they were waiting for Mr. Churchill the teacher’s voice betrayed her irritation. “Naturally,” she said.
“Well, he will drive away at a quarter to two and it will probably be easy to see him from there,” said the helpful driver, designating a vantage point. It was not until later when she saw him sitting beside Mr. Churchill that the teacher knew her helper was the King.
At that time Frederikhad been king for only
This most informal royal portrait shows Frederik of »Denmark playing for a bedtime-truant audience of daughters Margrethe, Beneditke and Anne-Marie.
three years and it was not surprising that many rural people might fail to recognize him. When German troops occupied Denmark between 1940 and 1945 Frederik, then crown prince, was held a virtual prisoner and before the war he was at sea much of the time. He came to the throne a comparative stranger on the death of his beloved father, Christian X, in 1947.
Frederik is usually delighted when he is mistaken for someone else and his behavior is nothing short of gallant. Two years ago when Queen Ingrid was injured in an automobile accident Danish papers complained because a Swedish reporter got a bedside interview with the King. When the Swede called the switchboard operator, thinking it was
Ingrid’s father, King Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, con nected him to the royal ward where Frederik patiently answered questions about his wife’s health.
When the interview ended the Swede commented: “For a doctor you don’t seem to know much about your job.”
“Oh I’m not the doctor,” Frederik answered, “I’m only the King.”
Frederik himself is supposed to be responsible for one story the Danes tell about him. On a visit to Bornholm he and the Queen were walking through a wood when they met an old lady carrying a basket. He asked her where she was going
and what she was carrying. “Eggs,” she said. “I’m going to the next town to sell them. They say the new king is arriving and I thought I might as well take a look at him.” “Suppose I buy the eggs,” Frederik suggested. “Fine,” she agreed. “I don’t give two hoots for the King anyway.”
Frederik’s wit is quick, often salty and usually defies translation because so many Danish jokes involve a play on words. He takes as much delight in a funny situation as in a sharp rejoinder and if his presence causes respectful stiffness in others he removes tension with a quip. Once when reviewing army exercises he and his high-ranking escort surprised a group of soldiers playing cards when they should have been guarding a bridge. All contrived to dispose of the evidence but one, who stood stupidly at attention holding his cards at his side. Frederik walked over to him, examined the cards and said: “Never mind old chap, you couldn’t have taken a trick with a hand like that anyway.”
Frederik is as expansive as his humor. He is the tallest living monarch and the fourth tallest in history. (Third was his father, second George I of Greece, first Peter the Great of Russia.) He is probably the strongest. His liberally-tattooed chest measures forty-five inches, his biceps fifteen inches, and it is said he can lift a hundred and forty pounds over his head without breathing hard. He still performs conscientiously the daily setting-up exercises and dumbbell drills he learned from George Walsh, a London mail-order bodybuilder who died last year.
On Christmas holidays at his shooting lodge he rolls in the snow in his swimming trunks before breakfast; he is an enthusiastic oarsman on the gymnasium floor as well as on water. His swimming instructor, whom he recently shoved in the tank to satisfy an urge repressed for twenty years, is teaching him distance swimming under water.
The one form of exercise Frederik does not consider a pleasure is walking, largely because he suffers from lumbago and because walking on tours of inspection and similar ceremonials forms so large a part of the duties of a king, anyway.
His broad face is seamed by sun and laughter, his blue eyes are quick and alert and at fifty-four his dark hair though thinning at the temples is still luxuriant on top. Probably the most remarkable thing about him is his steadfast refusal to allow his crown to inhibit his humanity.
Once when he appeared on the balcony of Copenhagen’s Christiansborg Castle—no longer a royal residence but now used for crown offices—to accept birthday greetings from an enthusiastic crowd, he warned: “Please don’t cheer too loudly. You’ll
frighten my little daughter. She’ll have to get used to it soon enough.”
An American reporter was once startled to see
King Frederik stop his car at Christiansborg, leap out, rush across the square and shake hands with a workman replacing some of the brickwork in the road. The workman later explained: “King Frederik and I were once on the same ship. He never
forgets a face.” Continued on page 56
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23
On formal occasions Frederik rides in a chauffeur-driven Cadillac. He was driving through Copenhagen one day with his state guest, King Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, when the traffic jammed because a woman stalled her engine and couldn’t get it restarted. Frederik alighted, got her car going, then returned to the royal limousine.
He hates snobbery and has often demonstrated his feelings. When he was invited to a party for an eminent Danish scientist, to which guests were asked to bring their own refreshments, he took a package of cheap sandwiches from a street kiosk.
When he became king Frederik immediately let it be known that there would be no change in his relations with his old naval friends, many of whom were poor. He recently telephoned one friend to invite him to the palace for the evening and added, “bring the children too. They don’t want to stay home alone.” When the wife of a naval officer friend could not come to a party because she had no servant to stay with the baby, he called for her and brought the baby along too.
Frederik’s dislike of formality was inspired by his mother, German princess Alexandrina of MecklenburgSchwerin. She was determined not to inflict the severe patriarchal pattern of her own upbringing on her two sons, the elder of whom, Prince Frederik, was born in March 1899 and his brother, Prince Knud, in 1900. The royal children attended an ordinary boys’ school where they mingled freely with the sons of commoners. As a boy scout Frederik learned to cook and to darn his own socks.
Queen Alexandrina was a good musician and when Frederik was twelve she encouraged him to take piano lessons. To her delight he showed talent and, in his own words, “soon became an inveterate music lover.” As a boy and young man he habitually attended the great music festivals of Europe. Probably the only times he ever threw his weight around as crown prince were on those occasions when he managed to get the baton away from the conductor of the Royal Life Guards band, thus to develop his now impressive skill as a conductor of symphony orchestras.
Contrary to the Danish royal tradition that the crown prince should join the army, Frederik became a seaman. He says that the commodore of his father’s yacht was responsible for this. “My brother and I were like all boys and it wasn’t easy to keep us quiet,” he related in one of the rare interviews he has given. “The commodore could not have us running around underfoot so he put us to work. The numbers of the crew ended at 460. I was given number 461 and my brother 462.”
He started formal cadet training at seventeen. Often when his ship was on manoeuvres he was obliged to act as his father’s emissary in a foreign capital. He would put on dress whites, sip champagne with the diplomats, then return to swab the decks. He rose to be commander of a motor-torpedo-boat and when he became King he was created an admiral. He didn’t like the promotion and said in a speech, “As admiral I can never again say ‘this is my ship.’ Rut that’s what happens when you get too high up.”
In 1935 he married Princess Ingrid, beautiful and talented daughter of Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden and granddaughter of the Duke of
Connaught. Ingrid was eleven years his junior and her name had been linked for a decade alternately with that of Frederik and Edward, Prince of Wales.
At first Ingrid was not popular. The Swedes and the Danes are traditional ancient enemies and temperamentally they are very different. The Swedes are stiff and rigidly correct. The Danes are easygoing to the point of carelessness. It is said that Ingrid once had a Copenhagen shopgirl fired for not addressing her correctly. Frederik heard about it and had the girl reinstated. But Ingrid is bright as well as beautiful and she soon learned Danish ways. Indeed, she won over her new countrymen even before she brought her husband under control.
Frederik was a playboy and had some reputation as a drinker. He loved to carouse with his navy friends and Ingrid is said to have been unenthusiastic about these activities. On the
other hand as heir to the Danish throne he was extremely sensitive about his position. Once he bought a pair of ill-fitting shoes because, he explained, “I discovered a hole in my sock and it wouldn’t do for the Crown Prince of Denmark to present a foot like that to be measured.”
In 1939 he and Ingrid attended the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco and while in the United States they were entertained by President and Mrs. Roosevelt at Hyde Park. Later in her syndicated column Mrs. Roosevelt suggested that Frederik was more interested in a gay time than in the serious affairs of state. After the war when she visited Denmark Frederik snubbed her with a polite note apologizing because he was unable to meet her.
The serious side of Frederik’s nature became evident during the war. His first daughter (now Crown Princess Margrethe since a recent constitutional change allowing a woman to rule), was born in April 1940 a few days after the Nazis marched into Copenhagen. She became a symbol of hope and courage and Frederik and Ingrid contrived to show her off as much as possible. They refused to have any dealings with the Germans or even to speak to them except when forced to have official business with the occupation authorities. Frederik was in constant communication with the Danish underground through a representative at the court who kept him informed on activities and delivered to him a copy of the resistance newspaper daily.
Every night from his window in the palace Frederik was said to have blinked a flashlight signal, “Good luck and God bless you,” to Danish ships leaving harbor.
His second daughter, Benedikte, arrived in the spring of 1944 and the third, Anne-Marie, in 1946. By this time Frederik had become a devoted family man, had given up drinking entirely and had even agreed to try to cut down on the eighty Turkish cigarettes he smokes every day.
When he came to the throne in 1947 after his seventy-seven-year-old father died of a heart attack he solemnly promised to “follow the example of our
old king.” To the surprise of many of his countrymen he has more than kept his promise. Many Danes who thought he could never match his father’s popularity now admit they were wrong. There is no doubt that he was nervous at first. When asked if the services of King Christian’s manicurist would still he required, Frederik said feelingly: “From now on the royal nails are going to be bitten and I can do that myself.” In many ways Frederik has consolidated the popularity of the Danish royal house. The Danes are a highly domesticated nation and close-knit family unions are the rule. By presenting a genuinely ideal family portrait Frederik and Ingrid have won them completely. Ingrid is now quite £S beloved as her husband who on two occasions recently has described her as a “dream wife” and “a real glamour girl.” Danes exclaim endlessly about her virtues as a housekeeper and mother and admire her for sending her children to a large school where they mix with twelve hundred girls of middle-class Danish families.
Frederik obviously adores his daughters. He recently had to be helped off the royal train with three large identical dolls’ carriages. Once when he was entertaining diplomats at a palace dinner he excused himself with ‘ It s bedtime and I must go upstairs and kiss the girls good night.” In a broadcast from the palace sitting room he called them “adorable” but admitted “they have bad habits like all children.” A few minutes later he told Margrethe to “sit up nicely and take your feet off the table. _ }
If there is any danger of Frederik’s informality getting wholly out of hand Ingrid will keep him in check. Two years ago during a state visit to England she was furious because a photograph of him stripped to the waist was published in the Daily Express. Frederik laughed. Some Danes, however, sided with Ingrid, feeling that such wide publicity for their king’s muscles and tattoos was not quite fitting • for a nine-hundred-year-old monarchy. It was during his days as a sailor, with the encouragement of his uncle, Prince Axel, that Frederik began to acquire the tattoos which now decorate his torso. These are the handiwork of a London tattoo artist whose masterpiece is an enoimous green-and-yellow dragon covering His Majesty’s massive chest.
Frederik, who often travels incognito with Ingrid to London and Rome “because there we can walk arm in arm down the street like any other husband and wife on a holiday, used to slip into the tattoo emporium from time to time to have his colors touched up. On such strolls he would also call on George Walsh, his bodybuilder friend. It was during a visit to Walsh that the controversial photograph was taken and Frederik did not realize when he posed that it would wind up in public print.
To rule the four million people who occupy Denmark’s seventeen thousand square miles is a job to which Frederik was born and toward which all his training was directed. He never questioned his destiny but while following the pattern laid down in nine centuries of unbroken succession he has stamped upon it the mark of his own strong individuality. During the broadcast when he discussed his home life and his children, he said this about being king: “1 have certain hours as you have in other businesses. It’s a bit involved but when you have a lovely wife and lovely children it isn’t too bad.” He added: “It helps too if you have a sense of humor. I believe I have a little of that.”
Frederik’s “business hours start at
ten o’clock. Until noon he receives by appointment ministers, ambassadors and his own subjects who have state business. After lunch, which he eats when possible with his wife and children, he conducts further state business or lays a cornerstone, opens a museum, addresses a meeting or performs some other ritual with which the calendars of royalty are so crowded. Twice a month he holds public audiences where about seventy-five of his subjects from all walks of life may talk to him about anything they wish, provided the topic has been first vetted by the palace staff.
Each year Frederik is host to his subjects at four traditional banquets. In King Christian’s day the guests were all diplomats and dignitaries, but now they come from every stratum of Danish life. Queen Ingrid plans the menus (she is said to sample every dish before it goes to the table) and arranges the flowers. Frederik chooses the music. He always has a rehearsal first so the waiters will learn to march in time to his selections.
Frederik often plays the piano in the palace sitting room for his wife and daughters and when he entertains privately he usually makes his friends listen to classical records whether they like it or not. He has a collection of thousands of records and a library of hundreds of operatic and orchestral scores. ' When he attends concerts he learns the program in advance and takes along the scores which are to be played.
Even Royal Husbands Wait
The leader of the Royal Danish Orchestra says Frederik is “a born conductor with a strong, individual style.” Whenever he can Frederik slips into the royal theatre to conduct at rehearsals and occasionally he borrows the band for a private concert. Once a month he moves in on the state radio orchestra. He has made records to be sold for charity.
He numbers among his friends such musical luminaries as Edwin Fischer, the pianist, whom he has conducted; Sir Malcolm Sargent, Eugene Ormandy, Sir John Barbirolli and Lauritz Melchior. Melchior tells of an occasion when he and Frederik got into a heated musical discussion. Waving a contentious hand the singer accidentally knocked over the royal aquarium. Frederik was furious and ordered Melchior to help rescue the fish. By the time they had been transferred safely to a bathtub the royal wrath was spent and the discussion continued.
Frederik’s anger erupts suddenly but subsides as quickly. He will often bark at his daughters for chattering too much and he sometimes gets shorttempered with his wife when she ropes him into a tour of a hospital or a school. Last year, when the royal couple visited Denmark’s only colony, Greenland, and Ingrid was eagerly taking a queenly interest in everything, Frederik was often to be found waiting outside a school or a sanitarium, lying flat on the ground in full admiral’s uniform, smoking cigarettes and complaining about the way women talk.
In spite of his aversion to walking and to dress uniforms Frederik toured every settlement in Greenland wearing full regalia because he knew it would please Greenlanders to meet their king (they called him The Great One) dressed as he appears on postage stamps. During the tour he entertained natives at receptions aboard his yacht, which he had piloted from Copenhagen through the worst ice floes in twenty years — against the advice of the nation’s most experienced seamen. At
the parties Frederik served the drinks and Queen Ingrid passed the sandwiches.
The newspapers, Danish and foreign, love Frederik because he is so courteous and co-operative at public functions. (When his uncle, King Haakon of Norway, barred photographers from his granddaughter’s wedding in May, Frederik invited them aboard his yacht.) But he can practically never be interviewed privately. An English journalist, assigned to write an article about him before his first state visit to London in 1949, wrote a letter appealing for an audience. “Since you once invited your subjects to telephone you I thought I would take the liberty ...” is the way he launched his appeal. It got him nowhere. And if Frederik’s subjects ever telephone him it is purely accidental if they reach him. The King’s invitation, issued in a New Year’s broadcast several years ago, is tactfully ignored by aides who sift all incoming calls with great care.
His friends can reach him on a private line and during vacation seasons his phone rings incessantly. For Frederik is a walking encyclopedia of information about railways and has committed half the timetables of Europe to memory. He once admitted that, next to music and art, “I love everything about railways. If my friends want to know something about the arrival or departure of a train they call me, not the railway station.”
Another of his enthusiasms is hunting. He is an excellent marksman and, judging from a story he tells about himself, a gallant hunter. On a hunting party in Sweden some years ago he heard a noise near the lodge after everyone was in bed. He got up, seized his gun and went out. There in the moonlight he saw an enormous elk. He raised his rifle, aimed, then stopped. “I got the feeling that a sportsman simply could not stand there in nothing but a nightshirt and shoot that proud animal,” he explained. “1 thought T had at least to show him the courtesy of proper dress, so I went up to my bedroom and put on my clothes. But alas, when I came down again the elk had disappeared.”
For a few days of every year Frederik hunts at his log cabin in the Trend forest, a wedding present from the Danish people. At Trend there is accommodation for a few guests and only two servants; Ingrid cooks the meals and sometimes Frederik helps with the housework. Once when their only servant was ill a local farm woman knocked at the door and offered to help with the cooking. Ingrid, dressed in slacks with a kerchief over her hair, said she was doing that herself. “What about the cleaning then?” asked the helpful neighbor. “That’s done too,” Frederik boomed from the front room. “Daddy here has been running the vacuum cleaner all morning.”
At his lodge Frederik wears the oldest clothes he possesses. When a game warden once pointed him out to a local boy, the boy was shocked. “It’s not true,” he exclaimed. “That can’t be the king. He looks so common.”
Frederik may sometimes look common and he may often act like a common man but it is those very qualities which make him such an uncommon king. He can cast aside his dignity and his titles without losing either. Recently at one of his audiences one of the visitors, a tradesman, repeatedly called Frederik‘‘Your Royal Highness.” “Skip the titles,” Frederik suggested. “Let’s just enjoy oui selves.” ★