Henrik, Prince Consort of Denmark: An Obituary

  February 14, 2018 at 4:00 am by

It cannot be said that the life of Prince Henrik, Denmark’s Prince Consort, was uninteresting: he spent his childhood in Vietnam, worked for the French Foreign Ministry before marrying the heir to the Danish throne, is a published poet, and made headlines for his comments on his title and status within the Danish Royal Family. The Prince died on February 13 at the age of 83.

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Born on June 11, 1934 in the French commune of Talence, Henri Marie Jean André de Laborde de Monpezat was the second of nine children born to ‘Comte’ André de Laborde de Monpezat and Renée Doursenot. Until the age of five, Henrik and his family lived in French Indochina (now Vietnam) as his father worked for the family’s industrial companies in the region.

Following the family’s 1939 return to France, Henrik was educated at home before attending a Jesuit boarding school in Bordeaux in 1947. His secondary education was then undertaken at the Cahors Gymnasium and at the French Gymnasium in Hanoi, Vietnam. From 1952 to 1957, Henrik studied law and politics at the Sorbonne University, and Chinese and Vietnamese at the École Nationale des Langues Orientales. At the age of 24, Henrik lived in Hong Kong for a year, before further study in then-Saigon. 

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Prince Henrik as an infant with his older sister and a nanny, during their time in Vietnam

The future Prince served in the French military between 1959 and 1962, serving in Algeria during the Algerian War. He then got a job with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serving firstly in the Asian Department before moving to London to work as a secretary under the French Ambassador from 1963 to 1967.

It was during his time with the French Embassy in London that dashing Henri met the woman who would capture his heart and become his wife: a Danish student named Margrethe, who just so happened to be the heiress presumptive to the Danish throne. They were table partners during a dinner hosted by the Ambassador in 1965, but Henri found her interesting, yet intimidating, so said little to her at the time. Shortly after, Henri and Margrethe saw each other again at a mutual friend’s wedding and sat together on the flight back to London.

After a secret courtship of over a year, Henri proposed to Margrethe and their engagement was announced in October 1966, with the approval of the Danish Government. The couple were married at the Holmens Kirke in Copenhagen on June 10, 1967 in front of hundreds of guests. Henri changed his named to the Danish ‘Henrik’, and became a member of the Danish Lutheran Evangelical Church ahead of the wedding. Henrik and Margrethe would go on to have two sons: Frederik, born in 1968, and Joachim, born in 1969.

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As a Prince of Denmark, Henrik quickly learnt Danish and accompanied his wife on her royal duties, particularly once she became Denmark’s Queen in 1972. Over the next five decades, his patronages included health foundations, animal associations, sailing and flying groups (both hobbies of his), and many that linked his birth and adoptive countries. In amongst his official duties, Henrik found time to publish a number of poetry collections, in both Danish and French, as well as several cook books. One of his greatest passions was his vineyard in France, Château de Caïx, which he and Margrethe purchased in 1974, and has produced wines ever since. 

Henrik’s retirement from official duties was announced in December 2015. After weeks of speculation in mid-2017, it was confirmed that September that the Prince had been diagnosed with dementia.

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Prince Henrik at his vineyard in France

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Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe in Indonesia

For many, the Prince will be best remembered for his controversial behaviour: in 2002, Henrik retreated to his chateau in France after his elder son, Crown Prince Frederik, was made host of a New Year’s reception in place of the Queen. He said that he was “pushed aside, degraded and humiliated” because of the act, and did not attend the wedding of the Dutch Crown Prince alongside his wife, who had to head to France to appease her husband and convince him to return home. Since then, the Prince made several comments periodically about not being given the title of ‘King’, which – sadly for him after so many years of service to Denmark – did little to improve his already average popularity with the Danish people. His family though did not begrudge Henrik his comments: the Queen simply laughed them off with a roll of her eyes. His grandchildren were always clamouring by his side during family events.

Prince Henrik is survived by his wife, Queen Margrethe II; his two sons and daughters-in-law, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary and Prince Joachim and Princess Marie; and eight beloved grandchildren: Princes Nikolai, Felix, Christian, Henrik and Vincent, and Princesses Isabella, Josephine and Athena.

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