STOCKHOLM, Feb 14 — Denmark’s Prince Henrik, the French-born husband of Queen Margrethe II, has died at the age 83, after a half-century struggle to win the hearts of Danes that only succeeded in his later years.
The prince passed away last night surrounded by his wife and their two sons, the palace said.
Henrik was hospitalised for a lung infection and a benign lung tumour in late January, and returned home to Fredensborg Castle yesterday “to spend his last days”, the palace said.
He was diagnosed with dementia in September 2017.
With a jovial face framed by understated glasses, the prince had a reputation as a bon vivant who enjoyed cooking, poetry and wine.
But his frequent outbursts of anger and flamboyant style, in a country that values humility and discretion, long irritated the Danish people.
The prince moved to Denmark in 1967 ahead of his June wedding to the then-crown princess, but he found it hard being relegated to a supporting role.
Disappointed that his royal title of prince was never changed to king when his wife became queen in 1972, Henrik spoke out often in the media about his frustration, which did little to endear him to his subjects.
Instead, Danes found him arrogant and hungry for recognition.
Shortly after retiring from public service in 2016, he announced he would no longer use the title “Prince Consort”, asking to be known as “Prince Henrik”.
In 2017, he revealed that he did not want to be buried next to his wife because he was never made her equal.
Though his decision broke with the tradition of burying royal spouses together in Roskilde Cathedral west of Copenhagen, the queen accepted it, the palace said.
Diplomat in London
Born Henri Marie Jean Andre de Laborde de Monpezat on June 11, 1934 in Talence, near Bordeaux, the future Danish prince spent much of his youth in Vietnam, then a part of Indochina, where his father was a businessman.
After finishing secondary school, he studied Vietnamese and Chinese, law and political science in Paris, before completing his French military service with the infantry in Algeria from 1959 to 1962.
He went on to become a diplomat, and met Margrethe — who was then crown princess — while he was stationed in London.
Upon marrying Margrethe, he changed his name to Henrik, converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and renounced his French citizenship to become a Dane.
By the time Margrethe acceded to the throne in 1972, the couple had two young children: Prince Frederik, born in 1968, and Joakim, born in 1969.
‘Degraded and humiliated’
Teased for his French accent, and unable to understand why protocol required him to remain in his wife’s shadow, Henrik never really found his place in Denmark.
“A lot of people think I’m a loser until I prove them wrong,” he once told the media.
It wasn’t until 1997 that he stood in for his wife at a public engagement for the first time, during a visit to Greenland.
“People are just used to considering Prince Henrik as... a little dog that follows behind and gets a sugar cube once in a while,” he said.
In 2002, he made headlines around the world when he fled to his chateau in southern France to “reflect on life”, complaining that he didn’t receive enough respect in Denmark.
The incident that triggered the crisis occurred when his son, Crown Prince Frederik, was chosen to represent the queen at a New Year’s ceremony, instead of him.
He said he felt “pushed aside, degraded and humiliated”, and “disappointed all the time and walked over in such a way that my self-respect is destroyed”.
Some politicians at the time called Henrik’s behaviour “tiresome” and “disconcerting”, while the media had a field day with it, with one television show conferring on him the title of “Whiner of the Year”.
However, the crisis also marked a turning point as it showed the Danish people a more vulnerable side of Henrik.
The ‘colourful’ royal
In the years that followed, Danes slowly began warming to him.
Over time, his contrarian streak and flamboyance made him the “colourful” member of the royal family, and even earned him cult status among young people.
In 2013, he collaborated with Danish pop group Michael Learns to Rock, playing the piano on a track recorded for the king of Thailand.
A few months later he was photographed taking a Sunday stroll with friends in the self-governed Copenhagen hippie community of Christiania, known for its cannabis trade, and in June 2014 he dressed up in a panda costume at a charity event.
In April 2015, he sparked controversy for cancelling his appearance at Margrethe’s 75th birthday celebrations due to ill health, only to resurface in a tourist-packed square in Venice less than two days later.
The tabloids were outraged, but to his fans it was just the kind of erratic behaviour they had come to love him for.
On Twitter, a popular radio show host wrote: “Words cannot describe how much I love Henrik!” — AFP