Copenhagen 1892: Flags at the Royal Golden Wedding Anniversary

Skærmbillede 2017-06-07 kl. 12.31.31

The last time there was a royal golden wedding anniversary in Denmark was in 1892. A flag decorated Copenhagen celebrated the happy marriage of King Christian IX and Queen Louise. Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, their daughter, may have inspired a peculiar Saint Andrew’s cross flag: a merger of a Nordic swallow-tailed flag and a Russian naval ensign.

This photograph from 1892 shows a festively decorated building on the corner of Vesterbrogade and Frederiksberg Allé, two streets in Vesterbro close to the centre of Copenhagen. A number of different flags can be detected, some of them quite out of the ordinary.

Most of the flags are Danish flags, a number of them swallow-tailed. These are not naval or state flags, though. Since the 19th Century the swallow-tailed Dannebrog (the so-called splitflag) has been in wide-spread unofficial use at wedding parties, birthday celebrations etc.

There are also Norwegian and Swedish swallow-tailed flags in the black and white photo (Sweden’s blue and yellow appear a little lighter than Denmark’s red and white). Erroneously, the Norwegian and Swedish flags have two swallow tails like the Danish flag. In Norway and Sweden three tails is the norm.

The white flags with a Saint Andrew’s cross appear to be some sort of Russian flags. A white flag with a blue saltire is the naval ensign of Russia. On the building in the picture, these unofficial Russian flags are swallow-tailed like the Nordic flags.

On 26 May 1892, Christian IX and Louise had been happily married for 50 years and had been King and Queen of Denmark for more than half that time. The golden wedding celebrations in Copenhagen lasted for days. Photos and paintings from the time show that streets and houses and ships were decorated with literally thousands of flags, put up by the authorities and by private citizens.

King Christian IX and Queen Louise were known as “Europe’s parents-in-law” because their children married into prominent royal families all around the continent.

Their eldest sons became King Frederik VIII of Denmark and King George I of Greece. Their youngest son, Prince Valdemar, was suggested as a possible king of Bulgaria in 1887 and of Norway in 1905. Among their three daughters, Alexandra was married to Britain’s King Edward VII and Dagmar was married to Russia’s Emperor Alexander III. She was known as Maria Feodorovna in Russia and was the mother of the last tsar, Nicholas II.

A large number of King Christian’s and Queen Louise’s children, grandchildren, relatives and in-laws as well as foreign dignitaries gathered in Copenhagen for the celebrations. The Russian imperial yacht, the Polar Star (in Russian, Полярная звезда), lay at anchor in the harbour. The vessel was in Copenhagen not only at this occation, but rather often in fact, as the Empress loved to visit her parents and always travelled from Saint Petersburg to Denmark by ship.

Manned and commanded by the Russian Navy the imperial yacht of course flew the Russian naval ensign. This fact may explain why the Saint Andrew’s cross would have been known and used by Copenhageners to represent Russia in flag decorations in 1892.

125 years later, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, a great-great granddaughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, celebrates her royal golden wedding anniversary. It was on 10 June 1967 that Princess Margrethe, then heir to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, today known as Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik have decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary in private with their family away from rolling TV cameras. So, there will be no public festivities in Copenhagen today and, it’s safe to say, far fewer flags than in 1892.

Return of the Empress

skaermbillede-2016-10-06-kl-03-03-36

Ten years ago, Empress Maria Feodorovna found her final resting place in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The golden standard of the Russian Empresses covered her coffin on its journey from Denmark where she died in exile almost 78 years earlier.

Empress Maria Feodorovna died far from her beloved Russia in her villa north of Copenhagen, Denmark, on 13 October 1928, 80 years old. She was the widow of Alexander III, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. In 1919 she was forced to leave Russia following the Communist revolution.

Maria Feodorovna first set foot on Russian soil in September 1866 at the age of 18. She arrived in Saint Petersburg on board a Danish warship as the bride-to-be of the young Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich who later became Emperor Alexander III. She had already converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and very early on she came to regard Russia as her home.

Following the assassination in 1881 of Emperor Alexander II, Alexander III ascended the thrown. He and Maria Feodorovna were crowned in 1883 at the Kremlin, Moscow. The couple had six children. Their happy marriage ended in 1894 when Alexander III died at the age of 49.

Maria Feodorovna became much loved in Russia and played the role of Empress Dowager to perfection. Her eldest son became Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor.

Before marrying in Russia the Empress was known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She came from a large and close-knit family. King Christian IX of Denmark was her father. King George I of Greece was her brother. King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland and King Haakon VII of Norway were her nephews. Her sister Alexandra was the wife of Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India.

It was thanks to a British warship that Maria Feodorovna was able to get out of revolutionary Russia alive. During her stay in Crimea she had received the news of the murders of her sons, Nicholas and Michael, and of her daughter-in-law and her five grandchildren. For the rest of her life she refused to accept that they had been brutally killed by the Communists.

In 2006 after many years of planning it was finally possible to transfer the body of Empress Maria Feodorovna to Russia. She had been temporarily interred in the Cathedral of Roskilde, the main burial site for the Danish royal family. On 23 September 2006 a service there marked the beginning of the Empress’ last journey. Again, a Danish warship sailed her to Saint Petersburg.

On 28 September 2006 Maria Feodorovna was interred in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the River Neva in the former capital of the Russian Empire, next to the grave of her husband and in close proximity to the graves of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Fittingly, the Empress of Russia’s Standard covered the coffin on her last sea voyage. This flag is a swallow-tailed version of the Imperial Russian Naval Standard adopted by Emperor Peter the Great and changed very little over the years:

On a background of gold, a black double-headed eagle, crowned with three Imperial crowns, on its chest an inescutcheon, red with the mounted Saint George slaying a black dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew. In its beaks and and claws the eagle holds four nautical charts showing the “four seas of Russia” – the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.