Prince Henrik of Denmark dies at 83

Skærmbillede 2018-02-20 kl. 07.02.04

These are the flags in the life of the Frenchman who came of age in Vietnam and became a Prince of Denmark when he married the future Queen Margrethe II in 1967. Tuesday 13 February 2018 he passed away at Fredensborg Palace where half of his ashes will be interred in the palace garden. The other half will be spread at sea in Danish waters.

Henri Marie Jean André de Laborde de Monpezat was born i Talence in the south-west of France [1] on 11 June 1934. At the end of his life, after 50 years in Denmark, Prince Henrik described himself as Danish, but he was always also very French. Following his death he is praised in France for his lifelong ambassadorship on behalf of French culture and the French language.

Until the age of 5 he lived with his family in Hanoi in what was then French Indochina and after WWII he returned to Vietnam and graduated there in 1952. His first childhood memories were from Hanoi and of the Vietnamese cuisine. As a young man he studied Vietnamese and Chinese in Paris, Hong Kong and Saigon. In the 1950s Vietnam was torn between the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam [2] and the anti-communist Republic of Vietnam [3].

Prince Henrik also studied law and political science at the University of Sorbonne and after serving in the French Army in Algeria from 1959 till 1962 he became a diplomat. It was during his time as a Secretary at the French Embassy in the UK [4] that he met Princess Margrethe, daughter of King Frederik IX and heir to the Danish throne.

The couple was married in Copenhagen on 10 June 1967. The 32-year-old Henri de Monpezat became Prince Henrik of Denmark [5]. They had two sons, Frederik in 1968 and Joachim in 1969. Prince Henrik’s first visits to the Faroe Islands [6] and Greenland [7] were in the early 1970s. The Danish Royal Family has close and cordial ties with these two autonomous countries within the Kingdom of Denmark.

In 1972 Princess Margrethe became Queen Margrethe when her father died. Prince Henrik was still “just” Prince Henrik. Later in life it became apparent that he had never fully accepted his role as a queen’s husband. In the Danish public, some criticized that he never learned to speak Danish perfectly and felt that he was “too French”, others loved the Prince for his colourful, creative and sometimes unconventional sides.

Prince Henrik travelled extensively on behalf of Danish industrial and commercial interests and he was the patron of a large number of organisations and charities. He played a pivotal role in establishing Europa Nostra, a European federation for cultural and natural heritage, and the Danish branch of WWF, the international nature conservation fund. He took over from his mother-in-law Queen Ingrid in 2001 as the royal patron of the Danish Red Cross [8].

From 1972 he had his own flag, a version of the Danish national flag with swallow-tails and the Prince’s coat of arms in the middle. In the above 1970s photograph Prince Henrik can be seen with another flag, a heraldic banner of his arms [9] quartering the arms of Denmark (three lions in gold) with the arms of the Monpezat family (a lion in red). This banner was also used at the Prince’s vineyard Château de Cayx near Cahors in southern France.

The other two flags in the picture are the British club pennant, a so-called burgee, of the Royal Yacht Squadron [10] and that special Danish yacht flag [11] used only by members of the Royal Danish Yacht Club (Kongelig Dansk Yachtklub). The flag is similar to the Danish naval ensign and has the letters Y.F. for “yacht flag” and three stars, all in gold, in the upper hoist.

Sailor, tennis player, poet, art collector, sculptor, pianist, writer, wine producer, food connaisseur. Prince Henrik was a man of many, many interests and abilities. He was a bon vivant, a man who loved life, it has been rightly said. He was a beloved husband and patriarch of a growing family. All over Denmark flags are lowered to half mast to honour the Prince Consort of Denmark. His funeral service will be on Tuesday 20 February.


This is part 1 in a series about Prince Henrik of Denmark. Read also:
The Prince Who Wanted To Be King Got A King’s Crown On His Flag
FLAG FAIL: Royal Flags Fly In The Dark Without Proper Lighting


The Flag That Could Have Been Greenland’s


A green-white Nordic cross flag almost became the new flag of Greenland in 1985. It was designed by Sven Tito Achen, a renowned expert and author on heraldry. But his design was defeated 11-14 by the current flag in the Parliament of Greenland.

It was the debate on Greenlandic identity and the want for increased autonomy from Denmark in the 1970s that led to the adoption of a new flag of Greenland in 1985. Until then the flag of Denmark was the only flag in Greenland and the preferred choice for Greenlanders.

In 1979 Greenland was granted home rule with its own legislature and autonomy on internal policies. A year later the new Parliament of Greenland, the Inatsisartut, asked for proposals for a flag of Greenland. No less than 600 different designs were admitted, none of them lived up to standards and expectations.

Instead nine Greenlandic artists were given the opportunity to design  flags characterizing the country and its people. The parliamentary flag committee also wanted to see proposals for a flag of Greenland inspired by other so-called Nordic, or Scandinavian, cross flags.

Sven Tito Achen (1922-1986), a Danish editor, author of several books on heraldry and co-founder of the Scandinavian Heraldry Society, designed a Nordic cross flag which was chosen to stand together with the preferred flag design from the group of artists.

It was Thue Christiansen (born 1940) who designed that white-red flag which later became Greenland’s new flag. He is a Greenlandic artist, teacher and Social Democratic politician and he was Greenland’s first Minister for Culture and Education 1979-1983. His flag design, now known as the Erfalasorput, “our flag”, represents the sun and the ice and its colours are those of the Danish flag indicating close ties between Denmark and Greenland.

In proposing the Nordic cross design Sven Tito Achen intended to link the flag of Greenland to all the other Nordic countries whose flags have a cross design based on the oldest of the Nordic flags, the Dannebrog. The Faroe Islands, also part of the Kingdom of Denmark, adopted a Nordic cross flag.

Sven Tito Achen argued that a green flag with a white cross was a simple and easily recognizable design. Green, he wrote in an article in 1984, is the colour of hope, life and growth; white is the colour of peace, friendship and honesty. Achen also noted that a majority of the many un-used proposals in 1980 had been cross flags.

The type of green Sven Tito Achen chose for his Greenlandic flag was a dark colour tone well suited for use in a country where many houses are painted in warm red, blue, green and orange-yellow colours. Playing on the word “Greenland” was never the intention. The Greenlandic name for the country is Kalaallit Nunaat meaning “our country” or “the land of the Greenlandic Inuit”.

In 1985 the Parliament of Greenland decided to vote on the two proposals. In an effort to avoid that the issue would be overly politicized, the parliament cast their votes in a secret ballot. The result was 14 votes in favour of Thue Christiansen’s red and white flag and 11 votes in favour of Sven Tito Achen’s green and white flag.

The winning flag was hoisted officially for the first time on Greenland’s national day, 21 June 1985. For years Achen’s flags was a close contender and the preferred choice for many. Today, Christiansen’s flag is universally liked and used in Greenland.

FLAG FAIL: New Flag Days Reveal Lack of Knowledge

Skærmbillede 2016-08-02 kl. 23.45.00

Two new official flag days in the Kingdom of Denmark led to embarrassing flag fails. The purpose of flying the Greenlandic and Faroese flags was to strengthen the bond between the three countries within the Danish Realm. The level of knowledge of Greenland and the Faroe Islands in Denmark certainly needs to be raised.

In 2016 Denmark introduced new official flag days. On June 21, the national day of Greenland, the Greenlandic flag is to be hoisted on all government buildings in the Kingdom and on Danish embassies abroad. On July 29, the Faroese feast day of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, the flag of the Faroe Islands is to be hoisted in a similar fashion.

Albeit celebrated as an opportunity to strengthen the Faroese and Greenlandic identity vis-à-vis the Danish majority population of the Kingdom of Denmark, the new flag days, however, revealed an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the flags of the two North Atlantic nations.

On June 21 Danish government officials proudly tweeted out images of the Greenlandic flag, Erfalasorput, hoisted for the first time in front of Danish embassies around the world. But in several instances the flag had been raised upside down!

The picture on the left shows the flag of Greenland at the Danish embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The same happened at the Danish embassy in Paris, France and at the Danish representations in Geneva, Switzerland (UN) and in Ramallah on the West Bank. Later that day, when the flag fails had been pointed out, many of the tweets were deleted.

It isn’t possible to hoist a Nordic cross flag upside down. So, on July 29, that mistake would be out the question in regards to Merkið, the flag of the Faroe Islands. But somehow a much graver mistake occurred: Many of the Faroese flags, newly ordered by Danish authorities, had been produced with a mix-up of the colours of the Faroese cross.

The picture on the right shows wrong Faroese flags on the old stock exchange in Copenhagen. Flags from the flag company who had produced these wrong flags also reached the University of Copenhagen and the Bornholm Airport, for example, and erroneous flags were hoisted without anyone noticing the mistake.

Most embarrassing was perhaps the Faroese flags with mixed-up colours in the garden of Sorenskrivarin, the court house in the Faroese capital of Tórshavn. The court system in Greenland and the Faroe Islands is still part of the common Kingdom of Denmark authorities and thus would normally fly the Danish state flag which is a swallow-tailed version of the Dannebrog.

“The mistake shows an enormous lack of knowledge of the Faroe Islands in Denmark. Some Faroe Islanders will see this as a sign of lack of respect,” Sjúrður Skaale told the press. He is a Faroese member of the Danish parliament, Folketinget, representing the Faroese Social Democratic Party, Javnaðarflokkurin. When he was first presented with images of the wrong flags Mr. Skaale couldn’t believe his own eyes: “It has to be Photoshop, I said to myself. This can’t be true. It must be a joke.”

Faroe Islands: Processions, Flags and Viking Games

Skærmbillede 2016-07-27 kl. 17.10.33

Today on July 28th, the eve of Saint Olav’s day, the national feast of the Faroe Islands is celebrated with the traditional boat race in the harbour of Tórshavn. For a couple of days at the hight of summer the beautiful Faroese flag is flown everywhere and by everyone on the 18 isles in the North Atlantic.

July 29th is the feast day of Saint Olav, king of Norway. He was killed in the battle of Stiklestad on that date in the year 1030 and was canonized shortly after. Saint Olav’s shrine in the cathedral of Nidaros in Trondheim, Norway attracted large numbers of pilgrims in the middle ages. His feast day is still celebrated by catholics and protestants in Norway and elsewhere.

The Faroe Islands were part of the Norwegian Realm. Following the 1814 Treaty of Kiel Norway entered into union with Sweden. Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remained with Denmark. The two latter countries are still part of the Danish Realm. Many Faroe Islanders want their home rule replaced with full independence.

The flag of the Faroe Islands was designed and hoisted for the first time in 1919. Since April 25th, 1940 the use of it is official. The flag’s name in Faroese is Merkið, meaning ‘the flag’ or ‘the mark’. It was other Nordic cross flags like the flag of Norway and the flag of Denmark, Dannebrog, which inspired the designer Jens Oliver Lisberg.

On the Faroe Islands the feast of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, lasts for several days with lots of music, flags and festivities, a service in the cathedral of Tórshavn and the official opening of parliament. It is common for Faroese children to sing or play an instrument and faith plays an important role in society as do sporting traditions which go back as far as Viking times and spark strong local pride and competitiveness.

On July 28th, the evening before Saint Olav’s day, one of the annual national boat races takes place in Tórshavn. Boys and girls, men and women from all over the islands compete in traditional wooden boats in classes of 5, 6, 8 and 10 rowers. Winning an Ólavsøka first price is of course very prestigious as a sign of excellence in strength and team work.

Both on the 28th and the 29th there is a procession in Tórshavn. Children, sports associations, choirs, marching bands, people riding horses, elected officials and clergy, all take part in these processions. On the second day it is the members of the Faroese parliament, Løgtingið, who walk in procession between the cathedral and the parliament house, Tinghúsið.

Except maybe for the abundance of people wearing traditional costumes the one common feature in all these events are the hundreds of white-blue-red Faroese flags in the streets and on the harbour quays.

Happy Saint Olav’s feast! Góða Ólavsøku!