Who was Christian IX of Denmark?
Christian IX was the King of Denmark from his accession to the throne in 1863 until his death in 1906. Between 1863 and 1864, he concurrently held the titles of Duke of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg. He was not initially part of the immediate line of succession to the Danish throne, being a prince of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a junior branch of the House of Oldenburg which had reigned over Denmark since 1448. However, in 1852, Christian was selected as the heir to the Danish monarchy because it was believed that the senior line of the royal house was heading towards extinction. Following the death of King Frederick VII of Denmark in 1863, Christian became the first monarch and the founder of the Glücksburg dynasty. In the initial period of his reign, he was very unpopular due to the Danish loss in the Second Schleswig War. However, he managed to recover much of the popularity due to the longevity of his reign, as well as his impeccable character and high morality. Upon Christian’s death, his son Frederick VIII succeeded him to the Danish throne.
Childhood & Early Life
Born Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Beck on April 8, 1818, in Gottorf Castle, Schleswig, Duchy of Schleswig, the future Christian IX of Denmark was the fourth son of Friedrich Wilhelm, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Beck, and Princess Louise Caroline of Hesse-Kassel.
Christian spent the early years of his life at Gottorf Castle with his family. On June 6, 1825, his father was made the Duke of Glücksburg by his brother-in-law Frederick VI of Denmark, because the elder Glücksburg line had ended in the previous century. He then adopted a new title, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and established the younger Glücksburg line.
Christian was subsequently brought up at Glücksburg Castle along with his siblings. After his father’s passing in 1831, Christian moved to Denmark and attended the Military Academy of Copenhagen.
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Assuming the Position of Heir-Presumptive to the Danish Throne
In 1852, after the great powers of Europe approved it, King Frederick VII appointed Christian the heir-presumptive, as Frederick did not have a child of his own. Frederick’s apparent inability to have a child meant the most senior line to the Danish throne would cease to exist after him. Christian’s marriage to Louise of Hesse-Kassel, a niece of Christian VIII, was used to justify this decision.
On May 8, 1852, Christian was selected to be Frederick’s successor during the London Protocol. The implementation of this decision was carried out through the Danish Law of Succession of July 31, 1853, the Royal Ordinance settling the Succession to the Crown on Prince Christian of Glücksburg, to be precise. This made him the heir to the entire Danish monarchy and bestowed upon him the title the Prince of Denmark.
Accession & Reign
Frederick VII passed away on November 15, 1863, and Christian subsequently ascended the Danish throne as Christian IX. Not long after, Denmark became involved in a crisis over the control of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.
In November 1863, Frederick of Augustenburg proclaimed himself as Frederick VII’s successor to the twin duchies. This put pressure on Christian, who approved the November Constitution, a treaty allowing Denmark to annex Schleswig. This ultimately led to the Second Schleswig War between Denmark and a Prussian/Austrian alliance in 1864.
The London Peace Conference of 1864 between the two warring parties ended without a resolution. The war proved to be catastrophic for the Danish side. Schleswig became a part of Prussia in 1865, and Holstein became a part of Austria. In 1866, after a further dispute between Austria and Prussia, Holstein was incorporated into Prussia.
After the defeat, Christian IX reached out to the Prussians without informing the Danish government, hoping to negotiate the whole of Denmark becoming part of the German confederation in exchange for Denmark to be allowed to remain united with Schleswig and Holstein.
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, declined the offer, as he was afraid that the ethnic conflict in Schleswig between Danes and Germans would then continue. Christian’s proposal had remained largely unknown until the publication of the 2010 book ‘Dommedag Als’ by Tom Buk-Swientys.
Officially, Christian’s full title was the following: Christian IX, By the Grace of God, King of Denmark, of the Wends and of the Goths; Duke of Schleswig, Holstein, Stormarn, the Ditmarsh, Lauenburg and Oldenburg.
The defeat of 1864 had a negative impact on his reign that lasted several years. It was believed, likely without any cause, that his outlook towards the Danish case was half-hearted.
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His popularity among the public further deteriorated as he tried and failed to stop the advance of democracy throughout Denmark by providing his continuous support for the authoritarian and conservative Prime Minister Jacob Estrup, whose 1875-94 tenure was considered a semi-dictatorship by many.
Things began to change in 1874 when he approved a treaty that permitted Iceland, which was part of Denmark at the time, to be governed by its own constitution. In 1901, he made a reluctant request to Johan Henrik Deuntzer to set up a government. This eventually led to the creation of the Cabinet of Deuntzer.
The cabinet was exclusively comprised of members of the Venstre Reform Party, and for the first time in Danish history, the conservative party Højre was not part of it. This was the starting point of the Danish tradition of parliamentarism and helped him secure a better reputation in his final years.
A second reform took place in 1866. The Danish constitution underwent a revision that allocated more power to Denmark’s upper chamber than the lower. The advancement of social security also occurred during his tenure.
In 1891, old age pensions came into effect in Denmark. In the following year, unemployment and family benefits came into effect.
Marriage & Issue
In his youth, Christian was interested in marrying his third cousin, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. He eventually exchanged wedding vows with his half-second cousin, Louise of Hesse-Kassel, on May 26, 1842, at the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen.
They had six children: Frederick VIII of Denmark’ (1843-1912), Princess Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925), George I of Greece (1845-1913), Princess Dagmar of Denmark (1847-1928), Princess Thyra of Denmark (1853-1933), and Prince Valdemar of Denmark (1858-1939).
On June 22, 1843, Christian was appointed a Knight of the Elephant. He became the Grand Commander, Order of the Dannebrog, on the day of his accession.
Death & Interment
On January 29, 1906, Christian passed away quietly at the age of 87 at the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. He had ruled over Denmark for over 42 years and left behind an astounding legacy. He was laid to rest beside his wife in Christian IX's Chapel in Roskilde Cathedral, which has been used as a burial site for Danish monarchs since the 15th century.
Due to his relationships with several members of various royal families in Europe, he was widely known by the sobriquet "the father-in-law of Europe". Four of his children occupied various thrones, either as rulers or as consorts, of Denmark, Greece, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Frederick was his successor, while George claimed the Greek throne. Alexandra married King Edward VII of the United kingdom, Dagmar married Alexander III of Russia, and Thyra married Ernest Augustus, Crown Prince of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale.
At present, most of Europe’s ruling and former ruling royal houses have descended from Christian IX. European monarchs like Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, King Philippe of Belgium, King Harald V of Norway, King Felipe VI of Spain, and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg are all his progenies.