Jes Fabricius Møller. Dynastiet Glücksborg: En danmarkshistorie. Kopenhagen: GADs Forlag, 2013. 320 S. ISBN 978-87-12-04841-1.
Reviewed by Miriam Schneider
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (February, 2014)
J. Møller: Dynastiet Glücksborg
The transforming role of 19th and 20th century European monarchies in the face of sociopolitical and cultural change has received increased scholarly attention over the last few decades. Some of the most striking examples of monarchical survival or even revival, however, have remained conspicuous by their absence. This is particularly true for the Scandinavian countries, where the success of the three relatively young royal houses of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in navigating the rocks that sank so many of their European counterparts has so far yielded little research beyond the occasional royal biography. One major exception and Møller’s forerunner is: Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen, Prinsessen og det hele Kongerige. Christian IX og det Glücksborgske Kongehus, Copenhagen 2003. Jes Fabricius Møller’s political and constitutional history of the Danish monarchy in the 19th and 20th centuries, therefore, provides an important contribution to the long-overdue closure of a considerable research gap. Addressing a general, Danish-speaking audience, his “Dynastiet Glücksborg: En Denmarkshistorie” combines the elegance and richness of illustration that means so much to the lovers of royal history with well referenced new interpretations and an engaged participation in current scholarship on European monarchies. His central aim is to delineate how the Danish monarchy, in a continuing process of re-interpretation of its constitutional, political, and public role, became the well-respected national institution that it is today.
Although chronological in structure, the book is divided into twelve thematic chapters, each of them opening with a poignant, often witty question. Chapter One explores the Danish Constitution (“Grundloven”) within the historical context of its first introduction (1848/49) and subsequent development. By clarifying the terms “mixed constitution” and “restricted monarchy”, Møller does away with common misunderstandings about the constitutional role of monarchy. In the following eleven chapters, he then examines the long and winding process by which Danish monarchs reached a practical settlement with modern parliamentary democracy as it developed in Denmark from 1848 onwards.
Chapters Two to Five focus on King Christian IX (1818–1906), the founding father of the current Glücksborg dynasty, and his accession to the throne during one of the most troubled and decisive periods of modern Danish history. By posing general questions about dynastic succession and legitimacy, Møller elegantly picks his way through the complicated brushwood of Danish royal genealogies prior to 1853. With the ground this well-prepared, the Danish angle on the famously involved Schleswig-Holstein question, which formed the backdrop to Christian’s election and early reign, becomes easily accessible. Møller breaks it down into three essential units: The first involved dynastic continuity and the search for a suitable successor to the childless King Frederik VII among the rivalling cadet branches of the Danish royal house (Gottorp, Augustenborg, Glücksborg). Closely interwoven with this question was the second challenge: finding an heir to the throne whose support by the European great powers would guarantee the territorial integrity of the Danish composite monarchy. The choice in 1853 of Prince Christian and his wife, Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel, combined the succession rights of two cadet branches and could muster the support of the Russian Tsar. It did not, however, help to solve the third and arguably most prominent problem of the Schleswig-Holstein question, i.e. that of national identity, which pitted against each other the liberal-national movements emerging in core Denmark and the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. When analyzing the reasoning behind what appeared to be the foolishly unleashed Danish-German war of 1864, Møller chooses the benefit of the doubt by arguing for a policy of “brinkmanship” (p. 70). But, as he outlines, by risking everything, Denmark ended up truncated, reduced to small-power status, and facing a challenging process of national-identity formation in which both the German-born Christian and his extended dynasty had yet to find their new role.
The final chapter about Christian IX focuses on his relationship with power, parliament and government, thus setting the agenda for the remaining part of the book, which traces the gradual “constitutionalization” and, finally, “de-politicization” of the monarchy. It stresses the fact that the so-called “system shift” of 1901, when Christian deviated from his support of conservative minority governments and gave way to the liberal majority of parliament, was not so much a radical turning point, but rather one of many junctures in an ongoing struggle over the King’s political and public role. This role was re-defined by Christian’s successors in the face of the profound changes of the first half of the 20th century. Among them, little-known Frederik VIII (1843–1912) emerges as an especially ambivalent figure worthy of a separate study of media reception and scandal. Cf. Martin Kohlrausch, Der Monarch im Skandal. Die Logik der Massenmedien und die Transformation der wilhelminischen Monarchie, Berlin 2005. His lack of “feel” for social situations turned a well-meant attempt at popularizing the monarchy into an undignified failure. Christian X’s (1870–1947) involvement in several crucial political crises of the 1910s to 1940s, on the other hand, is interpreted in the light of his own understanding of his constitutional role as being above politics. Paradoxically enough, this conservative thinking and controversially-acting monarch, the last to take the constitution literally, would become a beloved symbol of national resistance and unity during the First and Second World Wars.
A collection of chapters on the a-political King Frederik IX, Queen Margrethe II as a monarch elected by her people, the genesis of the famous new year’s speech as a rallying point of monarchical feeling, as well as on the legal status and current role of the monarchy round off Møller’s tour de force.
Covering, as it does, a period of 160 years, “Dynastiet Glücksborg” can and does not claim to be comprehensive. Instead, it presents an array of in-depth-studies of single emerging themes in Danish monarchical history. The seemingly one-sided focus on royal personalities is balanced by corresponding portraits of eminent politicians (J.B.S. Estrup, J. C. Christensen, Thorvald Stauning) and their attitudes towards monarchy. While one cannot fail to perceive a certain defensive loyalism in Møller’s writing, the critical eye of the historian prevails.
Thus, only two principal desiderata remain. One concerns the target audience of the book. Møller manages to explain complex subject matter to a popular readership that knows much about Denmark and little about the Danish monarchy. But his findings are also relevant to an international audience with a scholarly interest in monarchical history but lacking the Danish context. His frequent, if sometimes sketchy excursions into European history already reveal a decided engagement with current research on the conditions of survival or demise inherent to modern monarchical systems. But it would have been desirable if he had taken his break with Danish scholarly introversion further by introducing his refreshingly new angle into wider scholarly debates.
The other main point of critique concerns Møller’s narrow focus on political history. Although overdue even in its present form, the book lacks the addition of (popular) cultural history which has made some of the most recent publications on monarchy such attractive and fruitful studies. Cf. e.g.: John Plunkett, Queen Victoria. First Media Monarch, Oxford 2003; Jan Rüger, The Great Naval Game. Britain and Germany in the Age of Empire, Cambridge 2007; Eva Giloi, Monarchy, Myth, and Material Culture in Germany 1750–1950, Cambridge 2011. Møller’s expertise on cultural history shines through many of his captions and it flares up when he deals with subjects such as the “domestication” and “medialization” of the Glücksborg dynasty. But a general analysis of 19th and 20th century trends in Danish social and cultural history and how the monarchy – in its symbolic communication, media representation, and marketing – adapted to Danish cultural specificities remains a desideratum. It would add thematic completeness to an already rich study and maybe further explain the success of the Glücksborg dynasty.
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Miriam Schneider. Review of Møller, Jes Fabricius, Dynastiet Glücksborg: En danmarkshistorie.
H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews.
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