The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

European monarchies are downsizing. Some royals aren’t taking it well.

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and members of the royal family attend her 70th birthday celebration on April 16, 2010, in Copenhagen. (Schiller Graphics/Getty Images)

Queen Margrethe II says she’s sorry. But not so sorry that she’ll change her mind.

The Danish monarch’s decision to strip four of her grandchildren of their royal titles of prince and princess has set off a public spat, but the 82-year-old says it’s been “a long time coming.”

Europe’s longest-reigning monarch after the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, Margrethe said her announcement was “in line” with moves to downsize monarchies on the continent. But her demoted grandchildren and their father made their disappointment clear.

The youngest of her two sons, Prince Joachim, lamented that he got only “five days’ notice” that his children would no longer go by prince or princess (but rather count and countess, sans royal duties).

“To tell my children that at the New Year their identity will be taken away from them,” he told Danish media. “Why must they be punished in that way?”

His son, 23-year-old Prince Nikolai, who does modeling work, told reporters last week the family was “very sad,” “in shock” and “confused.”

Queen Elizabeth II’s line of succession, visualized

Soon afterward, Margrethe acknowledged that she had “underestimated” how they would feel. “That makes a big impression, and for that I am sorry,” she said Monday in a statement. However, she stood by her decision, describing a smaller royal family as “necessary future-proofing of the monarchy.”

Her decree relieves the grandchildren of royal duties as of January — and, the queen says, allows them to “shape their own lives” — although all four will keep their spots in line for the throne.

While many Europeans in constitutional monarchies still look favorably on their royal families, and some members have turned into celebrities, questions about their finances have grown louder — even in Britain, amid the outpouring of grief for Elizabeth.

Who inherits the queen’s money? The secretive rules of royal wealth.

The royals of Europe’s surviving monarchies wield little influence beyond charities and lavish weddings, and countries have grappled with the institutions as relics of a bloody history and images of flaunted opulence.

The queen’s move in Denmark follows a 2019 reshuffle by Sweden’s king, who removed five of his grandchildren from the official royal house, meaning they could no longer benefit from its taxpayer funds.

Britain’s new monarch, King Charles III, has said he wants the monarchy ranks “slimmed down” to a core of full-time working members to get it on a 21st-century footing. As Elizabeth’s funeral gripped the world, the appearance of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who very publicly split from royal life, spurred speculation about whether their children would get royal titles.

Harry and Meghan’s children have a right to royal titles. Will they get them?

In Denmark, the four grandchildren already were not expecting salaries from the state. The Danish royal family says that only Margarethe’s direct heir will get one, after an uproar in recent years over the prospect of funneling taxpayer money to a growing list of grandchildren.

“It is my duty and my desire as queen to ensure that the monarchy always shapes itself in keeping with the times,” Margrethe said Monday. “Sometimes, this means that difficult decisions must be made.”