Queen Margrethe’s abdication: Could King Charles follow in her footsteps?

In her New Year speech on 31 December 2023, Queen Margrethe of Denmark announced her abdication. Her stepping down will take place on 14 January, exactly 52 years after her accession to the throne.

King Charles' abdication after Queen Margrethe's
© Max Mumby/Indigo / GETTY IMAGES
King Charles' abdication after Queen Margrethe's

This is not the announcement royal watchers were expecting on the last day of 2023. Indeed, while the British monarchy has been talked about concerning the return of Sarah Ferguson, the Danish family decided to look straight into the future.

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On 14 January, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, 83, will leave the throne to her eldest son Crown Prince Frederik, 55. In her speech she explained that her health issues were at the core of her decision. She also acknowledged that it was time ‘to leave the responsibility to the next generation’.

Since the announcement, speculation has been arising about King Charles following into her footsteps.

King Charles impacted by European abdications

In the past decade, monarchies in Europe have been struggling to survive in a world where this model looks irrelevant. In 2013, both Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and King Albert II of Belgium abdicated. In 2014, this was followed by King Juan Carlos of Spain.

Following the news of Queen Margrethe’s abdication, The Guardian writes that King Carl Gustaf of Sweden is being pressed to follow her lead. It was only natural that King Charles would also be getting some pressure.

In an opinion piece from The Guardian, Simon Jenkins writes:

Britain’s King Charles, after a long apprenticeship, has proved an active and popular figure in his term of office. He has shown no sign of ageing, other than perhaps his limp Christmas message. He is certainly entitled to a substantial reign after waiting so long.
But not to death.

This is unfortunately not the first time that King Charles’ abdication is brought forward. Many times before, rumours went around and suggestions were made that the crown should directly go to Prince William.

In October 2023, Yahoo published an article quoting Clive Irving, an author, who alleged that King Charles and Prince William have made a deal concerning succession. The author says:

I think the deal has been done that when Charles is 80, he will quit and hand over [to William]. And the extent to which he's handing over stuff now is pretty clear. He knows that William is a much more appropriate face for the monarchy than he is.

These allegations are not anything solid as we do not know where Irving got information to make that statement.

Would it make sense for King Charles to abdicate?

Considering the fact that these suggestions are going around, their legitimacy is something we need to look into. It is important to note that there are similarities between King Charles and the monarchs who have abdicated in the last decade.

The first obvious one is age. When King Charles accessed the throne at 74 he was the eldest monarch to do so in Britain. This means good and bad news for him. The good is that he has had time to establish himself and get a sense of what would be expected of him. His work when he was Prince of Wales highlights this. The bad is that it has grown difficult for the King to be relatable to the younger generations who are key for the survival of the monarchy.

The second similarity is having a young heir who is popular, apt and who can signify the monarchy’s will to move forward and adapt. For instance, all the monarchs who abdicated mentioned the need for their monarchies to rely on the younger generations.

King Albert II of Belgium said:

After a reign of 20 years I believe the moment is here to hand over the torch to the next generation (...) Prince Philippe is well prepared to succeed me

The same could be said about Prince William who in the past year has really stepped into his role as the heir to the throne. When in Singapore for the Earthshot Prize he made it clear that he wants to do more than any other member of the family. His wife, the Princess of Wales, had also evolved into the Queen-in-waiting. She is now doing her best to be the image of relatability, modernity and dynamism.

All that being said, King Charles’ abdication still seems a bit far fetched. Historically, King Charles still belongs to a generation of royals marked by Edward VIII’s abdication. Moreover, as pressured as he can be and regardless of the opinion pieces being written, the fact is: King Charles has been crowned for less than a year. Abdication is not going to happen any time soon.

In his short time as King, King Charles has also shown signs of wanting his monarchy to be modern. His desire for a slimmed-down monarchy is the biggest sign of that. He has also allowed the Prince and Princess of Wales to be very much in the spotlight indicating his knowledge that they are the future.

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The Guardian: King Charles should follow Denmark’s example – and tell us when he’ll abdicate

France24: Belgium’s King Albert II abdicates throne to son

Yahoo: The ‘deal’ between King Charles and Prince William which could change everything - and goes against the late Queen's belief

The Guardian: Queen Margrethe II of Denmark announces surprise abdication

Independent: Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II announces shock abdication in New Year’s Eve speech

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