Prince Valdemar of Denmark and Too Many Thrones

Prince Valdemar of Denmark was three times in the running for the crowns and thrones of two European countries. Instead of becoming a ruling monarch like his two brothers and his two nephews, he remained with the Danish navy. What had happened? 

Prince Valdemar was born in 1858 as the third and youngest son of King Christian IX of Denmark. Christian had been chosen by King Christian VII of Denmark as successor to his son Frederick in 1847, and in 1853 Danish parliament had ratified him as crown prince to King Frederick VII. Prince Valdemar stood in no immediate danger of being called upon taking over the Danish crown. He had two older brothers, Frederick (later King Frederick VIII of Denmark), and William. At the age of 17, William was elected by the Greek Vouli (parliament) in Athens as King of all Hellenes. He accepted with permission of King Frederick VII of Denmark and ascended the Greek throne as King George I. 

Valdemar’s three older sisters made advantageous marriages; Alexandra married the crown prince of the United Kingdom to become Queen Consort to King Edward VII, Dagmar married the Tsarevitch of Russia to become Empress Consort to Alexander III. She changed her name on marriage to Maria Feodorovna; and Thyra married Ernst August, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, titular King of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg. Valdemar happily took on the usual career of all younger Danish princes and went into the navy. 

In 1878, the war between Russia and Turkey ended with Russia dictating the terms. The price for peace for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was the building of a Principality of Bulgaria covering almost 172’000 square kilometres of formerly Turkish territory. It was obvious that the Principality would be nothing but a Russian satellite. The other major European powers were extremely unhappy about the new country to be. The proposed size of Bulgaria would make it virtually the doormat of Constantinople; one step more would bring Russia into possession of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. The British navy drew up in Turkish waters, and their guns were not aimed at the Ottomans, but on the Russian army occupying Turkish territory.


The Russians backed down; a new agreement was reached and a pint sized principality was established which nominally would still belong to the Ottoman Empire. But a principality needs a prince, no matter how small or unimportant it is. This was the job opportunity for younger sons having missed out on Greece, and the nominations from all over Europe started to pour into the Sobranje (Bulgarian parliament). The Sobranje had to convene a special committee to whittle down the deluge of hopeful future princes to a short list of manageable size. 

In the end, the committee proposed three candidates to the Sobranje: Prince Valdemar of Denmark, Prince Henry of Reuss, and Prince Alexander of Battenberg. The European powers initially insisted on a choice with no Russian connection (which would have pointed to the Prince of Reuss as only option), but the Sobranje decided to elect Prince Alexander of Battenberg instead. The Battenberg choice had many advantages for Bulgaria; Alexander was a nephew of the Tsar, but related to many of the other European ruling houses, too. He had the added advantage of coming from a younger branch of the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; Battenberg was a morganatic line and therefore excluded from succession to most European crowns. This ensured that Alexander wouldn't be called in an emergency to take up a more important job when needed. 

In 1885, Valdemar married Princess Marie of Orleans. The Vatican issued a special dispensation for the marriage between the Catholic Princess and the Lutheran Prince. French sources insist it was a political marriage, but if so, the politics were on the side of the French Royal Family; for Denmark there was no gain in an alliance with the deposed Royal House of France.

In 1886, Tsar Alexander III instigated a coup in Bulgaria and pressured Prince Alexander to abdicate. Alexander had been a complete disappointment to the Tsar and the other major powers in Europe. He had effectively organised a state from zero, he had really ruled Bulgaria instead of spending his time at other courts, and he had had the gall to listen to the Bulgarian people and represent their interests instead of those of the European powers who had put him to his throne. All in all, he behaved like an ungrateful brat to his rich relatives while really caring about the people he was sent to govern.

The Sobranje was asked in no uncertain terms to elect a new prince. With the Russian troops virtually occupying the galleries of the parliament building, they didn't have a lot of choice but to do so. They did the only thing they could to really embarrass Russia: They chose Prince Valdemar of Denmark as their new prince by acclamation. In 1878, his excellent connections into the ruling houses of leading European powers had made him a desirable candidate for all concerned. In 1886, the same connections made him ineligible. The major powers didn't want the ruling house of Bulgaria to be too well connected; at this point, they were trying to cut down Bulgaria which had been showing too much political muscle under Alexander's rule. According to Reuters, Prince Valdemar was in Cannes when the news of his election reached him. He thanked the Sobranje for the honor but deferred the decision to his father King Christian IX of Denmark. He added as a rider that he doubted his present duties would allow him to become Prince of Bulgaria. Two days later, King Christian declined to sanction Prince Valdemar’s accession to the Bulgarian throne. 

Did Valdemar decline the Bulgarian throne? No, he left that to King Christian to do so. If the king had decided he had to go, he would have gone. But he probably was not unhappy about the king’s decision. Bulgaria was embroiled in a three way tug of war with Serbia and Greece over Macedonia which would have brought him to loggerheads with his brother King George I of Greece. But Valdemar was still in an excellent position for any throne in Europe that would be created in the future. The lines in Denmark and Greece were secured by his brothers and their children and he would therefore not be needed in either Denmark or Greece. And for Marie there was no danger of becoming Queen of France suddenly. And the couple had already done their work for a viable dynasty. Valdemar and Marie had five children together. According to their marriage contract, their sons were raised in the Lutheran faith, while their daughter was raised as a Catholic. 

In 1905, Norway decided to end the personal union which had made the kings of Sweden also kings of Norway. Norway now needed a king, and the European powers scrambled into position to place their candidates. King Edward VII of England was so intent on placing one of his relatives on that throne he developed his own foreign policy; that policy just happened to be the opposite of what the British government wanted. British diplomacy at that point descended into farce with the dispatches from King and government contradicting each other. Britain, in consequence, had no influence on the election of the future king of Norway. The United Kingdom was not alone with showing split personality disorder in the case. German Emperor Wilhelm II wanted Valdemar of Denmark on the throne, but his government didn't. Instead of fighting in Norway, they decided to do some constructive infighting in Berlin. The Germans, therefore, had no influence on the Norwegian choice, either. 

The unexpected result of all this was that Norwegians were left to do as they pleased, and they looked in the direction they had looked for several hundred years: To Denmark. The union with Sweden had only endured for 91 years, the union with Denmark before that dated back to the 14th century. A Danish prince was therefore the obvious choice. The Storting did not bother with a shortlist like the Sobranje; there was only one candidate: Prince Carl of Denmark. The nephew of Valdemar's would ascend the throne of Norway as King Haakon VII after a popular ballot had accepted him as well. 

Did Valdemar decline the Norwegian throne? No, because he was never in the running for it. Wikipedia in just about any language cites him as refusing two royal crowns; apart from the inconsistency (Bulgaria wasn't a kingdom, it took its prince a lot of work to promote himself to Tsar), it shows how negligent Wikipedia is in disseminating information. Did Valdemar want to be a ruling monarch? Who really knows but him? His retiring and rather complicated private life would suggest that he wouldn't have relished the job and the publicity involved; his lifelong service for the Danish navy on the other hand would suggest he would have done it if he had been told to do it.