Wednesday, 12 August 2009

People from the past: Thomas Konow, last of the “founding fathers” of Norway

Thomas Konow was at the age of 17 the youngest member of the Norwegian Constituent Assembly of 1814 and, at the time of his death in 1881, the last survivor of the “founding fathers”.
Born in Bergen on 10 October 1796, he entered the Naval Academy in Copenhagen at the age of 12. He graduated in 1813, as one of the last Norwegians before the events on the world stage meant that Denmark had to surrender Norway to the King of Sweden by the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814. The Norwegians answered by declaring their independence and a Constituent Assembly met at Eidsvoll north of Oslo on 10 April 1814 to write the Constitution which was eventually signed on 17 May.
The armed forces were also allowed to send representatives to the Assembly and two of the Navy’s representatives were to be officers. Only two officers declared themselves candidates – Commander Jens S. Fabricius and Second Lieutenant Thomas Konow – which naturally meant that both were elected, although Konow was, at 17 ½, well below the age limit of 25. Konow did not take any particularly active role at the Assembly, where he belonged to the so-called “Independence Party”.
Following the monumental events of 1814, Konow returned to the Navy and two years later was given his first ship command on a journey to Eastern Finnmark to uphold Norwegian sovereignty against illegal Russian settlers – this was the first naval mission prepared for war since the establishment of a separate Norwegian navy in 1814.
Thomas Konow rose in the ranks until he became Rear-Admiral in 1860 and held many important positions on his way – in 1841 he was a member of the committee which established new rules of service for the Navy, two years later he had a seat in the Navy’s education commission and became secretary for the committee on the navigation law. In 1848 he became head of the naval shipyard in Horten, in 1851-1860 he was in command of the garrison at Horten and in 1860 he became head of the naval command.
Konow only returned briefly to politics in 1839, when he served as MP for the county of Jarlsberg and Larvik. He did not stand for re-election three years later. When King Carl XV travelled to Britain and France in 1861, Rear-Admiral Konow was appointed one of the members of the interim government.
Konow retired from the Navy in 1869 and received the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav. The following year he moved to Christiania (now Oslo), where he lived in a house in Young’s Street. It soon became a tradition that the parade on Constitution Day, 17 May, would stop outside it to pay their respects to the last surviving member of the Constituent Assembly.
Thomas Konow died on his 85th birthday, 10 October 1881. His funeral took place from the Church of Holy Trinity a week later, with full military honours and King Oscar II at the head of the mourners. The short route from the church to the Cemetery of Our Saviour was lined by thousands of people when the last of the “founding fathers” was laid to rest.
The picture shows Thomas Konow as a 17-year-old member of the Constituent Assembly and is a small detail of Oscar Wergeland’s huge canvas “Eidsvold 1814”, which hangs in the Parliament Chamber.


  1. Interesting, sir.

    Since he was the last survivor of the "men at Eidsvold" and lived until 1881, it would be very interesting to know what he thought of the "constitutional crisis" at the time.

  2. Yes, that is indeed an interesting question, but I have never seen any references to his having expressed himself on the issue in his old age - something which may have been because he did not take an active part in politics after 1839.


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