Saturday, 21 November 2009

New books: The nanny and her nephew

The Prince and the Nanny: The Life of Prince Harald, now King of Norway, as told in Historical Context and through the Journal of his Nurse, Inga Berg is the title of a book I found in a museum shop here in Oslo earlier this week. Written by Odell M. Bjerkness and published by Skandisk in Bloomington, Minnesota, the book is based on the diary kept by the author’s late aunt, Inga Berg, when she worked as a pediatric nurse caring for the then Prince Harald between March 1937 and July 1938.
The author, who is said to be a Professor Emeritus (what discipline is not mentioned) apparently considers his aunt’s diaries a source of great historical value. In reality they are almost entirely without interest. A typical diary entry reads: “Cloudy, but he’s still outside today and in a great mood. Sleeps well at night and slept until 5:00 A.M. this morning [sic]” or “Sun, but cold wind. Took a picture of the Prince and me. He cried”.
This rather monotonous day-by-day account of the Prince’s weight and mood, the weather and what was for lunch is supplemented by an introduction, a postscript and footnotes by Bjerkness. The subtitle promises a “historical context” – the author therefore starts with Norwegian unification in the 9th century and goes on to describe some events in Norwegian history and his aunt’s family background, and after she leaves royal service he summarises the Second World War and the births, deaths and marriages in the royal family up until the present day. Americans of Norwegian descent are often more proud to be Norwegian than Norwegians themselves and subsequently the author or publisher, in a rather distasteful manner, puts a Norwegian flag on top of every other page.
The “facts” presented in his footnotes and chapters of “historical context” are nearly always wrong. When it comes to history he is blatantly ignorant of the nature of the 19th century union between Norway and Sweden. The Swedish Parliament had as little say in Norwegian affairs as Norway’s Parliament had in Swedish issues, yet the author tells us that King Carl XIII ruled Norway “with the oversight of Sweden’s parliament”. The Royal Palace in Oslo (which is not a castle) was not built by the Swedish monarchy, but by the Norwegian State. It could be added that no royal has ever married in the Palace Chapel and that King Olav did not use Oscarshall Palace as a summer residence.
It was in 1814, and not when the union came to an end in 1905, that Norway became independent. Bjerkness claims that Norway in 1905 “surveyed those European royals with the highest probability of Norwegian ancestry”. This is just silly – naturally there were more important concerns than that to be considered. Women did not take part in the referendum by which King Haakon was elected.
Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg, who was one of the Norwegian negotiators in 1905, was not a Count, as he was born more than three decades after nobility was abolished in Norway. And Mr Wedel was certainly not “the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize” – it is beyond me what that ludicrous figure could possibly have accomplished to be so honoured.
Professor Bjerkness also shows himself ignorant of the Norwegian Constitution when he tells us that the State Council includes “the prime minister and other select government officials”. In fact it consists of the King and all the ministers of the government. Later the Professor has changed his mind as well as forgotten his Montesquieu when he informs us that the State Council consists of “leaders of government and the Storting”. King Haakon is said to have “transferred his duties as Commander of Norwegian armed forces to his son Olav” during the Second World War, but this is not constitutionally possible – Crown Prince Olav did however become Chief of Defence. Bjerkness also lets us know that “the coronation language” (whatever that is) was abolished by Parliament in 1908 and that neither Olav V nor Harald V were therefore crowned, which is a bit surprising to read as it comes merely one page after he has told us that King Olav was indeed crowned. He also tells us that “a Prince of the Royal House may not marry a commoner without consent of the king” – in fact he may not marry at all without the King’s consent.
Family issues are not Bjerkness’s strongest side either. Princess Ragnhild’s birthday is mistakenly given as 4 June rather than 9 June, Marius Borg Høiby is not born in 1996 but in 1997 and Crown Princess Märtha’s eldest sister was called neither Margarethe nor Margrethe, but Margaretha. There has never been an Åke Bernadotte in the family and Folke Bernadotte was not titled “Count of Sweden”. After the German attack in 1940 Crown Princess Märtha did not go to Fridhem and Fridhem was anyway not the estate of “Märtha’s brother, Carl Bernadotte”, but of her parents. She did on the other hand go to Frötuna, the estate of her cousin Carl Bernadotte. I also doubt that there were concerns during WWII that Queen Victoria of Sweden would influence her husband “in favor of Germany” – by then she had in fact been dead for a decade.
He also makes mistakes about the location of places in both Oslo and Stockholm, upgrades Asker to a town and tells us that Aftenposten is the largest newspaper in Norway, a position which is in fact held by VG. It is not correct to say that Queen Maud was unable to speak Norwegian and she did not die at Marlborough House, but at the London Clinic. Not cancer, but cirrhosis of the liver, was the cause of Crown Princess Märtha’s death and when King Olav died people did not place candles in the palace courtyard, but in the Palace Square in front of the Palace. I also find it hard to imagine that King Olav “often traveled alone by train to his mountain cabin”.
The author, who claims that he “continued to have ongoing contact” with the royal family, wants us to believe that Princess Ingrid Alexandra is “the first Norwegian queen to be born on Norwegian soil in 600 years”. Obviously she is not yet queen and when she becomes so she will follow her mother and grandmother, who are both born on Norwegian soil.
When it comes to the position of women in Norwegian society, Bjerkness grandly writes that “women have recently held top government positions including Supreme Court Justice [which is by the way not a government position], Minister of Defense, and Prime Minister. Determined and succesful women like Inga Berg are no longer exceptions in Norway”. Some of us would think that for a woman to be a pediatric nurse in the 1930s is not exactly comparable to a woman becoming Prime Minister in the 1980s.
In an appendix Professor Bjerkness tells us that kings and queens in Norway are generally titled His or Her Royal Highness, although some people in formal writing choose to use His or Her Majesty instead. Consequently he writes about “HRH King Haakon VII”, “HRH Queen Maud”, “HRH King Olav V”, “HRH King Harald V” and “HRH Queen Sonja”. When his aunt in her diary refers to Queen Maud as “Hennes Majestet” Bjerkness translates it as “Her Highness”. We also learn that as the King’s “two sisters Ragnhild and Astrid, were married in civil ceremonies, they have not been given the title ‘Royal Highness’, by King Harald but each has retained the title of Princess”. Both princesses were in fact married in Asker Church.
Other mistakes could also be pointed out and all this gives the lie to the preposterous claim on the book’s back flap that “Thanks to Odell’s meticulous research and undying enthusiasm, The Prince and the Nanny is a treasure that capitalizes on his gifts as a historian and a linguist for the benefit of us all”. In fact this is a book of no historical value or interest.


  1. Good to know. I've been known to gnash my teeth at some errors in royal biographies, especially those that cover Norwegian royals written by foreigners, so I'll definitely stay clear of this one.


  2. Sadly it seems to be a general trend that authors and publishers do not take proper care that the "facts" presented in their books are correct. I may be willing to forgive an American author for mixing up Skeppsholmen and Blasieholmen in Stockholm, but how hard can it be to find out who makes up the State Council or who received the Nobel Peace Prize? Particularly when one brags about one's "meticulous research" and one's "gifts as a historian"...

  3. I don't have a clue who you are. But, this is not a review of the book. This is a personal attack on the author and family. You may not have intended it this way, but your continual criticism of every thing in it is just downright insulting. I question some of your so called corrections. Looks like you could have at least found one thing about the book to compliment.

    1. Nor do I have a clue who you are, but if you do not know who I am you may read the right column of this blog, where you will find the relevant information.

      As for your claim that "this is not a review of the book", but "a personal attack on the author and family" it is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. It is indeed a very bad review, which the book unfortunately deserves, but it does not contain a single characteristic of the author or her family, which gives the lie to your preposterous claim.

      The author obviously did not intend her journal for publication, which it is in my opinion also not interesting not to deserve, but the editor's complete lack of knowledge of the subject and his sloppy editing mean that this book is little more than a long catalogue of factual mistake.

      You are of course free to "question some of your so called corrections", but in that case you will find that you are as wrong as the editor.

      If I were to find one thing about the book to compliment I would have had to lie.

    2. By the way, as you obviously consider your knowledge of this topic superior to mine I expect that you will be able to back up your claims by disproving my "so called corrections". Perhaps you have done original research which has unearthed previously unknown primary sources showing conclusively that the King ought to be addressed as Your Royal Highness, that Queen Victoria of Sweden was after all alive during the Second World War, that "Count" Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg was in fact awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but succeeded in keeping it secret, that Norway was ruled by the Swedish Parliament, that Princess Ragnhild was actually born on 4 June or that a royal wedding secretely took place in the Palace Chapel?

    3. I notice that after two weeks you have been unable to back up your claim, and conclude that your big-mouthed allegations are empty, untrue and worthless.


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