Friday, 11 December 2009

New books: Herman Lindqvist on Crown Princess Victoria

Two months after his very bad biography of Carl XIV Johan was published, the prolific Swedish journalist Herman Lindqvist is now out with his 51st book – this time Crown Princess Victoria is his victim.
Lindqvist, who is known to hold inflated ideas about his own importance, boasts in the preface that he “for some years” has had “the privilege to talk history with Victoria. Together we have gone through Sweden’s entire history with focus on our regents, their lives and work, both their private lives and their lifework, their merits and their faults”. It must be said that this does not auger well for the future head of state’s knowledge and understanding of history.
“Herman Lindqvist might be called court historian [...]. But he is as much the Swedish people’s historian [...]”, we read on the cover. However, Lindqvist is as little a historian as I am a brain surgeon. He has written a number of bestselling books on history which certainly have helped raise the Swedish people’s interest in history. But his books are not based on original research, he finds it hard to decide what is relevant and what is unimportant, they often have a very simplistic view of historical events and processes and are mostly packed with factual mistakes.
Victoria – Drottning med tiden (published by Bonnier Fakta in November) is a hagiography of the good old sort. No-one is as unique as Crown Princess Victoria and no-one is such a wonderful person. If so, it would have to be her brave and remarkable fiancé Daniel Westling.
Lindqvist puts a lot of creativity into informing us about what is so very unique about these two people and in doing so chooses so narrow criteria that only they can fit into them. “Never has an ordinary Swedish man received a ducal title”, Lindqvist writes. As ducal titles are linked to succession rights and Victoria is the first princess with succession rights to marry, this is true, but a rather obvious fact. It becomes quite tiresome when he gets on and on like this and it reminds me a little of a magazine which recently proclaimed that Barack Obama was “the first Afro-American world leader to receive the Nobel Peace Prize”. (Well, he is the first black US President so I guess he might as well be described as the first Afro-American world leader to tie his shoestrings).
Some of these statements are even debatable. “Never has a Swedish heir to the throne become engaged to a non-royal, even non-noble – and yet kept the position as heir”, Lindqvist enthuses. That might seem true, as Victoria’s father was already king when he married a commoner. However, Prince Bertil was first in line to the throne when he married a commoner in 1976 and remained heir presumptive even after the wedding and until the birth of Crown Prince Carl Philip in 1979.
This book is written in a pompous, yet rather naïve manner. Occasionally what the Crown Princess said in a couple of interviews with Lindqvist in June is quoted, but it seems she had little of particular interest to say to him. The only thing I found of some interest is that she says that she and Prince Carl Philip have never discussed the events of 1979-1980 whereby he ceased being Crown Prince and she bypassed him in the succession.
The text runs to less than 50 pages, with the remaining 2/3 of the book being made up of photos – some of them quite good. Yet in these 40-something pages Lindqvist manages to make a whole list of factual mistakes – to name a few examples he refers to Princess Christina, Mrs Magnuson as plain “Christina Magnusson” (with the surname spelt wrongly), makes no less than three mistakes when he writes that the Crown Prince of Norway in 2001 married “Mette Marit Tjessim Höjby” (who, incidentally, Lindqvist told us already two years ago that would soon tire of her royal role, file for divorce and leave), describes Queen Josephina as “a king’s daughter from Bavaria” (the King of Bavaria was in fact her maternal grandfather; her father was Viceroy of Italy and later Duke of Leuchtenberg) and says that Victoria’s goddaughter Eléonore, rather than her elder sister Elisabeth, is “Hereditary Princess of Belgium”.
The parents of Queen Louise are described as “wholly German” although her father was a British subject. According to Herman Lindqvist the birth of the future Gustaf V in 1858 was the last royal birth to take place with official witnesses in an adjacent room, but this tradition did in fact continue for another five decades. We also learn that several Swedish princes have attended universities and colleges, “but they never completed their studies with exams”. Except for the fact that Prince Sigvard did.
Crown Princess Victoria tells us that Carl XIV Johan is her “favourite king in the history of Sweden”, an opinion, I could add, she seems to share with all other Bernadottes. Having made the monumental discovery, while writing his previous book, that the future Carl XIV Johan actually received only the name Jean Bernadotte at the time of his birth – a fact which has only been known to other biographers and readers at least since the publication of Fredrik Ulrik Wrangel’s book Från Jean Bernadottes ungdom as recently as 120 years ago – Lindqvist now ludicrously insists on referring to him as “Jean (Baptiste) Bernadotte”.
I was also quite startled to read that Crown Princess Victoria “shares her interest in military affairs with her namesake and great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, married to Gustaf V”. For the sake of Sweden I sincerely hope that this is only a sign that Lindqvist is ignorant of how far the late Queen’s military interests went and not that Crown Princess Victoria intends to follow in her ancestress’s war-mongering footsteps.
Lindqvist ends this book, as he did his last one, by stating: “Today there is no dynasty in any country in Europe, indeed not in the whole world, where the same branch of the same family has sat on the throne as long [as the Bernadottes] without interruption, where the regent has never been chased into exile for reasons of internal or foreign politics and has never been forced to see his country at war, but where the dynasty has been able to continue reigning over a free and peaceful people in an independent state”. No matter how many times Lindqvist repeats this it remains untrue.
The current British dynasty has been on the throne since 1714, 104 years longer than the Bernadottes, and although Britain has been at war several times during those nearly three centuries the dynasty’s rule has not been interrupted by those wars. One may correctly point out that it is not the same branch of the British dynasty, as the throne passed from George IV to his brother, from William IV to his niece and from Edward VIII to his brother. But, even though Herman Lindqvist chooses to ignore it, the same happened for the Bernadottes when Carl XV was succeeded by his brother Oscar II.
One may wonder if Lindqvist tries to cover this up when he refers to Carl XV and Queen Lovisa as ancestors of Crown Princess Victoria – in fact she is not descended from them at all, but from Carl XV’s brother.


  1. It's always nice and refreshing to read your honest and knowledgeable asessments of things, Trond :)

    I was at an event with Lindqvist in November (we were meant to buy and get his two latest books signed) but was so disappointed with the Victoria book that I left without it. I do have the one one Karl XIV Johan but haven't gotten past the first pages yet, huge disappointment.

  2. I saw that he had been signing books at Akademibokhandeln at Mäster Samuelsgatan last week - I only arrived in Stockholm a few days later; otherwise it might have been tempting to show up and ask him some uncomfortable questions. Such as if he really is as ignorant as his books indicate, or if he deliberately distorts facts so that they suit his view of how things should have been... What startles me most is not that his publisher continues to bring out his books (obviously they do, as the books sell very well), but the fact that a serious publisher like Bonniers, having recently succeeded in winning Lindqvist over from Norstedts, does not take proper care to ensure the quality of the books they publish.


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