Monday, 30 November 2009

New books: The memoirs of Frederik VII’s great-granddaughter

As mentioned earlier an elderly Danish lady named Ellen Margrethe “Gete” Bondo Oldenborg Maaløe this autumn published her memoirs, Getes erindinger – Slægshistorie, erindringer og beretning om et “jævnt og (for det meste) muntert, (altid) virksomt liv”, in which she documents that she is the illegitimate great-granddaughter of King Frederik VII – the last monarch of the Oldenburg dynasty, who has been generally considered unable to have children.
One of my friends in Denmark has now sent me the relevant chapter of this book, which provides some details about the descendants of Frederik VII by Else Maria Guldberg Poulsen (later Larsen). The affair resulted in a son, Frederik Carl Christian Poulsen, who was raised by a Commander Tuxen.
The book generally mentions few dates and no year is given for his birth, but it is said that his father was Crown Prince at the time and that the child on his birthday every year used to be taken to the palace, where his grandfather, Christian VIII, gave him presents and candy – this means that he must have been born in the 1840s.
The meetings with Christian VIII are also quite interesting as it means that the King must have known that his son was in fact capable of producing children. The author quotes four letters in her possession, in which Frederik VII clearly acknowledges the child as his. The King’s morganatic widow, Countess Danner, stayed in touch with him after the King’s death in 1863 and also left him an annual sum in her will.
Frederik Carl Christian Poulsen married Hansigne Åkerberg. They lived to celebrate their golden wedding, but died within three months of each other. They had a son, Poul, and a daughter, Ellen. The latter died unmarried and childless, while Poul Frederik Oldenborg Poulsen, who became a priest and amateur musician, married a woman called Nelly Bondo. They were the parents of the author and another daughter.
Gete Bondo Oldenborg Maaløe is herself childless after two marriages – to Valdemar Urban Maaløe and his second cousin Carl Adolph Saabye Maaløe – while her sister married four times and had two sons. Both these nephews are childless, meaning that the line of Frederik VII seems likely to come to an end in a not too distant future.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

At the road’s end: Prince Alexandre of Belgium (1942-2009)

The Belgian Royal Court this evening announced the sudden death of Prince Alexandre, King Albert II’s half-brother, from an acute pulmonary embolism.
His Royal Highness Prince Alexandre Emmanuel Henri Albert Marie Léopold of Belgium was born on 18 July 1942 as the eldest child of the controversial union between King Léopold III and Lilian Baels. King Léopold, who had been widowed in 1935 when the adored Queen Astrid was killed in a car crash, married Lilian Baels in 1941 while held captive by the Germans after he had refused to follow his government into exile. These actions eventually led to the King’s abdication in 1951.
Prince Alexandre, a businessman who was not in line to the Belgian throne, married Léa Wolman in 1991, but the marriage was kept secret until 1998. The couple had no children, although the Princess has two children and a grandson from her previous marriages.

New books: A Norwegian perspective on Elizabeth II

Norwegian publishers rarely bring out books on foreign royals, believing that this is not something which will sell in this country. The occasional exception is the British royal family and this month NRK Aktivum has published Englands dronning – dronningens England – Streiftog gjennom Elizabeth IIs liv by Kari-Grete Alstad, a former correspondent in London for Norwegian state television NRK.
The author says in the preface that this is not a biography of Elizabeth II, but rather a “tale of how I, as a journalist and former London correspondent, have seen Elizabeth II from my position as a bystander. This is also a book about England, the English people and its history”. She acknowledges that the book’s title is strictly speaking wrong and that Elizabeth II is not actually Queen of England, but, the confused author adds, of “the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Wales and Scotland”!
The book begins with Elizabeth II’s state visit to Norway in 1955 – her first such visit outside the Commonwealth following her accession three years previously. This provides a glimpse of another age, when a state visit could be a cause for public rejoicing and draw huge crowds, yet be taken quite lightly by the authorities – the author quotes the head of Oslo’s police saying less than two weeks before the British Queen’s arrival that he had not made any detailed plans for how to deal with the visit and was not yet sure from where he would get the extra personnel needed. In contrast we know that when Barack Obama comes to town in less than two weeks 2,600 police will be on duty and that the police will get at least 92 million NOK extra to cover their expenses.
Alstad was herself a fourteen-year-old girl who got a glimpse of Elizabeth II during the state visit in 1955 and this chapter I found the best part of the book, although the author insists on interviewing the actor Toralv Maurstad because he had a role in a play attended by Queen Elizabeth II during the state visit. As Maurstad does not remember much of that performance 54 years ago, the author lapses into a digression about what he is doing these days.
In the next chapter she starts with the Norwegian royals’ official visit to London fifty years later and the fact that Norway, unlike Britain, still has a royal yacht makes her mention that HMY Britannia’s last great journey was to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. This causes a seven-page digression about the history of Hong Kong, Sino-British trade relations and the opium wars before she returns to London in 2005.
What then follows is a long narrative of Elizabeth II’s childhood, mostly based on the very sugary account given by her former governess Marion Crawford in her bestselling book The Little Princesses. By the time Princess Elizabeth marries Prince Philip, we are already on page 113 with less than half the book left for the next 62 years of her life. The author then travels to Kenya to visit Treetops, where the Princess spent the night when her father died and she became queen. The author’s fourteen-year-old granddaughter accompanies her and Alstad cannot resist drawing comparisons between this child and the nearly 26-year-old Princess. Most of this chapter is however based on Jim Corbett’s book Tree Tops, which she makes a point of stressing that she “managed to track down through an antiquarian bookseller in London” (183 copies are easily available on
Then Alstad breaks off and jumps to 2005 when she attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace, which gives her a cause to write about the Queen’s clothes, handbags and corgis, followed by an account of the Swan Upping ceremony. Then follows a chapter titled “The Queen and her people”, which opens with a “scene from the documentary [sic!] The Queen”. This chapter deals mostly with Princess Diana and her death before the author tells the life story of a man of Iraqi origins who basically says he admires Elizabeth II. In the final chapter the author writes about Prince Charles, his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles and her own visit to his Highgrove Shop in Tetbury, which she really cannot make up her mind if is spelled Highgrove or Higrove.
This is quite symptomatic of a book where the author often contradicts herself, particularly when it comes to dates. The abdication takes place in both 1936 and 1937, Princess Elizabeth was confirmed both at the age of 13 and 16, George III died in both 1820 and 1829, Queen Victoria in both 1901 and 1902 and the latter also succeeded to the throne when she was both 18 and 19.
The language is often quite naïve and filled with clichés, and the book is littered with typos and mistranslations. “Prince Regent” is for example translated as “arveprins” (hereditary prince) rather than “prinsregent” and Prince Edward’s wife is called “Duchess of Wessex”, while Prince Philip’s grandmother is made “Margravine of Milford Haven”. Both English words (like “Ascott” and “State Appartments”) and Norwegian ones (“tunell” and “tunnell”, but never the correct “tunnel”) are misspelled. Family relations also seem to be too difficult for Kari-Grete Alstad to get right: George IV was not the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Elizabeth II (in fact she is not descended from him at all), Edward VII was not Prince Charles’s great-great-great-grandfather, nor was Alice Keppel the Duchess of Cornwall’s great-great-grandmother. And none of Prince Philip’s aunts married Germans (but rather Russians, Greeks and Swedes).
The book is quite unreflective and some of the statements made in it are also rather naïve in themselves. Alstad tells us that Tony Blair’s handling of Princess Diana’s death “has later been called the most important political episode in his entire political career in the same way as the Falklands War was for Margaret Thatcher”. “Later” turns out to be Independent on Sunday the day following the Princess’s funeral. Some of us would consider that a little early to decide on the most important event of Blair’s entire political career and some of us would perhaps dear to suggest that the Iraq War was a more important “political episode”. I also very much doubt the Vatican “demonstratively” chose the Prince of Wales’s intended wedding day for the Pope’s funeral.
This book on the Queen of Britain begins well, but ends up as a badly written and rather insignificant book which almost entirely avoids Elizabeth II’s 57-year-reign. And the quality of the illustrations is horrendous.

Friday, 27 November 2009

What to see: Arco della Pace, Milan

When Emperor Napoléon I became King of Italy he ordered the construction of a rod linking his capitals Milan and Paris via Lake Maggiore, Switzerland and the Simplon Pass. The beginning of that road, the tree-lined Corso Sempione, was modelled on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. At the top of Corso Sempione, serving as an entrance to the Sempione Park and its medieval Castello Sforzesco, stands the Arco della Pace, the triumphal arch commemorating Napoléon’s victories, which he commissioned the architect Luigi Cagnola to build.
The building of the Arch of Victories, as it was then called, was not completed at the time of Napoléon’s downfall, when Milan reverted to the Habsburgs. Work was only resumed in 1826 on the orders of Emperor Franz I, who changed the subjects of the reliefs to commemorate the peace of 1815 rather than his son-in-law’s victories, thereby also giving the arch its new name. It was inaugurated in connection with Emperor Ferdinand I’s coronation as King of Lombardy in September 1838.
The arch is made of Crevola marble and on top is a bronze quadriga – the Chariot of Peace by Abbondio Sangiorgio, each horse cast in one piece. The quadriga originally faced the Corso Sempione – and thereby France – but the Habsburgs had it turned around so that it now faces the Castello and the centre of Milan beyond it.
The arch is flanked by two identical, now disused guards’ pavilions (second photo). As the arch is currently under renovation (third photo), the first photo is borrowed from Wikipedia.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

New books: Peder Anker, landowner and Prime Minister

When it comes to the union between Norway and Sweden, chroniclers of Norwegian history have tended to focus on the beginning (1814) and the end (1905). It was only in 2005 that a history of the union itself (by a Swedish historian) was published. The important, formative early years of the union have been particularly overlooked and the historian Bård Frydenlund’s biography of Norway’s first Prime Minister Peder Anker, Stormannen Peder Anker – En biografi, published by Aschehoug in mid-November, is therefore a welcome addition.
Peder Anker, who, with his brothers and cousins, was ennobled in 1778, belonged to a family of tradesmen which played an important role in Christiania (as Oslo was then called). He did however remain in the shadow of his elder brother Bernt until the latter’s death in 1805. Peder Anker bought Bogstad Manor outside the city from relatives and this became not only his patrician seat, but the centre of his vast estates – an “empire” which came to cover large parts of Southern Norway. The production and export of timber and iron was the foundation of Peder Anker’s great wealth.
Peder Anker was first and foremost a businessman and landowner for the most of his life – his entry into politics came only in the last decades of his life. But Anker also came to play a role as an official under the Danish Crown before the secession in 1814. He came to the notice of Crown Prince Frederik, who reigned in the name of his insane father, when he took part in the military campaign in Sweden in 1788 and was afterwards put in charge of road construction in the eastern half of Southern Norway.
As a businessman Anker was clearly quite efficient and innovative as well as successful, but in my opinion these are not the most interesting aspects of Peder Anker’s life and I could have done with less than half the book devoted to this. 3 ½ pages on a dispute over the construction of a bridge linking Strømsø and Bragernes (later united as Drammen) came close to causing me to lose interest.
More interesting to me is Anker’s role in the schemes laid by him and other fellow aristocrats and landowners, led by his son-in-law, Count Herman of Wedel-Jarlsberg, to bring about a union between Norway and Sweden. The policy of King Frederik VI (as he now had become) during the Napoleonic Wars made Anker and his friends increasingly sceptical both of him and the union with Denmark. Frydenlund argues that this was mostly because of the effect the events on the world stage had on Anker’s business interest rather than for ideological or political reasons.
Their contacts with certain Swedes who also encouraged a union between the two countries were possibly treacherous, but the union was not brought about in the way they had imagined. Anker was critical of Prince Christian Frederik, who was proclaimed regent when Frederik VI ceded Norway by the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814 and who called a Constitutional Assembly to meet at Eidsvold Værk, a manor belonging to Anker’s cousin Carsten, in April.
Peder Anker was elected a member of the Assembly and also became its first Speaker, yet he did not play a leading role. Count Wedel became the leader of the minority “unionist party”, while Anker remained in the background. As we know, the unionists were not victorious at the Constitutional Assembly, but after a brief war in July/August, Norway and Sweden agreed to form a personal union with further details to be settled by an extraordinary Parliament.
Anker failed to be elected to this extraordinary Parliament, which approved the union with Sweden and passed a revised Constitution on 4 November. Two weeks later Anker was appointed Prime Minister, allegedly quite unwillingly, but talked into it by Crown Prince Carl Johan. He thereafter had to leave his business interests in the hands of others and move to Stockholm – as the King of Norway would mostly be resident in Sweden, it had been decided that the Prime Minister and two ministers should also reside there, with the rest of the government “holding the fort” in Christiania.
This constitutional construction was unique, but when Frydenlund explains it, he does not do so by quoting the November Constitution. Instead he quotes the relevant article from a secondary source, but in a version which says that “one of the Prime Ministers” should reside in Sweden – i.e. the version from after 1873, more than fifty years after Anker’s resignation. One of Anker’s first and most important duties was to take part in the negotiations over the Act of the Union, which was approved in 1815. But Frydenlund says not a word about what was Anker’s contribution to this or if his views were taken note of. When it comes to the Act of the Union itself, Frydenlund briefly describes it and a footnote points us to “Steen 1952, p. 26-28” as his source. There is in fact no Steen 1952 in the bibliography, but a Steen 1953 and a Steen 1954. More importantly this shows that, incredibly, Anker’s biographer has not bothered to consult either the November Constitution or the Act of the Union, the constitutional texts upon which both the union itself and Anker’s job were based. The texts of both are easily available, but the author apparently only knows them from two secondary sources, one of which is not relevant for Anker’s time.
It is quite funny to see that when Frydenlund describes the Prime Minister’s official residence in Stockholm, he sounds surprised when he notes that there was a “tambur” and writes that it is not known how often the drummer was on duty. “Tambur” does indeed mean a military drummer in Norwegian, but in Swedish it means a small entrance hall or vestibule.
It is generally acknowledged that Anker was neither a great politician nor a strong leader and that the real power in government lay with his son-in-law, who was Minister of Finance in Christiania and often found himself at odds with King Carl Johan. Anker is however considered to have played a rather important role as a go-between and mediator between these two strong-willed men, but Frydenlund says little about this and even less about the interaction between Anker and Wedel. One may also wonder what if any role was played by Anker’s daughter and Wedel’s wife, Countess Karen of Wedel-Jarlsberg, who served as Mistress of the Robes for three decades, but she is hardly mentioned.
Anker’s own relationship with Carl XIV Johan soon deteriorated and Frydenlund writes that the Prime Minister tendered his resignation after the King had slapped his face during a stormy State Council meeting. Yet Anker changed his mind and remained in office until 1822, when he returned to Bogstad, dying two years later.
It seems to me that the author finds Anker the businessman, landowner, private man and genial host most interesting and deals quite left-handedly with his political career. To me the book would have been more interesting if it were the other way around. As it is, the part of the biography dealing with Anker as Prime Minister left me with more questions than answers and the chapters dealing with 1814 and the schemes leading up to those momentous events are probably the book’s most interesting parts.

Monday, 23 November 2009

What to see: Bäckaskog Castle, Fjälkinge

Bäckaskog Castle is best known as the summer residence of King Carl XV of Sweden and Norway. Situated on a narrow strip of land between the lakes Ivosjön and Oppmannasjön near Kristianstad in the province of Scania, the castle started out as a monastery and is now a hotel.
The monastery was founded in the 1220s and the church (seen in the third and fourth photos) and the kitchen are the oldest parts to have survived. This was when Scania was Danish and following the reformation in 1537, Bäckaskog was confiscated by the Danish Crown. In 1584 the Crown exchanged Bäckaskog with other estates belonging to Henrik Ramel, the future Christian IV’s governor. Ramel built the castle as we know it today, with four wings enclosing a courtyard. Bäckaskog is quite unique in having kept its 16th century appearance up until our time.
In 1664, after Scania had been ceded to Sweden, Ove Ramel the Younger swore allegiance to the Swedish King and was incorporated into the Swedish nobility. But it was not long before he changed his mind and in 1680 Bäckaskog was confiscated by the Swedish Crown.
Between 1696 and 1818 Bäckaskog was the official residence of the colonel of the Southern Scanian Cavalry Regiment. The last military man to reside at Bäckaskog was Field Marshal Johan Christopher Toll, who lived there 1782-1797 and 1798-1817. King Gustaf IV Adolf was a frequent visitor and it was at Bäckaskog on 3 October 1905 that the treaty with Britain, whereby Sweden joined the Third Coalition against France, was signed. This was a decision which in 1809 led to the loss of Finland and the fall of Gustaf IV Adolf.
The Napoleonic Wars brought a new dynasty, the Bernadottes, to Sweden and in 1819 Bäckaskog was put at the disposal of Crown Prince Oscar. He rarely came there, but the west wing was rebuilt to house modern accommodations for the royal family and their court. In 1845, a year after he had succeeded to the throne as Oscar I, he ceded the right to use Bäckaskog to his oldest son, Crown Prince Carl. The Crown Prince was also Duke of Scania and came to stay at Bäckaskog every summer, also after he became King Carl XV in 1859. He was very popular with the locals and did not hesitate to take part in their festivities.
Today the royal apartments are filled with period furniture, but not all of it is original. The King’s portrait (said to be a self-portrait) hangs over his bed (sixth photo) and above a sofa in the drawing room (fifth picture) is one of the many landscapes painted by Carl XV himself.
Carl XV greatly improved the agricultural business at Bäckaskog and had the park remodelled in the fashion of a landscape park. It was under the tree seen in the last picture that Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in 1868 proposed to Carl XV’s only surviving child, Princess Lovisa. When Carl XV died prematurely four years later, it was they who took over the lease of Bäckaskog. But they did not go there much, the place fell into disrepair and in 1900 they renounced their right of disposal.
That was also the end of Bäckaskog’s royal epoch. Since 1956 it has been a conference hotel, with guided tours of the royal apartments and park taking place on certain days in summer. Earlier this year, the Swedish Property Board resolved that Bäckaskog was not considered of great historical value and may therefore be sold by the state.

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.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Book news: Knights of the Elephant

The University Press of Southern Denmark has just published a huge book on the Knights of the Elephant, Denmark’s highest-ranking order, which is known since the 15th century. In Riddere af Elefantordenen 1559-2009, Jørgen Pedersen chronicles the more than 900 knights appointed during the last 450 years and also includes a chapter on “dubious knights”, i.e. people who have been referred to as knights, but whose memberships have not been confirmed.

A similar book on the Swedish equivalent of the Elephant, the Order of the Seraphim, was published in 1998, while we have to go back to 1947 to find a book on the recipients of the highest Norwegian order, the Order of St Olav.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

What to see: Bernstorff Palace, Gentofte

Bernstorff Palace, situated in Gentofte 8 kilometres north of Copenhagen, is perhaps best known as the preferred summer residence of “Europe’s parents-in-law”, King Christian IX and Queen Louise. But Bernstorff has older roots than so.
The estate was presented to Foreign Minister Count Johan Hartvig Ernst Bernstorff by King Frederik V in 1752 and the palace was built between 1759 and 1765. The architect was Nicolas Henri Jardin, who Frederik V had invited to come to Denmark from France to complete Frederiksstaden in Copenhagen after its architect Nicolai Eigtved had died in 1754. Bernstorff Palace counts at the first neoclassical building in Denmark, followed by the Yellow Palace in Copenhagen (also by Jardin, 1764).
Count Bernstorff was toppled by Struensee in 1770 and died in exile in Paris two years later. Struensee was executed that same year and Bernstorff’s nephew Andreas Peter Bernstorff was called back to Denmark, where he soon became Foreign Minister and the power behind the throne. He inherited his uncle’s palace and stayed there every summer until his death in 1797. The coming of the Napoleonic Wars spelt the end of the Bernstorffs’ era of influence and in 1812 the palace passed out of their hands. It subsequently belonged to many successive owners who allowed it to fall into disrepair. Around 1840 there were plans to demolish it, but the palace was saved by King Christian VIII, who bought it in 1842.
When Prince Christian of Glücksburg, the husband of Christian VIII’s niece, was chosen as heir to the throne in 1853, he was given Bernstorff Palace as a summer house and it remained his favourite home after his accession to the throne ten years later. In the summers King Christian IX and Queen Louise would gather their growing family from Denmark, Russia, Britain, Greece and other countries at Bernstorff.
Bernstorff is surprisingly small and it must have been rather crowded when a large number of relatives arrived with servants and courtiers. On a doorframe (sixth photo) one can see how Christian IX measured the heights of his children and grandchildren as they grew taller. Among the names visible in the sixth photo are Willy (King Georgios I of the Hellenes), Nicky (Emperor Nikolay II of Russia), Tino (King Konstantinos I of the Hellenes), Carl (King Haakon VII of Norway) and Dagmar (Empress Maria Fyodorovna of Russia).
Eventually these family gatherings had outgrown Bernstorff and were moved to the much larger Fredensborg Palace. Emperor Aleksandr III of Russia was the life and soul of these gatherings and they were never quite the same again after his death in 1894. Thereafter they moved back to Bernstorff.
Following the death of Christian IX in 1906, Parliament in accordance with the late King’s wishes granted the use of Bernstorff as a summer house to his youngest son, Prince Valdemar, who had been born at Bernstorff in 1858. When Prince Valdemar passed away in 1939 the right of disposal was offered to his second son, Prince Axel, who found it too vast an undertaking and preferred to go on living in the villa Bernstorffshøj adjacent to the palace park. During a dinner in 1949, Prince Axel did however manage to talk a government minister into giving him and his family permission to be buried in the park. The grave of Prince Axel, his wife Princess Margaretha, their sons Prince Georg and Count Flemming of Rosenborg, and their daughter-in-law Princess Anne can be seen in the seventh photo.
The Danish Emergency Management Agency took over the palace as a school in 1941 and four years later the park was opened to the public. DEMA moved out last year and in May 2009 Bernstorff Palace reopened as a hotel and conference centre. Guided tours are held once a month and the palace can also be hired for social events. Last month the 85th birthday of Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, Prince Axel’s daughter-in-law, was celebrated with a lunch for family and friends at Bernstorff Palace.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

What to see: The Smolny Institute, St Petersburg

The Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens was set up by Empress Ekaterina II, who planned it in cooperation with her influential advisor on education issues, Ivan Betskoy (often said to have been her real father). The Empress intended the Institute to share accommodations with the Smolny convent, as some sort of Enlightenment counterweight to the nunnery, and therefore decided to house it in a building to the right of the Smolny Cathedral (the name derives from the fact that the cathedral had been built on the former tar yard, Smolny Dvor).
Ekaterina II’s grandson, Aleksandr I, decided to enlarge the school and had a larger building erected to the right of the cathedral. It is this building we know as the Smolny Institute. It was built by Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817) between 1806 and 1808 and the architect rightly came to consider it one of his finest buildings.
The Smolny Institute has an impressive temple front with eight Ionic columns, resting on seven arcades and carrying a tympanum. The Institute also has two projecting wings, each crowned with a tympanum, in a way reminiscent of some of the other buildings of this great master of Russian neoclassicism, such as the Assignation Bank in St Petersburg and Quarenghi’s original designs for Elghammar Manor in Sweden, which were executed in a somewhat modified form.
The girls’ school closed down in August 1917 and the building was shortly thereafter taken over by the Petrograd Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Thus it was there that Lenin and his followers plotted the coup which brought the Bolsheviks to power in October 1917. After the communist takeover the Institute remained the seat of government until Lenin moved the capital to Moscow in March 1918. This explains why one of the city’s few remaining statues of Lenin, in the famous “taxi-hailing pose”, can be found outside. The monument was done by V. Kozlov in 1927, three years after Lenin’s death.
After Lenin’s departure for Moscow, the Smolny Institute became the headquarters of the Regional and City Committees of the Communist Party. The First Secretary Sergey Kirov, whom Stalin had apparently come to view as a potentially dangerous rival, was murdered there in December 1934, an event which provided the excuse for Stalin’s purges. Today the building is the seat for the Governor of St Petersburg.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

What to see: The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest

Among the bridges crossing the Danube from Buda to Pest, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, or Széchenyi-lánchid, is perhaps the better-known landmark of the Hungarian capital. The first permanent bridge linking the two then separate cities, it was built between 1839-1849 after an initiative by Count István Széchenyi, who is considered one of the greatest statesmen and reformers in Hungarian history.
The bridge was designed by the Englishman William Tierney Clark and built by the Scot Adam Clark (no relation). With its length of 380 metres it was considered a major feat of engineering at the time. Like all the other bridges across the Danube, the Chain Bridge was destroyed during World War II and faithfully rebuilt after the end of the war. The lions guarding the bridgeheads at either side are by the sculptor János Marschalkó.
Close to the bridge are famous buildings such as the Royal Palace (now the Hungarian National Gallery), seen in the first and third photos; the Parliament (the largest such building on the continent), seen in the second picture; and Gresham Palace (now the Four Seasons Hotel), glimpsed in the fourth photo.

Peter Althin new leader of Swedish republicans

The high-profile lawyer and politician Peter Althin was today elected leader of the Swedish Republican Association, taking over from Sofia Karlsson. In a short interview with Dagens Nyheter he says he aims to inform the Swedish public about the advantages of a republic rather than stressing the negative aspects of the monarchy.
Peter Althin was an MP for the Christian Democrats from 2002 to 2007, when he chose to leave Parliament. He remains a member of the board of the Christian Democrat Party. He is also one of Sweden’s most high-profile lawyers, having defended, among others, Mijajlo Mijajlovic, who was sentenced to life in prison for assassinating Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003.
Labour MP Magdalena Streijffert was elected deputy leader of the Republican Association.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The first snow

At dusk today the first real snowfall came in Oslo, covering the Palace Square in snow.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ari Behn’s “new” grandfather has died

Those with an interest in royal genealogy may care to note that Ari Behn’s paternal grandfather, Terje Erling Ingebrigtsen, died on 2 November. Born on 11 March 1933, he was the great-grandfather of Maud Angelica, Leah Isadora and Emma Tallulah Behn – fifth, sixth and seventh in line to the Norwegian throne. His funeral took place in Tromsdalen Church (better known as the Ice Sea Cathedral) in Tromsø on Tuesday.
It was only two months ago that it became known that Ingebrigtsen was Ari Behn’s biological grandfather. In an interview with Dagbladet in October Ari Behn said that it was when his relationship with Princess Märtha Louise (whom he married in 2002) became public knowledge and relatives began sending him old family photos that he realised that Bjarne Bjørshol, the man he had always thought was his grandfather, most likely was not the biological father of Behn’s father Olav Bjørshol.
Behn thought there was very little resemblance between his father and the Bjørshol relatives in those photos and last year a DNA test confirmed that Olav Bjørshol and his brother did not have the same father. Eventually it turned out that Terje Ingebrigtsen was his real father. Olav Bjørshol and his wife Marianne Solberg Behn visited Ingebrigtsen and his wife Helen in Tromsø, but it is not known if Ari Behn had the chance to meet his paternal grandfather before his death last week.

Book news: Two Victorias

Among the royal books expected in Sweden next spring are two books dealing with two very different Victorias.
Queen Victoria will be the subject of the biography Drottning Victoria av Sverige – Om kärlek, plikt och politik (“Queen Victoria of Sweden – On Love, Duty and Politics”) by Stig Hadenius, to be published by Norstedt on 26 April. Hadenius, a respected historian and retired professor of journalism, has written two other royal biographies, of Gustaf V (2005) and Folke Bernadotte (2007). Sadly neither of them was very good and it seemed as if Hadenius had not bothered to do much research for them.
Victoria, who died in 1930, was certainly one of the most interesting Swedish queens. Trapped in a loveless marriage with Gustaf V, who is believed to have been homosexual, she had an affair with his equerry Gustaf von Blixen-Finecke in the early 1890s before apparently finding the love of her life in her physician Axel Munthe, best known as the author of the bestselling The Story of San Michele.
Although physically frail she had a will of iron and took an active part in Swedish politics, standing out as a staunch opponent of parliamentarianism and democracy. Her influence culminated in her husband’s so-called “Courtyard Speech” in 1914, which caused the government to resign after the King in a big speech had made public his disagreement with his cabinet. After that her influence deteriorated and she failed in her schemes to bring Sweden into the First World War on the side of Germany, a country she loved better than Sweden. The best book on this fascinating woman is so far Heribert Jansson’s Drottning Victoria (1963), while Margit Fjellman’s Victoria – Sveriges drottning (1980) is dreadful.
Her great-great-granddaughter Crown Princess Victoria will be the subject of Victoria – Prinsessan privat (“Victoria: The Princess in Private”) by Johan T. Lindwall, a tabloid journalist who keeps a very high profile. The book seems to deal mostly with the private life of Crown Princess Victoria and her romance with Daniel Westling in particular. The book will be published by Forum in March and run to about 300 pages.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Some recent articles on the Bernadottes

The November issue of Antikvärlden (no 11-2009) takes a look at the design work of three Bernadotte princes – Eugen, Sigvard and Carl Philip. Prince Eugen is best remembered as a painter, but he also tried his hand at design. His octagonal flower pots (pictured right) are his best-known design works as they are still sold at Waldemarsudde, his former home which is now a museum. Other items designed by Prince Eugen are also on display there and in the homes of his brothers’ descendants I have seen some beautiful pieces of silver made after his designs.
The article by Märta Holkers focuses on silver in particular. Prince Carl Philip, who is educated a designer from Rhode Island School of Design in the USA and from Forsbergs skola in Stockholm, made his design debut in March this year with a set of cutlery called CPB 2091. Silver was also a material which appealed to Carl Philip’s great-uncle and Eugen’s great-nephew Sigvard Bernadotte, who, after losing his royal status by marrying a commoner, made a name for himself as an industrial designer. Holkers points out that Sigvard was the first Bernadotte who was able to make a living from his artistic talents. The article also draws the lines back to the artistically gifted children of King Oscar I – King Carl XV, Prince Gustaf and Princess Eugénie.
In the latest issue of Queen (no 7-2009) Roger Lundgren writes about the life of Princess Sibylla, summarising his 2007 biography of King Carl Gustaf’s mother. The magazine also includes some extracts from his interviews with Queen Margrethe and other Danish royals for his upcoming book on Queen Ingrid on the occasion of her centenary next March. In the same issue we learn that the magazine’s readers have voted for Skokloster for the title “Sweden’s most beautiful palace”, pushing Drottningholm Palace into second place and Elghammar Manor into third (of the ten candidates I think I would have given my vote to the latter).
Some weeks ago Svensk Damtidning (no 41-2009) had an article on Swedish royal jewellery, interviewing court jeweller Christian Bolin. With his sister Anita he runs the firm W. A. Bolin, which since its foundation in 1791 has been court jeweller to three Swedish kings and five Russian emperors, making it the oldest family-owned jeweller still in existence. As court jeweller Bolin is in charge of both the Crown Regalia and the jewellery belonging to the Swedish royal family. Much of it is actually owned by family foundations, which Christian Bolin explains by the fact that the pieces of jewellery brought to Sweden by Queen Josephina were so exquisite that one realised Sweden would never be able to replace them. He mentions the so-called “Leuchtenberg sapphires” as one of the most valuable parures because of the high quality of its stones – if one of the sapphires is lost today it will be nearly impossible to replace it with a stone of the same colour and quality.

Monday, 9 November 2009

On this date: The fall of the Berlin Wall

Tonight twenty years have passed since the Berlin Wall came down. The fall of the wall on 9 November 1989 was the climax of the revolutions which swept through Central Europe that year, starting with the near-free elections in Poland in June and the opening of the Hungarian border to the West and ending with Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution and the violent downfall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania in December. Two years later the Soviet Union itself collapsed, changing the world forever.
The Berlin Wall had been the very symbol of the Cold War, making its fall the quintessential symbol of the mostly peaceful revolutions of 1989. During the 28 years the Wall existed, at least 136 people, possibly more than 200, were killed trying to escape over it.
In today’s Berlin you will here and there find a reminder of the divided city, such as a line in the street discreetly showing where the Wall once stood. Scattered across the city are also pieces of the Wall itself.
One of them may be found in Potsdamer Platz (first photo). Before the Second World War this square was, in Timothy Garton Ash’s words, “Berlin’s Piccadilly Circus”. Bombed to pieces during the war, it fell right in the middle of no man’s land when the city was divided into East and West and lay like an empty wasteland for forty years. In the past twenty years Potsdamer Platz has woken up and become the centre of the German capital’s commercial district.
Another slab of the Wall may be found in a bookstore in Friedrichstrasse – on it, President Reagan has written his famous words from his 1987 speech in front of Brandenburg Gate: “Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down – Tear Down – This Wall!” The greatest credit for 1989 should perhaps go to just Mikhail Gorbachev, who, by making it clear that the Soviet Union would not intervene like they had done in East Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, allowed the revolutions to happen.
In Tauentzienstrasse in the western part of the city stands Brigitte and Martin Matschinsky-Denninghoff’s sculpture “Berlin”, symbolising the divided city (third photo). It was erected on the occasion of the city’s 750th anniversary in 1987, two years before Berlin again became one.

In The Guardian today Timothy Garton Ash writes about that memorable night and Victor Sebestyen, author of the excellent Revolution 1989, on the meaning of “the real 9/11”:

Sunday, 8 November 2009

What to see: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Tomorrow the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) will provide the scene for the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which will be attended by 1980s leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Miklós Németh and leaders of the 27 EU countries.
They will all join German Chancellor Angela Merkel in walking through the Brandenburg Gate – in itself a simple act, yet it was an impossibility for 28 years. The Wall used to run just in front of the Gate, which was also the backdrop for Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in 1987, where he urged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. Today the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of a unified Germany and Europe, but most of all of freedom.
The Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz is the only survivor of Berlin’s fifteen city gates – as the name indicates it was the gate towards the province of Brandenburg. Berlin has expanded significantly since then and the Brandenburg Gate is now right in the middle of the city centre.
It was built by the architect Carl Gotthard Langhans between 1788 and 1791, but the sculptural decorations were not completed until 1795. With its Doric columns this neoclassical structure stood in marked contrast to the Baroque mansions which surrounded Pariser Platz at the end of the 18th century. By this design Langhans so to speak brought the neoclassical style to Berlin, a city on which that style came to have great influence.
The quadriga carrying the peace goddess Eirene was done by Johann Gottfried Schadow – the original no longer exists, but the current quadriga is an exact replica. The quadriga has been turned around 180 degrees several time to face either east or west and was even taken to Paris when Napoléon I occupied Berlin in 1806.
It returned eight years later. Originally a symbol of peace, it was thereafter considered a symbol of victory. Karl Friedrich Schinkel added a staff surmounted by the Prussian eagle and the iron crass surrounded by a laurel wreath to the goddess, thus transforming her from Eirene to Victoria.
The Brandenburg Gate has seen victory parades such as that taking place after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the Nazi take-over of 1933. In 1945 the red flag was hoisted above it by Soviet soldiers. The division of Berlin which followed left the area around Brandenburg Gate a wasteland, heavily guarded by East German border guards. On 9 November 1989 the world witnessed how thousands of Germans from both east and west climbed the wall in front of Brandenburg Gate. Today Pariser Platz is again a busy square thronged by tourists and flanked by buildings such as the French and US embassies.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Cities of the world: Paris in 20 pictures

Sunset on the Seine

Christmas lights at Champs-Élysées


The Louvre Pyramid

Eiffel Tower across the Seine


Paris by night


Place de Vendôme

Nike in the Louvre

Henri IV and Panthéon

La Defense

The Eiffel Tower

Tomb of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

The Arc de Triomphe

Les Invalides and Pont Alexandre III

Modern times

Collége des Quatre Nations seen from Pont des Arts

Winter in the Tuileries Garden

Place de la Concorde