Friday, 30 July 2010

Oscar II’s apartment at Tullgarn to open to visitors

Of the eleven royal palaces in Sweden, my personal favourite is Tullgarn, built for Prince Fredrik Adolf in the late 18th century and most recently used as the summer residence of King Gustaf V.
It has been little used since his death sixty years ago, but the beautiful state apartments, which were restored to their neoclassical glory on the initiative of King Gustaf VI Adolf, are open to the public in the summers.
Recently I heard the good news that King Oscar II’s rooms are currently being restored and will open to visitors from next summer. This is a welcome addition also because there are few examples of the style prevalent in the reign of Oscar II to be seen at the royal palaces today.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

My latest article: Obituary of Countess Ruth

In Aftenposten today you may read my obituary of Countess Ruth of Rosenborg - click on the image to enlarge. As it is printed in a Norwegian newspaper it naturally stresses her close ties to the Norwegian royal family.
Oddly enough no other Norwegian media have so far mentioned her passing. In Denmark Peter Thygesen had a short obituary in Politiken on Tuesday, while Berlingske Tidende and Jyllands-Posten used extracts from the obituary issued by the news agency Ritzau.
I have in the meantime learnt that Countess Ruth died peacefully in a nursing home in Hellerup, where she had spent the last week of her life after having been in and out of hospital during the past six months.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Countess Ruth to be buried next Friday

The funeral of Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, who died on Sunday, will take place in Skovshoved Church in Charlottenlund on Friday 6 August.
The Countess will be buried in the family burial plot (pictured above) in the park of nearby Bernstorff Palace, alongside her husband Count Flemming, who died in 2002, his parents, Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha, and his brother and sister-in-law, Prince Georg and Princess Anne. It was Prince Axel who during a dinner secured the responsible cabinet minister’s permission to be buried in the park.

New books: A tale of an historian, hubris and Hitler

Seven years after the death of his subject, the author Adam Sisman has produced a biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, arguably one of the most famous and most controversial historians of the 20th century, whose career was made and unmade by Adolf Hitler.
As most biographies this book begins with the subject’s family background, childhood and education, which in this case come across as rather typical of the solid British middle class in the early 20th century.
Born in 1914, Trevor-Roper was educated at Christ Church, “the grandest of the Oxford colleges”, which a later student compared to the Brigade of Guards: “just as the British Army was said to consist of the Brigade of Guards and a few attached troops, so we considered that the University consisted of Christ Church and a few attached colleges”. Perhaps that was where the foundations were laid for Trevor-Roper’s trademark arrogance towards colleagues.
He began a doctoral dissertation on William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Charles I, who was impeached by Parliament and executed in 1645. Trevor-Roper never completed the dissertation, but in 1940 he instead published the work as a biography, which received mixed reviews, partly due to the author’s swipes at the priesthood – he would come to be known for his dislike of Catholics.
Even though he specialised in the early modern age, it was as a contemporary historian that Trevor-Roper would be best known. During World War II he served with the British intelligence service and in the autumn of 1945 he was sent to Germany to figure out whatever had happened to Adolf Hitler when the Third Reich collapsed.
Officially he had died fighting the Bolsheviks in the streets of Berlin, but several alternative explanations were being bandied about. Some maintained that he had been murdered by his own officers in Tiergarten, while others knew he had managed to escape and was now living somewhere in the Baltic. Or in South America. Or in Bavaria. Or in Spain. Or in Albania. Or in Dublin, where he had been seen wearing female dress.
“Here was an unique opportunity for a young historian: to investigate one of the most dramatic stories in the history of the world, while the trail was still fresh”, observes Sisman, who points out that it was far from irrelevant what had happened to the Führer: “Hitler had captured the imagination of the German people; so long as the possibility remained that he might still be alive, the stability and security of the occupied zones could not be guaranteed. This man had been responsible for the most destructive war in the history of the world, causing the deaths of tens of millions; the slightest chance that Hitler might return, as Napoleon had done, was too terrible to contemplate. The ghost haunting Europe had to be laid to rest”.
In Berlin Trevor-Roper visited the abandoned bunker, to which the Soviet guards admitted him in exchange for a couple of cigarettes. “Inside, all was dark and flooded ankle-deep”. Trevor-Roper succeeded in tracking down a handful of witnesses to the last days of Hitler and even though he was sceptical about how accurately they were able to recall the events from the chaotic days seven months earlier, he eventually did reach a conclusion which he was convinced the witnesses could not have conspired to delude him: Hitler had shot himself and Eva Braun on 30 April and the bodies had been burnt. Sisman comments that “facts which have emerged subsequently have confirmed the accuracy of his report in almost every detail”.
The book titled The Last Days of Hitler appeared as soon as the Nuremberg trials concluded in 1946 and became an instant classic which was translated into several languages and remains in print today (a new Swedish edition has by the way just been published). In this Trevor-Roper saw the opportunity of doing what his late mentor Logan Pearsall Smith had advised him to do: to write a book “that someone, one day, will mention in the same breath as Gibbon”.
The author himself commented that he was “really rather anxious to detach myself from my accidental connection with Nazi history, and to revert to my proper work!” However, Trevor-Roper would never quite succeed in doing that. He was appointed Regius Professor, the most prestigious history chair in Oxford, in 1957 and remained in that position until he left to become Master of Peterhouse College in Cambridge in 1980, but he never succeeded in writing a “proper” academic work.
His “celebrity” standing meant that he was much sought after by newspaper and became a regular contributor to The Times and Sunday Times (for several years he was also a national director, i.e. a member of the board). He also wrote a huge number of book reviews and essays, which combined with other distractions in preventing him from ever writing a proper historical work of greater length.
Perhaps it was partly a lack of self-discipline but also an inability ever to be satisfied with his own works that caused him to abandon book after book when they were near completion. “His career is littered with the hulks of unfinished works”, Sisman comments. Some of the abandoned books have been “dug up” and completed for publication by other historians following his death, causing some to comment that he has been more productive in death than in life.
His grand work on the Puritan Revolution was underway so long that there in the end would not be any point in completing it as the vast amount of research into that period undertaken by other historians in the meantime had left his work outdated. It was consequently as an essayist that Trevor-Roper would leave his mark and as such he was recognised as one of if not the greatest in Britain – many of them were arguably also of great impact.
This was perhaps also a reflection of his opinion that most historians wrote for a very narrow audience mostly consisting of fellow historians rather than for the general public. He maintained that historians were generally too specialised and strove to know all the facts about one single topic – “Thus armed, they can comfortably shoot down any amateurs who blunder or rivals who stray into their heavily fortified field; and, of course, knowing the strength of modern defensive weapons, they themselves keep prudently within their frontiers”. He also deplored what he considered his colleagues’ lack of philosophy and maintained that the task of the historian was to “study problems, not periods”.
A moderate conservative (he would accept the Tory whip when he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Dacre of Glanton in 1979, but thought that Margaret Thatcher’s “Toryism seems rather that of Charles I than of Edmund Burke”), Trevor-Roper did not share the Marxist approach to history held my many of his contemporaries. He maintained that one could not deny that there were “Marxists who have made contributions to history, but it is never as Marxists that they have done so”. He was an early British follower of the French Annales school and in the words of his biographer “embraced this new form of history with wholehearted zeal”.
Adam Sisman dedicates much space to Trevor-Roper’s private life and personality. He had a talent for finding trouble and to make enemies among his colleagues and the biographer chronicles many of these feuds. His book reviews were often very critical, perhaps unnecessarily so, and maybe a fear of “retaliation” was part of the reason why he again and again abandoned near-finished works because he thought them not entirely perfect.
Hubris will often be punished and many were therefore ready with their knives when Trevor-Roper made his huge blunder of authenticating the forged Hitler diaries on behalf of The Times and Sunday Times in 1983. Having allowed himself to be rushed into making a conclusion based on the diaries’ appearance rather than contents, his doubts came creeping up when it was already too late and Rupert Murdoch had made the decision to publish the story nevertheless.
The blunder, for which Trevor-Roper came to take most of the blame, proved to be the unmaking of his career and seems to remain what he is best remembered for. It naturally also meant that his dreams of becoming Chancellor of Oxford following Harold Macmillan’s death in 1986 were entirely unrealistic.
His biographer finds it “certain that his work will continue to be read long after his blunder has diminished into a mere footnote”, an idea which Robert Harris in his review in Sunday Times (4 July) thought “is rather like claiming that Captain Edward Smith will one day be remembered chiefly for his unblemished 32 years’ service with the White Star Line, rather than for the regrettable couple of minutes when he steered the Titanic into an iceberg”. Only time will tell.
At 598 pages Adam Sisman’s book is perhaps a bit too long, but it is mostly highly readable and is likely to remain the fullest account of the life and work of Hugh Trevor-Roper.

Monday, 26 July 2010

At the road’s end: Countess Ruth of Rosenborg (1924-2010)

As previously mentioned Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, a much-loved member of the extended royal family, passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 85. Since her engagement to the then Prince Flemming of Denmark 62 years ago the Countess had attended more royal events than most other people alive and had been a close observer of the Northern European monarchies over six decades.
Born Alice Ruth Nielsen on 8 October 1924, she belonged to a wealthy family and grew up in a villa at Springforbi north of Copenhagen. While still a teenager she met Prince Flemming, the youngest son of Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha, whom she married in Holmen’s Church in Copenhagen on 24 May 1949.
As King Frederik IX did not consent to Prince Flemming marrying a commoner, the groom forfeited his royal title and his place in the line of succession and was transformed into Count of Rosenborg, the traditional title for Danish princes who had married beneath their status.
Unlike his older brother Georg, Flemming, an easygoing man by character, did not care about the royal title and wanted Ruth more than his distant place in the line of succession. But he did want to be created Count of Kronborg rather than of Rosenborg, as there were already several counts of Rosenborg, he wanted a name which would be theirs alone and he also felt Kronborg was more fitting for a naval officer than Rosenborg with its close associations with the Army. King Frederik, however, did not take the suggestion seriously.
Adjusting to life on a naval officer’s pay proved quite a challenge to the rich girl. She trained as an interpreter and economist, but as the mother of four children in the 1950s she had little chance for a career of her own.
The eldest children, the twins Axel and Birger, were born within a year of the wedding, while another son followed in 1952 and a daughter in 1955. The latter two were named Carl Johan and Désirée for the founders of the Bernadotte dynasty, from whom Flemming descended on his mother’s side.
Flemming was often away on naval duties, which left his young wife “stranded” at home. During his absences she often went to Stockholm to stay with his grandmother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, of whom she was very fond and who would tell her countless stories of life in royal Europe in the old days.
Her father-in-law Prince Axel also brought her to London, where he introduced her to all the British relatives, including King George VI. She also went to Marlborough House to meet Queen Mary. “I have been kissed by Queen Mary”, she remembered in old age and added, while softly touching her right cheek: “I can still feel it”. Her sister-in-law, Princess Anne, was however not welcome, as Queen Mary did not receive divorcees.
Another relative by marriage of whom Countess Ruth was very fond was her husband’s aunt, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, who sadly died already in 1954. Countess Ruth and her husband were in Norway at the time of Crown Princess Märtha’s and Crown Prince Olav’s silver wedding in March 1954, by which time the silver bride lay dying in hospital. She never forgot the beautiful declaration of love Crown Prince Olav made to his absent wife in his speech at the private dinner at Skaugum which replaced the official banquet which had been planned.
Count Flemming and Countess Ruth always spent Christmas with the Norwegian royal family. The first time was in 1948, when Miss Nielsen was 24 years old and had newly become engaged to her prince. She was naturally a bit apprehensive when she arrived at Skaugum and King Haakon VII stood waiting on the stairs with the rest of the family. He smiled at her and said: “We are not as dangerous as we look like”.
Only after the death of her husband did Countess Ruth stay behind in Denmark to celebrate Christmas with her own children and grandchildren, but she continued to be a popular guest of the Norwegian royal family. Her last visit to Norway took place in the summer of 2007, when she attended Queen Sonja’s 70th birthday.
Her husband had been his cousin, King Harald’s, best man at his wedding in 1968 and was also a godfather to Princess Märtha Louise. Count Flemming and Countess Ruth were also close to his cousins in Belgium and Luxembourg and would occasionally spend holidays with them. They were also good friends of Queen Margrethe, who stood godmother to their daughter Désirée when she was herself only fifteen.
Life on the brink of the royal family meant that they were always present for great and small royal occasions, but there was also an ordinary weekday. This was not always possible for her rather grand mother-in-law to understand. Early in the morning following a royal event Princess Margaretha would ring to enquire if Countess Ruth had yet written a letter of thanks to Queen Ingrid. The daughter-in-law would explain that she was right in the middle of getting her four children off to school. “Yes, but do remember to write”, Princess Margaretha would insist before hanging up, “and do remember to sign ‘With humble affection’.”
Through inheritance from among others Princess Margaretha and her husband’s fabulously wealthy, American-born aunt Princess Viggo (who used to say she always holidayed in Paris because of the short distance to Cartier), Countess Ruth came to possess a truly impressive collection of royal jewellery, including pearl earrings which were said to have belonged to Empress Joséphine and the turquoise star tiara which had been Emperor Nikolaj II’s wedding present to Princess Ingeborg.
Count Flemming eventually left the Navy and embarked on a business career in his father-in-law’s company. This meant that the couple lived for several years in England, but after his retirement they decided to settle in the south of France due to the Countess’s rheumatism.
In 2002 they travelled to Trondheim to attend the wedding of Princess Märtha Louise and Ari Behn, which took place on their own 53rd wedding anniversary. Following the celebrations they joined Queen Sonja and other relatives for a private cruise along the coast before returning to France, where Count Flemming was suddenly taken ill and died on 19 June, aged 80.
As a widow Countess Ruth moved back to Denmark to be near her children. She lived first at Charlottenlund, later in Hellerup, and every day she would walk her dog around the park surrounding Bernstorff Palace, where her husband is buried. Several times I went to see her and we would sit in the living-room with a huge painting of the Russian imperial fleet sailing past Kronborg Castle on the wall or in the kitchen, where Nils Dardel’s beautiful portrait of “Nonni”, Princess Ingeborg, kept us company.
Countess Ruth was happy to talk about her life, the many historical figures she had known and the memorable events she had attended, but also life in general. She was a great story-teller (a favourite story was about Princess Ingeborg losing her knickers during Prince Eugen’s funeral) and had a wonderful recollection, to which she added an ability to find just the perfect way of characterising a person.
On a personal note I am grateful for having known this generous lady, who was always very helpful towards me in my work on the history of the family into which she had married. I am of course happy that I have saved her letters and taken notes of our conversations. With her a piece of history is gone.
She regretted the death of her husband, who was, in her words, “only eighty”, and missed the many friends who were also gone, but found great pleasure in her supportive family and in reacquainting herself with a childhood friend she had met again.
In November 2007 she suffered a cerebral haemorrhage which kept her in hospital for months and thereafter she was never really in good health again. She was however able to gather her family for a champagne reception at Bernstorff Palace on her 85th birthday last October, but missed her eldest son’s 60th birthday party as well as Queen Margrethe’s 70th birthday celebrations earlier this year.

Norwegian state visit to Slovakia this autumn

The Royal Palace in Oslo today announced that the King and Queen will pay a state visit to Slovakia from 26 to 28 October, where they will be hosted by President Ivan Gašparovič and his wife Silvia. In addition to Bratislava the King and Queen will visit Modra and Banská Štiavnica. The photo shows the Great Square in Bratislava.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Countess Ruth of Rosenborg has died

Just as I landed at the airport back home from holiday tonight I received the sad news that Countess Ruth of Rosenborg died this afternoon. The Countess, who turned 85 last year, had been ill for some time.
Countess Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha of Denmark. Her late husband, the former Prince Flemming, forfeited his royal title and his place in the succession to the throne when he married her in 1949.
Over the years I have had much contact with Countess Ruth, who was always a great help for me in my work on the history of the Scandinavian royal families. Having belonged to the extended royal family since her engagement in 1948, she was among the few survivors to have known such long-dead figures as King Haakon VII or Queen Mary and from her I obtained much valuable information.
I will write more about her life later.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Monegasque princely wedding set for 8 July

The princely court of Monaco today made known the wedding dates for Sovereign Prince Albert II and Charlene Wittstock. The civil wedding, which is the only legally binding one, will take place at the Princely Palace on 8 July next year, while the religious blessing of the marriage will be held the following day.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

What to see: Adolf Fredrik’s Church, Stockholm

Situated between the major streets Drottninggatan and Sveavägen, Adolf Fredrik’s Church is located in the very middle of Stockholm City. Replacing St Olof’s Chapel from 1674, this church was built in 1768-1783 by Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz, one of the most prominent architects in the history of Sweden.
The church was named for the monarch who laid the foundation stone, King Adolf Fredrik – a rather insignificant figure who was the first monarch of the Holstein-Gottorp dynasty, but who has been entirely eclipsed by his brilliant wife, Queen Lovisa Ulrika, and by his eldest son, King Gustaf III.
Several famous persons have been buried in the cemetery. Perhaps the most famous are Prime Minister Olof Palme (sixth photo), who was assassinated just across the street from the church in 1986, and the great philosopher René Descartes (seventh photo), who died in Stockholm in 1650 while tutoring the young Queen Christina.
Descartes’ remains were repatriated to France in 1666, but Gustaf III had a memorial to him erected inside the church (seventh photo). Both the Descartes memorial and the altar sculpture are by the famous sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel, himself buried in the cemetery. The former shows a young genius holding a torch while lifting the cloak which has covered the earth in darkness.
The vault’s frescos are of a more recent date; they were done by Julius Kronberg in 1899-1900.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

My latest article: Oscar I at Oscarshall Palace

Last Christmas I was able to publish an article in Aften (external link) where I revealed that King Oscar I had in fact stayed at Oscarshall Palace in Oslo, contrary to the oft-repeated myth that no-one has ever stayed there, at least not for more than a single night.
In the latest issue of Oslo Museum – the City Museum’s periodical Byminner (no 3-2010), which is out this week, I have another article (external link) on the issue which provides more details based on further research, including Swedish sources and an old newspaper article which a reader of this blog kindly tipped me off about.
In this new article I can show that King Oscar I stayed at Oscarshall from 31 July to 30 August 1855 and give details about what he did almost from day to day. There were several dinners, a torch-light procession, political discussions as well as a gala performance at Christiania Theatre marking the inauguration of the new palace.
This shows that Oscarshall has generally been misinterpreted – it was not a pleasure palace simply meant for day-trips from the Royal Palace, but a summer residence which was meant to be and was lived in by the King.
However, soon after his stay at Oscarshall in 1855, Oscar I’s health deteriorated to the extent that he never again left the Stockholm area before his death in 1859 and he was thus not afforded any further chances to stay at the new palace of which he was so proud. I have not yet been able to find out if his son Carl XV every stayed there, but certain things indicate that he might have done so, and as late as in the 1870s Oscar II looked upon Oscarshall as a potential summer retreat.
Despite what I wrote last December the myth about the single night was repeated no less than four times in a generally badly research documentary broadcast on NRK1 on 2 May this year (and to be reprised tomorrow). Hopefully this new article can put a definitive end to that unfounded myth.

On this date: Crown Princess Victoria celebrates birthday abroad

Today is the 33rd birthday of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. As the Crown Princess and Prince Daniel are still on honeymoon following their wedding on 19 June, the birthday girl will for the first time not attend the public celebrations at Borgholm near the summer palace Solliden at Öland.
The public celebrations of her birthday began already in 1978 and it has since then been a tradition that the members of the royal family attend some sort of concert where a grant from the Victoria Foundation is presented to an athlete.
King Carl Gustaf, Queen Silvia, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine will however attend this year’s celebrations and Prince Carl Philip will present the award in place of his absent sister.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

An interesting article on the cameo diadem

In a recent issue of the French magazine Point de Vue (no 3231, dated 23-29 June) there is an article by the jewellery expert Vincent Meylan on the cameo diadem which Crown Princess Victoria wore on her wedding day which adds some very interesting details about the history of this beautiful tiara.
As previously mentioned an oral tradition in the Bernadotte family maintains that the tiara, which sits in a box labelled Nitot, first belonged to Empress Joséphine of the French, yet the first known depiction of it shows it not on the Empress, but worn by her daughter Queen Hortense of Holland.
The portrait was done by Anne-Louis Girodet in 1812 and miniatures based on it have been up for sale at Dorotheum in Vienna in 2007 (external link) and at Sotheby’s in London last June (external link). The article says that a miniature is now in the Swedish royal collection, but this is probably wrong as the King of Sweden as far as I know did not buy any of the two.
The question is anyway how the tiara found its way from Queen Hortense to her niece Josephina, who was portrayed wearing it shortly after she became Crown Princess of Sweden and Norway in 1823.
Based on research in the Napoléon archives in Paris, Meylan states that Queen Hortense sold a cameo tiara in 1824 for 30,000 francs, but that tiara was made of cameos and rubies rather than cameos and pearls.
However, Meylan writes that a tiara of cameos and pearls was among Empress Joséphine’s possessions at the time of her death in 1814 and that this tiara went to her son, Prince Eugène, when he and Queen Hortense divided their mother’s estate. He explains the fact that Queen Hortense was painted wearing the tiara during her mother’s lifetime by pointing out that mother and daughter had the habit of borrowing each other’s jewels.
This would explain the fact that it belonged to the future Queen Josephina several years before the death of Queen Hortense and establishes the following list of owners: Empress Joséphine – Prince Eugène – Queen Josephina – Princess Eugénie – Prince Eugen – Princess Sibylla – King Carl XVI Gustaf.
The photo is a detail of an old postcard showing the then Princess Ingrid (later Queen of Denmark) wearing the cameo diadem when she dressed as her great-great-grandmother Queen Josephina for a charity masquerade in 1933.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Various news and impressions from London

I have recently been in London, where there are several good exhibitions worth seeing this summer. The highlight is in my opinion “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love” at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, an excellent exhibition which explores Queen Victoria’s and Prince Albert’s interest in the arts – what the arts meant to them and what they meant to the arts. The exhibition is on until 31 October.
At the Victoria and Albert Museum there is currently an exhibition on Princess Grace of Monaco, titled “Grace Kelly: Style Icon”, which shows dresses, hats, shoes, handbags and jewellery worn by the film star-turned-princess. It closes on 26 September.
Also at the V&A was the exhibition “Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill” about Walpole’s neo-Gothic country house, which will soon re-open to the public at last after years of restoration work. This exhibition ended on 4 July.
In London this week and the last weekend have been marked by the so-called “Master Paintings Week”, which concluded with great art auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and other auction houses and art dealers. Much great art to see at the sales exhibitions, including works by Rubens, Franz Hals and Turner – a landscape by the latter was sold for nearly £ 28 million to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Also on show at Christie’s was the Althorp Attic Sale – mostly junk sorted out by Lord Spencer while cleaning up the attic of Althorp House, but also some interesting items. To accompany the sale Lord Spencer has also written a richly illustrated article for this month’s issue of The World of Interiors.
Last Thursday (1 July) was the 49th birthday of Lord Spencer’s late sister Diana, Princess of Wales. Daily Mail ran a picture of their sisters, Lady Jane McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, looking distinctively elderly, the youngest one entirely grey-haired, which made one reflect on the passing of time. Outside Kensington Palace several floral tributes to the Princess had been left at the gates (second photo).
Also worth noting on the art scene is the announcement that Charles Saatchi upon his retirement will donate the Saatchi Gallery and its collection of contemporary art – some 200 works estimated at £ 25 million – to the British nation. The complete permanent collection will be shown in 2012 at the gallery, which is located at the Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea (first photo), and may thereafter also be lent to other galleries. Mr Saatchi has decided that upon his retirement the gallery’s name will change to the Museum of Contemporary Art, London (MOCA London).

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Queen Elizabeth II to be great-grandmother

According to the Evening Standard (external link) Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Britain are due to become great-grandparents for the first time in December, when their eldest grandchild Peter Phillips and his wife Autumn are expecting a child. Peter Phillips is the son of Princess Anne and currently eleventh in line to the British throne.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

My latest article: The lady-in-waiting who inspired Hamsun?

This year’s second issue of the periodical Historie is just out and in it you can read my biographical article of Ida Wedel Jarlsberg, an artist, lady-in-waiting and female pioneer who might also have inspired one of the most famous characters in Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun’s works.
Ida Wedel Jarlsberg belonged to Norway’s most prominent noble family and was the daughter of the last Norwegian count, Peder af Wedel-Jarlsberg. On both her father’s and her mother’s side she belonged to families with close ties to the royal house and several of her relatives belonged to the royal court.
Ida herself made the rather unconventional choice of becoming an artist, but was later pressured by her parents to accept a post as lady-in-waiting to Queen Sophia. It was at this time that she probably came to know the young author Knut Hamsun and the greatest Hamsun expert, Lars Frode Larsen, has argued convincingly that Ida was the model for the ideal woman in Hamsun’s novel Hunger (1890), called Ylajali, but whose real name in the book is given as “lady-in-waiting Nagel”.
Ida became close to Queen Sophia, but left royal service in dramatic circumstances when she fell victim to the constitutional crisis of 1884, which saw the impeachment and sentencing of the Selmer government, the formation of political parties, the breakthrough of parliamentarianism and the establishment of the first liberal government.
Ida Wedel Jarlsberg, who belonged to a conservative family, refused to follow orders when she was supposed to escort Crown Princess Victoria to a dinner hosted by the liberal Prime Minister Johan Sverdrup, thereby creating a furore which ended only with her resignation in 1886. The political and court intrigues resulting from Ida’s independent stand are all described in detail in the unpublished diaries of her brother-in-law, the historian Yngvar Nielsen.
Ida Wedel Jarlsberg thereafter dedicated the rest of her life to her artistic career and to good works. Together with her close friend Birgitte Esmark she founded Young Women’s Christian Society, which was the first organisation in this country to be run entirely by women.
Having lived in Rome for several years, Ida Wedel Jarlsberg – courtier, artist, pioneer and possibly Ylajali – died in Oslo in 1929 at the age of 74.

Also out this week is Royalty Digest Quarterly no 2 - 2010, in which I have a review article on Lena Rangström’s book En brud för kung och fosterland - Kungliga svenska bröllop från Gustav Vasa till Carl XVI Gustaf, which I have also reviewed here earlier.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Christian Wulff’s troubled way to the presidency

Late yesterday Christian Wulff from the Christian Democrat Party was, after much ado, elected President of Germany by the Federal Assembly. As his party is part of a coalition, led by Angela Merkel, which has a majority in Parliament, it ought to have been an easy match, but for only the third time in the history of the Federal Republic three rounds were needed to elect a president. This is interpreted as another blow to Angela Merkel’s standing and yet another example of the trouble which has engulfed her present coalition after it came to power last autumn.
It is believed that Merkel would have preferred her close ally Ursula von der Leyen to be the party’s candidate for president, but she did not succeed in convincing her own party, which rather opted for Wulff, until now Minister President of Lower Saxony and belonging to another party camp than Merkel.
However, Joachim Gauck, an independent who was chosen as the opposition’s candidate, seemed to enjoy more popular support than Wulff. In the first round some 40 members of the governing coalition rebelled, leaving Wulff with 600 votes and Gauck with 499, both of them well short of the required absolute majority.
In the second round Wulff received 615 and Gauck 490, while two other candidates received 126 votes altogether. Only in the third round, with only two candidates left and with only a simple majority needed, was Wulff elected with 625 votes against Gauck’s 494.
In comparison, Horst Köhler, who unexpectedly resigned the presidency in May, was re-elected with an absolute majority in the first round last year.