The end of September saw the publication of a very interesting, monumental photo book on the Norwegian royal family in the days of Crown Princess Märtha, titled Slik levde de – Et familiealbum – Kongehuset i årene med Märtha (1929-54) and published by Bastion Forlag.
The author, Morten Ole Mørch, has in recent years made such monumental photo books his speciality and this is the third in a row, following books on Frogner, the poshest area of Oslo, and on the architect Arnstein Arneberg.
Many books have been written about the Norwegian royal family through the years, but the same photos tend to appear in all of them. For my own two books we made a real effort to find less well-known photos and discovered that there are literally thousands of them in various archives.
Morten Ole Mørch has also wanted to find the lesser known photos and to present them in a better quality than they are mostly reproduced in. In this huge book of nearly 400 pages, the author has chosen to restrict himself to those 25 years when Märtha was Crown Princess of Norway, but he has also included some photos from her childhood, youth and background in Sweden.
The book takes us chronologically through the years from the engagement and wedding in 1929 to the Crown Princess’s death and funeral in 1954, but there are also more topical chapters dedicated to for instance King Haakon, Queen Maud, royal vehicles or boats. There are some unavoidable “classic” photos which one recognises from earlier publications, but the author has succeeded in finding a vast amount of little-known, telling images from the life of the royal family in those years.
Here are the splendours of the 1929 wedding or of King Haakon’s state visit to London in 1951, but also private moments such as the King’s many visits to his grandchildren. There are staged family groups, but also unguarded moments such as a lunch for 219 American students at Skaugum in August 1947, where the 10-year-old Prince Harald is seen holding the hand of his older sister Princess Astrid.
There are several interior photos from the royal homes and particularly interesting are the group of photos from the interior of the original Skaugum as it was before it burnt down just after the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had moved in in 1930.
Mørch nuances the revelation made by the historian Dag T. Hoelseth last year that Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg, who donated Skaugum to the Crown Prince, later demanded a payment of 120,000 NOK from King Haakon. According to Mørch this money was meant to go towards pensions for the driver and the butler, obligations which Wedel, rightly or wrongly, considered should go with the estate. Mørch writes that the story of the late demand for payment became known to the press already then, but was corrected by the royal court.
This book is not only an album relating the life and times of the Norwegian royal family during those 25 years, but also an image of a long-gone age. Particularly striking are the many photos of the impeccably dressed royals arriving and departing from railway stations.
On page 172 we see Crown Princess Märtha attending a public engagement with her husband and parents-in-law in Oslo on 13 June 1938; on page 173 we see her arriving in Stockholm by train on 14 June 1938, still wearing the same outfit. Thus some of the photos offer the reader the chance to follow the royals literally from day to day, while the collection of photos taken together gives the bigger picture of developments through a quarter of a century.
As these 25 years coincide with Märtha’s time as Crown Princess of Norway it is also somewhat poignant to watch the development – one sees her arriving as a radiant bride, developing into the centre-figure of a happy family, maturing into the mother of her people during the hard days of World War II, and then falling ill and growing old far beyond her actual age before dying at only 53. What remain constant through the book are her elegance and the obvious love between her and her husband.
Each chapter starts with a summarising text. The author quotes from published books, from the newspaper Aftenposten, from the diaries of the author Nini Roll Anker, who became a close friend of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess despite her fervent republicanism, from the diaries of Prince Harald’s nurse Inga Berg (which were published by her nephew last year in a very badly edited version), and from the diaries of Arthur Knagenhjelm, who was a friend of King Haakon and brother of Lord Chamberlain Jakob Roll Knagenhjelm.
Arthur Knagenhjelm’s diaries have never been published or quoted from before and they are among the most interesting news offered by this book. Knagenhjelm obviously had a sharp eye and offers many interesting observations, such as Crown Princess Märtha’s reaction to her sister Queen Astrid’s death and the young King Haakon’s tendency to talk too much and listen too little (something which improved with the years).
It is also fun to read about the correspondence between the Master of the Horses and the Technical Museum when the latter had requested to take over one of King Haakon’s old cars when it was to be scrapped. The letter, dated 31 July 1937, is written on stationary with the printed name “Kristiania”, which had been crossed over and replaced with “Oslo”, thirteen years after the name of the capital was altered – King Haakon’s court was not a court of spendthrifts!