Saturday, 4 December 2010
What to see: Crown Princess Märtha’s silver wedding dress
The unused silver wedding dress of Crown Princess Märtha of Norway is one of the most poignant exhibits at the National Museum’s department of decorative arts. The work of Molstad of Oslo, the dress is made of silvery silk of a pink or violet nuance and embroidered in Paris with bead embroidery and appliqué floral motifs in grey silk ribbon and tulle.
The silver wedding anniversary of Crown Princess Märtha and Crown Prince Olav occurred on 21 March 1954. The night before there would be a dinner for some fifty family and friends at the crown princely couple’s home Skaugum in Asker, followed by a gala banquet for 200 guests at the Royal Palace on the anniversary itself and a third party for 300 guests on the third day. Britain’s Queen Mother would head the list of foreign guests attending.
On 11 March the Crown Princess, who had by then been ill for several years, came to Molstad to try on the dress for the final time. The next morning she had internal haemorrhages and was taken to the National Hospital in Oslo.
Thus the silver wedding celebrations were cancelled and the silver bride spent the day in hospital. The rest of the royal family attended mass in the Palace Chapel and Crown Prince Olav alone received congratulatory deputations from the government, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps and the municipalities of Oslo and Asker.
In the evening there was a quiet family dinner at Skaugum. The Crown Princess’s niece-by-marriage, Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, who died earlier this year, was one of the few guests, having been skiing in the Norwegian mountains with her husband and now about to return to Denmark. Later she told me of the dinner, which she described simply as “heart-wrenching”. She counted the speech Crown Prince Olav gave as “one of life’s greatest moments” and never forgot “the tribute he paid to the woman he loved”, which “brought tears to the eyes of everyone”.
The next day Crown Princess Märtha fell into a coma. She woke up again, but her condition deteriorated and she died on the morning of 5 April 1954, aged 53.
Her husband mourned her for the rest of his life. He succeeded to the throne three years later and was thus without a wife for his entire reign. As Queen Maud had died in 1938, this meant that Norway was without a queen from 1938 to 1991. In fact it is only this year that the current dynasty has had a queen for a longer time than it was without one.
The unused silver wedding dress is a reminder not only of King Olav’s loss, but also of the queen who never was, which was undoubtedly a loss for the nation as well.