Tonight twenty years have passed by since the death of King Olav V and the accession of King Harald V to the Norwegian throne. King Olav died at the Royal Lodge in Oslo at 10.20 p.m. on 17 January 1991.
King Olav had suffered a stroke in early June 1990, a month ahead of his 87th birthday, and Crown Prince Harald thereafter served as regent. However, the announcement of King Olav’s death came rather unexpectedly as he had made a partial recovery and been out late in the night celebrating his brother-in-law Prince Carl Bernadotte’s 80th birthday some days earlier.
He had also spent his day as usual, which included some hours at the Palace catching up with the news and entertaining the Speaker of Parliament, Jo Benkow, to lunch. But the King was deeply worried by the outbreak of the Gulf War, which reminded him of the events of 1940, and King Harald has subsequently called his father “the first causality of the Gulf War”.
Back at the Royal Lodge in the evening, King Olav suffered a heart attack followed by heart failure. His three children, his son-in-law Johan Martin Ferner and five of his ten grandchildren were by his side when he died. Shortly afterwards the two youngest children were walking down from the room where King Olav had died when a doctor came after them and called out “Your Majesty”. It was only when Princess Astrid nudged him and said “He means you” that Harald V realised that he was now King.
The announcement of King Olav’s death caused an outpouring of grief on a scale which had never before been seen in Norway. Hardly had the news been announced before a group of youngsters placed a few candles in the snow outside the Palace. In the following days it grew into an ocean of candles, flowers and children’s drawings. At night, Arne Skouen wrote, it looked as if the snow was burning.
When King Olav died, the Royal Standard was lowered to half mast above the Palace, but was raised again when the new King arrived to chair an extraordinary State Council in which he formally informed the government of his father’s passing and his own accession to the throne. Thereafter the Royal Standard was flown at half from a flagstaff suspended from the balcony. The photo above was taken on the day I went to King Olav’s lying-in-state in the Palace Chapel.
King Olav died on a Thursday evening and on the following Sunday the royal family attended a memorial service in the Cathedral. The next day King Harald was driven to Parliament where he swore his oath of allegiance to the Constitution. He was accompanied by Queen Sonja, who thus became the first Queen to be present in Parliament for 69 years.
The state funeral of King Olav was held in the Cathedral on 30 January and despite the ongoing war it was attended by heads of state, royals and other dignitaries from around the world. The late King was laid to rest at the side of his beloved wife, Crown Princess Märtha, in the Royal Mausoleum at Akershus Castle.
On 17 January 2001 the tenth anniversary of King Olav’s death was marked by a commemorative service in the Cathedral, but this year there will be no public events and at the Palace there has been business as usual today with the King receiving a number of visitors in audience.