Thursday, 20 January 2011

The royal oath to the Constitution

Twenty years ago tomorrow King Harald V swore the oath of allegiance to the Constitution in the Parliament Chamber. The oath to govern the country according to its constitution and laws is laid down in the Constitution’s article 9. The King is expected to swear the oath as soon as he accedes to the throne, but until 1871 Parliament met only every third year and until 1990 Parliament did not sit throughout the year. If a change of monarch happened while Parliament was not sitting, the King would make a written oath and later repeat it orally in front of Parliament, usually during the next State Opening of Parliament.
Christian Frederik, the first King of Norway after independence was restored, was elected by the Constituent Assembly on 17 May 1814, the day after the Constitution had been passed. On 19 May he accepted the crown and appeared before the Constituent Assembly in the main hall of Eidsvold Værk Manor to swear his oath to the Constitution.
The course of events forced him to abdicate a few months later and the instrument of abdication, which he signed on 10 October 1814, was ratified by Parliament on 4 November. The same day King Carl XIII was elected King of Norway, but as ill health and other reasons meant that Carl XIII never came to the country during his reign, he never swore the oath orally in front of Parliament, but rather in front of a delegation from the Norwegian Parliament which came to Stockholm in December to inform him formally of his election to the Norwegian throne. Before that his heir, Crown Prince Carl Johan, had presented the King’s written oath to the Speaker of Parliament when he and Prince Oscar, first came to Parliament on 10 November.
In 1818 the State Opening of Parliament took place on 6 February 1818, before news had arrived that Carl XIII had died the previous evening. It was thus obviously impossible for his adopted son and heir, Carl XIV Johan, to be present, but Parliament was still sitting when he arrived in Christiania (now Oslo) on 11 August 1818 on his way to his coronation in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondhjem (now Trondheim). He stayed in Christiania until 25 August, but there is no mention in parliamentary minutes of his going to Parliament to swear the oath. On the contrary all the MPs called on the King in the Royal Mansion both after his arrival in the capital and the day before his departure. The King rather swore the oath during the coronation in Nidaros Cathedral on 7 September 1818, where only a deputation from Parliament was present.
Carl XIV Johan died on 8 March 1844, at a time when Parliament was not sitting. His son Oscar I swore the oath during the State Opening of Parliament in the provisory parliament building in Christiania on 10 February 1845. The King was flanked on the dais by his three eldest sons – Crown Prince Carl, Prince Gustaf and Prince Oscar – while Queen Josephina and the two youngest children, Princess Eugénie and Prince August, watched from a royal box.
King Oscar I died on 8 July 1859, when Parliament was not sitting. While Oscar I was joined by his entire family, Carl XV came unaccompanied by any family member when he took the oath during the State Opening of Parliament on 6 October 1859, which was again held in the provisory parliament building.
Parliament was again not sitting when Carl XV passed away on 18 September 1872. In 1866 the national assembly had moved into a building of its own and during the State Opening of Parliament on 3 February 1873 King Oscar II thus became the first monarch to swear his oath in the room which remains the Parliament Chamber today. Like his brother before him, Oscar II was unaccompanied by any members of his family. It is interesting to note that the session was presided over by Johan Sverdrup as Speaker of Parliament, the man who would later become Oscar II’s main opponent in the fight over the introduction of parliamentarianism and who was appointed Prime Minister following the King’s defeat in 1884.
Following Oscar II’s deposal on 7 June 1905 and his abdication on 26 October 1905, the newly elected King Haakon VII arrived in Norway on 25 November 1905. Parliament was sitting at the time and two days after his arrival the new King drove to the Parliament Building to take his oath to the Constitution, accompanied by Queen Maud, who became the first royal lady to take her seat with the King on the dais rather than in a royal box. Above is Harald Dal’s painting of the event, which exists in three versions – this version hangs in the Parliament Building’s Central Hall. That it is painted more than fifty years after the event can be deducted from the fact that the walls of the Parliament Chamber were not actually red at the time – they got their present colour only in 1914.
King Haakon died on 21 September 1957, after Parliament had been dissolved ahead of the upcoming election. In those days Parliament would not reconvene until more than three months after the election and it was thus only during the State Opening of Parliament on 20 January 1958 that King Olav V swore his oath.
To complicate matters further the Parliament Building was undergoing a thorough rebuilding at the time, which meant that the Parliament Chamber was a construction site and that parliamentary sittings were temporarily held in a large conference room in the new annex to the building. The King, MPs, ministers, supreme court judges and all other dignitaries thus squeezed together in the smaller Lagting Chamber (which was used for the sittings of the so-called Lagting during the semi-bicameral system which was in force from 1814 to 2009) for the ceremony. King Olav was not accompanied by any member of his family.
Since 1990 Parliament is no longer dissolved and thus it formally sits from the beginning of October to the end of September, although there are of course recesses. When King Olav died on 17 January 1991, his son was thus able to go to Parliament on the following Monday, 21 January 1991, to swear his oath of allegiance. By accompanying him Queen Sonja became the first Queen to be present in Parliament for 69 years.
A little-known fact is that there were also other royal oath-taking ceremonies during the union of crowns with Sweden. During the State Opening of Parliament on 24 October 1900, Prince Gustaf Adolf, who accompanied his parents Crown Prince Gustaf and Crown Princess Victoria (King Oscar II was ill at the time and Crown Prince Gustaf thus acted as Regent), swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and the King.
The newspaper Verdens Gang questioned the correctness of this as there was no legal provision for the heir to swear such an oath. However, it was clearly inspired by the Swedish tradition whereby princes upon reaching their 18th birthday swore an oath of allegiance during the Swedish State Opening of Parliament (the present King of Sweden was the last prince to do so, in 1965 – the oath disappeared with new Constitution in 1975, but Crown Princess Victoria made an informal pledge of loyalty on her 18th birthday in 1995).
It was also pointed out that Prince Gustaf Adolf’s father, Crown Prince Gustaf, had sworn the same oath when accompanying his father to the State Opening of Parliament on 7 February 1877. There are however no indications that Crown Prince Carl swore such an oath in 1845 or Crown Prince Carl Johan in 1814, but on the other hand Crown Prince Oscar swore an oath of loyalty during his father’s coronation in 1818.
No such oath has been sworn following the dissolution of the union of crowns with Sweden in 1905, but the Crown Prince makes a written oath along the same lines when he becomes eligible for acting as Regent.


  1. Interesting post, sir. Thank you!

    What is your take on the development of the hand holding of the oath?

    We see that King Haakon VII held his hand high above his head. King Olav V held his hand up like we see American Presidents do it at their inaugurations -- at least the more recent ones. King Harald V did not hold his hand up at all.

    What do you think of that?

  2. I am afraid I must disappoint you on this one, as I have done no research on that particular detail of the ceremony.

  3. HI, I'm really interessed on this painting, do you have an e-mail that I can get in touch with you? I'm a brazilian art history student

    1. You may e-mail me at trond.noren.isaksen (at)


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