Saturday, 28 May 2011

My latest article: The numerals of the union kings

Earlier this month there was quite an outcry here in Norway when it was claimed by the newspaper Dagbladet that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had virtually banned the King from the ceremony at Akershus Castle on 8 May, now declared “Veterans’ Day”, where the Defence Chief on behalf of the King presented the War Cross, the nation’s highest-ranking decoration, to three veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
Disputes related to symbols are nothing new to the Norwegian monarchy; indeed many of the disputes during the union of crowns with Sweden were concerned with symbols. One such dispute, over the numerals used by the kings, is the topic of an article I have written in the latest issue of Personhistorisk tidskrift (2011:1), titled “Carl III Johan – Carl XIV Johan? Striden om unionskongenes ordenstall”.
Already in 1815 it was pointed out by a newspaper that King Carl XIII really ought to be styled Carl I in Norway, a suggestion which caused the fury of Crown Prince Carl Johan (later this was mostly modified to Carl II, counting Karl Knutsson Bonde in the fifteenth century as the first Norwegian King Karl). Five years later the same newspaper would publish a poem in honour of “King Carl Johan I”, although the new King’s name was Carl XIV Johan in Norway as well as in Sweden.
The issue was raised in Parliament in 1821, but it never came up for debate before Parliament was dissolved. Fifteen years later it was again raised in Parliament when it was suggested that the King should be styled “Carl III Johan” on coins, a proposal which was voted down. The Constitution Committee did however draft a letter to the King on the issue, but again Parliament was dissolved before it could vote over the letter. The extraordinary Parliament of 1837 decided not to raise this issue with the King.
Having briefly considered reigning under his first two names, Frans Joseph, Carl Johan’s successor eventually opted for the name Oscar I when he succeeded his father in 1844. As the first monarch of that name he did not use a numeral on coins, but the problem would reappear when his eldest son, Carl, succeeded him.
As Oscar I lay dying in 1859, Prime Minister Georg Sibbern raised the issue with the Crown Prince, but following his father’s death he explicitly announced that his name should be Carl XV in both countries.
Carl XV’s successor, Oscar II, was again not directly concerned by this problem, but as he grew older and frailer a newspaper debate – not the first on the topic – sprung up in 1900 about what should be the name of his son. In 1904 a cabinet minister, Jakob Schøning, was asked to look into the matter and reached the conclusion that the Crown Prince would have to be Gustaf V in Sweden and Gustaf I in Norway or alternatively Oscar III of both countries. As we know, the dissolution of the union in 1905 came between Gustaf and the Norwegian throne.
It might be said that those who wanted the King to have separate numerals in his two kingdoms had good arguments on their side. Norway and Sweden were two independent states in a union built on the principle of equality between the countries and, as it was frequently pointed out, monarchs of other unions had generally used separate numerals in each of their realms. Examples could be James I and VI of England and Scotland, Ferdinando IV and III of Naples and Sicily, and Ferdinand I of Austria and V of Hungary.
Nevertheless, this practice was never adopted for the Swedish-Norwegian union – Parliament never voted in its favour, the kings rejected it and the government accepted the monarchs’ decisions on this issue.
Thus it is a latter-day construction, indeed a historical falsification, when we on the Royal Palace’s website, in certain encyclopaedias and other places can read about Norwegian kings titled “Carl II”, “Carl III Johan” and “Carl IV” – or, even worse, “Karl II”, “Karl III Johan” and “Karl IV”. Their names were Carl XIII, Carl XIV Johan and Carl XV in Norway as well as in Sweden, whether we Norwegians like it or not.
The whole story of the debate over the union kings’ numerals may be found on pages 69-84 of the new issue of Personhistorisk tidskrift, published earlier this month.
The photo shows King Carl XV’s cipher, with the XV in the centre of two intertwined Cs, on one of the public buildings erected in Christiania (now Oslo) during his reign.


  1. Interesting post, sir.

    Of course, what is correct in this matter is a question of correct in what way, as your post clearly illustrates.

  2. I am sorry, but I do not quite follow you when you write that my post "clearly illustrates" that "what is correct in this matter is a question of correct in what way".

    Given that the kings themselves opposed being numbered differently in each country, that Parliament never made any such decision and that the government agreed to the kings' decisions I think it is quite clear that the only correct way is to use the names Carl XIII, Carl XIV Johan and Carl XV, and that Carl/Karl II, Carl/Karl III Johan and Carl/Karl IV are all wrong, as the research I did for my article clearly shows.

    Of course for instance Carl XV was the fourt King of Norway named Carl, but he was nevertheless King Carl XV of Norway. For posterity to start referring to him as Carl IV, a name he never held, is an anachronism and a construction which does not reflect reality.

    Similarly it seems most now agree that there were five kings by the name of Olav before Olav V and that the conclusion reached by Johan Schreiner and Asgaut Steinnes in the 1950s that Haakon VII's son should be Olav V, although that was the numeral commonly associated with Olav Håkonsson, who was then "renamed" Olav IV, was wrong, yet no-one seems to argue that we should posthumously alter the name of our previous king to Olav VI, although it seems perfectly okay for the Palace, encyclopaedias et al to alter the names of other late monarchs.

  3. Well, sir. You are saying that the numeral given to the latest King Olav was wrong, and that a previous King Olav actually was "renamed." Hence, a different numeral would have been correct. Thus, you are proving the point that it in one way would be correct to have a numeral. So it a question of in which way it is correct.

    But in any case giving the impression that a different numeral than the one officially in use during the reign was actually the one officially in use is of course wrong. Encyclopedias especially should at least be honest about what was the official numeral.

  4. Yes, that is my point: one can have opinions about what numeral *would have been* correct, but there is only one correct answer to which numeral was actually used. For instance there are good reasons for why Carl XIII ought to have been titled Carl II in Norway, but he was titled Carl XIII.


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