Tuesday, 24 January 2012

My latest article: How Nidaros Cathedral became the coronation church

Picking apart historical myths and misconceptions is of course one of the favourite pastimes of historians and in an article in Adresseavisen (external link) today I address the not uncommon idea that Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim has “always” been the coronation church of this country.
In fact, most medieval coronations took place in Bergen and later in Oslo. It was only towards the end of the medieval age that three coronations happened in Trondheim. The first of them was held on 20 November 1449 and caused by extraordinary circumstances.
After the death of King Christoffer of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1448, Sweden chose Karl Knutsson (of the House of Bonde) to be its king, while Denmark opted for Count Christiern of Oldenburg (Christian I). Norway had little choice but to choose one of them and a majority of the Norwegian council voted for Christian, an election which marked the transformation from hereditary to elective monarchy.
However, a minority of the council, among them the powerful Archbishop of Nidaros, Aslak Bolt, tried to push through their candidate by staging an election in which Karl was victorious and consequently had him crowned in Nidaros Cathedral.
At the time of the coronation Karl’s supporters made the claim that rightful kings of Norway ought to be crowned in Trondheim, but this was an invention. However, when Christian defeated Karl the following year, he too was crowned in Nidaros Cathedral, obviously to “annul” the coronation of the “usurper”.
Christian I’s son, King Hans, was later crowned in Trondheim in 1483, but Christian II was crowned in St Hallvard’s Cathedral in Oslo in 1514. However, the claim made in 1449 was so effective that it very soon seems to have become a generally accepted notion that coronations had traditionally been held in Trondheim. For instance, the Council used this argument when Frederik I decreed that his Norwegian coronation should take place in Kongehelle.
Frederik I was eventually never crowned in Norway and neither were his successors after Norway was declared part of Denmark in 1536. But it is possible to find references during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the supposed fact that coronations were usually held in Trondheim and this may well have inspired “the founding fathers” at the Constituent Assembly of 1814, who made it a constitutional requirement that the kings of Norway should be crowned in Nidaros Cathedral.
The myth about Nidaros Cathedral as the ancient coronation church of this country is, I argue, an excellent example of what historians call “the invention of tradition”. This is also a topic which I will return to in a longer and more scholarly article in the near future.

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