“After King Harald’s abdication – Mette Marit [sic] to be queen” was the title on the front page of last week’s edition of the Swedish gossip magazine Se & Hör. Inside we can read that the “royalty expert” Sten Hedman, a retired journalist who does not even have basic knowledge of the Swedish royal family, believes that the King of Norway will be the next to abdicate as he has had health problems recently.
In fact, it is now a decade since the King underwent surgery for cancer (in 2003) and heart problems (in 2005), and in both cases he made a full recovery and is by all accounts now in excellent health. Although Se & Hör is the sort of magazine with such a low reputation for credibility that hardly anyone takes it seriously we should perhaps stop and consider whether there is a chance that the King might abdicate. The answer is most likely not.
In his New Year speech on 31 December 2013, a year which had seen the abdications of the Queen of the Netherlands, the Pope, the Emir of Qatar and the King of the Belgians, King Harald referred to the Constitution, which celebrates its bicentenary this year, and the oath to the Constitution he had taken when he became King in 1991. “This oath is for life”, he added, something I cannot see any other reason for stating in that context unless he meant to send a signal that he did not intend to follow in the footsteps of his fellow monarchs.
When asked about the abdication issue three years ago, the King said in his informal manner that he has asked his children to let him know if he at one stage becomes completely bonkers. In such a case there will most likely be a regency, which is really the exact same thing as an abdication, except that the heir does not acquire the royal title. This was how the issue was solved during the final illnesses of King Haakon in 1955-1957 and King Olav in 1990-1991 and is probably also how things will be done if King Harald at some stage becomes physically or mentally incapacitated.
There is no tradition for abdication in Norway. Since the country became independent in 1814 there has been only one abdication, and that was in 1814, when King Christian Frederik, as part of the armistice concluded with Sweden in Moss in August 1814, agreed to lay down the Crown of Norway. King Christian Frederik signed the instrument of abdication on 10 October, but it did not come into force until it was approved by Parliament on 4 November, the same day King Carl XIII was elected his successor.
King Oscar II on several occasions threatened to abdicate, but was eventually deposed by Parliament on 7 June 1905. However, he did formally abdicate the Norwegian crown on 26 October that year, but this was considered irrelevant by the Norwegians, who maintained that his reign had come to an end more than three months earlier because of his inability to carry out his constitutional functions.
King Haakon VII also threatened to abdicate on at least two occasions, most famously after the German invasion in 1940, when he made it clear to the cabinet that he could not agree to the German demands that he should appoint the Nazi leader Vidkun Quisling Prime Minister, as this would violate his oath to the Constitution, and that he would abdicate in order not to stand in the way if the cabinet wished to agree to the German demands (which they did not).
At the end of the war King Haakon entertained the thought of abdicating in Crown Prince Olav’s favour, apparently inspired by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands’s intention to do so. However, he rejected the idea, and although he later said at one stage that there ought to be an age limit for kings, he was deeply hurt when the newspaper Nordlys brought up the subject of abdication during his final years.
King Olav is not known ever to have considered abdicating.