200 years ago today Norway and Sweden formed a union of crowns when the Norwegian Parliament passed a revised Constitution and elected King Carl XIII of Sweden King of Norway. The union was formalised by the Act of Union the following year.
Despite what some people, perhaps particularly foreigners, seem to think, the union did not in any way mean that Norway became part of Sweden (or the other way around) or that the two countries became one state. It was in fact one of the loosest unions in history, the two countries sharing only the King and, as foreign policy was considered a royal prerogative, the foreign service. The relationship between the two countries can perhaps best be compared to the relationship between Britain and Hanover between 1714 and 1837.
The Swedes liked to refer to the two countries as "the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway" (the term seems to have been less popular in Norway), but the plural spells out the difference from "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (Northern) Ireland".
The union was the brainchild of the Swedish Crown Prince Carl Johan, who hoped eventually to achieve an amalgamation of the two countries. In this he failed, but after his rather turbulent reign there followed what has subsequently been called "the happy days of the union". Clouds began to gather in the reign of Carl XV, and from the 1880s there were numerous conflicts and crisis until the Norwegian Parliament unilaterally deposed Oscar II on 7 June 1905 and Norway thereby withdrew from the union. Following negotiations between the two countries in Karlstad in the autumn, the union was formally dissolved on 26 October 1905 after both parliaments had ratified the Treaty of Karlstad and Oscar II abdicated the crown of Norway.
The union has subsequently had a very bad press in Norway, the bitterness of the political disputes having overshadowed the fact that it was also a time of economic and cultural blossoming.
Commemorations of the bicentenary have been fairly low-key, with conferences taking place yesterday and today and by a speech by the Speaker of Parliament at the start of today's parliamentary sitting.
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