Friday, 29 May 2009

Danish royal christening on 26 July

According to Politiken the new prince of Denmark will be christened in Møgeltønder Church on 26 July at 5.30 p.m. Møgeltønder Church is close to Schackenborg Palace, where the family lives. The Prince is the first child of Prince Joachim and Princess Marie and was born on 4 May.

“A national icon”

Today's issue of the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet has an obituary of the Labour politican Haakon Lie by the historian Hans Olav Lahlum, whose biography of Lie will be published in September:

Thursday, 28 May 2009

What to see: St Peter’s Square, the Vatican City

St Peter’s Square, one of the greatest works of the Roman baroque, was laid out between 1657 and 1667 by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini on the orders of Pope Alexander VII. It is one of the greatest works of the Roman baroque and often counted as the very centre of the Christian world. When Bernini was given the task by the Pope, the square was to put it simply a mess which had to be completely rearranged.
Projecting from the façade of St Peter’s Basilica are two rectangular wings which frame the inner part of the square. The outer part of the square is in the shape of an ellipse, has a diameter of 240 metres from its northern to its southern end and is flanked by Doric colonnades on either side. Bernini himself described the colonnades as the “arms” of the church, stretching out in welcome to all visitors, believers and non-believers, and drawing them towards the church.
Because the colonnade is curved Bernini arranged the 284 columns four deep on radial axes and gradually increased their diameter in order not to disturb the proportions between spaces and columns. The colonnades are topped by 140 statues of saints, each measuring 3.1 metres in height, and six coats of arms of Alexander VII.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Kidney transplant for Daniel Westling

Crown Princess Victoria's fiancé Daniel Westling today had a kidney transplant at Karolinska sjukhuset in Solna outside Stockholm. According to the Swedish royal court the need for a transplant had been known for a long time and the reason for the surgery was "a congenital but not inherited disease causing impaired renal function". The donor was Daniel Westling's father, Olle Westling, and according to the Palace both are doing well. Crown Princess Victoria is meanwhile on a trip to Greenland with Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Prince Frederik.

The royal court's press release:

More in Svenska Dagbladet:

Left unbuilt: Linstow’s Parliament, Oslo

The architect Hans D. F. Linstow (1787-1851) is best known for the Royal Palace in Oslo, which was built between 1825 and 1848. At that time the Palace was quite far away from the town centre and in 1838 Linstow published his great city plan for connecting the Palace to the old town. Its focal point was a grand street running in a straight line from the Palace to Eger Square – at first it was called Slottsveien, today we know it as Karl Johans gate.
Along this grand avenue Linstow projected a stately rectangular square. Around one half of the square would be three buildings for the University, around the other a parliament building, a technological school and an art museum. In 1838 Linstow also made a design for a parliament building, with a semi-circular plenary hall projecting from the building’s rear side.
The following year Linstow was appointed to a five-man commission to deal with these issues. The University buildings (by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Christian Heinrich Grosch) were now being built on the north side of the square Linstow had suggested, and when the commission reported in 1841 the majority wanted to follow Linstow’s idea from 1838 – on the south side they envisioned the Parliament in the middle and buildings for ministries on either side.
Linstow alone made up the commission’s minority and now wanted to scrap the southern half of the square. His new idea was that the Parliament Building should lie alone facing the University, which would give it added gravitas. Next to it, further down the street, Linstow suggested a government building followed by a building for the Supreme Court – thus all the three powers of state would be lined up after each other in rising order of seniority as one travelled towards the Palace at the top of the street.
Linstow added drawings for all three buildings and those for the Parliament are reproduced here. The architect imagined a rather simple building with a partly rusticated façade, a portico of eight Doric columns carrying a tympanum and a sculptural relief above the main entrance. The art historian Bjørn Sverre Pedersen, who was the first to present Linstow’s drawings, thought the main façade was inspired by Leo von Klenze’s Glyptothek in Munich (in the fourth photo) but there are, as one can see, obvious differences. The portico is however very similar to the portico of Christian Frederik Hansen’s Cathedral in Copenhagen (fifth picture).
Pedersen compared the floor plan of Linstow’s projected Parliament to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus in Berlin and the plenary hall to the theatre salon in Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. For the plenary hall Linstow opted for the shape of a Greek rather than a Roman theatre, perhaps in recognition of democracy’s Greek roots.
No Parliament was built in Oslo in Linstow’s lifetime. Meanwhile Parliament met elsewhere and it was only in 1866 that the Parliament Building (sixth photo) was inaugurated. Placed further down Karl Johans gate and built by the Swedish architect Emil Victor Langlet in Lombard-Romanesque historicism it is a far cry from Linstow’s Hellenistic ideals.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Crown Prince Haakon and family moving to the Palace

The Norwegian Court today announced that Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and their children will temporarily move to the Royal Palace in Oslo because of quite extensive renovation work being carried out at their home Skaugum in Asker.

Mourning a legend

The headquarters of the Norwegian Labour Party and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions both flew the flag at half staff today in honour of Haakon Lie, the legendary Labour politician who died at the age of 103 yesterday. The death of this giant was naturally the lead story in most of the newspapers today. It has been announced that his funeral will be at Samfunnssalen at Oslo Workers' Society at 1 p.m. on 5 June.

Royal jewels: Queen Josephina’s diamond tiara

This diamond tiara which is frequently worn by Queen Sonja of Norway is often referred to as “Désirée’s diamonds”, a name which is almost certainly erroneous. Some have even claimed that the tiara was a wedding present from Désirée Clary’s parents when she married General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in 1798, despite the fact that Désirée’s father, a wealthy Marseilles tradesman, was by then already dead and it is beyond me why a merchant’s widow should give such a grand tiara to her daughter when marrying a revolutionary general.
In fact it seems the tiara has never belonged to Désirée at all. When she died as Dowager Queen of Sweden and Norway in 1860 her jewels were inherited by her widowed daughter-in-law, Queen Josephina. Yet Queen Josephina is painted with this tiara many years before her mother-in-law’s death – Friedrich Dürck’s state portrait from 1849 being one example – while there are no known pictures showing Queen Désirée with the tiara. Furthermore it is not mentioned in the inventory of Queen Désirée’s jewels drawn up after her death.
If one takes a closer look at Per Krafft the Younger’s monumental painting of the wedding of the future King Oscar I and Queen Josephina on 19 June 1823 (now in the Bernadotte Gallery at Stockholm’s Royal Palace) it seems that this is actually the tiara worn by the bride. It might thus have been a wedding present to her, but who gave it is of course hard to tell – the groom, his parents or the bride’s parents?
From Queen Josephina the tiara passed to her granddaughter, Queen Louise of Denmark, who wore it frequently – as in the detail of Laurits Tuxen’s 1911-1912 state portrait above. At her death in 1926 it was inherited by her youngest son, Prince Gustav, who was unmarried and occasionally lent it to his sister Princess Thyra and some of his nieces. When Prince Gustav died in 1944 it was inherited by one of these nieces, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, who also wore it frequently until her premature death in 1954. It was then inherited by her son, the present King Harald V. His sister Princess Astrid borrowed it when she was the first lady of Norway, and since her brother’s wedding in 1968 it has been one of the tiaras his wife, now Queen Sonja, has worn most frequently.

Monday, 25 May 2009

At the end of the road: Haakon Lie (1905-2009), Norway’s oldest politician

Haakon Lie, the Grand Old Man of the Norwegian Labour Party, died today at the age of 103. He was politically active until the very end and was thereby able to claim the unusual distinction of having participated in this country’s politics for nearly 90 years.
Born on 22 September 1905, Haakon Lie first took part in an election campaign in 1919 and joined Labour in 1921. He was elected party secretary in 1945, a position he held until 1969. This made him one of the most powerful figures during the party’s political hegemony and also meant that he came to play a significant role in the development of the welfare society. He was by now the last survivor of the leading Labour politicians of this important era.
Lie was a controversial figure and his almost mccarthyistic fear of Communists, which probably had it roots in the “civil war” within the Labour Party in the 1920s, made him many enemies on the left wing both within and outside his own party. His strained relationship with Einar Gerhardsen, who served as Prime Minister for seventeen years, culminated in a dramatic speech Gerhardsen made at the party’s convention in 1967, criticising Lie for his methods.
Haakon Lie remained an active and influential politician after his retirement and showed a remarkable ability to keep up to date and adapt to changing times. Formerly a staunch supporter of Israel he reached a more nuanced view in later years and many were astonished when he, perhaps the most pro-US and pro-NATO of them all, last year voiced his opinion that Norway should buy new military planes from Sweden rather than from the USA. He also played a significant part in the election campaign in 2005 and was said to have had some influence on the choice of Labour’s new party secretary earlier this spring. In recent years people had taken to saying “If Haakon Lie dies…”
His book Slik jeg ser det nå, which was published last year, dealt more with the present and the future than with the past and was seen as his political testament. He also co-operated on the historian Hans Olav Lahlum’s biography of him, which is scheduled to be published on his 104th birthday in September. Haakon Lie had promised Lahlum he would be there at the book release.

The Labour Party’s announcement and obituary:

Arne Strand, political editor of Dagsavisen, on the passing of Haakon Lie:

What to see: The National Library, Helsinki

The National Library of Finland (formerly the University Library) is often counted among the best – if not simply the best – of the many public buildings in Helsinki erected by the Prussian-born architect Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840) in the years after the Finnish capital was moved there from Turku (Åbo) in 1812, the University following in 1828.
“It is as splendid as the Senate Building but it has a dignified mightiness of a quite other sort, a lofty tranquillity of forms which one does not encounter earlier in his more richly decorated works”, the art historian Nils Erik Wickberg wrote about the library. Engel himself wrote to his nephew in 1833: “When this building is once completed, there will be not one university in Europe which will have a more beautiful library”.
Situated at Union Street opposite the entrance to the Cathedral of Helsinki and next to the University Building, the National Library was built between 1836 and 1840. However the interior decoration took such a long time that it was only in 1845 that the library could be taken in use.
From the main entrance one enters through a vestibule into the library’s central room, the Cupola Hall, which was inspired by Roman baths (photo 4). It is surmounted by a cupola which is 21 metres high (photo 5). On either side it is flanked by two long, rectangular, barrel-vaulted reading rooms – the North Hall can be seen in the sixth picture, the South Hall in the seventh. All three rooms are surrounded by stucco marble columns and together they “make up the most beautiful suite of rooms in the secular architecture of Finland”, Wickberg wrote.
The painted decorations on the vaults were added only in 1881, but correspond quite well with Engel’s ideas. In 1906-1907 the building was supplemented by an annex, the Rotunda, at the rear of the building. The Rotunda is by the architect Gustaf Nyström and blends in beautifully with Engel’s architecture. Underground storage rooms were built in 1950s and in 2000 and today the neighbouring Fabiania building is also at the National Library’s disposal.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Title issues: Count of Kronborg

Sixty years ago today Prince Flemming of Denmark married Ruth Nielsen in Holmen’s Church, Copenhagen. On marrying a commoner without the King’s consent Flemming lost his succession rights and his royal title and was made Count of Rosenborg, a fact he was informed of through a letter from King Frederik IX.
On the wall of her living room Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, who has now been a widow for seven years, has a large painting of the imperial Russian fleet sailing past Kronborg Castle in Elsinore (Helsingør in Danish). She bought it at Bruun Rasmussen’s auction house in Copenhagen shortly after the wedding. Perhaps it reflects her late husband’s wish to become Count of Kronborg rather than of Rosenborg?
The title Count of Rosenborg had been invented when Prince Aage, the eldest son of Prince Valdemar, married an Italian noblewoman without his father’s knowledge or the King’s consent in 1914. Despite being the grandsons of a sovereign, which in Denmark means that one carries the prefix HH rather than HRH, Aage and his siblings had been made Royal Highnesses in 1904. Following his marriage Aage was again “demoted” to a mere Highness, remained a prince but not “of Denmark”, and a comitial title was added to his title. But count of what? Kronborg and Rosenborg, both old royal castles, were considered, while Aage’s naughty little sister Margrethe suggested Count of the Round Tower, another Copenhagen landmark from the reign of Christian IV.
In the end King Christian X opted for Count of Rosenborg. The same title was given to Aage’s younger brothers Erik and Viggo when they made unequal marriages some years later. Only one of the brothers, Axel, married a princess, Margaretha of Sweden, and thus kept his title as HRH Prince Axel of Denmark.
Flemming was his second son and when falling in love with Ruth Nielsen he thought her more important to him that his place as ninth in line to the Danish throne. The princely title never meant much to this easygoing royal, who never regretted that he had to give it up when marrying the woman he loved.
But he did ask King Frederik IX to be created Count of Kronborg in stead of Rosenborg, Countess Ruth once told me. He thought that there were already enough counts of Rosenborg and wanted to have a separate name for the line founded by him. Rosenborg is also the barracks of the Royal Life Guards, while Flemming served in the Navy and therefore felt more attached to Kronborg than to Rosenborg. But King Frederik did not take his request seriously; he just laughed and made Flemming yet another Count of Rosenborg.
Later the title Count of Rosenborg was also given to Prince Oluf (son of Prince Harald) when he married a commoner in 1950, and to the sons of Hereditary Prince Knud, Prince Ingolf and Prince Christian, when they married commoners in 1968 and 1971 respectively. The same title having been used by so many ex-princes from various branches of the dynasty as well as their descendants has of course caused some confusion about how the various counts of Rosenborg are related to each other.
Only when Prince Joachim divorced his first wife Alexandra in 2005 was a new comitial title created, Alexandra being made Countess of Frederiksborg, the castle where she and Prince Joachim had married. This was done as Alexandra “did not quite fit in” with the Rosenborg pattern, Queen Margrethe explained to me last year.
Last year Queen Margrethe created all her descendants in the male line Count or Countess of Monpezat (her husband’s former surname), which probably means that those who in the future loose their royal titles will become simply Count of Monpezat. Thus it seems unlikely that any further counts of Rosenborg will be created. Recently the Queen of Denmark also made sure that the four Rosenborg families were given differing arms to separate between the branches.
The picture shows Kronborg Castle itself, dating from around 1420, seen from Sofiero Palace in Helsingborg, Sweden.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

People from the past: Peder Anker, Norway’s first Prime Minister

Peder Anker (1749-1824) became Norway’s first Prime Minister when the country achieved independence in a union with Sweden in 1814. He had been ennobled by the Dano-Norwegian King in 1778 and owned huge estates, including the manor Bogstad outside Oslo where he resided. Before entering politics he dedicated himself to the running and development of his estates as well as the office of “generalveiintendant”, which he had been appointed to in 1789 and which made him responsible for the building and maintenance of roads in Southern Norway.
When Norway broke away from Denmark in 1814, Peder Anker became a member of the Constituent Assembly which met at Eidsvoll in April. Anker came to act as some sort of host to the Assembly as the Eidsvoll Manor was owned by his cousin Carsten Anker, who was absent in England. He became the first Speaker of the Assembly, serving during its first week (11-18 April). Two informal “parties” were soon formed, with Peder Anker belonging to the minority group, which was sometimes called “the Union Party” and led by his son-in-law, Count Herman Wedel Jarlsberg. Anker was himself no significant politician and supported Count Wedel in everything.
The Constitution was signed on 17 May 1814, but after a war with Sweden in the summer Norway and Sweden formed a union on 4 November. Both countries remained independent states, but shared the same king and foreign service (which was then a royal prerogative), while having separate constitutions, parliaments, governments, laws, armies etc.
Due to the long distance between the Norwegian and Swedish capitals (it took at least one week to travel from Christiania to Stockholm) the Norwegian Prime Minister and some other cabinet ministers had to reside in Stockholm, while the rest of the government remained in Christiania. It was only in 1873, when trains and telegraphs had made communications easier, that the head of the Norwegian government established his office in the Norwegian capital.
Peder Anker was, supposedly quite unwillingly, talked into accepting the position of Prime Minister of Norway by Crown Prince Carl Johan and consequently became the first to reside in the Norwegian “Minister Hotel” in Stockholm. He served as Prime Minister from 18 November 1814 to 1 July 1822, while Count Wedel became Finance Minister. With Wedel the strongest force in the government it often fell to Anker to mediate between his son-in-law and Carl Johan. Anker was considered a good representative for his country in Stockholm; he was made a Knight of the Order of Seraphim in 1815 and to him fell important ceremonial duties such as carrying the Crown of Norway in Carl XIII’s funeral procession in 1818 and reading out the oath to King Carl XIV Johan at his coronation in Trondheim later that year.
In 1822 Count Wedel was impeached by Parliament and, although acquitted, he chose to resign as Finance Minister. Half a year later his father-in-law also resigned as Prime Minister and returned to Norway and to Bogstad, where he died on 10 December 1824. He is buried in Sem Church adjacent to his son-in-law’s Jarlsberg estate outside Tønsberg.
The posthumous portrait is by Harriet Backer and was done in 1914. It hangs in the Parliament Building in Oslo.

President Köhler reelected in Germany

At today's sitting of the German Federal Assembly in Berlin President Horst Köhler was reelected for another five-year term, winning an absolute majority already in the first round. Of the 1223 delegates present 613 voted for the Christian Democrat Köhler, 503 for the Social Democrat Gesine Schwan, 91 for the Linke candidate Peter Sodann and 4 for the right-wing extremist Frank Rennicke. 10 abstained and 2 votes were deemed invalid. Berliner Zeitung reports:

Friday, 22 May 2009

Man behind Folke Bernadotte’s assassination dies

Yehoshua Zettler, the Stern League member who in 1993 admitted that he had given orders for the murder of Folke Bernadotte, died on Wednesday at the age of 92. Count Folke Bernadotte af Wisborg was in Jerusalem as UN negotiator when he was shot dead in September 1948. Dagens Nyheter and Dagbladet report on the death of this old terrorist:

Germany to elect first female president?

Tomorrow is Germany’s Constitution Day, the 60th anniversary of the Constitution of the Federal Republic. On that day members of the Federal Assembly will gather in Berlin to elect the republic’s president for the next five years. The incumbent Christian Democrat Horst Köhler is seeking re-election but is being challenged by the Social Democrat Gesine Schwan.
Schwan, who celebrates her 65th birthday today, is a professor in social science and belongs to the right wing of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), where she was a distinct opponent to Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. She was also Köhler’s rival in the presidential election five years ago, which ended with 589 votes for Schwan and 604 votes for Köhler in the Federal Assembly.
The Federal Assembly is a constitutional body whose only task is to elect the country’s president. It is made up of the 612 members of the German Federal Parliament and as many delegates elected by the country’s state parliaments.
Of the 1,224 delegates to tomorrow’s sitting of the Federal Assembly the right-wing parties CDU and FDP control 497 and 107 delegates respectively. The right-wing parties SPD, Grüne and Linke have 419, 95 and 90 delegates respectively. There are also 4 right-wing extremists and 10 independent delegates. An absolute majority of at least 613 votes is necessary in the first two rounds of the election, while a simple majority is enough from the third vote.
Delegates to the Federal Assembly have been known to vote unpredictably at times, which may lead to unexpected outcomes. One example is Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis, who was a delegate to the Federal Assembly for the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) five years ago but nevertheless voted for Gesine Schwan rather than the party’s candidate Horst Köhler.
The weekly newspaper Die Zeit had an interview with Gesine Schwan in their issue of 14 May, which can also be read online:

Thursday, 21 May 2009

What to see: Basilica of San Carlo al Corso, Milan

Built between 1839 and 1847 the Basilica of San Carlo al Corso in Milan is often counted as the last work of Italian neoclassicism. The church is the work of the local architect Carlo Amati and it replaced the 14th century church of Servi di Santa Maria.
Like many neoclassical churches San Carlo was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and has a circular floor plan and a cupola. The dome is as large as church itself, with a diameter of 32.3 m. Its height is 36.9 m and it is built without the aid of framework.
The church’s rotunda is encircled by 22 Corinthian columns. The Piazza San Carlo outside is likewise framed by 36 Corinthian granite columns.
The first five pictures show the exterior of the church and the Piazza, the sixth shows the cupola as seen from the roof of the nearby Milan Cathedral and the seventh the high altar.

“The past’s crazy visions for Oslo”

Aften, the evening edition of Aftenposten, yesterday had an article about the many architectural ideas and proposals made for Oslo which were not carried out and today "rest" in the City Archive:

Rumours of British cabinet reshuffle

In the wake of the expenses scandal engulfing the British Parliament several newspapers today speculate over a possible Cabinet reshuffle after the local and European Parliament elections on 4 June. Peter Mandelson, a former foe who has become a close advisor to Gordon Brown since his return to Cabinet a year ago, is tipped to become Foreign Secretary, while Tony Blair's last Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, who was removed from the Cabinet when Brown became PM, is also expected to make a return. Gordon Brown yesterday rejected the opposition's calls for a general election. Articles in The Guardian and The Times about the rumours:

Upcoming film about Caroline Mathilde and Struensee

Berlingske Tidende today reports that the film company Zentropa is about to close deals with British and German actors for the lead roles in the upcoming film Caroline Mathilde. The film will deal with the famous love story of Queen Caroline Mathilde and the royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, who became the actual ruler of Denmark in stead of the mad King Christian VII. After a coup by the King's stepmother and half-brother in 1772 the Queen was divorced and exiled to Hanover and Struensee executed.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

New books: Biography of Princess Pauline Borghese

A few days ago John Murray of London published Venus of Empire: The Life of Pauline Bonaparte by Flora Fraser, which was published already in February in the USA by Alfred A. Knopf as Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire.
Napoléon I’s favourite sister, Princess Pauline Borghese (1780-1825) was famous for being, in Metternich’s words, “as beautiful as it is possible to be” and for her many lovers. She is also remembered for the fact that she was the only one of the Emperor’s siblings who went with him to share his misfortune in exile.
The book is well written, but the problem is that Princess Pauline really did not do much in her short life. For 250 pages her illnesses and her lovers succeed each other while the great events of her time unfold in the background, something which unfortunately makes the book a bit boring at times.
This is not the first biography of Princess Pauline, but compared to other biographers Flora Fraser has succeeded quite well in bringing to life Pauline’s two husbands – the promising General Victor Leclerc, who died while on an expedition to the Caribbean in 1802, and the rather insignificant Prince Camillo Borghese, scion of that great Roman family.
Flora Fraser comes from a truly literary family, which includes, among others, her mother Antonia Fraser, herself a noted biographer, her stepfather the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, her grandmother Elizabeth Longford and her grandfather the late Lord Longford. She has earlier written biographies of Emma, Lady Hamilton, George IV’s consort Queen Caroline and the daughters of George III. Her next book will be a biography of George and Martha Washington.

The first chapter of the book can be read here:

Sunday Times’s review (10 May):

Daily Express’s review (8 May):

The New York Times’s review (19 March):

Washington Times’s review (8 March):

British Speaker forced to resign amidst calls for election

The Speaker of the British Parliament’s House of Commons, Michael Martin, earlier today announced his resignation on 21 June after facing severe criticism for his handling of the scandal over MPs’ expenses. It has been revealed that MPs have grossly misused the system by having private expenses reimbursed from public funds.
Michael Martin, who has been in office for nine years, is the first Commons Speaker to be forced from the position since 1695. His resignation comes after several MPs from both sides yesterday called for it during a stormy sitting of the House of Commons, where the Speaker said all MPs bore a “heavy responsibility for the terrible damage” done to the House but did not mention his own future. Several MPs had called for a vote of no confidence in the Speaker and earlier today Prime Minister Gordon Brown also withdrew his support.
Before announcing his resignation this afternoon Michael Martin was heavily criticised in today’s newspapers. Simon Hoggart wrote on The Guardian’s front page about the Speaker’s performance yesterday: “It wasn’t even tragic, if tragedy is the story of a great man brought down by his own weakness. Michael Martin is a weak man about to be destroyed by his own weakness. […] He didn’t even mention the possibility of resignation. Instead, he intends to hold a top-level meeting. A meeting! If this man were tackling the Great Fire of London he would announce a commission on fire prevention measures, to report by the autumn. He just doesn’t get it”.
David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, yesterday publicly called for a general election to be held. His demand seems a reasonable one, given that this scandal has brought much discredit upon the British Parliament, to such an extent that a fresh start may be necessary to restore people’s confidence in their elected representatives.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown must call a general election before the summer of 2010, but it seems unlikely that he will do so now as his party is currently doing very badly in opinion polls. One such poll in today’s Guardian gives Labour support from 28 % while the Tories are at 39, the Liberal Democrats at 20 and “others” at 14.
The British newspapers have more on the Speaker’s resignation:

On this date: Eighteen Marshals of the French Empire

On 19 May 1804, the day after he had been elected Emperor of the French by the Senate, Napoléon I appointed eighteen Marshals of the Empire – fourteen active and four honorary. The names of the new marshals were published in the following order:

1. Louis Alexandre Berthier (1753-1815), later Sovereign Prince of Neuchâtel, Duke of Valengin, Prince of Wagram
2. Joachim Murat (1767-1815), later Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves, King of Naples
3. Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey (1754-1842), later Duke of Conegliano
4. Jean Baptiste Jourdan, Count (1762-1833)
5. André Massena (1758-1817), later Duke of Rivoli, Prince of Essling
6. Charles Augereau (1757-1816), later Duke of Castiglione
7. Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (1763-1844), later Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo, King of Sweden and Norway
8. Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult (1769-1851), later Duke of Dalmatia
9. Guillaume Marie Brune, Count (1763-1815)
10. Jean Lannes (1769-1809), later Duke of Montebello
11. Edouard Mortier (1768-1835), later Duke of Treviso
12. Michel Ney (1769-1815), later Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskova
13. Louis Nicolas Davout (1770-1823), later Prince of Eckmühl, Duke of Auerstädt
14. Jean Baptiste Bessières (1768-1813), later Duke of Istria
15. François Christophe de Kellermann (1737-1820), later Duke of Valmy
16. François Joseph Lefebvre (1755-1820), later Duke of Danzig
17. Dominique-Cathérine de Pérignon, Marquis (1754-1818)
18. Jean Mathieu Philibert Sérurier, Count (1742-1819)

Later in Napoléon’s reign a further eight marshals were appointed: Victor, Macdonald, Marmont, Oudinot, Suchet, Gouvion-St. Cyr, Poniatowski and Grouchy.
In December 1804 the Marshals took part in the Emperor’s coronation and in the ceremony of the distribution of the eagle standards to the regiments of the Army and the National Guards three days later, both events captured by Jacques-Louis David. The photo above shows a detail of his painting of the latter event, less famous than his coronation painting Le Sacre. Napoléon is surrounded by his Marshals, while Bernadotte looks away. When the painting was completed Bernadotte had left France to become Crown Prince of Sweden and would two years later join forces with Napoléon’s enemies. He was not the only Marshal not to stay loyal to the Emperor. The other photo shows a Marshal of the Empire's baton.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Lithuania elects female president

Yesterday the 53-year-old independent candidate Dalia Grybauskaite won the presidential election in Lithuania, meaning that she will become the country's first female head of state when sworn in on 12 July. Grybauskaite is currently European Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget and although the President's powers are limited it has been hoped that she may help get her country out of its difficult financial situation. Grybauskaite received 69 % of the votes, while the Social Democrat Algirdas Butkevicius came second with 12 %. She will succeed Valdas Adamkus, who has served two terms in office. Dagens Nyheter has more:

What to see: Basilica of San Lorenzo alle Colonne, Milan

Although the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Milan is one of the oldest churches in Europe it is primarily known for its columns. The colonnade of 16 Corinthian columns in front of the church is from the 2nd or 3rd century and was part of a temple – the columns were moved to their present location in the 4th century.
The church itself can be traced back to the 4th century although there is some disagreement about its origin. San Lorenzo sticks out from other local churches by having a central floor plan, which is more Roman than Lombard.
San Lorenzo has been the victim of several fires through its long history and the present dome was built after the old one collapsed in 1573. Most of the walls as well as the towers and the three chapels date from the late 4th century but the present façade was built as recently as 1894 by the architect Cesare Nava.
In the square outside is a replica of a Roman bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine. It was in Milan that he in 313 issued the Edict of Milan which brought to an end the persecution of Christians.
The first photo shows the basilica’s exterior, the second and third the colonnade. Fourth is the interior of the church, followed by the dome and finally a statue of Pope Johannes (John) XXIII.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Norway’s Constitution Day

Today, 17 May, is the national holiday of Norway, commemorating the Constitution which was signed at Eidsvoll on 17 May 1814. By now our Constitution is the second-oldest still in force in the world (after the American Constitution of 1787), a position it has held since the Swedish Constitution of 1809 was repealed in 1974.
As usual the King, Queen, Crown Prince and Crown Princess greeted the children’s parade from the balcony of the Royal Palace in Oslo (photo 2). Princess Ingrid Alexandra was with them at the beginning, while Princess Astrid watched from a window. For the first time Prince Sverre Magnus also made a brief appearance. The first member of the royal family to greet the parade from that balcony was supposedly Crown Prince Gustaf in 1901, but already in 1845 Queen Josephina, Prince Gustaf and Princess Eugénie received the parade from a window of “Paleet”, which was then the royal residence in Christiania (now Oslo).
It is of course an irony that the parade passes the statue of King Carl XIV Johan (picture 3), who was strongly opposed to the 17 May celebrations and wanted the Norwegians to celebrate 4 November, the founding day of the union with Sweden, instead.
The fourth picture shows the children’s parade on its way up the capital’s main street, named for the same king, as seen from the Parliament Building, where the Speaker, Thorbjørn Jagland, received it (fifth photo). It is the last time he does so, as he will be leaving Parliament after the upcoming general election.
After the children’s parade came the parade of the high school graduates (sixth photo), happy as ever to complete thirteen years in school.

71 % support Norwegian monarchy

An opinion poll presented in VG yesterday showed that 71 % want to retain the Norwegian monarchy, 17 % are opposed while 12 % have not made up their mind. The poll was carried out by InFact, who asked 1025 people on 14 May.
Parliament last voted on the issue of monarchy vs. republic on 22 May 2008. 21 MPs voted in favour of a republic while 106 voted for the monarchy to continue.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Danish royal heirlooms to be auctioned on Monday

On Monday 18 May the auction house Olivier Coutau-Bégarie in Paris will hold a sale of some 200 items from the collection of Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha of Denmark. Among them are paintings and photos, silver, a fake tiara and other jewellery, orders and medals, china, glasses and much more.
The identity of the seller(s) is not known, but as many of the items up for sale have belonged to Prince Axel’s and Princess Margaretha’s eldest son, Prince Georg, it seems likely that the seller(s) can be found among his heirs. Prince Georg died childless in 1986, but his wife had two children from her first marriage.
More on the auction at this link:

The catalogue for the auction can be found here:

Bernadotte articles in this month’s magazines

This month’s issue of the British magazine Majesty (vol 30, no 5) has an article on Lennart Bernadotte by Coryne Hall, best known for her biography of the Empress Dagmar. The article is rather dry and gives a chronological summary of the life of the former Prince of Sweden, but ignores many of the most important aspects of his life and work.
Another article on a Bernadotte can be found in the latest issue of the Swedish magazine Queen (no 3-2009), which spends seven pages on Queen Astrid of the Belgians. The article is by Christofer Brask and is quite good, but it could have done without some rather far-fetched comparisons with Princess Diana.

“Thriving Norway Provides an Economics Lesson”

With the unregulated market’s collapse having left many countries in deep water The New York Times on Wednesday drew attention to how Norway has avoided being as strongly hit by the financial crisis as many other countries. “With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way”, journalist Landon Thomas Jr writes. “When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state”. The article can be read in its entirety here:

New website on Danish history

On Thursday the University of Aarhus launched its new, extensive website about the history of Denmark:

According to Politiken the website almost immediately collapsed after having received more than 100,000 hits:

Thursday, 14 May 2009

An interview with "Prince Carl Johan"

This morning TV4's "Nyhetsmorgon" had an interview with Count Jan Bernadotte af Wisborg, who three days ago declared himself "Prince Carl Johan". TV4's royal correspondent Roger Lundgren also took part in the discussion. The interview gave me the impression that the Count does not really seem to take his own demand for a princely title completely seriously. The interview is available at this link:

What to see: Kadriorg Palace, Tallinn

Kadriorg Palace in the Estonian capital Tallinn is an outstanding example of Russian baroque from the era of Emperor Pyotr I (“the Great”). The Emperor had come to like the city of Reval, as it was called then, and was also planning a naval base on the Gulf of Finland. The spot where Kadriorg was built reminded him of Peterhof outside St Petersburg and in 1714 he bought the five estates between the Tartu Road and Narva Road.
For a start the Emperor stayed in a wooden house which had been built before his time (today known as the Peter I Cottage), but this was of course too small and inconvenient. The monarch had the Italian architect Niccolò Michetti (1675-1743) him a palace, starting in 1718, but did not live to see it completed. The Emperor died in 1725, while his widow and successor, Empress Ekaterina I, for whom the Palace was named, died two years later. Michetti had in the meantime returned to Rome, leaving the task of completing the palace to his Russian associate Mikhail Zemtsov, who finished it in 1729.
All the Russian monarchs from Yelizaveta I to Nikolaj II stayed at Kadriorg when they visited Tallinn. Following the downfall of the Russian monarchy in 1917 Tallinn Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council used the palace before it was given to the Tallinn Estonian Museum in 1921.
During Estonia’s brief interwar spell as an independent nation Kadriorg became the official residence of the country’s president and underwent extensive renovation work in 1933-1940. When Estonia once again came under Russian rule the palace was put at the disposal of the Art Museum of Estonia.
At the time Estonia again became independent in 1991 the Palace was so rundown that the art collections had had to be removed not to be damaged. Kadriorg Palace was then renovated with financial assistance from Sweden and in 2000 it could again open as the Kadriorg Art Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia.
Kadriorg Palace is situated on a semi-artificial terrace, which means that it displays three storeys towards the park, but only two towards the formal garden, as can be seen in the first three photos. Towards the garden are two projecting wings in the French manner, which housed the Emperor’s and Empress’s respective apartments. As well as French ideas there is a significant Italian influence on the palace’s architecture.
The Grand Hall in the fourth picture lies at the very centre of the palace and takes up two floors. Today it is an almost unique example of such large halls in the Italian-inspired Russian baroque of Pyotr I’s reign. In Russia today one can only find smaller rooms in the same style while the grander ones have either been reconstructed or do no longer exist. The fifth picture shows a detail of the Grand Hall’s rich stucco décor – above the bust of Ekaterina I is her monogram.
The sixth photo shows the Banquet Hall, which is of relatively new origins. In 1790 Ekaterina II had expressed a wish to build a large dining room linking the two projecting wings, something which involved demolishing a semicircular veranda towards the formal garden. The plan was however only carried out by the architect Alexander Vladovsky (1876-1950) when Kadriorg became the residence of the President of Estonia in the 1930s. The Estonian President today resides in a neighbouring palace.

Kadriorg’s website: