Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Royal attendance at State Opening of Parliament

At 1 p.m. on Friday the King of Norway will perform the State Opening of Parliament. This ceremony usually takes place on the second working day of October, but following a general election it will be a week later. With Britain and the Netherlands Norway is now among the few countries to do this ceremony with old-fashioned pomp and circumstance.
The King will be accompanied by the Queen and the Crown Prince, and at the blog “The Royal Twist” (see a question is raised why the Crown Princess does not attend, while all adult members of the royal houses in Denmark and Sweden attend the similar ceremony in those countries. A person commenting on that blog suggests it might be because the Crown Princess of Norway does not have a constitutional role, but neither does the Queen, who is (nearly) always present. The reason seems to be more prosaic.
Before the change of dynasty in 1905, all those members of the royal family who were in Norway at the time used to accompany the King to the State Opening of Parliament. The largest turn-outs were in 1845, when King Oscar I came accompanied by Queen Josephina and all their five children, and in 1868, when King Carl XV was accompanied by Queen Lovisa, their daughter Princess Lovisa with her fiancé the Crown Prince of Denmark, and Prince August and Princess Teresia. The last time a Crown Princess was present at the State Opening was in 1903.
Before 1905 the King would sit on the dais surrounded by the princes of the royal house – to name some examples Oscar II was flanked by his sons Carl and Eugen in 1891 and by Crown Prince Gustaf and Prince Eugen in 1895. The royal ladies would sit in the box to their right (now called the Diplomatic Box).
For his swearing-in in November 1905 King Haakon VII was accompanied only by Queen Maud, as his son Crown Prince Olav was still a child. The Queen then sat next to the King on the dais on a chair borrowed from the National Theatre for the occasion. For the State Opening in 1906 one of the princely chairs was turned into a throne chair for the Queen.
Queen Maud last attended the State Opening in 1922. By then Crown Prince Olav had come of age and was therefore able to accompany his father to the ceremony, which often took place at a time of the year when the Queen preferred to be in England.
When Crown Prince Olav married in 1929 it was 24 years since Norway had last had a Crown Princess and I guess it had simply been forgotten that the Crown Princess had been present before 1905. But the absence of the Queen after 1922 probably also made it seem less natural to include the Crown Princess in the ceremony, which then nearly became an “all male affair”.
It was only when King Harald V took the oath in 1991 that a royal lady again took her seat on the dais in the Parliament Chamber. Later that year Queen Sonja also accompanied the King to the State Opening, something she has done almost every year since then. Initially this met with some opposition from the then Speaker of Parliament, Jo Benkow, who, to the Queen’s fury, stated that he wished her to stay away as she had no constitutional role. The latter statement is indeed true, but Benkow was obviously ignorant of the fact that not only Queen Maud, but also Queen Sophia, Queen Lovisa and Queen Josephina had attended the State Openings in their days.
There were originally three princely chairs for use in Parliament, of which one is now used by the Queen and another by the Crown Prince. The third is stored away at the Museum of Cultural Heritage and could be restored if one should decide that the tradition of the Crown Princess attending should be taken up again, but this does not seem very likely.
The State Opening of Parliament is one of the King’s most important constitutional duties. If the King is unable to attend he will appoint a representative to open Parliament on his behalf. This representative will normally be the heir to the throne or, failing his attendance, the Prime Minister. The last time a Crown Prince read the Speech from the Throne was in 1990, when King Olav V was recovering from a stroke. The last time a Prime Minister did so was in 1905, during the interregnum between the deposal of Oscar II and the election of Haakon VII. Prime Minister Christian Michelsen then read the speech standing in front of the empty throne. In 1818 the Governor General (a position which existed until 1873, but was left vacant after 1856) opened Parliament on behalf of Carl XIII, unaware that the King had died in Stockholm the previous evening.
The first photo shows the King reading the Speech from the Throne last year, with the Speaker of Parliament standing in front of him. The second picture shows the King’s Throne flanked by the chairs for the Queen (to the left) and the Crown Prince (to the right) before the ceremony began.

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