Wednesday, 31 March 2010

What to see: Statue of Ingegjerd Løvenskiold, Bærums Verk

The unveiling of a statue of Ingegjerd Løvenskiold Stuart at Bærums Verk last year made the Mistress of the Robes one of the increasing number of Norwegians to be honoured by monument in their lifetimes.
The statue was done by Kirsten Kokkin, an American sculptor of Norwegian descent who is perhaps best known for her statue of Crown Princess Märtha outside the Norwegian ambassador’s residence in Washington, of which replicas have been erected in Oslo’s Palace Park and outside Crown Princess Märtha’s Church in Stockholm.
The statue of Ingegjerd Løvenskiold Stuart is called “Fruen til verket”, loosely translated as “the Lady of the Manor”, and honours her commitment to the restoration of the former industrial village of Bærums Verk.
The ironwork to which it belonged had come into the possession of her husband Harald Løvenskiold’s family in the days of his great-great-great-great-grandfather Peder Anker and since the death of Harald Løvenskiold in 1994 it belongs to his and Ingegjerd’s son Carl Otto, who resides at the nearby manor.
Ingegjerd Løvenskiold, née Andvord, was appointed Mistress of the Robes by King Olav in 1985, making her the highest-ranking female member of the royal court. Shortly after her husband’s death she remarried the wealthy American Robert D. Stuart and moved to the USA. Following her remarriage she was relieved of her duties as Mistress of the Robes, although she retains the title and the rank.
A successor is not expected to be appointed, making her the last to fill the position first held, between 1816 and 1845, by her husband’s great-great-great-grandmother, Countess Karen of Wedel-Jarlsberg, and later by her husband’s great-grandmother, Elise Løvenskiold, from 1887 to 1905.

Monday, 29 March 2010

New books: The disputes of a fascinating newspaper

The Danish broadsheet Politiken is by many, including me, considered the best and most prestigious newspaper in Scandinavia. Bjørn Bredal’s book Politiken mod Politiken – Idékampe 1884-2009, published on the occasion of the newspaper’s 125th anniversary last October, is a fascinating account of Politiken and some of the tensions which have put their mark on its history.
Politiken was founded in 1884 by a group of radicals, including Viggo Hørup and Edvard Brandes, during the political struggle which ended in the introduction of parliamentarianism in 1901. It was an explicit purpose of Politiken to advocate a certain set of ideas, making it what one would today call a viewspaper rather than a newspaper.
In 1905 Henrik Cavling changed it in the direction of a more objective newspaper. However, the same year several of Politiken’s leading men founded the Danish Social Liberal Party and many of them would thereby find themselves in parliament and government. Thus the Social Liberal Party was not, like many other parties, a party with a newspaper, but Politiken was a newspaper with a party, whose parliamentary group meetings it attended.
The formal ties between the newspaper and the party were cut in 1970, but Politiken continues to be what is in Danish called a “culture-radical” newspaper left of the centre. Following the political earthquake of 2001, which brought an end to the normal situation that governments of both left and right would need the support of a centre party to form a majority, replacing it with a right-wing government supported by the far right-wing, it has occasionally been said that Politiken’s high-profile editor-in-chief, Tøger Seidenfaden, is the real leader of the opposition rather than the meek Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
The balance between newspaper and viewspaper has continued to be a central challenge for Politiken, which has also seen many internal disputes over its direction. This became very obvious earlier this month, when Seidenfaden publicly regretted having reprinted Jyllands-Posten’s infamous Mohamed caricature, something which caused 38 members of the editorial staff to write an op-ed (hardly ever has that word been more precise) protesting against the editor’s apology.
Bjørn Bredal’s book is not a chronological history of the newspaper, although the chapters are interspersed with facsimiles and excerpts from its history, focusing on the year it was founded and its 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th and 125th anniversary years. This works very well as Politiken has traditionally paid much attention to its layout, making it one of the most well-designed newspapers in Europe (it is almost alone in Scandinavia in sticking to the broadsheet format). The book is also in itself well designed and illustrated.
Bredal charts the newspaper’s history and development through looking at some central topics of controversy and how these have been dealt with by Politiken throughout is history. Among them is the issue of gender and morality; Israel, Zionism and anti-Semitism (a number of Jews have held important posts at the newspaper); sports; the arts; and war and foreign policy.
A chapter I personally found particularly interesting is the one dealing with the Easter crisis of 1920 and the caricature crisis of 2005 (and after). The first nearly broke Politiken as it referred to King Christian X’s dismissal of Prime Minister Carl Th. Zahle, ninety years ago on this very day, as a “coup d’état”, a choice of word which Henrik Cavling realised was a mistake as it again made Politiken a political weapon more than a reporting newspaper. This put Politiken in the same category as Social-Demokraten and cost it a huge number of subscribers and advertisers, very nearly ruining the newspaper.
(It was therefore interesting to note six days ago, after I had finished the book, that one of Politiken’s editors, Lars Trier Mogensen, used exactly the word “coup d’état” about the Easter crisis in an article where he called for the monarchy to be completely severed constitutionally from politics).
Bjørn Bredal’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in or wanting to understand the unique newspaper concept that is Politiken. And in its own way it is also a book which says much about Danish history, politics and culture in general.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

My latest article: The centennial of Queen Ingrid

100 years ago today Queen Ingrid of Denmark was born. I mark her centennial with an article in the leading Danish broadsheet Politiken today, titled “Queen Ingrid and the modern monarchy”.
Queen Ingrid was arguably the most influential and significant Danish queen since Juliane Marie, with the possible exception of Christian IX’s Louise (into whose role little research has been done). Queen Ingrid was one of the last royals from the world of yesterday, but also the one who, together with King Frederik IX, created the modern Danish monarchy as we know it today.
In both her native land Sweden and her adopted country Denmark, the preceding generations of the royal family had been closely involved in political struggles, fighting a rear-guard action against democracy and parliamentarianism. King Frederik IX was the first non-political monarch in Denmark and what he and Queen Ingrid did was to transform the monarchy into an institution which, although not democratic itself, lives in harmony with the democracy.
In their days, the monarchy’s character became representational rather than political and this new brand of monarchy also involved shifting the focus from the King alone to the royal family as an ideal family. This also necessitated the active use of the media. Also new was the concept of kingship as a partnership between the King and the Queen.
Although much has been written about Queen Ingrid’s good influence on her husband, I argue in my article that his influence on her was also to her benefit. King Frederik and Queen Ingrid were in many ways opposites, yet the synthesis of their respective qualities made them a near-ideal combination.
My article on the life and legacy of this great queen may be read in its entirety at Politiken’s website:

Friday, 26 March 2010

Royal jewels: Princess Ingeborg’s star tiara

Among Princess Ingeborg of Sweden’s favourite pieces of jewellery was a turquoise tiara comprised of three large stars linked by two removable arches. Princess Ingeborg wore it frequently, particularly in later years after she had given her grand emerald parure to her daughter, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, in 1940. Above is Princess Ingeborg pictured with the star tiara in 1938.
In his frequently unreliable book Juvelerne i det danske kongehus (2001), the Danish schoolteacher Bjarne Steen Jensen guesses that Princess Ingeborg had received this tiara as a wedding present from her mother, who had again been given it for her own wedding by her mother, Queen Lovisa of Sweden and Norway. This is however not only mere speculation, but also wrong.
The tiara was not an heirloom, but a wedding present to Princess Ingeborg of Denmark from her first cousin, Emperor Nikolaj II of Russia, when she married Prince Carl of Sweden and Norway in 1897. Princess Ingeborg was close to her Russian relatives and there were supposedly many letters from the last Tsar in the suitcases filled with her correspondence which were burned following her death.
During her own lifetime Princess Ingeborg often lent her tiaras to female relatives, which explains why the star tiara was worn by Crown Princess Märtha for a dinner in the Norwegian Club in London in 1937 and for the 80th birthday of King Gustaf V of Sweden the following year.
After Princess Ingeborg’s sudden death in 1958, this tiara was inherited by her eldest daughter, Princess Margaretha of Denmark. When she died in 1977 it became the property of her youngest daughter-in-law, Countess Ruth of Rosenborg.
A few years ago Countess Ruth gave the tiara to her eldest son Axel’s wife, Countess Jutta of Rosenborg, with the intention that it shall in future be inherited by the eldest son in each generation to designate the line descending from the late Prince Axel of Denmark. Thus one can expect its next wearer to be Sidsel Lykke Nielsen, the fiancée of Countess Jutta’s stepson Carl Johan.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

My latest article: The Principality of Pontecorvo

In the recent issue of Royalty Digest Quarterly (no 1-2010) I have an article on the Pontecorvo, the small Italian principality which was granted Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte by Emperor Napoléon I in 1806 and whose arms still feature in the escutcheon of the Bernadotte dynasty and thereby in Sweden’s Great Coat of Arms.
Formerly a Papal enclave, Pontecorvo is situated approximately halfway between Rome and Naples. Bernadotte was created Sovereign Prince and Duke of Pontecorvo on 5 June 1806. This set him apart from the other marshals, who were only made dukes and princes of non-territorial locations at a later date. The principality was granted Bernadotte at the time when the relationship between him and Napoléon was at its best, but it has also been suggested that the Emperor through the grant wanted to draw Bernadotte closer to him.
The Prince of Pontecorvo never set his foot there and had to renounce the principality when he was elected Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810. The title was later held for a few years by Achille Murat, the son of King Joachim (Murat) of Naples, and was offered to Prince Eugène, the former Viceroy of Italy, by the Congress of Vienna on the condition that he never settled there, which made him decline the offer.
Most of Pontecorvo was destroyed in a wartime air raid in 1943, after which it was rebuilt in a quite ugly manner. There are no great tourist attractions and this city of some 13,000 inhabitants lies far away from the tourist track.
Except for Via Giovanni Battista Bernadotte I found no traces of the Bernadotte reign when I went there in January 2008. Apparently Gustaf VI Adolf is the only Bernadotte to have visited Pontecorvo, which he did while still Crown Prince in 1949.
My article explores the history of Pontecorvo while focusing on Bernadotte’s reign. In fact this was the first out of the three realms which the Bernadotte dynasty came to rule, and in the 19th century Pontecorvo was often used as the name of the dynasty before the name Bernadotte took over entirely.
The photo shows the bridge, the most famous landmark in Pontecorvo and still part of the arms of the town as well as of the dynasty. To the right is the Cathedral and further to the left one can glimpse the tower of the Town Hall, both buildings which were severely damaged in 1943.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

What to see: The contemporary art at Amalienborg

In connection with the renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg, the foundation Realdania has presented Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary with a collection of contemporary art to decorate their new residence. The idea supposedly originated with their Lord Chamberlain, Per Thornit, who did not think one could just buy paintings and hang them on the walls. These contemporary works of art are instead integrated in the building, making it one big “Gesamtkunstwerk”.
This is a bold move, but it still feels absolutely right. Royals have always been the most prominent patrons of art, a tradition Queen Margrethe II, an artist on the throne, perhaps understands better than any of the other current European monarchs. During her reign this has resulted in interesting contemporary artworks such as the new tapestries at Christiansborg Palace and the commissioning of hers and Prince Henrik’s sarcophagus, both incidentally the works of Bjørn Nørgaard.
Most of Europe’s palaces were at the time of their erection decorated by first-class artists of the age. Few palaces are built today, but through the new artworks decorating Frederik VIII’s Mansion, the building has come to reflect the talents of some of Denmark’s best artists of 2010. This is entirely in keeping with royal tradition and gives the mansion an added significance.
The way the contemporary art has mostly been “confined” to the private and semi-official rooms also means that it does not come into conflict with Koch’s neoclassical interiors, but rather compliments them in an interesting way. The artworks have also been executed on large canvases, meaning that they can be easily dismantled and thereby they are not permanent alterations to the rooms.
Two of the artworks had yet to be completed when I was at Amalienborg last week. As earlier mentioned John Kørner decided to start all over again when his first work did not meet with approval, and Signe Guttormsen’s decoration of the terrace has been delayed because of the unusually cold winter Copenhagen has just seen the end of.
Among my personal favourites is Kaspar Bonnén’s painting “Rummet kan aldrig lukkes – helt” (“The room can never be closed – entirely”) on the wall of the Family Dining Room (first photo), which invites the beholder to enter a labyrinth of figurative and non-figurative motives.
I also greatly liked Jesper Christiansen’s “Verdensrummet” (“Space”) in the large ground-floor vestibule, a part of which can be seen in the second photo. Christiansen has decorated the walls with huge maps – the whole world, Denmark, Tasmania, the world upside down etc – and interspersed it with items representing “public secrets” of the Crown Prince’s and the Crown Princess’s life. Behind the maps are black and white perspectives of the room in which the paintings are found, which in a very interesting way draw the lines back to the perspective painting of the rococo and the era when Amalienborg was built.
The third photo shows Erik A. Frandsen’s “Blomster. Fælledvej” (“Flowers. Fælled Road”) in the Crown Princess’s office. Frandsen is the only artist who has decorated two of the mansion’s rooms. In the Official Dining Room he has created five huge mirrors of steel decorated with flowers, situated between the room’s pillars (fourth photo).
The only ceiling decoration is done by Eske Kath in what will be a meeting room on the first floor (fifth picture). The painting shows the sun as the centre of the universe, something which is supposed to remind royals and others that they are only small pieces of an endless universe. Personally I thought this symbolism a little too unsubtle, but seen together with the light colours of that room’s walls, the painting has the interesting effect that the room almost seems to be turned upside-down.
The new, narrow staircase running through the mansion has been decorated by Olafur Eliasson, who wants to create the impression that one is under water and moves towards the surface. Thus there are “water bubbles” on the walls and in the ceiling far up there is a plate of steel made to look like the surface of the ocean (sixth photo).
In the heating kitchen on the first floor one finds Kathrine Ærtebjerg’s “Jagt” (“Hunt”) (last photo). At first glance it looks quite idyllic, almost like something from a Disney movie, but on closer inspection one notes that there are actually hunters ready to fire at the animals. The artist has however turned reality upside-down in making the animals, and the humans standing with them, larger than the small hunters. Like most of the artworks, this has been executed on the spot and Ærtebjerg has spoken of how that has influenced the outcome, thus strengthening the idea of the “Gesamtkunstwerk”.
There are also works of art, not pictured here, by Morten Schelde and Tal R.
The renovation has brought back lost grandeur to the mansion at the same time as the contemporary art which now decorates some of the rooms has given it a new lease of life. The combination makes Frederik VIII’s Mansion one of the most interesting royal residences in Europe.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The restoration of Frederik VIII’s Mansion

As mentioned yesterday Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg has during the last six years undergone an extensive renovation process to make it suitable as a residence and a home for Crown Prince Frederik and his family. The last touches were still being added when I was there last Wednesday, but the royals will be able to move in after the summer.
The renovation process has cost 220 million DKK and has been very complicated, mainly because of the great damage caused to the house in the last 250 years, especially during those years when King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid resided there.
Most traces of the original interiors, presumably by Amalienborg’s architect Nicolai Eigtved, were erased when the building was turned into a military school in the 1760s and by Jørgen Hansen Koch’s extensive renovation when it became a royal residence in 1827-1828.
The 2004-2010 restoration process has therefore aimed mainly to recreate Koch’s interiors, but has at the same time sought to re-establish Eigtved’s rococo floor plan where possible. One prominent example of this is the ground floor vestibule, facing the Amalienborg Square, which already in the 1820s had been divided into two separate rooms, but which has now again become one.
King Frederik VIII and Queen Louise, who lived there from their wedding in 1869 until their deaths in 1912 and 1926 respectively, furnished the mansion in keeping with the taste of their age, but made few permanent alterations. The next inhabitants, King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid, who settled there in 1936, on the other hand made many permanent alterations.
Queen Ingrid, who sprang from the artistically gifted Bernadotte dynasty, was often praised for her good taste and was known to have a knack for grandeur. But when it came to the family home at Amalienborg, comfort and fashionable taste were obviously more important than the preservation of the building’s historical and artistic heritage.
What was done to Frederik VIII’s Mansion in the days of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid was simply atrocious. It has later been claimed that the King and Queen behaved in a very authoritarian way to the architects when they were reluctant to humour the royal couple and that they thereby managed to force through their wishes by overruling the responsible architects.
It was fashionable in the 1940s and 1950s to paint the walls and the ceilings of a room in the same colour, giving the room the appearance of a box. This was in marked contrast to the ideals of the empire style, which differentiated clearly between walls, floors and ceilings. Queen Ingrid’s taste for discreet colours also contrasted starkly with the empire style’s very colourful interiors.
Only 1/3 of the mansion was made available to Frederik and Ingrid when they married in 1935 and a renovation was carried out by Thorvald Jørgensen, perhaps best known as the architect of the third Christiansborg Palace, in the following years. In connection with their accession to the throne a more thorough renovation was done by the architect Thomas Havning between 1947 and 1950. After King Frederik’s death in 1972 his widow reorganised her home quite radically, obviously so that the memories would not be so hurtful.
The Great Hall, seen in the second photo, became Queen Ingrid’s sitting room after 1972. But even before that the marble-imitating walls, as well as the ceiling, had been painted white. Only the gilt on the columns was retained to add some sparkle to the central room of the building. Yet this was one of the rooms which had been least altered and it was therefore fairly simple to give it a more colourful appearance.
The entrance hall (photo 3) had also been painted completely white – walls, columns and ceiling, but not the staircase of Norwegian marble. It now appears in yellow and grey marble imitation.
The Throne Room, seen in the fourth picture, was last used as such by King Frederik VIII. The completion of the third Christiansborg with its oval throne room made throne rooms at Amalienborg superfluous and Queen Ingrid used it as her bedroom. The coffered ceiling with is floral ornaments and the guilt Arabesque decorations on the pillars were all covered by white paint and the beautiful doors were removed. The doors are now back and the walls, which were originally hung with red fabric, have been painted a very dark purple. The artisans have also done a great job in restoring the pillars’ guilt decorations. This will now be a room for reading and music.
The room next to the Throne Room was in the days of Queen Ingrid divided into three, one part of which became a bathroom. Bathrooms were generally scattered throughout the mansion and moved around as it suited the inhabitants, the installation of pipes causing much damage to the building. This bathroom was later turned into a kitchen in the strong orange, plastic-fantastic style so beloved by the late 1970s. The room has now been reunified and it was thankfully possible to save the ceiling (fifth photo), but other traces of the room’s original interiors had been erased.
The Green Hall, seen in the sixth photo, all but one of the flower murals in the arcades were painted over and for practical reasons a staircase was installed, breaking through the floor in such a manner that one of the doors entered into empty space. Now the murals have been recovered and the inner wall has been moved slightly to allow the installation of a narrow staircase in the passage which runs through the centre of the building.
The room which will now be the office of Crown Princess Mary’s secretary is located in a part of the building which was damaged by fire in 1891. After that a neo-rococo ceiling was created in the room, incorporating the arms of Denmark (seventh picture) and the monogram of the then Crown Princess Louise. When Queen Ingrid made the room her library, the ceiling was lowered by covering the 1891 ceiling with concrete. The older ceiling was discovered by chance during the restoration process.
Another room which had been divided up into several smaller is the one which will now be the Family Dining Room. Here the current architects, in the absence of traces of the original interiors, have been inspired by Jørgen Hansen Koch to the extent that they have created a ceiling in empire style (eighth photo) which is taken from a drawing of the library, which was apparently never executed in the 1820s.
Following Queen Ingrid’s permanent move to the Chancellery House at Fredensborg in 1997 and her death three years later, the mansion had been allowed to decay and it was therefore a building badly in need of repair which was made available to Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary when they married in 2004.
The restoration of Frederik VIII’s Mansion has been beautifully done and has brought back much of the glory of the empire style at the same time as the building’s original rococo layout has been recreated. However, empire and rococo do rarely go well together, and the only part of the restoration I am a bit reluctant about is the removal of (the admittedly mostly secondary) parquet floors in several rooms, which has revealed the original wooden floorboards. Parquet floors or painted wooden floors would harmonise better with the splendour of the empire interiors than simple floorboards are capable of doing.
There are also some clashes between empire interiors and rococo chandeliers, but this is hard to avoid, bearing in mind that there is no bottomless well of available chandeliers to choose from.
While Frederik VIII’s Mansion is open to the public (throughout May) the rooms will be seen without furniture, but this may in fact partly remain the case for a long time to come. The furniture which was found in the mansion at the time of Queen Ingrid’s death ten years ago was either divided between her heirs or in such bad condition that it cannot be used. Unlike some kingdoms, Denmark does not have a vast amount of furniture in storage, meaning that it may take a while for the mansion to be completely furnished.
A book about the restoration process will be published in the spring, while the TV documentary on the process which was recently shown on DR may be viewed at the following link:

Princess Ragnhild’s brother-in-law dies

I saw in the death announcements in Aftenposten yesterday that shipowner Erik F. Lorentzen, the older brother of Erling S. Lorentzen and thus the brother-in-law of Princess Ragnhild, died on 18 March, three days before his 89th birthday. His funeral will take place in the New Chapel at the Western Cemetery in Oslo on Friday.

Monday, 22 March 2010

What to see: Frederik VIII’s Mansion, Amalienborg, Copenhagen

The recent renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg has returned the mansion to past glory and its rightful place as a major example of Nordic neoclassicism, while the incorporation of contemporary works of art has brought new life to the building.
Frederik VIII’s Mansion, previously known as Brockdorff’s Mansion, was the last of the four Amalienborg mansions to become a royal residence. The complex of four mansions situated around an octagonal square was drawn up by Nicolai Eigtved as the centrepiece of his grand project Frederiksstaden (Frederik’s Town), celebrating the tercentenary of the Oldenburg dynasty in 1748.
Eigtved’s beautiful rococo mansions, which from the outside are almost identical, provided the noble families of Moltke, Schack, Levetzau and Brockdorff with residences fit for a king. And that was what they would soon become.
The foundation stone for Brockdorff’s Mansion was laid in 1751 and it is believed that the building was completed by 1758, as the last of the four Amalienborg mansions. Joachim von Brockdorff himself never lived there, but rented it out, and after his death it was bought by the neighbour across the square, Adam Gottlob Moltke, in 1763. Two years later Moltke sold it to King Frederik V.
In 1767-1768 the architect Christian Carl Pflueg rebuilt Brockdorff’s Mansion to house a school for army cadets, which was succeeded by the naval cadet academy in 1788. The use of the mansion as a school explains why its façade, unlike the other Amalienborg mansions, is fitted with a clock.
In 1794 Christiansborg Palace burned down and King Christian VII moved into Moltke’s Mansion, while Crown Prince Frederik (VI) took up residence at Schack’s Mansion and Hereditary Prince Frederik settled in Levetzau’s Mansion. Only Brockdorff’s Mansion did not yet become a royal residence.
Amalienborg was meant to be only a temporary residence while Christiansborg was being rebuilt, but when the second Christiansborg was finally completed in 1828, Frederik VI chose to remain at Amalienborg. So have all his successors, with the sole exception of Frederik VII, who took up residence at Christiansborg when he became king in 1848.
Amalienborg might have held uncomfortable memories for Frederik VII. It was for his sake that Brockdorff’s Mansion was eventually turned into a royal residence, when he married Frederik VI’s daughter, Princess Vilhelmine, in 1828. The marriage was unhappy and ended in divorce in 1838.
Frederik VI entrusted the task of refurbishing Brockdorff’s Mansion as a residence for his daughter and son-in-law to the architect Jørgen Hansen Koch. Koch’s rebuilding meant that much of the original rococo interior was lost, but the empire-style interiors created by Koch count among the most prominent empire interiors in Scandinavia and it is mostly these that the restoration which is now being completed has sought to bring back.
Princess Vilhelmine left the mansion following her remarriage to Duke Carl of Glücksburg in 1839. The mansion then became the home of Landgrave Wilhelm and Landgravine Charlotte of Hesse-Cassel, the latter a sister of the new king, Christian VIII. It thus became known as “the Landgrave’s Mansion”. It was here that their daughter Louise in 1842 married Prince Christian of Glücksburg, who became King Christian IX when the male line of the Oldenburg dynasty became extinct in 1863.
The Landgravine died in 1864, followed by the Landgrave three years later. Two years on, their grandson Crown Prince Frederik married Princess Lovisa of Sweden and Norway and the newlyweds took up residence in the mansion. It was only when they succeeded to the throne as King Frederik VIII and Queen Louise in 1906 that this mansion at last became the residence of a reigning monarch.
At about the same time the four mansions were renamed, each receiving the names of the first monarch to reside there. Thus Moltke’s Mansion became Christian VII’s Mansion, Levetzau’s became Christian VIII’s and Brockdorff Frederik VIII’s. The only exception was Schack’s Mansion, which had first been inhabited by Frederik VI, but which was named Christian IX’s Mansion, something Queen Margrethe believes was probably due to veneration felt for the recently deceased king.
Following Frederik VIII’s sudden death in 1912, Dowager Queen Louise remained in the mansion until her death in 1926. It was then left empty until her grandson Crown Prince Frederik married Princess Ingrid of Denmark in 1935. The next year they moved into the mansion, but for financial reasons only 1/3 of it was refurbished for them.
When Crown Princess Ingrid gave birth to her third daughter in 1946, the family had clearly outgrown their modest premises and they were then allowed the use of the mezzanine. But the following year they succeeded to the throne and could thus take possession of the entire building. Further refurbishments were thereafter carried out by the architect Thomas Havning between 1947 and 1950. Sadly the refurbishments carried out in the days of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid caused much damage to the mansion.
As the widowed Queen Ingrid grew old, the great proportions of this mansion became too much for her and in 1997 she moved permanently to her summer residence, the Chancellery House at Fredensborg. Except for the guest apartments made available to her younger daughters in the side wings, Frederik VIII’s Mansion remained empty for the remainder of Queen Ingrid’s life and continued to be so after her death in 2000.
A major restoration process began when Crown Prince Frederik married Mary Donaldson in 2004 and Frederik VIII’s Mansion was assigned them as their official residence. The process is now about to be completed and the Crown Prince and his family may move into the mansion in the autumn. They will however continue to have their main home in the Chancellery House at Fredensborg.
While previous royal residents have lived in the entire building, the current occupants will have their private quarters on the mezzanine and in the two side wings, while the two main floors are given over to office space and state rooms. This is a significant departure from earlier times, but a development which has also been seen elsewhere, such as at the Royal Palace in Oslo, where King Harald and Queen Sonja now have a large apartment on the second floor, while state rooms and offices take up the rest of the building.
Back in 1828 Princess Vilhelmine was given the use of the first floor, while Prince Frederik stayed on the ground floor. This tradition has survived in the way that Crown Prince Frederik will have his office on the ground floor, like Frederik IX had, while Crown Princess Mary’s will be on the first floor, just like Queen Ingrid’s office was.
The main room of the first floor is the Great Hall, seen in the second photo, which Queen Ingrid used as her living room following the death of King Frederik (no wonder the old Queen thought the distances were too big in this building). On the same floor is also the former Throne Room (third photo), which has the perhaps most beautiful doors in Scandinavia (fourth picture). That room served as Queen Ingrid’s bedroom, but will now be the reading and music room.
The fifth photo shows the Garden Hall, which is just above the ground floor’s Garden Room (sixth picture) with its tapestries. In front of it one finds the vestibule, which Jørgen Hansen Koch divided into two rooms, but which has now been “reunited” and which offers a wonderful view towards the Amalienborg Square (seventh photo). Also on the ground floor is the Formal Dining Room (eighth photo), which was one of the best preserved of Koch’s interiors, but which has been painted ox-blood red rather than the previous yellow and has received new mirrors by the artist Erik A. Frandsen.
The mirrors are part of a wedding gift from the Realdania foundation, a project whereby works by leading Danish contemporary artists will decorate Frederik VIII’s Mansion. These works of art are however removable, unlike the permanent alterations which caused much damage to the mansion in the days of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid.
Frederik VIII’s Mansion is open to visitors until the end of May.

A historic day for the Americans

Last night the US House of Representatives passed the healthcare reform that will ensures health insurance coverage for 95 % of the population. The bill is far from perfect and has been considerably watered out in the process, but yet it is arguably the most important social reform in the USA since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The healthcare reform bill was passed by 219 votes to 212, not a single Republican voting in its favour and 34 Democrats voting against the party line. The passing of the bill brings the USA decisively in the direction of a welfare state and means that President Obama has accomplished what presidents back to Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago did not succeed in doing.
Healthcare reform is the cornerstone of the change Barack Obama promised in his presidential campaign, but has met with fierce opposition and hysterical accusations of communism from the nut-case right and the Republican party, which has traditionally opposed most important social reforms in the history of the USA.
After the havoc wreaked on the country and the world during the dark years of the Bush regime, one may perhaps be allowed to nurture a hope that the American voters will soon consign this destructive party to the dustheap of history.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

New books: Queen Ingrid as seen by her family

Next week will see the publication of Roger Lundgren’s book Ingrid – Prinsessa av Sverige, drottning av Danmark, marking the centenary of the birth of Queen Ingrid of Denmark. In the country of her birth the book will be published by Bokförlaget Fischer & Co, while a Danish version titled Ingrid – Prinsesse af Sverige, dronning af Danmark will be published by People’s Press.
This is not a full-scale biography of Queen Ingrid; the book is more concerned with the person than with the queen. What makes this book stand out from the others already written is that the author allows Queen Ingrid’s closest family to tell most of the story.
The author, who has earlier written a biography of Princess Sibylla of Sweden and founded the now extinct magazine Queen, quotes extensively from the interview Queen Ingrid gave to Anne Wolden-Ræthinge in 1996. In addition he has interviewed her three daughters, six of her ten grandchildren, her son-in-law the ex-King of the Hellenes, her sole surviving brother, Prince Joachim’s ex-wife, the Queen of Sweden and Princess Christina. Queen Ingrid meant the world to her husband and she was the centre of the family for her children and grandchildren. In this book they make you see why.
What I found perhaps most interesting about this book was what Queen Silvia and Princess Christina say about Queen Ingrid’s on-going involvement with the monarchy in her native land. Princess Christina speaks about how their aunt guided her and her brother Carl XVI Gustaf in their new roles as, respectively, first lady and monarch following the deaths of their mother and grandfather.
Queen Silvia speaks with warmth about the support and advice Queen Ingrid gave her when she came to Sweden as the bride of King Carl Gustaf in 1976 and how they continued to seek her advice on issues big and small until the very end of her days. In this, the Queen of Sweden even makes an interesting revelation about the separation between state and church, which came into force in Sweden in 2000, the year of Queen Ingrid’s death.
It has later been revealed that King Carl Gustaf, like his Norwegian counterpart would also do some years later, made a political intervention insisting that also future monarchs should be required to belong to the Lutheran church.
Queen Silvia says that she and the King wondered how things would be after the separation of state and church and rang up Aunt Ingrid for advice. Having thought it over, her answer was: “Sweden is a democracy. The majority decides in democracies. A majority of the Swedes belongs to the Evangelical faith, so naturally the country’s head of state should also do so”. It is very interesting that Queen Ingrid was so directly involved in an issue in which King Carl Gustaf was accused of meddling in politics.
As this is mainly a personal family portrait of Queen Ingrid, there is comparatively less about her public role or her influence on the development of the Danish monarchy. But if one wants to know what she was like privately and what she meant to her family, this is the book one should read.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Queen Ingrid centenary celebrations postponed

Next Sunday would have been Queen Ingrid of Denmark’s 100th birthday. Politiken on Thursday reported that the celebrations of the centenary have been postponed until later this year so that they will not clash with the celebrations of Queen Margrethe’s 70th birthday, which will commence with the opening of the exhibition “Queen Margrethe and archaeology” at Moesgård Museum in Århus on Wednesday.
To mark Queen Ingrid’s centenary the royal family will attend a concert in Tivoli’s Concert Hall on Tuesday 31 August at 7.30 p.m. The German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, accompanied by Tivoli’s Symphony Orchestra, will sing opera arias.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Crown Prince Frederik stands in for sick mother at parade

The annual passing out parade of the Danish Royal Life Guards took place at their barracks next to Rosenborg Palace while I was in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Queen Margrethe usually takes the salute, but as she had fallen ill with influenza while in London to open the British National Gallery’s Christian Købke exhibition, Crown Prince Frederik took her place.
Having inspected the guardsmen who have now completed their military service, the Crown Prince made a short speech, looking back at his own time as a conscript and specifically thanking the soldiers for having guarded the royal palaces and mansions during the coldest winter in 24 years.
In keeping with tradition the Crown Prince presented a watch to one of the guardsmen before the old guard passed out by parading past him.
With Rosenborg Palace as a spectacular backdrop the parade was quite impressive, but I was surprised to see that only some 30 or 40 spectators turned up.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Recent magazine articles on Bernadottes

This month’s issue of the Swedish history magazine Populär Historia (no 3-2010) has an article by journalist Sara Griberg on Princess Maria, the Russian Grand Duchess who was married off to Prince Wilhelm in 1908 and left him five years later.
Although the Grand Duchess lived until 1958, the article concentrates on Maria’s few years in Sweden. Like most Swedes writing about Maria, Griberg uses Maria’s own and her son Lennart Bernadotte’s memoirs as the main sources, but Griberg also considers the differing account given in Bengt Jangfeldt’s biography of Axel Munthe.
She also mentions the Russo-Swedish espionage case which coincided with the royal divorce and which rumours claimed Princess Maria was involved with, but, perhaps naturally for such a format, Sara Griberg does not investigate it further.
The article includes a photo of Maria at work in the fashion industry in Paris in 1923, but it is quite startling to see that the woman standing next to her, dressed in typical 1920s fashion, is identified as Empress Maria Fyodorovna!
The biographer of that Empress, Coryne Hall, has meanwhile published an article of Queen Ingrid in the March issue of the British magazine Majesty (vol 31, no 3), coinciding with the late Queen’s centenary at the end of this month. The article lists the basic biographical facts in a rather dry manner, but not a word is said about Queen Ingrid’s personality.
There is also nothing about her significance or influence, except for a statement that the Act of Succession was changed in Princess Margrethe’s favour “due in no small part to Ingrid’s influence”. In fact this remains an unsubstantiated rumour which has been denied on several occasions.
Much more interesting is an interview in that same magazine with Lady Elizabeth Anson, the step-daughter of Prince Georg of Denmark and great-niece of the late Queen Elizabeth, who runs the company Party Planners. She says she came up with the idea when attending her own coming-out party at the Danish Embassy in London, but that her wish to pursue this career met with strong resistance from Prince Georg, who got her a job as a hotel receptionist instead.
Eventually she did start her own business together with her friend Jessica Scott-Ellis and among her first royal commissions were a cocktail party thrown by her great-aunt for Princess Benedikte of Denmark and the 21st birthday of Prince William of Gloucester. Lady Elizabeth greatly enjoyed working with Patrick Plunket and following his death she was asked to take over his job as Deputy Master of the Household. That she turned down the offer on the spot “was obviously considered very rude” and she was out of royal favour for some years.
In 2000 the Queen Mother did however ask Lady Elizabeth to arrange the huge party at Windsor Castle to celebrate her 100th birthday as well as the 70th birthday of Princess Margaret, 50th of Princess Anne and 40th of the Duke of York. After that she has received many more royal commissions and although she is now 68, she has no plans to retire.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Two new Swedish magazines

Following the recent demise of the glossy royalty magazine Queen, tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet is apparently trying to fill the gap with their new magazine Royal. The first issue was sold with the newspaper this last weekend and five more issues are expected before the royal wedding in the summer.
The first issue deals with Victoria and Daniel, Victoria and Daniel, Victoria and Daniel, and, last but not least, Victoria and Daniel. The story of their lives and love is told over several profusely illustrated pages, there is an article on the man believed to be designing the wedding dress, their friends are charted, there are articles on the engagement, on the engagement ring and on Haga Palace, their future home.
There is also a long interview with the notoriously unreliable journalist Herman Lindqvist, who predictably lauds Crown Princess Victoria. He does admit that Princess Madeleine is the most intelligent of the siblings, but feels the need to stress that Prince Carl Philip is unfit to be king and that King Carl Gustaf would have ruined himself if his wife had not taken command of him and the monarchy.
Apparently Lindqvist thinks the best way to make Victoria look better is to talk down other royals and he obviously does not see that this really weakens his case quite substantially. Things are of course also worse in other monarchies, he tells us. It is not long since his blatant lies that the Crown Princess of Norway was a drug addict were published by Aftonbladet; he now adds that both King Harald and Queen Sonja became “seriously ill” when they heard about their son’s wish to marry her and that the Queen had to “enter therapy”.
It never went this far in Sweden, Lindqvist reassures us. He does admit that King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia were sceptical towards Daniel Westling, but, characteristically modest, he tells us that they did change their minds thanks to his advice. Should one laugh or cry?
Also new on the market is the biweekly magazine S, which Bonnier tidskrifter has founded as a replacement to Queen. Two issues have now been published, filled with lots of photos, little text and much nonsense.
“Everyone believe Queen Margrethe will abdicate on her 70th birthday in April”, they tell us in a long article about how Crown Princess Mary will soon be queen, complete will “proof” such as photos showing that she has learnt to walk with a straight back, look people in the eye when greeting them and conversing the guests at official dinners. One need not know much about Queen Margrethe’s personality to know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that she will ever abdicate and so she has said on numerous occasions, including very recently in the book Dronningens teater.
Elisabeth Tarras-Wahlberg, the former head of the Swedish royal court’s information department and now TV4’s royal reporter, is interviewed over several pages and mostly answers other questions than those put to her.
In the first issue there is an interview with Emma Pernald, Prince Carl Philip’s ex-girlfriend, titled “We have shared custody”. This quote refers to the dog they bought together and already in the second issue there is a clarification that Pernald never said that, but that the dog belongs to both of them.
“Sweden’s hottest power couples” are presented over several pages and we also meet insignificant celebrities such as Anna Anka, and read about “the world’s dirtiest inheritance disputes” as well as food, makeup, clothes and accessories.
The highlight of the second issue is the questions and answers page, where a question about who is the black sheep of the Swedish royal family is brilliantly illustrated by a photo of Jan Bernadotte, the self-proclaimed “Prince Carl Johan”, talking to an actual black sheep!
It seems Bonnier tidskrifter and the editor, Pamela Andersson, who took over Queen, destroyed it and closed it down last month, have now gotten what they really wanted to turn Queen into: a gossip magazine of questionable quality.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Royal name day celebrations in Stockholm

Yesterday was the name day of Crown Princess Victoria and as I was in Stockholm I went down to the Royal Palace to watch the celebrations. As she always spends her birthday on Öland and name days are almost as big a thing as birthdays in Sweden, there is usually a ceremony in the Inner Courtyard in connection with the changing of the guard.
The old and the new guard stood on parade and the army band played some music in the Crown Princess’s honour. After taking the salute, she received flowers from the band and the two regiments. This year she was accompanied by her fiancé Daniel Westling and her mother Queen Silvia and the crowds had grown quite much since last time I witnessed the celebration (in 2007).
The military salute over, there was a brief family discussion before the Queen stepped back and Crown Princess Victoria took her fiancé with her to meet the crowds in order to accept flowers and other greetings.

My latest article: The limits of royalty

In Norway we recently had the very odd situation that a leading Labour politician, the Minister of Commerce and Trade Trond Giske, appointed a group of millionaire and billionaire heirs to advise him and the government on the future of Norwegian business and commerce in the coming decade. What was even stranger: he also asked the Crown Prince to join the group and the Crown Prince accepted. After massive criticism and accusations of politicising the monarchy, the Crown Prince withdrew almost immediately.
On Thursday I wrote an op-ed in Dagsavisen saying that it is almost incredible that the Crown Prince did not understand the impossibility of accepting such a task. As heir to the throne he is obliged to be politically neutral in order to be able to cooperate with whatever government the country has. But it must also be seen in relation to the Constitution, according to which the government is the King’s Council and thereby responsible for his actions. Thus it is impossible for the future king, who is occasionally regent, to accept a position as a councillor to the King’s Council.
I argue that this must be seen in relation to a number of other unfortunate events in recent years. The King is known to have intervened in the process to abolish the State Church to insist that future monarchs should also be required to be Lutheran Christians – although he is the current King, the constitutional requirements to future monarchs are really not his business.
Princess Märtha Louise has over several years now exploited her royal title commercially in a way which would be unthinkable in most other monarchies, while the royal family have been deaf to the criticism this has sparked. The Princess’s husband, who according to the King’s decision of 2002 is a member of the royal family, has made incorrect claims about former palace employees and used the media to wage public vendettas against certain individuals. When asked about this by a journalist recently, the Queen told the media rather sharply that they had to respect “our private things”, although it was in fact members of the royal family themselves who had gone public with these things.
The Crown Prince has thrown himself wholeheartedly into development and climate issues, topics where he can do something very useful by bringing attention to these two most important challenges to our world. But although this is praiseworthy it might one day land the Crown Prince in trouble. The country’s largest opposition party, the Progress Party, has no solutions to these challenges to offer except for reducing development aid and denying the existence of the climate problem. Thus we may in some years find ourselves in a situation where everyone knows that King Haakon VIII disagrees fundamentally with the politics of his cabinet.
In my article I ask if the time has come for the royal family to rethink what they can allow themselves to do and take part in without weakening their own neutrality and integrity.
The article in its entirety may be read here:

Swedish press hysteria getting out of hand

With the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling approaching (on Thursday there were 100 days left) and expected to be the biggest media event in Sweden for years, it seems the country’s media is about to go crazy.
Most major media outlets have attempted to strengthen their teams by recruiting all sorts of authors, historian (real and self-appointed ones), former courtiers, fashion bloggers and party girls. One may wonder if it is the desire to “beat” their rivals and be first with the news that has recently led some journalist to take journalistic standards very lightly and rush out stories which soon have had to be retracted.
On Thursday Åsa Bönnelyche of Svensk Damtidning, who is perhaps best known for her scoop in breaking the news of Princess Madeleine’s and Jonas Bergström’s engagement the day before it was to be announced, wrote in her blog that Queen Silvia is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
On Friday she deleted that blogpost and apologised for publishing “unconfirmed information”. She did however not actually say that her story was wrong, but only “unconfirmed”.
It seems very hypocritical that Jenny Alexandersson of Aftonbladet in her blog makes a big deal out of this and expresses her deep indignation that Svensk Damtidning (where she worked until last year) claims that the Queen is “terminally ill [sic]”. It is only a few weeks since Alexandersson herself made a very similar gaffe when she claimed that Daniel Westling had been taken acutely ill and rushed to hospital, when he had in fact only been to a routine check-up following his kidney transplant. This she does of course not mention now.
Alexandersson back then also wrote of the joy and satisfaction she felt when seeing her (false) story on the front pages all over town. Unlike Bönnelyche she did not even have the decency to apologise, but blamed the Royal Court instead.
Now she assures us that Svensk Damtidning’s story is “rejected!” by her colleague at Aftonbladet, the notoriously unreliable journalist Herman Lindqvist, who is apparently now not only an “author and historian [sic]”, but also a doctor.
The Royal Court’s only comment has been that Queen Silvia is doing fine.
For the Swedish media it appears to be time to take a deep breath and calm down before they end up like German weeklies.

Friday, 12 March 2010

At the road’s end: Stig Hadenius (1931-2010), historian and royal biographer

Dagens Nyheter this morning reports the death of Professor Stig Hadenius, aged 78. Hadenius won his doctorate in history on Fosterländsk unionspolitik, a dissertation on the union issue in the years 1888-1899, and later became Sweden’s first professor of journalism. His book on Swedish political history was published in numerous editions. Having edited two books on Oscar II, he turned to royal biography in later years, writing a life of Gustaf V in 2005 and of Folke Bernadotte in 2007. His biography of Queen Victoria is expected to be published next month.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

237 candidates for Nobel Peace Prize

Yesterday the Norwegian Nobel Institute announced that 237 candidates have been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, 38 of whom are organisations. This crushes last year’s record number of 205 nominations. The Nobel Committee's decision will be announced on 4 October.
It can be added that for the first time ever a nominee has requested to be removed from the list. The Israeli scientist Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison after disclosing to the world the existence of Israel’s illegal nuclear programme, and who enjoys much sympathy in Norway, has stated that he does not wish to receive a prize earlier awarded to his country’s current President, Shimon Peres (who shared the Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat in 1994).

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

New books: The rise and fall of Lars Sponheim

A month before the release of the authorised biography of Lars Sponheim, the outgoing leader of the Liberal Party, Olav Garvik and Olav Kobbeltveit last week published their unauthorised version, titled Sponheim uautorisert (“Sponheim Unauthorised”, a title which works in English but not quite in Norwegian).
Lars Sponheim was the man who managed to “resurrect” the Liberal Party, the oldest political party in Norway, when he was elected to Parliament in 1993; eight years after the party had fallen out of the national assembly. He ousted Odd Einar Dørum as leader of the party in 1996 and became a cabinet minister in both the Bondevik governments (1997-2000 and 2001-2005). Known for his outspokenness and inflated ego, Sponheim hit the iceberg in last year’s general election, when he lost his own seat in Parliament and the party fell below the election threshold of 4 %, leaving it with only two seats. In what was perhaps the greatest drama of the election, Sponheim announced his resignation as leader of the party that very night.
The authors of the unauthorised biography are journalists at Bergens Tidende, a newspaper located in the county of Hordaland, which Sponheim represented in Parliament, and a newspaper which apparently has close political and personal ties to the Liberal Party and Sponheim himself. This is an obvious strength as the authors chart how he won a parliamentary seat in 1993, but occasionally one feels that their own newspaper takes too much space in this book, often in a rather self-righteous way.
The authors obviously have a love of metaphors and have made no attempt to restrict the use of them. Only rarely do they achieve such elegance as when they write about the conflicts between Sponheim and his lightweight deputy leader Olaf Thommessen that elephants do not allow themselves to be distracted by horse flies.
In the journalistic manner the book seems to be based mostly on oral interviews and they might sometimes have attempted to do more research. When the Liberal Party is left with two seats in Parliament following the 2001 election, but gets three governmental positions, the authors ask if there are earlier examples of a party having more ministers than MPs. Their “answer” is: “Maybe. Maybe not”. One wonders if they have even bothered trying to find out.
The most interesting new material in this book is the extensive use of the minutes from the negotiations between the Christian People’s Party, the Centre Party and the Liberal Party which led to the formation of the historic so-called “Centre Government” in 1997. This reveals a great deal about what went on beyond the scenes. As some of his colleagues in this and Kjell Magne Bondevik’s second government apparently feel free to be almost as outspoken as Sponheim himself is (in)famous for being, we also learn quite a few things about the inner life of the two cabinets.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it stresses the close friendship and co-operation between Sponheim and Bondevik. It appears to be true that Sponheim was quite close to the truth when he referred to himself and his party as “the glue” in the coalition government.
The constructive role played by Sponheim as a minister stands in sharp contrast to the portrayal of the authoritarian and in fact quite destructive party leader, who apparently preferred to rule the Liberal Party as an enlightened despot. The authors see Sponheim’s difficulties in cooperating with the rest of the parliamentary group as a legacy of the four years when he made up that group alone. All in all it is a rather unsympathetic portrait of Sponheim which is painted, yet this will be easily recognisable to many of those who have observed him over time.

Monday, 8 March 2010

New books: Monarchy in the Age of Liberty

“The Age of Liberty” is the name accorded in Swedish history to the period between the death of Carl XII in 1718 and Gustaf III’s first coup d’état in 1772. After the misfortunes brought on the country be the absolute monarch Carl XII, his sister Ulrika Eleonora was elected monarch in 1719 under a new constitution whereby the King was left virtually powerless.
This epoch is the topic of the historian Jonas Nordin’s interesting book Frihetstidens monarki – Konungamakt och offentlighet i 1700-talets Sverige (“Monarchy in the Age of Liberty: Royal Power and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Sweden”), which was published by Atlantis at the end of 2009.
As the author states, this is “a book about an institution, not about individuals”, i.e. a book on the monarchy and not on the monarchs. Nordin asks what the function of the monarchy was when the King had none and argues that the ideas behind the concept of monarchy are most easily studied in an era when the monarchy was at its weakest.
Nordin stresses that although the King’s powers were taken from him, one never considered abolishing the monarchy. He points out that only the Constitution of 1809 stated explicitly that Sweden was a monarchy, which he sees as a sign that until then this was a given fact.
It is interesting to note that Nordin stresses how rarely a Swedish king on his death had been succeeded by an adult son. This is something which is often overlooked in Sweden and which paints a picture of a monarchy which was not particularly stable (in fact one may say that it was only the advent of the Bernadottes in 1810 which brought dynastic stability to the Sweden). Nordin also makes some interesting comparisons with the Danish monarchy, which was at the time absolute and where son followed father in an unbroken line.
Under the Constitutions of 1719 and 1720, the King of Sweden merely presided over the Council of the Realm, which held the political initiative together with the four estates. One of the best-remembered aspects of the monarchy in this epoch is that the Council had a royal signature stamp to use in place of the monarch’s signature. It is correct that this was occasionally used against the will of the King, but Nordin points out that it was actually introduced to ease the King’s burdens so that he did not have to sign every single document. The signature of the King, Nordin argues, was the only guarantee of governmental impartiality and therefore in reality, although not theoretically, indispensable.
The symbolic meaning of the monarchy was greatly enhanced, and Jonas Nordin shows how some of the most lavish royal rituals in Swedish history took place at a time when the monarchy held no real power. This might perhaps be interpreted as an empty spectacle covering up the fact that the King was not actually the one who ruled the country, but Nordin shows how the notion that the King was the ruler was maintained throughout the Age of Liberty, for instance in the public decrees that were read from church pulpits. On the other hand the newspapers, which showed an increasing interest in the doings of the royal family, gave a more nuanced picture.
An interesting part of the book is the chapter dedicated to the visual representation of the royals. While paintings and sculptures were generally available only to the great and the good, woodprints, and to a certain degree coins, were the portraits which most of the population had access to. Often these held so little resemblance to the actual persons, or old prints were simply “recycled” with altered inscriptions to represent other people, that it seems fair to say that they portrayed the attributes of monarchy, or “royalty” in general, rather than the royal individuals themselves.
One of the most difficult things about history is to find out what were the views of the general populace, as these are generally not well documented. Nordin has however found an original and interesting solution – he has studied the court records of all the 250 cases of lèse-majesté in the Age of Liberty. Thereby he has reached the conclusion that people seem to have been well informed of the fact that the actual power lay not with the King, but with the Council and the Four Estates, yet they accorded the monarchy a high degree of legitimacy and tended to blame injustice on the Council rather than on the King.
Jonas Nordin concludes that despite the constitutionally imposed limits, the King was “the country’s most powerful politician” and someone whom the political system’s legitimacy was dependent on.
The author, who is a researcher at the Royal Library in Stockholm, takes a very scholarly approach to his topic. His prose is analytical as the same time as it avoids being dull. But this is not a book for starters – the “framework” of historical events in this epoch is mostly left out, meaning that the reader will need to have at least some knowledge of the basic facts of Swedish history at the time. Jonas Nordin’s book is an interesting and valuable addition not only to the history of the Swedish monarchy, but also to the understanding of it.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Book news: Tony Blair’s memoirs due in September

It was announced today that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s memoirs will be published in September. The book, titled The Journey, is due to be published by Random House. As one of the most significant political figures of recent years, Blair’s memoirs can be counted on to give his version of his premiership’s successes, such as constitutional reforms and the Good Friday agreement, and its great failure, the Iraq War, which has so far almost entirely overshadowed the rest of his legacy (although we can expect the failure to be fermently denied).
Tony Blair’s “partner in crime”, George W. Bush, will also appear in print this autumn, with the memoir Decision Points. This book will not be a traditional autobiography, but focus on some of the key decisions made by Bush as President of the USA. Meanwhile Karl Rove is releasing his own memoirs, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, this coming Tuesday.

At the road’s end: Michael Foot (1913-2010), former leader of British Labour

Michael Foot died yesterday, aged 96. He was the leader of the British Labour Party 1980-1983, held cabinet positions under Heath and Callaghan and was also a distinguished journalist and author.
He was born on 23 July 1913 and was first elected to the House of Commons in 1945. He lost his seat ten years later, but returned to Parliament in 1960. In 1976 he stood for the party leadership but lost to James Callaghan. Four years later he was more successful and defeated Denis Healey with a narrow margin.
Already 67, half-blind and walking with a gait after a near-fatal car accident in 1963, the erudite Michael Foot seemed an unlikely party leader for the time. It did not help that he came to lead the party at a time when it was nearly torn apart by internal struggles and the outcome of the general election called by Margaret Thatcher in the wake of the Falklands War and its accompanying wave of jingoism was almost given in advance.
In those circumstances it did perhaps seem a good idea for Labour to present a radical manifesto, clearly marking its distance to the Tories, but the manifesto is best remembered as “the longest suicide note in history”. Labour won only 28 % of the votes in the 1983 election, its worst showing in more than fifty years, and Michael Foot resigned as leader of the party.
He left Parliament at the 1992 election and, staunchly opposed to the House of Lords in the form it then had, he refused all offers of knighthoods and peerages.
Michael Foot was a great parliamentarian, but a failure as a party leader. Yet he enjoyed great personal popularity and became, in the words of The Times’ obituary, “the best-loved socialist of his time”. One of the greatest orators of modern politics, he was also one of the most principled of British politicians. He belonged to the Labour party’s left wing, was a champion of freedom and a great supporter of nuclear disarmament, a firm opponent of fascism and appeasement.
A lover of literature, particularly Byron, Swift, Disraeli and Hazlitt, he was himself the author of twenty books, including biographies of Jonathan Swift, Aneurin Bevan and H. G. Wells. Michael Foot was twice editor of Tribune and also acting editor of London’s Evening Standard during the Second World War. He was, in the words of Michael White in the Guardian today, “the most improbable literary romantic to lead a major British party since Benjamin Disraeli”.

The Guardian:
The Times:
The Daily Telegraph:
The Independent:

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Swedish crowns and some wedding details

The online edition of Dagbladet has an interesting article by Astrid Meland about which Swedish crown will be assigned to the future Prince Daniel. Since the death of the last crowned King of Sweden, Oscar II, in 1907, crowns are no longer worn, but displayed during ceremonies such as christenings, weddings and funerals. The crown assigned to Daniel Westling will therefore be placed on or next to the altar of Stockholm’s Cathedral during the wedding on 19 June, together with the crown princely crown.
There are four princely crowns kept in the Treasury in Stockholm and members of the staff speculate that Prince Wilhelm’s crown (made in 1902) may be assigned to Daniel Westling as it is the newest and thus less prestigious. Alternatively they suggest Prince Fredrik Adolf’s crown (made in 1772), but seem to think that the crowns made for Prince Carl (1772) and Prince Oscar (1844) are less likely as these two princes went on to become kings (as Carl XIII and Oscar II).
I am not sure if I follow the logic of this – Daniel Westling will indeed not become king, but he will become prince consort and thereby the first gentleman of the realm, which in my opinion would be a very good reason not to assign him the “least prestigious” crown. The “most prestigious” of the princely crowns would according to this thinking be Prince Carl’s, which was most recently used for the funeral of Prince Bertil in 1997.
The article also provides an interesting piece of news about the wedding itself. Nina Eldh, the head of the Swedish Royal Court’s information department, says that it will be “an afternoon wedding” followed by a cortege and a dinner. This is a departure from the wedding of the current King and Queen in 1976, which took place earlier in the day and was followed by a cortege and a lunch. In 1976 the dress code was morning coats or uniforms for men, long dresses and hats for women, but with an afternoon wedding and a dinner, the dress code will most likely be white tie or uniform for the gentlemen and long dresses and tiaras for the ladies.

At the road’s end: Winston Churchill (1940-2010), former British MP

Winston Churchill, former Conservative Member of the British Parliament, died yesterday at the age of 69, after having battled cancer for two years. Churchill tried hard, perhaps too hard, to emulate his eponymous grandfather, but his political career held few successes.
He was born at the British Prime Minister’s official country house, Chequers, on 10 October 1940, the son of Randolph Churchill and Pamela Digby, who later became the US ambassador to France under the name Pamela Harriman.
Like his father and grandfather, Winston Churchill tried his luck as a journalist before being elected to Parliament in 1970. He belonged to the Conservative party’s right wing and took a hawkish stance on many foreign policy issues, something which apparently appealed to Margaret Thatcher.
Yet this carrier of a great name never made it to anything more than assistant spokesman on defence in 1976. He was sacked two years later when he went against the party line concerning sanctions against South Rhodesia. Churchill was a firm supporter of Ian Smith’s regime as well as the apartheid regime in South Africa. In this he was not alone in his party, but he continued to do so when most of his fellow Tories had realised their mistakes. He later became a warm supporter of the war against Iraq.
After his sacking in 1978 he remained a backbencher until he left Parliament when his constituency was abolished in 1997. In such a way ended the political career of the second Winston Churchill.
While Sir Winston Churchill wrote a biography of his father, Randolph Churchill wrote the first parts of the official biography of the great wartime leader. After Randolph’s death in 1968, the younger Winston wanted to continue the work, but the historian Martin Gilbert was chosen instead. However, Winston Churchill picked up the family tradition by writing a biography of his own father in 1996.

The Daily Telegraph:
The Times:
The Guardian:
The Independent: