Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel in the footsteps of Carl XIV Johan

As previously announced Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden have been visiting France this week as part of the bicentenary of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte’s election to Crown Prince of Sweden, a trip which is also their first official visit abroad following their wedding this summer.
The crown princessly couple have visited both Paris and Pau. In the southern town Pau they visited the house in which the future Carl XIV Johan was born in 1763, which is now the Musée Bernadotte. Judging by the photos they received a warmer welcome than King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia when they arrived unexpectedly at the museum two or three years ago and were turned away at the door as the museum was about to close for the lunch break. (The mayor of Pau was not happy when she heard about it).
In Paris the Crown Princess and Prince Daniel called on President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace. Given that the future Carl XIV Johan was (and is) considered a traitor by many Frenchmen there are not that many reminders of him to be found in the French capital. His name can be found on the Arc de Triomphe with the other generals of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, but he is one of the few marshals for whom a Parisian street has not been named.
However, the Crown Princess and Prince Daniel paid a visit to the town hall in suburban Sceaux, where the then General Bernadotte married Désirée Clary in 1798, and were shown the entry in the book recording the marriage. The General and his wife spent their first years as a married couple in Sceaux, which was not to Désirée’s liking as she found it too far from Paris – I guess this goes quite a way in explaining why she considered Stockholm too far from Paris!
The crown princessly couple also made a visit to Château de la Grange la Prévôte in Savigny-le-Temple, some forty kilometres from central Paris. This estate was acquired by the Bernadottes in 1800 and, according to the art historian Britt-Inger Johansson’s interesting chapter on the Bernadotte residences in a recent anthology on the dynasty, Bernadotte had an existing building demolished and a new small palace built. As the architecture of la Grange is quite typical of the revolutionary era this seems not unlikely and, if correct, means that la Grange should be added to the list of palaces built by Carl XIV Johan, which otherwise consists of only Rosendal Palace in Stockholm and the Royal Palace in Oslo.
When Bernadotte became Crown Prince of Sweden and joined the enemies of France, ownership of the estate was transferred to his wife’s brother, Count Nicolas Clary, so as to avoid confiscation as enemy property. It remained in the Clary family until 1915 and is now owned by local authorities and used for conferences.
When they return to Sweden, Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel will soon embark on a second official visit, this time to Beijing and Shanghai between 11 and 14 October. Later they will visit their duchy, Westrogothia, from 21 to 23 October, before making a third official trip abroad, this time to Finland on 1 and 2 November.
Here in Oslo we can meanwhile expect King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, who will join the King and Queen of Norway in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Swedish-Norwegian conference centre Voksenåsen on Friday. Queen Silvia will stay on until Sunday, when she will attend mass at the Swedish Margareta Church together with Queen Sonja. This means that the Queen of Sweden will be in town during the State Opening of Parliament on Saturday, but there is no tradition for foreign dignitaries to attend this ceremony.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Several exhibitions on royal history this autumn

I have just returned from Stockholm, where the National Museum was busy getting everything in place for their grand exhibition “Härskarkonst – Napoleon, Karl Johan, Alexander” (“Staging Power – Napoleon, Karl Johan, Alexander”), which will be opened by King Carl Gustaf tomorrow in the presence of former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.
The exhibition is expected to be the highlight of the Bernadotte bicentenary and will look at Emperor Napoléon I of France’s, King Carl XIV Johan of Sweden and Norway’s and Emperor Alexander I of Russia’s relations to art and how they used the arts to strengthen their own positions. More than 400 works of art – paintings, costumes, jewellery, furniture and more – are included in this exhibition.
Some examples worth mentioning are Jacques-Louis David’s iconic painting of Napoléon crossing the Alps, a leaf from the golden wreath with which Napoléon crowned himself emperor and the magnificent emerald necklace which was given to Stéphanie de Beauharnais when she married the future Grand Duke of Baden in 1805.
A richly illustrated catalogue, in Swedish and English versions, is available from the National Museum from this week. The exhibition will last until 23 January and will thereafter be shown in a modified version at the State Hermitage in St Petersburg.
The National Museum’s exhibition of Bernadotte portraits, “Bernadotter i svart och vitt” (“The Bernadottes in Black and White”), which opened in June, also remains open until 23 January, but on the coming Sunday some of the exhibited photos will be replaced with others (for preservation reasons).
It was earlier reported that the Royal Collection would show an exhibition on Carl XIV Johan’s family life at the Royal Palace in Stockholm from 1 October, but this has been postponed to 2 December.
There will however be several other exhibitions related to royal history to be seen this autumn. The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace has just extended their magnificent “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love”, which was due to close on 31 October, to 5 December.
As earlier mentioned the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Palace in Copenhagen will stage an exhibition to mark the 350th anniversary of the introduction of absolute monarchy in Denmark-Norway, while Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen will hold the exhibition “Pomp og pragt - Kongemagt og enevælde” (“Pomp and Splendour - Royal Power and Absolute Monarchy”) on the same topic. The exhibition at Frederiksborg will run from 16 October to 20 February, while Rosenborg’s lasts from 16 October to 27 February.
A book related to these two exhibitions has also just been published by Gads Forlag of Copenhagen. Magt og pragt – Enevælde 1660-1848 is written by the noted historians Thomas Lyngby, Søren Mentz and Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen.
On the coming Saturday the Amalienborg Museum in Copenhagen will inaugurate their new exhibition “Den elegante fornyer” (“The Elegant Reformer”), which is a belated commemoration of the centenary of Queen Ingrid’s birth in March. This exhibition will close on the late Queen’s birthday, 28 March 2011. The Danish Royal Collection has by the way just got a new website (external link), which is a significant improvement on the old one.
In Antwerp one will soon be able to see the exhibition “Voor eer en glorie - Napoleon en de juwelen van het Keizerrijk” (“For Honour and Glory - Napoleon and the Empire’s Jewels”) at the Diamond Museum in Queen Astrid Square. This exhibition on the jewellery of the Napoleonic age will be open from 1 October to 31 December.
Here in Oslo the exhibition “Slottet og Linstow – Den nye hovedstadens grunnstein” (“The Palace and Linstow – The Cornerstone of the New Capital”) at the National Museum’s architecture department is now in its closing days. The exhibition, which is the first since 1922 to be devoted to Hans D. F. Linstow, the city planner and architect of the Royal Palace, will close on 10 October.
Meanwhile another branch of the National Museum, the National Gallery, last week opened “Sakrale skatter fra Kreml-museene i Moskva” (“Sacral Treasures from the Kremlin Museums in Moscow”), which shows some 90 icons, textiles and ritual and liturgical objects used in the imperial cathedrals of Russia. This is said to be the most valuable exhibition ever held at the National Museum. It will stay open until 16 January.
The photo show Grand Duchess Stéphanie Napoléon’s emerald necklace, which is normally kept in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The press photo is copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Final results of Sweden’s general election

Yesterday the final results of the Swedish general election on Sunday were announced with only a small change from the preliminary results.
With all votes having been counted and checked the centre-right coalition which has been in power for the last four years wins 173 mandates rather the expected 172 – the Centre Party takes one seat in Parliament from the Social Democrats.
Nevertheless the fact remains that the government coalition, known as the Alliance, has lost its majority in Parliament. The Alliance was some 2,000 votes short of winning 50 % of the votes and fell two seats short of a renewed majority in Parliament.
However, the results show that a majority was even closer. The Liberal People’s Party was only 19 votes short of winning another seat from Gothenburg and only seven votes short of yet another mandate from Wermlandia, which means that the Alliance in reality was only 26 votes short of winning 175 of the 349 seats in Parliament. The Liberal People’s Party has made known its intention to file a complaint over the election results.
Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party maintains that, because the Alliance remains the largest block in Parliament, he will go on being Prime Minister. When the Social Democrat Göran Persson lost his parliamentary majority in 2002, the Moderate Party tabled a motion of no confidence. Its then party leader, Bo Lundgren, back then said it was self-evident that a majority government which lost its majority in an election should resign, a motion for which also Fredrik Reinfeldt voted. But in politics there is of course a significant difference between what one considers a self-evident principle opponents should adhere to when it will benefit oneself and what one thinks about the same principle when one finds oneself in the same position and is not likely to benefit from it.
With neither the Alliance nor the opposition, the Red-Greens, having won a majority, the right-wing extremist party the Sweden Democrats remains in a position to tip the balance in Parliament.
The government coalition has been toying with the idea of reducing the number of seats on each parliamentary committee from 17 to 15 in order to keep the Sweden Democrats out of the committees – this is actually legally possible, although it would obviously be undemocratic and play into the hands of the Sweden Democrats, who would then be able to cast themselves even more strongly in the role as martyrs. Nevertheless there is a parliamentary majority for keeping the number of seats on each committee at 17, which means that the Sweden Democrats will hold the deciding vote on every issue dealt with in the committees every time the two blocks stand against each other.
The correct share of the votes for the Moderate Party has been corrected from 30 % to 30.1 %, for the Social Democrats from 30.9 % to 30.7 % and for the Green Party from 7.2 % to 7.3 %. Voter turnout was 84.6 %.
The final results also show that Donald Duck received 120 votes, King Carl Gustaf three, Jesus Christ and “God” both two, while Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter each received one vote. It should be added that neither of these gentlemen actually ran for a seat in Parliament, but as Sweden allows handwritten ballots one may vote for just about anyone.

My latest article(s): Two books and a royal title

This year’s third issue of Historisk Tidsskrift (“The Journal of History”) is out this week and includes review articles by me on Carl-Erik Grimstad’s book Dronning Mauds arv and Herman Lindqvist’s attempt at a biography of Carl XIV Johan, Jean Bernadotte – Mannen vi valde, both of which I have earlier written shorter reviews of at this website.
Sadly neither author has succeeded particularly well with their books. Grimstad wants to look at Queen Maud’s finances and the sources of the current King of Norway’s wealth as well as the cultural and ceremonial heritage of the Norwegian monarchy, but makes the error of staring himself almost blind on the British aspects at the expense of the arguably equally strong heritage from Sweden and Denmark. Most of the book in fact deals with the British monarchy in the lifetime of Edward VII.
The tabloid journalist Herman Lindqvist thinks that no earlier biographer has understood who Carl XIV Johan was and proceeds to give us a caricature of the king. What the two books have in common is an extraordinary number of factual mistakes and misunderstandings – in Lindqvist’s case also self-contradictions and non-existent characters. Unfortunately this book has now also been published in a Norwegian translation by Schibsted, which means that many Norwegians will be added to the number of Swedish readers already treated to Lindqvist’s nonsense. For the benefit of Norwegian readers he has already given an interview to Aftenposten, in which he explains that he has now realised what he did not understood when writing the book - namely that Carl Johan was in fact bisexual. (It should be added there is not a shred of evidence to support this latest notion of Lindqvist’s).

Princess Märtha Louise’s latest antics have led to calls for her two renounce her royal title. In Aftenposten last Friday my fellow royal biographer Lars Roar Langslet objected that such calls are based on a misunderstood belief that “Princess” is a title – it is “Royal Highness”, which she renounced in 2002, that is in fact a title, Langlset added.
In a letter to the editor on Tuesday I argued that “Princess” is indeed a title, quoting what the Constitution says and said about the matter at the time of Princess Märtha Louise’s birth, and that “Royal Highness” is a style or a form of address rather than an actual title.
Langslet, a former MP and minister of culture, replied on Wednesday that he had meant to say that “Princess” is not a title like others which are linked to a job or position one has acquired, but rather a title acquired by birth and as such something one should not renounce. In his view the Princess should therefore have kept the “Royal Highness”.
In Aftenposten today I state my agreement with him that titles acquired by birth are something which one should avoid relinquishing and argue that the decision to withdraw the HRH to create a greater distance between the Princess’s commercial activities and the monarchy was rather meaningless, as the HRH is almost never used outside the Palace and it is the title “Princess” which determines if one is associated with the royal family or not. On the other hand, I write, the Princess should follow the example of her British relatives and refrain from using her royal title for commercial purposes.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

King and Queen to tour the USA next year

Aftenposten today reports that the King and Queen of Norway will make an 11-day-tour of the USA in November next year. They will begin the tour in Minneapolis on 11 November 2011, but it has not yet been settled which other states they will visit.
The tour will end in New York around 20 November, where they are expected to meet the Queen of Denmark, the King of Sweden, the President of Iceland and the President of Finland and take part in the centenary celebrations of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.
As the visit to the USA will not be a state visit, the King and Queen will not go to Washington and are therefore not expected to meet President Obama.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Danish crown princely couple takes over mansion

At 2 p.m. today the Danish Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen will, on behalf of the Palaces and Properties Agency, formally hand over Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg to Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary.
The mansion has been uninhabited since Queen Ingrid moved permanently to Fredensborg in 1997 and has since 2004 undergone extensive restoration and renovation work. From the end of February until it closed in early August, 479,246 people have taken the opportunity to visit the mansion and see the contemporary artworks with which it has been decorated.
Frederik VIII’s Mansion will be the official residence of the crown princely couple, also after their future accession to the Danish throne, but from remarks made by Crown Prince Frederik at the time his wife’s pregnancy with twins was announced I understand that, as for now, they will continue to live mostly at the Chancellery House at Fredensborg, where they have had their home since they married in 2004 and where the children attend a local kindergarten.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Walburga Habsburg Douglas re-elected to Swedish Parliament

For those who care more for royalty than for politics it might be of interest to note that Walburga Habsburg Douglas, a former Archduchess of Austria-Hungary, was re-elected to the Swedish Parliament in yesterday’s election.
Douglas, who is the daughter of the last Austro-Hungarian crown prince and former MEP Otto von Habsburg and the late Archduchess Regina, played a minor but interesting part in the events of 1989. She later moved to Sweden when marrying a Swedish nobleman, Count Archibald Douglas.
She was first elected to Parliament in 2006, representing the conservative Moderate Party from the county of Sudermania (Södermanland). In 2006 she was the second candidate on the party’s list in that county, where the Moderates back then won two mandates. In this election she had been demoted to third place on the list, but the Moderates doing their best election ever also meant their winning three seats in Parliament from Sudermania. Although the personal votes have not yet been counted she is not in danger of losing her seat that way.
During the previous Parliament (2006-2010) Walburga Douglas sat in the Committee on Foreign Affairs and was leader of the Swedish delegation to OSCE.

Centre-right retains power in the city of Stockholm – and a Nazi elected elsewhere

Yesterday’s Swedish election was not only a general election, but regional and local elections were held on the same day. An interesting outcome of the local elections is that the centre-right coalition which has governed the city of Stockholm during the last four years won a renewed majority, which has not happened since 1954. This must count as another sign of the deep crisis which has afflicted the Social Democrats.
Even more hair-raising than the fact that the right-wing extremists the Sweden Democrats won 20 seats in Parliament and are thereby able to tip parliamentary balance is the fact that a Nazi won a seat in a democratically elected assembly for the first time after World War II. With 2.8 % of the local vote the Swedes’ Party, until last year known as the National Socialist Front, won one seat in the municipal assembly of Grästorp in Westrogothia (Västergötland).
The photo shows the City Hall in Stockholm.

Chaotic outcome of Swedish election

“Disaster” seems to be an apt word for describing the outcome of Sunday’s general election in Sweden. With 5,660 out of 5,668 electoral districts counted the preliminary results point towards political chaos as a result of the governing centre-right coalition losing its majority, the opposing centre-left coalition also failing to win a majority and the right-wing extremists the Sweden Democrats winning 20 seats in Parliament and thus being able to tip the balance in either direction.
The so-called Alliance, made up of the conservative Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats, which has governed Sweden with a parliamentary majority since 2006, now seems to have won 172 seats in Parliament, thus narrowly falling short of the 175 required for a majority. While the party leaders pretend they have won the election and been re-elected (which would be the first time for right-wing Swedish government), this is actually a defeat also for them. But the defeat is even bigger for the opposition parties - the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party, collectively known as the Red-Greens - which has won 157 seats in Parliament.
Of the seven parties in the current Parliament, only the Moderates and the Greens have increased their share of the vote. With 30 % the Moderates have achieved their best result ever, but the Social Democrats narrowly remains the largest party with 30.8 % of the votes, which is their worst result in nearly 100 years.
Both the Alliance and the Red-Greens have made it clear that co-operating with the racist Sweden Democrats is absolutely out of the question. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the Moderate Party, had earlier announced his intention to go on leading the government if his alliance became the largest block, even without winning a renewed majority. Tonight he has invited the Greens to open talks about some sort of co-operation which can make for a parliamentary majority.
The unclear parliamentary situation may lead to several possible scenarioes. Fredrik Reinfeldt’s government may continue as a minority government, but if it is voted down in Parliament (which can only happen if both the Red-Greens and the Sweden Democrats vote against it) or Reinfeldt declares himself unable to form a new government, the Speaker of Parliament will ask Mona Sahlin, the leader of the Social Democrats and of the Red-Green coalition, to do so. It is then possible that Sahlin might try winning over the Centre Party and/or the Liberal People’s Party in order to secure a majority. If she also fails, there is a possibility that Parliament may be dissolved and a new election, something which has never happened before.

The preliminary results are:
The Social Democrats: 30.8 %, 113 seats
The Moderate Party: 30 %, 107 seats
The Green Party: 7.2 %, 25 seats
The Liberal People’s Party: 7.1 %, 24 seats
The Centre Party: 6.6 %, 22 seats
The Sweden Democrats: 5.7 %, 20 seats
The Christian Democrats: 5.6 %, 19 seats
The Left Party: 5.6 %, 19 seats
Other parties: 1.4 % combined, no seats

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sweden goes to the poll

Tomorrow is Election Day in Sweden, where both the general election and the local elections take place on the same day. Most interest is almost unavoidably focused on the election of the 349 Members of Parliament, an election which will also determine what government Sweden will have in the coming years.
Not too long ago it seemed like it would be one of the tightest races ever, but in recent weeks it seems to have become increasingly clear that the centre-right government led by Fredrik Reinfeldt most likely will win another term.
Almost from the very day that the Social Democrats lost the 2006 election to the centre-right coalition of the conservative Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats, the Liberal People’s Party and the Centre Party four years ago, the opposition has been leading in the opinion polls. But during the last year the gap between the two blocks has narrowed and for the last weeks the opinion polls have predicted a clear lead and a majority on their own for the government coalition, known as the Alliance.
Following the defeat four years ago of the Social Democrats, who had been in office for twelve years, the outgoing Prime Minister Göran Persson resigned as leader of the party and was succeeded by Mona Sahlin. Inspired by the Norwegian centre-left coalition which won a majority in the election of 2005 (and again in 2009), the Social Democrats formed a partnership with the Green Party and the Left Party and are hoping to win the general election with this alternative coalition, known as the Red-Greens. It now seems most likely that this will remain but a dream. An electoral defeat will probably also spell the end of Mona Sahlin’s time as leader of the party, which will again mean that she will be the first leader of the Social Democrats since before Hjalmar Branting not to have become prime minister.
Part of the problem for the Red-Greens seems to be that the voters seem to focus almost as much on persons as on politics and pressing issues such as jobs, social security and healthcare. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt always does well in the opinion polls which ask the voters about the trust they put in politicians, while Mona Sahlin tends to do equally bad.
This is probably at least partly a result of the events fifteen years ago, when Ingvar Carlsson announced his upcoming resignation as prime minister and party leader and everyone expected the then Deputy Prime Minister Mona Sahlin to succeed him. However, Sahlin had to withdraw from the race and from politics in general amid a scandal which involved her using the government’s credit card for making personal purchases.
Göran Persson, who was in many ways an outsider, was chosen in her place and when he resigned eleven years later and was succeeded by Sahlin, who had in the meantime made a political comeback, it was all too obvious that she was only the third choice, following Anna Lindh, who had been assassinated in 2003, and Margot Wallström, who was unwilling to leave her position as Vice-President of the European Commission and has now left politics for a good job in the UN. While the Social Democrats have often received around 40 % or more of the votes, they are now down to 30 % below and thus expected to do one of their worst elections ever.
The leader of the Left Party, Lars Ohly, who called himself a communist until 2006, when, following a storm of protests which made it clear that it was electorally unwise to do so, announced that he would no longer be doing so, does not enjoy much electoral confidence either. That leaves the popular Maria Wetterstrand, one of the two spokespersons of the leaderless Green Party, as the Red-Greens’ best card.
A complicating factor in the election is the right-wing extremist party the Sweden Democrats, which aims to win its first seats in Parliament. This will require that they win at least 4 % of the votes, a hurdle which most, but not all, recent opinions poll regrettably show that they will overcome. Scared by the Danish scenario, where the right-wing government for the last nine years has allowed itself to be held politically hostage by the far-right, racist Danish People’s Party, all the seven parties currently in the Swedish Parliament have made known their unwillingness to deal with the Sweden Democrats in any way.
While the race between the Alliance and the Red-Greens was at its closest it did seem as if the Sweden Democrats might find themselves in a position to tip parliamentary balance in either direction, a situation which would have caused chaos and might have led to some unexpected coalitions between the blocks and perhaps even to parliament being dissolved and a new election being held for the first time ever. This is still a possibility, but most recent polls show that the current government is likely to win a majority of their own, which will leave the Sweden Democrats without any influence.
The opinion poll published in Svenska Dagbladet today shows the gap between the two blocks narrowing – the Red-Greens now have 45.3 % (which is up 3.3 %) and the Alliance 49.9 % (which is down 1.8 %). This means that the opposition needs to win 133,000 new voters before tomorrow if they shall defeat the government. With 700,000 voters still undecided, this is possible, but probably not very likely. But, as with most elections, all predictions may turn out to be rubbish in the end and only the actual results tomorrow night will be able to tell what political future Sweden is facing.
The photo shows the main chamber in the Parliament Building in Stockholm.

Friday, 17 September 2010

At the road’s end: Friedrich Wilhelm, the Prince of Hohenzollern (1924-2010)

German media reports the death yesterday of the Prince (Fürst) of Hohenzollern, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Prince died at Umkirch Palace near Freiburg at the age of 86. He had in recent years suffered several strokes, which had left him almost completely blind.
Born on 3 February 1924, he was the eldest son of Prince (Fürst) Friedrich of Hohenzollern and the former Princess Margarete of Saxony. He was thus a grandson of the last King of Saxony, Friedrich August III, and his wife Louisa of Tuscany, who caused a scandal by running away from her husband in 1902.
Friedrich Wilhelm succeeded his father as Fürst on his death in 1965 and thus became head of the Catholic branch of the house of Hohenzollern, whose Protestant branch reigned in Brandenburg and Prussia until 1918. His great-great-grandfather ceded the sovereignty over the principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to the King of Prussia in 1849.
Prince Friedrich Wilhelm had three children with Princess Margarita of Leiningen, whom he married in 1951 and lost in 1996. He is succeeded as Fürst by the eldest of the three sons, Karl Friedrich, who earlier this summer married as his second wife Katharina de Zomer.
Among his six siblings is the art historian Prince Johann Georg, the husband of Princess Birgitta of Sweden. The Fürst himself spent most of his life running the family estates and was at the time of his death the longest-serving Fürst in the history of the house.
His funeral, followed by burial in the family crypt in the Hedinger Church, will take place next Thursday at 11 a.m.
A longer obituary may be found in the Schwäbischen Zeitung (external link).

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

New books: In defence of the Prince Consort

Henrik, the Prince Consort of Denmark, is arguably one of the least known figures among current royals. Not in the meaning that few have heard about him, but rather that few know what he is really like. He might perhaps in fact be one of the most interesting members of any European royal family, yet the way he is often caricatured by the Danish media means that few get to see those interesting sides of the man.
At the age of 76, the Prince Consort has for the first time become the subject of a biography, published by Politikens Forlag at the beginning of this month. Enegænger – Portræt af en prins is written by Stéphanie Surrugue, who in recent years has made a name for herself as a journalist at Politiken’s cultural section. The book had been postponed several times, but having read it, it seems fair to say that it was worth waiting for.
Born in 1977, Stéphanie Surrugue belongs to another generation than the Prince Consort, yet she is able to use her own story to tell that of Prince Henrik as her late father was in the same position as him – a Frenchman by birth, he moved to Denmark after marrying a Danish woman and, although integrated into Danish society, was always seen as “the Frenchman”.
But there is one thing which distorts the parallel. The Prince Consort, or Henri de Monpezat as he then was, may have been born in France, but he spent his early years at the family’s estates in what is now Vietnam, years which left deep marks on his character and the way he looks upon life. The outbreak of World War II meant that the family returned to France, which for the little boy was quite a cultural shock. One may thus say that he was uprooted twice and twice had to learn to adapt to a new country, a point which I think Surrugue does not fully take into account.
This is not a traditional biography based on a multitude of written sources, but, as the subtitle indicates, more of a portrait of the man, but also with traits of the reportage genre. The main sources are interviews with the Prince Consort himself, his immediate family and his closest friends. One might think it would have been refreshing to hear from some of those who do not adore the subject of the book and the absence of these voices does make the book somewhat one-sided. But on the other hand this seems to be first and foremost a book written in defence of Prince Henrik while at the same time trying to explore who he really is.
Surrugue’s interviews with the Prince are conducted in French, which means that the language occasionally feels a bit stilted when translated into Danish, such as his addressing her as “Madame Surrugue”. But this is a man in whose family one uses the formal “vous” rather than the informal “tu” even when addressing one’s parents, siblings or children.
A rather large part of the book is dedicated to the Prince’s life when he was not yet a prince. This is the story of Henri de Monpezat, who grew up as the second oldest of a huge flock of children at the family estate in South France, an upbringing dominated by his heavy-handed, choleric father, against whom he was in perpetual rebellion; who considered studying music but ended up as a career diplomat; and who at the age of 32 turned down the rather sensational offer of an ambassadorial posting (to Mongolia, but still an ambassadorial posting) in order to propose to the Danish princess he had met in London the previous year.
But Margrethe of Denmark was not only a princess. She was also the heiress to the throne and had in her own words “doubted if I would meet a man who would be able to say yes not only to me but to all that came with me”. Henri de Monpezat did so and thereby gave up his name and his nationality in order to move to Denmark and become the future queen’s husband and support. It was a choice which was to cause him both happiness and despair.
He now acknowledges that his father was right when he insisted that his role should be clearly defined from the beginning. But, he explains, he was young and in love and really did not feel in a position to lay down the law to the King of Denmark, his father-in-law. Queen Ingrid looked to how things had been done in Britain and the Netherlands and decided that her new son-in-law would become simply Prince Henrik of Denmark. In another context he points out that if King Frederik had told his wife that she would remain “Princess Ingrid”, she would have slammed the door behind her and gone back to Sweden.
The lack of a clearly defined role is something the Prince Consort considers one of the greatest difficulties of his life. The contrast between being a career diplomat and a prince without a real job was a “morally, intellectually and physically” difficult change, he says.
This he sees in relation to his being titled merely “Prince” until becoming “Prince Consort” in 2005. He argues that no-one could know the difference between Prince Henrik, the Queen’s husband and second in rank only to her, and little Prince Felix. If he had been made “statsprins, rigsprins, kongegemal” (State Prince or King Consort) his role would have been the same, but there would have been a clear indication that he had an actual role, he argues, while declaring that he would rather be called “Monsieur Henrik” than “Prince Henrik”.
The Prince Consort announces his intention to spend as much of his old age as possible at his château in France, which will confirm one of the most common Danish (mis?)conceptions about him, namely that he is more French than Danish. “Never forget to be proud of France”, was de Gaulle’s parting words to his young countryman when he departed for his wife’s country and Prince Henrik never has (he speaks of “the Anglo-Saxon dictatorship”).
With her own mixed Dano-French origins, Surrugue is in a better position than most Danes to understand the Prince Consort’s cultural background and the challenges facing him in Denmark. Denmark in 1967 was, as she points out, a country where wine was something one drank at confirmation parties and where only 29,000 out of 4.8 million inhabitants were immigrants – and only 621 of them were French. Queen Margrethe admits that a Frenchman was probably the last thing her parents had expected her to end up with – they rather expected a Briton or a Swede.
For Prince Henrik the easiest part of changing his country was apparently converting from Catholicism to Lutheranism. His father was furious and threatened to boycott the wedding, but Henrik himself anyway considers himself mostly a follower of Taoism and Confucianism. The language and the Danes’ attitude to foreigners were greater hurdles.
“I came to Denmark wishing to integrate myself entirely into my new country”, the Prince Consort says. The Danes are perhaps slightly xenophobic in that they expect immigrants to become entirely Danish as quickly as possible, yet they will continue to consider them foreigners (or “strangers”, which is the word often used) almost no matter how well they succeed.
That someone “is really Danish” is about the highest compliment a Dane can pay anyone and it was often said in that admiring manner of Prince Henrik’s Swedish-born mother-in-law, who succeeded better than most foreigners at coming across as truly Danish. Prince Henrik, on the other hand, still appears more French than Danish to many Danes and that is apparently something which rankles deeply with them.
The Prince Consort sees this himself and realises that language is the key factor. He acknowledges his mistake in not learning Danish well and fast enough, thinking from the beginning that there were more pressing issues to deal with and that he could catch up with the language later. His failure to do so would cost him dearly, as Prince Henrik’s Danish remains a standing joke to this day and is obviously one of the reasons why the Danes have never really taken him to their hearts.
Another reason why the Danes love Queen Margrethe but have never really taken to her husband may be that it is so obvious that the Queen absolutely loves her position with all its different aspects, while the Prince Consort often seems to come across as someone who loves the privileges and perks of his position more than the duties and responsibilities that come with it. This conception causes a lot of criticism of the kind that the Prince Consort really does not do much.
Surrugue addresses that criticism only implicitly, by dedicating a chapter to his patronages and the work he has laid down on them, thereby showing that he has made a difference. Yet she does perhaps weaken her own argument somewhat by dedicating more space to his hanging out with colourful friends and presenting him as the typical bon-vivant. Those parts of the book do also come across as a little too long-winded to me.
It could also be argued that the author sometimes relies too heavily on the Prince Consort as a source. “If there is anyone who knows the world history of princes consort it is the Danish title holder”, she writes, but this is obviously not quite right as Prince Henrik says he “after more than three decades took the title of Prince Consort which my equals in the Netherlands and Britain have had” – but none of the husbands of the three Dutch queens have had that title and neither does Prince Philip, yet this does not restrain Surrugue from referring to “Prince Consort Claus”, “Prince Consort Bernhardt [sic]” and “Prince Consort Phillip [sic]”.
There are also some other minor mistakes, but all in all this is a good book which, if it is widely read, may at last give the Danes a more accurate picture of who the Prince Consort is. He is a complex personality and to me it seems he is one of the most genuine characters on the public stage by always being himself, for better or for worse.
Prince Henrik’s diaries are “not only personal, they are private”. He has decided to leave the decision of whether to publish them to posterity. Until that day Stéphanie Surrugue’s portrait of the Prince Consort is likely to remain the most insightful account of the character of the man the Danes have lived with for more than forty years but never really come to understand or appreciate. One can only hope it is not too late.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Remains of Ivan VI found in Russia?

According to a TT/Inferfax article in Dagens Nyheter yesterday (external link) Russian scientists believe they have found the remains of Emperor Ivan VI in the town of Kholmogory, 75 kilometres southeast of Arkhangelsk.
Ivan VI was the great-grandson of Ivan V, brother and co-monarch of Pyotr I (“Peter the Great”), and succeeded his great-aunt Empress Anna on the Russian imperial throne in October 1740. Thirteen months later he was however overthrown by Jelizaveta Petrovna, Pyotr I’s daughter, and imprisoned with his family.
Eventually he was moved to the fortress in Shlisselburg, where he was murdered during an attempt to free him on 5 July 1764. It has been believed that he was buried in Shlisselburg, but according to one of the Russian scientists quoted in the article, Anatoly Karanin, they are quite certain that the remains found in Kholmogory are his.
Kholmogory was one of the places where Ivan VI had been imprisoned before being moved to Shlisselburg, where his parents died in 1746 and 1776 respectively. His four siblings were released only in 1780 and sent to Denmark, where they lived in Horsens under the supervision of their father’s sister, Queen Dowager Juliane Marie of Denmark-Norway.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

What to see: Statue of Crown Princess Märtha, Oslo

It is now already 3 ½ years since the moving ceremony where King Harald, close to tears, unveiled the statue of the mother he lost when he was seventeen. Kirsten Kokkin’s statue of Crown Princess Märtha stands in the Palace Park in Oslo, looking towards the Palace which because of her death had to do without a queen for 52 years (in fact it is only this year that the current dynasty has had a queen for a longer time than it was without one).
The statue was the Parliament’s present to the King on his 70th birthday and was cast in bronze as a replica of the statue of Crown Princess Märtha which was erected outside the Norwegian ambassador’s residence in Washington in 2005 in recognition of the tremendously important work the Crown Princess did for her country while in exile in the USA during World War II. The statue in Washington was a gift from Americans to Norway in connection with the 2005 centenary of the dissolution of the union of crowns with Sweden.
The Norwegian-American sculptor Kirsten Kokkin wrote: “I saw her coming out of the Norwegian Embassy to meet the United States and the world, representing Norway. She is in a strong forward leaning posture with her hand raised to greet the world. The opening of her coat is slightly blown aside to describe as resistant wind. Yet she is composed and willful, and dressed as the elegant and feminine woman she was. It was never an option to do her in full gala, since in the US she was a refugee”.
In 2008 Princess Astrid unveiled a second replica, this time outside the Norwegian church in Stockholm which bears her mother’s name (last photo). Thus there are now statues of Crown Princess Märtha in the three cities which were most important in her life.
The sculptor’s own first memory of the Crown Princess was from her childhood, of “a stately woman yet feminine with a peculiar way of waving her hand”. Her mother always told her that “this was how a truly royal woman waved!”

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Nina Eldh quits the Swedish court

According to Resumé (external link) Nina Eldh, the Director of the Information and Press Department at the Swedish royal court, today unexpectedly announced her resignation. Her five-year-contract expires at the end of the year and she told the news agency Rapidus that although King Carl Gustaf had wanted her to continue, she had chosen not to. The 64-year-old does not know what she will be doing after the New Year.

Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel to visit Paris and Pau

The Swedish royal court has now confirmed the rumours that Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel will visit France this autumn as part of the Bernadotte bicentenary celebrations. The crown princessly couple will visit Paris and Pau, the town where the future Carl XIV Johan was born, on 27 and 28 September.
King Gustaf VI Adolf and Queen Louise made a similar visit in 1963, when the 200th anniversary of Carl Johan’s birth was marked. The King and Queen then made a day-trip to Pau at the end of their state visit to Paris. There they met with Baron Henry Bernadotte, the last agnatic male descendant of Carl Johan’s brother, whose death three years later brought to an end the baronial Bernadotte line. (Bernadottes currently living in Pau descend from André Bernadotte, a brother of Carl Johan’s grandfather).
It could be added that as of yesterday Princess Madeleine is back working with the World Childhood Foundation in New York, which means that she has cancelled her attendance at the celebrations taking place in Helsingborg on 20 October to mark the 200th annivesary of the newly-elected Crown Prince’s stepping ashore in Sweden.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

79 % of Norwegians willing to let the King abdicate

The Norwegian magazine Se og Hør today publishes an opinion poll which shows that a surprising 79 % agree entirely or partly with the idea that King Harald should be allowed to abdicate if he wants to retire. 55 % think that there should be a retirement age for kings and about the same percentage agree with the sentiment that Crown Prince Haakon should not be too old before he succeeds to the throne.
Se og Hør is a gossip magazine, but before someone jumps to conclude that the poll therefore cannot be taken seriously it should be pointed out that this is a scientific poll carried out by the serious polling agency YouGov by asking a representative selection of 971 people.
The results can be compared with similar polls in Sweden and Denmark. A Swedish poll earlier this year found that 32 % think King Carl Gustaf should abdicate when he reaches the age of retirement next April, while 50 % think he should remain on the throne.
A Danish poll in connection with Queen Margrethe’s 70th birthday this spring found that only 42.6 % wanted her to remain on the throne until her death, while 23.5 % thought she should use the birthday to abdicate and 22.1 % thought she should do so before she turns 80.
It should be pointed out that the three polls are not fully comparable, as the question in the Norwegian one includes a reservation about the King’s own wishes.
The only kings of Norway to abdicate in modern times were Christian Frederik on 10 October 1814 and Oscar II on 26 October 1905, but both abdications happened because of extraordinary political circumstances.
The photo shows King Harald in the company of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, in whose country abdication seems to have become a tradition, during her state visit to Norway in June.

Monday, 6 September 2010

New books: The descendants of Carl XIV Johan

Fresh from the printers I have received a copy of Ted Rosvall’s new book Bernadotte-ättlingar – The Bernadotte Descendants, which is an updated and expanded edition of the book which was first published eighteen years ago.
A leading Swedish genealogist and editor of the periodical Royalty Digest Quarterly, Rosvall has collected as much genealogical information as it has been possible to find on the descendants of King Carl XIV Johan and Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway. The book has 144 pages, is in A4 size and is written in a mix of Swedish and English.
As I have contributed some information and am mentioned in the acknowledgements I am of course not in a position to review this book, but I must be allowed to say that it is a solid and impressive work Rosvall now presents.
Not only has he gathered information on the Bernadotte descendants, but he also gives the names and dates for the parents and grandparents of most of their spouses. At the end of the book there are also tables showing the ancestors of King Carl Johan and Queen Desideria as well as of 23 selects persons who have married their descendants, including all Swedish consorts up to Queen Silvia and Prince Daniel.
The difference from the previous edition is that the book now includes photos of most of the descendants, even many of the most obscure ones. There are some hitherto unpublished photos of interest, such as one showing Elsa Cedergren, the youngest daughter of Prince Oscar Bernadotte, on her 100th birthday surrounded by her closest relatives and members of the royal family. Many Bernadottes have lived to a great age, but Mrs Cedergren is so far the only one to reach her centenary – she died two weeks before her 103rd birthday.
There is a small handful of mistakes or omissions, but this is of course unavoidable with such a vast amount of very detailed information. The book is remarkably up to date and includes not only the death of Countess Ruth of Rosenborg and the birth of Princess Nathalie of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg’s son at the end of July, but even the birth of Count Maximilian Bernadotte af Wisborg on 10 August and that of his cousin Eric a week later as well as the wedding of Prince Nikolaós of Greece and Tatiana Blatnik on 25 August. Some illegitimate descendants are also included in this edition.
While the biographical data of the royal descendants are easily available, the many non-royal descendants (and their in-laws) are of course harder to trace. But Ted Rosvall has succeeded brilliantly in this and there will be much new information to be found in this book. One may for example learn that the first great-great-grandchild of the late Lennart Bernadotte was born last year or that Erica Patzek, the woman for whom Prince Sigvard gave up his succession rights, died in Berlin on 30 July 2007 – the last sign of life from her had otherwise been the letter of condolence she sent his third wife upon his death in 2002.

New books: Carl XIV Johan in German

Although he certainly cannot compete with the estimated 300,000 books written about his rival Napoléon I, Carl XIV Johan has certainly been the subject of more biographies than most Scandinavian monarchies – possibly Carl XII is the only exception.
But few of the many biographies of Carl Johan are entirely satisfactory, which to a certain extent can probably be explained by the fact that his life was so rich and full of changes that it is nearly impossible to get it all into a book.
Several biographers have chosen to focus entirely or almost exclusively on the French part of Carl Johan’s life and his military career and to this day Torvald T:son Höjer’s three volumes published between 1939 and 1960 remain the most complete biography.
In this bicentenary year the German historian Jörg-Peter Findeisen has joined the ranks of Carl Johan’s biographers with the book Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Revolutionsgeneral, Marschall Napoleons, König von Schweden und Norwegen, published by Casimir Katz Verlag in May.
Findeisen does not have particularly many new things to say, but this should perhaps not really be expected. Nevertheless his book has the potential for becoming a standard work as he succeeds in what has eluded many previous authors – to write a good and rather complete biography of Carl XIV Johan in one volume.
Findeisen, who formerly taught modern history at the University of Jena and is a honorary professor of the University of Sundsvall, bases most of his book on Höjer’s monumental work and the German translation of the Frenchman Gabriel Girod de l’Ain’s biography of Carl Johan. This seems a safe choice as Höjer and Girod de l’Ain are among Carl Johan’s most reliable biographers.
Findeisen has even adopted Höjer’s disposition of the chapters and there is hardly a page without at least one reference to Höjer or Girod de l’Ain. This and the fact that Findeisen has not done any original research make the book appear somewhat un-independent and it is occasionally unclear what are his own views and interpretations and what are those of others.
It is also a bit odd that someone who has made so much use of Gabriel Girod de l’Ain’s biography of Carl Johan states that there is no serious biography of Queen Desideria and thereby shows himself to be unaware of the fact that there is such a biography by none other than Gabriel Girod de l’Ain (who was a great-great-grandson of one of the Queen’s sisters).
There are some factual mistakes, such as Severin Løvenskiold becoming Prime Minister “in Christiania” rather than in Stockholm in 1828 and the odd claim that Stockholm was the capital of “the double monarchy” (there was no such thing as both Norway and Sweden were independent states with their own capital). Findeisen also gives the wrong date of death for Carl Johan, but all in all he seems to be on safe ground and avoids most of the oft-repeated (by both Swedish, Norwegian and foreign writers) misconceptions about the Swedish-Norwegian union.
The result is one of the most reliable and complete biographies of Carl XIV Johan in one volume and one could be tempted to suggest that Bonniers and Schibsted, the publishers who have published the tabloid journalist Herman Lindqvist’s sad excuse for a book on Carl Johan in Sweden and Norway, should have this book translated and published as some sort of atonement.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

New books: Edward VII and his times

Although best known as the former palace employee whose opinions on nearly everything the royal family do have caused Ari Behn to declare a personal vendetta against him, Carl-Erik Grimstad is also a political scientist and as such one of the few academics to take a scholarly interest in the Norwegian monarchy. I therefore had great expectations for his book Dronning Mauds arv when it was published in April, but the book sadly failed to live up to the expectations.
The book’s title can be translated as both “Queen Maud’s inheritance” and “Queen Maud’s heritage” and both meanings of the Norwegian word “arv” are relevant to this book. Grimstad’s incentive for writing it was that the journalist Ståle de Kofoed Lange found a stack of documents about a conflict between the British royal family and King Haakon on behalf of his wife over the interpretation of their marriage contract and Queen Maud’s inheritance from her father, King Edward VII of Britain.
Grimstad has not succeeded in finding out how the quarrel ended, but he shows how Appleton House in the grounds of Sandringham was redefined by King George V from being a wedding present from Edward VII, as Maud understood it, to being a lifetime loan which was expected to return to the British king upon Maud’s death. Grimstad adds some thoughts about how this conflict might have influenced relations between the two royal families in general, particularly around the time of the negotiations which led to the Integrity Treaty of 1907.
This conflict takes up the pages 258-282 and could have made for an interesting article. But as Grimstad chooses to make a book out of it he is left with the question of how to fill the remaining 325 pages. His solution is to fill those pages with something about this and a little about that, much of which read as a summary of what academics have written about the British monarchy in recent decades, coupled with an attempt to apply this to the Norwegian monarchy.
In the introduction Grimstad tells us how Maud’s husband’s gradual loss of prestige in the eyes of the British establishment is “a main theme of this book”, but we hear little more about this. Maud herself plays only a minor role in the book which has her name in the title, while the real main person is her father. Grimstad dedicates most of the book to accounts of Edward VII’s social circle, eating habits, holidays, sex life, political influence, constitutional role, standing in the public opinion etc., complete with biographical details of a number of British diplomats, politicians and courtiers who make appearances along the way.
The author wants us to see this in context with the development of magnificent royal ceremonies in Britain and he states his intention to look at how this has influenced “state ritual” in Norway. But this is another thing which he fails to follow up. The only Norwegian ceremony he chooses to look at is the coronation of 1906, while for instance the State Opening of Parliament (virtually unchanged since 1814) goes entirely unmentioned.
Concerning the 1906 coronation Grimstad declares his disagreement with King Haakon’s biographer Tim Greve, who wrote that King Haakon and Queen Maud had collected information on ceremonial from both Denmark and Britain. Grimstad argues that as Denmark had abolished this tradition the ideals can have come only from Britain. But he forgets that the coronation of 1906 was no invention as kings (and queens) had been crowned in Norway in 1818, 1860 and 1873. Those coronations were to a great extent based on Swedish examples and the coronation of 1906 was not radically different from the earlier ones.
Grimstad is obviously well-informed about the British monarchy and the academic literature about it. But in this book he stares himself blind at the British monarchy and forgets that the Norwegian monarchy has strong roots also in Swedish and Danish traditions, while at the same time displaying a lack of deeper knowledge of other monarchies than the British and the Norwegian.
When speculating where the current King’s fortune comes from, Grimstad points towards Britain, as the fortune of King Haakon’s father “has never been considered significant”. That is true, but Grimstad is obviously unaware of the well-known fact that King Haakon’s mother was very rich by way of inheritance from her maternal grandfather, Prince Frederik of the Netherlands, who had received a huge financial compensation for giving up his secundogeniture to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Concerning a possible inheritance from Sweden through Crown Princess Märtha, the author states that “we know nothing about” that. One may be tempted to say “speak for yourself”, as it is hardly a secret that Crown Princess Märtha’s parents lost most of their money no less than three times so that there can hardly have been any significant fortune left.
The author’s knowledge about Danish history seems to be particularly weak. He tells us that Denmark abolished the coronation by “a constitutional amendment in 1849”, but, unlike Norway, Denmark never had any constitutional requirement for a coronation. And Denmark could nevertheless hardly amend is constitution in 1849 as the country did not have any constitution before that year – it was the introduction of a constitution and the end of absolute monarchy which made coronations seem superfluous in Denmark.
We are told that towards the end of Christian IX’s reign (he died in 1906) there was a rapprochement between the King and the Social Democrats, but here Grimstad obviously confuses the Social Democrats (who did not come to power until 1924) with the Liberals, whom Christian IX after a prolonged constitutional struggle allowed to take the reins of government for the first time in 1901.
The book also suffers from a great lack of originality. The quarrel over Queen Maud’s British inheritance has already been described by Julia Gelardi in her Born to Rule: Granddaughters of Victoria, Queens of Europe five years ago, a book which Grimstad claims to have been unaware of until he was in the final stages of writing his own book. It seems a bit desperate when Grimstad presents his use of well-known secondary sources, such as letters reproduced in the official biography of Queen Mary (and later quoted in several other books) or the published diaries of a Norwegian cabinet minister of 1905, as something innovative.
Sometimes what he presents as a quote is in fact a mix of several different quotes quite freely translated and the use of sources is occasionally questionable. The most disastrous example is when he claims that a “seemingly overlooked letter” from Queen Maud substantiates the idea that it was the Danish government rather than the then Prince Carl who demanded that Norway should hold a referendum before the Prince would be willing to accept the offer of the Norwegian throne. If the author had consulted the diaries of the then Danish prime minister, J. C. Christensen, published in 2006, he would easily have been able to conclude that this is pure nonsense.
The third major problem about this book is the huge number of factual mistakes. Titles, names, years, spelling of names and relationships are a complete mess and one may wonder how a respectable publisher like Aschehoug has allowed this to happen. To take just a few of many examples:
Grimstad states that the personal union between Britain and Hanover ended when Victoria became Queen of Britain and her uncle, “Prince Henry”, became King of Hanover. Following Henry’s death “in 1878 [...] his son Georg V was for political reasons forced to renounce the royal title”. But “Henry’s” name was in fact Ernest Augustus (Ernst August) and he died in 1851. His son, Georg V (who died in 1878), lost his kingdom when it was annexed by Prussia in 1866.
Most will have heard of the famous Mayerling drama in 1889, when Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary committed suicide together with his mistress Mary Vetsera, but according to Grimstad he did it, “according to the official version”, with “Crown Princess Marie”. The Crown Princess’s name happened to be Stéphanie, who during the remaining 56 years of her life also had time to make a visit to Britain, a visit which Grimstad has already mentioned without putting two and two together.
When Palmerston’s funeral takes place in Westminster Abbey the author tells us that he “thus joined the ranks of famous Britons after the Lords Newton, Nelson and Wellington”, even though only one of these gentlemen was actually a lord and two of them are in fact buried in St Paul’s Cathedral rather than in Westminster Abbey.
Grimstad happily writes British titles in English rather than in Norwegian, which seems even more unnecessary as it is obvious that he neither masters nor understands the complicated British title systems. He freely alternates between referring to the same man as “Lord Francis Knollys” and “Lord Knollys”, while someone else is styled both Baron and Sir. One of Edward VII’s mistresses is alternately referred to as “Lady Brooke” and “the Duchess” – she was at the time Viscountess Brooke and would later become Countess of Warwick, but she was never a duchess.
A reference to “the court of the Ottoman Grand Vizier” is apparently meant to refer to the Ottoman Sultan rather than his prime minister and a queen regnant like Queen Victoria was evidently not “the Queen Dowager” after her husband’s death. And there is much more like this, which in the end gets quite annoying as one reads on.
The book lacks a clear focus and suffers greatly from the absence of originality and the huge number of misunderstandings and factual mistakes. Carl-Erik Grimstad has shown in the past that he can do better than this, so I can only wish him better luck next time.

Friday, 3 September 2010

New books: The House of Wittelsbach

Of the many German dynasties the Wittelsbachs must count among the most fascinating and attractive. The Wittelsbachs ruled Bavaria as dukes, electors and kings for 738 years and also produced a number of other monarchs, including two emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, three Swedish kings and one queen regnant, a Greek king, 22 Palatine electors and a king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The strong and powerful position of this dynasty can also be read out of the fact that at one stage the Wittelsbachs held four out of the nine electoral hats of the Holy Roman Empire.
But it all ended in madness and revolution. Although one of the oldest and generally considered one of the most popular dynasties, the Bavarian monarchy was the first to be swept away in the revolutions which engulfed Germany in the autumn of 1918, an unexpected development which modern historians tend to ascribe to the gradual weakening of the Bavarian monarchy which began with the abdication of Ludwig I in 1848 and continued with the drama surrounding Ludwig II’s mysterious death in 1886 and the disregard for the principles of hereditary monarchy shown by Prince Regent Ludwig when he seized the throne from his insane cousin King Otto in 1913.
This dynasty has now been accorded its own volume in Verlag C. H. Beck’s series of short books on the history of nearly every conceivable subject. Die Wittelsbacher. Vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart is written by Hans-Michael Körner, professor of history at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.
How to sum up the history of 738 years of rule in little more than a hundred pages? The author chooses to begin with what followed the end, namely the fate of the Wittelsbachs after 1918. Few of the former royal families enjoy such a high standing in the Federal Republic of Germany as the Wittelsbachs, which Körner to a great extent ascribes to the conduct of ex-Crown Prince Rupprecht – the respect enjoyed by this prince was perhaps best symbolised by the Social Democrat Minister President Wilhelm Hoegner arranging for the royal crown of Bavaria to be brought out of the Treasury and placed on the coffin when the former Crown Prince died in 1955.
The family can with certainty be traced to the 11th century, but the real starting point of the story is 16 September 1180. On that date Palatine Count Otto of Wittelsbach was given the Duchy of Bavaria, which was made hereditary in 1208 and to which Duke Ludwig I added the Palatine county by the Rhine in 1214. In 1253 the Wittelsbach lands were divided between Otto II’s two sons (Ludwig II and Heinrich XIII) and throughout the centuries numerous other divisions of territories followed.
This makes the history of the Wittelsbach dynasty fairly complicated and intricate. Thus the author cannot possibly go into great detail as he takes the story through the centuries, but must restrict himself to the major developments and some of the most significant and interesting personalities.
It was only towards the end of the 18th century that all the Wittelsbach lands were again reunited. The death of Elector Max III Joseph in 1777 saw the end of the senior branch, the Ludovician, and transferred the electoral dignity to Karl Theodor of the Neuburg-Sulzbach line of the Rudolfian branch. 22 years later his death at the age of 75, leaving a 23-year-old widow who readily admitted that her late husband was not the father of the child she was expecting, meant that the Birkenfeld-Zweibrücken line was left as the only extant branch of the house of Wittelsbach. In 1806 Napoléon I raised Elector Max IV Joseph to the status of King of Bavaria.
The author seems to have his heart more into it as we approach modern times and this might perhaps be explained by the fact that he is also the author of Geschichte des Königreichs Bayern, which was published when Bavaria celebrated the bicentenary of the kingdom in 2006 (apparently no-one bothered to spoil the party by pointing out that the kingdom came to an end 88 years earlier). From Max I Joseph onwards to Ludwig III the personalities come more alive and we learn more about not only their personalities, but also their politics. Körner sees the end of the monarchy in 1918 in light of “an authority crisis of the system” coupled with the prolonged state of war.
This book will serve both as a summary of the history of the Wittelsbachs, but also as an introduction to one of the most interesting dynasties ever to sit on a throne. Given the limited length of the book, Hans-Michael Körner has succeeded very well in giving an insightful overview of the house that ruled Bavaria for more than seven centuries.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

New books: The official wedding book

Two months to the day after the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, Natur och Kultur published the official wedding book, Vårt bröllop – Kronprinsessan Victoria och prins Daniel 19 juni 2010, with texts by Susanna Popova and photos by Paul Hansen.
In a foreword the bridal couple say they concluded that such a book would be a good way to let the public take part of the wedding itself and the preparations for it. The book thus begins with an interview with the Crown Princess and Prince where they talk about their first meeting, their relationship, what they love about each other, the proposal and the engagement.
The book also takes a look behind the scenes at various stages of the preparations for the wedding. The couple go to Daniel’s hometown Ockelbo, they try the food and the cake and visit the Cathedral. The Crown Princess tries on the wedding dress and we hear about how the various departments of the royal court prepared for the wedding and get a glimpse of the renovation works at Haga Palace.
Then come the publishing of the banns of marriage and the wedding celebrations themselves. The book ends with transcripts of the speeches and a list of guests (which includes at least two persons who were in fact not present after all).
The texts often seem too brief and one is left with the feeling that one gets just a taste of the topic they deal with. The bridal couple say in the foreword that such a book is also a way to show off part of the cultural heritage and traditions which are kept in trust by the monarchy, but it seems there is too little space available to pursue such an ambition.
This is obviously a book written for enthusiasts and as such takes an entirely uncritical approach to the subject. Furthermore the texts are not always very engagingly written – the account of the church service for instance reads too much like “then they did this and then that piece of music was played”. As the author was given privileged access to all parts of the celebrations, one feels she might have given a more personal and less disconnected account.
The photos, most of them by Paul Hansen, also range from private moments in Ockelbo and at Drottningholm via the various wedding preparations to the events of 19 June themselves. The photographers have succeeded in capturing many telling pictures, such as the obvious joy which with Princess Ingrid Alexandra throws her arms around the neck of Crown Princess Victoria during a cathedral rehearsal, Queen Silvia adjusting her new son-in-law’s Order of Seraphim, the serious look on the bride’s face on the way to the Cathedral, the somewhat tense expression of the household official responsible for accommodating the guests as she looks at her watch, Ari Behn posing self-consciously in the Cathedral and the Crown Princess throwing a snowball at her fiancé during a walk at a wintry Drottningholm.
All in all this book works best as a photo book, but many will probably buy it firstly because of the pictures anyway. As such it is a book which one does not necessarily have to know Swedish to be able to enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

What to see: The Antique Temple, Potsdam

Three years after leaving her home at the New Palace in Potsdam to join her husband, Wilhelm II, in exile in the Netherlands, the last German Empress, Auguste Viktoria, was repatriated to Germany to be buried in the Antique Temple in Potsdam’s Sanssouci Park. Other members of the imperial family have since also found their final resting place in the temple, but the Emperor himself is still missing.
The Antique Temple was built by Carl von Gontard in 1768 to house parts of King Friedrich II’s collection of antiques. It can be found behind some trees on the garden side of the New Palace and forms a pendant to the Temple of Friendship on the other side of the Main Alley.
King Friedrich Wilhelm III later moved his uncle’s collection to the then newly-completed Old Museum in Berlin. Several generations later Emperor Wilhelm II and Empress Auguste Viktoria decided to have the temple reconstructed as a future mausoleum for themselves, but work had not yet started when revolution swept away the German monarchies in 1918.
Great respect and affection was shown towards the former Empress when her body returned to Potsdam in 1921 to be laid to rest in the temple. There she was joined by her son Prince Joachim, who had committed suicide in 1920, and later by another son, Prince Eitel Friedrich, as well as Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of ex-Crown Prince Wilhelm, who was killed in action during Nazi Germany’s invasion of France in 1940.
Ex-Emperor Wilhelm II himself died in exile in Doorn in 1941 and was laid to rest in a mausoleum in the park of the estate where he had spent the last two decades. That mausoleum has room for two sarcophagi and his second wife, Hermine, whom he married in 1922, had wanted to be buried with him. At the time of her death in Soviet captivity in Frankfurt am Oder 1947, it was deemed too complicated to have her remains transferred to the Netherlands and she was therefore also laid to rest in the Antique Temple.
Thus both Wilhelm II’s wives now rest in the Antique Temple. Wilhelm II has decreed that he too will eventually be buried there, but only when the monarchy has been reintroduced in Germany. It might in other words be a while before his body is repatriated.
Closed off and in a derelict state, the Antique Temple has meanwhile been covered in graffiti, including the words “Revolution!” carved into the façade.