Saturday, 4 December 2010

What to see: Crown Princess Märtha’s silver wedding dress

The unused silver wedding dress of Crown Princess Märtha of Norway is one of the most poignant exhibits at the National Museum’s department of decorative arts. The work of Molstad of Oslo, the dress is made of silvery silk of a pink or violet nuance and embroidered in Paris with bead embroidery and appliqué floral motifs in grey silk ribbon and tulle.
The silver wedding anniversary of Crown Princess Märtha and Crown Prince Olav occurred on 21 March 1954. The night before there would be a dinner for some fifty family and friends at the crown princely couple’s home Skaugum in Asker, followed by a gala banquet for 200 guests at the Royal Palace on the anniversary itself and a third party for 300 guests on the third day. Britain’s Queen Mother would head the list of foreign guests attending.
On 11 March the Crown Princess, who had by then been ill for several years, came to Molstad to try on the dress for the final time. The next morning she had internal haemorrhages and was taken to the National Hospital in Oslo.
Thus the silver wedding celebrations were cancelled and the silver bride spent the day in hospital. The rest of the royal family attended mass in the Palace Chapel and Crown Prince Olav alone received congratulatory deputations from the government, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps and the municipalities of Oslo and Asker.
In the evening there was a quiet family dinner at Skaugum. The Crown Princess’s niece-by-marriage, Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, who died earlier this year, was one of the few guests, having been skiing in the Norwegian mountains with her husband and now about to return to Denmark. Later she told me of the dinner, which she described simply as “heart-wrenching”. She counted the speech Crown Prince Olav gave as “one of life’s greatest moments” and never forgot “the tribute he paid to the woman he loved”, which “brought tears to the eyes of everyone”.
The next day Crown Princess Märtha fell into a coma. She woke up again, but her condition deteriorated and she died on the morning of 5 April 1954, aged 53.
Her husband mourned her for the rest of his life. He succeeded to the throne three years later and was thus without a wife for his entire reign. As Queen Maud had died in 1938, this meant that Norway was without a queen from 1938 to 1991. 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 unused silver wedding dress is a reminder not only of King Olav’s loss, but also of the queen who never was, which was undoubtedly a loss for the nation as well.


  1. Great article, Trond. What a sad moment for King Olav.

    Countess Ruth seems to have been a great witness of the royal families' events (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium). Did she wrote her memoirs or something?


  2. Our local public TV station occasionally shows a documentary about Crown Princess Martha and her trip to the U.S. in the 1930s (this being Minnesota, there is a distinct Scandinavian heritage). Such a tragic loss to her family and to the nation. Her sister Astrid did become queen but died so very young. Two sisters born to be queens . . .

    It is my understanding that Crown Princess Mette-Marit received as a wedding present from the King and Queen the earrings which were King Olav's silver wedding present to his wife - how poignant.


  3. Yes, Sarah, if I recall Crown Princess Mette-Marit first wore Crown Princess Märtha's silver wedding earrings at the government banquet on the eve of the wedding in 2001.

    Jorge, Countess Ruth was indeed a great time witness to the history of the Northern European monarchies through sixty years, but no, she did not write her memoirs - on the other hand I did many interviews with her, so I have recorded much of what she had to tell. Sadly her husband, who would have had even more to tell, had only just started thinking of his memoirs when he suddenly died in 2002.

  4. A real pity that he was not able to write them, but maybe you could post some of the interviews? (as my mother says "you lose nothing by asking")

    Best regards,

  5. Your mother is right about that, but I do not plan to publish the interviews as such. On the other hand they and other interviews I have done with various people will be source material and quotes and information from these interviews will as such occasionally appear both here and in my published writings.


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