Monday, 28 February 2011

On this date: 25th anniversary of the assassination of Olof Palme

Shortly before midnight on Friday 28 February 1986 the Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, was shot from behind at the junction of Sveavägen and Tunnelgatan in central Stockholm as he walked towards the entrance to the underground station. A single shot killed the Prime Minister, while a second shot grazed his wife Lisbet.
25 years on neither the assassin nor the weapon has been found and the murder of the Prime Minister would have become prescribed today unless Parliament had changed the law last year so that there is no longer any prescription time for serious crimes such as murder.
The unsolved assassination of the Prime Minister has understandably become something of a national trauma for Sweden. While it is probably an exaggeration to call it the most significant event in the country’s twentieth century history, as some people have done, it certainly marked a change of paradigm in that it violently brought to an end the notion of Sweden as an idyllic outpost where such things did not happen. In hindsight it is easy to identify 28 February 1986 as the date when a certain sense of innocence was lost.
The impact was not quite as great when the same thing happened again with the assassination of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. This was probably partly due to the simple fact that it was not the first time such a thing happened in Sweden, but also because Anna Lindh’s assassin was found and brought to justice.
25 years after Olof Palme was shot to death in the street the police investigation goes on, but the investigators admitted a few days ago that they are not making progress. The last significant development was probably in 1998, when the police requested that Christer Pettersson, the man who was pointed out by Lisbet Palme during a witness confrontation and convicted for the murder in 1988 but acquitted in 1989, should be put on trial again. However, the Supreme Court turned down the request as they could not see that there was a sufficient amount of new evidence to take such an action. Christer Pettersson died in 2004.
Since 1986 some 130 people have admitted to having killed Olof Palme and there have been countless other leads, none of them leading to the assassination being solved. The unsolved murder has thus for many years come to overshadow Olof Palme himself and it has been interesting to note recently that his life and work have again begun attract attention, resulting in a number of studies and two excellent recent biographies.
The 25th anniversary of the assassination of one of the most interesting and consequential politicians of the twentieth century has also been widely covered in the media and commemorated in many other ways today and as usual a huge number of red roses have been laid at his grave in the churchyard of Adolf Fredrik and at the scene of his murder.
The photo shows the bust of Olof Palme which is to be found in the Parliament Building.

Prussian “royal” wedding to take place on 27 August

According to the Royal Travel Blog (external link) a spokeswoman for the former royal house of Prussia has confirmed that the wedding of Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia and Princess Sophie of Isenburg, whose engagement was announced on 21 January, will take place in Friedenskirche (the Church of Peace) in Potsdam on 27 August. 700 guests will be invited to the nuptials.
The photo shows the interior of the church, which is modelled on ancient churches and where King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, Queen Elisabeth, Emperor Friedrich III and Empress Victoria are buried.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

On this date: Birth of Prince Carl 150 years ago

150 years ago today, on 27 February 1861, a son was born to the then Duke and Duchess of Ostrogothia, Prince Oscar (II) and Princess Sophia of Sweden and Norway. The child, who was born in the Hereditary Prince’s Mansion in Stockholm, was given the names Oscar Carl Wilhelm and the title Duke of Westrogothia by his uncle, King Carl XV.
As the third son of Prince Oscar, Prince Carl was at the time of his birth fourth in line to the thrones of Sweden and Norway. Thus the succession to the thrones was further secured by his birth, but only seven years earlier the situation had been more critical.
In March 1854 the then Crown Prince Carl lost his only son, the infant Prince Carl Oscar, something which was a double tragedy as his birth had rendered Crown Princess Lovisa unable to have further children. Like all princesses their elder daughter, Princess Lovisa, did not have any rights of successions. Crown Prince Carl deeply mourned not only his son, but also the fact that his line would not be continued. In a poem he compared himself to a tree with broken branches.
As the eldest of the Crown Prince’s four younger brothers, Prince Gustaf, had died in 1852, the next heirs in line were now the third and fourth brothers, Oscar and August, who were both unmarried. In 1857 Prince Oscar married Princess Sophie of Nassau, who the following year gave birth to their first son, Prince Gustaf.
The new-born Prince Gustaf thus embodied the hope of the dynasty and was triumphantly shown off to the assembled dignitaries by his great-grandmother, the Dowager Queen Desideria, and symbolically christened in the Hall of State at Drottningholm Palace, where his grandmother Queen Josephina had let the state portrait of her husband, King Oscar I, be flanked by portraits she had assembled of all the kings and queens of Europe, thus showing how the upstart Bernadottes were now on par with any monarch in Europe.
Oscar I was by then mortally ill and died the next summer. At the time of the birth of the future Gustaf V Crown Prince Carl, who was regent, was generous enough to tell his brother that it did not matter whose son it was that had secured the succession. But apparently it rankled with him that Carl was not among the names given to the newborn. When announcing the names Oscar Gustaf Adolf to the ministers, he pointedly concluded: “...and no further names”.
His brother’s second son, Oscar, born in November 1859, was duly named for his recently deceased grandfather and it was only the third son who was called Carl. Prince Carl was later to write in his memoirs that he always felt that he was his uncle’s favourite, but he could not think of any other reason than the fact that they shared the name Carl.
Carl XV never got over the loss of his own son and heir and when his sister-in-law Sophia gave birth to her third son he acidly asked her when the girl was due. Her reply was to give birth to a fourth son, Prince Eugen, in 1865.
In 1862 a private member’s bill introducing female succession to the throne was scrapped by the Swedish Parliament and various attempts to ship Prince Oscar off to another throne to make way for Princess Lovisa never succeeded. The situation was made worse by the fact that King Carl XV and Prince Oscar were not on good terms, and when Queen Lovisa died in 1871 King Carl saw his last chance to deprive his brother of the thrones.
He entered into marriage negotiations with the Polish Countess Maria Krasinska, who was young enough to bear him a new son and heir. But although the negotiations proceeded well there would never be any Queen Maria of Sweden and Norway, for now King Carl himself fell ill and died in September 1872, aged only 46. His brother thus succeeded to the thrones as King Oscar II.
There is a story that Prince Carl as a child was smacked by his father when he was found drawing the monogram C XVI for King Carl XVI, but as an adult his royal ambitions would be modest. When Norway brought the union of crowns to an end in 1905, the Norwegian throne was offered to a Bernadotte prince, primarily Carl, but he was not much interested, thinking that the King of Norway’s powers were so limited that they were not really worth having and arguing that a Swedish prince on the Norwegian throne would always be suspected of secretly putting Sweden’s interests firsts.
Instead, most of his life after 1905 was devoted to his role as President of the Swedish Red Cross, which turned the once rather bellicose prince into a great humanitarian and earned him several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. He retired only in 1945, aged 84, six years before his death.
The photo shows Prince Carl in 1904 or 1905. It might be worth noting that the lower, left-hand order is the star of the Order of the Norwegian Lion, an order which was founded by King Oscar II in 1904 as the Norwegian answer to the Swedish Seraphim, the Danish Elephant or the British Garter. The Lion Order was only awarded to a handful of people in 1904 and 1905; King Haakon VII never neither wore nor awarded it and dissolved it in 1952.

Friday, 25 February 2011

New books: A guide to the works of C. F. Hansen

Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845) is considered one of the greatest Danish architects in history and in recent years his reputation has grown also internationally, to such an extent that he is now sometimes mentioned among the great European architects of the classicist era.
Some 150 works by his hand are known, of which 77 are in existence today – among them Christiansborg Palace Church, the Metropolitan School, the Cathedral and the Court House are known to most residents of and visitors to Copenhagen.
Thomas Roland has gathered those 77 works in a volume titled C.F. Hansen i Danmark og Tyskland – En billedguide, which was published by Frydendal at Frederiksberg on 25 January. The book has also been published in German, for, as the author points out, it is essential to understand that the Danish realm in which C. F. Hansen was born was not the Denmark of today.
At the time it consisted of the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, the Norwegian dependencies Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroes, as well as overseas colonies. For that reason many of Hansen’s works are today to be found in Germany – in particular in Altona, which 200 years ago was the second largest city in the Danish realm, but has today been swallowed up by the German city Hamburg. A single building whose façade has been attributed to Hansen can also be found in Norway (Fossum Manor).
Thomas Roland’s excellent book opens with well-written, thoughtful introductory chapters on classicist architecture in itself and those who introduced it in Denmark (Saly, Jardin, Harsdorff), the life and career of C. F. Hansen and glimpses of his contemporaries in Denmark and Germany.
Hansen’s “grand tour” had gone to Italy and, as Roland points out, his works were primarily influenced by Italian and Roman ideals from antiquity and the Renaissance. Roland places him among what he calls “the second generation” of classicist architects, those who are known in France as “revolution architects”. Their buildings are simple and monumental at the same time, perfectly proportioned and mostly void of unnecessary ornamentation. Hansen avoided repeating himself and strove to give each building an expression of its own.
His architecture was ground-breaking around 1800, but unlike for instance his great German contemporary Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Hansen clung faithfully to the classical ideals throughout his life and avoided experimenting with the neo-Gothic or other historicist styles. As he also held the position of “overbygningsinspektør”, which meant that it was up to him to approve the designs submitted by other architects, and held that position until retiring at the age of 88 in 1844, it could hardly be avoided that younger architects influenced by the changing ideals of their days came to consider the old master a hopeless reactionary who stood in the way of stylistic developments. That may in itself also have contributed to the neoclassical era in Danish architecture lasting as long as it did, Roland argues.
The main part of the book is devoted to the 77 existing works: villas, townhouses, manors, public buildings, churches, palaces, monuments, a bridge, stables, pavilions, industrial buildings and Christian VII’s tomb - but no furniture - beginning in 1785 and ending in 1839.
It should be noted that not all 77 works can be attributed to C. F. Hansen with absolute certainty, but Roland will in most cases let the reader know what implies that it is a Hansen work. Some of them are also only in part Hansen’s works – they may be older buildings which he altered, they may be his works but radically changed at a later stage or in the case of the second Christiansborg Palace only parts of it survived the devastating fire in 1884 and are now integrated into the third Christiansborg. Such things are also taken into account by the author, who if possible includes a photo of the original state of buildings which have since been altered.
Each work is presented in a brief text and profusely and beautifully illustrated – in most cases both exterior and interior, details and entirety. There are also maps showing the location of each building as well as its GPS position and a note on accessibility. As such this book is a guide in both meanings of the word – it is ideally suited both for those seeking an introduction to one of Denmark’s greatest architects and his works and for those who wish to go and see the works with their own eyes.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Left wing parties suggest restricting awards of Danish orders to foreign heads of state

Following Queen Margrethe II of Denmark’s official visit to Bahrain recently there has been mounting criticism of the fact that King Hamad was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog. The Socialist People’s Party suggested already during the Egyptian revolution that Queen Margrethe should strip Hosni Mubarak of his Order of the Elephant (as happened to Nicolae Ceausescu at the time of his downfall in 1989), but this idea was rejected by Prime Minister Løkke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party.
Awarding the Grand Cross of Dannebrog to another dicator shortly afterwards did of course not look very pretty. It looked even worse when protests erupted in Bahrain a few days later and the army began shooting and killing protesters.
The main opposition parties - the Social Democrats, the Socialist People’s Party and the Social Liberal Party - demanded that Foreign Minister Lene Espersen (of the Conservative Party) should explain to Parliament the reasoning behind the decision to grant the Grand Cross to the King of Bahrain.
Today the news agency Ritzau reports that the smallest of the opposition parties, the Red-Green Alliance, has proposed that Danish orders should in the future only be awarded to heads of state of countries which are “democratic and respect fundamental human rights” and that Parliament’s committee on foreign relations should be consulted before orders are awarded to foreign heads of state. The Socialist People’s Party has announced that they will support the motion, while the Social Liberal Party calls it “an interesting idea”.
However, Michael Aastrup Jensen, the foreign policy spokesman of the Liberal Party, replies that orders are nothing but “a piece of metal” and “are an old tradition and something one exchanges like presents during state visits”. As the far-right wing Danish People’s Party, which holds the balance in Parliament, has a rather - let’s say flexible - approach to human right issues and only very recently spoke supportingly of Hosni Mubarak it thus seems likely that this motion will pass during the current political situation. Another outcome might of course be possible after this year’s general election, which it seems likely that the current government will lose.
What Michael Aastrup Jensen is right about is of course that it is a tradition to award high orders to foreign heads of state during state and official visits. If one in each case should consider if the visitor/host is worthy of a Danish order one would naturally risk insulting those who are not given any orders. Having a general rule such as the Red-Green Alliance suggest seems a better and more practical solution.
Among earlier despots who have received the Order of the Elephant are Nicolae Ceausescu, Josip Broz Tito and the Shah of Iran, while the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog has also been awarded to Herman Göring and Elena Ceausescu.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What to see: The Throne of Denmark

There are several royal thrones preserved in Denmark, but The Throne is the one which can be found in the Throne Room at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. This room is where Queen Margrethe receives foreign ambassadors presenting their credentials, but these days the monarch does not actually sit on the throne.
The throne, which dates from 1822, is held by Katia Johansen of the Danish Royal Collection to have been designed by Christian Frederik Hansen, often considered the greatest architect in Danish history and one of the leading neoclassical architects in Europe. It was made for the King’s Throne Room at the second Christiansborg Palace, which was among Hansen’s many great projects in Copenhagen in the early nineteenth century.
However, Hansen, unlike many other architects, did not generally design furniture for his buildings and at Christiansborg it seems he mostly left that part of the job to his assistant (and son-in-law twice over), Gustav Friedrich Hetsch. And the art historian Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen insists that it was Hetsch rather than Hansen who designed the throne. The actual work was carried out by the woodcarver Christian Thielemann.
Before coming to Denmark Hetsch had worked in the Paris studio of Charles Percier, Napoléon I’s court architect, and the throne is at least to a certain extent inspired by Napoléon’s own throne in the Tuileries (rescued from the fire in 1871 and now in the Louvre).
The throne, which is made up by two winged lions, was originally covered in red velvet carrying the monogram of King Frederik VI and can be seen in that condition in some paintings where the King is shown standing in front of it. It formed part of a magnificent throne arrangement which was held up by two marble caryatides by the famous sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, originally meant to be part of a monument to Napoléon in Warsaw.
The throne itself was rescued when the second Christiansborg Palace burnt down in October 1884 and returned to the third Christiansborg Palace in 1924, where it found its place in the Velvet Room, the temporary throne room, until the actual Throne Room was completed in 1933. Whereas the second Christiansborg had had separate throne rooms for the King and Queen, the third palace has only one such room and the Queen’s throne (also rescued from the second palace) has been placed next to the King’s, an arrangement which may look somewhat odd as the Queen’s throne is slightly taller than the King’s.
It is not quite clear where the throne had been in the meantime. Following Christiansborg’s fire a throne room was created for Christian IX in Christian VII’s Mansion at Amalienborg and photos show another and (at the time) more modern throne. This throne room was too small for the ceremony on 20 November 1905, when King Christian IX received a deputation from the Norwegian Parliament and gave his formal consent to his grandson’s acceptance of the Norwegian throne.
A temporary throne room was thus set up in the Great Hall of Christian VII’s Mansion and we know that the throne from Christiansborg was used for this occasion. The newspapers commented that it was probably the first time that Christian IX, despite his 42-year reign, did actually sit on the throne.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

40 foreign royals invited to British wedding

Several British newspapers, including Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, the Observer and the Mail on Sunday, today report that invitations for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on 29 April have been sent out this week. Among those invited are fifty members of the extended British royal family and forty members of foreign royal families. Sixty representatives of the Commonwealth nations are also among the invitees, whereas non-royal and non-Commonwealth heads of state have not been invited.
1,900 people have been invited to the marriage ceremony in Westminster Abbey, whereas 600 (mostly family members, friends and foreign royals, but also the Prime Minister and some other selected officials) are invited to the recepetion hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace afterwards (Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet has taken the phrase “wedding breakfast” literally and writes that these people will join the Queen for breakfast “the next morning”!). 300 friends and family members are also invited to the dinner hosted by the Prince of Wales at the Palace in the evening.
The Mail, not always the most reliable of newspapers, claims to know that the kings of Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Tonga and Thailand, the sultans of Oman and Brunei, the Emperor of Japan and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi are among the foreign royals invited.
The Japanese imperial household have earlier confirmed that the Emperor and Empress have received a “hold the date” fax, but that they will not attend due to previous commitments. The same fax is known to have been received by the ex-King of Romania and the ex-Crown Prince of Serbia, but only the latter and his wife have confirmed that they will actually be present. Clarence House has stated that no guest list will be published ahead of the wedding.
The dress code for the Abbey ceremony is “uniform, morning coat or lounge suit".

King of Norway honours brother-in-law

It has been announced that the King of Norway on 10 February appointed Johan Martin Ferner a Commander of the Royal Order of St Olav. A retired businessman, 83-year-old Ferner has been married to Princess Astrid for fifty years - on 12 January the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary quitely abroad with their family - and has through those years been the very empitome of discretion and loyalty towards the royal family.
During incoming state visits Johan Martin Ferner has been awarded a handful of foreign orders, including the Grand Cross of the French Order of Merit, but this is his first Norwegian order. In 1956 Princess Astrid, at that time First Lady of Norway, became only the second female in history to be awarded the Grand Cross with Collar, the highest grade of the Order of St Olav.

Princess Christina’s son engaged to Emma Ledent

In Svenska Dagbladet today one may read the announcement of the engagement of the designer Oscar Magnuson to Emma Ledent, an event which took place in Gattières, France on 11 February.
Tord Oscar Fredrik Magnuson, born on 20 June 1977, is the second of the three sons of Princess Christina (the youngest of King Carl Gustaf’s four elder sisters) and Tord Magnuson. Like his mother he has no succession rights to the Swedish throne.
Emma Emelie Charlotta Ledent is born on 18 April 1981.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

What to see: Church of Gustav Vasa, Stockholm

Although it is the Cathedral that is known as “the Great Church” (Storkyrkan) the largest church in Stockholm is in fact the Church of Gustav Vasa at Odenplan, which can seat 1,500 people. It was built by the architect Agi Lindgren (1858-1927) between 1898 and 1906 in a neo-baroque style surmounted by a dome reaching 60 metres from the ground.
Building a neo-baroque church at the time when art nouveau was the flourishing and dominant style in Sweden might be considered an anachronism, but Lindgren was at the time employed as architect at Drottningholm Palace and was obviously full of admiration for the work of Nicodemus Tessin father and son.
It is obvious that Lindgren had made close studies of some of Stockholm’s baroque churches – such as the Church of Adolf Fredrik, but perhaps first and foremost the Church of Katarina. From his foreign travels he was also familiar with Italian baroque church architecture.
Alternatively the classical elements of this church might be interpreted as an indication of the classicist wave which would become a hallmark of Scandinavian architecture in the interwar years.
Inside the ceiling and dome are decorated with frescos by Vicke Andrén, while the interior is otherwise dominated by a massive baroque altar by Burchardt Precht, made in the 1720s and to be found in Uppsala Cathedral until its restoration in the late nineteenth century.
Beneath the church is a large columbarium built in 1923-1924, which was the first such thing in Sweden.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

President Obama to pay state visit to Britain

Buckingham Palace and the White House today announced that US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will pay a state visit to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Britain on 24-26 May. The state visit will take place in London, where the Queen will be in residence at the time (state visits take place in Windsor if they fall during a time of the year when she is in residence at Windsor Castle). The President will continue on to the G8 summit in France.
It is not very common at all that US Presidents make state visits to Britain. The first President to do so was actually George W. Bush in 2003, at a time when it was important for Britain and the USA to stress their “special relationship” following their joint attack on Iraq. The last US President before Bush to stay at Buckingham Palace was Woodrow Wilson in December 1918, but that was not labelled a state visit.
But there has of course been plenty of less formal presidential visits to London and Queen Elizabeth II has during her 59 years on the throne met every American President except Lyndon B. Johnson. President Eisenhower visited her in 1959, Kennedy in 1961, Nixon in 1969 and 1970, Carter in 1977, Reagan in 1982, George Bush in 1989, Clinton in 2000, and Bush Junior in 2001, 2003 and 2008.
Barack and Michelle Obama met the British Queen during the G20 summit in London in 2009 and Mrs Obama and her daughters also met the Queen during a private visit to Britain later that year.
Queen Elizabeth II has paid state visits to the USA in 1957, 1976, 1991 and 2007 and also visited the country in 1983 and 2010.

The Hermitage Palace to open its doors in 2013

Following the huge success of the public opening of the renovated crown princely residence Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg between February and August last year, which was visited by nearly 480,000 people, the Palaces and Properties Agency let it be known that the surplus would be used towards making other similar buildings available to the public.
Earlier this month it was announced that this and a donation from the Augustinus Fund will result in the renovation of the Hermitage Palace in Jægersborg Deerpark just north of Copenhagen and that the palace will be open to the public after the restoration has been completed in 2013.
The baroque Hermitage Palace was built in 1734-1736 by the famous architect Lauritz de Thurah as a hunting lodge for King Christian VI. It is still used for royal hunts, but has only very rarely been open to the public on special occasions for the benefit of charity.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

New books: Royal mistresses and morganatic wives

A book on Danish royal mistresses may sound like a saucy collection of gossip, particularly after the uproar over the recent “biography” of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. But Michael Bregnsbo’s new book, Til venstre hånd – Danske kongers elskerinder, published by Gyldendal in Copenhagen, is no such thing. Instead it is a serious, analytical study of the history of the mistresses and morganatic wives of the monarchs of the house of Oldenburg and of the system of which these women were part.
Bregnsbo, a leading Scandinavian historian of monarchies, points his finger at the discrepancies between the punishment meted out to “ordinary people” who committed adultery or bigamy and how the kings got away with doing the exact same thing. In this book he wants to identify the reasons behind the rise and fall of the “system” of official mistresses and to identify the political influence of it. The result is an interesting book, a good read and a valuable addition to our understanding of the Dano-Norwegian monarchy.
Both mistresses and morganatic wives are included in this study, but it is not a biographical study of these women, although the reader does of course learn quite much about their lives. Bregnsbo shows how they were often pawns in the power game which went on in the monarch’s proximity. The common denominator between Christian II’s mistress Dyveke and Kirsten Munk, who became Christian IV’s morganatic wife after the death of his Queen Anna Cathrine, is that they both had ambitious mothers who got to positions of influence through their daughter’s relation with the monarch.
Christian V, the second of the absolute monarchs, was the first king to take an official mistress (Sophie Amalie Moth) while his wife was still alive. His son, Frederik IV, took this to a new level by contracting two morganatic marriages during the lifetime of his Queen and crowning the second of them Queen almost as soon as his first Queen had died. In both cases the existence of an official mistress or a morganatic wife naturally weakened the position of the legitimate Queen, who might otherwise provide a “safe haven” or perhaps even a rallying-point for those out of favour with the King.
The position of an official mistress could, according to Bregnsbo, be viewed as much the same as that of a male favourite, through whom one might obtain favours from the monarch. This was particularly important after the introduction of absolute monarchy in 1660, which had seen the abolishment of the State Council and left the royal court as the only existing political arena.
Thus the relationship between a king and an official mistress was not simply an emotional and sexual relationship between two individuals, but the mistress was a means which could be used in the struggle for the omnipotent monarch’s attention, interest and favours. The fact that one might more easily get what one wanted by going by way of the mistress rather than through the Queen also contributed to weakening the Queen’s position.
The children born of extramarital affairs or morganatic marriages were also part of the power game. The illegitimate sons and sons-in-law of Christian IV, Frederik III and Christian V were given prominent official positions and came to play important roles on the public stage.
These royal children, who were considered some sort of superior nobility above the “ordinary” aristocracy, could also be used to forge alliances between the monarch and the nobility. Christian IV’s and Kirsten Munk’s children are examples of this, but in this case it eventually backfired on the King when the sons-in-laws had to choose between being loyal to the King or supporting their own and chose their own noble caste.
The influence of mistresses and illegitimate/morganatic children decreased from the days of Christian VI, who is not known to have had any mistress, and Frederik V, who had several, but none who came to hold any significant position of influence. As Bregnsbo sees it this was due partly to evolving political structures but also to attitudes in society in general.
The King was no longer as all-powerful as he had once been. In 1670 Christian V had established a privy council consisting of a handful of advisors. The influence of the Privy Council eventually increased and the way the realm was governed became more formalised. At the same time a state administration evolved, which meant that the court was no longer as dominant as before and that court intrigues were no longer the only way to achieve influence. This also meant that illegitimate/morganatic children were no longer needed to forge alliances with noble families.
At the same time changing attitudes in society meant that the same moral standards were expected on all levels, something which made it less acceptable for the monarch to keep an official mistress. The concept of influential mistresses thus died with Frederik IV in 1730.
It was only his great-great-grandson Frederik VI who some eighty years later again took an official mistress in the person of Bente Rafsted, who bore him several children. Although this was at the time when the Frederik VI took various steps in reaction to the absolute system slowly beginning to unravel, Bregnsbo does not believe that the King took an official mistress in order to project himself in the role as an absolute monarch on par with Christian V or Frederik IV.
He also points out that it was all done in a very different way. Rafsted was given the name and title of “Mrs Colonel Dannemand” rather than Countess or Duchess like her predecessors and Mrs Dannemand did not appear at court at all; instead the King came to her house in town, where he kept her and their children as a second family in addition to Queen Marie Sophie Frederikke and their two daughters. Mrs Dannemand also had no political influence, was not used as a pawn in the power game and her and the King’s children, although helped along in life, did not receive any influential positions in society.
The final case in such a study is Louise Rasmussen, the former ballet dancer who became the morganatic wife of King Frederik VII in 1850, two years after the fall of the absolute system. She came to play a political role through allying herself with the opposition which aimed at influencing the King to adopt a different policy than that favoured by his government. Ennobled as Countess Danner, Louise was kept at a distance by polite society and generally reviled.
As Bregnsbo points out this was partly a result of the monarch’s private life no longer being considered private and that society no longer tolerated what had been generally acceptable in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. The fact that the new constitution had introduced freedom of expression also meant that such criticism of the King’s morganatic wife could now be voiced publicly.
But many a public figure has found comfort in the thought that the contemporary view is not necessarily the same as the judgement of posterity and today most historians conclude that Countess Danner was a good influence on King Frederik VII and helped keep him afloat. The historian Harald Jørgensen, who died in 2009 at the age of 102, once discussed Countess Danner with King Frederik IX, who remarked: “May one not admit that the Countess was a good wife for the King?” This in sharp contrast to what his grandfather, the historian A. D. Jørgensen, was told by King Christian IX: “Yes, Mr Jørgensen, I have known the Countess. She was a bitch”.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Eight bridal attendants for British royal wedding

Clarence House today announced - rather early on compared to other royal weddings - who will be Prince William of Britain’s and Kate Middleton’s attendants at their wedding in Westminster Abbey on 29 April.
Prince William’s best man will as expected be his younger brother Prince Henry (“Harry”). It is something of a royal tradition that brothers act in this capacity for British princes getting married - however, the term used has traditionally been “supporters” rather than best man/men. The supporters at Prince Charles’s first wedding were his younger brothers Andrew and Edward, whereas Prince Edward also acted as supporter at Prince Andrew’s wedding in 1986.
Kate Middleton has likewise chosen her younger sister Philippa “Pippa” Middleton to be maid of honour. Neither the late Diana, Princess of Wales nor Queen Elizabeth II had a maid of honour at their weddings, so this is something of an invention for a royal wedding.
The Queen on the other hand had a number of somewhat older bridesmaids lead by Princess Margaret, whereas Princess Diana was accompanied by several children acting as bridesmaids and page boys. Kate Middleton will be accompanied by six children as she walks down the aisle of Westminster Abbey: Lady Louise Windsor, the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Wessex and as such Prince William’s cousin; the Hon. Margarita Armstrong-Jones, granddaughter of the late Princess Margaret and thus Prince William’s second cousin; Grace van Cutsem, who is Prince William’s goddaughter and daughter of his good friend Hugh van Cutsem; Eliza Lopes, granddaughter of Prince William’s stepmother the Duchess of Cornwall; William (“Billy”) Lowther-Pinkerton, son of Prince William’s Private Secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton; and Tom Pettifer, who is Prince William’s godson and the youngest son of Alexandra “Tiggy” Pettifer (née Legge-Bourke), who was hired by Prince Charles as some sort of “nanny” or personal assistant to his sons in the 1990s.
What stands out from this list is perhaps the inclusion of the Duchess of Cornwall’s granddaughter as a nice touch and symbolising how even the British royal family has become a “modern” extended family with step-siblings and the like. Also noticeable is the absence of any of Prince William’s relatives on his mother’s side, such as his uncle Earl Spencer’s two children from his second marriage, who are of the right age. One may also note that all the bridal children are primarily connected to the groom rather than to the bride, but this is apparently a result of the fact that there seems to be no children of suitable age in Kate Middleton’s family.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

What to see: St Paul’s Church, Malmö

St Paul’s Church (S:t Pauli kyrka) is one of the great churches of central Malmö and must also be considered one of the major works of its architect Emil Victor Langlet (1824-1898), who is otherwise best known for the Parliament Building in Oslo.
One of Langlet’s pet ideas was central churches, a concept which was initially not very popular with Swedish church-goers. The hexagonal S:t Pauli is one of twelve existing central churches by Langlet’s hand. It was designed in 1878 and built in 1881-1882.
Following his journeys to Northern Italy, Langlet was a proponent of Romanesque-Lombard historicism, a style which would characterise his buildings and make them stand out from much else built in Scandinavia in his days.
The relationship between his buildings is also otherwise often quite easy to deduct. For instance, three linked windows are typical of Langlet’s architecture, as is the articulation of the bricks. These are both common denominators between S:t Pauli in Malmö and the Parliament Building in Oslo and a third is how the buildings’ centres rise vertically.
Seen from the outside one might almost consider S:t Pauli the church version of the Parliament Building. The interiors are naturally more dissimilar, but one might see some connections, such as the ceiling, which displays some of the same ideas as the ceiling of the Parliament Chamber.
(On a personal note it could be added that the funeral of my great-great-aunt Maria Nygren took place in this church in 1949).

Friday, 11 February 2011

Danish royal christening to take place in Holmen’s Church on 14 April

Amalienborg today announced that the christening of the twins born to Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary on 8 January will take place in Holmen’s Church in Copenhagen at 3.30 p.m. on Thursday 14 April.
In keeping with Danish royal tradition the names the parents have given their children will only be made public at the baptism.
Holmen’s Church, which dates from the seventeenth century, is traditionally associated with the Navy and was as such the church where the future King Frederik IX, a sailor by education and nature, chose to hold the christening of his three daughters.
The eldest of them, the current Queen Margrethe II, was also married there in 1967 and her and Prince Henrik’s eldest son, Crown Prince Frederik, was baptised there the following year. The latest royal event to take place in the church was the funeral of Count Flemming of Rosenborg in July 2002.
The twins’ elder brother, Prince Christian, was baptised in Christiansborg Palace Church in January 2006, whereas their sister Princess Isabella was christened in Fredensborg Palace Church in July 2007.
It will be interesting to see how the christening dress problem is solved - both twins can hardly wear the traditional royal christening dress.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Prince William appointed Colonel of Irish Guards

The Queen of Britain today appointed her grandson Prince William Colonel of the Irish Guards, Buckingham Palace has announced (external link).
The Prince otherwise holds the rank of Captain in the Army (the Blues and Royals) and Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. His appointment to Colonel of the Irish Guards, of which Queen Elizabeth II is Colonel-in-Chief, is an honorary rank, but it means that he may join the Prince of Wales (Colonel of the Welsh Guards) and the Duke of Kent (Colonel of the Scots Guards) in riding behind the Queen’s carriage at the Sovereign’s Birthday Parade. Perhaps he might also wear the uniform for his wedding in two and a half months?
Prince William succeeds Major-General Sir Sebastian Roberts, who has been Colonel since 2008. Among previous Colonels of the regiment are Field Marshals Roberts, Kitchener and Alexander and Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, who, having himself served with the regiment, held the rank from 1984 until his abdication from the throne in 2000. Prince William will be the first British royal to be Colonel of the Irish Guards.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

New books: Marie-Antoinette and Axel von Fersen once more

The story of Queen Marie-Antoinette of France and the Count Axel von Fersen has been told many times. The reason why the Swedish author Margareta Beckman has chosen to do so again in her new book Axel von Fersen och drottning Marie-Antoinette is that she, unlike other writers, has had privileged access to their correspondence in original in the French National Archives. However, this does not enable her to reach any new conclusions.
The letters between the French Queen and the Swedish nobleman were first published by the latter’s great-nephew Rudolf von Klinckowström in 1877, but with several words and sentences replaced by dots (..........). The originals, which turned up in 1982 and ended in the National Archives in Paris, are also heavily censored and despite repeated attempts by various means it has proven impossible to reveal what is behind the black ink. Beckman has also been unable to solve the riddle.
In her book, Beckman tells the story from beginning to end – the main protagonist’s respective backgrounds, Marie-Antoinette’s teenage marriage and the marriage which remained unconsummated for years, the meetings and the correspondence between the Queen and Count von Fersen, the affair of the necklace, the growing criticism of the Queen, the revolution and the royal family’s attempted escape in which Fersen played a leading role. There are also rather long digressions to tell the entire history of the regiment Royal Suédois up until Fersen joined it (Beckman has earlier written a book about the regiment) and the fates of Marie-Antoinette’s two surviving children. All this is well-known from a mountain of previous books.
The Queen of France was in Beckman’s words “the great love of his [Axel von Fersen’s] life”, which seems a reasonable conclusion based on what he wrote in his letters to his sister Sophie Piper: “I cannot belong to the only person I want to [belong to], the only one who really loves me; thus I will not belong to anyone”. “She who was my happiness, she for whom I lived, yes my gentle Sophie, I have never ceased loving her, no! [...] she whom I loved so much, for whose sake I would be willing to sacrifice a thousand lives, she is no more!” “It was the day when I lost the person who loved me most in the whole world and who really loved me”.
Although aristocrats of the late eighteenth century tended to be effusive in their expressions of affection and used the word “love” more liberally and generously than we do today, it seems fair to conclude that Fersen did indeed love Marie-Antoinette. But we have no letters in which the Queen expresses similar feelings for Axel von Fersen.
The closest thing is a letter she wrote to Fersen after the royal family had been captured in Varennes during their attempted escape, in which Fersen had been instrumental in trying to save the French royals. “Farewell, the most beloved and most loving among men. I embrace you of all my heart”, the Queen’s letter ends.
This, Beckman points out, is the only one of the letters which has not been censored and she concludes that it must mean that the other letters were certainly not censored “for political reasons, as it has been claimed”. But drawing conclusions about what has been censored in other letters based solely on the contents of one uncensored letter is a risky business and not really very conclusive.
Indeed Beckman occasionally shows a willingness to jump to conclusions. For instance, Madame Campan later claimed that Fersen had been in Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom when Versailles was stormed, but Beckman interjects that Madame Campan herself was apparently not at Versailles that night and that her story is thus not a primary source. The claim that Fersen was in the Queen’s bedroom “can thus with the greatest certainty be completely rejected”, Beckman writes rather bombastically. But this is really to go too far – that an unproved piece of information comes from a secondary source does not automatically mean that it can be “completely rejected” with “the greatest certainty”.
It is really quite difficult to know what Beckman’s aim is or indeed what her view is about whether or not there was an affair between the Queen and the Count. It seems she wants to convince the reader that they did love each other, yet when she quotes Lady Holland’s memoirs describing Fersen as “the unfortunate Queen’s lover”, Beckman inserts an indignant “[sic!]” and she mentions the claim that he had been Marie-Antoinette’s lover as “worst of all” the accusations against him. Yet she does not refrain from indicating that Fersen might have been the father of Marie-Antoinette’s second son, Louis-Charles, based on Louis XVI writing in his diary about the boy’s birth that everything happened “in the same way as when my son was born”. (Beckman adds italics to the word “my” when she repeats the quote).
The book is generally well-written, the author mostly manages to avoid getting carried away sentimentally and there are not too many factual mistakes, but it does not provide any answers or any new information. Occasionally one feels a bit talked down to as the author finds it necessary to explain in brackets that “l’ancien régime” means the French monarchy before the revolution or that “Bruxelles” is the same as Brussels. But if one has never read anything about Queen Marie-Antoinette or Axel von Fersen this book might be a good introduction to their story.

Monday, 7 February 2011

What to see: Stockholm City Library, Stockholm

The City Library in Stockholm is considered its architect Gunnar Asplund’s (1885-1940) greatest masterpiece and is also one of the internationally best-known Swedish works of architecture.
The interwar era saw a renewed interest in classicist architecture, a movement which came to be particularly fruitful in the Nordic countries until its monstrous misuse by totalitarian regimes and the emergence of functionalism pushed it aside. The City Library represents the peak of this “retro-classicist” trend.
Asplund began working on the library in 1920 and early sketches show a building with a more traditionally classicist façade surmounted by a dome. However, the library which was built between 1924 and 1928 found another expression.
Asplund reached back to French classicist architecture of the 1780s and 1790s, known as revolution architecture, and the City Library’s most direct “ancestor” might perhaps be found in Charles-Nicolas Ledoux’s custom house Barrière de la Villette (1786-1792) at Place de Stalingrad in Paris.
The result is a building based on pure geometrical forms. Viewed from the outside the City Library seems to have a quadratic, cubical body surmounted by a rotunda, but in fact it consists of four (originally three) rectangular wings placed around a cylindrical central block.
The City Library sits at the junction of Svea Road (Sveavägen) and Oden Street (Odengatan) and in front of it is a terrace where a staircase flanked by two functionalistic bazaar buildings (also by Asplund, 1928-1931) lead up to the Egyptian-inspired main entrance. Inside the staircase continue to the main library hall, which is to be found in the central cylinder, whereas the four wings contain reading rooms.
Three free-standing annexes were later built behind the City Libary, with entrances from Oden Street. As the City Library has now outgrown its premises, a contest for a major extension was held some years ago and won by the German architect Heike Hanada in 2007. However, such a modern extension would hardly harmonise with Gunnar Asplund’s masterpiece and it has since been decided rather to build another library elsewhere in Stockholm.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

New books: George VI and his speech therapist

As authors writing about their relatives often have a tendency to overestimate their subject and his or her importance I was somewhat sceptical when I read the publisher Quercus’s presentation of the book Mark Logue and Peter Conradi have written about Logue’s grandfather, titled The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy.
“One man saved the British Royal Family in the first decades of the 20th century [...] Had [Lionel] Logue not saved Bertie (as the man who was to become King George VI was always known) from his debilitating stammer, and pathological nervousness in front of a crowd or microphone, then it is almost certain that the House of Windsor would have collapsed”. On the back cover we read that it was the speech therapist Lionel Logue “who single-handedly turned the nervous, tongue-tied Duke of York into one of Britain’s greatest kings [...]”.
This is utter nonsense. The British monarchy has survived greater ordeals than a monarch who was a bad public speaker and its survival in the twentieth century can be put down to many other factors than Lionel Logue. That George VI became such a good king was also largely due such things as the influence of his wife, Churchill and other figures, the opportunity given him by the war to become a national symbol and not least the personal qualities of George VI himself.
Luckily the book itself is free of such sensationalist oversimplifications as dominate the publisher’s presentation of it. Quite on the contrary it is in fact a sober, well-written and informative account of how King George VI worked to overcome his speech impediment in close cooperation with the Australian-born speech therapist Lionel Logue.
The story is not quite unknown from previous books on George VI, but the authors base their work on Logue’s own papers and are thus able both to tell the story more from his perspective than what has previously been done and to add much of value and interest.
We learn of both Logue’s and the future King’s respective backgrounds and how Logue migrated from Australia to set himself up as a speech therapist in London. Throughout the book we learn quite much about Logue’s family and personally I felt the book could have done without some of that material. It does of course provide some sort of backdrop against which the man can be seen, but what is told about Logue’s children’s studies, career choices etc are probably of greater interest to the author/grandson and other family members than to the general reader.
It was in 1926 that the then Duke of York, Prince Albert, became one of his clients and Logue soon made the diagnosis that the Duke’s stammer was not psychologically conditioned. “The real cause of the Duke’s impediment was that his diaphragm did not work properly in conjunction with his brain and articulation, and consequently the defect was purely physical”, Logue concluded.
Under the expert care of Lionel Logue, the Duke learned how to overcome this physical obstacle which had until then made public speaking a torment to him. Such was the success of Logue’s treatment that his services were eventually no longer needed, which seems to have been a blow to him.
He would send the Duke annual birthday presents, but months and years would go by without him seeing his royal patient despite his writing to him requesting meetings. “I am sorry I have not seen you for so long (2 years as you say), but I have very seldom felt that I have needed the help that you can give me”, the Duke replied to one such letter in 1934.
But when the abdication occurred in 1936 and the Duke of York rather suddenly found himself king, Logue was again called into service. In the following years, up until well into World War II, Logue was normally at the King’s side when he made his broadcasts. Here I feel that the authors might have done more to explain why it was that the King after 1936 again felt the need for Logue’s services.
The most obvious explanation is of course that the King was more often called upon to make speeches after his accession than before. The authors state that the King “had made huge progress” in the past decade, “but he was not completely cured of his nervousness”, something which seems to contradict Logue’s diagnosis that the reasons for the speech impediment were purely physical and not psychological.
Nevertheless the authors succeed in giving the reader an insight into the closeness of the relationship between monarch and speech therapist. Obviously Logue was a very important support to the King as he faced the dreaded microphones, but it also becomes clear how much the success of the treatment also depended on the patient’s determination.
This again gives the lie to the publisher’s claim about Logue’s single-handedly saving the monarchy. In fact the publisher’s hyperbole does not do this book or its authors justice. It is a far more sober and thoughtful account than the cover suggests and as such it is a welcome addition to the literature on a king upon whose death 59 years ago on this very date the French Ambassador René Massigli wrote: “If the ‘greatness’ of a king can be measured by the extent to which his qualities corresponded to the needs of a nation at a given moment in history, then George VI was a great king, and perhaps a very great king”.
As such he is a monarch worthy of many books and Mark Logue’s and Peter Conradi’s book will take its place among the significant volumes in the literature on this important era for the British monarchy.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Scandinavian state visits to Central Europe

Earlier this week the Norwegian Royal Court announced that the King and Queen will pay a state visit to Slovenia and its President Danilo Türk on 9 and 10 May. The King and Queen will also make a state visit to Croatia and its President Ivo Josipović on 12 and 13 May.
Yesterday the Swedish Royal Court also announced that King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia will make a state visit to Poland between 4 and 6 May. They will be received by the new President, Bronislaw Komorowski.
Meanwhile the Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark are currently in Bahrain (3-6 February) as the guests of King Hamad, but this is an official visit and not a state visit.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel coming to Norway

In a month Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden will make their first visit to neighbouring Norway following their wedding in June last year. The crown princessly couple will be present for the World Ski Championship in Oslo on 3 and 4 March.
King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia will also attend the championship on 5 and 6 March and I hear it is possible that Queen Margrethe might also attend part of the championship.
The first official visit abroad made by Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel was to France in September as part of the Bernadotte bicentenary celebrations. Since then they have also visited China and Finland.