Tuesday, 29 March 2011

King and Queen to attend Wenche Foss’s funeral

The Royal Palace has made known that the King and Queen will both attend the funeral of the actress and humanitarian Wenche Foss, who died yesterday at the age of 93. The state funeral will be held in the Cathedral of Oslo at 2 p.m. on the coming Monday.

Monday, 28 March 2011

At the road’s end: Wenche Foss (1917-2011), grand old lady

There is something surreal about the news that the great actress and humanitarian Wenche Foss passed away shortly after noon today, aged 93. Besides being this country’s greatest celebrity she was one of those national icons who seemed almost immortal.
Born on 5 December 1917, Eva Wenche Steenfeldt Foss made her stage debut already in 1935 and was for decades employed by the National Theatre, whose greatest diva she was. She has been praised by colleagues today for her artistic genius and she continued to take on roles in plays and films long after she had officially retired in 1988.
But what made her more than a brilliant actress and eventually the grand old lady of Norwegian theatre was the way she used her fame to promote not herself, as so many of the meaningless celebrities of today do, but to speak out in favour of those less fortunate than herself. Thus she used her authority to become the sort of moral consciousness that every society needs. It was probably this more than anything else that made her so universally beloved by her compatriots.
Decades ago, when no-one talked publicly about such things, she spoke openly about cancer, which she was herself afflicted with, and Down’s syndrome, which one of her sons suffered from, and contributed greatly to society becoming more open about such illnesses. In later years she has also been praised for the openness with which she spoke about her own death.
She never lost her great interest in current affairs and was never afraid to speak her mind about injustices done towards the less fortunate members of our society, who had a special place in her big heart. When treated unfairly they could always count on Wenche Foss to get furious and advocate their case in the media, which often led to injustice being corrected.
It will be a hard act for anyone to try and fill her shoes as the moral consciousness of the nation – and as the last great diva.
Following a brief marriage to Alf Scott-Hansen, which ended in divorce, she married the wealthy businessman Thomas Stang, whose mother Emma Stang had been Mistress of the Robes to Queen Maud and who descended from Prime Minister Frederik Stang and from King Frederik V. They had two sons, of whom “Tommeliten” suffered from Down’s syndrome and died at the age of four while his mother was away at a film set, a regret which she said was on her mind every single day for the remainder of her life. Her surviving son, Fabian Stang, is the Mayor of Oslo. She is also survived by a daughter-in-law and two grandsons.
On more than one occasion Wenche Foss suffered from serious illnesses which might well have claimed her life. The fact that she always rallied contributed to her seeming almost immortal. Her last wish was that those who might wish to honour her memory would do so by giving flowers to someone who does normally receive flowers. But her death had hardly been announced and the flag lowered to half staff at the National Theatre before people began placing flowers at the feet of the statue of her which was erected outside the theatre on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday in 2007.
King Olav, of whom Wenche Foss was very fond, honoured her by making her a Commander with Star of the Order of St Olav, the second highest grade of that order, while King Frederik IX made her a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog and President François Mitterrand awarded her the Legion of Honour. She also received most prizes and awards one can be given.
The government today decided to grant her the rare honour of a state funeral. Along with her openness about death she has also on several occasions spoken about her wishes for her own funeral, which will take place in the Cathedral of Oslo – she was therefore quite nervous when the Cathedral was closed for several years of renovations when she was in her late eighties, but promised to live until the works were finished, which she did.
Arve Tellefsen will play the violin, while the only eulogy will be delivered by her son, who occasionally wondered if he would himself be around when the day came. There will be a lot of flowers and music, but no cell phones, and the service will end with an old recording of Wenche Foss herself singing to make certain that she gets the last word. Many years ago she stopped the former Bishop of Oslo, Gunnar Stålsett, who unlike the current bishop is liberal and well-liked, in the street and asked him if he would be willing to officiate at her funeral. “Anytime, Wenche!” he replied.

Edward Bernadotte to wed in May

The latest issue of Svensk Damtidning reports that Count Edward Bernadotte af Wisborg is set to marry his Italian fiancée of two years, Nathalie Frediani, at Villa Rusconi-Clerici in Verbania by the Lake Maggiore, Italy, on 29 May.
The great-great-grandson of King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway, Count Edward Gustaf Bernadotte af Wisborg is born on 18 April 1984. He is the youngest son of Count Bertil Bernadotte and his second wife, the artist Jill Bernadotte, née Rhodes-Maddox. His father is the youngest son of the famous Count Folke Bernadotte af Wisborg, who was himself the youngest son of Oscar II’s second son, Prince Oscar Bernadotte, who in 1888 forfeited his rights to the Swedish and Norwegian thrones when he married his sister-in-law’s former lady-in-waiting, Ebba Munck af Fulkila.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Three days of celebrations for Queen Margrethe’s forty years on the throne

Earlier this week Christian Eugen-Olsen, the Master of Ceremonies at the Danish court, celebrated his seventieth birthday (the Prince Consort attended a reception in his honour at Christiansborg Palace) and Billed-Bladet online (external link) reports that he has agreed to stay on for another year in order to organise three days of celebrations of Queen Margrethe II’s forty years on the throne in January 2012.
Monarchs in general tend to hold larger celebrations only for the 25th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of their accession to the throne, while 40th anniversaries are normally more low-key affairs if commemorated at all. There were no grand events to mark Queen Elizabeth II of Britain’s forty years on the throne in 1992, while King Haakon VII of Norway had a gala performance at the National Theatre for his fortieth anniversary in 1945.
However, Queen Margrethe is known to enjoy celebrations and few of Europe’s monarchies do these things with such style as her. The last anniversary of her accession to the throne which was celebrated in grand style was her silver jubilee in January 1997, which saw a service of thanksgiving in Christiansborg Palace Church (which was re-inaugurated on that occasion following the disastrous fire of 1992), a reception at the City Hall and a gala banquet at Christiansborg Palace.
Unlike weddings and birthdays there was however no major gathering of foreign royals for the silver jubilee. Except for the Danish royal family it was attended by the King, Queen and Crown Prince of Norway, the Presidents of Iceland and Finland and their wives, and the former royal family of Greece. The King, Queen and Crown Princess of Sweden were also due to attend, but cancelled their attendance because of court mourning for Prince Bertil, who was buried the day before. Princess Christina did however attend the service of thanksgiving.
The photo shows Queen Margrethe on her seventieth birthday last April, which was also celebrated in grand manner. This year she will for once not make the traditional balcony appearance at Amalienborg on her birthday, but rather spend the day at Marselisborg Palace in Århus.

At the road’s: Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011), first female US vice presidential candidate

The American Democratic politican Geraldine Ferraro died this morning in Boston at the age of 75. She had suffered from leukemia for twelve years.
Ferraro earned her place in US political history by becoming the first woman to appear on the presidential election ticket of a major party. A teacher and lawyer by profession, she had been a congresswoman for three terms when she was chosen by Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale to be his running mate in 1984.
However, incumbent President Ronald Reagan won a spectacular landslide victory with 49 out of 50 states, leaving Mondale and Ferraro with only the former’s home state.
Nevertheless Ferraro has been hailed as a great inspiration to other women in US politics and among those paying tribute to her today was Sarah Palin, whose political views are certainly a far way from those of Ferraro, but who in 2008 became the only other woman so far to be nominated as vice presidential candidate for a major party.
That year Ferraro also served as an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, but withdrew after what was interpreted as a racial slur against her opponent Barack Obama.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Princess Antoinette laid to rest in Monaco

Today the funeral of Princess Antoinette of Monaco, who died last Friday, took place in the Cathedral of Monaco. As well as her two surviving children, Christian de Massy and Elisabeth-Anne de Massy, and her other closest family members the funeral was attended by Sovereign Prince Albert II and his fiancée Charlene Wittstock, Princess Caroline and her four children, and Princess Stéphanie. Apparently no members of foreign royal families attended.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Britain proposes St Helena for UNESCO World Heritage List

St Helena, the remote South Atlantic island where ex-Emperor Napoléon I died in exile in 1821, is among the eleven sites the British government yesterday nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status, the Guardian reports.
The World Heritage list currently consists of 911 sites in 151 countries. St Helena, which even today is one of the remotest and least accessible places on earth, might be a natural addition by being immortalised as the place where the perhaps most famous man in history was sent to die after the final downfall of his once mighty empire.
The other British nominees are the Forth bridge, Gorham’s gave complex in Gibraltar, the Turks and Caicos islands, the Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheschire, the Lake District, Cresswell Crags, the slate industry in north Wales, Flow Country in Scotland and Down House in Kent, the home of Charles Darwin, where he wrote The Origin of Species.
Decisions about which places will be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List will be made at the meeting of the world heritage committee in June, which was due to be held in Bahrain, but has now been moved to Paris.
(The image of St Helena seen from space is by NASA).

Crown Prince Regent sends Norwegian planes to Libya

In an extraordinary State Council held at the Royal Palace at 9 a.m. today the Crown Prince Regent gave his assent to a royal resolution authorising the Minister of Defence to send six Norwegian warplanes to assist in the efforts to enforce UN resolution 1973 (aimed at stopping the genocide Muammar Gaddafi is carrying out against his own people). The planes will be put under American command.
Crown Prince Haakon is Regent while the King and Queen are holidaying privately abroad. Since turning eighteen in 1991 he has been Regent on numerous occasions, including two lengthier periods during his father’s illnesses in 2003-2004 and 2005, and as such it has fallen upon him to host two state visits (by the Emperor of Japan and the President of Portugal) and to appoint a member of the cabinet (Anniken Huitfeldt in 2008), but committing Norwegian forces to combat is obviously the most serious government decision he has been called upon to authorise.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Queen Silvia drops out of state visit to Botswana

Tomorrow the King and Queen of Sweden were due to embark on a four-day state visit to Botswana, but it has been announced today that Queen Silvia has had to pull out of the trip because of influenza. The state visit will thus go ahead, but King Carl Gustaf will travel on his own.
The King and Queen have been holidaying privately in France, where Queen Silvia on Sunday consulted a doctor in Paris, who recommended her to rest and not to embark on the long flight to Botswana.
This is the third time in 35 years that Queen Silvia will miss an outgoing state visit. The pregnant Queen stayed at home when King Carl Gustaf travelled to Australia in 1982 and she also missed the state visit to Poland in 1993.
King Carl Gustaf will be received by President Ian Khama, whose predecessor Festus Mogae made a state visit to Sweden in 2006.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

On this date: Birth of Napoléon II 200 years ago

200 years ago today, in the morning of 20 March 1811, Paris reverberated with 101 gunshots announcing the birth of the longed-for heir to the imperial throne. In 1809 Emperor Napoléon I had divorced Empress Joséphine as she was unable to give him the heir he felt the Empire needed in order to survive him and in her place he had taken as his wife Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. The birth of their first child nearly a year after the wedding was however complicated and the infant remained their only child.
Born at 8.20 a.m. at the Tuileries Palace, the Prince Imperial was given the names Napoléon François Joseph Charles and the title King of Rome. He was christened in Notre-Dame on 9 June 1811.
The birth of the heir might in hindsight be considered the high point of the First Empire. The decline began already the following year with the disastrous Russian campaign and in April 1814 Napoléon I was forced to abdicate and go into exile. Empress Marie-Louise fled to Vienna, taking her son with her, and the former Emperor never saw his wife or his son again.
At the end of his second reign, the so-called Hundred Days, Napoléon I abdicated on 22 June 1815 in favour of his son, who then became Emperor Napoléon II. But he remained in Vienna and his short reign came to an end on 7 July, when the fugitive Louis XVIII was again proclaimed King of France.
The former Napoléon II was renamed Franz and given the title Duke of Reichstadt by his maternal grandfather, Emperor Franz I of Austria. He lived out the remainder of his life at the Austrian court, where he was kept under surveillance and generally encouraged to forget everything about his French past, which he refused to do.
The Duke of Reichstadt died from tuberculosis at Schönbrunn Palace on 22 July 1832, aged only 21. In December 1940 his mortal remains were, on the orders of Adolf Hitler, brought to Paris and interred in the crypt where his father had been laid to rest after his remains were brought back from St Helena a hundred years earlier.
The portrait of the King of Rome wearing the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour was commissioned in 1812 from François Gérard by Empress Marie-Louise, who had it sent to her husband in Russia. It arrived on the eve of the Battle of Moskowa and the Emperor had it put on display outside his tent to inspire his troops. Today it is to be found in the Musée Napoléon Ier at Fontainebleau Palace.

Crown Prince and Crown Princess will attend Monegasque wedding

On Friday the Royal Court in Oslo informed the news agency NTB that Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit have received and accepted an invitation to attend the wedding of Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock.
The dates and the venues for the wedding have been changed several times, but the latest is that the civil wedding will take place in the Throne Room of the Princely Palace at 5 p.m. on 1 July, followed by a religious blessing in the Courtyard of the Palace on 2 July at 5 p.m.
Press photo courtsey of Sølve Sundsbø/the Royal Court.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Jan Bernadotte to make second attempt at seventh marriage

This week’s issue of Svensk Damtidning informs the readers of the latest chapter in the saga of Count Jan Bernadotte af Wisborg’s seventh wedding, which had to be postponed when it turned out that the Count was not aware of the fact that he was still married to his sixth wife.
The eldest son of the late former Prince Lennart of Sweden and his fiancée Gunilla Stenfors have now decided to wed in September, first back home in Sweden as earlier planned and then a second time in a Buddhist ceremony in Thailand, where the couple in the future plan to spend half the year in their apartment in Hua Hin.

Friday, 18 March 2011

At the road’s end: Princess Antoinette of Monaco (1920-2011)

Two weeks of court mourning have been announced in Monaco following the death of Princess Antoinette, the Sovereign Prince’s aunt, at the Princess Grace Clinic in Monaco last night. Princess Antoinette turned 90 on 28 December last year.
She was the eldest of the two children of Princess Charlotte and Prince Pierre and was born while her great-grandfather Albert I was still on the throne of Monaco. Her younger brother, the future Sovereign Prince Rainier III, was born in 1923. Their grandfather, Sovereign Prince Louis II, took care of their upbringing after their parents separated in 1930 and because of Princess Charlotte’s 1944 renouncal of her succession rights, Rainier succeeded his grandfather on the throne in 1949, with Antoinette becoming the principality’s first lady, a position she was reluctant to cede to her sister-in-law Grace in 1956.
Relations between Princess Antoinette and her brother were not always the easiest. She had spread rumours about his previous girlfriend being infertile and taken part in plots which aimed at making Prince Rainier step aside for her benefit. Later her second husband would lead her on, arguing that there was no reason why she as the eldest child should have been surpassed by her younger brother. She did however have to content herself with being granted the title Baroness of Massy.
Princess Antoinette herself had three children - Elisabeth-Anne in 1947, Christian in 1949 and Christine in 1951 - by a married man, Alexandre Noghès. Following the birth of their third child the Princess and Noghès eventually married, but it ended in divorce after three years. In 1961 the Princess remarried Jean-Charles Rey, a lawyer who was also President of the Monegasque Council of State. That marriage was dissolved in 1974 and in 1983 the Princess took as her third husband the former ballet dancer John Gilpin, who sadly died only six weeks later.
Relations between Princess Antoinette and her brother easened with the passing of the years and she became a permanent fixture at the great events of the small principality, such as the National Day on 19 November and the Red Cross and Rose balls. In recent years her public appearances have however been few.
Princess Antoinette’s youngest daughter, Christine de Massy, died from leukemia in 1989 and the Princess is survived by her two eldest children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The Princess’s body will be taken to the Princely Palace, where she will lie in state for several days. Her funeral will take place at 10 a.m. on 24 March in the Cathedral of Monaco.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

What to see: The Western Bridge, Stockholm

One third of the surface of Stockholm consists of water. It is a city built on islands linked by bridges and among these the Western Bridge (Västerbron) is perhaps the most beautiful and also the most appreciated.
Until 1935 the Sluice (Slussen) in central Stockholm was the only bridge east of Strängsnäs linking Södermanland and Uppland, but the explosive increase in traffic made obvious the need for another bridge, this time between Södermalm and Kungsholmen.
An international contest was held in 1930 and won by German architects and engineers, but instead one settled for a rather similar design by the Swedish architects Birger Borgström, David Dahl and Paul Hedqvist, constructed by the engineers Ernst Nilsson and Salomon Kasarnowsky.
The bridge was built between 1931 and 1935 and was hailed as a feast of engineering. It consists of two arches measuring respectively 168 and 204 metres; the latter remains unsurpassed in Sweden to this day.
Many others and poets have written about the Western Bridge or sung its praises. Some unhappy persons have jumped to their deaths from it. And many couples have fastened padlocks to its railings as a symbol of their love.
From the bridge one also has a wonderful view towards the city, as can be seen in the last photo from two weeks ago.

Monday, 14 March 2011

New books: The election of a crown prince

The story of how Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of the French Empire and Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo, became Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810 is one of those stories which seem almost too fantastic to be true. Thus it is no wonder that it has been told many times. In connection with last year’s bicentenary the Swedish Parliament chose to tell the story in a new way, i.e. by publishing the primary sources themselves in the book När svenskarna valde tronföljare – Handlingar från riksdagen i Örebro 1810, edited by Nina Sjöberg.
Following the loss of Finland in 1809, Gustaf IV Adolf had been deposed and sent into exile and his childless, frail uncle, Carl XIII, had been elected king. Prince Christian August of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg was elected heir to the throne, but had barely arrived in Sweden before dying suddenly in May 1810. The Four Estates thus had to be called together once again, this time in the small provincial town of Örebro, partly because of the unrest in Stockholm which had reached its climax with the public slaying of the Marshal of the Realm, Axel von Fersen, during the Crown Prince’s funeral, and partly out of fear of Russian attacks on Stockholm or other cities on the east coast.
Most of this book is made up of source material, but there are also short chapters on the background, how the Four Estates worked and about the main players. There is also a presentation of the main candidates for the Swedish throne: ex-Crown Prince Gustaf, the son of the deposed Gustaf IV Adolf, who was favoured by the Gustavians and by Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta; Duke Frederik Christian of Augustenburg, the brother of the late Crown Prince; King Frederik VI of Denmark, who offered himself as a candidate and whom Napoléon I would have liked to see elected; Marshal Bernadotte; and Prince Regent Peter of Oldenburg, who was Carl XIII’s first cousin and could thus be said to be the next male in line of the House of Holstein-Gottorp (Peter is misidentified in this book as Duke of Oldenburg, a Danish duke and the brother-in-law of the Emperor of Russia; he was in fact not yet Duke of Oldenburg, but “administrator” of the duchy in place of his mentally incapacitated cousin, he was German and it was his second son who was Alexander I of Russia’s brother-in-law). Prince Christian Frederik of Denmark, who was seen by some as a more acceptable alternative to Frederik VI, is not included in the list of candidates here.
Through the documents reproduced in this book one sees how King Carl XIII and the cabinet early on agreed on the Duke of Augustenburg and how eleven of the twelve members of the parliamentary committee dealing with the issue voted in favour of the Duke on 8 August (the twelfth member voted for Peter of Oldenburg).
What turned everything around was that the young lieutenant Carl Otto Mörner, one of the messengers sent to Emperor Napoléon I in Paris to inform him formally of the Crown Prince’s death and to request the most powerful man on earth’s advice on who should be the new heir, took it upon himself to ask Marshal Bernadotte to stand for election.
Three days after the parliamentary committee had agreed upon the Duke of Augustenburg, the former French Vice-Consul in Gothenburg, Jean-Antoine Fournier (grandfather of Edouard Manet), arrived in Örebro and presented himself as a representative of Bernadotte, carrying no formal authorisation to act on his behalf but possessing a toothpick case with miniature portraits of Bernadotte’s wife and son which was considered proof of his attachment to Bernadotte. Fournier was able to convince the Swedes that Bernadotte was Napoléon’s favoured candidate (which he was in fact not) and that he was able to offer Sweden significant financial benefits.
This changed the minds of the Swedes and the documents show how one now managed to convince oneself that the Duke of Augustenburg might turn down the offer if elected in order not to upset his brother-in-law King Frederik VI. There were reservations about Bernadotte’s religion (he eventually converted in Denmark just before crossing Øresund to Sweden) and his inability to master the Swedish language (which he never learnt to speak), but in a remarkably short time the Swedish parliamentarians turned around entirely, rejected Duke Frederik Christian and on 21 August voted unanimously for Bernadotte and eventually passed the Act of Succession which remained in force until 1980.
Throughout most of this book the documents, which are transcribed in their entirety (and translated if originally in French), are allowed to speak for themselves, which is an interesting way to read the story as it gives an insight into the views held by and the arguments used by the main actors. By having made these primary sources readily available as a book the Swedish Parliament has made a valuable addition to the literature on the Swedish monarchy, the House of Bernadotte and the history of nineteenth-century Sweden.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

New books: Bernadottes in Helsingborg and Scania

“Scania is not a province, it is a kingdom”, Carl XIV Johan is supposed to have said. Many Scanians would probably agree with him and Scania (Skåne), the southernmost county of Sweden, has played a rather prominent role in the history of the dynasty which Carl Johan founded.
On 20 October last year his Swedish and Danish descendants gathered in Helsingborg to commemorate the bicentenary of their ancestor’s stepping ashore in that town two months after his election to Crown Prince of Sweden. The links between the dynasty and the city were later strengthened when the future King Oscar II and Queen Sophia built their summer palace Sofiero on the outskirts of Helsingborg, which was also where their grandson Gustaf VI Adolf came to spend his summers for nearly seventy years. (Gustaf VI Adolf, like his great-uncle Carl XV, had been Duke of Scania and both kings eventually died in that county).
As part of the bicentenary celebrations the City of Helsingborg commissioned the historian Jan Berggren (the husband of the city’s Director of Communications, which caused some controversy) to write the book Bernadotterna och Helsingborg – 200 år sedan Karl XIV Johan landsteg i Helsingborg. Although the links between the Bernadottes and Helsingborg are at the centre of the book, the author has also chosen to include the county of Scania at large.
He relates the background for the events which led to Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo and Marshal of the French Empire, being elected heir to the Swedish throne and tells of his arrival in Helsingborg in 1810, at that time a small town of a few thousand inhabitants.
In 1824 the local newspaper Helsingborgs Posten claimed that the King planned to build a summer palace outside Helsingborg, but although this never happened Carl Johan came quite frequently to Scania in the years following his arrival in Sweden (1816, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1824, 1832 and 1837). To a certain extent this can be explained by military manoeuvres taking place in the county, but Berggren also sees the frequent visits in the early years as a sign of Carl Johan’s distrust of the Scanians – the county had after all only been part of Sweden for some 150 years at that time and the King was, according to Berggren, suspicious of Danish sympathies still to be found in Scania.
The proximity to Denmark also meant that Helsingborg came to play a small role in what is called Scandinavianism, the popular movement which in the mid-19th century aimed at a closer association between the three Scandinavian kingdoms, perhaps even a union. In 1846 the Swedish-Norwegian royal family hosted King Christian VIII and the extended Danish royal family in Helsingborg, a visit which Berggren sees in relation to Scandinavianism but also in relation to the need for repairing relations between the two royal houses, who had been at war as recently as 1814. It was after all Christian VIII himself who had led the Norwegian rebellion that year and been elected King of Norway before being ousted by Carl Johan, whose widow Desideria he now encountered in Helsingborg.
The book is at its best in its first half, where Berggren weaves together the story of tje links between the Bernadottes and Scania with the greater picture and thus succeeds in putting the events in the relevant context. The second half tastes a little more of local history, focusing on summers at Sofiero and listing several notable visitors to the summer palace and Helsingborg (but not the visit paid to Sofiero by Prince Carl and Princess Maud of Denmark as late as 5 October 1905, slightly more than a month before they were elected King and Queen of Norway in succession to the deposed Oscar II).
There is also a chapter on Folke Bernadotte and his White Busses action, whereby thousands of prisoners were rescued from the concentration camps (transit was through Helsingborg) and traces of the Bernadottes in Helsingborg (artworks, names of streets, monuments, etc) before the book is rounded off with a brief interview with Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg, the 94-year-old former prince who lives in nearby Båstad. Carl Johan Bernadotte tells two brief anecdotes of no greater significance and one could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the author might have done more out of this interview, for example by letting the Count talk about his memories from Sofiero and incorporating such fresh recollections into the text rather than repeating what he wrote in his memoirs nearly thirty years ago.
Some factual mistakes might also be pointed out, such as King Haakon VII and Queen Maud being described as “the first King and Queen of independent Norway” or the claim of King Carl XIV Johan arriving in Scania “from the continent” for one of the visits during his reign, which is impossible given that the King never set his foot outside Sweden and Norway after 1814.
But all in all this is a good overview of the role Helsingborg and Scania have played in the history of the Bernadottes and the role the Bernadottes have played in Helsingborg and Scania.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Swedish crown princessly couple to attend British wedding

The Swedish Royal Court has now updated its online calendar to show that Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel will attend the wedding of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton in London on 29 April.
The attendance of the King and Queen of Norway was confirmed earlier this week, while other reigning royal families have yet to make known who will represent them.
That the Swedish royal family will be represented on a lower level than the Norwegian may be explained both by the fact that King Carl XVI Gustaf celebrates his 65th birthday the following day and as usual will receive the tributes of well-wishers at the Outer Courtyard, and by the fact that the King and Queen of Norway are personal friends both of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, while relations between the Windsors and the Bernadottes are distant, something which was also quite obvious from the fact that Britain was the only country not represented by a single royal at the 60th birthday celebrations of the King of Sweden five years ago.

State Council to be held in Bergen

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg yesterday announced that the King has agreed to hold a State Council in Bergen on 16 September. This will be the first time in decades that a State Council is held outside Oslo.
The State Council in Bergen will take place in Håkon’s Hall, the banqueting hall of the medieval royal residence, built during the reign of King Håkon Håkonsson and first known to have been used for the wedding of his son Magnus to Ingeborg of Denmark on 11 September 1261. The building’s 750th anniversary will be marked by a banquet the night before the State Council.
Among the issues dealt with in the State Council, which takes place at the Royal Palace at 11 a.m. every Friday, are Acts of Parliament which receive the King’s assent. The King also gives his consent to the government’s propositions to Parliament and makes certain appointments.
It will be the first time a State Council is held in Bergen since 1906, when King Haakon VII did so during his coronation tour. During the 1940 campaign King Haakon also held State Councils in several other Norwegian towns and then from 1940 to 1945 in London.
During the union of crowns with Sweden State Councils were generally held in Christiania (now Oslo) or Stockholm, but occasionally also elsewhere depending on where the King was - sometimes it was even held outdoors. In 1861, for instance, King Carl XV called in at Kristiansand to hold State Council on Norwegian ground when he was sailing from Gothenburg to France.
Bergen, which is believed to have been founded in the 11th century, was the capital of Norway until 1299 and remained its largest city until being bypassed by Christiania in the years following the regaining of independence in 1814.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Swedish Social Democrats make surprising choice of leader

The Swedish Social Democratic Party’s election committee today announced that it has decided to propose to the extraordinary party congress to be held later this month that it elect Håkan Juholt as the new leader of the party. This is a rather surprising outcome of the long-winded process of finding the successor to Mona Sahlin, who announced her resignation in November, following the party’s failing to win the general election in September (and thus became the first leader of her party in a century not to become Prime Minister), as the name of Håkan Juholt only began appearing seriously as late as yesterday.
The party has generally been considered to be in a major crisis since the electoral defeat and the election committee has struggled to find a leader candidate who was both tolerable to all fractions and districts and might also be considered having a fair chance of attracting voters.
By now they were beginning to run out of time and yesterday the veteran Leif Pagrotsky, a former minister, was suggested as a compromise, but he declined to stand for election (as had several other candidates before him). After that Juholt’s name appeared and today the committee announced that he had agreed to be a candidate.
Håkan Juholt is 48 years old and has been a Member of Parliament since 1994. Several of the other candidates who have been suggested had the major drawback that they were not currently MPs and could thus not take part in parliamentary debates. Since last year’s election Juholt has been chairman of Parliament’s Defence Committee. He considers himself to be “slightly left of centre” and mentions the former Foreign Minister Sten Andersson as a political role model.
With a male party leader the party secretary will have to be a woman and the election committee proposes Carin Jämtin, a former minister and MP who was also mentioned as a possible party leader when Göran Persson resigned in 2006, but then refused to stand for election.

Monday, 7 March 2011

King and Queen of Norway to attend British royal wedding

The Norwegian Royal Court has today confirmed to the news agency NTB that the King and Queen will attend the wedding of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton in London on 29 April.
Apparently no-one else from the Norwegian royal family has been invited, but that was what I expected after Clarence House stated that 40 foreign royals have been invited. Given this number and the fact that there are nine other monarchies in Europe and that a number of non-European royal houses are also to be expected there would hardly be possible to invite more than two representatives of each country and this probably means that only the reigning couples from each country have been invited.
The Danish weekly Billed-Bladet has earlier claimed that Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik will also attend, but this has not yet been confirmed.
Meanwhile the British royal court has launched its official wedding website (external link), which contains information on the wedding, photos and biographical information.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

New books: Obama’s first year

The truth in Mario Cuomo’s famous words that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose has perhaps never been more obvious than in the case of Barack Obama. In his book The Promise: President Obama, which was published last year and is now out in paperback, American historian and journalist Jonathan Alter assesses the troubled first year of Obama’s presidency.
But the book begins already in September 2008 and ends in March 2010, making it an account of more than just the first twelve months in the White House (the paperback edition adds a short epilogue on the remaining months of 2010). In giving his reasons for starting four months before the inauguration, Alter argues that this was when Obama actually took charge. This was clear from the bipartisan White House meeting which Republican presidential candidate John McCain talked President George W. Bush into convening when the financial crisis hit, a meeting to which McCain himself contributed absolutely nothing. Even President Bush presumably then realised how little McCain had to offer and joked to Nancy Pelosi: “I told you you’d miss me when I’m gone”. From then on, Alter argues, Bush was convinced that Obama would be his successor.
His taking control continued during the transition period and Alter argues that no previous president-elect had made “so many presidential-level decisions before being sworn in”. But this was necessary because of the wreckage Bush left to his successor, a wreckage the new president would have to spend much of his time trying to repair.
While Bill Clinton left office in 2001 with a $ 236 billion budget surplus, George W. Bush amassed more debt during his presidency than all previous US presidents combined and left his successor a budget deficit of $ 1.3 trillion. Jonathan Alter’s previous book was The Defining Moment: FDR’s First Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, a work which he is able to draw upon in many ways in this book as the situation facing Obama in 2009 had much in common with that Roosevelt faced in 1933. But Alter argues that Roosevelt’s task was in fact easier: “Taking action to get out of a major depression was less controversial than taking action to prevent one”. And Roosevelt’s predecessor did not leave him with two mismanaged wars.
Under such circumstances it is quite astonishing that President Obama was able to achieve so much in his first year. Only the bill stimulating the economy which was passed (with Democratic votes only) shortly after his inauguration was in itself “the biggest tax cuts for the middle class since Reagan, the biggest infrastructure bill since the Interstate Highway Act in the 1950s, the biggest education bill since Lyndon Johnson’s first federal aid to education, the biggest scientific and medical research investment in forty years, and the biggest clean energy bill ever”.
The historic healthcare reform which was passed in March 2010 (again with only Democratic votes) meant that “Barack Obama was in the company of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson [...] in terms of domestic achievement, a figure of history for reasons far beyond the color of his skin”.
When Bush left office the US economy was shrinking with 6 percent annually and was losing 741,000 jobs every month. After Obama had been in the White House for one year the annual growth was 6 percent and the job losses only 20,000. And then there were many other achievements in between, including almost overnight restoring the US’ standing abroad and setting his country back on a more constructive foreign policy course.
Although it seems clear that the author is impressed with President Obama, this is not a partisan account and Alter is not uncritical of his subject. For despite his great political achievements it remains an obvious fact that much of the trouble he encountered during his first year in the office was a result of the fact that the great orator did not succeed in communicating with his people, Alter argues.
Obama himself believed that he should have focused more on the legacy left him by the failed Bush presidency, as FDR did with Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan with Jimmy Carter. But this would only have worked for a limited amount of time, Alter argues, after which the sitting president would anyway own the mess the country was in no matter who had made it.
He took Mario Cuomo’s words too literally and failed “not just to communicate but to inspire once he reached the presidency” and the White House “couldn’t make basic information about its accomplishments stick”. According to Alter, “the real blame rested with Obama, who, from the first days after the election, retained too much control. He resolved in the new year [2010] to widen his circle of advice and trust his Cabinet and other surrogates to speak for him. He had failed, he knew, to ‘flood the zone’ with a consistent, memorable message”.
Another mistake was made when the Democrats for too long a time tried to win at least some Republicans’ support for the healthcare reform bill, attempts which were entirely rejected by an opposition party with their mind set on being as unconstructive as possible. (“Had they chosen to take part”, Alter reminds us, “they could have passed many amendments and wielded considerable power over the final shape of the legislation”). Thus much time was lost, and Obama’s strategy was built on speed. When healthcare reform took a much longer time than anticipated, “it threw a monkey wrench into the engine”.
It was certainly a crowded first year, in which the new President was met with countless challenges on many fronts. Not every single issue can be crammed into a book of 475 pages and it seems that the author has chosen to concentrate on those issues where Obama made a difference, a choice which for instance means that we hear little about the Middle East peace process, where he has not been able to bring about any progress.
But Alter mostly succeeds in saying at least something about all the major issues and decisions without losing track of the main story. It is not a book only about Obama; the author offers sharp profiles not only of the President, but of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and on several occasions he highlights the contrasts between President Obama and President Clinton. The other players are also given their due and the result is a fascinating and insightful account of a pivotal year in US politics.
Like all books on what the late George F. Kennan dubbed “the history of the present” this book is to a fairly great extent based on anonymous sources, but that is how things have become these days and in a postscript Alter takes care to give a clear explanation of how he has approached his sources.
Naturally most of what he writes is based on what he has been told by others, many of whose identities remain unknown to the reader, and is thus difficult to verify. There may be things in this book which future historians will be in a position to reject when primary sources become available and there may have been major things going on behind closed doors which remain unknown to Jonathan Alter and other outsiders. But as for now, his book is probably as close as we can get to the inside story of the early stages of Barack Obama’s presidency.