Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Count Edward Bernadotte weds Nathalie Frediani

Svensk Damtidning (external link) has a short report - with what looks like a selection of paparazzi photos - from the wedding of Count Edward Bernadotte af Wisborg and Nathalie Frediani, which took place in Villa Rusconi-Clerici in Verbania in Italy last weekend. The bride seems to have worn the bridal crown of her husband’s family.
Edward Bernadotte is the son of Count Bertil Bernadotte and his second wife Jill; the grandson of the famous Count Folke Bernadotte, the great-grandson of Prince Oscar Bernadotte and the great-great-grandson of King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway. He is not in line to the Swedish throne, nor is he a member of the royal family.

Carl XVI Gustaf denies allegations about his private life

The reign of Carl XVI Gustaf reached its lowest point ever yesterday when the King of Sweden felt obliged to grant the news agency TT an interview to talk about the scandalous allegations about his private life which have recently undermined his position rather seriously.
The journalist Tomas Bengtsson asked the King about the claims made in the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken that he supposedly had visited strip clubs in Atlanta in 1996 and Bratislava in 2008, which the King clearly denies. When asked if he has ever visited strip clubs or sex clubs he is rather vague, replying that it is a matter of definition and that there are several restaurants were the waitresses are scantily clad, like at the German Oktoberfest. He is again very clear when he denies explicitly that he has ever visited clubs where illegal activities take place.
He does not know if he has ever taken part in parties with criminals, arguing that he cannot possibly be familiar with the backgrounds of every single guest at every event he has attended. This, he says, is an issue for the hosts, as are the so-called “coffee girls”.
When it comes to the allegedly compromising photos his friend Anders Lettström recently tried to buy from a gangster, the King states that there cannot possibly exist any such photos.
The King is not willing to comment on the allegations made in the aforementioned book last year and rejects the idea that he has put himself in a position to be blackmailed. His possible abdication is not a relevant question. He did not know anything about Anders Lettström’s contacts with gangsters, he insists, and has now cut all ties to Lettström, one of his oldest friends. He has neither met nor spoken on the telephone to those other of his friends who appear in the book after its publication last autumn.
He acknowledges that these allegations hurt the people’s confidence in him and in the monarchy and even Sweden, which he vows to repair by working twice as hard in the future.
King Carl Gustaf appeared to be clearly uncomfortable during the interview, which is understandable given that no monarch before him has ever had to sit down to such an interview to answer allegations about his private life. He did not always speak very clearly and at times seemed to be confused about what he had earlier commented on or not.
For instance he seemed to think he had commented on the “coffee girls” when he addressed the press pack in connection with a hunt last autumn, but this is not the case. Back then he only said that he had spoken with the Queen and his family and now wanted to “turn the page”, which many took as a confirmation that the claims made in the book were actually correct but that the King now wanted to move on.
Generally one can say that when King Carl Gustaf is so absolutely sure that he has never set in these clubs he might well have said so in November and saved himself and the monarchy from half a year of speculation. One may also wonder why his friend was willing to enter into negotiations with criminals to buy compromising photos if it is absolutely impossible that any such pictures exist.
Now that the King has explicitly denied the allegations he may hope that the story will die away. However, he has also himself upped the ante and if there should now appear photos or other proof which go against his assurances he will have a real problem. Thomas Sjöberg, the main author of the “biography” has already called the King a bad liar and somehow I have the feeling that this story is not yet over.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Luxembourgian royals welcomed in Oslo

Today the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg began a three-day state visit to Norway, where they were welcomed by the King and Queen at the usual ceremony in the Palace Square. Grand Duke Henri later laid a wreath at the National Monument at Akershus Fortress and called on the Prime Minister at the Government Building as well as the Speaker of Parliament. Tonight there is a state banquet at the Royal Palace.
During the day the Queen has also accompanied the Grand Duchess on visits to Oscarshall Palace and the nearby Queen’s Chalet (Sæterhytten) at Bygdøy, which was inaugurated in the presence of three mutual ancestors of the King and the Grand Duke in 1862 (Queen Lovisa, her daughter Princess Lovisa and her mother Princess Louise of the Netherlands) and has recently reopened after restoration works. On Wednesday the grand ducal couple, accompanied by the King and Queen, will travel to Trondheim, where Nidaros Cathedral is among the sites to be visited. However, the Grand Duchess may cut short the visit as her brother is reported to be in a coma in a hospital in Florida.
The Grand Duke has been awarded the Collar of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav (he already had the Grand Cross), while Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Princess Märtha Louise have been given the Grand Cross of the Order of Adolphe of Nassau.
The Norwegian and Luxembourgian royal families are closely related and the ties between the two families have long been close. Grand Duke Adolphe, the first monarch of Luxembourg following the secession from the union with the Netherlands, was the older half-brother of Queen Sophia and something of a father figure to her.
Furthermore, the current Grand Duke’s mother, the Belgian-born Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, was a first cousin of King Harald. This means that Grand Duke Henri is the European monarch most closely related to King Harald except for the King of the Belgians, who is King Harald’s first cousin and Grand Duke Henri’s uncle.
Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, who lost her mother, Queen Astrid of the Belgians, when she was only eight years old and had a rather traumatic childhood during World War II, was always close to her Scandinavian relatives and rarely missed a family event. The death of this regal, yet charming lady in 2005 was much regretted by the Norwegian royals.
Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa have themselves paid a number of visits to Norway following their accession to the throne in 2000, attending several family occasions and also a skiing event some years ago.
There have on the other hand been rather few state visits between the two countries and, coincidentally, none of them has ever been returned. King Olav made a state visit to Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Félix in 1964, shortly before her abdication. In 1990 Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte became the last to pay a state visit to King Olav, who was taken seriously ill later that spring and never resumed the reins of government before his death in January 1991. In 1996 King Harald and Queen Sonja paid a state visit to Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, which they again did not return before Grand Duke Jean’s abdication in favour of his son Henri in October 2000.
This week’s state visit will by the way be the last to Norway by a reigning European monarch for the foreseeable future. The Queen of Denmark was here in 1992, the King of Sweden in 1993, the King of the Belgians in 1997, the Queen of Britain in 2001, the King of Spain in 2006 and the Queen of the Netherlands in 2010, while the sovereign princes of Liechtenstein and Monaco do not habitually pay state visits. As it is customary for monarchs to pay only one state visit to each country per reign the next state visit from a reigning European monarch will probably not be until a new reign has begun in at least one of the European monarchies.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Another scandal causes support for King Carl Gustaf to continue to fall

Last autumn the publication of a biography of King Carl Gustaf which contained a series of scandalous allegations about his private life caused support for the King to fall. This was seen as something of a nadir of his reign and along with other events, such as the break-up of Princess Madeleine’s and Jonas Bergström’s engagement after a kiss-and-tell interview, Prince Carl Philip’s relationship with a former bikini/nude model and reality show contestant, and the revelations of the true extent of Queen Silvia’s father’s involvement with Nazism, it meant that 2010 despite the bicentenary of the dynasty and the wedding of the Crown Princess was something of an annus horribilis for the Swedish royal family.
During the last two weeks the situation has become even worse through the publication of another book, this time about an infamous serial criminal, in which it is claimed that one of the King’s closest friends since childhood, Anders Lettström, had contacted a gangster in order to try and buy compromising photos of the King.
In a farcial turn of events a reporter from TV4 was shown interviewing one of the gangsters, who in the course of the interview showed him two photos, which were not shown on air. According to the reporter the photos showed King Carl Gustaf, at first identified as “a very famous person”, at a strip club watching two women performing a sexual act (such shows are illegal in Sweden, but these photos were apparently taken abroad).
The price reportedly demanded for the photos – 50 million SEK, i.e. almost € 5 million – was apparently too high for Lettström as well as for the media, which has led to the absurd situation that while this story has been much written about in the past two weeks, no-one except TV4’s journalist has seen the photos. Thus one only has the journalist’s word for it that it is the King who appears in the photos, and, as the head of the royal court’s Information and Press Department, Bertil Ternert, has said, this makes it virtually impossible to comment on the story. TV4 has on the other hand refused to comply with Ternert’s demand that they ought to publish the photos so that one may see what the allegations are actually about.
Meanwhile Anders Lettström has issued a press statement in which he takes full responsibility and all the blame for contacting the criminals, stressing that the King has had nothing to do with this. The King has restricted himself to issuing a press statement in which he said absolutely nothing.
Nevertheless this latest scandal has caused support for King Carl Gustaf to fall dramatically. A week ago an opinion poll published in Expressen and carried out by Demoskop showed that 59 % think the King should abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria within the next decade, while only 29 % supported the idea of his remaining on the throne until his death, which is what he indicated he will do in an interview in connection with his 65th birthday last month. The same opinion poll also showed that a mere 39 % say they have strong confidence in the King, while 73 % feel so for the Crown Princess.
This finding is confirmed by a similar opinion poll conducted by Novus for TV4, which shows that 72 % have great or fairly great confidence in Crown Princess Victoria, while 40 % say the same about the King. In this poll 59 % say they support the monarchy, while 29 % want to abolish it.
A third opinion poll, carried out by Synovate and published in Dagens Nyheter yesterday, show that 44 % want the King to remain on the throne, while 41 % express the opinion that he should abdicate in favour of the Crown Princess. This is a marked difference from when Synovate did the same poll in February 2010 and found that 64 % wished to see the King remaining on the throne and only 17 % thought he should hand over to Crown Princess Victoria. Synovate finds that 66 % want to retain the monarchy, as compared to 70 % in November 2010 and 74 % in February 2010.
While opinion polls may be considered nothing more than a fairly accurate indication of public opinion at any given moment, this does indicate that King Carl Gustaf, whatever the truth of the allegations, faces a serious challenge in winning back the confidence of his people. It might be said that these scandals have come at an unfortunate time for him, as the last years had seen him win a form of popularity which had not always been easily available to him. His beautiful, heartfelt speech following the 2004 tsunami won him many hearts and now would have been the time that he, after nearly forty years on the throne, should have settled into the role of some sort of elder statesman/“father of the nation”.
At the same time it ought to be remembered that the calls for his abdication are probably augmented by the enormous popularity enjoyed by his fantastically charming heiress – which in itself does of course bode well for the future of the monarchy after all. Yet this also reminds us that the monarchy today, perhaps particularly in Sweden, is more than ever before dependent on the personal qualities of the royals themselves.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

My latest article: The numerals of the union kings

Earlier this month there was quite an outcry here in Norway when it was claimed by the newspaper Dagbladet that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had virtually banned the King from the ceremony at Akershus Castle on 8 May, now declared “Veterans’ Day”, where the Defence Chief on behalf of the King presented the War Cross, the nation’s highest-ranking decoration, to three veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
Disputes related to symbols are nothing new to the Norwegian monarchy; indeed many of the disputes during the union of crowns with Sweden were concerned with symbols. One such dispute, over the numerals used by the kings, is the topic of an article I have written in the latest issue of Personhistorisk tidskrift (2011:1), titled “Carl III Johan – Carl XIV Johan? Striden om unionskongenes ordenstall”.
Already in 1815 it was pointed out by a newspaper that King Carl XIII really ought to be styled Carl I in Norway, a suggestion which caused the fury of Crown Prince Carl Johan (later this was mostly modified to Carl II, counting Karl Knutsson Bonde in the fifteenth century as the first Norwegian King Karl). Five years later the same newspaper would publish a poem in honour of “King Carl Johan I”, although the new King’s name was Carl XIV Johan in Norway as well as in Sweden.
The issue was raised in Parliament in 1821, but it never came up for debate before Parliament was dissolved. Fifteen years later it was again raised in Parliament when it was suggested that the King should be styled “Carl III Johan” on coins, a proposal which was voted down. The Constitution Committee did however draft a letter to the King on the issue, but again Parliament was dissolved before it could vote over the letter. The extraordinary Parliament of 1837 decided not to raise this issue with the King.
Having briefly considered reigning under his first two names, Frans Joseph, Carl Johan’s successor eventually opted for the name Oscar I when he succeeded his father in 1844. As the first monarch of that name he did not use a numeral on coins, but the problem would reappear when his eldest son, Carl, succeeded him.
As Oscar I lay dying in 1859, Prime Minister Georg Sibbern raised the issue with the Crown Prince, but following his father’s death he explicitly announced that his name should be Carl XV in both countries.
Carl XV’s successor, Oscar II, was again not directly concerned by this problem, but as he grew older and frailer a newspaper debate – not the first on the topic – sprung up in 1900 about what should be the name of his son. In 1904 a cabinet minister, Jakob Schøning, was asked to look into the matter and reached the conclusion that the Crown Prince would have to be Gustaf V in Sweden and Gustaf I in Norway or alternatively Oscar III of both countries. As we know, the dissolution of the union in 1905 came between Gustaf and the Norwegian throne.
It might be said that those who wanted the King to have separate numerals in his two kingdoms had good arguments on their side. Norway and Sweden were two independent states in a union built on the principle of equality between the countries and, as it was frequently pointed out, monarchs of other unions had generally used separate numerals in each of their realms. Examples could be James I and VI of England and Scotland, Ferdinando IV and III of Naples and Sicily, and Ferdinand I of Austria and V of Hungary.
Nevertheless, this practice was never adopted for the Swedish-Norwegian union – Parliament never voted in its favour, the kings rejected it and the government accepted the monarchs’ decisions on this issue.
Thus it is a latter-day construction, indeed a historical falsification, when we on the Royal Palace’s website, in certain encyclopaedias and other places can read about Norwegian kings titled “Carl II”, “Carl III Johan” and “Carl IV” – or, even worse, “Karl II”, “Karl III Johan” and “Karl IV”. Their names were Carl XIII, Carl XIV Johan and Carl XV in Norway as well as in Sweden, whether we Norwegians like it or not.
The whole story of the debate over the union kings’ numerals may be found on pages 69-84 of the new issue of Personhistorisk tidskrift, published earlier this month.
The photo shows King Carl XV’s cipher, with the XV in the centre of two intertwined Cs, on one of the public buildings erected in Christiania (now Oslo) during his reign.

Friday, 27 May 2011

New books: The European monarchies of today

Royale Europe is the title of the latest book of Peter Conradi, a journalist at Sunday Times and co-author of The King’s Speech, published earlier this month by Plon of Paris. The book opens with the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, but this is not a chronological history of monarchies in Europe since then.
Rather, it is more of an account of those European monarchies (mainly the seven kingdoms and Monaco, while Luxembourg and Liechtenstein fall somewhat into the background) which have survived the turbulence of the past 200 years and of the events and developments which have led to the situations in which they find themselves today.
As I have contributed to the book I am obviously not in a position to write a review of it, but I will take the liberty to recommend it, as it draws on a wealth of information in several languages to present a well-written and informative overview of European monarchy today.
For those who prefer a Scandinavian language to French I can add that Forum will publish a Swedish translation, titled simply Kungligt, in September. There will also be a Dutch translation.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

On this date: Golden wedding of Princess Birgitta and Prince Johann Georg

Today is the golden wedding anniversary of Princess Birgitta (née of Sweden) and Prince Johann Georg of Hohenzollern, who were married in a civil ceremony at the Royal Palace in Stockholm on 25 May 1961 and in a religious ceremony at the palace church in Sigmaringen on 30 May.
The civil ceremony is under German law the only legally valid wedding and the Princess says in an anniversary interview with Svensk Damtidning (no 21 – 2011) that she and “Hansi” have always celebrated 25 May as their wedding anniversary. This year the celebrations will for practical reasons take place a week later, but it will only be a small event attended by their three children as well as their children-in-law and grandchildren.
Princess Birgitta, who is the second eldest of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden’s four elder sisters, was the only of the siblings to marry a prince and thus retained the style of Royal Highness as well as her membership of the Swedish royal house. Prince Johann Georg is an art historian who before his retirement was head of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
He still lives in Munich, where the couple settled after their wedding. However, Princess Birgitta moved to Mallorca in 1990 and dedicates most of her time to playing golf. The Princess is completely open about the state of her marriage, but insists that they remain very good friends and that their living apart was a natural consequence of the fact that they realised how different they are after the children moved out.
Nevertheless they keep up appearances by for instance attending the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel together and Princess Birgitta was publicly furious when her husband some years ago turned up at an event accompanied by his considerably younger mistress.
In the interview with Svensk Damtidning Princess Birgitta gives some interesting facts about the religious complications connected to her marrying a Catholic (“religious differences” had by the way been the official explanation when Princess Birgitta turned down Shah Mohamed Reza of Iran’s proposal). The Princess and her grandfather Gustaf VI Adolf wished for a Swedish priest to bless the couple during the civil wedding in Stockholm. The King was quite certain that this could be arranged, but Pope Johannes (John) XXIII himself vetoed it.
The Princess, who is herself a believer, remains disappointed about this to this day and is also still indignant that “they forced me to sign a paper saying that I should live as a Catholic and raise my children as Catholics. [...] I had nothing against my children being raised as Catholics, but you simply don’t do that”, says Princess Birgitta, who has since “distanced” herself from the Catholic church.
However, Princess Birgitta does not touch on the similarities between her situation and the events of 1926, when Princess Astrid of Sweden married the heir to the Belgian throne, the future Léopold III. Back then King Gustaf V wanted there to be both a Lutheran and a Catholic wedding, an idea which was acceptable to King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians. However, Pope Pius XI made it clear to King Albert that this would not be tolerated. Queen Victoria suggested a Te Deum in Stockholm, which King Albert and Queen Elisabeth also thought a good compromise, but which was again vetoed by the Catholic church.
In the end the civil wedding in Stockholm which preceded the religious wedding in Brussels was entirely secular, but at his own initiative the Swedish Archbishop, Nathan Söderblom, took the newlyweds aside after the ceremony and gave them his blessing privately. The future Queen Astrid eventually converted to Catholicism in 1930. One may wonder if the Vatican’s actions in 1961 were not to a certain extent a consequence of the events of 1926.

Monday, 23 May 2011

What to see: Church of St-Étienne-du-Mont, Paris

Situated right behind the Panthéon, the Church of St-Étienne-du-Mont is easily overshadowed by its giant neighbour, but those who enter it will find one of Paris’s most beautiful and architectonically interesting churches, one of the prime sights of the Latin Quarter.
Its most interesting feature is the almost art nouveau choir screen with it spiralling staircases leading to the galleries surrounding the altar area. In a way this reflects the floor plan of the church, which is itself somewhat twisted, although inspired by the floor plan of Notre-Dame.
The church’s roots go back to 1222, when monks of the monastery of Sainte-Geneviève first built a church on the spot. However, the growth of the population in the university area necessitated a larger church, which was begun in 1492. Work took more than 130 years and it was only in 1610 that Queen Marguerite laid the foundation stone for the western façade. The church was consecrated in 1626.
The long-drawn out building process explains why the church is a mix of the late Gothic and Renaissance styles, even with some traces of baroque, and a mannerist façade. The architects associated with St-Etienne-du-Mont are Etienne Viguier, Claude Guérin and Victor Baltard.
The remarkable choir screen is believed to have been built between 1530 and 1535 by Philibert Delorme. Its very original design has preserved it through centuries and it is today the only choir screen left in Paris.
The church contains the shrine to Sainte Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, and is the resting place of the playwright Jean-Baptiste Racine and the philosopher Blaise Pascal.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

New books: Royal reminiscences

The publisher Vega in Oslo has in recent years brought out a number of books for their readers to reminisce over topics such as childhood in the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, candy, Christmas, toys, cars, motorbikes, charter trips and marching bands. Last year they also felt it was time to add a volume on the royal family, written by Jon Gunnar Arntzen and titled Alt for Norge – Kongehuset gjennom 100 år.
The book is richly illustrated, but most of the pictures are without captions. They are accompanied by a text summing up the history of the Glücksburg dynasty in Norway, a text which is almost entirely descriptive and only very rarely analytical. It adds nothing to our knowledge or understanding of the monarchy or the royal family and does not concern itself much with the development of the institution.
On the other hand this is perhaps not really to be expected and the book might rather have served as an introduction to the history of the royal family. But as such the book is not very useful for the unfortunate reason that it is not trustworthy. Sadly the book is packed with mistakes and misunderstandings – the word “independent” was added to the Constitution in 1905 (no, it had by then already been there for 91 years), Crown Prince Olav was three years old in 1905 (no, he was two), the manuscript to King Haakon’s speech in the Throne Room at Amalienborg in 1905 shows that he originally spelt his name Håkon and his son’s name Olaf (no, he made no speech at the ceremony which was not held in the Throne Room and those words were uttered in a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Christian Michelsen, the “manuscript” with the wrong spelling being the PM’s notes), Queen Maud was the first queen to accompany the King to Parliament (no, Queen Lovisa and Queen Sophia had done so before her), following their coronation King Haakon and Queen Maud appeared on the balcony above the main entrance to the Royal Residence Stiftsgården (no, there is no balcony), Crown Prince Olav’s best man at his wedding was Prince Albert of York (no, he was the Duke of York), Crown Prince Olav had a British cousin named William (no, that is Prince John in the photo), Prince Harald was confirmed in 1952 (no, in 1953), no-one has ever lived at Oscarshall Palace, at least not more than one night (Oscar I stayed there for a month in 1855), Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby’s tearful press conference was held in March 2001 (no, in August), the Palace’s portico and balcony were added in 1875-1876 (no, it was there when the Palace was inaugurated in 1849), the Queen keeps her art collection at Skaugum (no, she took it with her when she moved to the Palace in 2001), both Princess Ragnhild and Princess Astrid were born at Villa Solbakken (no, Princess Ragnhild was born at the Palace) and so on and so forth.
As it is this is a book without any real purpose.

Friday, 20 May 2011

What to see: Cemetery of Our Saviour, Oslo

Where Paris has Père Lachaise, Oslo has the Cemetery of Our Saviour. Père Lachaise was established when Napoléon I took the consequences of the unhygienic fact that the graveyards within Paris were literally filled to the bursting point. The same development was seen in other European cities at the same time and Christiania (now Oslo) followed suit in 1807 with the establishment of a cemetery north of the town, which was inaugurated on 17 June 1808. For several years it was the only cemetery in Christiania and it was extended in 1811, 1824, 1865, 1873 and 1881.
In 1903 it was decided to establish a Grove of Honour where some of the nation’s great would be buried. In the Grove of Honour are such names as Henrik Ibsen (first and second photos) and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (background of fourth photo), the giants of Norwegian literature at the end of the nineteenth century; the composer Rikard Nordraak, best remembered for having composed the national anthem; Prime Ministers Johan Sverdrup (who led the first parliamentary government) and Jørgen Løvland (earlier Norway’s first Foreign Minister); Carl Joachim Hambro (sixth photo), the wartime Speaker of Parliament; painters Edvard Munch (third photo), Christian and Oda Krohg, Hans Gude and Erik Werenskiold; the labour movement leaders Marcus Thrane and Martin Tranmæl; authors Herman Wildenwey, Sigurd Hoel and Arnulf Øverland; the actress Johanne Dybwad and several others.
Foreign tourists one meets when crossing the cemetery will generally ask for directions to the graves of Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch. Without mentioning any names one might perhaps be allowed to say that not all those interred in the Grove of Honour are persons who have been considered as great by posterity as by their contemporaries. There will anyhow be no further burials in the Grove of Honour as it is meant to represent the nation building of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The late origin of the idea of a Grove of Honour means that several notable Norwegians are buried elsewhere at the cemetery. Among them are the poets Henrik Wergeland (fifth photo) and Johan Sebastian Welhaven; the politician Anton Martin Schweigaard; Prime Ministers Frederik Due, Oscar Torp and Jan P. Syse; the fairy tale collector Peter Christen Asbjørnsen; Colonel Georg Stang (seventh photo); the authors Camilla Collett and Oskar Braaten; the mathematician Sophus Lie; the historian Ernst Sars; the feminists Gina Krog and Aasta Hansteen; Thomas Konow and several other members of the Constituent Assembly of 1814; General Carl Gustav Fleischer, who inflicted the first major defeat on Nazi Germany at Narvik; Anna Rogstad, the first female MP; architects Christian Heinrich Grosch (eighth photo) and Wilhelm von Hanno; psalm writers Magnus B. Landstad and Elias Blix; the art historian Lorentz Dietrichson, and many more.
And then there are of course thousands of “ordinary citizens”. The fact that the cemetery is almost full means that permission for the creation of new burial sites is seldom given, which also means that there are many multi-generational family graves. Among those buried in such family graves is Ingeborg Hesselberg-Meyer (the first wife of Princess Astrid’s husband Johan Martin Ferner), who is buried in the family grave seen in the last photo.
But there are also many “absentees” among the great Norwegians. Long-time Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen is buried at the Western Cemetery in Oslo, his predecessor Christian Michelsen was laid to rest in his beloved hometown Bergen, while the members of the royal family rest in the Royal Mausoleum at Akershus Castle. The author Knut Hamsun, who probably joins Ibsen and Munch as the internationally most well-known Norwegians, made himself impossible because of his Nazi sympathies during World War II and was interred at his estate Nørholm in Grimstad. The polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen is similarly buried in the garden of his estate Polhøgda at Lysaker, while the remains of Roald Amundsen, the conqueror of the South Pole, have never been found.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

No statue of Christian Frederik for bicentenary

Twelve years ago it was suggested that a statue of King Christian Frederik should be erected in Oslo in time for the bicentenary of Norway’s independence in three years. However, the Secretary General of the Parliament, Hans Brattestå, recently told Aftenposten that Parliament’s Presidium has decided not to go ahead with the idea.
This is in my opinion a serious mistake by the Presidium. Christian Frederik was not only the one who was elected the first King of independent Norway on 17 May 1814; he was also the man who led the rebellion against the Treaty of Kiel, in which King Frederik VI of Denmark ceded Norway to King Carl XIII of Sweden.
The rebellion led to the declaration of Norway’s independence, the passing of a liberal constitution and eventually a personal union with Sweden on quite favourable terms. While King Christian Frederik was long reviled by historians for the manner in which the brief war with Sweden in the summer of 1814 was conducted it is now generally believed that the King took the right decision in seeking negotiations with Sweden rather than fighting to the last man and thus to a great extent probably saved Norway’s independence.
If any individuals should be singled out as the most important men of 1814, it would arguably be King Christian Frederik and Wilhelm Frimann Koren Christie, the Speaker of Parliament in the autumn of 1814. A statue of Christie was erected outside the Parliament Building on the 175th anniversary in 1989.
A statue of King Christian Frederik would be only natural at the time of the bicentenary. It is a shame that the Presidium of the Parliament has not understood the historical significance of the man to whom Parliament itself to a certain degree owes its existence.
(The above portrait of the then Prince Christian Frederik of Denmark was painted in 1812, possibly by C. G. Kratzenstein-Stub, and hangs at Rosenborg Palace in Copenhagen).

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Symbolically important British state visit to Ireland

There is something special in seeing the Court Circular in today’s British papers being dated “FARMLEIGH, DUBLIN, IRELAND”, reflecting that Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, yesterday began a four-day state visit to Ireland.
No British monarch has set foot in Ireland since King George V came there in 1911, at the beginning of his reign. During the long and violent struggle for Irish independence the Crown became a symbol of British oppression and it was therefore a symbolically strong moment when the Queen of Britain yesterday laid a wreath at the Memorial Garden in Dublin and bowed her head in respect for the fallen. Although there have been protests and demonstrations against the state visit, opinion polls indicate that it is welcomed by some 4/5 of the Irish.
President Mary McAleese has supposedly been very keen on hosting this symbolically important visit before her second and last seven-year term expires this autumn. For Elizabeth II, who has undertaken more than 300 foreign visits during her 59 years on the British throne, it is of course also significant that she has at last been able to visit Britain’s closest neighbour towards the end of her reign.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A sunny National Day in Oslo

Today is the National Day of Norway, commemorating the signing of the Constitution (still in force) of 17 May 1814, which declared the independence of Norway. As usual the King and Queen, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and Princess Ingrid Alexandra have greeted the children’s parade from the palace balcony and this year they were for the first time joined by Prince Sverre Magnus for a longer period (earlier he has only made a very brief appearance), while Princess Astrid and other members of the family as usual watched from the windows.
This is a tradition with roots back to 1858, when the Crown Prince Regent, the future King Carl XV, became the first Norwegian royal to greet the people from the palace balcony on the National Day. Queen Josephina, Prince Gustaf and Princess Eugénie had earlier done the same from a window of the old residence, the Royal Mansion, in 1845, while Carl XIV Johan had been willing to go to quite great lengths to suppress the celebrations of 17 May in favour of dates more closely associated with the personal union with Sweden – thus it might be called rather ironic that the parade each year goes past the statue of King Carl Johan.

Monday, 16 May 2011

King Harald and King Carl Gustaf on the question of retirement

During his recent state visit to Slovenia 74-year-old King Harald was asked by a Slovenian journalist if he had any plans to retire. The King replied that he often gets this question, but that he intends to “continue in my job” as long as he is well enough to do so, which he currently is. The King stressed that this also concerns the needs of the rest of the family: “My son and daughter-in-law still have young children. I think they should be allowed to be parents a little longer. They will soon enough get a lot of responsibility”. He added that he had made a deal with his children that they should give him “a hint when they think I have become completely nuts”.
While this sounds like a sensible answer to the question many noted that the King did not rule out the possibility of retirement, such as Queen Margrethe of Denmark habitually does when asked if she plans to abdicate any time soon.
The King of Sweden was asked a similar question in an interview with the news agency TT (external link) on the occasion of his 65th birthday on 30 April. 65 is the age of retirement in Sweden, but King Carl Gustaf said he had no plans “to feed the birds yet”, adding that it is part of the arrangement that “the monarch performs his duties as long as he has his full mental powers”.
At the same time an opinion poll conducted by SIFO for SVT (external link) showed that his people is divided over that same question: of the 1,000 people who were asked on 18-20 April, 45 % think he should “continue as king as long as he wants and has the strength to”, while 37 % think he should “retire and abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria”, with 17 % uncertain.
King Carl Gustaf’s 65th birthday was by the way celebrated by the usual appearance at the Royal Palace’s Outer Courtyard and, according to media reports, by a private dinner at Haga Palace hosted by Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, which was also attended by Prince Carl Philip and his girlfriend Sofia Hellqvist, the King’s sisters and their families and the King’s uncle and aunt, Carl Johan and Gunnila Bernadotte.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

French presidential election set for 22 April and 6 May next year

22 April and 6 May 2012 have been announced as the dates for the two rounds of the upcoming French presidential election (the second round is only held if no candidate wins 50 % in the first round, but that seems unlikely to happen).
Having been in office since 2007, President Nicolas Sarkozy from the conservative UMP party is eligible for re-election, but recent polls leave him little hope of winning a second term, indicating that he will be voted out already in the first round and that the second round will be between whoever stands for election for the Socialist party and Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing extremist party Front National.
One year before the election the polls indicate that Sarkozy’s only chance would be if he came to the second round against Marine Le Pen, in which case he would win a landslide victory.
In such circumstances one might perhaps expect that Sarkozy would face a challenge for his party’s nomination, but so far possible candidates seem reluctant to challenge the President.
The Socialist Party will hold primaries in October to elect its candidate for the presidency. Among the possible choices are Ségolène Royal, who was defeated by Sarkozy in 2007; Martine Aubry, who narrowly defeated Royal over the party leadership in 2008; former party leader François Hollande (who has four children with Ségolène Royal); and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF, whose chances seem lost after the news today that he has been arrested in New York suspected of sexual assault on a hotel maid - which shows how much may yet change in the coming year.

Queen Silvia launches investigation into her father’s past

Following TV4’s revelations last autumn about Queen Silvia of Sweden’s father’s Nazi past the Queen and her Sommerlath relatives have taken an initiative to investigate Walther Sommerlath’s activities in Germany and Brazil in the 1930s and the 1940s, the court’s Information and Press Department has announced.
According to its director Bertil Ternert the investigation has gone on for several months and it is intended that the results will be published in the autumn. According to Ternert the Queen uses her contacts in Germany and Brazil to get more information, but he says nothing about who is actually undertaking the investigation.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

On this date: Elizabeth II becomes second longest-reigning British monarch

Today Queen Elizabeth II becomes the second longest-reigning monarch in British history. Succeeding to the throne on 6 February 1952, she has now been on the throne for 59 years and 96 days, one day longer than her great-great-great-grandfather King George III, whose reign lasted from the death of his grandfather George II on 25 October 1760 till his own death on 29 January 1820.
The record still belongs to Queen Victoria, who reigned from 20 June 1837 till 22 January 1901, i.e. 63 years and 216 days. To break her great-great-grandmother’s record Elizabeth II will have to be on the throne until 11 September 2015, at which time she will have reigned for 63 years and 217 days. Given that this is only four years away it seems possible that she might make it.
(The Daily Telegraph marked the occasion two days ago, calculating that she had by then reigned “for 59 years and 95 days plus 15 extra leap-year days, totalling 21,645 days” and thus bypassed George III’s “59 years, 96 days plus 13 extra leap-year days, totalling 21,644 days”. While this reckoning may be more precise, Guinness World Records seem to go by counting full years and days, making today the day Elizabeth II overtakes George III.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Royal jewels: Empress Eugénie’s crown

The regalia used for Emperor Napoléon I’s and Empress Joséphine’s spectacular coronation in 1804 were nearly all destroyed following the downfall of the First Empire and the restoration of the Bourbons. Despite reintroducing the Empire in 1852, Napoléon III never got around to be crowned, but for the Universal Exhibition which was held in Paris in 1855 he ordered crowns to be made for himself and Empress Eugénie.
The Emperor’s crown, which judged by its representation in contemporary paintings had a similar form, has since been lost, while the Empress’s crown is to my knowledge the only preserved crown of a French consort.
Executed by the imperial court jeweler Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier, assisted by J.-P. Maheu, Auguste Fannière and Joseph Fannière, it is made of gold adorned with 2,490 diamonds (1,354 brilliant-cut and 1,1136 rose-cut diamonds) and 56 emeralds. The small crown, which is 12.5 centimetres high and has a diameter of fifteen centimetres, was based on the crowns featured in the arms of the First as well as the Second Empire. The most obvious symbolism is the eight imperial eagles situated between the crown’s arches.
As she was not crowned, Empress Eugénie apparently never actually wore the crown, but it was used ceremonially and also appeared in paintings, such as Franz Xavier Winterhalter’s famous state portrait of the Empress (detail above).
While a large amount of the Crown Diamonds was used for the Emperor’s crown, only a few were used for the Empress’s crown. Thus the crown was apparently deemed private property and following the downfall of the Second Empire in 1870 it was restored to the widowed ex-Empress by the French Republic.
The ex-Empress outlived the Empire for no less than fifty years, dying in Madrid in 1920, aged 94. I believe the crown was inherited by her goddaughter, Countess Louise-Eugénie von Moltke-Huitfeldt, née Patterson-Bonaparte, whose descendants later sold it.
The crown was presented to the Louvre by Mr and Mrs Roberto Polo in 1988 and is now exhibited in the Apollo Gallery.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Imperial commemoration of Napoléon I

Last Friday (5 May) was the 190th anniversary of the death of Emperor Napoléon I of the French. The ex-Emperor died in exile at St Helena in the evening of 5 May 1821, but in 1840 his remains were brought back to France and eventually laid to rest under the dome of the Invalides.
On the anniversary there was as usual a service held in the adjacent Church of St Louis, preceded by a wreath-laying ceremony at the imperial tomb. The ceremonies were attended by among others the head of the former imperial house, Jean-Christophe, the Prince Napoléon, and his grandmother, Alix, the Princess Napoléon. This year they were saluted by a guard of honour in uniforms from the Napoleonic age.
In addition to the wreath from the Prince Napoléon there were wreaths from the Fondation Napoléon and Souvenir Napoléonien, as well as one from Ajaccio, the Corsican town where Napoléon was born in 1769.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

New books: The drama of April 1940

There seems to be no end to the flow of books on World War II and one such book which has become an instant bestseller is the journalist Alf R. Jacobsen’s Kongens nei – 10. april 1940, which was published by Vega Forlag in Oslo some weeks ago.
The book’s title, which translates as “The King’s No: 10 April 1940”, is rather misleading. More than half of the book takes place on 9 April and it is really an account of the campaign in south-eastern Norway up until 23 April and telling the story of much more than King Haakon’s historic no to the German demands that he should appoint the Nazi leader Vidkun Quisling Prime Minister.
The story of the German attack on Norway in April 1940 and the following campaign is well-known and has been told over and over again. There are some long and detailed accounts of the military action in this book, but Jacobsen’s way of (re-)telling the story is mostly well-written and riveting, although the way he jumps back and forth between various events taking place in different places does occasionally make his narrative rather fragmentary and at times one must concentrate in order not to lose the thread.
What is new in this book is primarily the author’s perspective on two key events. In the night between 9 and 10 April the air attaché at the German legation in Oslo, Eberhard Spiller, made an attempt at capturing the King, the Crown Prince and the government, but the attempt failed and Spiller himself was mortally wounded. When meeting King Haakon the next day, the German Minister, Curt von Bräuer, brushed the incident away by saying that it had been Spiller’s own initiative.
Jacobsen argues convincingly that although this version has entered history books, it was merely a convenient excuse used by Bräuer (and later repeated by General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst when he stood trial) and that Spiller’s attempt was in fact authorised by his superiors, indeed not only by Falkenhorst, but by Hitler himself, who had taken personal command of “Operation Weserübung”.
In recent years there some revisionist writers have wanted to downplay the role played by King Haakon in order to present a picture where Prime Minister Johan Nygaardsvold and his government were the decisive actors behind the refusal of the German demands on 10 April 1940. As Jacobsen sees it King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav tower above the cabinet and he is of the opinion that “the King’s decisiveness and strength of character on several occasions saved the government from capitulating and made it continue the fight against bad odds”.
Indeed Jacobsen argues that Johan Nygaardsvold’s words at 7.15 p.m. on 9 April that “One of the conditions [for negotiations] ought to be that we got Quisling out or perhaps rather in” can hardly be interpreted in other ways than that the Prime Minister was willing to include Quisling in the cabinet. However, there are other possible interpretations; one of them that “getting Quisling in” could possibly mean “into prison”.
Nevertheless, such defeatism as was expressed by Nygaardsvold was stalled by King Haakon’s decision that he would for his own part rather abdicate than agree to the German demands, which would mean that he would have had to violate his oath to uphold the Constitution. But when Jacobsen writes that King Haakon through 35 years had become an integral part of “Europe’s youngest parliamentary democracy”, one must ask oneself from where on earth he has got the idea that Norway in 1940 was “Europe’s youngest parliamentary democracy”.
As a historian one may also note that the endnotes are not altogether satisfactory. For some quotes a source can be found in the endnotes, for other quotes there are no sources given, and occasionally the endnotes will refer to a book which is not listed in the bibliography (am I allowed to complain that my name is given wrongly?). But all in all it is a book worth reading.