Friday, 30 September 2011

Book news: This autumn’s book harvest

New books are a certain sign of autumn and this year is no exception. Among the books I look most forward to this autumn is Självständig prinsessa – Sophia Albertina, 1753-1829 by my fellow historian Carin Bergström, who is head of the Swedish Royal Collections. Princess Sophia Albertina of Sweden and of Norway was the only sister of King Gustaf III and King Carl XIII and became secular abbess of the Protestant convent of Quedlinburg, which she lost in the Napoleonic Wars. She is also remembered for having built the Hereditary Prince’s Mansion in Stockholm, which is now the seat of the Foreign Ministry. Surviving well into the reign of Carl XIV Johan, she also became an important symbolic link between the old Holstein-Gottorp dynasty and the new House of Bernadotte. The book will be published by Atlantis in October.
Another book I look forward to is The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People by the well-known BBC journalist Andrew Marr, which is also expected in October. Ahead of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee the journalist Robert Hardman has also written Our Queen, which is just out and for which he has been granted exclusive interviews by family members and others close to the British monarch.
Margrethe II is another queen who will celebrate a jubilee next year and the art historian Thyge Christian Fønss has written Portrætter af en dronning – Dronning Margrethe den II i portrætkunsten 1972-2012 (yes, the grammatical mistake seems to be on the cover), which examines the painted portraits of the Queen of Denmark. The book is expected to be published in two weeks. A related book is The Queen: Art & Image, which deals with the iconography of Elizabeth II and is related to a travelling exhibition by the National Portrait Gallery of her portraits leading up to the diamond jubilee.
In Norway we can look forward to the fifth volume of Tor Bomann-Larsen’s biography of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud, Æresordet, which will be published by Cappelen Damm in November. This fat volume will take the story from after the formation of the first Labour government in 1928 to the black day of 7 June 1940, when the King had to leave his country. The sixth and final volume is expected in 2013. Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s authorised biography of the Queen, which was also expected this autumn, has been postponed to the autumn of 2012, I have been told.
In politics we can expect the journalist Thor Viksveen’s biography of the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg – Mannen og makten, to be published by Pax in November. The book has obviously had to be altered and updated quite a lot in its final stages, given the events of this summer and the PM’s much-praised handling of the situation. Another Norwegian Prime Minister, Ole Richter, best remembered for his suicide in 1888, is the subject of Karl Over-Rein’s biography Ole Richter - Statsministeren som valgte revolveren.
Christopher Hitchens has collected some of his essays and articles in a monumental volume titled Arguably. Another collection of essays and articles out this autumn is I min tid – Artikler og tilbageblik 1938-2011, which collects some of the now 93-year-old Danish journalist and political scientist Erling Bjøl’s articles from 1938 to 2011. Bjøl’s classic history of the USA, which he keeps updating despite his age and blindness, will also be published in a new edition this year and also in a Norwegian translation.
In Denmark we can also expect the prolific Henning Dehn-Nielsen’s Danmarks konger og regenter, to be published by Frydendal in November, which seems to be another encyclopaedia-like book on all the Danish monarchs. Apparently there is also a book out about Queen Caroline Amalie, Den gode dronning i Lyngby - Historien om dronning Caroline Amalie og hendes socialkulturelle base by Arne Ipsen, but I have not been able to find any more information about that.
This year marks 150 years since the birth of the explorer and statesman Fridtjof Nansen, which has so resulted in two biographies. Carl Emil Vogt has written Fridtjof Nansen – Mannen og verden, while Harald Dag Jølle has just released the first of his two volumes, Nansen – Oppdageren. Among the other Norwegian biographies out this autumn is Per Eivind Hem about Paal Berg, the leader of the home front during WWII, who was given the task of forming a national coalition government in the summer of 1945 (but failed) and eventually became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Fifty years after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as US President his family continues to fascinate and Historiska Media in Lund has just published the journalist Lennart Pehrson’s book Familjen Kennedy, which I have just read and found quite good. Another Swedish book on my reading list is John Chrispinsson’s Den glömda historien – Om svenska öden och äventyr i öster under tusen år, which deals with the history of Sweden’s lost eastern provinces.
Among the new history books is also Jean-Vincent Blanchard’s biography of Richelieu, titled Éminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France and published by Walker & Company.
On the subject of royalty there will not be many books in Sweden this year, which is quite understandable given the unusually high number of such books published last year (which saw the Crown Princess’s wedding and the bicentenary of the dynasty), but the British journalist Peter Conradi’s excellent book on the current European monarchies has just been published in a Swedish translation by Forum with the title Kungligt – Europas kungahus – Släktbanden, makten och hemligheterna.
The author Helen Rappaport, who has written several books on Russian history, has now shifted the focus westwards and November will see the publication of her book on the death of Prince Albert of Britain and its impact, titled Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy.
December will see the 75th anniversary of the abdication of King Edward VIII of Britain and Anne Sebba marks the occasion with That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, which was published a month ago.
For those interested in historical novels I can mention that Karsten Alnæs has written I grevens tid, which deals with the early life of Count Herman of Wedel-Jarlsberg, one of the most significant Norwegian politicians of the early nineteenth century, and that Gyldendal will soon publish Cecilie Enger’s Kammerpiken, which tells the story of Hilda Cooper, the young British woman who came to Norway as Queen Maud’s dresser and continued to live at the Palace in Oslo until just before her death in 1992.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

King Carl Gustaf about Drottningholm

In the September issue of Gods & Gårdar (no 9 – 2011) King Carl Gustaf takes the readers on a tour of Drottningholm Palace outside Stockholm, which has been his and Queen Silvia’s home since 1981.
Ingalill Snitt’s photos are as always good, but the article is unfortunately not very interesting as the King really does not say much of significance. Such an article might have been a good opportunity to get the King to talk about the challenges and limitations of living in a palace which is not only open to the public but even on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As it is, the King only touches on it when he says that he as a child rarely ran around inside the palaces and that he these days do not use the palace park as there are too many tourists.
The other points of interest are that Tullgarn Palace was considered when the royal family decided to leave the Royal Palace and that a plan was worked out for turning it into a modern family home, but that the plan eventually foundered on the distance to Stockholm and the school situation, and that the King expects Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel to remain at Haga Palace and not move to Drottningholm when they succeed to the throne.

Monday, 26 September 2011

At the road’s end: Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), environmentalist and Nobel Peace laureate

Today came the sad news that the Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, lost her battle against cancer in a hospital in Nairobi last night. She was 71.
Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which planted millions of trees in order to ensure supplies of firewood and protect water sources and crops. She was also known as a social activist and a staunch opponent of Daniel arap Moi’s regime. As the first woman in east and central Africa to obtain a PhD and as the first female professor at the University of Nairobi she was also an academic pioneer.
In 2004 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. She received the Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December 2004.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Princess Christina’s son to marry tomorrow

Tomorrow the designer Oscar Magnuson, the third son of Princess Christina of Sweden and Tord Magnuson, will marry his fiancée Emma Ledent in the south of France, where the Magnuson family has a summer house. The couple got engaged last February.
The groom’s father has earlier told the media that it will be a relatively small wedding with some 50 guests (I happened to see him and Princess Christina depart from Arlanda Airport on Wednesday, by the way). King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia have been carrying out engagements in Paris in the past days, but as the King has an engagement in Sweden on Saturday it seems he will not be attending his nephew’s wedding.

POSTSCRIPT: According to Svensk Damtidning the wedding in Gattières was attended by Queen Silvia, Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Female PM and end of right-wing rule in Denmark

Yesterday’s general election in Denmark turned out to be quite a thriller, but when all the votes had been counted it was clear that the right-wing coalition which has governed the country for ten years had been narrowly defeated by the centre-left opposition, with 50.3 % against 49.7 % of the votes, which translates into 89 seats in Parliament for the red block and 86 for the blue block. Consequently Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen an hour ago tendered his resignation to Queen Margrethe. He will be succeeded by the leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who will become the country’s first female Prime Minister, making this an historic hour.

The results of the election are:
- The Social Democrats: 24.9 % (-0.6), 44 seats (-1).
- The Socialist People’s Party: 9.2 % (-3.8), 16 seats (-7).
- The Danish Social Liberal Party: 9.5 % (+4.4), 17 seats (+8).
- The Red-Green Alliance: 6.7 % (+4.5), 12 seats (+8).
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- The Liberal Party: 26.7 % (+0.5), 47 seats (+1).
- The Danish People’s Party: 12.3 % (-1.6), 22 seats (-3).
- The Conservative Party: 4.9 % (-5.5), 8 seats (-10).
- The Liberal Alliance: 5 % (+2.2), 9 seats (+4).

Historically, Danish governments, whether of the left or the right, have “always” been dependent on the political centre. This changed dramatically in 2001, when the two right-wing parties the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party were able to form a majority with the far-right wing Danish People’s Party (DF). The latter did not formally become part of the government, but had a formalised agreement with the government which enabled them to demand political “payment” for parliamentary support. DF being an openly racist party (with Muslims and Germans singled out), this usually took the form of increasingly restrictive rules of immigration. Sadly the ten years of this unholy alliance have in many ways permanently changed the country’s political landscape, so that even parties in the red block now supports some of DF’s ideas.
Following the election Danish politics may seem set for a return to the more usual situation in that the two leading opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party, have entered into an agreement with the Danish Social Liberal Party (R), which belongs to the political centre.
However, the interesting - and complicating - factor is that while both the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party backed in the election, the red majority was salvaged by the increases of R and the far-left wing Red-Green Alliance. While R is considering joining the government, the Red-Green Alliance will remain outside, but provide parliamentary support. Obviously this will be at a price and it will be interesting to see the outcome as the four parties of the red block disagree on some significant issues.
Although Helle Thorning-Schmidt is celebrating today, her party actually achieved its worst election result since 1903. The Socialist People’s Party also did worse than expected, but will now become part of the government for the first time in its history.
Having received Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s resignation a short time ago, the Queen has, as is the custom, asked him to remain in charge of a caretaker government until a new cabinet has been formed. In what has been the custom since 1909 two representatives of each party will now go to the Queen (who this time has Crown Prince Frederik at her side) to advice her about who should be given the task of forming the new government. They will then point to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who will be entrusted with the task by the Queen and then start the negotiations with the other parties which will lead to the formation of the new government. How much time will be necessary for the negotiations remains to be seen, meaning that the day of the actual change of government has not yet been settled.
The incoming Prime Minister is 44 years old and joined the Social Democrats as late as in 1993. She was an MEP 1999-2004 and was elected to the Danish Parliament in 2005, only two months before becoming the party’s leader. Foreign readers may be interested in the fact that she is the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, the former leader of the British Labour Party.
When Helle Thorning-Schmidt becomes Prime Minister Sweden will be the only Nordic country never to have had a female head of government.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

New books: A privileged life on the royal sideline

Many may remember Margaret Rhodes only for being interviewed by Peter Sissons on BBC shortly after the news of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother of Britain’s death had been announced, an interview which many found insensitive and intrusive. Apparently Sissons was not aware that the Hon Mrs Rhodes, the Queen Mother’s niece and Woman of the Bedchamber, had been present at her aunt’s deathbed only a few hours before.
This episode goes entirely unmentioned in Margaret Rhodes’s recently published memoirs, The Final Curtsey: The Autobiography of Margaret Rhodes, First Cousin of the Queen and Niece of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, which opens with a moving account of the Queen Mother’s death. While royal employees writing their memoirs or talking to the press is generally frowned upon, Rhodes has spoken to the media on many occasions and is obviously one of those who are sufficiently trusted to be allowed to do so.
The youngest child of the 16th Baron Elphinstone and his wife Mary (the Queen Mother’s eldest sister), Margaret was seven years junior to her nearest sibling, but only a year older than her first cousin, Princess Elizabeth. This meant that she came to be a close companion of the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, occasionally living with them, for instance at Windsor Castle during parts of World War II. In 1991, when she had been a widow for ten years, she was asked to become Woman of the Bedchamber to the Queen Mother, “a mix of Lady-in-Waiting and companion”. She believes the Queen Mother came to regard her as her “third daughter” and she has remained close to Queen Elizabeth II to this day.
Thus she has been in a position to observe things closely, but remains careful not to give much away. Indeed the book offers little that is new to those who have already read a few books on the British royal family and many of the anecdotes told by Mrs Rhodes are well-known from other books. There are also the by now familiar “corrections” from people in the inner circle: no, the Queen Mother did not drink a lot. And no, she did not hate the Duchess of Windsor.
One exception is a rare look behind the closed doors of the monarch’s weekly audiences with the Prime Minister, about which Margaret Rhodes is able to tell us that when the young Queen Elizabeth II had her first meeting with Winston Churchill, “she was so over awed at being in the presence of the great man that she hardly dared to speak”, while Churchill “was overcome with emotion and wept tears of chivalric adoration”.
From someone this close to the royal family one might perhaps have expected something contributing to the readers’ understanding of their characters, but this Margaret Rhodes does not deliver. There are in fact not many characterisations in this book, neither of her relatives nor of other people she has met. About meeting Nelson Mandela she has nothing more to say than that “I like to think that [...] I had rounded the circle as far as South African politics were concerned” as she had met Smuts decades before. The most memorable thing about the Dalai Lama was apparently what kind of shoes he wore.
One exception is perhaps Princess Margaret, who her cousin considers “missed her vocation; she should have been in cabaret”. She adds that her cousin had “such great promise, beauty, intelligence and charm”, but that she was “very indulged, especially by her father” and “did have the most awful bad luck with men”. She concludes that “the Almighty usually gets the right people to be born first”, but only a brief look at the recent history of the British monarchy shows that in the two generations preceding Elizabeth II the person born first was not the right one.
On the same topic, Mrs Rhodes believes her cousin Elizabeth “hoped she might have one [a brother] and be let off the hook, but deep down she knew that it wasn’t very likely. She accepted that she would be Queen one day but thought it was a long way off”.
When writing about the euphoria of VE Day she admits that she does not remember much of it herself and quotes instead from her cousin’s diary, which is in itself quite a scoop (but if the terse, factual statements of the diary of 1945 is representative the future official biographer of Elizabeth II should not expect too much from her diaries).
Except for her closeness to the royal family Margaret Rhodes’s upbringing seems to have been rather the prototype of British pre-war upper class child-raising and she compares it herself to Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. She never went to school, yet apparently thinks she did not miss out on much and considers herself self-educated by virtue of having read many books, which of course indicates a certain unawareness of what an education is really about.
She worked for the MI6 during World War II and was thereafter hired to work for a businessman by the name of Denys Rhodes, with whom she began an affair and married after he had had his marriage to his first wife annulled.
Two chapters are dedicated to their travels in Asia and Africa. Such descriptions of foreign journeys are standard in the memoirs of British aristocrats of a certain age, but here, like in so many other memoirs, they are rather uninteresting because of Mrs Rhodes’s lack of education and her not making much of an attempt at understanding the “exotic” customs witnessed. Thus one ends up with rather meaningless descriptions such as this: “He danced again, but more soberly and the he spoke a few words, which were of course incomprehensible to us, but apparently it was deemed sufficient to keep the crowd satisfied”.
It is also a drawback that the author tends to get her facts wrong, particularly when it comes to years. Early on she claims that her eldest sister Elizabeth was “ten-years-old” when she was a bridesmaid for their eponymous aunt, but as the wedding took place in 1923 and Elizabeth was born in 1911 this obviously does not match up. The wedding was “solemnized at St Margaret’s, Westminster, where I was also to be married”, she tells us, but in fact the royal wedding took place next-door in Westminster Abbey.
Later we hear that Princess Margaret, born in August 1930, was “a couple of months short of eight” in May 1937 and she even manages to get her own age wrong she claims to have been “eighty-one, soon to eighty-two” when the Queen Mother died (she was in fact five years younger). In a rare attempt at seeing things in a greater context she states that her aunt’s and uncle’s state visit to France in 1938 took place at “a time when, despite the Munich Agreement, many people believed that war was inevitable”, but in fact the state visit happened more than two months before Munich. There are also at least two photos which are obviously misdated by some two decades, while her sister Jean appears in a photo dated 2000 although she died the year before.
The book is written with a certain sense of humour and is not free of self-irony. There are some funny stories (“Poor Britannia. She would have hated being Cool”, the Queen Mother said to Margaret Rhodes’s daughter at the outset of Tony Blair’s premiership), but there is one so-called hilarious story which is at best in bad taste if not downright disgusting. “I have been assured by my children that I am a consummate hostess even when disaster looms”, Mrs Rhodes tells us and continues to relate how on one “mid-winter occasion [...] our overworked heating system blew up” and they had to receive their guests in candlelight and rearrange the menu. Then the housekeeper appeared and said “that the cowman’s wife had arrived to say that she thought her husband was dead and please, could Mr Rhodes go over and see if he was actually dead”.
One hardly believes one’s eyes when one reads that Denys Rhodes refused to do so, but sent the gardener instead. “Ten minutes later the hatch opened again and the message was that Mr Mallet thought the cowman was dead, although he had twitched a couple of times”. Still neither a dying nor a dead cowman could get Mr Rhodes to leave his dinner party. “The final request, death having been established, was for Mr Rhodes to go and lay the poor man out. This pleasure, I’m afraid, Denys also declined”.
After this callous account of how they refused to help in the face of death, Marie-Antoinette Rhodes concludes that “the whole macabre sequence was unbelievably funny and our rather ribald weekend guests were convulsed”. A recently widowed guest was the only exception, seeming “merely bemused”. However, she later wrote to say “that perhaps she had been taking death too seriously – which was very tactful of her”. Margaret Rhodes concludes: “Queen Elizabeth would have revelled in the situation if she had been there”. Would she have found it equally hilarious if her own husband had been the one dying, one wonders?

Monday, 12 September 2011

New books: The history and art history of Rome

Recently I have been reading several books on cities, among them Simon Sebag Montefiore’s latest book Jerusalem: The Biography and Robert Hughes’s Rome, the latter published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson before the summer. The Australian-born, US-based art critic Robert Hughes first came to Rome in 1959 and his book, in which he charts the history and art history of Rome from its beginnings until the present day, is the product of a lifetime’s acquaintance with the city (in which it should be said he has never actually lived).
The book is engagingly written, with some refreshing personal asides and the author does away with some popular myths (no, Caligula did not make his horse a consul and no, Nero did not fiddle while Rome burnt). The sheer magnitude of the topic such as the Eternal City obviously means that the author has to be selective when deciding what to include and on what to focus.
The author’s perspective is indeed often that of the critic, which means that there are many highly personal evaluations. Personal preferences also seem to have a strong influence on what Hughes chooses to focus one.
Occasionally the author will allow himself to be carried away into some rather lengthy digressions on topics which appear rather peripheral to the story but for which he evidently has great enthusiasm. There are for instance several pages on the brilliance of Velazquez, who was never more than a visitor to Rome.
At first the focus is mostly on the history of the city, but as one reads on its shifts to Rome’s art history and one is able to tell that the author feels more at ease with the arts than with history. The best part of the whole book is probably the pages on Bernini, whose artistic genius Hughes does full justice – to the extent that one may wish that a book on Bernini might be his next project.
The shifting of focus is not entirely unproblematic, as some key historical events during recent centuries are passed over quite summarily. This is also the case for the post-war years. Hughes is rather pessimistic about the current condition of Roman and Italian culture and although he argues that nothing of great value – except Fellini’s films – have been produced after World War II, he spends many pages on saying so while hardly saying a word about the post-war history of Rome.
There are some unnecessary repetitions and some contradictions. For instance that Vercingetorix is said to have been “ignominiously strangled in a dungeon” in 52 BCE on page 49, but “beheaded in 46 CE” on page 104. To die twice, in two different ways and 98 years apart would surely have been a remarkable feat.
But all in all this 534-page tome is an enjoyable and informative, although selective and not exhaustive, account of the rises and falls of one of the world’s most intriguing cities.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

At the road’s end: Archduke Felix of Austria-Hungary (1916-2011)

Hardly two months after the death of his brother Otto it has been reported that Archduke Felix of Austria-Hungary, the last surviving child of Emperor Karl I and Empress Zita, died in Mexico yesterday at the age of 95.
Born at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on 31 May 1916, His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Felix Friedrich August Maria vom Siege Franz Joseph Peter Karl Anton Robert Otto Pius Michael Benedikt Sebastian Ignatius Marcus d'Aviano was the third son born of the marriage of the then Archduke Karl and Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. His great-great-uncle Franz Joseph I was still on the throne (and had been so for 68 years), but passed away in November of that year, making Felix’s parents Emperor and Empress. Two years later the Austro-Hungarian empire and centuries of Habsburg rule were at an end.
Archduke Felix thus grew up in exile, but was allowed to re-enter Austria in 1937, when he joined the Theresian Military Academy. However, the advent of the Anschluss made him leave Austria and he eventually ended up in the USA.
In civil life Archduke Felix became a marketing consultant and lived in various countries until eventually settling in Mexico. After the war his refusal to renounce his imperial pretentions meant that he, unlike his eldest brother, was banned from entering Austria. He was allowed in for his mother’s funeral in 1989 and paid an illegal visit in 1996, but eventually reached an agreement with the Republic which involved his declaring his allegiance to the Republic without specifically renouncing his claims. He was not well enough to make the long journey to attend his eldest brother’s spectacular funeral in Vienna two months ago.
In 1952 he married Princess and Duchess Anna-Eugénie of Arenberg, with whom he had four daughters and three sons. Archduchess Anna-Eugénie died in 1997.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

New books: A royal couple of their times

Among the several books published to mark the Crown Prince and Crown Princess’s tenth wedding anniversary is Haakon og Mette-Marit i ti år by Liv Berit Tessem, a journalist of Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten who also wrote a book about them ten years ago.
While Aasta Børte and Monica Aafløy Hansen in their anniversary book chose a thematic approach, Tessem arranges her richly illustrated book year by year. Each chapter ends with a list of some of the events of that year, but Tessem adds the original twist of letting each chapter evolve around a topic related to one of the key events of the year.
For instance, the chapter on the year 2002, when the newlyweds moved to London to study, evolves around the education of kings; the chapter on 2007, which saw the death of the Crown Princess’s father, who had been turned into some sort of media clown, deals with the crown princely couple’s relations with media; the chapter on 2008, when the Crown Princess put together a CD containing her favourite psalms, deals with the couple’s religion; and the chapter on 2010, the year of the Swedish royal wedding, evolves around the new generation of European royalty.
This is an approach which works well and makes the book something more than just a chronicle of ten years in the public spotlight. At first sight the book may resemble the rather unreflective picture postcard royal books which flooded the book market in the 1980s, but this approach enables the author to say something intelligent and thoughtful about the development of the crown princely couple’s role through the first decade and to look closer at various aspects of it.
The weakness of the book is that it appears to have been produced in haste, which has resulted in some odd phrases and wordings but also in a rather large number of factual mistakes. To name some of several examples Diana, Princess of Wales did not die “a few years” after her divorce, but the following year; it is not correct that neither of the King’s sister has any higher education (Princess Astrid studied in Oxford); the former Duchess of York was never styled “Princess Sarah in Britain”; the King’s illness in 2003-2004 was not the first time the Crown Prince served as regent; the crown princely couple do not make state visits; gun salutes were not fired all over the country when the Crown Princess’s pregnancy was announced, but when the child was born; Taj Mahal is not a palace, but a mausoleum; even if Bulgaria had been a monarchy Princess Rosario’s husband Kyril would not have been its crown prince; Princess Mathilde of Belgium was not a countess before she married; the King of Sweden’s humiliating TV interview earlier this year was not done in a TV studio but in his office; and of course the great jubilee in 2005 did not mark the centenary of Norway’s independence, but of the dissolution of the union of crowns with Sweden.
Such factual mistakes could easily have been avoided if the publisher Schibsted Forlag had taken the time to proof-read the book properly. It is not the first time Schibsted fails this test and it is a shame that such carelessness is allowed to pollute what is in itself a book more intelligent and interesting than the average anniversary book.

Friday, 2 September 2011

On this date: Bicentenary of the University of Oslo

Today the University of Oslo (my alma mater) celebrates its bicentenary in the presence of the King and Queen and the Queen of Denmark.
A Norwegian university was one of the dearest wishes of Norwegian patriots as the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, but the Dano-Norwegian King was reluctant to grant one. Eventually he gave way and on 2 September 1811 Norway’s first university was founded by King Frederik VI. His reluctance was perhaps understandable, as the foundation of the University is generally considered a significant step towards the independence Norway achieved three years later.
It was not immediately clear where the University would be located, but in 1813 it began its work in Christiania, as Oslo then was. The main University buildings in the city centre were the work of architects Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Christian Heinrich Grosch and were completed in 1852. Today they house the Faculty of Law, while the rest of the University moved to a new campus at Blindern in the middle of the twentieth century. The name of the University was originally Frederik’s Royal University (Universitas Regia Fredericiana) in honour of its founder. This was a thorn in the eye of King Carl XIV Johan, who feared Danish revanchism and tried unsuccesfully to have it changed. However, the name remained until 1939, when it was changed to simply the University of Oslo (Universitas Osloensis).
Today there are some 27,600 students at the University of Oslo, which employs 7,094 people. It has fostered five Nobel laureates and currently ranks 75th among the universities of the world.