Friday, 30 December 2011

My latest articles: Queen Margrethe, Elsa Cedergren and three reviews

In mid-January Queen Margrethe II of Denmark will celebrate her forty years on the throne with three days of festivities. On occasion of the jubilee I have written an article titled “Renaissance Queen”, which deals with what I consider some of the most interesting aspects of her reign and which appears in the January issue of the British monthly magazine Majesty (Vol. 33, No. 1), published on 20 December.
Also out just before Christmas was this year’s final issue of Royalty Digest Quarterly (no 4 – 2011), which includes my biographical article on the humanitarian and activist Elsa Cedergren (1893-1996), the youngest daughter of Prince Oscar Bernadotte and sister of the famous Folke Bernadotte. It seems Elsa Cedergren is now primarily remembered for having been the (so far) only Bernadotte to reach the age of 100, but there were certainly much else of interest about her.
To the same magazine I have also contributed reviews of Philip Eade’s excellent Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life and Ilana D. Miller’s The Four Graces: Queen Victoria’s Hessian Granddaughters. (Concerning the latter title the editor has, curiously, chosen to add a second “review” by Charlotte Zeepvat, who appears to be a friend of the author and is thanked profusely in the book’s preface for her help and support.)
The Society for Court Studies has also brought out this year’s second issue of their journal The Court Historian (Volume 16, 2), which contains several very interesting articles and to which I have been happy to contribute a review article about the exhibition “Härskarkonst – Napoleon, Karl Johan, Alexander” (“Staging Power – Napoleon, Charles John, Alexander”), which was held at the National Museum in Stockholm from September 2010 to January 2011.
These bring the total number of my published works this year up to nineteen, consisting of seven topical or biographical articles, four op-eds, six reviews, one obituary and one letter to the editor.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

77 % support Danish monarchy

Ahead of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark’s upcoming jubilee Politiken yesterday began a series of articles about the monarchy through the past forty years. While yesterday’s article (external link) dealt with the death of Frederik IX and the accession of Margrethe II, Politiken today publishes an opinion poll (external link) conducted by Megafon which shows that 77 % of the respondees support the monarchy, while 16 % want a republic.
The newspaper points out that this is a sharp contrast to the situation when Queen Margrethe ascended the throne in 1972, a time when only 42 % were in favour of a continued monarchy. Support for the monarchy then rose steadily until ten years ago (51 % in 1978, 69 % in 1987, 72 % in 1992, 93 % in 2001) before falling somewhat in recent years (82 % in 2004 and 77 % today).
The poll also shows that the monarchy enjoys support from voters of all parliamentary parties, except one: 80 % among those who votes for the Social Democrats, 68 % among the Danish Social Liberal Party, 85 % among the Conservatives, 71 % among the Socialist People’s Party, 78 % among the Liberal Alliance, 82 % among the Danish People’s Party and 87 % among the Liberal Party, but only 36 % among those who give their vote to the Red-Green Alliance.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

A photo from Stockholm to wish all my readers a happy Christmas!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

At the road’s end: Václav Havel (1936-2011), dramatist, dissident and president

One of the greatest men of our times has died. It was announced earlier today that Václav Havel died in his sleep this morning at the age of 75, after a long battle against lung cancer. The hero of 1989 and former President of Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic was last seen in public when he met the Dalai Lama nine days ago.
Born in Prague on 5 October 1936, Havel first became known as a dramatist, essayist and poet. His works often had a political message and he became one of the country’s leading dissidents following the Soviet invasion of 1968. He was among the founders of the opposition group known as Charter 77 (from their human rights manifesto) and was consequently imprisoned on a number of occasions.
This only increased his stature as a leading dissident and in 1989 Havel was at the front of the so-called Velvet Revolution, the peaceful demonstrations centering on Wenceslas Square in Prague, which brought down the Communist regime. On 29 December 1989 Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Assembly.
As President he presided over free election in the summer of 1990 and the establishment of multi-party democracy. He opposed the break-up of the country, which came into effect on 1 January 1993, but was elected President of the new republic on 26 January 1993. He was reelected for a second five-year term in 1998.
Havel was an enthusiastic advocate of the eastwards expansion of NATO and saw his country join the alliance during his presidency. Negotiations for EU membership also began during his presidency and the Czech Republic joined the union in 2004, a year after Havel had left office. He was succeeded by his political opponent Václav Klaus.
Despite health problems Havel remained active as a politician as well as an artist in the years following his resignation.
The photo is by courtesy of Martin Kozák/Wikipedia.

Friday, 16 December 2011

A documentary on royal jewels

Last Sunday Danish television DR broadcast the first episode of a two-part documentary on royal jewels. The first episode dealt with the jewels of the Danish and Swedish royal families, while the second episode, to be broadcast the coming Sunday, will tell the story of the Russian imperial jewels. The documentary is to a great extent made up of interviews with current royals and archive footage and is quite well made, although there are, regrettably, several factual mistakes and inaccuracies, both concerning the jewels and history in general, and the quality of some of the still photos might have been better. A book based on the series is due to be published in the spring. The first part of the documentary can be watched in its entirety at this external link:

Doubts over authenticity of alleged King Carl Gustaf photos

Expressen today publishes the photo allegedly showing King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden watching women having sex which has been at the heart of the scandal which began with the publication of the book Carl XVI Gustaf – Den motvillige monarken by Thomas Sjöberg, Deanne Rauscher and Tove Meyer.
The photo is due to be published in a biography of the gangster Mille Markovic in January, but experts consulted by Expressen doubt its authenticity.
The experts from British LGC Forensics and Audio Video Forensics and an unnamed Swedish firm conclude that the picture is taken from a video and that some changes have obviously been made to it to make it appear more as a video filmed in secrecy; a “rec” symbol and cross hairs have been added. The shadows and the lighting also make the experts believe that the face of the man watching the three women, said to be the King, may have been pasted on another body, but they cannot say this for sure.
Bertil Ternert, the Director of the Information and Press Department at the Royal Palace, is naturally jubilant and insists that this shows that the King spoke the truth when he denied the allegations in an interview in May.
Meanwhile Markovic continues to insist that the photo is genuine and adds that he will publish more photos and videos compromising the King on his website the day after his biography is published.
Peter Eriksson (the Green Party), the leader of Parliament’s standing committee on constitutional affairs says to the news agency TT that the revelation that the photo has probably been manipulated is of little relevance to the debate about confidence in the King. He finds it more relevant whether the King’s friends have had contact with criminals and if the King has known about such contact.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Edward VIII’s forgotten coronation portrait comes to light

Last weekend saw the 75th anniversary of the abdication of King Edward VIII of Britain, which was signed on 10 December 1936 and came into effect the following day, and this anniversary was the occasion for the publication of an unknown coronation portrait of the uncrowned king.
During a recent move of offices one found a proof copy of the Illustrated London News’s coronation issue, which had been prepared in advance of his coronation, set for 12 May 1937. Among the illustrations was a reproduction of a portrait by Albert Collings, showing King Edward VIII in his coronation clothes, the Imperial State Crown and other regalia resting by his side. The original portrait is, according to the Daily Telegraph, believed to have been lost during World War II.

POSTSCRIPT: The Daily Telegraph today (3 January 2012) reports what happened to the portrait: the face of Edward VIII was quite simply painted over and replaced with that of George VI. (

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

New books: Prince Albert’s death and its impact

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Albert, Prince Consort of Britain, on 14 December 1861, which the British author Helen Rappaport has made the topic of her new book Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy, published by Hutchinson. The story is very well-known, but Rappaport’s book is well-written and she has used some less familiar sources to add some new voices to the story.
The opening scene is the happy Christmas of 1860, which was celebrated at Windsor Castle, a place, Rappaport reminds us, which Queen Victoria, despite how it is often associated with her, did not much care for. This makes for a sharp contrast to the gloom of the following Christmas, by which time Prince Albert was dead. Rappaport subscribes to the theory that Prince Albert got Queen Victoria on to the track of constitutional, politically un-biased monarchy, and shows to what great extent the Queen relied on her husband.
A significant event occurring between Christmas 1860 and Christmas 1861 was the death of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. Since her accession in 1837, Victoria had kept her mother at an arm-length’s distance, but when going through her belongings the Queen realised the extent of her mother’s love for her. Victoria threw herself into an extravagant grief, in which she seems to have found some sort of pleasure. She noted with relish how she was complimented on “the manner in which I have shown my grief” and stated quite openly that “I do not wish to feel better”. Victoria’s almost theatrical grief for her mother and the way she wallowed in it was obviously re-played, but on a much grander scale, after Prince Albert died later that year.
The story of Prince Albert’s illness and death in December 1861 is told in great detail, perhaps a bit too long-winded. More interesting is the account of the overwhelming public reaction to the Prince Consort’s death, which is followed by the story of Queen Victoria’s posthumous idolisation of her late husband, the cult created around his memory, her withdrawal from public life and the dangers this posed for the monarchy. This is again a story very well-known to anyone familiar with the history of the British monarchy in the nineteenth century, but Rappaport presents it well.
She also exposes Queen Victoria’s self-centred egotism and the way in which she was perfectly capable of doing what she really wanted, but when she did not want to do something she got her loyal (perhaps too loyal) physician to back up her claims that the fulfilment of her duty would pose a danger to her health. The author also shows how the Queen’s private secretaries were perfectly aware that she did not work as hard on the official papers as she tried to make people believe. Indeed, the more one reads about Queen Victoria the harder it is to like her.
While attempting to explain what caused Victoria’s extravagant mourning for her husband, it seems to me that the author misses out on one point, which again draws a parallel to the death of her mother. “Victoria was always there ready to adore him, to hang on to his every word, his every kiss, to praise unstintingly and monopolise his time, but Albert was tiring of her relentless, cloying admiration and her never-ending emotional hunger”, Rappaport writes about the relationship between wife and husband.
But what goes unmentioned is the fact that Victoria did not always treat her husband very well, indeed her at times irrational behaviour towards him seems to have tormented him. To lose the one she loved and realising that she had not been particularly kind to him when he was alive may well have caused a feeling of guilt and a desire to try to make it up to him by excessive displays of grief and idolisation.
The book disintegrates somewhat towards the end, where the author rather briefly sums up the remaining decades of Queen Victoria’s life before returning to Christmas 1878, when her second eldest daughter, Grand Duchess Alice, died on the seventeenth anniversary of the father she had nursed, and then moving on to a chapter where the author challenges the oft-repeated story that the Prince Consort died from typhoid fever and argues that the cause of death was most likely Crohn’s disease.
The appendix on what Prince Albert died from would have worked better if it had been inserted into its natural chronological place in the book. Particularly given the emphasis put on the Prince of Wales’s near-death experience from typhoid fever on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death it would have been better if the reader had already then been told that the author does not believe that the illness which afflicted the Prince of Wales was the same that killed his father.
The book might have benefited from a more thorough fact check. Queen Victoria was forty-two, not forty-three, when her husband died; Prince Arthur was at that time eleven and not ten. The bride chosen for the Prince of Wales was not Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, but of Denmark; Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck is erroneously demoted to “Princess Mary Adelaide of Teck”; there was no French “Emperor Louis Napoleon”, but an Emperor Napoléon III; the author continues to refer to “Princess Alice” even after she had become Grand Duchess; and the King of Sweden and of Norway is erroneously referred to as King of only one of these two countries when he, again erroneously, is said to have visited “the Swedish legation”. The titles of the British nobility also seem to be a mystery to the author; the same person cannot be both Lady Augusta Bruce and Lady Bruce, Lady Jane Churchill and Lady Churchill, Lord John Russell and Lord Russell, and so on.
Despite these reservations the overall impression is that Helen Rappaport has produced a readable account of the well-known story of Prince Albert’s death and its consequences.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

New books: Napoléon, his age and his ideas

Given that there are literally hundreds of thousands of books on Napoléon I, I generally wonder each time a new one appears what is its purpose. Many of them are obviously superfluous, but Alan Forrest’s recent book Napoleon, published by Quercus, stands out as one which is worth reading.
Forrest is professor of modern history at the University of York and may be considered one of the leading British scholars on the revolutionary and Napoleonic epochs in French history. He repeatedly states his initial reluctance to make the transition from writing social history of the revolution to a biography of Napoléon and this also influences the book, but in a good way.
If there are individuals who defined their age in such a way that their biography and the history of their era are virtually the same thing, Napoléon is obviously one of the best examples. Forrest’s book thus combines the story of Napoléon’s life with the history of France and Europe during that half-century.
The story is framed by chapters on the late Emperor’s reburial in Paris in 1840 at the beginning and his “life after death” at the end. There is less about his personal life than in many other biographies and Forrest generally avoids the lengthy accounts of campaigns and battles with which some of Napoléon’s biographers try their readers’ patience.
On the other hand Professor Forrest is particularly strong on the ideas that shaped Napoléon and his age and on the system which Napoléon created. The book is mercifully not part of the propaganda war which many of Napoléon’s biographers, perhaps in particular the British ones, still seem to be fighting. Indeed Forrest’s book is neither laudatory nor vindictive, but rather critical in the best meaning of that word and the author gives credit where he thinks credit is due and criticises what he thinks deserves to be criticised.
The book is entirely based on secondary sources and there are no new revelations to be found in this book (indeed it is by now hardly possible to find unknown primary sources), but Alan Forrest’s interpretation of the man and the age and his clear analyses make for one of the most interesting books on Napoléon to be published in recent years.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Scientists find King Magnus Ladulås is not in his grave

This spring the grave of King Magnus Ladulås and his family in the Riddarholmen Church in Stockholm was opened with the purpose of comparing his DNA with the remains in Varnhem Church which are believed to be those of his father, Duke Birger Magnusson. The grave opening was the subject of an exhibition in the Riddarholmen Church this summer, but on Friday the final results were presented at a press conference at the Medieval Museum in Stockholm and they were certainly a surprise: the remains in King Magnus’s grave are not those of King Magnus!
King Magnus died in 1290 and stated in his will that he wished to be buried in the Riddarholmen Church. In the 1570s King Johan III commissioned impressive tombs for King Magnus Ladulås (pictured above) and King Karl Knutsson. When King Magnus’s tomb was opened this summer the remains of nine people were found beneath the floor, but the test results show beyond doubt that these remains are all of people who died between the 1430s and the 1520s.
The scientists will now ask the royal court for permission to open the tomb of King Karl Knutsson, which they hope they will be able to do next spring, but in the worst case not until 2014. The new theory is now that King Karl Knutsson, who reigned thrice as King of Sweden in the fifteenth century (and briefly as King of Norway 1449-1450) but did not have royal ancestry, was buried in the grave of King Magnus Ladulås to “borrow” legitimacy. The tomb of Karl Knutsson was opened a century ago, when a skeleton was found 140 centimetres below the floor. Apparently one now thinks that this might be Magnus Ladulås rather than Karl Knutsson.
What puzzles me is why one seems to reject the idea that the two tombs may simply have been placed over the wrong graves in the 1570s. Given that King Karl Knutsson died in 1470 one wonders if his remains might be among the nine skeletons from the 1430s-1520s in the grave which has until now been believed to be Magnus Ladulås’s. Apparently the scientists have not stated anything about whose bones they think these are.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Swedish Parliament approves greater scrutiny of royal finances

The Swedish Parliament yesterday debated the issue of greater scrutiny over royal finances. After a lengthy debate the government was defeated by 146 votes to 144. This means that earlier agreements (of 1996 and 2005) between the government and the Office of the Marshal of the Realm will have to be revised and that one will have to find a way to account in more detail for how the money the monarchy receives from the state is spent (private expenses will be exempt).
As could be expected, the ongoing scandal about King Carl Gustaf and his friends was brought up in the debate, where the Conservative MP Andreas Norlén accused the Social Democrats of having changed their minds because of the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken. This was denied by Social Democrat MP Sven-Erik Österberg, who added that the court ought to be more afraid of the King’s friends than of the Social Democrats.

King Carl Gustaf’s former friend takes all the blame

In the latest chapter in the scandal relating to the King of Sweden and his former friend Anders Lettström’s negotiations with criminals over the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken, negotiations which Lettström in recently published tapes said that the King was informed about despite the monarch’s earlier firm denial of this, Lettström today launches a stinging attack on the media in an op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, where he also takes all the blame upon himself.
Much of the article is about Lettström denying claims made about himself in that book and his criticism of the way the media has handled this story (apparently he suspects that he has been bugged).
But most importantly Lettström stresses again that he did not negotiate with the criminals on King Carl Gustaf’s behalf, but solely on his own intiative. He repeats his claim that the King was neither involved nor informed.
That tapes have emerged where Lettström repeatedly says that the King has been informed about the negotiations is explained by that he felt pressured and tried to find a way to bring the contacts with the criminals to an end without endangering the safety of his family. Thus he sometimes said what he assumed the gangsters wanted to hear, “which in itself was not always true”.
Although he does not say so directly, Lettström’s op-ed implicitly admits that he also lied when he claimed that the tapes were falsifications and when he insisted he had never made any payments to the gangsters. Lettström is thus left without much credibility.
One may hope that this can contribute to taking some of the pressure off the King, but still I have the feeling that we have not heard the last about this story.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Opinion polls on the Swedish royal crisis

Following the recent developments in the ongoing scandal involving the King of Sweden and the suggestion made by leading parliamentarians that there should be an investigation into whether the King has known about his friend’s negotiations with criminals (and if so, lied to the people), the country’s largest newspaper Aftonbladet yesterday published an opinion poll (external link) by Sifo which shows that 65 % of the respondees are opposed to such an investigation, while 23 % are in favour of it and 11 % undecided.
But the same poll also shows dwindling support for the King: Only 34 % believe he should remain on the throne until his death, while 20 % think he should abdicate immediately, 17 % that he should abdicate within five years and 13 % that he should abdicate within ten years, leaving 16 % undecided.
In another opinion poll (external link), conducted by Novus and published by TV4, 32 % answer yes when asked if the King should abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria, 37 % say no, 21 % say that the monarchy should be abolished and 10 % do not know. When asked directly about monarchy or republic, 58 % declare themselves in favour of retaining the monarchy, while 32 % want to abolish it and 10 % do not know. Of the 1,000 respondees interviewed yesterday and the day before yesterday, 11 % say they have great confidence in the King, 19 % that they have fairly great confidence in him, 35 % that they have neither great nor little confidence in him, 16 % that they have rather little, 19 % that they have very little confidence in the King and 1 % that they do not know.
Meanwhile the leading article (external link) in Dagens Nyheter, the largest broadsheet, today says that the fire is now approaching the King and that the King’s position is dependent on people feeling confidence in him. The leader stresses that the King cannot under any circumstances associate with criminals and that he can not continue as head of state if it turns out that he has, either actively or passively, accepted negotiations with criminals.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Top parliamentarians call for investigation of King Carl Gustaf

Following Saturday’s new development in the saga about King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and the alleged contacts with criminals in order to deny claims made in a scandalous book on the King, two leading parliamentarians have now called for an investigation of the King’s role in the affair.
Peter Eriksson of the Green Party (the third largest party in Parliament), who heads Parliament standing committee on constitutional affairs, said to Svenska Dagbladet yesterday that the survival of the monarchy is dependent on the people’s trust, but that this trust is now in danger of being undermined and that the King should therefore himself take the initiative to investigate this affair. This, says Eriksson, should also be in the King’s own interest.
Sven-Erik Österberg, the leader of the Social Democrat fraction in the constitutional committee, who is also the former parliamentary leader of his party and was widely expected to become its new party leader earlier this year, supports Eriksson’s view and adds that the situation is very serious if it turns out that the King has indeed lied.
On Wednesday Parliament is scheduled to debate a proposal for greater transparency in relation to the royal court’s finances, a proposal it seems will be carried against the votes of the government. MP Mia Mölleby, who representents the Left Party in the constitutional committee, says that, in light of the recent revelations, she will use Wednesday’s debate to propose the abolition of the monarchy. That proposal will surely be defeated, but it will be interesting to see to what extent the debate on transparency turns into a debate on the King or the monarchy itself.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

King of Sweden in trouble again

Another chapter in the never-ending story of King Carl XVI Gustaf, the scandalous biography and the gangsters was opened today, taking the story into what may be turn out to be a critical phase as it appears the King may have lied to his people. Calls for abdication if this is true have already been heard.
It may be recalled that it all began with the publication of the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken by Thomas Sjöberg, Deanne Rauscher and Tove Meyer, which made several scandalous claims about the monarch’s private life, claims which the King only partly denied. One of the few named sources in the book was a notorious gangster by the name of Mille Markovic, who threatened to publish compromising photos of the King and his friends. In May it was revealed that Anders Lettström, one of the King’s closest friends since childhood, subsequently contacted two other gangsters, Milan Sevo and Daniel Webb, in order to persuade them to get into contact with Markovic, buy the photos and make him deny the claims made in the book. The affair foundered when Markovic demanded too high a price.
In a written statement and in a highly embarrasing TV interview which surely marked the nadir of his reign, King Carl Gustaf was almost literally put up against the wall and forced to answer a series of detailed questions about his private life. In the TV interview he stated that there could not possibly exist any such photos and categorically denied that he had known about Lettström’s contacts with criminals in order to purchase such pictures. He distanced himself clearly from Lettström, even going as far as saying he would never again speak to his childhood friend, except perhaps at a deathbed reconciliation.
It was generally considered at that time that if it turned out the King had lied, he would probably be finished. And today the newspaper Aftonbladet publishes transcripts of conversations between Lettström and Milan Sevo and Daniel Webb, which the latter taped without Lettström’s knowledge, in which Lettström says, among other things, that he has informed the King that Markovic might be willing to deny the claims made in the book against payment.
When confronted with this by the newspaper yesterday, Lettström maintains that he never informed the King about the negotiations with criminals and claims that the tapes are manipulated. However, the latter claim is rejected by Swedish as well as British experts.
There remains the possibility that Lettström may not have spoken the truth when he said to the gangsters that he had informed the King about how the negotiations were proceeding.
But if it turns out to be true that the King knew about his friend’s negotiations with notorious criminals, he has made himself impossible as head of state, commentator Lena Mellin writes in Aftonbladet. The political scientist Ulf Bjereld says to Svenska Dagbladet that the King having lied to the people creates a very serious situation and that monarchists may now call for King Carl Gustaf’s abdication in favour of Crown Princess Victoria.
It seems this story, which was certainly the last thing the Swedish royal family needed, will not go away.