Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Princess Madeleine’s ex-fiancé engaged

The online version of the Swedish weekly Svensk Damtidning today reports that Princess Madeleine’s former fiancé, Jonas Bergström, has become engaged to Stephanie af Klercker, a childhood friend of the Princess’s. Stephanie af Klercker confirms that they became engaged a few weeks ago.
The engagement of Princess Madeleine and Jonas Bergström was announced on 11 August 2009, but was called off on 24 April 2010 after revelations of Bergström’s adultery.
Last week the Swedish court announced the engagement of Princess Madeleine to Christopher O’Neill.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Royals to attend funeral of PM’s mother

It is customary for the King or, in his absence, the Queen, to attend the funerals of former prime ministers. More unusually, the King and Queen will attend the funeral of Karin Stoltenberg, the current Prime Minister’s mother, in Oslo on Tuesday afternoon.
Karin Stoltenberg, who died of cancer on 17 October, aged 80, was herself a civil servant who has been credited for playing a major role in shaping policy on family and gender equality issues. She was married to Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and UN High Commissioner of Refugees.
Princess Astrid, who has been a friend of Thorvald Stoltenberg since the late teens, and her husband Johan Martin Ferner will also attend the funeral.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Princess Madeleine engaged to Christopher O’Neill

After much recent media speculation the Swedish royal court today confirmed that Princess Madeleine is engaged to her Anglo-American boyfriend Christopher “Chris” O’Neill. The couple became engaged in early October, and King Carl Gustaf and the government have consented to the union.
The couple live in New York, but says in an interview with the royal website that the wedding will take place in Sweden in the summer of 2013. For the forseeable future they expect to live in the USA.
The court has so far not said anything about what title if any Christopher O’Neill will have after the wedding, but I suppose one will make the same decision as when Princess Madeleine became engaged to Jonas Bergström in 2009, an engagement which was called off in the wake of a kiss and tell interview given by a Norwegian girl with whom Bergström had had a one night stand. Back then it was decided that Bergström would retain his surname, become Duke of Helsinga and Gastricia (which is Princess Madeleine’s dukedom), but not become a Prince of Sweden or a Royal Highness.
The court has, however, confirmed that Princess Madeleine will retain her current titles, i.e. not become “Princess Madeleine, Mrs O’Neill”, as was the case with her aunts.
According to the Swedish court, Christopher O’Neill has joint British and American citizenship (and will not apply for Swedish citizenship) and was born in London on 27 June 1974. He is the only mutual child of Eva Maria and Paul O’Neill (the latter died in 2004), but has five half-sisters. He was educated in Switzerland and the USA and has a bachelor degree in international relations from Boston University and a master degree in business administration from Columbia Business School in New York. He has built a career as a businessman and is currently partner and head of research at Noster Capital.
Christopher O’Neill is a Catholic, but this has no consequences for his future wife’s rights to the Swedish throne, although it means that she will lose her (very remote) place in the order of succession to the British throne (unless her fiancé converts before the wedding). The photo, taken in New York three days ago, is copyright of Patrick Demarchelier/Kungahuset.se.

What to see: Elverum Church, Elverum

When I visited the small town Elverum last month to attend the opening of the travelling exhibition which is part of the royal jubilee exhibitions I also took the opportunity to visit Elverum Church, which turned out to have a rather remarkable interior (first photo), something one would not guess by its very simple exterior (second photo).
The cross-shaped church was built in 1735-1738 after a design of a lieutenant in the artillery named Nicolai Gustav Sandberg. It was, remarkably for the time, paid for entirely by the citizens of the small community, and most of the work, which is of a very high standard, was also carried out by local artisans: The woodcarvers and carpenters Nils Hansen Engen and Ole Hansen Rønne and the painter Ole Gundersen.
The church is an exquisite example of Norwegian regénce style, a style which takes its name from the regency in France of Philippe, Duke of Orléans during the minority of Louis XV from 1715 to 1723 and in which elements of what would come to be known as rococo began to influence the baroque style.
The interior is a symbolic synthesis of king and god, to institutions which were closely related during the Dano-Norwegian absolute monarchy. The absolute monarchy, which was introduced in 1660, was indeed one of the most absolute monarchies the world has known, and only god was above the King.
King Christian VI’s monogram is to be found on the altar (third photo), which was inspired by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger’s altar in the Church of Our Saviour in Copenhagen (which was again inspired by the altar in the Church of Domenic e Sisto in Rome). The altarpiece, showing the crucifixion, was done in Copenhagen by an unknown artist. The two sculptures standing in front represent justice and piety.
On each side of the altar are clocks (a memento mori) and on each of them stands a little angel (fourth photo) holding respectively the bible and the law book. Altogether there are seven putti – two on the altar, two on the clocks and three in the ceiling, all holding banners with biblical quotations calling on the faithful to praise god, honour the King and love fraternity.
Another, larger angel supports the baptismal font (fifth photo), carved by Nils Hansen Engen (on a personal note I may add that I was myself baptised in this font, as my parents worked at Elverum at the time of my birth). Originally this stood in an enclosure to the right in the choir, under a crown-shaped canopy surmounted by an orb (sixth photo). Another crown-shaped canopy (seventh photo), topped by the monogram of King Christian VI, is found above the richly carved pulpit (eighth photo).
At each side of the entrance to the choir is an obelisk resting on four golden balls (ninth photo). On the top of the obelisk to the left is again the monogram of King Christian VI, on the one to the right the monogram of his consort, Queen Sophie Magdalene. King Christian VI and Queen Sophie Magdalene had both visited Elverum during their great journey through southern Norway in 1733, making the latter the first queen to visit the town. Between the obelisks, hanging from the ceiling, can be seen a crucifix from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, which dates from the first church built in Elverum. Its most recent feature, on the other hand, is the new organ which was installed in 2006-2007.
Most of the original interior was removed when Elverum Church was transformed into a simple and rather unoriginal late neo-Gothic church in 1878-1879. However, it was not long before one wished to restore it to its former splendour, and luckily the original interior could be reassembled from attics and barns. The restoration was completed in time for the church’s bicentenary in 1938.
Two years later the church came close to being obliterated. It was at Elverum on 9 April 1940, the day Norway was invaded by Germany, that Parliament transferred its powers to the government for the duration of the war, and it was at Elverum that King Haakon the following day met the German minister, Curt von Bräuer, and famously refused the German demands that he should appoint Vidkun Quisling, the leader of National Unity (the Nazi party), Prime Minister. The King’s refusal caused the whole town, which had no military or strategic value, to be flattened by German bombers in an attempt to kill the King and government. The church narrowly escaped being hit in the bombing raid and is thus one of the few pre-1940 buildings left in Elverum today. Today it is one of the most interesting sights to be seen if one ventures into this part of Norway.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

My latest article: The Crown Prince’s crown

The 2011 edition (yes, they are a year behind schedule) of Trondhjemske Samlinger, the yearbook of Trondhjems Historiske Forening, is now out and, in succession to my article on the crowns of the King and Queen in the previous issue, I have contributed an article about the history and context of the Crown Prince’s crown.
It is the only part of the crown regalia made in Norway and the only item which has never been used. The crown was designed by the artist Johannes Flintoe and made by the jeweller Herman Colbjørnsen Øyset in 1846-1847 for the planned coronation of King Oscar I and Queen Josephine (which eventually never happened).
At subsequent coronations there was never an adult Crown Prince to wear it and as there has, thankfully, never been a crown princely funeral it has also not been used in the same ceremonial way as the King and Queen’s crowns. The crown was inspired by Swedish ideals and is almost unique in Europe, where crowns for the heir to the throne are a rarity.
The photo (which is copyright of myself) shows Flintoe’s original drawing for the crown (in the National Archives), which I believe has never before been published.

Monday, 22 October 2012

My latest article: King Olav and his son’s marriage

What has attracted most interest after the publication of Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s authorised biography of the Queen, Dronningen, on 10 October, is probably her own version of the nine long years she and the current King had to wait for King Olav’s consent to their marriage. Today I have written a short piece in Dagsavisen, where I argue against that newspaper’s claim that it was King Olav’s reactionary ideas and his enlightened despotism that were the reasons for the long wait. On the contrary, I argue, it was his concern for public opinion and the future of the monarchy that caused the long wait. Public opinion was at first strongly opposed to the Crown Prince’s marrying a commoner, wherefore King Olav had little choice but to wait and see if public opinion became more favourable with time – which it did, so that the King in 1968 finally risked giving his consent. You may read the whole comment here (external link).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Luxembourgian heir marries Belgian countess

Today Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg married Countess Stéphanie de Lannoy in a ceremony in Luxembourg’s city hall. Tonight there is a ball at the Grand Ducal Palace and at 11 a.m. tomorrow there will be a religious blessing of the marriage in the Cathedral. Members of all reigning European royal families as well as some non-European and several deposed dynasties are attending the festivities.

Monday, 15 October 2012

At the road’s end: King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia (1922-2012)

The King Father of Cambodia, better known as the country’s former King Norodom Sihanouk, died from a heart attack in Beijing today, sixteen days short of his ninetieth birthday. Throughout his long life Sihanouk held an unusually high number of offices, including King of Cambodia twice (1941-1955 and 1993-2004) and Prime Minister no less than nine times between 1945 and 1960. He was also head of state during the first year of the terrible Khmer Rouge rule.
Born on 31 October 1922, Norodom Sihanouk was the son of Prince Norodom Suramarit (a cousin of King Sisowath Monivong) and Princess Sisowath Kosamak (daughter of King Monivong). Following King Monivong’s death in April 1941, his 18-year-old grandson Sihanouk was chosen as his successor and thus came to preside over the end of French colonial rule and the transition to independence in 1953. (By the time of his death, Sihanouk was one of the few WWII heads of state still alive).
However, on 2 March 1955 King Sihanouk abdicated in favour of his father, thus gaining the freedom to become a politican and being elected Prime Minister. When King Suramarit died in April 1960, Sihanouk chose not to resume the title of King, but rather to act as head of state with the title of Sovereign Prince.
Prince Sihanouk thus found himself navigating, in an increasingly authoritarian manner, through the turmoil caused by the war in neighbouring Vietnam. However, his political course led to the outbreak of civil war in Cambodia in 1967. Three years later Prime Minister Lon Nol persuaded Parliament to depose Sihanouk, who was travelling abroad at the time, as head of state.
Sihanouk sought refuge in China and North Korea, founded the National United front of Kampuchea (FUNK) and allied himself with the Khmer Rouge against Lon Nol. Following the Khmer Rouge’s victory in 1975, Sihanouk became puppet head of state, although real power was in the hands of Pol Pot. A year later Sihanouk was forced out by the Khmer Rouge and returned to North Korea. Thus he was not involved in Pol Pot’s regime’s mass murder of up to a quarter of Cambodia’s population. However, in the turmoil which followed through Vietnamese occupation after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime at the end of 1978, Sihanouk would again join forces with them. He became President of a government in exile in 1982.
Following the end of Vietnamese occupation and the peace agreement signed in Paris in 1991, Sihanouk returned to Cambodia in November of that year. On 24 September 1993 Sihanouk again became head of state, now with the title of King. However, this was a constitutional role without much actual power.
Sihanouk’s second term as king was marked by health trouble and at one stage it was announced that, according to his astrologer, he would not see the end of the year. This proved as wrong as most astrological predictions, but in January 2004 the increasingly frail Sihanouk left his kingdom to settle in Pyongyang. He abdicated formally on 7 October, and a week later one of his many sons, Norodom Sihamoni, was appointed King. Sihanouk himself assumed the title King Father and lived out the rest of his days in Beijing.
King Sihanouk fathered at least fourteen children, of whom five were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime. He is survived by his remaining children and his wife Monique, the Queen Mother.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Royal jewels: Queen Maud’s grand diamond tiara

One of the tiaras most frequently worn by Queen Maud, particularly in her younger years, was a grand diamond tiara in three “levels” – a bandeau supporting floral motifs surmounted by thirteen diamond prongs, which were originally interchangeable with turquoise prongs.
The tiara was a wedding present to the then Princess Maud of Britain when she married Prince Carl of Denmark in 1896. She wore it to the coronation of her parents, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Britain, on 9 August 1902 and was also portrayed with it on several occasions during her first years as Queen of Norway after 1905. There is also a miniature in which she wears the tiara with the turquoise prongs, which were later removed and apparently used for other pieces of jewellery.
For the first decades of her husband’s reign, this tiara and a pearl and diamond tiara which had also been a wedding present, were Queen Maud’s only substantial tiaras. Following the death of her mother in 1925 she also inherited the Maltese cross circlet and a turquoise and diamond circlet shaped as an open crown, giving her a wider range of choice. It seems she wore her grand diamond tiara for the wedding of her son, Crown Prince Olav, to Princess Märtha of Sweden on 21 March 1929.
When Queen Maud went to England in the autumn of 1938, she took most of her jewellery with her to have it cleaned. When the Queen died during in London during that stay, her jewels remained in her native country and were kept at Windsor Castle until 1953, when Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha brought it home following the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.
However, as Crown Princess Märtha died the following year, she never got the chance to use her mother-in-law’s jewellery, which was stored away until 1968, when Crown Prince Harald married Sonja Haraldsen. The jewels were then divided among King Olav’s three children and the grand diamond tiara went to Princess Ragnhild, who had until then had only one tiara.
Princess Ragnhild wore her grandmother’s diamond tiara to several of the royal events she attended in the following years. But from the 1990s the ageing Princess was rarely seen with this grand piece, which is probably rather heavy, opting instead to wear her other tiara, consisting of platinum circles set with large pearls, which she had inherited from her maternal grandmother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, in 1958.
I understand that, under a family agreement, the diamond tiara will, following the death of Princess Ragnhild, pass to the King to be worn by other members of the royal family. The platinum tiara will on the other hand remain in the Lorentzen family, as this was inherited by Princess Ragnhild directly from her Swedish grandmother.

European Union awarded Nobel Peace Prize

The leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, two hours ago announced that the committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 to the European Union. This does not altogether come as a surprise, given that Mr Jagland has been known to be in favour of such an award. However, the decision has obviously caused controversy here in Norway, a country which is not a member of the EU, having twice voted against membership, and where a huge majority is opposed to membership. However, regardless of what one thinks about that issue, it should be obvious that the EU has played an important role for peace in Europe.

Monday, 8 October 2012

New books: Royal anti-Nazis

The Palace and the Bunker: Royal Resistance to Hitler is the title of a very odd new book, written by Frank Millard and recently published by The History Press (apparently the successor to Sutton Publishing, which many of my readers are probably familiar with). Reading it one sometimes wonder if it is the author’s notes which have been published without having passed through the hands of an editor. The subject is very interesting, but the book is one of the weakest I have ever read.
According to the author’s foreword, it “is actually two books in one, each dependent on the other”. The first half deals with the rise of Nazism in Germany; the second is mostly four case studies of royal anti-Nazis. It seems quite obvious that the result would have been much more interesting and readable if the two parts had been worked into an entity where the two things were seen in relation to each other.
The author admits that he “came to the subject of the lead up to the Second World War with little prior knowledge”. While this may seems very surprising for a historian, it makes one realise why the first half of the book is taken up with what seems to be the author’s attempt to explain to himself what Nazism, eugenics, Social Darwinism et al was and how Nazi Germany and World War II came about.
The second part looks at the wartime stories of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, ex-Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, Prince Hubertus of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg and ex-Crown Prince Otto of Austria-Hungary and his Hohenberg cousins, before adding a chapter summarising what other royals did during the war.
As much as a book about royal resistance to Nazism this is a book about various ideas about monarchical restoration in Germany and Austria-Hungary, and indeed it seems to be the author’s idea that Nazism and World War II would not have happened if the monarchies had been restored in these countries.
The author seems to believe that those belonging to royal families are somehow bound to be good men (there is also an uncomfortable religious overtone which even leads Millard to pronounce god’s blessing over one of his subjects). “Princes are the products of, and are and [sic] susceptible to, the influences of their age like anyone else, but in some ways their position and upbringing equips them [with the ability] to see over the fence and consider what they are witnessing with a little more clarity, perspective and dispassion than most other people”. If this is true, one wonders how so many monarchies have nevertheless destroyed themselves? “Such men are born leaders”, Millard assures us, “brought up to serve their countries and, if denied their destiny, it naturally becomes their perceived duty to serve all humanity”. This is a gross generalisation and it would be easy to point out counter-examples.
Millard stares himself blind on monarchies, even claiming that “[t]he German resistance movement did not and could not exist in any cohesive form without the unifying element of monarchy represented by the modern, Left-leaning Prince Louis Ferdinand, who was preferred future head of state following the fall of Hitler and his regime”. He assures the readers that “[m]onarchy was a potential defence against Hitler before the war [and(?)] became a focus of national unity and identity for exiles and anti-Nazis in Europe during the conflict”. These are widely exaggerated ideas; to the best of my knowledge the restoration of the Hohenzollerns was never a central aim for the German anti-Nazi movement, nor was this movement dependent on the deposed dynasties for to be able to exist.
“Their quiet defiance must have played its part in undermining the pretended authority of the dictator”, the author likes to think. He goes on to list several reasons why Hitler would never have come to power if Germany had been a monarchy, including that Prince Louis Ferdinand would not have been personally inclined to appoint him chancellor and that Hitler could not have opposed or reversed the will of the people. But Millard fails to take into account that Nazism had massive popular support in Germany and that Hitler was democratically elected.
Concerning Austria, we learn that “[r]estoration of the monarchy, there also, promised national integrity and moderate government safe from the Nazi menace”. However, the author fails to make any convincing argument for why an Austrian monarchy would have prevented the Anschluss that the Austrian republic did not manage to prevent. “There could have been no takeover of Austria without a fight and a real risk of international condemnation and foreign involvement”, we learn, without the author explaining why the Austrians themselves, who generally welcomed the German takeover, and the world, who did nothing in response to it, would have reacted differently if Austria had been a monarchy rather than a republic. Indeed this seems to be little but fanciful fantasies and wishful thinking by the author.
“Democracy is not automatically representative and what is representative is not always democratic”, the author explains, “but sensibly there was general agreement among the princes featured in this book – and there is agreement among their heirs [!] – that democracy should be the principal element of government[,] guided, assisted and defended by other constitutional elements, such as the hereditary principle and the rule of law as enshrined constitutionally”.
But how does he imagine that individuals such an Emperor Otto or Emperor Louis Ferdinand would have managed to stop a mass movement like Nazism? And how is this fundamental democratic spirit reconcilable with the idea that Louis Ferdinand would have refused to appoint the winner of democratic elections chancellor? And what about Italy, one may ask? The existence of a monarchy did not exactly prevent the rise of Mussolini.
To make things worse, the book is not well written. Sometimes the author jumps back and forth in time in a way that makes it almost impossible to follow events, for instance making it seem as though King Carol II of Romania was deposed twice and leaving one wondering where Prince Napoléon had been before “his return to Switzerland”.
There are many and long quotes in this book, indeed it seems sometimes to consist of little but quotes, which gives the impression that the author does not feel confident enough to stand on his own feet. Not all of the quotes are very relevant or well-chosen. For instance, most of what he has to say about the British royal family during World War II deals with the relationship between King George VI and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt until 1941. Having said that King George wanted to be present during D Day, the author suddenly quotes a long and seemingly random passage from an article in a 2011 issue of Time magazine about the royal visit to the USA in 1939, all of it information which could have found many other places. The passage about Britain’s royal family suddenly ends with an unexpected list of some random royals from various countries and various ages who were awarded the Garter, which the author imagines “was a sign of diplomatic if not military alliance from its inception when applied to foreign heads of state”.
“There will, no doubt, be errors (all mine), but hopefully none of substance”, the author writes in the foreword, before going on to tell us that Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was married to her son-in-law Prince Bernhard, that King Haakon VII of Norway was the brother of his adversary King Gustaf V of Sweden, that Sovereign Prince Louis II of Monaco was the father of his grandson “Rainer” (indeed names tend to be misspelt throughout) and so on. When Marshal Antonescu shows disrespect towards “his sovereign”, King Mihai of Romania, he has suddenly become the “dictator of Hungary”.
One also wonders about the author’s choice of sources. There are two German books, one Czech book and a German book about the Hohenbergs listed in the bibliography; everything else is in English. The author says in the foreword that he has “used a lot of English and American sources because this book is aimed primarily at an English-speaking audience”. But surely that is no reason to leave out the relevant literature from other countries and I can hardly imagine that English-speaking readers would find any reason to object to the use of relevant sources even if originally written in a foreign language. Was there for instance nothing of interest or relevance about ex-Crown Prince Rupprecht to find in Dieter J. Weiß’s monumental political biography from 2007, so that the author had to try to piece together his story from what little has been written about him in English?
The overall impression is of a book written by an author whose insufficient knowledge of Nazi Germany and World War II coupled with his blind faith in monarchy make him fail to see the things he write about in their proper context and grossly exaggerate the importance of his subjects. As it is this book might as well not have been published.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Princess Ragnhild’s last resting place

Earlier today I visited the cemetery in Asker, a bit outside Oslo, where Princess Ragnhild was laid to rest on Friday. The Princess’s gravesite, which was chosen by her and her husband, is just inside the southern gate to the churchyard; indeed there is only one grave which is nearer to the statue of Princess Ragnhild’s mother, Crown Princess Märtha.
Among the many wreaths and bouquets were floral tributes from her children, children-in-law and grandchildren (a large heart of red roses), the King and Queen, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and Princess Märtha Louise and Ari Behn, Princess Astrid’s children and their families, the King and Queen of Sweden (the latter was scheduled to attend the funeral, but had to cancel because of a cold, which meant that Crown Princess Victoria went instead), the Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark, Princess Benedikte of Denmark and Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, the ex-King and ex-Queen of the Hellenes, Princess Kristine Bernadotte and Madeleine Kogevinas (who had chosen white lilies, which have been known in Norway as Märtha lilies ever since Crown Princess Märtha used them for her bridal bouquet in 1929), the government, Parliament, the county governors and many friends. There were no wreaths from the Princess’s Belgian or Luxembourgian relatives.
Asker Church is situated just down the road from the crown princely residence Skaugum, which was Princess Ragnhild’s childhood home. It was in this church that Princess Ragnhild married Erling S. Lorentzen in 1953. The statue of Crown Princess Märtha holding Prince Harald (who plays with her tiara), is by Dyre Vaa and was unveiled in 1969.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A new state portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

Last Friday the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, unveiled a new portrait of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Australia and several other countries by the Australian artist Ralph Heimans.
Coronation portraits are (for obvious reasons) rare these days, but this new portrait may almost qualify as one. It shows Queen Elizabeth standing in Westminster Abbey, apparently at night, wearing her coronation robes and the coronation necklace and looking down at the central onyx of the thirteenth century Cosmati pavement in front of the high altar, in other words the very spot where she was crowned on 2 June 1953.
The painting can be interpreted in many ways, perhaps the most obvious being the old monarch reflecting on her sixty years on the throne - or looking to the future, contemplating her own mortality and the fact that another coronation will take place on that spot in a not too distant future? The “sacred” nature of monarchy might perhaps also be read into it.
It is apparently not quite clear who has commissioned the portrait and thus where it will end up, but it will go on a tour of countries of which Elizabeth II is queen and be shown in London next year.
Scandinavian readers may perhaps already be familiar with Ralph Heimans because of his portrait of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark (at the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Palace in Hillerød), which shows the Australian-born Crown Princess standing in the Garden Room of Fredensborg Palace, whose wall paintings have been replaced with Australian views.