Friday, 30 May 2014

Heir to Monaco expected

The princely court of Monaco has announced that Sovereign Prince Albert II and Princess Charlène are expecting a child at the end of the year. Prince Albert, who is 56 and came to the throne in 2005, married the former South African swimmer Charlene Wittstock, now 36, in 2011.
The Principality of Monaco still operates with male-preferred succession, meaning that the child, if a son, will be heir apparent and eventually succeed his father, but if it is a girl she will only be heiress presumptive and will be bypassed by any younger brothers she might have.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

On this date: Death of Empress Joséphine 200 years ago

Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Joséphine, Empress of the French, the first wife of Emperor Napoléon I. The Empress died at Malmaison Palace in Reuil outside Paris on 29 May 1814, aged 50, little more than a month after Napoléon's first abdication.
Born Rose Tascher de La Pagerie on Martinique on 23 June 1763, she was sent to France at the age of 16 to marry Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais, an arranged marriage which turned out to be unhappy. While her estranged husband was guillotined in 1794, Rose, who had been imprisoned, was lucky to be alive when the Terror came to an end a few days later.
In 1796 she went on to marry the young and promising General Napoléon Bonaparte, who gave her the name Joséphine. Theirs is often considered one of history's great love stories, but Joséphine seems at first to have been rather cool towards her husband, whose passionate letters often went unaswered. Her infidelity caused him much grief, but with his rise to power the tables were turned and it was Joséphine who found herself having to accept her husband's affairs with other women.
Having been elected Emperor of the French in 1804 Napoléon crowned Joséphine Empress, the scene which is brilliantly captured by David in his famous painting of the coronation. However, Joséphine, who had two children by her first husband, proved unable to bear Napoléon and an heir, thus putting the future of the dynasty in jeopardy. In 1809 the Emperor, at the height of his glory, therefore found that he had little choice but to put his feelings aside and divorce Joséphine. In 1810 he married Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, who the following year bore him the longed-for son, the King of Rome.
Retaining the title of Empress, Joséphine retreated to Malmaison, the château just west of Paris which had been purchased in the early days of her marriage to Napoléon. When Napoléon was forced to abdicate in April 1814 Empress Marie-Louise fled to her native Vienna, taking with her the King of Rome. Joséphine remained at Malmaison, while Emperor Alexander I of Russia set himself up as the protector of the former Empress and her children, Prince Eugène, Viceroy of Italy and Queen Hortense of Holland. During a chilly evening walk with the Russian Emperor Joséphine contracted pneumonia and died within days.
When Napoléon, at that time exiled to Elba, read of her death in a newspaper he shut himself in his room for days. Following his return to France, the Hundred Days and his final defeat at Waterloo in June 1815 it was to Malmaison that he retreated before surrendering to the British and being deported to St Helena, where he died in 1821. While Joséphine's last words are said to have been "Bonaparte...Elba...Marie-Louise", his were allegedly "France...the the head of the army...Joséphine".
One of history's ironies is that while Napoléon repudiated Joséphine in order to sire an heir, that heir died almost a prisoner in Vienna at the age of 21, while it was Joséphine's grandson who restored the Empire as Napoléon III in 1852. Through her son, Empress Joséphine is also the ancestress of the current monarchs of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg and Belgium.
On Monday a service commemorating the bicentenary of her death will be held in the small Church of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul in Rueil, where the Empress is buried. Despite the continuing appeal of their love story, Joséphine's grave, unlike Napoléon's, attracts no tourists. When I was first there, the day after having visited the Invalides, where tourists crowd around Napoléon's tomb, I found the church entirely empty. The second time I went there someone had left a rose on Empress Joséphine's tomb.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

On this date: Oslo's 200th anniversary as capital

200 years ago today, on 22 May 1814, King Christian Frederik took up residence in Christiania, as Oslo was then called, an event which might be considered the date when Oslo became the capital of independent Norway. Following the Danish renunciation of Norway on 14 January 1814 Norwegian ministries had begun their work in Christiania on 3 March, and on 19 May, the day he accepted the Crown of Norway, Christian Frederik formally founded the first ministries. With ministries established in Christiania and the King in residence, the town may rightly be called a capital.
Christiania was at that time a small provincial town of some 10,000 inhabitants. Except for the derelict Akershus Castle and the Church of Our Saviour (now Oslo Cathedral) there were few buildings of any significance, but the following years saw Christiania expanded and rebuilt into a capital worthy of an independent kingdom, a process in which King Carl Johan played a decisive role.
Oslo dates from about the year 1000, and grew in importance towards the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century, although it is incorrect, as some amateur historians have argued strongly, that Oslo may be considered the capital of Norway from the year 1314, when King Håkon V Magnusson made the Provost of St Mary's Church his chancellor. At that time the concept of a capital did not yet exist and the monarchy remained peripatetic for another three centuries or so, by which time Norway had lost its independence and become a Danish province.
In 1814 it was not yet the largest city (a qualification which belonged to Bergen), but its proximity to Denmark meant that it had become more important during Danish rule and it was in Christiania that a government commission was set up when communications between Denmark and Norway became very difficult because of the Napoleonic Wars and the British blockade from 1807.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

On this date: 200 years of independence

Today is the National Day and today the celebrations of the bicentenary of Norway’s independence and the Constitution, which was passed on 16 May 1814 and signed and dated the following day, will reach their climax.
The Constitution is the world’s second oldest which remains in force today (following the American), although it has of course been amended on several occasions to adapt it to changing times. The Constitution and Norway’s independence were both results of the Napoleonic Wars.
The election of the heir to the Norwegian throne, Olav Håkonsson, to King of Denmark following the death of his maternal grandfather in 1376 meant that Norway and Denmark entered a personal union when Olav succeeded his father, Håkon VI Magnusson, as King of Norway in 1380. Norway and Denmark remained separate countries, but the gradual weakening of Norway saw Denmark take a dominant role and in 1536 Christian III abolished the Norwegian Council and decreed that Norway should henceforth be a Danish province on par with Jutland or Zeeland.
Towards the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century the new ideas of the Enlightenment and nationhood saw a growing dissatisfaction with Danish absolutist rule among the Norwegian elite, but things would most likely not have happened so quickly were it not for the Napoleonic Wars.
The British bombardment of Copenhagen and seizure of the Dano-Norwegian fleet in 1807 meant that Denmark-Norway entered the Napoleonic Wars on the French side and while other allies deserted Napoléon along with his luck, Frederik VI stuck by his side to the bitter end. Although this has often been lambasted as stubbornness Frederik VI actually had little choice.
After Russia had conquered Finland from Sweden in 1809, the French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte had been elected Crown Prince of Sweden with the name Carl Johan. He turned everything around when he in 1812 joined Napoléon’s enemies and the allied great powers promised him Norway as some sort of compensation for the loss of Finland. For Frederik VI the most important thing was to retain his realm undivided, but the allied promises to Carl Johan meant that he had nothing to win by changing sides. Frederik VI believed that the Napoleonic Wars would end with a negotiated peace rather than a military victory and hoped that Napoléon at this peace conference would help him retain Norway.
This proved a severe miscalculation and after Napoléon’s defeat at Leipzig in October 1813 Carl Johan led his troops northwards and invaded Denmark, thus forcing Frederik VI to cede Norway to the King of Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel on 14 January 1814.
Since the previous year King Frederik’s cousin and heir, Prince Christian Frederik, had been his Lieutenant of the Realm in Norway and he was not willing to agree to the loss of Norway. He originally intended to proclaim himself King by virtue of Frederik VI’s renunciation, but at a meeting at Eidsvoll (80 kilometres north of Oslo) in February a group of advisers persuaded him that Frederik VI’s renunciation meant that the sovereignty had reverted to the people and that it was now for them to decide their future.
Assuming the title of Regent, Prince Christian Frederik convened a Constituent Assembly, which met at Eidsvoll on 10 April. There the 112 founding fathers in little more than a month produced a Constitution that drew on inspiration from, among others, the constitutions of the USA, France, the Batavian Republic and Sweden and that was one of the most radical of its age.
The Constitution was passed on 16 May 1814 and signed and dated the next day, when the assembly unanimously elected Christian Frederik King of Norway. He accepted the crown two days later, but his reign would only last for one summer.
The great powers stuck to their promises to Sweden, and at the end of July Sweden invaded Norway. This, the last of the many wars fought between the Nordic countries (and Sweden’s last war to this day), saw some Swedish victories and some Norwegians, but in the long term Norway would not have been able to resist the much stronger Swedish military. The war ended with a ceasefire agreed in Moss on 14 August 1814, whereby Crown Prince Carl Johan agreed to respect Norway’s Constitution and independence, while King Christian Frederik agreed to abdicate after convening an extraordinary Parliament that would pass a revised Constitution adapted to a union with Sweden.
King Christian Frederik signed his abdication on 10 October in the Garden Room at Bygdøy Royal Manor and left Norway forever sixteen days later. (25 years on he succeeded to the Danish throne as King Christian VIII). Parliament meanwhile entered into negotiations with Swedish commissioners about a constitutional revision and, led by the able Speaker, Wilhelm F. K. Christie, succeeded in maintaining almost all of it, although changes necessitated by the union were obviously made.
On 4 November 1814 Parliament elected King Carl XIII of Sweden King of Norway and the two countries thereby embarked on a union of crowns. However, this was a union completely different from the one with Denmark, as Sweden and Norway were both independent kingdoms in a very loose personal union. There were separate parliaments, constitutions, governments, laws, courts, churches, armies, navies, bureaucracies, royal households and so on; indeed the King and the foreign service were the only shared institutions. This arrangement lasted until 1905, when Norway seceded from the union.
King Christian Frederik was subsequently criticised for his conduct by people who thought it more honourable if more blood had been shed (even today there is a handful of people who proclaim his view), but today the established view is that by choosing negotiations over defeat Christian Frederik saved Norway’s independence and Constitution. In recognition of this a statue of King Christian Frederik was erected outside the Parliament Building today, where it will be unveiled by Queen Margrethe – a huge admirer of his – in the presence of the King and Queen at noon on Sunday.
Today the usual parades of children will take place all over the country followed by a celebration at Eidsvoll that is expected to attract thousands, including the royal family and the Danish and Swedish monarchs. Unlike the King and Queen of Sweden the Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark will also be present at the Royal Palace during the children’s parade, but will watch from a window rather than joining the royal family on the palace balcony.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Strong support for Norwegian monarchy

Amid the celebrations of the independence bicentenary two new opinion polls about monarchy or republic have been published today. Both show strong support for the monarchy, but the results differ strongly.
The poll conducted by Norstat for the state broadcaster NRK (external link) shows an overwhelming 82 % in support of the monarchy, which is the highest level measured in the present reign (if I recall, a poll showed 87 % around the time of King Olav's death in 1991). NRK does not say how the remaining 18 % divide between those who support a republic and those who are uncertain.
The poll carried out by Infact and published in the tabloid newspaper VG (external link) shows that 65.4 % say no to the suggestion that the royal house (sic) should be abolished. 19 % agree that it should, while 15.6 % are uncertain. When the same agency two years ago asked if Norway should remain a monarchy, 74.6 % agreed, while 14.8 % disagreed and 10.5 % were uncertain. This shows a decline in the support for the monarchy of nearly 10 %, but the fact that the question has been turned around since two years ago ought perhaps to be taken into consideration.

Princess Ingrid Alexandra makes parliamentary debut

Today (or by now rather yesterday) Parliament held a special meeting to commemorate the bicentenary of the Constitution, which was passed on 16 May 1814 and signed and dated the following day. For this occasion the MPs were joined by the royal family, the members of the cabinet and the Supreme Court and the speakers of the parliaments of Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland.
The King and Queen were accompanied by the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, Princess Ingrid Alexandra and Princess Astrid. Prince Sverre Magnus had apparently been excused, while Princess Märtha Louise, who lives in London, had chosen not to travel to her native land for this important occasion. For Princess Ingrid Alexandra this was her first appearance in Parliament which she, unless the Constitution is changed, will open every year when she succeeds to the throne.
The Constitution bars the King from being present while Parliament is sitting, but as no parliamentary deliberations took place today his presence was "tolerated". Similar meetings have been held in the presence of members of the royal family to commemorate other important occasions, including the 175th anniversary of the Constitution 25 years ago, the 50th, 75th and 100th anniversaries of the dissolution of the personal union with Sweden in 1905 and the 100th anniversary of the introduction of parliamentarianism in 1884, as well as after the terrorist attacks directed against the Labour Party by a right wing extremist in 2011.
Today speeches were given by the Speaker of Parliament, Olemic Thommessen (Conservative), as well as the speakers of the Danish and Swedish parliaments, Mogens Lykketoft and Per Westerberg. Following the meeting the King and Queen hosted a reception at the Palace for nearly all the mayors of the 428 municipalities, while a sparsely attended "people's party" was held in Eidsvoll Square outside the Parliament Building.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

President Peres on controversial state visit to Norway

President Shimon Peres of Israel is currently on a two day state visit to Norway, which has, unsurprisingly, caused some controversy because of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and related issues. The fact that Prime Minister Erna Solberg and all other officials in order to please the Chinese dictatorship refused to meet another former Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the Dalai Lama, during his visit to Norway last week has added to the controversy.
State visits are decided by the government, so it is the current coalition of the Conservative Party and the far right-wing Progress Party that has initiated this state visit, but the fact that state visits are officially on the invitiation of the King, who plays host, has seen some criticise the King for receiving President Peres, while others have been deluded into believing that the state visit means that the King supports and endorses Israel. Both views are obviously nonsense, as the King, as a constitutional monarch, is bound by the government's decision in such matters.
The King yesterday hosted a state banquet at the Royal Palace (for which President Peres made the odd choice of wearing a starched white shirt and a white bow tie with an ordinary grey suit), while the governments holds a dinner at Akershus Castle tonight. The President, who is ninety years old and will retire next month, have also called on the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. Having shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with the late Yitzhak Rabin and the late Yassir Arafat, President Peres also gave a lecture at the Nobel Institute.
Strangely the Queen, who was until the start of the state visit yesterday listed as attending all events, is not present during the state visit, which the Palace explains with her being on a "longer, planned foreign trip". As no such foreign trip is listed this must be a private visit and it seems odd that the Queen, who is known to be duty conscious and has never missed a state visit before, should be on a private holiday during an incoming state visit. Nevertheless her absence left the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and Princess Astrid to do the honours together with the King.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Norway's Constitution bicentenary coming up

Norway celebrates the bicentenary of its independence this year and next week will be filled with events to mark the bicentenary of the Constitution, which was passed at Eidsvoll on 16 May 1814 and signed and dated the following day, when Prince Christian Frederik of Denmark was elected King of Norway.
The main events will obviously take place on 17 May. In addition to the usual National Day celebrations there will be a televised gala from the park at Eidsvoll Manor, where the Constituent Assembly was held. For this event the King and Queen and the Crown Prince and Crown Princess will be joined by the Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark and, very reluctantly, the King and Queen of Sweden. For a few hours this day the original Constitution, which is usually kept under lock and key in the Parliamentary Archives, will be brought back
Two days prior, at noon on 15 May, Parliament will hold a special commemorative meeting. This will be one of the rare occasions when the King is present in Parliament (the Constitution forbids his presence during parliamentary deliberations, a remnant from the days the King might try to coerce Parliament into doing what he wanted), and the King will be accompanied by the Queen, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess and Princess Astrid. At previous such events the children of the royal family have also attended, but it remains to be seen whether Princess Ingrid Alexandra and perhaps also Prince Sverre Magnus will make a first appearance in Parliament. Afterwards a public celebration will take place in Eidsvoll Square in front of the Parliament Building (while the King and Queen host a reception for mayors from across the country at the Palace).
On 18 May a statue of King Christian Frederik by the sculptor Kristian Blystad will be unveiled in Eidsvoll Square by Queen Margrethe in the presence of the King and Queen and Prince Consort Henrik.
Among other events is a banquet in the City Hall of Oslo on 14 May and an ecumenical service in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on 20 May, as well as several exhibitions at museums in Oslo as well as other places.