Tuesday, 27 January 2015

My latest article: Obituary of Johan Martin Ferner

Following the death of Johan Martin Ferner, the businessman who was for 54 years married to Princess Astrid, I have written an obituary which appears in the newspaper Aftenposten today. It may be read here (external link).

Monday, 26 January 2015

Johan Martin Ferner's funeral to take place on 2 February

The funeral of the businessman Johan Martin Ferner, Princess Astrid's husband, who died on Saturday, will as expected take place in Holmenkollen Chapel in Oslo on Monday 2 February at 1 p.m. As befits the low profile of this most anonymous member of the royal family, the funeral will be a private one, without media presence.
I would not expect members of foreign royal families to attend, except perhaps a representative of the Swedish royal family, to whom Princess Astrid was always close. Those Belgians, Luxembourgian and Danish relatives the Ferners were close to are now all dead, with the exception of Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, who at the age of 94 is unlikely to travel to Norway.
Holmenkollen Chapel is part of the Ferners' local parish Ris. It is also close to the royal winter residence, the Royal Lodge, and has long held a special place in Princess Astrid's heart. It was where all their children were baptised and she was deeply upset when the wooden chapel was arsoned by Satanists in 1992, less than two months before Elisabeth Ferner's wedding was due to take place there. The Princess played a key role in raising more than 10 million NOK for its reconstruction. It was completed in 1996, just in time for Alexander Ferner's wedding to take place there.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

At the road's end: Johan Martin Ferner (1927-2015), businessman and royal husband

The business man Johan Martin Ferner, Princess Astrid's husband, passed away at the age of 87 at the National Hospital in Oslo at 5.25 this morning, the royal court has announced. Ferner was the most anonymous member of the royal family and during his 54 years as the Princess's husband he was the very essence of discretion and loyalty.
Born in Oslo on 22 July 1927, Johan Martin Jacobsen was the third and youngest child of Ferner Jacobsen and his wife Ragnhild Olsen. In November of the same year, the children adopted their father's first name as their last name. His father ran a men's clothing store, Ferner Jacobsen A/S, founded in 1926 and still in existence in Parliament Street in Oslo. Johan Martin studied at London Polytechnic Institute, Bradford Technical College and the University of Lyon and worked at Harrods and Austin Reed in London before joining his father's company, where he worked his way up through the ranks until taking over the company jointly with his older brother Finn Christian on their father's death in 1964.
Johan Martin Ferner was a keen yachtsman and won a silver medal at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. The previous year he had for the first time gone sailing with Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid, and they remained part of each other's social circle. In 1953, Ferner married a friend of the princesses, Ingeborg "Bitte" Hesselberg-Meyer (1931-1997), but the marriage was dissolved in 1956. Ferner's and Princess Astrid's friendship gradually evolved into love, but it would be several years before King Olav gave his permission for them to marry. When writing my biography of her, Princess Astrid told me that after her elder sister had married a commoner she was convinced that it would not be possible for her too to do the same, and the fact that Ferner was a divorcé obviously complicated the matters (this was about the same time as Princess Margaret of Britain had to give up her relationship with the divorcé Peter Townsend). Attempts were made to stop the relationship, but eventually the King gave in.
The storm that broke out when the engagement was announced on 13 November 1960 was considered the worst the royal family had so far experienced and contained many of the same arguments that would come up again when the Princess's nephew married a single mother in 2001. Two members of Parliament's presidium boycotted the congratulatory visit to the Palace, while the Christian newspaper Vårt Land declared itself in mourning and thundered against the Princess and her choice of husband. The wedding was set for Asker Church, the parish church near the royal estate Skaugum, but the parish council refused to allow the marriage to be celebrated there. It was only after the King had appealed to the Church Ministry that the decision was overturned. The Bishop of Oslo was unwilling to marry divorces, but the more liberal Bishop of Nidaros, Arne Fjellbu, agreed to do so. The couple were eventually married on 12 January 1961 in the presence of royal guests from Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and Britain.
Johan Martin Ferner and Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner, as she was now styled, settled in a villa on Oslo's west side and had five children between 1962 and 1972: Cathrine, Benedikte, Alexander, Elisabeth and Carl-Christian. Until 1968 the Princess, despite ill health, combined her role as wife and mother with that of first lady of the realm and she had continued to take on many royal duties also after her brother's marriage meant that her sister-in-law Sonja tok over as first lady. Johan Martin Ferner kept a very low profile and did not carry out any public engagements, only occasionally accompanying his wife to major events. I believe the interview he gave to Aftenposten on the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1997 was the only interview he ever gave. Instead he focused his attention on the family business, which was eventually taken over by his son Carl-Christian and his nephew Christian, but until recently Johan Martin Ferner still paid regular visits to the store.
King Harald made his brother-in-law a Commander of the Order of St Olav shortly after the couple's golden wedding anniversary in 2011. By then the 84-year-old Johan Martin Ferner had given up on attending evening events and was only occasionally seen at royal events. His last public appearance was the wedding of his youngest son to Anna-Stina Slattum Karlsen on 4 October 2014.

Last rites for King Abdullah - and appointment of new heirs

In keeping with Muslim tradition, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who died in the early hours of Friday, was buried already on the same day. After funeral prayers at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque, the King was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in the El-Ud public cemetery in Riyadh.
The King of Bahrain, the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, the Presidents of Turkey and Sudan and the Prime Ministers of Egypt and Pakistan attended the funeral, while other foreign dignitaries will arrive in Riyadh on Saturday to pay their condolences to the new King, Salman. Among those expected are the Kings of Sweden and Spain, Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, the Crown Princes of Denmark and Norway and US Vice President Joe Biden.
There were two interesting developments to the Saudi succession, one particularly significant, on Friday. Firstly, King Salman appointed his half-brother Muqrin Crown Prince. Muqrin, the youngest surviving son of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud), was appointed Deputy Crown Prince by King Abdullah in March last year. The choice was somewhat surprising as there is an older half-brother, Ahmed, and Muqrin is not the son of a Saudi mother, and some had wondered if King Salman upon his succession would appoint Ahmed Crown Prince. This did not happen, and King Salman also appointed the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed, the son of the late Crown Prince Nayef, Deputy Crown Prince, signifying that after the deaths of Salman, who is 79, and Muqrin, who is 69, the Saudi succession will at last move from the approximately 45 sons of Ibn Saud to the third generation of the House of Saud.

Friday, 23 January 2015

At the road's end: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (1924?-2015)

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was hospitalised with pneumonia several weeks ago, died at 1 a.m. local time today, it has been announced. The King was believed to be 90 years old. Under the Saudi succession rules, which means that the crown passes between the many sons of the country's founder, King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud), King Abdullah is succeeded by his half-brother Salman, who is believed to be 79 years old and in indifferent health.
King Abdullah came to the throne upon the death of his older half-brother King Fahd in August 2005, but had by then already been the country's actual ruler since King Fahd suffered a serious stroke ten years previously. In a Saudi context, King Abdullah, who was very popular with his people, was seen as a moderate and a reformer, who gave for instance the media and women more freedom, but as an absolute monarch he presided over one of the world's most barbaric regimes.
King Abdullah outlived two crown princes, Sultan, who died in 2011, and Nayef, who passed away in 2012, before appointing Salman Crown Prince. For good measure, he appointed another half brother, Muqrin, Deputy Crown Prince last year.
Muqrin, now Crown Prince, is a mere 69, but the youngest son of Ibn Saud, meaning that the shift to the next generations - the grandsons - will probably occur after him.
The death of King Abdullah makes Queen Elizabeth II of Britain the world's oldest monarch.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

My latest article(s): Queen Fabiola and a Danish succession dispute

I have written two articles in the February issue of Majesty (Vol. 36, No. 2), which goes on sale in Britain today. There are seven pages on the life, death and funeral of Queen Fabiola of the Belgians, who died last month, and I also write about Hereditary Prince Knud of Denmark, the younger brother and heir presumptive of King Frederik IX, who never got over his bitterness about losing the crown when the succession was changed in 1953 to allow for the accession of his niece, the current Queen Margrethe II.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

On this date: Marius Borg Høiby's 18th birthday

When he entered public life fifteen years ago he was often referred to as "little Marius", but time flies and today the Crown Prince's stepson, Marius Borg Høiby, turns eighteen and thus reaches his majority.
Marius Borg Høiby was born to the then Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby and Morten Borg on 13 January 1997 and was still just two years old when his mother began a relationship with the Crown Prince in 1999. His family understandably tried to shield him from unwelcome media attention, but many will remember him playing with the Queen on the floor of the Royal Lodge during the 2000 Christmas photo session and as a pageboy at his mother's and stepfather's wedding on 25 August 2001.
The King decided that Marius should be a member of the royal family, but not of the royal house, which means that he is a natural presence at family events, but does not take part in official events that are not family events, except for the occasional more informal event, such as a football match or a concert. Thus he does for instance not join his siblings on the palace balcony on the National Day and it is not expected that he will carry out official engagements or represent Norway abroad as an adult.
So far, the media have mostly left Marius alone, but it remains to be seen whether his unusual position will provide him with the best of both worlds or if his royal status will restrict him in trying to lead a normal life.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

At the road's end: The 8th Duke of Wellington (1915-2014)

Ever since the 1st Duke of Wellington was one of the victors in the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 it has been a tradition that the current Duke of Wellington goes to Windsor Castle on the anniversary of the battle to present the British monarch with a French flag as a token rent for the estate the 1st Duke was granted by the nation in recognition of his victory over Emperor Napoléon I of the French. It would have been wonderful if the 8th Duke of Wellington, who was born two weeks after the centenary of the battle, had been able to present the flag to Queen Elizabeth II on the bicentenary this year, but sadly he died on the last day of 2014, aged 99.
The son of the diplomat and architect Lord Gerald Wellesley, Arthur Valerian Wellesley was born in Rome on 2 July 1915 and was quite naturally named for his great ancestor. However, he was at that time not expected to succeed to the dukedom, but the death of his childless cousin Henry, the 6th Duke, from wounds received in action in Italy in 1943, made his father the 7th Duke and himself the heir apparent to the dukedom, which he inherited - together with a number of other British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese titles, including Prince of Waterloo, on the death of his father in 1972.
The 8th Duke was a career soldier, who served in the Middle East and Italy during the Second World War and was awarded the Military Cross in 1941. He retired from the British army in 1968 with the rank of brigadier. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1990.
During the war he married Diana McConnel, who worked in military intelligence, in Jerusalem on 28 January 1944. The Duchess died in 2010. The couple had five children, of whom the eldest, Charles, a former MEP who is married to Princess Antonia of Prussia, succeeds to his father's titles (although it is customary in Britain that the heir to a title does not start using it until after the funeral of the previous holder). Their only daughter, Lady Jane Wellesley, is a TV producer, was at one stage advocated by Lord Mountbatten as a possible bride for King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, but a certain Silvia Sommerlath came in the way of what might have been a grand alliance between the descendants of two of the victors of the Napoleonic Wars.
The 8th Duke of Wellington was last seen in public when he and Lady Jane attended the memorial service for Lady Soames, Winston Churchill's daughter, in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 2014.

Princess Madeleine and family return to Sweden

Following much recent speculation about a move to London, the Swedish royal court has confirmed that Princess Madeleine and her family have left New York, where she has been living since 2010, and will for the foreseeable future live in her apartment in the Royal Mews in Stockholm. According to the royal court the Princess and her husband, Chris O'Neill, intend to find a new home somewhere in Europe, but no final decision about where has yet been made.
It was recently announced that the couple expect their second child in the summer and at the time of the birth of their first child, Princess Leonore, in February 2014, the Marshal of the Realm stated that the royal court's interpretation of the Act of Succession's rather vague requirement for royal children to be brought up in Sweden in order to maintain their rights of succession to mean that they must live in Sweden from approximately the age of six and attend Swedish schools.