Wednesday, 20 January 2016

My latest articles: Coronations and solemn blessings

My new book on the role of coronations in Norwegian history, Norges krone - Kroninger, signinger og maktkamper fra sagatid til nåtid, is of course of some relevance to the King's Silver Jubilee, and in connection with the jubilee I have had several related articles published.
In this year's first issue of the history magazine Aftenposten Historie, which is on sale from today, I have an eight-page article on the origins of the rites of coronation and anointing. The last Norwegian coronation was that of Haakon VII in 1906, but his son, Olav V, instituted a new tradition to replace coronations, namely a solemn blessing, making Norway the only European monarchy besides Britain that still marks the accession of a new monarch with a solemn religious ritual. On Saturday, I had an article in the newspaper Vårt Land about the transition from coronations to solemn blessings and its significance to King Olav, which is now also available online (external link). On the same day, I also wrote a piece in the newspaper VG on King Olav's struggle to introduce this new ritual, looking in particular at how he clashed with Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen, who wanted at most a much simpler service. This is also available online (external link), but only to subscribers, I am afraid.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

King Harald's silver jubilee celebrated today

Thousands of people came out on a freezing cold day in Oslo today to help celebrate the silver jubilee of King Harald's accession to the throne on 17 January 1991, thereby fulfilling the King and Queen's wish to celebrate the jubilee with their people. The extended royal family were joined by the Queen of Denmark and the King and Queen of Sweden for the celebrations.
The day started with a service of thanksgivings and commemoration in the Palace Chapel. Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, Primate of the Church of Norway, preached the sermon, while the lessons were read by Princess Märtha Louise, Princess Astrid's grandson Sebastian Ferner Johansen and the late Princess Ragnhild's granddaughter Sophia Anne Lorentzen.
Later, the royal family took part in a very well-attended winter sports event in the Palace Square, and later walked downhill to the University, where the government hosted a gala performance in its great hall. This evening there is a private, black-tie dinner at the Palace. Outside, hundreds of candles burn in the snow, just as they did on the dark winter night 25 years ago when King Olav died.
To mark the jubilee, the King has struck a new medal, King Harald V's Jubilee Medal 1991-2016, which has been given to the Queen and the other members of the royal family, the foreign royal guests, courtiers, equerries and bodyguards, former courtiers, representatives of the authorities and former prime ministers.
This weekend's events were only the first part of the jubilee celebrations, which will continue in June, when the King and Queen embark on an 11-day-long journey along the coast onboard the Royal Yacht, which will include visits to six major towns and a service of thanksgivings in Nidaros Cathedral on 23 June, the 25th anniversary of their solemn blessing. There will also be another large event in Oslo in late August or early September.

Celebrations of King and Queen's silver jubilee kick off

We have now entered 17 January, the 25th anniversary of King Olav V's death and Harald V's accession to the Norwegian throne. The celebrations began on Friday, when the King and Queen received official deputations at the Palace and continued last night with a dinner for family and foreign guests at Skaugum, the crown princely couple's home in Asker outside Oslo.
The Queen of Denmark and the King and Queen of Sweden joined the Norwegian royal family for the black tie event, which was also attended by all King Olav's living descendants and their partners except for Princess Ragnhild's youngest daughter, Ragnhild Lorentzen Long, and her husband and daughters. Princess Ragnhild's widower, Erling S. Lorentzen, who will be 93 in less than two weeks, brought along his new girlfriend, Ebba Løvenskiold, 25 years his junior and daughter of the late Herman Leopold Løvenskiold, who was head of the former noble family Løvenskiold and owner of Fossum Manor, and of the Swedish Countess Catharina De la Gardie.
The other guests were the Queen's nephews Karl-Otto Haraldsen and Dag Swanstrøm with their wives and her niece Ian Swanstrøm with Carl Christian Dahl, and the Crown Princess's mother Marit Tjessem with her partner Magnar Fjeldvær. The Crown Princess's son, Marius Borg Høiby, was away, apparently attending a school ball.
Tomorrow, or rather later today, the celebrations continue with a service in the Palace Chapel at 11 a.m., followed by a large winter sports event in the Palace Square, a performance in the University's great hall and a private dinner at the Royal Palace.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

At the road’s end: Princess Ashraf of Iran (1919-2016)

On Thursday, the funeral of a now mostly forgotten but once highly visible royal took place in Monaco. Princess Ashraf of Iran, who died on 7 January, was the twin sister of the last Shah, is thought to have wielded great influence during his reign, was a prominent advocate of women’s right and made a career at the UN.
Born five hours after her twin brother Mohammed Reza on 26 October 1919, Princess Ashraf considered their bond ‘the strongest sense of family that I would ever know’. The two of them ‘were like faces in a mirror’, she wrote in her autobiography, which was titled just that: Faces in a Mirror: Memoirs from Exile (1980).
When their father, Reza Shah, was forced to abdicate and sent into exile in Johannesburg in 1941, Princess Ashraf was the only family member who stayed behind in Teheran with the new young Shah. The Princess would play an important political role throughout his reign. In 1946, she was sent to Russia to negotiate with Stalin, who allegedly told her that is her brother “had ten like you, he would have no worries at all”. She also played a role in the downfall of one prime minister and the appointment of at least another.
However, she saw an enemy in the charismatic left-wing politician Mohammad Mosaddegh, who ordered her into exile on the very day he became Prime Minister in 1951. Two years later, the Princess was approached by agents of Britain and the USA, who had decided to remove Mosaddegh, and played a key role in convincing her brother to go along with the coup which removed Mosaddegh and restored the Shah’s power.
Princess Ashraf was closely involved in social issues and in particular in women’s rights. She headed the Women’s Organisation of Iran, whose greatest success was a 1975 act which ‘gave Iran’s women the most sweeping civil rights in the Islamic Middle East’. For seven years she headed Iran’s delegation to the UN general assembly and also served on several UN committees, including the preparatory committee for the International Women Year’s Conference in Mexico in 1975.
The Princess’s high profile made her a controversial figure and the subject of many rumours about her financial and romantic affairs. Having been forced by her father at the age of seventeen to marry Ali Qavam, to whom she claimed to have taken an instant dislike, she divorced him after her father’s abdication. They had one son, Shahram. Her second husband was the Egyptian businessman Ahmad Shafiq, with whom she had a son, Shahriar, and a daughter, Azadeh. The marriage was dissolved in 1960, and Princess Ashraf married Mehdi Bushehri. The Princess and her third husband would eventually lead separate lives but it seems they never formally divorced.
In 1977, Princess Ashraf survived an assassination attempt, but the following year the Shah advised her to leave Iran. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Princess Ashraf was included in the Khomeini regime’s death list and her son Shahriar was assassinated while carrying groceries into his sister’s apartment in Paris in December 1979. Her only daughter died from leukemia in 2001.
Princess Ashraf eventually faded from public view, but always remained fiercely protective of her twin brother’s regime and an apologist for its crimes.
A longer obituary by my hand will appear in the March issue of Majesty, which will be on sale in a month.