Friday, 31 December 2010

New books: The emergence of a national museum

Before 2010 ends I should take the opportunity to post a final review of a book published in 2009. In his doctoral dissertation Från kungligt galleri till nationellt museum – Aktörer, praktik och argument i svensk konstmuseal diskurs ca 1814-1845 (“From Royal Art Gallery to National Museum: Actors, Practices and Arguments within Swedish Art Museum Discourse ca 1814-1845”), published as a book by Gidlunds Förlag, Per Widén looks not at the history of the National Museum in itself, but on the process which led to the establishment of a national museum of fine arts in Sweden.
Unlike earlier chroniclers of the Swedish National Museum, Widén sees no direct line between the Royal Museum, set up by the Regent (later Carl XIII) following the assassination of Gustaf III in 1792, and the National Museum. The museum was housed in a few small rooms at the Royal Palace, but significant parts of the state art collection were in the royal apartments where they were only accessible to the public when the royals were not in residence.
Many thus realised that one needed a national museum of art located in a building of its onw, yet this did not happen until 1866, when the museum moved into a building at Blasieholmen opposite the Palace which had cost 2,270,877 riksdaler, making it the most expensive building to be erected in Stockholm since the Palace itself.
Widén sets out to investigate how it came about that the state invested such an astronomic sun of money in making its art collection accessible, who were the most important advocates of such a museum, how they went about it and what visions for the museum were formulated.
He identifies a group of approximately thirty advocates for a museum, seven of whom he considers most central: Gustaf Anckarsvärd, Axel Nyström, Fredrik Boije, Hugo Hamilton, Lars Jakob von Röök, Johan Way and Johan Henrik Schröder, all of them continuously active for a long time. Widén also looks at the relations between these actors and what arenas they operated on.
The most important meeting place, and the focal point of this group, was the royal court. But it was not the court as such or the royal family who ran the process, which Widén sees in relation to the changes in society during the 18th and 19th centuries which had seen civil society gain strength at the cost of the royals and the court. This also led to a new national discourse taking place in new public arena.
There was at first no organised or formalised group running this process, but overlapping groups of people who in different ways made their livings through the arts. Eventually they came together and in 1832 they established Stockholms allmänna konstförening (Stockholm Public Society of Art), which had the establishment of a national museum as its aim. Widén argues that the establishment of the society should be seen as a consequence of Parliament having voted down a proposition about a museum in 1832.
Acting as an organised group naturally made them stronger than when operating as individuals. They did not seek to influence public opinion through a press debate, but through hands-on work with art exhibitions and art museums wherever possible, thus setting a “practicable and non-confrontational” example.
The press, it seems to Widén, saw the need for an art museum as “self-evident”, which explains why there were no principle-based discussions about state responsibility in artistic matters. Parliament was the only arena where this consensus was challenged.
The issue was first raised in Parliament in 1817-1818 and voted down without any debate. Another proposition by Court Marshal Fredrik Philip Klingspor (probably written by Axel Nyström and Fredrik Boije) was rejected in 1828. Six years later Jacob Wilhelm Sprengtporten included a suggestion for a building for a national museum and library in a proposition about a number of new public buildings in the capital, but the museum question was mostly lost in a wider debate on other issues. Yet another proposition in 1840 received a somewhat warmer welcome and in 1844 it was decided, with a majority of two votes, to build a museum – which would nevertheless not open for a further 22 years.
As can be seen from this list of dates little happened during the 1830s. Widén sees this as a consequence of King Carl XIV Johan being about to solve the issue on his own. With his background in Napoleonic circles, the King could not possibly be unfamiliar with the great importance accorded to the arts and museums of art during the French First Empire, Widén argues.
The King had commissioned his favourite architect Fredrik Blom to design a building for an art museum next to his new summer palace Rosendal. Work began in 1834 and it has been a commonly held perception that the museum building was intended to house the King’s private art collection, but Widén argues that the plans were at some stage altered and has figured out that approximately half of the state’s art collection could have been fitted into the projected building.
Widén admits that he has found no contemporary sources supporting such a theory, but it seems feasible that the absence of any museum propositions in Parliament during the 1830s – except the one which included a museum in a more general construction plan – might be linked to the King’s ongoing project. And it is only after work on the unfinished museum at Rosendal stopped in 1838 that the issue again reappears in Parliament.
Widén also sees the emergence of a Swedish national museum in an international context. He points out how palaces as well as museums around 1800 began to attract new groups of visitors from other segments of the population than earlier, something which caused the museum to present their collections in a different way as one could no longer count on the visitors to be well-informed in advance. Whereas one had earlier hung the same motif from different schools of paintings together to highlight the differences between the schools one now began to arrange them as a “pedagogical illustration of the history of art”.
For comparison Widén looks at museums in Rome, Vienna, Paris, Munich, Berlin, London, St Petersburg and Copenhagen. As a Norwegian reader one cannot avoid noticing that there is not a word about the situation in Norway at the same time, even though Widén stresses the importance for the Swedish situation of the fact that similar museums were appearing in other European countries.
The author observes that when the issue was first raised in Parliament in 1828 there were few great art museums in Europe, but when the issue reappeared in 1840 the situation had changed radically in that major museums had opened in Berlin, Munich and London, while the Louvre was growing and the Hermitage expanding. The small Royal Museum in Stockholm thus did not stand well in comparison with other European capitals.
Widén mentions the art museum at the second Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen in 1829 and the work on the New Hermitage in St Petersburg beginning in 1839 as examples from Stockholm’s neighbourhood, but ignores Christiania (now Oslo) although Sweden and Norway were at the time in a union of crowns (although both independent kingdoms).
A Norwegian national museum of art had first been proposed to the Norwegian Parliament by Hans Riddervold in April 1836 and the motion was passed in late December that year. 28 paintings were bought for the museum in May 1837 and in 1841 the National Museum opened in some rooms of the still not completed Royal Palace.
The swift establishment of a national museum in the country with which Sweden was in a union might have been an interesting contrast to look at for comparison. What took 25 years in Sweden took eight months in Norway and one must wonder if the issue being so speedily solved in Norway may not have influenced or at least played some sort of role for the changing attitudes in the Swedish Parliament.
A glance to the west would also have modified Widén’s statement that “the great art museums of the 19th century, with the exception of the National Gallery in Britain, all have their origins in princely collections transferred to state ownership”. The Norwegian National Museum is another example of that not being the case.
Despite this final reservation on my part the main impression is that Per Widén has delivered an insightful and convincing account of the long process which led to the establishment of the institution that is the National Museum of Sweden, the actors which ran the process and the ideas of the day about museums’ purposes and functions. As such it is a valuable addition to the literature on the history of the National Museum.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

First great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth II

Buckingham Palace has announced (external link) the birth of a daughter to Peter and Autumn Phillips at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital today.
The child, whose name has not yet been confirmed, is the first grandchild of Anne, the Princess Royal, and the first great-grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and the Duke of Edinburgh. She takes her place as twelth in line to the throne of the United Kingdom and the other countries of which her great-grandmother is monarch.
It is the first time since the days of Queen Victoria that a British monarch sees the birth of a great-grandchild, although queens consort Alexandra, Mary and Elizabeth all became great-grandmothers in their widowhood.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

My latest article: Prince Carl and the Nobel Peace Prize

This year’s last issue of Royalty Digest Quarterly (no 4-2010) has arrived and among its content is my article “Prince of Peace – Prince Carl of Sweden and the Nobel Prize”. Based on research I did in the archives of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo last winter I am able to say that Prince Carl of Sweden, who served as President of the Swedish Red Cross from 1903 till 1945, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize no less than seventeen times between 1924 and 1937. On three occasions – 1924, 1928 and 1936 – he was shortlisted, meaning that he was among the handful of candidates whose credentials were closely scrutinised.
In the end Prince Carl never received the Nobel Peace Prize, but in my article I chart the history of his recurring candidature, which enjoyed strong support from many notable personages – among them three Swedish prime minister, a long list of parliamentarians, the Nobel family and Fridtjof Nansen, the polar explorer who had himself earlier been awarded the Peace Prize.
Prince Carl was not the only royal to be nominated for this most prestigious of awards, but he is the only one who is known to have been seriously considered. In my article I also identify the reason why his father, King Oscar II, himself often hailed as “the Prince of Peace”, did not receive the Peace Prize.

In the same magazine I have reviewed the German historian Jörg-Peter Findeisen’s biography of King Carl XIV Johan of Sweden and Norway, and in The Court Historian (Volume 15, 2), the international journal of court studies published by the Society for Court Studies, I have a review article of the exhibition “The Palace and Linstow: The Cornerstone of the New Capital”, which was held at the National Museum – Architecture in Oslo between May and October this year, and its accompanying catalogue.

These three will be my last articles published this year, bringing the total number for 2010 to thirty – counting nine longer historical or art historical studies, eleven newspaper articles or op-eds, seven reviews, two letters to the editor and one obituary.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

On this date: Princess Antoinette of Monaco turns ninety

Today is the 90th birthday of Princess Antoinette of Monaco, Baroness of Massy, the aunt of Sovereign Prince Albert II and sister of the late Prince Rainier III.
She was born on 28 December 1920, in the reign of her great-grandfather Albert I, and was the eldest child of Princess Charlotte and Prince Pierre, né de Polignac, who had married earlier that year after Charlotte, the illegitimate child of Hereditary Prince Louis and an Algerian laundry maid or cabaret artist, had been formally adopted by her father and raised to princely rank. Her brother, Rainier, was born in 1923, but their parents separated in 1930 and the children’s grandfather, by then Sovereign Prince Louis II, took charge of their upbringing.
Hereditary Princess Charlotte renounced her rights to the throne in 1944, meaning that Rainier succeeded to the throne when Prince Louis died in 1949. As Prince Rainier was still unmarried, Princess Antoinette became the principality’s first lady. She remained so until Prince Rainier married Grace Kelly in 1956 and is said to have resented relinquishing the position. It is commonly known that Princess Antoinette and Princess Grace did not get along.
Antoinette herself had begun a relationship to a married man, Alexandre Noghès, with whom she had three children – Elisabeth-Anne in 1947, Christian in 1949 and Christine in 1951 – before marrying him. The marriage lasted only three years and in 1961 she remarried the ambitious lawyer Jean-Charles Rey, who was also President of the Monegasque Parliament.
Princess Antoinette had taken part in intrigues against her brother already in 1955, spreading rumours that Rainier’s then girlfriend was infertile and plotting to make him step aside in favour of her and her son. During her second marriage she was led on by Rey, who argued that she, as the eldest child, was the rightful sovereign of Monaco. Needless to say the relationship between Prince Rainier and Princess Antoinette was strained for a number of years.
The Princess and Jean-Charles Rey divorced in 1974 and nine years later she remarried the ballet dancer John Gilpin, who died from a heart attack six weeks after the wedding. Her youngest daughter Christine died in 1989.
Since the funeral of her brother in 2005 Princess Antoinette, who lives in Éze, has made few public appearances and in recent years she has ceased attending the great annual events in the principality such as the Red Cross ball, the Rose ball or the National Day celebrations.
The coming year is by the way expected to see several 90th birthdays among senior European royals: Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg will turn 90 on 5 January, followed by Prince Philip of Britain on 10 June and the ex-King of Romania on 25 October.

Monday, 27 December 2010

New books: Drottningholm from Gustaf III to Carl XVI Gustaf

The first volume on Drottningholm Palace in the book series on the Swedish royal palaces, published in 2004, told the royal domain’s story from the 1660s, when Dowager Queen Hedvig Eleonora had the palace built, until 1777, when Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika ceded it to her son Gustaf III. Back then some critics said that if the time of Gustaf III had been included as well, one might have done with only one volume, suggesting that there is little to be said about Drottningholm after the 18th century. The second volume of Drottningholms slott, Från Gustav III till Carl XVI Gustaf, edited by Göran Alm and Rebecka Millhagen and published by Votum Förlag in Karlstad this autumn, shows that this indeed a misconception.
This is the seventh book in the series which was revived last year with a volume on Haga and it follows the same pattern as the earlier volumes. There are thematic chapters by various experts in their fields, the book is profusely illustrated and it is based on the latest research, although not academic in language or form.
It was as mentioned in 1777 that Dowager Queen Lovisa Ulrika, who as a young bride in 1744 had been given the right to use the palace by King Fredrik I, ceded it to her eldest son, King Gustaf III. But although it has often been said so in the literature the authors of this book show that Drottningholm was not actually owned by Gustaf III. It had by 1777 already become state property and it was only the disposal right as well as her private furniture and collections that Lovisa Ulrika sold to her son.
Gustaf III considered it “the only of my countryside retreats which has a royal appearance” and Stina Odlinder Haubo points out that except the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Drottningholm was the only palace available to Gustaf III which had actually been built as a royal palace which was thus also intended to be a manifestation of royal power – unlike what was the case in for instance Denmark, the Swedish royal country palaces tended to have belonged to noble families before being bought and remodelled by the royals.
There is a multitude of topics covered by this book. Göran Alm opens the book with a chapter on court life at Drottningholm in the 1770s, followed by Magnus Olausson on the garden and the park in the days of Gustaf III, before Stina Odlinder Haubo considers the interiors during Gustaf III. Inga Lewenhaupt writes about the world-famous theatre at Drottningholm, Ingrid Sjöström about the other buildings on the domain and its surroundings, Thomas Roth about the military presence at Drottningholm and Catharina Nolin about the 20th century restoration of the gardens, to mention only the major chapters.
If I should single out some contributions for praise it would be those by Eva-Lena Bengtsson and Britt-Inger Johansson. Bengtsson writes about the changes to the interiors made by King Oscar I and Queen Josephina, in particular the Hall of State, where Queen Josephina surrounded her husband’s portrait with those of his contemporaries among the sovereigns of Europe (portraits of the female consorts of some of them were collected in a smaller adjacent room).
The future Carl IX and Gustaf III had done something similar at Gripsholm Castle and Bengtsson points out that Carl IX, Gustaf III and Oscar I all belonged to the second generation of a new dynasty. This was obviously done to stress the upstart Bernadottes’ equal status to other European monarchs and it is interesting to note that the future Gustaf V’s christening took place in this hall at the time most of the portraits had arrived.
Bengtsson observes that there seems to be no formal precedence taken into account when the portraits were placed on the walls, but notes that Oscar I is at the centre flanked by Emperor Napoléon III of France and Queen Victoria of Britain, “representing the real great powers of Europe”. But here there is probably another point which Bengtsson has overlooked: the portrait of Oscar I is thus flanked by the monarchs of the two countries with which he had entered into the so-called November Treaty in 1855.
Britt-Inger Johansson considers the changes to the interiors which were made during the 19th century. She takes to task the oft-repeated myth that Carl XIV Johan showed no interest in Drottningholm and allowed it to fall into disrepair, pointing out that he ordered general inventories of all the palaces to be carried out when he succeeded to the thrones in 1818, but that Parliament rejected his request for funds for its renovation. There are indications that the King might have had plans for a renovation paid for out of his own funds and that these ideas remained in his mind until well into the 1820s, but Johansson suggests that the building works at the palaces Rosendal and Rosersberg eventually drew away the King’s attention and money. Johansson also points out how the 19th century’s fondness for history led to interiors being created to commemorate the reigns of Carl XII, Carl XIV Johan and Oscar II himself, adding to Drottningholm’s status as a historical monument.
Bo Vahlne and Göran Alm present the history of Drottningholm and its interiors during the Bernadottes. Following Oscar I’s death it remained primarily at the disposal of his widow Josephina until her death in 1876, meaning that Carl XV rarely stayed there, but since then it has been frequently used by all successive monarchs: Oscar II, Gustaf V, Gustaf VI Adolf and Carl XVI Gustaf.
In 1981 King Carl Gustaf and his family left the Royal Palace in Stockholm and made Drottningholm their permanent, all-year home. This has led to one part of the palace being set aside for the royal family’s private quarters, something which Göran Alm argues is in a way to go back to the roots. In the 17th century Dowager Queen Hedvig Eleonora had both official apartments and a more private section, whereas Lovisa Ulrika and Gustaf III, and to a great extent also the earlier Bernadottes, did not draw a strict line between private and official rooms. A tentative separation of the palace along such lines began with King Gustaf V and Queen Victoria.
In 1991 the Drottningholm domain was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list – the first such site in Sweden. Here and there in the book we hear about the great tourist interest in Drottningholm ever since the advent of steamboats in the early 19th centuries – the first guidebook dates from 1796 – and it is also suggested that the huge numbers of visitors (today reckoned to be about 500,000 annually) may have influenced certain decisions concerning the presentation of the palace and the gardens. Yet Göran Alm’s chapter on Drottningholm as a tourist attraction runs to a mere two pages and this is something I think could well have been dealt with more thoroughly, while some other chapters in my opinion appear too long and detailed.
Another thing I miss – in this as well as in many other books on palaces – is more about life at the palace. As mentioned Göran Alm provides some glimpses of court life in the 1770s, but we learn comparatively less about life at Drottningholm during subsequent monarchs, although there must be a fair amount of material on this available (royals as well as courtiers tell about this in published diaries and memoirs).
But all in all this is a highly informative book which offers an insightful and comprehensive account of the lesser-known parts of Drottningholm’s history. There can no longer be any reason to claim that Drottningholm does not have a rich and interesting history even after the assassination of Gustaf III.
The next volume in the book series will be about Tullgarn, my personal favourite among the eleven royal palaces of Sweden.

Prince Albert changes wedding dates yet again

The website of the princely court of Monaco has now launched a wedding section (external link) which suggests that Sovereign Prince Albert II and Charlene Wittstock have yet again changed the dates for their wedding. Originally planned for 8 and 9 July, it was subsequently moved to 2 and 3 July. The website now says that the civil wedding will take place in the Throne Room of the Princely Palace at 5 p.m. on 1 July, followed by the religious blessing of the marriage in the square in front of the Palace at 5 p.m. on 2 July.

Poll suggests 63 % of Swedes want the King to abdicate at some stage

A wave of opinion polls seems to engulf the Swedish monarchy this year and another one published in Aftonbladet during Christmas has attracted much attention as it shows that a majority of the respondees are in favour of King Carl Gustaf abdicating at some stage.
In this poll by Sifo only 30 % of the 1,000 respondees expressed the opinion that the King should remain on the throne until his death, while 15 % want him to hand over to Crown Princess Victoria as soon as possible, 27 % say he should do so within five years and another 21 % within ten years.
82 % say their trust in the King has not changed in the past year, while 14 % say it has decreased and 3 % that it has increased. 74 % want to retain the monarchy, whereas 21 % want a republic and 5 % are undecided.
60 % think Crown Princess Victoria is the member of the royal family most suited to be head of state, while 25 % answer the King, 3 % Prince Carl Philip and 1 % each for the Queen, Prince Daniel and Princess Madeleine.
When asked to name one favourite member of the royal family 56 % go for the Crown Princess, 10 % for Princess Madeleine, 8 % the King, 4 % the Queen, 3 % Prince Carl Philip and 1 % Prince Daniel.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Royal jewels: Queen Sophia’s tiara

The piece of jewellery usually known as Queen Sophia’s tiara, but informally also called “the elk antlers”, is one of the diadems most frequently worn by Queen Silvia of Sweden. It is made up of no less than 528 diamonds, but its origins are not quite clear.
It is possible that it is based on a smaller diamond comb from the jewellery collection of King Carl XIV Johan, but it first appears in its present form in a photo showing the then Princess Sophia, Duchess of Ostrogothia during the reign of her brother-in-law King Carl XV (whose family order she wears in that photo).
The tiara is first listed in the inventory of jewels belonging to Carl XV at the time of his death in 1872, where the said diamond comb is missing. It is thus possible that the comb, with which Queen Lovisa was once pictured, was remodelled into a tiara for Princess Sophia towards the end of Carl XV’s reign.
There are several later photos of Sophia wearing it as Queen, such as the one above, which shows her in Swedish court dress. It is not among the eight diadems listed in the inventory of her jewellery drawn up after her death in 1913, but this is because it was part of the jewellery family foundation.
Queen Victoria was, as far as I know, never pictured with it and in 1923 she and King Gustaf V presented it to their eldest son’s second bride, Lady Louise Mountbatten. Queen Louise wore it fairly frequently, but following her death in 1965 it was left in the vaults until Princess Christina wore it for the state visit from Denmark in 1973. Princess Margaretha, Mrs Ambler chose to wear it for the dance at Drottningholm Palace on the eve of the current King and Queen’s wedding in 1976.
It has also been a firm favourite of Queen Silvia’s, who had the sole use of it from 1977, when Princess Lilian wore if for the Nobel banquet, until this year’s royal wedding, where it was worn by Princess Birgitta of Hohenzollern.
The reason why it has been worn frequently by some royal ladies (Queen Sophia, Queen Louise and Queen Silvia) and never by others (Queen Victoria and Princess Sibylla) is apparently that the tiara is not versatile at all and that it is therefore very uncomfortable to wear unless it fits the shape of one’s head. I am told Princess Birgitta came to experience this during the wedding banquet in June; the tiara, worn low on her forehead, kept slipping down into her face.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

New books: Frederik VIII’s Mansion

Following the restoration of Christian VII’s Mansion at Amalienborg a monumental two-volume work dealing with the mansion’s history, architecture and renovation was published. Now that the restoration of Frederik VIII’s Mansion is completed one has chosen a different and less scholarly approach, resulting in the book Frederik VIII’s Palæ – Restaurering. Ombygning. Kunstnerisk udsmykning, edited by a group consisting of Mads Falbe-Hansen, Carsten Kjær Sørensen, Dorte Bülow, Poul Schülein and Jens Bertelsen and published by Aristo Forlag. Apparently there is also a paperback version in English, titled Frederik VIII’s Palace [sic]: Restoration. Rebuilding. Artistic Decoration.
Following a foreword by Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary, Peter Elgaard in the first chapter deals with the Amalienborg complex and the Frederik Town, of which it is part. Amalienborg, at the very heart of the Frederik Town, ranks as one of the loveliest architectural complexes in Europe and Elgaard also briefly presents its architect, the renowned Nicolai Eigtved, and makes some interesting points about buildings Eigtved may have encountered on his travels and which could have inspired him in his work on Amalienborg.
Bente Scavenius considers the history of Frederik VIII’s Mansion and its interiors, while Poul Schülein and Jens Andrew Baumann offer an insight into the choices and priorities made during the restoration process. Berit Møller looks at the colours of the interiors, particularly the ceilings, observing that the architect Jørgen Hansen Koch, who redecorated it in neoclassical style in 1827-1828, was obviously familiar with and chose to follow Goethe’s colour theory.
Lin Rosa Spaabæk and Mette Thelle take a closer look at the room which Johan Laurentz Jensen decorated with floral paintings, while Jacob Fischer considers the garden. Poul Erik Tøjner writes about the contemporary art with which the mansion has been decorated and finally Mads Falbe-Hansen looks back at the restoration process of which he was in charge.
Although one managed to keep the cost within the budget, much turned out differently from what was originally planned. The installation of the new artistic scheme was only suggested two years into the process and Falbe-Hansen also makes the point that it was only while the work was in progress that they realised the significance of the building they were working on.
Its empire-style interiors were created by Jørgen Hansen Koch at the same time as C. F. Hansen, now considered the greatest of Danish neoclassical architects, was working on the second Christiansborg Palace. Except for the Palace Church, the second Christiansborg was lost in the great fire of 1884, thus leaving Frederik VIII’s Mansion as the prime example of empire-style royal interiors.
When the project group realised this and that the mansion thus includes some of the most significant and comprehensive empire style interiors in Northern Europe it was easy to decide what should be at the heart of the restoration project: to recreate the mansion’s original clear floor-plan to the extent it was possible and practical, to preserve and strengthen the empire style interiors and to highlight modern forms where modern elements were added.
The chapters are all rather short and thus each of them offers more of a glimpse into the topic than a thorough treatment of it. Yet taken together, the chapters give a good overview of the mansion and the restoration process.
The publisher stresses that this is “the official book” on the process and occasionally parts of it read as celebratory speeches in which the various people involved thank each other profusely for the cooperation. And unlike Kirsten Lindborg in her 2005 book on the mansion, everyone is careful not to utter a critical word about the damage done to the building during the stewardship of King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid.
The book’s great strength is the illustrations and there are indeed more illustrations than texts. There are page after page of excellent photos of the sun-bathed interiors (without furniture, as they were seen by 479,246 visitors during the public opening before the crown princely family moved in), the exterior and the garden. Robert Fortuna has taken most of the photos of the work in progress and the interiors, while Torben Eskerod has shot the completed artworks.
But it must be said that the book would have benefited from better proof-reading. There are many references to Christian VII’s Mansion, yet it is almost habitually called Christian VIII’s Mansion, which is another building. Also Frederik VII himself is sometimes called Frederik VIII. And we are even told that the mansion is located at the King’s New Square rather than Amalienborg Square!
The throne which was used by Frederik VI’s daughter, Princess Vilhelmine, in Frederik VIII’s Mansion during her marriage to Prince Frederik Carl Christian (the future Frederik VII) had originally been made for her sister Caroline with her intended marriage to her uncle Prince Christian of Hesse-Cassel in mind – here they all get mixed up and the throne is said to have been made for “Prince Frederik Carl Christian of Hesse-Cassel and Princess Vilhelmine”.
Christian VIII was never Crown Prince, nor was the current Queen ever Crown Princess. And if King Frederik VIII and Queen Louise married in 1869 on page 106, how can they celebrate their silver wedding in 1898 on page 107? There are also more than one example of illustrations not showing what the captions claim they do show. In a production like this such sloppiness ought to have been avoided.

Princess Anne’s daughter engaged

Buckingham Palace has just announced the engagement of Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips to Mike Tindall. Although not herself a royal, Zara Phillips is twelth in line of succession to the British throne. She is also a physiotherapist and an equestrienne. Mike Tindall is a rugby player.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Princess Christina battles breast cancer

In an interview with Aftonbladet today Princess Christina reveals that she is battling breast cancer. The 67-year-old Princess was diagnosed with cancer in the spring and has since then undergone surgery three times as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The highly intelligent Princess, who might have made an excellent Queen Christina II, is the youngest of King Carl Gustaf’s four elder sisters. The two of them have apparently always been close and she was a steadfast support for him when he became king at the age of only 27.
Princess Christina herself became the first lady of Sweden when their mother, Princess Sibylla, died from cancer in 1972. She has continued to take a share of royal duties ever since and was for many years working President of the Swedish Red Cross, a role which had previously been held by her relatives Folke Bernadotte and Prince Carl.
She married the businessman Tord Magnuson in 1974 and is the mother of three sons.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

New books: Absolute monarchy in Denmark-Norway

October saw the 350th anniversary of the establishment of an absolute monarchy in the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway. This was one of the most absolute systems in Europe; the only limitations put on the King’s powers were that he was not allowed to give away any part of his powers, not allowed to cede any part of his realms and should belong to the Lutheran faith. The Dano-Norwegian absolute monarchy was furthermore unique in Europe in that it was based on a written law, the Lex Regia of 1665.
The anniversary is being marked with an exhibition at Frederiksborg Palace and another at Rosenborg Palace. In addition the three historians Thomas Lyngby, Søren Mentz and Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen have written the book Magt og pragt – Enevælde 1660-1848, published by Gad of Copenhagen. It is not a chronological history of the 188 years of absolute monarchy; rather the three authors deal with various aspects of its history.
Olden-Jørgensen is first out with a chapter on the origins of the absolute monarchy. Until then Denmark was an elective monarchy (whereas Norway was hereditary) and although the eldest son of the deceased king was always elected king, he was obliged to sign a contract with the three estates, which thereby had the chance to restrict the monarch’s power as they saw fit. In the wake of the wars with Sweden in the 1650s King Frederik III allied himself with the priestly estate and the bourgeoisie (third) estate against the nobility, which was subsequently outmanoeuvred. The estates returned the royal contract to the King, who thereafter ruled as an absolute and hereditary monarch.
Olden-Jørgensen takes to task two myths about the absolute monarchy. One is that the absolute kings lived in unsurpassed splendour; the other that it was only during absolutism that the monarchy acquired a religious foundation. He sees the splendour surrounding the monarchs as a “political language” and stresses how the security of the realm was a priority, meaning that fortifications were built and the army and navy strengthened, while no substantial palace was built by the first three absolute monarchs.
In the book’s second chapter Thomas Lyngby looks at the staging of the monarchy through the ceremonies in connection with major royal events such as births, funerals, anointments and the reception of foreign ambassadors, while at the same time showing how the absolute monarchy led to the establishment of a centralised administration which may be seen as the precursor for the modern state. It was simply not possible for the King to make every single decision in his vast realms and eventually it turned out that the bureaucracy worked so well independently of the King that the absolute system was able to survive to monarchs (Frederik V and Christian VII) who were unable to reign.
Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen returns with a chapter on the Struensee affair, which seems somewhat superfluous as the story is very well-known and nothing of significance is added here. The facts that Struensee’s road to power went through Queen Caroline Mathilde and that the reins of power were subsequently held by Dowager Queen Juliane Marie as well as Olden-Jørgensen’s point that the absolute monarchy was “a family firm” rather than a one-man show remind me that I miss an evaluation of the roles played by the queens.
Finally Søren Mentz draws the larger picture in the fourth chapter, looking at absolutism as it was practised in England-Scotland, France, Russia and the realm of the Indian Grand Mogul. To a certain extent it is a drawback that Mentz bases this solely on literature in English and here I also miss a comparison with neighbouring Sweden. In my opinion the earlier chapters would also have benefited from adopting a comparative approach as there are interesting similarities between the origins and consequences of Dano-Norwegian absolutism and the system as practised in other European monarchies.
The perhaps most interesting question – of why the absolute monarchy came to an end in 1848 – might well have been accorded a chapter of its own, but as it is this question is dealt with by all the authors in various parts of the book. Whereas the authors of this book see the origins of absolutism primarily in regional and local conditions, they consider its end as part of a larger, international picture.
Thomas Lyngby sees part of the reason in the human aspect and argues that the task of ruling an absolute monarchy eventually became too much for one individual, thus breaking the psyche of Frederik V and Christian VII. But his suggestion that this was an international development, exemplified through George III of Britain and Gustaf IV Adolf of Sweden, is not entirely convincing given that those signs of mental unbalance which might have been showed by Gustaf IV Adolf mostly appeared following his deposal and that George III, who indeed went mad as a consequence of the illness porphyria, was not an absolute ruler.
It is a commonly held perception that the reason why the Dano-Norwegian absolute monarchy lasted so long as 188 years was that it managed to adapt to emerging ideas and make them their own. The loss of control of political and cultural developments was the reason why absolutism came to an end in France and England-Scotland, Mentz argues, whereas one in Denmark-Norway subscribed to the idea that the King governed after having listened to the opinions of the people. This was obviously no longer the case after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when Frederik VI joined Alexander I’s reactionary “Holy Alliance”, thus putting himself in opposition to current ideas.
The emerging nationalism also spelt trouble for the Danish monarchy, which following the loss of Norway in 1814 was reduced to Danish and German nationalities. Christian VIII, who succeeded his cousin Frederik VI in 1839, realised that absolutism would have to be abolished, but feared that an abrupt abolishment might lead to civil war between Danes and Germans. He therefore intended to relinquish his absolute powers step by step, but his sudden death in January 1848 put an end to these plans and the absolute monarchy imploded in the early stages of his son Frederik VII’s reign.
This book, which is also rich in well-chosen illustrations, must surely count as one of the most interesting Nordic contributions to the understanding of the nature of monarchies.

Friday, 17 December 2010

On this date: Death of Queen Desideria 150 years ago

Today 150 years have passed since the sudden death of Dowager Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway, which happened at the Royal Palace in Stockholm in the evening of 17 December 1860. The Queen Dowager was officially 79 years old, but in fact 83.
Looking back on her life some years earlier she reflected that it was her destiny to be loved by heroes. Désirée Clary, the wealthy merchant’s daughter from Marseilles, became engaged to the young General Napoléon Bonaparte while still in her teens.
After the future Emperor dumped her for Joséphine, Désirée married another general, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, whose election to Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810 would eventually make her Queen of Sweden and Norway with the name Desideria. As such it might be said that she generally failed to rise to the occasion.
She only settled in Sweden in 1823, thirteen years after her husband’s election and five years after his accession, and had little interest in her royal role. She outlived him for sixteen years and also outlived her only child, King Oscar I, who died in 1859.
She grew increasingly eccentric with the passing of time and made a habit of turning day into night. She was almost always late and there is a family legend, told to me by the late Countess Ruth of Rosenborg (whose two youngest children were named Carl Johan and Désirée), that her husband once grew tired of waiting for her and shouted: “Désirée, the King of Sweden is waiting for you!” Back came the reply: “Bernadotte, Bernadotte!”, firmly reminding him that he was not always that grand.
She used to go for carriage rides in the evenings (which were midday for here), which she also did on 17 December 1860. Having reached Djurgården she suddenly decided to go to the Royal Theatre to join her grandson, King Carl XV, and Queen Lovisa, whom she was told were there.
She entered the royal box just as the curtain fell on Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s “Life is a Dream” and was taken ill at the very same moment. She was taken back to the Royal Palace, where she had to be carried up the Eastern Staircase. Her daughter-in-law, Dowager Queen Josephina, rushed to her side and was with her when she died. To this day there is a chair at the Royal Palace on which it has been written that it was the chair in which Queen Desideria died.
She was buried with her husband in the Bernadotte Mausoleum in the Church of Riddarholmen. After a 20th century rearrangement of the tombs she now rests in a green marble sarcophagus which was originally Oscar II’s.
Out of vanity Queen Desideria, no longer the young beauty who had captured the hearts of Napoléon and Carl Johan, had always refused to be photographed. Thus the only existing photograph of her shows her lying in state and was released only in the 1970s (it is now in the public domain).
To an international audience Queen Desideria is probably best known through Annemarie Selinko’s bestselling novel Désirée, loosely based on facts. The film version, starring the late Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando, is entirely fictional and bears no relation to actual events.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What to see: Queen Ingrid centenary exhibition, Copenhagen








Last week I was in Copenhagen, where the Amalienborg Museum is currently, somewhat belatedly, showing an exhibition on Queen Ingrid on the occasion of her centenary. Following Queen Ingrid’s death ten years ago her three daughters donated many of her belongings to De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling (the Royal Collection), whose department at Amalienborg has since then held several exhibitions on various aspects of Queen Ingrid’s life.
This centenary exhibition is in many ways a summary of those earlier exhibitions and unlike them it covers the whole length of her 90-year-long life. A whole life in one exhibition might have led to an incomplete or a cramped result, but in my opinions the curators have succeeded quite well in being selective while at the same time covering the most important aspects of Queen Ingrid’s life and work.
Some of them are however not easy to present in an exhibition – one such example is her role as a moderniser, perhaps her most important contribution to the history of the Danish monarchy – but that does not mean that these topics are passed over.
Among the items on display are a number of Queen Ingrid’s clothes, such as her wedding dress (fourth photo), her silver wedding dress (sixth photo) and a black dress (first photo) she wore for an Icelandic state visit in 1954, just days after the death of Crown Princess Märtha. The dress is thus adorned with the Grand Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon, while Queen Ingrid’s other foreign decorations are displayed in the same room.
Those Danes who might have wondered what was in the Queen’s handbag will get the answer at this exhibition (fifth photo), where one can also see a number of embroidered handbags and other items, some of them embroidered by Queen Ingrid herself (seventh photo).
A selection of her toys (eighth photo) reminds us of the first carefree ten years of her life before the death of her mother, a tragedy she never really got over. The white shawl glimpsed behind the dolls covered Crown Princess Margareta on the evening before her death.
Also on display are Franciska Clausen’s 1980 portrait of Queen Ingrid (second photo), which belongs to the Self-Owning Institution People’s Home in Aabenraa, and the oath signed by Queen Ingrid when she was sworn in to serve as Guardian of the Realm in 1972 (third photo), making her the only person outside the line of succession so far to be accorded this honour.
The exhibition in Christian VIII’s Mansion closes on the 101st anniversary of Queen Ingrid’s birth on 28 March. It is accompanied by a catalogue in the form of a 52-page booklet which includes essays by Knud J. V. Jespersen, Inge Adriansen and Ove Hornby. While Jespersen, the official court historian, gives an overview of Queen Ingrid’s life, Adriansen deals with Queen Ingrid’s relationship with Southern Jutland, while Hornby looks at Queen Ingrid’s importance for the Danish Institute in Rome. The latter two chapters were both originally given as lectures on 28 March this year.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Danish monarchy costs 342 million DKK

At a press conference today Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Denmark, revealed that the total annual cost of the Danish monarchy was 342 million DKK in 2009. This total sum consists of a grant of 97.6 million DKK to the royal family and 244.6 million DKK in monarchy-related expenses paid by the ministries.
The Prime Minister stressed that this was the first time Denmark had presented a total figure for the cost of the monarchy, adding that only the Netherlands had earlier done so.
The entire report may be read at the website of the Prime Minister’s office (external link).

Monday, 13 December 2010

My latest article: Nobility at the Bernadottes’ Norwegian court

A few years ago a librarian at the National Library asked me if there were any books or articles dealing with the history of the Norwegian royal court. It turned out that no such book or article existed, but now I have done something about that and in the latest issue of Historie (no 4-2010), which is out today, one can read my article “Adel ved Bernadottenes norske hoff”, which deals with the Norwegian court during the union of crowns with Sweden and focuses in particular on the role played at the court by the nobility.
Five years ago, in December 2005, the current King and Queen hosted a gala dinner for their employees to celebrate “the Royal Court’s centenary”, but this is obviously wrong and must have been based on very bad research. In his contribution to the anthology on the establishment of the Bernadotte dynasty my fellow historian Per Sandin on the other hand landed on the date 1818 for the establishment of a separate Norwegian court, but in my article I argue that the available sources indicate that this actually happened in 1816 (although the short reign of King Christian Frederik also saw the appointment of a court on 22 May 1814).
The nobility was abolished by Parliament in 1821, which deprived King Carl Johan of what might have been a significant means to build a power-base in Norway. Instead it seems he chose to fill his Norwegian court with members of the former noble families, which made the court almost entirely dominated by aristocrats during his reign.
The first State Almanac published after his accession shows that 10 out of 14 courtiers were nobles in 1820, but the state almanacs show a clear decreasing tendency during his successors. Following his son Oscar I’s accession in 1844 the number is 13 out of 25 courtiers, in 1862 (the first almanac after Carl XV’s accession in 1859) 13 out of 30 courtiers belong to the former noble families, in 1875 (two years after Oscar II’s accession) the number is 12 out of 48 and in the last State Almanac published under the Bernadotte dynasty, that of 1905, only 7 out of 35 courtiers belong to the former noble families.
In the article I also look specifically on the two most senior positions at court, those of Lord Chamberlain and Mistress of the Robes. Three out of six Lord Chamberlains belonged to the former noble families, whereas four out of five Mistresses of the Robes did so.
Although we find courtiers from the families Anker, Clauson-Kaas, Kaltenborn, Mansbach, Rosenkrantz, Wedel-Jarlsberg, Haffner, Haxthausen, Løvenskiold, de Besche, Falsen, von Munthe af Morgenstierne, Trampe, Treschow and Knagenhjelm, three families stand out as particularly strongly represented at court.
Sixteen Wedel-Jarlsbergs, eleven Løvenskiolds and eleven Ankers held positions at the royal court between 1816 and 1905 and the article explores these families’ links to the court through offering details of what positions were held by which members of these families. It is quite interesting to note how service at the court was almost the norm in these most notable of the former noble families. For further details about the noble families and their links with the royal court I refer you to the article.
The photo above shows the arms of the Wedel-Jarlsberg family (the only titled noble family in Norway) as it appears above the entrance to the family crypt beneath Sem Church on the outskirts of Tønsberg. It might be added that the choice of illustrations made by the editors for the article is a bit peculiar, as none of the persons portrayed were in fact courtiers.

It might by the way seem that I write more articles than I am aware of myself. At least I was quite surprised when I recently received a letter with an enquiry to my article about Oscarshall in the latest issue of Langt Vest i Aker. I had never heard of this periodical, but it turns out that it is published by Ullern historielag, a local history club, and that they have quite simply stolen the article I wrote on Oscarshall as a royal residence in the reign of Oscar I from Byminner this summer. This is obviously a blatant violation of Norwegian law, which accords me the copyright to my article for my entire life and seventy years from my death. It turns out that a fellow historian has had one of her articles reprinted without permission in the previous issue of the same periodical, so obviously this publication is based on systematic piracy.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

My latest article: The second coming of Diana?

The engagement of Prince William of Britain and Kate Middleton was treated as the second coming of Diana by the Norwegian media, which immediately declared the future princess “the new Diana” – as one could read for instance on the covers of the weeklies Se og Hør and Hjemmet. Having grown tired of being asked that question I have written a piece for the tabloid VG, which after a severe delay appears in today’s edition, where I point out the many big differences between the late Princess of Wales and Kate Middleton, thus showing why the latter is obviously not the new Diana.

The Royal Collection to go on tour

As I mentioned half a year ago there are plans for a royal museum in Oslo, where parts of the Royal Collection can go on public display. Today parts of it are of course in use at the Royal Palace and other royal residences, but most of the 400,000 items are in storage. There is now support across party lines for such a museum and the process which will hopefully lead to the establishment of such a museum is thus underway.
In the meantime the government has decided that its present to the King and Queen on their 75th birthdays in 2012 will be to grant 30 million NOK for temporary exhibitions of the royal collection. 10 million is earmarked for the main exhibition in Oslo, while another 10 million will be spent on regional exhibitions and the final 10 million on a travelling exhibition which will take items from the collection on tour across the country between 2012 and 2014.
The institution which was known as Riksutstillinger (“National Exhibitions”) and which arranged travelling art exhibitions is now part of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design and over the weekend the Minister of Culture, Anniken Huitfeldt, will instruct the National Museum to start working on the planning and projecting of the exhibitions.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A different Nobel Prize ceremony this year

Friday is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel and as always the Nobel Prizes will be presented. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will as always take place in Oslo’s City Hall, but this year the ceremony will be very different from earlier years in that no prize will actually be given out as there is no-one to receive it.
The laureate for 2010, the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced to eleven years in prison last year, while his wife was put under house arrest as soon as the award was announced on 8 October. His brothers have also been refused permission to leave China so that they cannot travel to Oslo to accept the Prize on his behalf. Thus an empty chair will appear on the podium in the City Hall.
The situation that no-one is there to represent the laureate is a new one. Aung San Suu Kyi’s two sons accepted the Prize on behalf of their mother in 1991, while Danuta Walesa came to Oslo to receive her husband’s prize in 1983. Mikhail Gorbachev was represented by his Vice President in 1990, but since then the Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that only family members can act as proxies.
This thwarts the idea put forward by Lech Walesa, who suggested that he and other previous Nobel Peace Prize laureates should go to Oslo and accept the Prize collectively on Liu Xiaobo’s behalf. That would indeed have sent a powerful message of international solidarity.
The award of the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is in many ways reminiscent of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1935, which a year late in 1936 was awarded to the German dissident and anti-Nazi Carl von Ossietzky, whose paper had revealed Germany’s illegal rearmament. This obviously caused Hitler to go into one of his rages, forbidding Germans to accept any Nobel Prize in the future. The turmoil of 1936 led to the decision that members of the Norwegian government should not sit on the Nobel Committee so that its decision would not appear to be influenced by Norwegian authorities. That year the royal family also stayed away from the Peace Prize ceremony in order not to give further offence to Hitler – hardly the most glorious episode in the history of the Norwegian monarchy.
The Chinese dictatorship, which has not yet picked up on the fact that the Norwegian Nobel Committee does not represent the Norwegian authorities, has been busy threatening Norway with reprisals for awarding the Peace Prize to Liu. Despite these threats the King and Queen will attend the ceremony and the following banquet as usual and the King will also attend the concert the following evening (normally the concert is attended by the Crown Prince and/or the Crown Princess, but they are still away on their long foreign journey).
Unusually, the USA will be represented not only by its ambassador, but also by its third highest-ranking official, outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have also issued threats to those countries which are represented at the Nobel ceremony, but this has met with limited success. Of the 65 countries which have embassies in Oslo nineteen have declined their invitations. In addition to China the list of absentees consists of Serbia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Colombia, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran – hardly a roll-call of the great champions of democracy and human rights.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Second part of documentary on Walther Sommerlath’s Nazi past

The second part (external link) of Swedish TV4’s investigative documentary on Queen Silvia’s father Walther Sommerlath’s connections to the Nazi party was broadcast last night. Whereas the first part was able to document a closer connection than what was known until now, the second part did not have much to add.
In the first part we learned that Sommerlath, who joined the Nazi party while living in Brazil in 1934, took over a factory owned by a Jew, Efim Wechsler, as part of the arianisation process following the Kristallnacht and that this contributed to the war industry. The factory was destroyed in the 1945 bombings of Berlin.
In the second part the documentary makers set out to discover what subsequently happened to Wechsler, which proved difficult. It turned out Wechsler escaped to Brazil, where his only child lived, in 1939 and died there in 1962.
His daughter died childless in 1990, leaving her estate to Jewish assocations and friends. One may thereby conclude that there are no descendants of Wechsler who might consider claiming damages from the heirs of Walther Sommerlath, who also died in 1990.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

New books: Establishing the Bernadotte dynasty

In connection with the bicentenary of the Bernadotte dynasty’s arrival in Sweden the jubilee foundation of the National Bank of Sweden has financed an interdisciplinary research project titled “The Making of a Dynasty”. As previously mentioned the project released its second publication in June, a book titled En dynasti blir till – Medier, myter och makt kring Karl XIV Johan och familjen Bernadotte, edited by Nils Ekedahl and published by Norstedts.
The book, like the project, aims to investigate by which means one made Carl XIV Johan and his family known to the people and how one created an imagined community between the people and the new dynasty. This should be seen as a multimedia show, the authors argue, where the variety of media used strengthened the message. Music, architecture, poetry and painting are the art forms considered by the authors contributing to this book, to which are added investigations of the use of ceremonial and the press.
I shall not dwell upon each and every chapter, but, as with all anthologies, some contributions are more interesting than others. Among those I found most interesting is the chapter by the historian Mikael Alm, who looks at the ceremonial which unfolded in connection with key events in the life of Carl Johan. The events were not only staged as “plays”, he argues, thus giving spectators the chance to observe and take part, but detailed accounts of the ceremonial were printed and distributed around the country so that the population outside the capital could also take part. Similarly, Nils Ekedahl, associate professor of rhetoric, looks at the panegyrics dedicated to the royals, which were also often printed in the newspapers and spread throughout the country.
The art historian Solfrid Söderlind, Director General of the National Museum, deals with those personages to whom Carl Johan felt it natural to compare himself. Of his predecessors on the Swedish throne, Gustaf II Adolf was the obvious choice, as both of them could be said to have led Sweden in playing a major role in events on the Continent. Napoléon I was obviously another ruler to whom it was natural to compare Carl Johan and Söderlind argues that Carl Johan’s famous words on his deathbed, “No-one has fulfilled a career comparable to mine”, was directed directly at his adversary.
Among the most interesting contributions to this anthology is also the art historian Britt-Inger Johansson’s chapter on Carl Johan’s physical environments, i.e. the palaces in which he lived and their importance for the staging of the new dynasty. In this Johansson is able to offer some interesting new interpretations. It has been rather common to say that Carl Johan showed little interest in the older Swedish palaces, except the Royal Palace itself. On the contrary Johansson shows that he gave orders for general inventories to be carried out for all of them, but that the Swedish Parliament was not willing to grant the funds he requested for renovating them.
However, in this chapter I miss a more thorough consideration of the Royal Palace in Oslo, which was the only major palace Carl Johan had the chance to build from scratch, a process in which he played an active and significant role. Despite being arguably the most important building created by Carl Johan, Oslo Palace is accorded only a short paragraph (in which there are four factual mistakes) and Johansson thus fails to use the opportunity given her to look at Carl Johan in the role as builder of a palace.
As I have commented on on several occasions it is an unfortunate trend that Swedish writers almost entirely tend to ignore the Norwegian side of the history of the Bernadottes. Sweden and Norway were indeed two independent countries in a personal union, but as the royal family was mutual (and in fact the only mutual institution besides the Foreign Service) it means that one misses out on half the story when only one of the countries is considered. In this case it means that the book gives an incomplete picture of the reception of the new dynasty.
Henrik Wergeland is the sole Norwegian mentioned in Nils Ekedahl’s chapter on panegyrics, while Cecilia Rosengren does not offer the Norwegian media a single thought in her chapter on the press. Considering the successful Swedish-Norwegian history project “Project 1905” a few years ago it is altogether more surprising that one has chosen to make this project an entirely Swedish one. Among the contributors to this book the historian Per Sandin comes closest to subjecting Norway to an equally thorough treatment as Sweden.
Sandin is currently about to complete his doctoral dissertation on the first two generations of the dynasty’s relations to civilian society and in his chapter, based on his coming dissertation, he argues that the usual image of an old, reactionary king ruling his kingdoms from his bedchamber has blocked posterity’s understanding of the interaction between monarchy and society. Sandin finds that Carl XIV Johan, particularly when compared to other contemporary monarchs, appears to have been a monarch with an unusually benevolent attitude to civil associations, which members of the royal family in several cases actively supported.
The too narrow Swedish approach is a drawback for this book, but its strength is that it brings together leading scholars in different fields who are able to offer new insights and new interpretations, which in combination give the reader a better understanding of why and by which means the Bernadottes succeeded in establishing themselves as a new dynasty. 200 years after their arrival in Sweden and 192 years after Carl XIV Johan’s accession to the throne they are the longest reigning dynasty in the country’s history. Certainly few would have expected that when Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo and Marshal of the French Empire, was surprisingly elected Crown Prince by the General Estates in August 1810.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

What to see: Crown Princess Märtha’s silver wedding dress


The unused silver wedding dress of Crown Princess Märtha of Norway is one of the most poignant exhibits at the National Museum’s department of decorative arts. The work of Molstad of Oslo, the dress is made of silvery silk of a pink or violet nuance and embroidered in Paris with bead embroidery and appliqué floral motifs in grey silk ribbon and tulle.
The silver wedding anniversary of Crown Princess Märtha and Crown Prince Olav occurred on 21 March 1954. The night before there would be a dinner for some fifty family and friends at the crown princely couple’s home Skaugum in Asker, followed by a gala banquet for 200 guests at the Royal Palace on the anniversary itself and a third party for 300 guests on the third day. Britain’s Queen Mother would head the list of foreign guests attending.
On 11 March the Crown Princess, who had by then been ill for several years, came to Molstad to try on the dress for the final time. The next morning she had internal haemorrhages and was taken to the National Hospital in Oslo.
Thus the silver wedding celebrations were cancelled and the silver bride spent the day in hospital. The rest of the royal family attended mass in the Palace Chapel and Crown Prince Olav alone received congratulatory deputations from the government, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps and the municipalities of Oslo and Asker.
In the evening there was a quiet family dinner at Skaugum. The Crown Princess’s niece-by-marriage, Countess Ruth of Rosenborg, who died earlier this year, was one of the few guests, having been skiing in the Norwegian mountains with her husband and now about to return to Denmark. Later she told me of the dinner, which she described simply as “heart-wrenching”. She counted the speech Crown Prince Olav gave as “one of life’s greatest moments” and never forgot “the tribute he paid to the woman he loved”, which “brought tears to the eyes of everyone”.
The next day Crown Princess Märtha fell into a coma. She woke up again, but her condition deteriorated and she died on the morning of 5 April 1954, aged 53.
Her husband mourned her for the rest of his life. He succeeded to the throne three years later and was thus without a wife for his entire reign. As Queen Maud had died in 1938, this meant that Norway was without a queen from 1938 to 1991. In fact it is only this year that the current dynasty has had a queen for a longer time than it was without one.
The unused silver wedding dress is a reminder not only of King Olav’s loss, but also of the queen who never was, which was undoubtedly a loss for the nation as well.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

My latest article: Bush and the lessons of history

George W. Bush’s recently published memoirs, Decision Points, is in many ways a book of contradictions, where Bush unintentionally demonstrates his readiness to say one thing but do the complete opposite without realising the obvious discrepancy.
One of the more surprising aspects of the book is how Bush stresses his great love for of history and how widely read he is about that subject. But in an article in Klassekampen today I highlight how this is another of those discrepancies, for as one reads on it becomes more and more obvious that Bush himself learnt next to nothing from history.
He tells us how he was aware that wartime presidents tended to “overreach” – and then goes on to do so himself, without realising it. He recounts the mistakes made by the Soviet Union when they occupied Afghanistan – and then made most of the same mistakes (last Saturday was the day when the USA and NATO had been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union).
He also accidentally reveals that neither he did learn much from the history of which he was himself part, as some of the mistakes made in Afghanistan were repeated in Iraq with disastrous consequences. And one cannot help noticing the contrast between how he stresses his admiration for his father’s achievements as president and how he obviously did not learn anything from it and therefore went on to make several of the mistakes his father was clever enough to avoid.
These discrepancies are almost a red thread through Bush’s autobiography, which clearly shows how the professed lover of history learnt very little from the lessons of history. Perhaps Napoléon I was right when he supposedly said that history teaches us that one learns nothing from history?

Book news: Norwegian royal photo book in English

Foreign readers may care to note that an English translation of Morten Ole Mørch’s monumental photo book on the Norwegian royal family in the days of Crown Princess Märtha, which I recently reviewed here at the blog, will be published this week. The title of the English version is The Royal House of Norway: In the Years with Crown Princess Märtha (1929-54).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

New books: A crowded marriage

On the day of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death his close friend and distant cousin Margaret Suckley wrote in her diary of Eleanor Roosevelt that “I believe she loved him more deeply than she knows herself, and his feeling for her was deep & lasting. The fact that they could not relax together, or play together, is the tragedy of their joint lives, for I believe, from everything that I have seen of them, that they had everything else in common. It was probably a matter of personalities, of a certain lack of humor on her part – I can not blaime either of them. They are both remarkable people – sky-high above the average”.
The marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt was arguably one of the most consequential marriages in history and much has already been written about it by their many biographers. But so far no book has dealt exclusively with the marriage from its beginning to the end and this is what the American author Hazel Rowley, perhaps best known for her book on Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, has intended to do in her new book Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux of New York just recently.
It is of course a well-known story and the sources available to Rowley have been consulted by many authors before her. Yet her well-written, engaging account of the Roosevelt marriage has potential for becoming one of the classic books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the greatest US presidents, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the most significant of the country’s first ladies.
Rowley’s book provides a brief summary of the main protagonists’ respective backgrounds, but the main story is of course the marriage, which lasted for forty years. Thus the focus is more on the persons than the politics, but as politics was at the centre of the couple’s lives it all gets weaved together.
It is, in Rowley’s words, the story of the marriage’s “evolution from a conventional Victorian family into the bold and radical partnership that made Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt go down in history as one of the most inspiring couples of all time”.
Although I have read many books about them already I keep getting astounded by the remarkable transformation of Eleanor Roosevelt, beginning in the early 1920s, from a rather conventional upper-class woman who professed her lack of interest in politics and held most of the same prejudices as so many others of her class and generation into a radical champion of freedom and a significant politician in her own right, who went on to play an important role on her own in her widowhood.
She never held elected office herself, but obviously grew into a great asset for her husband in his political career. Thus it was both a marriage and a political partnership which both of them would have been poorer without. But it was not always an easy one.
The late Diana, Princess of Wales famously remarked that there were three people in her marriage. In the marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt there were a lot more than three persons. For 36 out of the forty years the marriage lasted Eleanor had to put up with a domineering, interfering mother-in-law, but a greater strain was perhaps the other women in her husband’s life.
Rumours, speculations and gossip have been ripe about various women, including Crown Princess Märtha. The President liked to be surrounded by adoring women he could charm, but Rowley concludes that only two of them really mattered to him in a way that might be called love – Lucy Mercer Rutherford and Marguerite “Missy” LeHand.
Eleanor indulged in a series of what Rowley calls “romantic friendships” with both men and women, of whom she sees Lorena Hickok as someone Eleanor Roosevelt really fell in love with. She obviously also had strong, romantic feelings for younger men such as Joseph Lash and David Gurewitsch, both of whom seem not to have reciprocated her feelings in the way she might have wished for them to do.
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt seem not always to have cared much for the other’s companions, with Louis Howe standing out as an exception. Howe was alone in meaning as much to both of them and Rowley greatly stresses his importance for their development
Although Rowley writes much on the crowd of other people in the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, this is not a book for gossips. It is to her credit that Hazel Rowley, unlike several other authors who have dealt with the Roosevelts and their relationship, does not rush to any conclusions and rather leaves the questions open if there are no satisfactory proofs to answer them definitely.
All in all she has produced a well-written (bar some unnecessary repetitions) and balanced account of the complex partnership between these two remarkable people. As I read it just after I had finished George W. Bush’s memoirs, I could not help being reminded of the words of the filmmaker and journalist Arne Skouen, who shortly before his death in 2003 remarked on the stark contrast between the then US administration and what he described as the decency he had experienced in the White House when he worked as a Norwegian publicity officer in the USA during World War II.

Monday, 29 November 2010

New revelations about Queen Silvia’s father’s Nazi past

Swedish TV4’s investigative programme “Kalla fakta” last night again set focus on the Nazi past of Queen Silvia’s late father, Walther Sommerlath. At the time of her wedding in 1976 the Queen’s father denied in an interview with Expressen’s Ulf Nilson that he had ever been a member of the Nazi party, but eight years ago the newspaper Arbetaren was able to prove that he had indeed joined the Nazi party in 1934.
At the time Queen Silvia refused to comment, but in the documentary “Familjen Bernadotte” earlier this year she finally broke her silence to say that her father was not “politically active”, that it was all a “machinery” which one had to be part of and that the factory that he owned was not part of the war industry, but produced electronics such as toy trains and hair dryers, but that it was ordered to produce a membrane for gas masks.
Walther Sommerlath moved to Brazil in 1919 and was still living there at the time he joined the Nazi party in December 1934. In a telephone interview with “Kalla fakta” his eldest son, 81-year-old Ralf Sommerlath, claims that all Germans living in Brazil joined the party and that this was more or less common courtesy.
However, Ana Maria Dietrich, an expert on Nazism in Brazil interviewed by “Kalla fakta”, points out that only 2,900 out of 80,000 Germans in Brazil, joined the Nazi party. These 3.5 % she considers the “convinced” Nazis.
Walther Sommerlath returned to Germany in April 1939, a month before the Nazi party was outlawed in Brazil. He settled in Berlin and on 24 May 1939 he took over the company “Wechsler & Hennig”. His son Ralf later asked him if he bought it from Jews, which Walther Sommerlath firmly denied.
Documents found by “Kalla fakta” show that Sommerlath took over the firm from Efim Wechsler, a Jew, and that this was part of the so-called “Arisieriung” (arification) process after the Kristallnacht, when Jews were forbidden to own companies and thus forced to sell. The documents also show that his factory produced items which were used by the Luftwaffe. It thus seems increasingly clear that Walther Sommerlath misled not only the journalists of 1976 but also his own children about his past.
In a statement on the royal website (external link) Queen Silvia, who was born in 1943, says that she she regrets her father’s membership of the Nazi party, which she did not know about until adulthood and never had the chance to discuss with her father.
Her brother Ralf, on the other hand, says to Expressen (external link) that the Queen is “terribly upset” and he calls the documentary “lies and slanders”. He fumes that if all Swedes are like Mats Deland, one of the three documentary makers, he will never again visit Sweden and tell his sister to “come home”.
The documentary may be watched in its entirety on TV4’s website (external link). The second part of the documentary will be broadcast the coming Sunday.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

New books: Amalienborg, its inhabitants and its court

Amalienborg is the title of a book just published by Gyldendal in Copenhagen, written by Jørgen Larsen and Thomas Larsen and illustrated by Bjarke Ørsted. The title is however somewhat misleading, as this is not really a book about Amalienborg itself, but about the workings of the institution which has its headquarters there, i.e. the Danish monarchy. The book benefits from being written by political journalists with a more analytical approach than what is often the case with books on royalty.
The book opens with two chapters on the origins and history of the complex of four mansions that is Amalienborg, followed by interviews with Queen Margrethe, Henrik the Prince Consort and Crown Prince Frederik. The Queen, known to be articulate, is interviewed in no less than four chapters, but only one of them deals directly with her own relations to Amalienborg, her winter home for most of her life. In that chapter we get to hear about her and her husband’s views on interior decorating and how they reasoned when Christian IX’s Mansion was turned into their home following their 1967 wedding, which is quite interesting reading.
She also says quite much about her mother’s role in relation to Amalienborg, but this is strongly coloured by a daughter’s fond memories of her mother. She tells us how “well-informed” Queen Ingrid was about old houses and how they should be taken care of, but as the recent renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion has shown, Queen Ingrid did great harm to that building, often by overruling professionals who had other ideas.
In the other chapters Queen Margrethe speaks about various other things, such as wartime memories, her New Year speeches and her worry that today’s children are not allowed to be children as long as in her days. The chapter in which Prince Henrik is interviewed is more of a portrait of the man, to a great extent based on earlier interviews and his memoirs.
Queen Margrethe, probably the only one among the current European monarchs who could be described as an intellectual, is always a great interview subject, as she is very knowledgeable, has a sharp mind and a wonderful turn of phrase. Some highlights from these interviews are: “I am not without opinions, but they are for personal use”, “When people have sat down to listen, something should be said” (about her New Year speeches, which contain much more than the platitudes and pleasantries of her father’s days), and “Particularly when we want to be modern we end up being very conservative” (about Danish interior decoration in general). But Queen Margrethe has given so many interviews that one tends to feel that one has heard a lot of it before.
To my surprise I found that the most interesting interview in this book was that with Crown Prince Frederik. The Crown Prince and his family now live partly at the Chancellery House at Fredensborg and partly in Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg, both buildings which were the homes of his beloved grandmother Queen Ingrid. Crown Prince Frederik speaks of the privilege of being able to live in the same houses as his forebears (a faint hint of cigarette smoke and perfume can sometimes be felt in his grandmother’s former homes) and also gives an interesting insight into the reasoning behind his and Crown Princess Mary’s choice to decorate their mansion with works of contemporary art as well as his own interest in modern art.
It is also interesting to note how he during the past decade or so has grown closer to his mother while at the same time becoming less critical of his own upbringing than he used to be in interviews and speeches. And this is perhaps where Crown Prince Frederik dares to say on behalf of his father what Prince Henrik himself has never gone so far as to say publicly, namely that he felt the needed to turn certain things around when he arrived in Denmark. According to the Crown Prince “he did away with parts of the conservatism which my grandmother and grandfather represented in his eyes. My grandfather was the patriarch, and what daddy did was always right”.
Except for the interview with the Crown Prince I found those chapters which deal with the working of the royal court the most interesting parts of the book. We get to meet some of the key courtiers – the Lord Chamberlain, the Private Secretary, the Master of Ceremonies, the Head of the Information Department – as well as many of the unsung heroes, who provide the reader with an insight into the work of the library, the furniture restoration workshop, the garage, the cleaners, the equerries, the Life Guard and others.
Also interesting are the chapters dealing with the challenges facing the monarchy today, both in relation to the media and in relation to politics and public opinion. The final chapters outline some interesting developments and trends relating to the monarchy in modern days, including the more critical voices which have appeared recently, for instance in connection with the debate over changing the Act of Succession.
(As a disclaimer I should add that although I am repeatedly mentioned and referred to in the book I have not contributed to it and am thus not partial when I review it).

Saturday, 27 November 2010

King Carl Gustaf loses popularity

Dagens Nyheter (external link) today publishes an opinion poll about the Swedish monarchy, which shows that only 51 % think King Carl Gustaf should remain on the throne, while 31 % hold the opinion that he should abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria (13 % are undecided and 5 % left the question unanswered).
This is a rather dramatic change from February this year, when the same poll showed that 64 % thought the King should stay on the throne and only 17 % supported his abdication (with 16 % undecided and 3 % unresponsive).
The poll gives no reason for this abrupt change in opinion, but one might suspect that it has been at least partially caused by the uproar over the scandalous biography Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken, published earlier this month, which caused huge headlines with its claims about extramartial affairs and wild partying, claims which the King gave the impression of confirming when he said that these were old stories which he had moved on from.
Another possible reason could be that the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel this summer generated so much good PR around them that many now want the young and popular crown princessly couple to take over sooner rather than later.
The opinion poll also shows that 70 % of the Swedes support the monarchy, while 17 % are in favour of abolishing it, with 11 % undecided and 2 % not having responded. Last year the same poll showed 74 % in favour of the monarchy, 19 % supporting a republic and 7 % undecided, while the 2005 results were 80 % monarchists, 16 % republicans and 4 % undecided.
The poll was carried out by DN/Synovate on 16-22 November by telephone interviews with 1,011 persons over the age of 18.
The results of this poll correspond rather well with the findings of a poll carried out by Demoskop for Expressen between 13-17 November, which found 69 % in favour of the monarchy.