Friday, 30 April 2010

Guests invited for the Swedish royal wedding

Both Aftonbladet and Expressen today reveal who have been invited to the concert which will take place in the Concert House in Stockholm on 18 June, the night before Crown Princess Victoria will marry Daniel Westling. At least Johan T. Lindwall of Expressen seems to be under the impression that this is the list of those who will be present, but it should be stressed that the list shows who are invited in the first place and that not all of them will necessarily attend.

The Swedish royal family: The King and Queen, the Crown Princess and Daniel Westling, Prince Carl Philip, and Princess Madeleine and Jonas Bergström (the latter has yet to be removed from the list as the invitations were sent out before the engagement was broken off). Princess Lilian is as expected not on the list, but all the King’s sisters with their families: Princess Margaretha, her daughter Sybilla von Dincklage and granddaughter Madeleine von Dincklage (which may be an indication that the latter will perhaps be a bridesmaid), her sons James and Edward with their wives Ursula and Helen; Princess Birgitta and Prince Johann Georg of Hohenzollern, Prince Carl Christian and Princess Nicole of Hohenzollern, Désirée and Eckbert von Bohlen und Halbach, and Prince Hubertus and Princess Ute Maria of Hohenzollern; Princess Désirée and Baron Niclas Silfverschiöld, their son Carl with his wife Maria and their daughters Christina and Hélene, the first with her husband Baron Hans De Geer; and Princess Christina and Tord Magnuson with their three sons Gustaf, Oscar and Victor with their girlfriends Nathalie Ellis, Emma Ledent and Frida Bergström. Also on the list are the King’s uncle and aunt, Count Carl Johan and Countess Gunnila Bernadotte af Wisborg. I guess other junior Bernadottes may also be invited to the actual wedding, among them Countess Marianne Bernadotte af Wisborg, who counts as a member of the royal family, and some relatives from Mainau.

Nordic royals and heads of state: The Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark, Prince Joachim and Princess Marie of Denmark, Princess Benedikte of Denmark and Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, the King and Queen of Norway, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway, Princess Märtha Louise of Norway and Ari Behn, President Tarja Halonen of Finland and her husband Pentti Arajärvi, and President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Iceland and his wife Dorrit Moussaieff.

Other reigning European royal houses: The King and Queen of the Belgians, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium, Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Prince Laurent and Princess Claire of Belgium, the Queen of the Netherlands, Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima of the Netherlands, Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Prince Friso and Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Prince Félix of Luxembourg, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William of Britain, Prince Henry of Britain, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the King and Queen of Spain, the Prince and Princess of Asturias, Princess Elena of Spain, Princess Cristina of Spain and Iñaki Urdangarín, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock, and the Hereditary Prince and Princess of Liechtenstein.

Non-European royal houses: The Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan, Princess Takamado of Japan, Crown Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand, the King and Queen of Jordan, Prince Ali and Princess Rym of Jordan, Prince Hassan and Princess Sarvath of Jordan, Prince Rashid of Jordan, Prince Hamzah and Princess Noor of Jordan, and Prince Hashim and Princess Fahdah of Jordan.

Non-reigning royal families: The ex-King and ex-Queen of the Hellenes, ex-Crown Prince Pavlós of Greece and his wife Marie-Chantal, Princess Alexia of Greece and Carlos Morales, Prince Nikolaós of Greece and his fiancée Tatiana Blatnik, Princess Theodora of Greece, Prince Philippos of Greece, the ex-King of the Bulgarians and his wife Margarita, Prince Kyril and Princess Rosario of Bulgaria, the ex-Crown Prince of Serbia and his wife Katerina, Princess Margarita and Prince Radu of Romania, Prince Manuel and Princess Anna of Bavaria, Prince Gustav of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and Carina Axelsson, Princess Alexandra of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and Count Jefferson-Friedrich von Pfeil und Klein-Ellguth, Princess Nathalie of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg and Alexander Johannsmann, and Hereditary Prince Hubertus and Princess Kelly of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

The rest of the list consists of officials, politicians, friends, courtiers, former prime ministers etc., but also some relatives of the bride and groom: Carlos Augusto de Toledo Ferreira, Philip de Toledo Sommerlath, Ralf de Toledo Sommerlath, Susanne de Toledo Sommerlath, Thomas de Toledo Sommerlath, Tim de Toledo Sommerlath, Achim Middelschulte, Carmita Sommerlath Baudinet, Giulia Sommerlath, Helena Sommerlath, Patrick Sommerlath, Vivien Sommerlath, Walther L. Sommerlath, Anna Westling Blom, Andreas Westling, Bo Westling, Erik Westling, Frida Westling, Nils Westling, Olle Westling, Ove Westling, Per Westling, Sara Westling, Fernando de Arruda Botelho and Rosana Botelho, Elisa Botelho, Alexandre F. de Abreu Pereira and Daniela de Botelho Abreu Pereira (I believe the latter five might be Brazilian relatives of Queen Silvia’s).

New books: Margrethe II on Margrethe II

It is always a joy to read interviews with such an articulate, intelligent and thoughtful monarch as Queen Margrethe II. And as she herself admits that she finds it difficult to keep her mouth shut she is by now probably the most interviewed monarch in history.
It has almost become a tradition that major anniversaries are marked with a book of interviews with the Queen and her 70th birthday was no exception. Margrethe – Mit liv i billeder is written by the television journalist Helle Bygum and published by Lindhardt & Ringhof.
Queen Margrethe talks about her life – her childhood, her education, her role as head of state, her father, her husband, her children, her art, her faith, her mother, her New Year speeches, her daughters-in-law and her grandchildren. But I can only echo Politiken’s reviewer Helle Hellemann (external link) in observing that the Queen has said most of this before – something which is of course bound to happen sooner or later considering the many interviews she gives.
The book centres around 100 or so photos chosen by the historian Jon Bloch Skipper (author of a biography of Frederik IX and another book of interviews with Queen Margrethe and her sisters), which the Queen makes comments about. The quality of the paper does however not do full justice to all of the photos.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

My latest article: Return of the Tories?

With only one week left to go until the British general election opinion polls indicate that the Conservative Party is again advancing and might still just manage to secure a majority in Parliament, although the sudden rise of the Liberal Democrats may still cause a hung parliament and thereby a coalition government.
After thirteen years in opposition it seems the Tories, arguably the oldest party in the world, are now emerging from the valley of shadows. In an article in Dagbladet today (external link) I look at the history of the Conservative Party since 1997 and attempts to explain the turn in their fortunes in recent years which has again made them a realistic alternative to Labour.
The article is part of a series which began yesterday with Øivind Bratberg writing about the Liberal Democrats (external link) and which will conclude tomorrow by an article by Dag Einar Thorsen on the Labour Party (external link).

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Book news: Roger Lundgren’s “Ingrid” also in Danish

I have forgotten to mention that Roger Lundgren’s “family portrait” of Queen Ingrid, published on the occasion of the centenary of her birth, has now also been published in a Danish translation, titled Ingrid – Prinsesse af Sverige, dronning af Danmark and published by People’s Press in Copenhagen.
I have not read the Danish version, but I can say that its design is much better than the Swedish version and the Danish book has a lot more pictures than the Swedish one. For those who may as well read it in Danish as in Swedish it might thus seem a good idea to by the Danish version rather than the Swedish.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

New books: Göran Hägg proposes elective monarchy

The closing of airspace just as I was about to end my stay in Copenhagen a week ago brought me unexpectedly to Gothenburg, where I found a new book, Utveckla monarkin (“Develop the Monarchy!”) by Göran Hägg, known for his many books on issues such as rhetoric, the Papacy and Mussolini.
Hägg argues that the Swedish monarchy in its current form is not working very well and that the choice made when the new Constitution was adapted in 1974 to allow the Speaker of Parliament rather than the monarch to appoint the Prime Minister was particularly unfortunate. He thinks this role should again be taken on by the head of state, which is the case in most democracies, and that some other lost monarchical traditions, such as the state opening of parliament and coronations, should be re-introduced.
However, what he proposes is a dramatically altered monarchy – nothing less than an elective monarchy with two monarchs, one male and one female, serving at the same time. The King and the Queen, who should not be married to each other, should be chosen by an electoral college made up of members of the county councils and should serve for a maximum of fifteen years.
The author argues that a monarchy is much to be preferred to a republic, partly because of its historical and traditional value, but that the hereditary principle is the greatest weakness of the current system as it risks producing incompetent heads of state.
Göran Hägg insists that he means this absolutely seriously, but when reading it one may nevertheless wonder if he is pulling one’s leg. He argues his case well, but there is not a word on how realistic he thinks it is that his ideas may be adapted, although he indicates that the 65th birthday of the current king, which is just twelve months away, could be a good occasion to implement the change.
To strengthen his argument Hägg looks at other examples of elective monarchies, such as the Papacy, and dual heads of state, including William III and Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland and Roman consuls.
He also looks back on the history of the Swedish monarchy in order to show how rarely a monarch inherited the throne by legal means and managed to remain on it until his death – he points out that Gustaf II Adolf was the first to do so – and how frequently monarchs and heirs were indeed elected in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
But his grasp on history and facts is not always firm. Queen Silvia is not German-Argentine, but German-Brazilian, none of the current King’s sisters married a count and none of his great-uncles lost their royal titles by marrying commoners. He says that the current Crown Princess may reign as either Victoria II or Victoria I, “depending on how one wishes to count the current King’s great-grandmother”, but the previous Queen Victoria was of course undisputable a queen consort (although an influential one). It is also quite odd to say that it is unclear whether the ducal titles which the King has announced will be/would have been accorded to Daniel Westling and Jonas Bergström are hereditary, as Swedish ducal titles have never been hereditary.
He states that “no-one seems to have cared” to abolish the constitutional provision for the monarch having to be a Lutheran when she state church was abolished in 2000, but seems to have missed out on the fact that this provision was maintained on the express wishes of King Carl Gustaf. And in Norway the Bernadottes were indeed increasingly considered foreigners, but it is quite startling to read that they were seen as representatives of “the occupying neighbouring country” as Norway was in a union of crowns with Sweden and never occupied by its eastern neighbour (there were in fact normally more Norwegian soldiers in Sweden than Swedish soldiers in Norway). It is also plainly wrong to say that even the most conservative political elements in Norway did everything in their powers to weaken the monarchy’s powers.
In Hägg’s opinion only two of the Bernadotte monarchs have been gifted above the average, namely Carl XIV Johan and Gustaf VI Adolf. He argues that “the least competent monarchs” of the dynasty, Carl XV and Carl XVI Gustaf, have been the most popular ones and that this is to a large extent due exactly to their lack of qualifications. But does he not forget the huge popularity of Gustaf VI Adolf, who he admits was one of the most talented of monarchs?
Such mistakes and the several facts overlooked naturally weaken the author’s arguments somewhat. But no matter the degree of clarity with which he argues his cases his proposal is of course entirely unrealistic.

Monday, 26 April 2010

President Medvedev in rainy Oslo

President Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana Medvedeva today began their two-day state visit to Norway. The Crown Prince and Foreign Minister met them at the airport and escorted them to the official welcoming ceremony in the Palace Square.
Following lunch with the royal family, the President met the Speaker of Parliament and attended a business seminar together with the Prime Minister. Wreaths were laid at the National Monument at Akershus Fortress (where these photos were taken) and at Russian war graves. The President also visited the Defence Museum, where he decorated war veterans. The Queen and Mrs Medvedeva also found time to visit the Vigeland Park and the National Gallery and now the state banquet at the Royal Palace is about to start.
At the end of this visit the President and his wife will continue south to pay a state visit to Denmark.
Few countries have had such impact on the history of Norway as our northeastern neighbour. President Medvedev is the fifth Russian leader to visit Norway, following Nikita Khruschev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.

On this date: The centenary of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s death

100 years ago today, the Norwegian poet and dramatist Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson died at the Hôtel Wagram in Paris, aged 77. To commemorate him and his work this year has been officially declared “the Bjørnson Year”, an event which was opened by a gala performance at the National Theatre on Saturday in the presence of the King, who the same day also inaugurated an exhibition at the National Library.
By his contemporaries Bjørnson was ranked as the equal of Henrik Ibsen, who was sometimes his friend and sometimes his antagonist. It is however obvious that posterity has ranked Ibsen far above Bjørnson.
Thus it remains difficult to understand for many that the Swedish Academy in 1903 chose to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, particularly as Ibsen and Tolstoy were also among the nominees that year. However, Ibsen was considered to have laid down his pen and Tolstoy did not want the Prize. Bjørnson was however willing to share the Prize with Ibsen.
Ibsen and Bjørnson (pictured above) are both immortalised by Stephan Sinding outside the main entrance to the National Theatre. It should be remembered that Bjørnson played an important role in establishing this theatre and that he led the campaign for Norwegians actors to speak their own language rather than Danish.
But while there is always at least one Ibsen play given somewhere in the world, years go by without any theatre putting on anything by Bjørnson. Not even in this “Bjørnson Year” will any of the state theatres perform Bjørnson and his only literary work which remains in print is a collection of short stories and poems. On the other hand the national anthem, written by Bjørnson and composed by his cousin Rikard Nordraak, remains known to most Norwegians.
In their days Ibsen and Bjørnson, with Alexander Kielland and Jonas Lie, were known as “the Four Giants”, a PR masterstroke from their publisher Harald Grieg which has stuck in the collective memory of the Norwegian people to this day. It is therefore a bit ironic that hardly anyone today read any of the giants but Ibsen.
The explanation why Ibsen is considered so much greater than Bjørnson today is probably that Bjørnson’s work are generally seen as more dated and thereby, unlike Ibsen’s, not of much relevance to modern society. Some do however disagree, among them Bjørnson’s biographer Edvard Hoem, who holds the opinion that at least some of Bjørnson’s plays are of great relevance today.
Perhaps more interesting was his role as a political activist and debater. He never sat in Parliament or government and did not vote, yet Bjørnson was arguably one of the most significant politicians of his day and played a major role in the formation of the Liberal Party and the events leading to the introduction of parliamentarianism and the dissolution of the union with Sweden. This larger-than-life figure wrote countless articles for a vast number of newspapers and thousands upon thousands of letters.
Perhaps it was a bit sarcastic when Ibsen on one of Bjørnson’s anniversaries congratulated him with the words “Your life is your best literature”, but Ibsen’s words nevertheless ring true even today.
Bjørnson’s death was by the way the cause for a “Diana moment” for the Norwegian royal family. With flags being flown at half mast all over the capital there was mounting criticism that the Royal Palace was the only public building not to do so. As the King’s standard could not be lowered to half mast, King Haakon compromised by having another flag pole suspended from the balcony where the Norwegian flag was flown at half. This has been the solution used ever since – among those for whom a flag has been flown at half mast from the palace balcony are President John F. Kennedy, the current King’s mother-in-law Dagny Haraldsen and Queen Ingrid of Denmark.

Dick Harrison on Carl XIV Johan

In Svenska Dagbladet yesterday Dick Harrison, one of Sweden’s most high-profile historian, wrote an article on King Carl XIV Johan (external link) which is more worth reading than the usual fairytale nonsense written about this king by people such as Herman Lindqvist. Harrison highlights the achivements of Carl XIV Johan and thereby explains why he considers him to be one of Sweden’s ablest monarchs.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Princess Madeleine will not marry Jonas Bergström

The court of Stockholm (external link) today announced that Princess Madeleine and her fiancé Jonas Bergström have mutually agreed to go separate ways. Bergström proposed to the Princess on 12 June 2009 and the engagement was announced on 11 August.
The cancellation of the engagement comes after weeks of speculation. At the time of their engagement it was said that the wedding would take place towards the end of 2010 or in early 2011, but as months went by and no date was set the media began to speculate if everything was all right in the relationship. It was claimed that the relationship had been virtually at an end after Bergström had made a trip to the ski resort Åre without the Princess in April last year and that the relationship was only saved by his surprising proposal at Capri in the early summer.
Amid the speculations Queen Silvia remarked on 12 April that there would “unfortunately” not be any wedding this year, while adding the next day that she was not in a position to know if there were difficulties in the relationship.
A week ago it was noticeable how the Swedish media began to turn against Jonas Bergström, who they had earlier been quite in love with, and published reports on his “double life” and partying.
On Tuesday the Norwegian weekly Se og Hør published an interview with a 21-year-old Norwegian who claimed to have slept with Jonas Bergström during the said trip to Åre last year, a story which was splashed all over the Swedish tabloids on Wednesday. The fact that this girl claimed Bergström had introduced himself to her as Jacob Bergström caused a wonderful remark from Daniel Nyhlén at Svensk Damtidning (external link), who wrote that if this story were true, he might as well have called himself Jacob Anckarström (the man who shot Gustaf III).
With the Swedish media speculating that the relationship was in fact over, the royal court went to the unprecedented step of issuing an announcement saying that Princess Madeleine and Jonas Bergström were still a couple but that they now needed some peace (a statement which has now discreetly been removed from their website).
The latter phrase was a clear indication that things might be about to change and this afternoon it was formally announced that the Princess and Mr Bergström have ended their engagement. Princess Madeleine has left for the USA, where she will be working with the World Childhood Foundation for some weeks, and the court made it clear that no further comments will be forth-coming. The King of Norway has however made a brief comment (external link) that it seems better to end it now than after the wedding, which I guess most can agree with.
To my knowledge the last engagement within a reigning royal family to be broken off was that of Princess Stéphanie of Monaco and Jean-Yves LeFur in 1990, while in Scandinavia we will have to go as far back as 1922, when the engagement between Crown Prince Frederik (IX) of Denmark and Princess Olga of Greece came to an end after a few months.
Princess Madeleine and Jonas Bergström, a jurist by profession, had been together for eight years. Bergström has until now been quite a favourite with the Swedish media, which has praised his upper-class background, proper job, good looks, polite manners, discretion, loyalty etc. etc., thereby implicitly contrasting him with the “less suitable” Daniel Westling. Obviously there was not much loyalty or discretion to talk about and because of how he has embarrassed the Swedish royal family Jonas Bergström is likely to be remembered as the dream-prince who turned out to be a frog.
(The official engagement photo is by courtesy of the Swedish Royal Court).

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Another Bernadotte exhibition at the National Museum

On the occasion of the Bernadotte dynasty’s bicentennial the National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm will not only show the great exhibition “Härskarkonst” (“Staging Power”) about Carl XIV Johan, Napoléon I and Aleksandr I, but also a smaller exhibition titled “Bernadotter i svart och vitt” (“Bernadottes in black and white”).
As the name indicates this exhibition will consist of black and white portraits of members of the Bernadotte dynasty – primarily photos, but also prints and drawings – and thereby also present a history of Swedish photography.
The advent of photography and the royal family’s adaption of it was a central theme in the doctoral dissertation of the current director general of the National Museum, Solfrid Söderlind, a book which is well worth reading.
The exhibition will open on 16 June and close on 23 January (which is now also the closing date of “Härskarkonst”, which has been somewhat prolonged).
Above is the oldest known photo of a Bernadotte, showing King Oscar I in 1844, the year of his accession to the thrones of Sweden and Norway.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Support for Swedish monarchy continues to fall

Both Svenska Dagbladet (external link) and Dagens Nyheter (external link) report that a new survey conducted by the SOM Institute (Society, Opinion, Media) at the University of Gothenburg has found that 56 % of Swedes want to retain the Swedish monarchy whereas 22 % want to abolish it.
This poll was conducted last autumn and is apparently done annually since 1995. In 1995 67 % were in favour of monarchy and 11 % supported the republic. In 2004 the numbers were 68 % versus 15 % and last year 63 % against 17 %.

What to see: Statues of King Olav, the Vigeland Museum, Oslo

As mentioned recently the sculptor Olav Orud has been chosen to create the statue of King Olav V which will stand close to the City Hall in Oslo. Until 9 May all the projects entered into the contest are displayed in the Vigeland Museum and seeing them all together does in a way help one understand why it has taken three rounds and nearly twenty years to settle on an acceptable monument.
Making a statue of a much-loved king still remembered my most people is naturally not the easiest thing to do, as people will except it to resemble the man they remember and to capture him like he was. And this is what many of the sculptors who took part in the competition have failed to do.
The winner, Olav Orud, has called his sculpture “Mann og bauta” (first photo). It is a fairly conventional statue, showing King Olav in an ordinary suit, holding his hat behind his back. Orud has chosen to let the statue stand next to its plinth on which will be engraved items reminding us of skiing and sailing, as well as images of King Olav’s two arrivals in Norway (in 1905 and 1945).
Letting the King stand next to the plinth was a solution also chosen by Kristian Blystad (second photo), who also won a prize for his suggestion. Another sculptor, whose name I did not get, chose to let the King stand next to a throne in the sculpture titled “Kongelig sete” (third picture).
The idea of the King descending towards the people has been used for statues of King Olav both in Trondheim and in Asker and Lise Fuglevik tried something similar for her proposal, called “Kongetrappen” (fourth photo). Ferdinand Wyller on the other hand, in his work called “Innviet til, avskåret fra” (fifth photo), chose to show the King rising from the earth.
Most of the artists have chosen to portray King Olav in civilian clothes – among them Henning E. Espedal (sixth picture), which I found among the better ones, and Håkon Anton Fagerås (photo 7). The latter is inspired by the famous photo of King Olav looking at a cat, but the statue is almost a replica of Stephan Sinding’s monument of Henrik Ibsen outside the National Theatre. Also Tore Bjørn Skjølsvik, in his prize-winning project “Kongens nærvær” (eighth photo) has stressed the informal side of King Olav.
Per Ung, one of the most famous of Norwegian sculptors, has on the other hand chosen to present King Olav in military uniform (ninth photo), but I cannot say the old master has succeeded this time. Also Frode Mikal Lillesund (tenth photo) opted for a uniform for his sculptor which is titled “Kong Olav V – slik vi husker ham” (“King Olav V – as we remember him”), which one wonders if is a joke, as I doubt many remember King Olav as a cabaret artist.
Most of the monuments are rather traditional in form, but there are some exceptions. One of them is “Kongen blandt [sic] folket” by Arne Mæland (photo 11), which partly resembles Knut Steen’s rejected monument with the King emerging from a plinth consisting of his people. Less conventional is also Gunn Harbitz’s monumental medallion (“Kongespeil”) (twelfth photo).
All in all there were nearly 50 projects entered into the contest. Several of them are horrendous and generally it seems many artists have found it difficult to capture the King people remember. Having seen them all I would say that Olav Orud’s statue, although a bit too conventional, is indeed one of the best choices after all.

Monday, 19 April 2010

New books: The fall and rise of the Tories

For a long time it seemed beyond doubt that the Conservative Party would win this year’s parliamentary election in Britain. But recently the gap between the Tories and the governing Labour party has kept narrowing and the political earthquake resulting from Nick Clegg’s performance in the first ever televised debate between party leaders last Thursday now makes it seem even less likely that the Tories will win a majority in the House of Commons.
For the Conservatives, arguably the oldest political party in the world, the last two decades have been troubled times, but in recent years they have again managed to present themselves as a viable alternative to Labour. In his excellent book The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron, which I read some weeks ago, Tim Bale, who is a lecturer in politics at Sussex University, looks at what has kept the party from power for so long and what has occasioned the shift in fortunes.
Bale points out that when out of office, the Tories would normally always find their way back to Downing Street quite rapidly. But for the last thirteen years this has not been the case – after the crushing defeat at the hands of New Labour in 1997 came an equal disaster in 2001 and an only slightly improved result in 2005, at a time when Labour was running into serious trouble.
The author argues that what the Tories failed to react to, was that Labour was no longer the left-wing party of Michael Foot and the 1983 manifesto, but a party which had moved to the centre ground and was thereby able to strike both left and right. Under John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, the Conservative party remained where it had been since the days of Margaret Thatcher and concerned itself mostly with issues such as tax, crime, immigration and the EU, marked by an increasingly populist approach. Although these issues mattered to many, they were not the issues most important to voters and meanwhile Labour managed to secure ownership to those issues voters cared most about, such as health, education and economy.
While the political landscape had changed, the Tories did not change – in 1997, 2001 and 2003 they elected a new party leader, but failed to look at what they ought to do about themselves to make them more attractive to voters. This changed only in 2005, when David Cameron was chosen to lead the party. Cameron has given the party a greener profile and taken it towards the centre ground of politics, thereby enabling it to reclaim ownership to several electorally important issues.
Well written and full of insight, Tim Bale’s book is likely to remain a valuable account of how and not least why the Conservative Party walked through the valley of shadows for more than a decade. But it is only in the early hours of 7 May that we will know if David Cameron has really succeeded in finding the way out of it.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Queen Margrethe celebrates 70th birthday in style

On those rare occasions in her later years when Queen Victoria of Britain emerged from her seclusion to make public appearances the weather was generally brilliant, causing it to be called “Queen’s weather”. Such brilliant weather also added sparkle to her great-great-granddaughter’s 70th birthday celebrations in Copenhagen on Thursday and Friday.
Queen Margrethe II has a taste for grandeur which seems to be combined with a conscious grasp on the staging of monarchy and Danish royal anniversaries are therefore nearly always celebrated in style over several days.
As her father did, the Queen usually appears on the balcony of her mansion at Amalienborg at noon on her birthday, accompanied by her family. Thousands upon thousands of people filled the Amalienborg Square this Friday when Queen Margrethe came out to acknowledge the cheers. She was shortly joined by the other members of her family, who can be seen in the second photo – from the left: Crown Princess Mary with Princess Isabella, Crown Prince Frederik, Prince Christian, the Queen, the Prince Consort, Prince Joachim, Princess Marie with Prince Henrik on her arm, Prince Felix and Prince Nikolai. Altogether they made three appearances on the balcony.
Unlike ten years ago the foreign royals did not appear on the balconies of the other mansions, although they did at that time take part in a guided tour of Crown Prince Frederik’s and Crown Princess Mary’s newly renovated residence, Frederik VIII’s Mansion.
Because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the closed airspace the number of foreign guests was anyway quite reduced. At that time only the King and Queen of Sweden, Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling, Prince Carl Philip, the Crown Princess of Norway, the Queen of the Netherlands, Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and the First Lady of Iceland had arrived.
The President of Finland and her husband had already had to leave to return to Finland by car, while the King and Queen of Norway as well as Crown Prince Haakon only made it to Denmark in the evening. The King and Queen of Spain, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke and Duchess of Brabant and the President of Iceland were all among the sixteen foreign guests who had to send their regrets. Concerning Crown Princess Mette-Marit it could be added that it was the first time that she alone represented Norway at such a large event and she seemed to pass that test with flying colours.
Later in the day the City of Copenhagen hosted a lunch reception at the City Hall, to which the Queen and Prince Consort drove in a open landau through streets lined with people – across the Amalienborg Square, past the Marble Church and down King’s Great Street over the King’s New Square and then down “Strøget” to the City Hall, where they also made a balcony appearance.
The day ended with a private party for family, friends and a handful officials at Fredensborg Palace north of Copenhagen. Earlier in the week there had been a state banquet for Danish officials at Christiansborg Palace on Tuesday and a gala performance at the Royal Theatre on Thursday night. The last photo shows some of the guests leaving the theatre – the only one I can recognise is Christian Kjær in his chamberlain uniform (third from the left).
The Queen’s birthday was celebrated almost as a festival over several days in Copenhagen with large public participation and although there is a lot of pomp and circumstance, it all happens with what Politiken described as the lack of reverence which speaks of real respect.
The city was festively decorated, with flags flying everywhere, including from the spire of Christiansborg Palace (fifth photo) and the columns of the Marble Church (sixth picture). And in keeping with a centuries-old tradition, golden apples sprang in the Caritas fountain in the Old Square (fourth photo), whose restoration had been completed just in time for the monarch’s birthday.
When Norway chose a monarchy over the republic in 1905, the Danish author Peter Nansen, a republican, wrote to his Norwegian colleague Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: “Denmark has by Our Lord been chosen to be the country which shall maintain the monarchical principle until the end of times. When the rest of the world has dismissed its monarchs Denmark will remain as the small prehistoric country with a fairy tale king who on the great holidays drives in a golden carriage while the golden apples dance in the fountain in the Old Square. And all the tourists of the world will descend on Denmark to see how things were done in the old days”.
After these celebrations I am not alone in finding it even harder than before to imagine the Republic of Denmark – or indeed the Kingdom of Denmark without Margrethe II as head of state.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Danish royal approval ratings (mostly) falling

Last night the celebrations of Queen Margrethe II’s 70th birthday kicked off with a state banquet for Danish, Greenlandic and Faeroese officials at Christiansborg Palace. Today Jyllands-Posten (apparently not on the Internet, although printed in the real thing) publishes another of Rambøll/Analyse Danmark’s opinion polls on the monarchy, this time dealing with how the members of the royal family perform their duties. The poll has been taken in March 2010 and the results are compared with polls in early May 2004 and early June 2009.
Today 84.8 % think Queen Margrethe performs her duties either well or very well, which is up from 81.3 % last year, but down from 96.5 % in 2004. 4.4 % think the Queen does her job badly or very badly, as compared to 0.8 % in 2004 and 5.1 % last year.
The Prince Consort’s performance is approved of by 24.8 % (down from 41.8 % in 2004 and 29.8 % in 2009). 42.4 % think he performs his duties badly or very badly, which can be compared to 29.7 % in 2004 and 30.7 % a year ago.
Crown Prince Frederik does his job well or very well according to 77.8 % of those asked (down from 90.7 % in the poll taken just before his wedding in 2004 and from 80.4 % last year). Now 6.4 % think he does it badly or very badly, compared to 1.6 % in 2004 and 4.9 % in 2009.
Prince Joachim’s approval rating was 84.6 % in 2004 (four months before his separation from the then Princess Alexandra was announced), but fell to 44.6 % five years later and is now down to 35.6 %, with 26.6 % disapproving (against 2.4 % disapproving in 2004 and 16.2 % last year).
Crown Princess Mary and Princess Marie were for obvious reasons not included in the opinion poll conducted in 2004 and can thus only be compared to last year. In 2009 82.2 % thought the Crown Princess performed her duties well or very well and the result is virtually unchanged at 82.1 %, while 4.1 % now disapprove against 2.7 % a year ago.
30.2 % now approve of Princess Marie’s performance (down from 36.6 % in 2009), while 23.5 % are negative (up from 9.8 % last year). From these numbers one can tell that many are obviously uncertain what they think of the way Prince Joachim and Princess Marie perform their tasks.
When the results of this poll are seen together with the opinion poll published on Sunday (about whether Queen Margrethe should abdicate or stay on the throne) and on Monday (about constitutional issues) a rather interesting picture appears.
An overwhelming majority of the Danes want to retain the monarchy and the royal family, but while the number of monarchists has increased, so has the number of republicans (which probably means that it is those who were previously in doubt who have now made up their minds).
The approval ratings for all members of the royal family, with the exception of Crown Princess Mary, have fallen during the last five years, but Prince Henrik is the only whose performance is disapproved of by more people than approve.
While the Queen has repeatedly expressed her intention of remaining on the throne until her death, a majority of those who have made up their mind think she should abdicate – however, those who think so are quite evenly divided over whether she should do so this week or within the next ten years.
A clear majority thinks that the Speaker of Parliament rather than the Queen should appoint the Prime Minister, and more people think the royal assent should be abolished than those who think this should remain a constitutional requirement.
It seems the overall impression is that most Danes want to keep the monarchy, but that a significant number wants to change its constitutional role; that the idea of a monarch reigning until death does not have very strong support; and that people are more critical towards the royals now than they were six years ago.
As a previous poll of which I posted the results some days ago caused some confusion to at least one reader, I should perhaps state explicitly that this opinion poll is part of a series conducted by a leading polling institute on behalf of a serious newspaper. Together these three scientific opinion polls are the most thorough examination of the Danish people’s attitudes to the monarchy and the royal family in years and it is the results from these polls I have posted here, not my personal view.

President Vigdís turns 80 tomorrow

>Many of the readers of this blog will know that Friday is the Queen of Denmark’s 70th birthday, but it should not be forgotten that another Nordic female leader also celebrates a major anniversary this week. Tomorrow is the 80th birthday of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the former President of Iceland who also holds a place in world history as the first democratically elected female head of state.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was educated in France, Denmark and Iceland and at the time she was asked to run for president she was the artistic director of a theatre as well as lecturing in French literature at the University in Reykjavik.
She won a narrow victory in the presidential election of 1980, receiving 33.6 % of the votes and thereby defeating three other (male) candidates. She ran unopposed for re-election in 1984 and 1992, and when challenged for the presidency in 1988 she received 95 % of the votes.
To the regret of her people she chose not to run for a fifth term and stood down in August 1996. Her successor, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, has in recent years taken the Icelandic presidency in a more political direction, but he has also had the ungrateful task of presiding over the ruin of his country in the wake of the financial crisis.
President Vigdís, as she is universally known in Iceland, where first names are more important than surnames, remains active and as a goodwill ambassador of UNESCO she is particularly dedicated to the preservation of languages.
I remember seeing her a few years ago in the middle of the Frederikke Square at the University of Oslo, standing serenely with her eyes closed enjoying the spring sunshine, still looking decades younger than her eighty years.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

From a bygone age: The State Dissolution of Parliament

Yesterday the British Parliament was formally dissolved, a week after Gordon Brown asked Queen Elizabeth II to do so. While the State Opening of Parliament on 25 May will take place with all the usual pomp and circumstance, the dissolution was a rather low-key affair.
Norway is another of the countries in which the State Opening of Parliament takes place with much ceremony (the ceremonial has hardly changed since independence 196 years ago). And until twenty years ago this country also had a State Dissolution of Parliament with much of the same ceremonial.
The King and his entourage would be received by a deputation at the Parliament Building’s royal entrance (which until 1929 was only used by the King) and escorted to the Parliament Chamber. Before 1905 the King would sit on his throne on a dais, flanked by those royal princes who might be present, whereas the Queen and other ladies of the royal family would sit in the Diplomatic Box. After 1905 the tradition has been that the Queen also sits on the dais.
Before declaring Parliament dissolved, the King would make a speech from the throne. In the 19th century, when the King was still a political figure, the speech could sometimes be critical of Parliament’s conduct, while at other times the King would express his content with the way issues had been dealt with. The Speaker of Parliament would thereafter make a short speech and the ceremony would conclude with the MPs joining the Speaker in a “God preserve the King and the mother country!” (until 1905 “the King, the mother country and the fraternal country”, the latter being to Sweden, which was then in a union of crowns with Norway).
In those days the King could also use the dissolution of Parliament as a power instrument, such as Carl XIV Johan did in 1836 (an action which led to the impeachment of Prime Minister Severin Løvenskiold). If Parliament had much unfinished business left, this would normally necessitate an extraordinary Parliament being called, consisting of the same MPs.
When the King ceased being a political figure, his speech at the dissolution was limited to formalities. The last time this ceremony took place was on 21 June 1989, when King Olav V was joined by Crown Prince Harald. The King’s speech read in its entirety:
“Mr Speaker! Representatives of the people! As Parliament has announced that it has reached the end of its negotiations, I hereby declare, in keeping with § 80 of the Constitution, the negotiations of the 133rd ordinary Parliament for concluded”.
The Speaker, Jo Benkow, thereafter made a speech, detailing the number of issues dealt with by the Parliament followed by some generalities such as some decisions having been reached unanimously, others with strongly diverging opinions.
The ceremony was thus empty of content and often quite unpractical, as Parliament’s workload at the end of the session is often immense, with parliamentary meetings going on until the early hours. Sometimes they would hardly have finished their business before the King arrived and there would thus be very little time for the quite complicated process of taking down the Speaker’s podium and setting up the throne and its canopy.
On 29 May 1990 Parliament amended the Constitution so that Parliament is no longer dissolved. In the days Parliament was formally dissolved in June, Norway would be without a national assembly until the new Parliament met in October, which would necessitate calling an extraordinary Parliament if a national crisis occurred in the summer. The amendment of 1990 means that, although there are no sittings in July, August and September, the parliamentary session lasts until the end of September, so that the country is formally never without a Parliament. Thus the Norwegian Parliament is no longer dissolved at all, and therefore the ceremony of the State Dissolution of Parliament also disappeared quietly into history.

Sculptor Olav Orud chosen to create statue of King Olav

The City of Oslo today announced that the sculptor Olav Orud has won the competion for a monument to King Olav V. The monument will be placed near the City Hall and is expected to be unveiled in the spring or summer of 2011.
In January twenty years will have passed since the death of King Olav. The process leading to a monument has been a long and difficult one, with the first competion failing to produce a winner. The task was then given to Knut Steen, who had nearly completed his monument when public outcry led to it being scrapped.
Orud’s projected statue does not look very original, but I guess a statue of a much-loved monarch still remembered by most people will have to be rather conventional and that there is no place for avant garde art in such contexts.
Information from the City Council’s website:
A photo of the projected statue may be seen in Dagbladet. Orud’s project is to the right, while the left photo shows the statue Knut Steen made and which ended up in remote Skjerjehamn on the west coast.

Princess Madeleine will not marry this year

Aftonbladet today quotes the Queen of Sweden saying that there will be no second royal wedding this year. When Princess Madeleine became engaged to Jonas Bergström last August it was said that the wedding would take place towards the end of 2010 or in early 2011. Many believed the wedding would take place in November, but no date has yet been announced and Queen Silvia now says that there is too much else happening this year to fit in yet another wedding. (That the tabloids have a field day speculating that the Princess and Jonas Bergström will not marry at all is another story, which should be taken with a pinch of salt).

Monday, 12 April 2010

Strong support for Danish monarchy, but many want reforms

Today Jyllands-Posten publishes another opinion poll relating to the Danish monarchy, conducted by Rambøll Management/Analyse Denmark by asking 1,009 people between 1 and 4 March about their views on the constitutional role of the monarchy.
82.3 % of those asked want to continue to have a monarchy and the current royal family, which is up from 77.8 % in an opinion poll last June. 15.8 % want a republic, which is up 0.5 % from last year. This means that only 1.9 % have no opinion about it. (These results make it even more startling to me that a majority of those who have made up their minds think that Queen Margrethe should abdicate either now or within the next ten years).
This poll also shows that a majority of those who hold an opinion support reforming the constitutional role of the monarch. 46.8 % want to continue with the present system whereby an Act of Parliament only becomes law when it has received the monarch’s assent, but 49.7 % think bills should only need Parliament’s approval and not the Queen’s (3.5 % are undecided).
42.6 % think the Queen should appoint the Prime Minister (as she currently does), while a clear majority of 53.9 % think this should be done by the Speaker of Parliament (as is the case in Sweden). On this question 3.5 % have no opinion.
It seems the results of this poll indicate that there is a very strong support for maintaining the monarchy, but that a large proportion of the people desire the monarchy to be reformed in a way that distances it further from politics.

The poll in Jyllands-Posten:

Sunday, 11 April 2010

No republican demonstration on Queen Margrethe’s birthday

Although the support for the Danish monarchy remains strong (77.8 % in favour of the monarchy and 15.3 % supporting a republic, according to an opinion poll last June), last year saw the establishment of a republican organisation, called Den Republikanske Grundlovsbevægelse (The Republican Constitutional Movement).
Its leader Viggo Smitt told Politiken on Saturday that they aim at abolishing the monarchy with a smile on their face. However, the police has refused their request to stage a protest in Amalienborg Square when Queen Margrethe appears on the palace balcony on her 70th birthday on Friday.
The republicans expected some 10 or 30 protesters to show up and intended to carry a banner reading: “Congratulations Margrethe, but we would prefer to vote for you”. However, police refused to give permission for this to take place and the reasons given are quite funny.
Johan Reiman, the head of the Copenhagen Police, argues that under the Constitution one may prevent a public demonstration if it risks endangering public order. In this case he thinks the protesters would have to be cordoned off so that they would not risk being harmed by the crowds expected to come to cheer the Queen. As I intend to be present at Amalienborg on Friday I will look out for any republicans being lynched by furious royalists!

Read more in Politiken:

Annual report of the Norwegian Royal Court

A kind soul at the Royal Palace has sent me a copy of the Royal Court’s annual report for 2008, which was released on Friday and which may also be downloaded from (external link).
Among the information one may find in the annual report is a list of the public engagements undertaken by members of the royal family during the past year. From this one can see that the King undertook 159 engagements (as compared to 177 in 2008), the Crown Prince 102 (103 in 2008), the Crown Princess 67 (51 in 2008), the Queen 60 (down from 67 in 2008), Princess Märtha Louise 13 (up from 7 in 2008) and Princess Astrid 10 (as compared to 16 the previous year).
Princess Ingrid Alexandra is listed with four public engagements (although at least one has been left out of the official list), while Prince Sverre Magnus managed one engagement.
In the annual report one can also read that the Banqueting Hall at the Royal Palace has undergone restoration work this winter, but is now again ready for use, conveniently in time for President Medvedev’s state visit later this month.
And the list of decorations awarded reveal that the King in 2009 created five commanders of the Order of St Olav and eighteen knights of the first class of the same order, while no grand crosses were awarded. Four grand crosses of the Order of Merit were however given out and there were 20 commanders, 35 knights of the first class and 1 one (ordinary) knight of this second order of the Kingdom.

Danes want Queen Margrethe to abdicate

After months of rumours and speculations about Queen Margrethe abdicating when she turns 70 next week, Jyllands-Posten now publishes an opinion poll which shows that 45.6 % think she should indeed abdicate, while only 42.6 % believe she should remain monarch until the day of her death (which is what she has repeatedly said she will). 23.5 % think she should abdicate on her 70th birthday on Friday, while 22.1 % are of the opinion that she can wait until her 80th birthday.
It should be pointed out that this is a scientific poll (1,010 people were asked by Rambøll/Analyse Danmark on 29 and 30 March) and not one of those worthless Internet polls. These results are in my opinion quite startling. It seems to me that when one has a monarch like Margrethe II one ought to cling to her for dear life.

Jyllands-Posten’s poll:

POSTSCRIPT: I see from the backlinks that at The European Royal Message Board ( a poster calling herself “Marianne” questions the findings of this poll and the credibility of my blog in general. Although she obviously did not have the guts to post her comments here I feel the need to address some of her misconceptions.
“Marianne” twists the headline into reading “1 out of 3 Danes think Queen Margrethe might abdicate”, but no poll has asked what people think she “might” do rather than what they think she should do. The significant distinction between what people believe she might do and what they think she should do is obviously lost on “Marianne”.
“Marianne” goes on to say: “From what I have been reading in Danish papers it's just 1 out of 3 who would not mind their Queen to abdicate”. Here she obviously confuses Rambøll/Analyse Danmark’s poll with another poll conducted on behalf of the news agency Ritzau and referred to briefly in Politiken, which shows that 1 out of 3 think she should abdicate now. The poll in Jyllands-Posten however shows that nearly half of those asked are of the opinion that she should abdicate at all, either now or within the next ten years.
The second option is, as far as I can see, not included in that other poll and the two of them are therefore not really comparable. However, what is comparable is that 23.5 % in the poll referred to in Jyllands-Posten are in favour of her immediate abdication.
“Marianne” adds about my blog that “most comments are purely made seen from his own personal perspective”. This is utter nonsense. Quite on the contrary I refer what are the findings of a scientific poll conducted by a leading polling agency and published in a serious newspaper. In the link I provided one may find all the facts and results of that poll, something which has nothing whatsoever to do with my personal perspective. I did however add that personally I would not like to see Queen Margrethe abdicate.
Complete with an exclamation mark, “Marianne” pompously adds “it is always wise to read more papers of the country involved so as to get a broader insight in matters!” In answer to that patronising comment I can say that I read several Danish newspapers every day and that my insight into Danish matters is probably greater than most foreigners’.
It seems “Marianne” wants do deny the findings of Rambøll/Analyse Danmark’s poll by twisting questions and mixing different questions into one answer. However, the results of Rambøll/Analyse Danmark’s poll are there for all to see even though some people may want to deny them.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

At the road’s end: Lech Kaczyński (1949-2010), President of Poland

The President of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, was among 96 people killed in a plane crash while trying to land at the military airport in Smolensk in Russia this morning. Among the victims of the accident were also his wife Maria, the chief of the defence staff, the deputy foreign minister, the president of the country’s national bank and 17 MPs.
Kaczyński, who belonged to the populist right-wing party Law and Justice, had served as president since 2005, when he defeated Donald Tusk from the Civic Platform party.
Born in 1949, the late President was a professor of law and had been part of the Solidarity movement which played a leading part in bringing down the Communist regime in Poland. He supported Lech Walesa as president in 1990, but later fell out with the leader of Solidarity and formed Law and Justice with his identical twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczyński.
The younger of the twins by 45 seconds, Lech Kaczyński became mayor of Warsaw, minister of justice and head of Poland’s audit office before being elected president five years ago. His twin brother subsequently become prime minister, but was defeated by Donald Tusk in 2007.
The death of the President makes the Speaker of Parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, acting president. According to the Constitution a new presidential election must be held within two months. A presidential election was scheduled to be held in October and the latest opinion polls left him little chance of a second term; only 16 % favoured his re-election.
The President, known for his antipathy towards Russia, was on his way to Russia to take part in commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, where 15,000 Polish officers were executed by Soviet Russia.
The late President was at the beginning of his term described by Timothy Garton Ash as “much given to conspiracy theories about both domestic and international politics, seeing the hidden hand of security services where others cannot detect it”. It remains to be seen how soon the conspiracy theories concerning the circumstances of his death will appear.

Among the victims of the crash was also Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last Polish President-in-exile. Following the end of World War II Poland maintained a government-in-exile in London until the fall of communism. It was, significantly, from Kaczorowski rather than from the de facto president, General Wojciech Jaruzeski, that Lech Walesa chose to receive the presidential insignia when inaugurated as president in 1990.

Friday, 9 April 2010

On this date: German invasion 70 years ago

Seventy years ago today, in the early hours of 9 April 1940, Germany attacked Norway and Denmark without a declaration of war.
While Denmark had little choice but to capitulate almost immediately, with the loss of sixteen lives, Norway chose to turn down the German ultimatum and continue fighting for two months before the King and government were left with no choice but to go into exile in Britain.
That this protracted campaign was possible was to a large extent due to the sinking of “Blücher” by the fortress of Oscarsborg, an action which delayed the German entry into Oslo and gave the authorities time to escape and take up the fight.
The situation in Denmark changed on 29 August 1943, when the policy of cooperation with the occupiers came to an end, a rupture which implied harsher conditions in that country as well.
Denmark was liberated in the evening of 4 May 1945 (officially the next day), while Norway remained under occupation for a few more days, until the unconditional German surrender on 8 May.
In Denmark, but not in Norway, flags are flown at half mast until noon every 9 April.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

New books: Bernadotte and the town where it all began

With the celebrations of the Bernadottes’ 200 years in Sweden approaching, Örebro County Museum chose to dedicate the 2009 edition of their yearbook to Carl XIV Johan. The book, titled Bernadotte – Det började i Örebro, is edited by Yvonne Torstensson and contains contributions by Birger Wennberg, Herman Lindqvist, Jan Mårtenson, Lars O. Lagerqvist and Göran Alm.
It was in Örebro that the Four Estates met in August 1810 to elect an heir to the childless King Carl XIII. He had become king following the deposal of his nephew Gustaf IV Adolf the previous year and the heir first chosen by the Estates, Christian August of Augustenburg, had died suddenly shortly after his arrival in Sweden. Many believed he had been poisoned and blamed the Marshal of the Realm, Axel von Fersen, who was consequently beaten to death by a mob during the Crown Prince’s funeral. In such uncertain times it was deemed too unsafe for the General Estates to meet in Stockholm and Örebro was chosen instead.
The largest part of this book is a revised edition of Birger Wennberg’s 1994 book Bernadotte och Örebro. Wennberg recounts the surprising events of the General Estates’ meeting, which did not, as had been anticipated, lead to the election of Christian August’s brother, but of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of the French Empire and Prince of Pontecorvo.
These momentous events are well-known and (naturally) Wennberg has no new information to add. But what makes his account stand out from others is his local connection to Örebro. Thus he is able to paint a colourful portrait of the town as it was two centuries ago and make us understand just how remarkable it was that this undeveloped small town became the centre of events which would alter the course of Swedish, and arguably also European, history.
The second part of the book is by the notoriously unreliable tabloid journalist Herman Lindqvist, who summarises his very weak biography of Bernadotte. This chapter aims to answer the question of who Bernadotte was, but, like Lindqvist’s own book, it reduces the multi-faceted, complex personality that was Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to a one-dimensional caricature.
More interesting is the third part, by the former diplomat and courtier Jan Mårtenson, who looks at Mörner the kingmaker. The 29-year-old Lieutenant Carl Otto Mörner persuaded the Foreign Minister to allow him to go to Paris as an extra courier asking for Emperor Napoléon’s advice about who should be the new heir to the Swedish throne and took it upon himself to invite one of the French Marshals to come to Sweden. As we know, his plan succeeded, but Mörner himself never reached the heights of glory. The story of Carl Otto Mörner is a fascinating one, and this chapter might well have been longer.
In the last but one chapter the historian Lars O. Lagerqvist, one of Carl XIV Johan’s more significant biographers, treats the reader to an entertaining account of the King’s daily life and – a favourite topic of Lagerqvist’s – what the King ate.
The final chapter is by Göran Alm, art historian and head of the Bernadotte Library, who discusses Carl Johan’s relation to the arts, an aspect of his career which has been accorded surprisingly little attention. The Royal Palace in Oslo and Carl Johan’s library are at the centre of Alm’s argument, which concludes that Carl Johan understood how to use the arts as political tools and as means to legitimise his dynasty in Sweden and Norway.
The book is generously illustrated and works well as an introduction to the first phase of the history of the Bernadotte dynasty. But it would have been better if the chapter on Carl Johan’s background had been written by a more serious and knowledgeable author than Herman Lindqvist, who is now long past his prime.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Queen of Britain dissolves Parliament

It is reported from London that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has returned to Downing Street following an audience with Queen Elizabeth II where he asked her to dissolve the British Parliament. It is expected that he will soon confirm the widely expected 6 May election date.
The general election is set to be the closest race since 1974, with an opinion poll published in the Guardian yesterday showing the Conservatives down 1 % to 37 % and Labour up 4 % to 33 %, and the Liberal Democrats down 2 % to 21 %.
Because of the outdated electoral system still used in Britain such an outcome could mean that Labour nevertheless would have become the largest party in Parliament but without a majority of their own. Such a situation, known as a hung parliament, is considered a national calamity in Britain and the last time it occured, in 1974, it led to Parliament being dissolved and a new general election being called within monhts.
This is perhaps less likely this time, given the precarious state of the British economy. Personally I tend to think that a hung parliament might not be such a negative thing for Britain after all - a coalition government including the Liberal Democrats could be a benefit.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Swedish MPs support monarchy in practice if not in theory

The newspaper Sydsvenskan has asked all the 349 members of Sweden’s Parliament about their views of the monarchy and the result is interesting: It turns out that although a majority is republican in principle, 185 MPs still think the monarchy should be retained whereas 117 want to abolish it. 47 MPs are in doubt or have not answered the question.
Interestingly, as many as 127 MPs favour certain changes to the monarchy, such as giving the royal family freedom of religion and abolishing the rule that the King cannot be charged with criminal acts. 153 MPs oppose such changes.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

67 % support Norwegian monarchy

An opinion poll referred in Dagbladet yesterday shows that 67 % of those asked agree that Norway should “continue to have a royal family”. As the poll deals mostly with the popular perception of the Crown Princess there is little said about the background numbers, not even on how many of the remaining 33 % want a republic and how many who are in doubt.
The last opinion poll on this was published in VG in May last year and showed 71 % in favour of the monarchy and 17 % for the republic. The current result is down 4 %, but is still within a 2/3 majority.
A similar poll in Denmark in June last year showed 77.8 % in favour of the monarchy and 15.3 % supporting a republic; while a Swedish opinion poll in April 2009 indicated that 63 % were happy to keep the monarchy while 17 % wanted a republic instead.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

New books: Five centuries of Swedish royal weddings

Ahead of the Royal Armoury’s upcoming exhibition on Swedish royal weddings, Lena Rangström, who is a senior curator at the museum, has written the book En brud för kung och fosterland – Kungliga svenska bröllop från Gustav Vasa till Carl XVI Gustaf, which was published in cooperation with Bokförlaget Atlantis on 10 March. By the virtue of its sheer existence this monumental tome will be the standard work on the topic and it is therefore regrettable that, although based on many years of research, it leaves quite a lot to be desired.
To describe all Swedish royal weddings during the last 500 years would be almost impossible to do in one book, and the author has therefore chosen to include only the weddings of the monarchs who have reigned in Sweden since the end of the Kalmar Union (all of whom were married at least once, with the exceptions of Carl XII and Christina). She has composed the book as a marriage-by-marriage account, but not in a strictly chronological order. Rather than arranging the chapters by the years in which the weddings took place, she puts them in order following the line of monarchs, meaning that, for instance, the wedding of Gustaf IV Adolf in 1797 is dealt with before that of his uncle and successor, Carl XIII, in 1774.
With the chapters being arranged as they are the book would have benefited greatly from a final chapter summarising the development of traditions and drawing a larger picture. It might for instance have been interesting if a comparison had been made between the difficulties of the upstart Vasas and Bernadottes in finding royal brides or of how the ceremonial evolved through the centuries. Instead these things are scattered here and there throughout the book. Such a chapter might also have served as a counter-weight to the fact that Rangström’s prose is generally descriptive and very rarely reflective. For instance she observes that the royal crowns were placed next to the altar during the 1976 wedding, but she does not say that this had never happened before and neither does she reflect on what this invention of tradition might have signified. In general there is little reflection on the meaning of ceremonies or what they were manifestations of.
Limiting the scope to the monarchs alone has its advantages as well as its drawbacks. The monarchs are of course the main characters in the history of the Swedish monarchy and one may therefore assume that their weddings were the most important and note-worthy events. But among the consequences thereof are that none of the weddings covered between 1850 and 1976 took place in Sweden, but in the bride’s home country, and that some of the grandest royal weddings Sweden has seen, such as that of Princess Ingrid to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in 1935, are left out.
The author is also not always consistent when it comes to what to include and what to exclude. There is a chapter dealing with King Sigismund of Poland’s remarriage to Archduchess Constantia of Austria in 1605, several years after he had been deposed from the Swedish throne. When this marriage of a former Swedish king, which has no relevance to Sweden, is included, it would also seem natural if one had included the marriage of Prince Fredrik of Hesse-Cassel, who through his second marriage eventually became King of Sweden, to Princess Louise of Brandenburg in 1700, but this is left out.
While the author includes marital negotiations and plans for bachelor princes and kings which did not result in weddings, the similar stories about widowed monarchs are left out. Thus there is not a word on the widowed Carl XV’s plans to marry the Polish Countess Maria Krasinska, plans which had progressed quite far when the King died. The proposal Crown Prince Gustaf (VI) Adolf made to Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein following the death of his first wife but preceding his remarriage is mentioned, but not the two proposals he made after the death of his second wife.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this book is the illustrations. Here the author and publisher have been able to draw on the Royal Armoury’s international network to obtain a large number of different sorts of illustrations from a wide range of institutions at home and abroad. It is a pity that the same effort has not been put into the text.
With two royal weddings coming up in Sweden there should obviously be a market for a book on the history of royal weddings. But this is not a book for the general reader, and even I, who must be considered more than averagely interested in the topic, found it hard to get through this book.
Although Rangström has brought together much information I was left feeling someone should have reminded her along the way that although the assemblage of facts is all very well, the main purpose of a book is that it should be read. The readability of this book suffers greatly from the extreme obsession with details, which are far too frequently rendered in a rather dry manner. There are, particularly in the chapters on the 16th and 17th centuries, some long and detailed descriptions of ceremonies and celebrations and summaries of bridal inventories which are quite dreary.
The human beings at the centre of things are far too often lost in a flood of dry facts about meals eaten, the number of dresses brought along and the exact date on which Carl XV gave his wife’s wedding dress to the Royal Armoury. It takes the vivacious charm of the teenage bride Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta to bring some life to the pages of this book and by then we have already reached page 282.
While many of the illustrations have been obtained from abroad, the same cannot be said about the sources for the text. With the exception of older German works and some British books on costume, there are hardly any books published outside Sweden included in the list of sources used and this book suffers from such a narrow perspective. We do for example hear about Lady Louise Mountbatten’s secret engagement to Prince Kristoforos of Greece, which is mentioned in Margit Fjellman’s Swedish biography, but Rangström is obviously unaware of her subsequent engagement to a man killed in World War I and thereafter to the artist Alexander Stuart-Hill, who was chased away by her father when it turned out he was gay. The stories of these engagements, told and documented in Hugo Vickers’s excellent biography of her sister, add much of interest and human touches to Louise’s life-story.
The very narrow Swedish perspective is also reflected in the way the union with Norway between 1814 and 1905 is dealt with. The union is often “forgotten” by Swedish writers, such as Eva Helen Ulvros, who in her biography of Oscar I accorded hardly a word to his Norwegian reign, leaving an otherwise excellent book very incomplete. Following the many events and publications five years ago commemorating the centennial of the union’s end, including a major exhibition at the museum where Rangström works, one might have hoped that this would finally have made Swedish writers realise that their royal family was for nearly a century also the royal family of another independent kingdom.
Rangström is aware of it, but generally fails to take the consequences thereof. Thus we too often read about “the Swedish Crown Prince”, “the Swedish envoy” or “the future Queen of Sweden” (she also consequently writes “English” and “England” where “British” and “Britain” would have been the correct terms).
When Crown Prince Gustaf married Victoria of Baden in 1881, the official celebrations of their arrival in Stockholm after the wedding in Karlsruhe were followed shortly thereafter by an official entrance into the Norwegian capitals and similar celebrations there, but this is not even mentioned. It is of course a book about Swedish royal weddings, but the fact that those parts of the celebrations held in Norway are entirely ignored leaves the picture incomplete.
With one single exception no Norwegian sources are consulted, meaning that much relevant information is left out. The events relating to the engagement and wedding of Prince Gustaf (VI) Adolf to Margaret of Britain took place during the union’s last hours, meaning that much of interest about the royal wedding may be found in the published and unpublished diaries of several Norwegian politicians, but these sources are not made use of here.
The author also ignores that there were Norwegian interests to consider in connection with at least some of the weddings described. For instance Rangström makes us believe that Joséphine of Leuchtenberg was number one on Carl XIV Johan’s list of desirable brides for his only son, but actually she was second to a Danish princess. As Norway had been part of the Danish monarchy until 1814, a marriage to one of Frederik VI’s daughters would have helped heal the wounds of that eventful year. The King also let his son know that such a marriage would be popular in Norway. All this is the topic of a separate chapter of Torvald T:son Höjer’s official, three-volume biography of King Carl Johan, a work which is not mentioned in Rangström’s bibliography.
There are also too many factual mistakes. Gustaf III succeeded to the throne not in 1772 but in 1771; Queen Désirée was not the daughter of a silk manufacturer (that her father was a silk merchant is an old myth, that he was a silk manufacturer appears to be a product of the author’s imagination); Bernadotte was not yet a marshal when he married; it is King Olav Haraldsson (St Olav) who is considered the patron saint of Norway, not his Swedish-born wife Astrid; Queen Sophia’s father was not Sovereign Prince of Nassau-Weilburg, but Duke of Nassau; and Prince Carl Oscar died at the age of 14 ½ months, not two years. She mixes up the Dutch kings Willem II and Willem III and although she knows perfectly well that Lovisa Ulrika was not Fredrik I’s daughter-in-law, she refers to her as such twice. She mixes up the legislative and executive powers when she states that Oscar II was deposed by the Norwegian government rather than the Parliament; and she establishes a dynastic link between the Bernadottes and the deposed Gustaf IV Adolf by making his wife Fredrika the aunt of Queen Josephina’s mother although no such link existed as Fredrika was in fact the sister of Josephina’s step-grandmother.
Rangström dedicates some space to jewellery, but does not always get it right. She tells us that the famous Leuchtenberg parure, arguably one of the most beautiful works of art and craftsmanship to be found among royal jewels, came to Sweden “through inheritance to Crown Princess Josefina”. Josephina had in fact been queen for several years when she inherited the parure upon the death of her mother.
The diamond tiara with hanging pearls now in the possession of the Danish Royal House is generally considered to have been inherited by Queen Lovisa from her mother, Princess Louise of the Netherlands, shortly before her own death and therefore most likely never worn by her before it passed on to her daughter in Denmark. Rangström claims that the tiara and other pieces of matching jewellery were parts of Lovisa’s trousseau already when she came to Sweden in 1850, but does not back it up with any sources. Thus it is not possible to know if this is a new discovery or simply a misunderstanding of Rangström’s.
There are also occasions when the book would have benefited from the author taking more time to look properly into the things she writes about. When Crown Prince Gustaf (VI) Adolf married Lady Louise Mountbatten in 1923, a professor of law raised the question about whether Louise’s status really complied with the Act of Succession’s provision that a prince could not marry “a private man’s daughter” without forfeiting his right to the throne. Rangström argues that George V’s consent to the engagement made Louise a member of the British royal house, that Queen Mary of Britain had a similar family background (!) and that George V told the wife of the Swedish ambassador that “what’s good enough for England is good enough for Sweden”, but these arguments are all utterly irrelevant and of no concern to the Act of Succession. The relevant arguments, namely Louise’s position in the British line of succession and that a British peer, as her father had been, was not a private man, go unmentioned.
Another weakness is that the closer we come to our own days, the more discreet Rangström becomes. The marriage of Gustaf V and Victoria is described as “a with the years increasingly unhappy marriage”, which is quite an understatement for Victoria’s extramarital affairs and suicide thoughts and the alleged homosexuality of King Gustaf, which goes entirely unmentioned – also when the author observes that there was apparently “not the slightest hint of any romance before he met Victoria”.
When the future Gustaf VI Adolf remarries Louise Mountbatten, we learn that the situation “naturally” felt “odd” for his five children, “but from the very beginning they could, with relief, note that ‘aunt’ Louise was kind”, Rangström enthuses. She does acknowledge that “it would be several years before the elder children fully accepted her”, but one need not have read much about the future Queen Ingrid of Denmark’s relationship with her stepmother to realise that this is an understatement. It is interesting to observe that Rangström as her source for this uses the memoirs of the youngest child, Carl Johan, who was only seven and has said he was probably the least affected of the siblings because he had no memories of his mother. The autobiography of his elder brother, Sigvard, is more informative and candid about the situation, but is not listed among Rangström’s sources.
Upon reaching the wedding of the current King and Queen, the author throws all restraint overboard and gives us a fawning ladies journal’s account of the wedding. “So then she comes, beautiful as a fairytale queen”, she gushes of the bride, having already assured us that “everybody at once liked her and fell for her wisdom, intelligence and charm”.
I had great expectations of this book, but sadly it did not live up to them. If I were a publisher and received this as a manuscript I would have returned it to the author with the comment that there was much of interest in it, but that she would need to work more on it in order to make it more readable, eliminate the factual mistakes and rethink her methodology. As it stands, En brud för kung och fosterland is one of those books of great promise whose strengths are undermined by its weaknesses.