Friday, 30 December 2011

My latest articles: Queen Margrethe, Elsa Cedergren and three reviews

In mid-January Queen Margrethe II of Denmark will celebrate her forty years on the throne with three days of festivities. On occasion of the jubilee I have written an article titled “Renaissance Queen”, which deals with what I consider some of the most interesting aspects of her reign and which appears in the January issue of the British monthly magazine Majesty (Vol. 33, No. 1), published on 20 December.
Also out just before Christmas was this year’s final issue of Royalty Digest Quarterly (no 4 – 2011), which includes my biographical article on the humanitarian and activist Elsa Cedergren (1893-1996), the youngest daughter of Prince Oscar Bernadotte and sister of the famous Folke Bernadotte. It seems Elsa Cedergren is now primarily remembered for having been the (so far) only Bernadotte to reach the age of 100, but there were certainly much else of interest about her.
To the same magazine I have also contributed reviews of Philip Eade’s excellent Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life and Ilana D. Miller’s The Four Graces: Queen Victoria’s Hessian Granddaughters. (Concerning the latter title the editor has, curiously, chosen to add a second “review” by Charlotte Zeepvat, who appears to be a friend of the author and is thanked profusely in the book’s preface for her help and support.)
The Society for Court Studies has also brought out this year’s second issue of their journal The Court Historian (Volume 16, 2), which contains several very interesting articles and to which I have been happy to contribute a review article about the exhibition “Härskarkonst – Napoleon, Karl Johan, Alexander” (“Staging Power – Napoleon, Charles John, Alexander”), which was held at the National Museum in Stockholm from September 2010 to January 2011.
These bring the total number of my published works this year up to nineteen, consisting of seven topical or biographical articles, four op-eds, six reviews, one obituary and one letter to the editor.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

77 % support Danish monarchy

Ahead of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark’s upcoming jubilee Politiken yesterday began a series of articles about the monarchy through the past forty years. While yesterday’s article (external link) dealt with the death of Frederik IX and the accession of Margrethe II, Politiken today publishes an opinion poll (external link) conducted by Megafon which shows that 77 % of the respondees support the monarchy, while 16 % want a republic.
The newspaper points out that this is a sharp contrast to the situation when Queen Margrethe ascended the throne in 1972, a time when only 42 % were in favour of a continued monarchy. Support for the monarchy then rose steadily until ten years ago (51 % in 1978, 69 % in 1987, 72 % in 1992, 93 % in 2001) before falling somewhat in recent years (82 % in 2004 and 77 % today).
The poll also shows that the monarchy enjoys support from voters of all parliamentary parties, except one: 80 % among those who votes for the Social Democrats, 68 % among the Danish Social Liberal Party, 85 % among the Conservatives, 71 % among the Socialist People’s Party, 78 % among the Liberal Alliance, 82 % among the Danish People’s Party and 87 % among the Liberal Party, but only 36 % among those who give their vote to the Red-Green Alliance.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

A photo from Stockholm to wish all my readers a happy Christmas!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

At the road’s end: Václav Havel (1936-2011), dramatist, dissident and president

One of the greatest men of our times has died. It was announced earlier today that Václav Havel died in his sleep this morning at the age of 75, after a long battle against lung cancer. The hero of 1989 and former President of Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic was last seen in public when he met the Dalai Lama nine days ago.
Born in Prague on 5 October 1936, Havel first became known as a dramatist, essayist and poet. His works often had a political message and he became one of the country’s leading dissidents following the Soviet invasion of 1968. He was among the founders of the opposition group known as Charter 77 (from their human rights manifesto) and was consequently imprisoned on a number of occasions.
This only increased his stature as a leading dissident and in 1989 Havel was at the front of the so-called Velvet Revolution, the peaceful demonstrations centering on Wenceslas Square in Prague, which brought down the Communist regime. On 29 December 1989 Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Assembly.
As President he presided over free election in the summer of 1990 and the establishment of multi-party democracy. He opposed the break-up of the country, which came into effect on 1 January 1993, but was elected President of the new republic on 26 January 1993. He was reelected for a second five-year term in 1998.
Havel was an enthusiastic advocate of the eastwards expansion of NATO and saw his country join the alliance during his presidency. Negotiations for EU membership also began during his presidency and the Czech Republic joined the union in 2004, a year after Havel had left office. He was succeeded by his political opponent Václav Klaus.
Despite health problems Havel remained active as a politician as well as an artist in the years following his resignation.
The photo is by courtesy of Martin Kozák/Wikipedia.

Friday, 16 December 2011

A documentary on royal jewels

Last Sunday Danish television DR broadcast the first episode of a two-part documentary on royal jewels. The first episode dealt with the jewels of the Danish and Swedish royal families, while the second episode, to be broadcast the coming Sunday, will tell the story of the Russian imperial jewels. The documentary is to a great extent made up of interviews with current royals and archive footage and is quite well made, although there are, regrettably, several factual mistakes and inaccuracies, both concerning the jewels and history in general, and the quality of some of the still photos might have been better. A book based on the series is due to be published in the spring. The first part of the documentary can be watched in its entirety at this external link: http://www.dr.dk/nu/player/#/de-kongelige-juveler/25394

Doubts over authenticity of alleged King Carl Gustaf photos

Expressen today publishes the photo allegedly showing King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden watching women having sex which has been at the heart of the scandal which began with the publication of the book Carl XVI Gustaf – Den motvillige monarken by Thomas Sjöberg, Deanne Rauscher and Tove Meyer.
The photo is due to be published in a biography of the gangster Mille Markovic in January, but experts consulted by Expressen doubt its authenticity.
The experts from British LGC Forensics and Audio Video Forensics and an unnamed Swedish firm conclude that the picture is taken from a video and that some changes have obviously been made to it to make it appear more as a video filmed in secrecy; a “rec” symbol and cross hairs have been added. The shadows and the lighting also make the experts believe that the face of the man watching the three women, said to be the King, may have been pasted on another body, but they cannot say this for sure.
Bertil Ternert, the Director of the Information and Press Department at the Royal Palace, is naturally jubilant and insists that this shows that the King spoke the truth when he denied the allegations in an interview in May.
Meanwhile Markovic continues to insist that the photo is genuine and adds that he will publish more photos and videos compromising the King on his website the day after his biography is published.
Peter Eriksson (the Green Party), the leader of Parliament’s standing committee on constitutional affairs says to the news agency TT that the revelation that the photo has probably been manipulated is of little relevance to the debate about confidence in the King. He finds it more relevant whether the King’s friends have had contact with criminals and if the King has known about such contact.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Edward VIII’s forgotten coronation portrait comes to light

Last weekend saw the 75th anniversary of the abdication of King Edward VIII of Britain, which was signed on 10 December 1936 and came into effect the following day, and this anniversary was the occasion for the publication of an unknown coronation portrait of the uncrowned king.
During a recent move of offices one found a proof copy of the Illustrated London News’s coronation issue, which had been prepared in advance of his coronation, set for 12 May 1937. Among the illustrations was a reproduction of a portrait by Albert Collings, showing King Edward VIII in his coronation clothes, the Imperial State Crown and other regalia resting by his side. The original portrait is, according to the Daily Telegraph, believed to have been lost during World War II.

POSTSCRIPT: The Daily Telegraph today (3 January 2012) reports what happened to the portrait: the face of Edward VIII was quite simply painted over and replaced with that of George VI. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/theroyalfamily/8979604/George-VI-Coronation-portrait-early-example-of-photo-shopping.html)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

New books: Prince Albert’s death and its impact

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Albert, Prince Consort of Britain, on 14 December 1861, which the British author Helen Rappaport has made the topic of her new book Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy, published by Hutchinson. The story is very well-known, but Rappaport’s book is well-written and she has used some less familiar sources to add some new voices to the story.
The opening scene is the happy Christmas of 1860, which was celebrated at Windsor Castle, a place, Rappaport reminds us, which Queen Victoria, despite how it is often associated with her, did not much care for. This makes for a sharp contrast to the gloom of the following Christmas, by which time Prince Albert was dead. Rappaport subscribes to the theory that Prince Albert got Queen Victoria on to the track of constitutional, politically un-biased monarchy, and shows to what great extent the Queen relied on her husband.
A significant event occurring between Christmas 1860 and Christmas 1861 was the death of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. Since her accession in 1837, Victoria had kept her mother at an arm-length’s distance, but when going through her belongings the Queen realised the extent of her mother’s love for her. Victoria threw herself into an extravagant grief, in which she seems to have found some sort of pleasure. She noted with relish how she was complimented on “the manner in which I have shown my grief” and stated quite openly that “I do not wish to feel better”. Victoria’s almost theatrical grief for her mother and the way she wallowed in it was obviously re-played, but on a much grander scale, after Prince Albert died later that year.
The story of Prince Albert’s illness and death in December 1861 is told in great detail, perhaps a bit too long-winded. More interesting is the account of the overwhelming public reaction to the Prince Consort’s death, which is followed by the story of Queen Victoria’s posthumous idolisation of her late husband, the cult created around his memory, her withdrawal from public life and the dangers this posed for the monarchy. This is again a story very well-known to anyone familiar with the history of the British monarchy in the nineteenth century, but Rappaport presents it well.
She also exposes Queen Victoria’s self-centred egotism and the way in which she was perfectly capable of doing what she really wanted, but when she did not want to do something she got her loyal (perhaps too loyal) physician to back up her claims that the fulfilment of her duty would pose a danger to her health. The author also shows how the Queen’s private secretaries were perfectly aware that she did not work as hard on the official papers as she tried to make people believe. Indeed, the more one reads about Queen Victoria the harder it is to like her.
While attempting to explain what caused Victoria’s extravagant mourning for her husband, it seems to me that the author misses out on one point, which again draws a parallel to the death of her mother. “Victoria was always there ready to adore him, to hang on to his every word, his every kiss, to praise unstintingly and monopolise his time, but Albert was tiring of her relentless, cloying admiration and her never-ending emotional hunger”, Rappaport writes about the relationship between wife and husband.
But what goes unmentioned is the fact that Victoria did not always treat her husband very well, indeed her at times irrational behaviour towards him seems to have tormented him. To lose the one she loved and realising that she had not been particularly kind to him when he was alive may well have caused a feeling of guilt and a desire to try to make it up to him by excessive displays of grief and idolisation.
The book disintegrates somewhat towards the end, where the author rather briefly sums up the remaining decades of Queen Victoria’s life before returning to Christmas 1878, when her second eldest daughter, Grand Duchess Alice, died on the seventeenth anniversary of the father she had nursed, and then moving on to a chapter where the author challenges the oft-repeated story that the Prince Consort died from typhoid fever and argues that the cause of death was most likely Crohn’s disease.
The appendix on what Prince Albert died from would have worked better if it had been inserted into its natural chronological place in the book. Particularly given the emphasis put on the Prince of Wales’s near-death experience from typhoid fever on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death it would have been better if the reader had already then been told that the author does not believe that the illness which afflicted the Prince of Wales was the same that killed his father.
The book might have benefited from a more thorough fact check. Queen Victoria was forty-two, not forty-three, when her husband died; Prince Arthur was at that time eleven and not ten. The bride chosen for the Prince of Wales was not Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, but of Denmark; Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck is erroneously demoted to “Princess Mary Adelaide of Teck”; there was no French “Emperor Louis Napoleon”, but an Emperor Napoléon III; the author continues to refer to “Princess Alice” even after she had become Grand Duchess; and the King of Sweden and of Norway is erroneously referred to as King of only one of these two countries when he, again erroneously, is said to have visited “the Swedish legation”. The titles of the British nobility also seem to be a mystery to the author; the same person cannot be both Lady Augusta Bruce and Lady Bruce, Lady Jane Churchill and Lady Churchill, Lord John Russell and Lord Russell, and so on.
Despite these reservations the overall impression is that Helen Rappaport has produced a readable account of the well-known story of Prince Albert’s death and its consequences.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

New books: Napoléon, his age and his ideas

Given that there are literally hundreds of thousands of books on Napoléon I, I generally wonder each time a new one appears what is its purpose. Many of them are obviously superfluous, but Alan Forrest’s recent book Napoleon, published by Quercus, stands out as one which is worth reading.
Forrest is professor of modern history at the University of York and may be considered one of the leading British scholars on the revolutionary and Napoleonic epochs in French history. He repeatedly states his initial reluctance to make the transition from writing social history of the revolution to a biography of Napoléon and this also influences the book, but in a good way.
If there are individuals who defined their age in such a way that their biography and the history of their era are virtually the same thing, Napoléon is obviously one of the best examples. Forrest’s book thus combines the story of Napoléon’s life with the history of France and Europe during that half-century.
The story is framed by chapters on the late Emperor’s reburial in Paris in 1840 at the beginning and his “life after death” at the end. There is less about his personal life than in many other biographies and Forrest generally avoids the lengthy accounts of campaigns and battles with which some of Napoléon’s biographers try their readers’ patience.
On the other hand Professor Forrest is particularly strong on the ideas that shaped Napoléon and his age and on the system which Napoléon created. The book is mercifully not part of the propaganda war which many of Napoléon’s biographers, perhaps in particular the British ones, still seem to be fighting. Indeed Forrest’s book is neither laudatory nor vindictive, but rather critical in the best meaning of that word and the author gives credit where he thinks credit is due and criticises what he thinks deserves to be criticised.
The book is entirely based on secondary sources and there are no new revelations to be found in this book (indeed it is by now hardly possible to find unknown primary sources), but Alan Forrest’s interpretation of the man and the age and his clear analyses make for one of the most interesting books on Napoléon to be published in recent years.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Scientists find King Magnus Ladulås is not in his grave

This spring the grave of King Magnus Ladulås and his family in the Riddarholmen Church in Stockholm was opened with the purpose of comparing his DNA with the remains in Varnhem Church which are believed to be those of his father, Duke Birger Magnusson. The grave opening was the subject of an exhibition in the Riddarholmen Church this summer, but on Friday the final results were presented at a press conference at the Medieval Museum in Stockholm and they were certainly a surprise: the remains in King Magnus’s grave are not those of King Magnus!
King Magnus died in 1290 and stated in his will that he wished to be buried in the Riddarholmen Church. In the 1570s King Johan III commissioned impressive tombs for King Magnus Ladulås (pictured above) and King Karl Knutsson. When King Magnus’s tomb was opened this summer the remains of nine people were found beneath the floor, but the test results show beyond doubt that these remains are all of people who died between the 1430s and the 1520s.
The scientists will now ask the royal court for permission to open the tomb of King Karl Knutsson, which they hope they will be able to do next spring, but in the worst case not until 2014. The new theory is now that King Karl Knutsson, who reigned thrice as King of Sweden in the fifteenth century (and briefly as King of Norway 1449-1450) but did not have royal ancestry, was buried in the grave of King Magnus Ladulås to “borrow” legitimacy. The tomb of Karl Knutsson was opened a century ago, when a skeleton was found 140 centimetres below the floor. Apparently one now thinks that this might be Magnus Ladulås rather than Karl Knutsson.
What puzzles me is why one seems to reject the idea that the two tombs may simply have been placed over the wrong graves in the 1570s. Given that King Karl Knutsson died in 1470 one wonders if his remains might be among the nine skeletons from the 1430s-1520s in the grave which has until now been believed to be Magnus Ladulås’s. Apparently the scientists have not stated anything about whose bones they think these are.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Swedish Parliament approves greater scrutiny of royal finances

The Swedish Parliament yesterday debated the issue of greater scrutiny over royal finances. After a lengthy debate the government was defeated by 146 votes to 144. This means that earlier agreements (of 1996 and 2005) between the government and the Office of the Marshal of the Realm will have to be revised and that one will have to find a way to account in more detail for how the money the monarchy receives from the state is spent (private expenses will be exempt).
As could be expected, the ongoing scandal about King Carl Gustaf and his friends was brought up in the debate, where the Conservative MP Andreas Norlén accused the Social Democrats of having changed their minds because of the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken. This was denied by Social Democrat MP Sven-Erik Österberg, who added that the court ought to be more afraid of the King’s friends than of the Social Democrats.

King Carl Gustaf’s former friend takes all the blame

In the latest chapter in the scandal relating to the King of Sweden and his former friend Anders Lettström’s negotiations with criminals over the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken, negotiations which Lettström in recently published tapes said that the King was informed about despite the monarch’s earlier firm denial of this, Lettström today launches a stinging attack on the media in an op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, where he also takes all the blame upon himself.
Much of the article is about Lettström denying claims made about himself in that book and his criticism of the way the media has handled this story (apparently he suspects that he has been bugged).
But most importantly Lettström stresses again that he did not negotiate with the criminals on King Carl Gustaf’s behalf, but solely on his own intiative. He repeats his claim that the King was neither involved nor informed.
That tapes have emerged where Lettström repeatedly says that the King has been informed about the negotiations is explained by that he felt pressured and tried to find a way to bring the contacts with the criminals to an end without endangering the safety of his family. Thus he sometimes said what he assumed the gangsters wanted to hear, “which in itself was not always true”.
Although he does not say so directly, Lettström’s op-ed implicitly admits that he also lied when he claimed that the tapes were falsifications and when he insisted he had never made any payments to the gangsters. Lettström is thus left without much credibility.
One may hope that this can contribute to taking some of the pressure off the King, but still I have the feeling that we have not heard the last about this story.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Opinion polls on the Swedish royal crisis

Following the recent developments in the ongoing scandal involving the King of Sweden and the suggestion made by leading parliamentarians that there should be an investigation into whether the King has known about his friend’s negotiations with criminals (and if so, lied to the people), the country’s largest newspaper Aftonbladet yesterday published an opinion poll (external link) by Sifo which shows that 65 % of the respondees are opposed to such an investigation, while 23 % are in favour of it and 11 % undecided.
But the same poll also shows dwindling support for the King: Only 34 % believe he should remain on the throne until his death, while 20 % think he should abdicate immediately, 17 % that he should abdicate within five years and 13 % that he should abdicate within ten years, leaving 16 % undecided.
In another opinion poll (external link), conducted by Novus and published by TV4, 32 % answer yes when asked if the King should abdicate in favour of Crown Princess Victoria, 37 % say no, 21 % say that the monarchy should be abolished and 10 % do not know. When asked directly about monarchy or republic, 58 % declare themselves in favour of retaining the monarchy, while 32 % want to abolish it and 10 % do not know. Of the 1,000 respondees interviewed yesterday and the day before yesterday, 11 % say they have great confidence in the King, 19 % that they have fairly great confidence in him, 35 % that they have neither great nor little confidence in him, 16 % that they have rather little, 19 % that they have very little confidence in the King and 1 % that they do not know.
Meanwhile the leading article (external link) in Dagens Nyheter, the largest broadsheet, today says that the fire is now approaching the King and that the King’s position is dependent on people feeling confidence in him. The leader stresses that the King cannot under any circumstances associate with criminals and that he can not continue as head of state if it turns out that he has, either actively or passively, accepted negotiations with criminals.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Top parliamentarians call for investigation of King Carl Gustaf

Following Saturday’s new development in the saga about King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and the alleged contacts with criminals in order to deny claims made in a scandalous book on the King, two leading parliamentarians have now called for an investigation of the King’s role in the affair.
Peter Eriksson of the Green Party (the third largest party in Parliament), who heads Parliament standing committee on constitutional affairs, said to Svenska Dagbladet yesterday that the survival of the monarchy is dependent on the people’s trust, but that this trust is now in danger of being undermined and that the King should therefore himself take the initiative to investigate this affair. This, says Eriksson, should also be in the King’s own interest.
Sven-Erik Österberg, the leader of the Social Democrat fraction in the constitutional committee, who is also the former parliamentary leader of his party and was widely expected to become its new party leader earlier this year, supports Eriksson’s view and adds that the situation is very serious if it turns out that the King has indeed lied.
On Wednesday Parliament is scheduled to debate a proposal for greater transparency in relation to the royal court’s finances, a proposal it seems will be carried against the votes of the government. MP Mia Mölleby, who representents the Left Party in the constitutional committee, says that, in light of the recent revelations, she will use Wednesday’s debate to propose the abolition of the monarchy. That proposal will surely be defeated, but it will be interesting to see to what extent the debate on transparency turns into a debate on the King or the monarchy itself.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

King of Sweden in trouble again

Another chapter in the never-ending story of King Carl XVI Gustaf, the scandalous biography and the gangsters was opened today, taking the story into what may be turn out to be a critical phase as it appears the King may have lied to his people. Calls for abdication if this is true have already been heard.
It may be recalled that it all began with the publication of the book Carl XVI Gustaf - Den motvillige monarken by Thomas Sjöberg, Deanne Rauscher and Tove Meyer, which made several scandalous claims about the monarch’s private life, claims which the King only partly denied. One of the few named sources in the book was a notorious gangster by the name of Mille Markovic, who threatened to publish compromising photos of the King and his friends. In May it was revealed that Anders Lettström, one of the King’s closest friends since childhood, subsequently contacted two other gangsters, Milan Sevo and Daniel Webb, in order to persuade them to get into contact with Markovic, buy the photos and make him deny the claims made in the book. The affair foundered when Markovic demanded too high a price.
In a written statement and in a highly embarrasing TV interview which surely marked the nadir of his reign, King Carl Gustaf was almost literally put up against the wall and forced to answer a series of detailed questions about his private life. In the TV interview he stated that there could not possibly exist any such photos and categorically denied that he had known about Lettström’s contacts with criminals in order to purchase such pictures. He distanced himself clearly from Lettström, even going as far as saying he would never again speak to his childhood friend, except perhaps at a deathbed reconciliation.
It was generally considered at that time that if it turned out the King had lied, he would probably be finished. And today the newspaper Aftonbladet publishes transcripts of conversations between Lettström and Milan Sevo and Daniel Webb, which the latter taped without Lettström’s knowledge, in which Lettström says, among other things, that he has informed the King that Markovic might be willing to deny the claims made in the book against payment.
When confronted with this by the newspaper yesterday, Lettström maintains that he never informed the King about the negotiations with criminals and claims that the tapes are manipulated. However, the latter claim is rejected by Swedish as well as British experts.
There remains the possibility that Lettström may not have spoken the truth when he said to the gangsters that he had informed the King about how the negotiations were proceeding.
But if it turns out to be true that the King knew about his friend’s negotiations with notorious criminals, he has made himself impossible as head of state, commentator Lena Mellin writes in Aftonbladet. The political scientist Ulf Bjereld says to Svenska Dagbladet that the King having lied to the people creates a very serious situation and that monarchists may now call for King Carl Gustaf’s abdication in favour of Crown Princess Victoria.
It seems this story, which was certainly the last thing the Swedish royal family needed, will not go away.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

New books: The reign of Queen Margrethe II

In the flood of books on Queen Margrethe II of Denmark – books of interviews, picture albums, year by year cavalcades, books on her art, the Queen and theatre, the Queen and archaeology, the Queen and her sisters, the portraits of the Queen and so on – I have always missed a proper biography of this perhaps most interesting of current European monarchs. Thus Jens Andersen’s biography M – 40 år på tronen, published by Lindhardt og Ringhof last Friday, is a welcome addition to the Margrethiana.
Dr Andersen, who is literary editor of the newspaper Berlingske, is one of Denmark’s most noted biographers and his tome on Hans Christian Andersen has been translated into several languages. His biography of the Queen has been written to mark her upcoming fortieth anniversary on the throne and although the Queen and other members of the Danish and Norwegian royal families have allowed themselves to be interviewed, it stands out from other Margrethe books by not being based solely on interviews with her.
Indeed Andersen has done his research well and draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources. The fact that other voices than the Queen’s are heard, thus providing other perspectives than the subject’s, alone contributes to making this one of the most interesting books which has been written about Margrethe II.
The author has chosen to leave out Queen Margrethe’s early life (except in retrospect when relevant) and to deal exclusively with his reign, which he divides up in chronological chapters which treat a few years at the time. Often these chapters will relate some key events before leading to a more thorough exploration of one or more topics which are of particular relevance to this time period, such as for instance the Queen’s constitutional role, her use of the language, her support for the new nations which emerged out of the events of 1989-1991, or her relations with Greenland.
The book does not contain any great revelations, but adds some titbits of interest, for instance that the Queen thinks her first Prime Minister, Jens Otto Krag, viewed her as a “clumsy teenager” or that she first met the future Queen Sonja already in the summer of 1959. By this stage so much has been written about Queen Margrethe that one can hardly except much new of major interest to appear in her lifetime, but Andersen succeeds brilliantly in putting Margrethe II and her reign into the context of its times and in highlighting some of the longer lines which run through those forty years. One of the long lines he treats particularly thoroughly is the immigration issue, the other women’s liberation.
The author observes that the Queen has become quite good at expressing opinions in a way that does not make them political statements in themselves, but contributes to an ethical discussion. The author has made full use of Queen Margrethe’s New Year speeches, which are rarely dull and which she has used to voice her concerns about issues which have not always been uncontroversial. One recurring topic throughout her reign has been the immigration issue, which has not always sat well with xenophobic Danes. The author sees the Queen’s concerns with this issue in relation to her own family situation, where she has seen up close the challenges faced by immigrants.
Now that Margrethe II has been on the throne for forty years, she is universally admired and respected and the Danish monarchy stands solidly on its feet, it is very useful to be reminded that this has not always been the case. She became queen rather suddenly, at the age of only 31, at a time when the standing of the monarchy was low, and the first decade or so of her reign was marked by a severe economic crisis and a chaotic parliamentary situation.
Andersen shows not only how things have changed since then, but also how Margrethe II herself has developed. For instance he investigates how the Queen in the years immediately after her accession found her way to a deep religious faith, which has come to mean much to her, and also how she began to find her feet as an artist, which afforded her the opportunity to be evaluated by talent rather than by birthright.
The author is generally respectful towards his subject and seems to have a certain admiration for her (which indeed most people seem to have), but he is not fawning or uncritical. Also, he does not avoid some of less pleasant topics or episodes, such as the Prince Consort’s difficulties with his royal role, the award of the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog to the King of Bahrain shortly before his violent suppression of the uprising earlier this year, or the controversy of the antependium the Queen made for Roskilde Cathedral.
Occasionally I found some of the more narrative parts a bit long-winded (for instance about the royal visit to the USA in 1976) and I could have wished for more on the Queen’s views and thoughts about the role of the monarchy in her own days, but the overall impression is that this is an excellent biography which adds something valuable to our understanding of its subject. This seems likely to become a classic among the vast number of books on Queen Margrethe II and a book which current and future students of her reign should not miss out on.
(As a disclaimer I should add that although I am among the historians quoted in the book, this does not disqualify me from reviewing it as I have not contributed to it).

Sunday, 27 November 2011

New books: Royal splendour from across Europe

On the occasion of the wedding of Sovereign Prince Albert II and Princess Charlène of Monaco this summer the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco held an exhibition titled no less than “Magnificence and Grandeur of the Royal Houses in Europe”. I did not see the exhibition, but a while ago I got hold of the eponymous catalogue, edited by Catherine Arminjon, which bears testimony to a sumptuous exhibition of royal treasures from across Europe.
The catalogue is arranged geographically, starting with Portugal and Spain before moving north to France, Britain, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden and then south again from Russia via Poland, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, the Hungarian Esterházys, the Savoys of Turin and the Bourbons of Naples before ending up in Monaco.
Thus Liechtenstein is the only of the current European monarchies not included in the exhibition, which is a pity given that the princely collection is one of the grandest in Europe, probably second only to that of Britain. The British Royal Collection has also not lent anything to the exhibition, so the British section is made up of loans from mostly French collections (a bust from the Victoria & Albert Museum is the only British-owned item included).
But the other extant monarchies have all lent items from their royal collections – some more generously than others. Being Norwegian I notice that the loans from this country are actually quite impressive, even including Queen Maud’s coronation gown.
Covering all this in one exhibition or one volume would obviously be impossible and the solution chosen is to focus on one monarch (or couple) per country – Denmark and Prussia being the exceptions by including respectively both Christian IV and Christian IX and the entire Hohenzollern dynasty from Friedrich I to Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The chosen person(s) is often, but not always, the founder of a dynasty – Felipe V of Spain, Adolphe of Luxembourg, Léopold I of the Belgians, Haakon VII of Norway.
For each country there is one main essay, generally followed by one or two shorter and more specific texts and finally a catalogue of the items relating to the country in question. The essays are diverse in their contents, with some authors choosing to write short biographical essays while authors set focus on one topic in particular.
As is the case with all anthologies, some essays are obviously more successful than others. Among the better ones one could mention Philippe Maarschalkerweerd on the education of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Andrea Merlotti on the achievements of King Vittorio Amadeo of Sardinia and Sicily, Gustaf Janssens on King Léopold I of the Belgians’s brand of constitutional monarchy, Peter Kristiansen on King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway, Magnus Olausson on the public persona of King Gustaf III of Sweden and Lorenz Seelig on the artistic patronage of King Ludwig I of Bavaria.
The only main essay which does not measure up is, unfortunately I must say, the Norwegian one, which has been written by Widar Halén, director of design and decorative art at the National Museum in Oslo. It seems obvious that Halén has very little knowledge and understanding of the topic he has been asked to write about and has done little about this.
His essay is, bewilderedly, entitled “The new Norwegian monarchy and its context”, and from the text it seems clear that he does indeed think that there was an entirely new Norwegian monarchy in 1905. Thus he refers to “King Oscar II of Sweden” as if Norway had been a Swedish province rather than an independent kingdom in a personal union with its eastern neighbour. He also claims that independence came only in 1905 and that the monogram of Haakon VII “was soon being brandished as a symbol of freedom, particularly during World War II”. In fact this happened only during World War II. It seems obvious that Halén has understood little of what really happened in 1905.
He adds some nonsense about the mediaeval book The King’s Mirror saying that “to serve and honor the king is to pay homage to God”. If this “is seen simply as a description of the king’s immunity and exceptional status, its significance for modern Norway is more readily understood. It was on this basis ten that the Norwegian people chose Prince Carl of Denmark and Princess Maud, daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra of Great Britain, as king and queen of Norway”. Reading this, one can but wonder what on earth he is talking about.
To these examples of his own confusion he adds several factual mistakes, such as the claim that Queen Maud died at Appleton House, that the accession of a new monarch was proclaimed from the palace balcony in 1958 (sic) as well as in 1991 or that the Constitution of 17 May 1814 irrevocably abolished the nobility. Using Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla as a historical source is highly questionable, to put it mildly.
If asked to write an essay on a topic about which one knows little, one can either decline, or try to learn something about it in order to make the best out of it, or put one’s own confusion into print. Sadly the Norwegian essay of this catalogue is an example of the latter option.
There are inevitably some mistakes to be found also in other parts of the catalogue and the English language is sometimes flawed. Occasionally there is a quaint expression, sometimes a sentence does not make sense, but I am left wondering whether this is due to the translators or a result of the various authors with varying command of the language having been required to write in English.
The catalogue is beautifully designed and having read it, the main impression is that it makes for an interesting grand tour through the history of Europe’s monarchies, taking in some of the most interesting stories to be found along the way and giving an impression of the splendour associated with the royal courts of Europe in recent centuries.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

At the road’s end: Elisabeth, Duchess of Hohenberg, Princess of Luxembourg (1922-2011)

The grand ducal court of Luxembourg has announced the death of the Grand Duke’s aunt, Duchess Elisabeth of Hohenberg, née Princess of Luxembourg, at the age of 88.
The second of the six children of Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Félix, Princess Elisabeth Hilda Zita Marie Anna Antonia Friederike Wilhelmine Luise of Luxembourg was born on 22 December 1922. Like the rest of the grand ducal family she spent part of her youth in exile during World War II, but was able to return to Luxembourg following its liberation.
on 9 May 1956 she married Duke Franz Ferdinand of Hohenberg, the grandson of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne whose assassination together with his morganatic wife in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 sparked World War I. The couple had two daughters: Anna, known as Anita, born in 1958, and Sophie, born in 1960. The Duke died in 1977.
The late Duchess will be buried at Artstetten Castle in Austria, where the victims of Sarajevo are also buried, but a memorial service will also be held in the Church of Saint Michel in Luxembourg at a date which has not yet been decided.

At the road’s end: Danielle Mitterrand (1924-2011), activist and former first lady of France

It has been announced that Danielle Mitterrand, activist, veteran of the French resistance and the country’s former first lady, died today at the age of 87.
Born Danielle Émilienne Isabelle Gouze in Verdun on 29 October 1924, she joined the French resistance movement as a nurse at the age of seventeen. She met the resistance fighter François Mitterrand while helping him to escape, fell in love and married him in 1944. The couple had three sons.
Danielle Mitterrand was noted for her involvement in a wide range of issues, including supporting the Tibetans and the Kurds, water ressources, slavery, the death penalty and, more recently, anti-globalisation. Her activism was not always welcomed by the Quai d’Orsay.
In 1981 her husband was elected President of France, in which role he served until 1995. He died from cancer the following year and many will remember the image of his widow and their sons standing shoulder to shoulder with his mistress and their daughter at his funeral.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

On this date: The first coronation in Nidaros Cathedral

Today is the 562nd anniversary of the first coronation to take place in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, now considered Norway’s foremost national monument and the obvious coronation church since time immemorial.
But it was in fact only on 20 November 1449 that such a ceremony took place in the great cathedral. Earlier coronations, which are known in Norway from 1163/1164, took place first in Bergen and later in Oslo, when that town succeeded Bergen as capital.
The Kalmar Union, which had been founded in 1397 and which united the three Scandinavian realms under one monarch, fell apart when King Christoffer on 5 or 6 January 1448 died suddenly in Helsingborg on his way to Sweden.
The Danes subsequently elected Count Christian of Oldenburg their new king, while the Swedes chose the nobleman Karl Knutsson of the Bonde family. Norway was no longer strong enough to stand alone and thus had to choose between Christian and Karl.
There were parties in favour of both candidates, but in June 1449 the Norwegian Council of the Realm chose Christian as King of Norway. This marked the transition from hereditary monarchy to electoral monarchy and Christian I thus issued a royal contract, the first such in Norwegian history.
But Karl’s supporters, led by Archbishop Aslak Bolt, did not give up. In June they managed to get the populace at the assembly called Frostating to declare their willingness to elect Karl king on certain conditions. The election took place at Hamar on 25 October and Karl continued north to Trondheim, where his coronation took place on 20 November.
We know little about the actual coronation, except that the Archbishop placed the crown on the King’s head with the assistance of the Bishop of Hamar and that several men were subsequently knighted.
Four days later an open letter to Christian I was issued in the name of the Norwegian people, where he was encouraged not to come to Norway as one had now elected and crowned Karl in the place where “rightful kings should be elected and crowned, which is in Trondheim”.
But this was not quite true, given that no kings had ever before been crowned in Trondheim. However, Nidaros, as Trondheim was called then, was where kings had been installed (or “taken as king”, as the term said) since at least the tenth century and since 1152/1153 it was also the seat of the powerful archbishop. And Nidaros Cathedral was the shrine of King Olav Haraldsson, Norway’s patron saint. Thus there were several reasons to hold a coronation there.
A practical reason was obviously that the Cathedral was the Archbishop’s own church and his crowning the King there was a visual demonstration of his role as kingmaker and underlined the position of the powerful church in relation to the King. One reason why Archbishop Aslak Bolt supported Karl’s candidature in the first place may well have been that he seemed likely to be a weaker monarch than Christian, which the church would benefit from. The royal contract issued by Karl was indeed more generous towards the church than Christian’s, which it otherwise closely resembled.
The coronation of Karl Knutsson, which contravened the Council of the Realm’s decision and could therefore be considered revolutionary, meant that there were now two rival kings of Norway. King Karl went back to Sweden to collect an army, but the following year he failed in his attempt at taking Akershus Castle in Oslo.
Negotiations were held in Halmstad, where the Swedish representatives, much to Karl’s chagrin, agreed that he should renounce his rights to Norway in favour of King Christian. Karl had little choice but to accept the outcome and on 10 June 1450 he ratified the Halmstad agreement.
Later that summer Christian I was crowned in Nidaros Cathedral, obviously in order to cancel out the usurper’s coronation. Christian’s son, King Hans, was also crowned there in 1483, but thereafter no coronations were held in Nidaros Cathedral until 1818, by which time the Constitution of 1814 had decided that kings should be crowned in that church.
Karl Knutsson’s remaining life was turbulent and marked by continued struggles with Christian I over supremacy in the north. He was twice driven from the Swedish throne, but returned in 1467 and reigned until his death in 1470. Much to the irritation of King Christian he also continued to use the title “King of Norway”. The Norwegian lion is also incorporated into his arms on his sarcophagus in the Riddarholm Church in Stockholm (second photo), which was executed by Lukas van der Werdt around 1574.
Unlike other claimants and usurpers Karl Knutsson is still included in the official lists of the kings of Norway. The reason for the difference in treatment seems to be the fact that he was indeed crowned in the national monument that is Nidaros Cathedral.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

New books: The iconography of Elizabeth II

The diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain is approaching and to mark the occasion the National Portrait Gallery is, as previously mentioned, holding a travelling exhibition titled “The Queen: Art & Image”. Having already been shown in Edinburgh, it is now in Belfast and will go to Cardiff before ending up in London from 17 May to 21 October.
David Moorhouse, the NPG’s curator of twentieth century portraits, has put together the catalogue of the same name, which begins with an essay of historical reflections on the reign of Elizabeth II by the renowned historian Sir David Cannadine. The story of Britain and the British monarchy in the days of Elizabeth II is in many ways the story of recessional, Professor Cannadine argues.
It is also a story of great change, and he points out that Britain and its “imperial-ornamental” monarchy as they were at the outset of Elizabeth II’s reign might have been fairly easily recognisable to the old Queen Victoria. The “most pronounced themes” of Elizabeth II’s sixty years are “the de-Victorianisation and the downsizing of Britain and its empire, and also of the British monarchy”.
Cannadine also touches upon how the image of Queen Elizabeth, “probably the most visually depicted and represented individual ever to have existed across the entire span of human history”, has evolved and how the way the constitutional monarchy has developed makes it “in many ways a feminised monarchy”, which again “makes it easier for a regnant queen to be sympathetically portrayed than a mere dignified king”.
But the image and perception of the Queen is mostly dealt with by Paul Moorhouse in the book’s second essay. Moorhouse argues that the sixty years of Elizabeth II’s reign has seen “a revolution in the way the Queen is represented and perceived”. He divides these sixty years into three eras:
The period from 1952 to the mid-1960s “reflects a concern with the young Queen’s appearance”; the era from the late 1960s to the early 1980s “demonstrates a new concern with reinventing the sovereign’s public image”; while era consisting of the last thirty years “manifests and ongoing engagement with the questions of what the Queen represents”.
The first era saw a certain interest in the new monarch’s youth, beauty and glamour, but as public interest faded and the early “sense of glamour” was “replaced by something more dependable” one had to find new ways. That way was not to project “an image of special status”, but to make the Queen seem more down-to-earth. Moorhouse pins this down to 1968-1969, when “[s]tiff formality was replaced with a renewed emphasis on the Queen’s qualities as a human being”. This led to the groundbreaking 1969 television documentary on the royal family, which has subsequently been criticised for making the royals appear too ordinary and breaking down the barriers between public and private life.
One of the most interesting aspects of the catalogue is that it does not focus on painted portraits alone, but on a diverse range of media. Another new book on Queen Elizabeth states that she has sat for more than 140 portraits, but obviously press photographs have been more influential in shaping the public conception of Elizabeth II than have painted portraits. And then there are other media, such as formal photographs, video/television and the portraits which she has not sat for. The only art form missing from the catalogue is sculpture, with no explanation given for this.
With such a wide range of images to choose from the curator has probably had to make some tough choices. But the final selection is interesting and represents a cross-section of images of Elizabeth II through sixty years. Viewing them together furthermore makes apparent the connections across art form and time, for instance how Pietro Annigoni’s painting from 1954-1955 is obviously related to a formal Cecil Beaton photograph from 1968 and how Annigoni’s portrait and a second one done in 1969 “meet” in Annie Leibovitz’s 2007 photo.
Having read the catalogue with interest I look forward to seeing the exhibition.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Plans for Queen Margrethe’s jubilee announced

The Danish royal court has today published the preliminary initerary for the celebrations of Queen Margrethe II’s forty years on the throne in January 2012. The celebrations will take place during the weekend stretching from Friday 13 January to Sunday 15 January.
The jubilee will commence with a reception hosted by Parliament at 11 a.m. on Friday. The following day, which is the actual anniversary of the accession, the Queen and Prince Consort will drive through Copenhagen from Amalienborg to the City Hall, where there will be a reception at 1 p.m. and where the royal couple will appear on the balcony. In the evening there will be a gala performance, not as usual at the Royal Theatre, but at the Concert House.
On the third day, the Queen will, quite unusually, hold a State Council on a Sunday (at Christiansborg Palace 10 p.m.), before appearing on the balcony at Amalienborg at noon. At 3 p.m. a service will be held in Christiansborg Palace Church and at 8 p.m. there will be a state banquet at Christiansborg for Danish authorities, foreign guests and family (for jubilees “foreign guests” normally means only from the Nordic countries and not royalty from all over Europe).
According to the royal website there will also be several exhibitions to mark the jubilee, including one at the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Palace, where, I have been told, a new portrait by Niels Strøbek showing Queen Margrethe together by Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Christian will be unveiled.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Queen makes public debute as artist

Today the Queen makes her public debut as an artist when the exhibition “Under stort press” (“Under Great Pressure”) opens at Dunkers kulturhus in Helsingborg. The Queen is among the eighty European artists exhibiting more than 1,000 graphic works.
In cooperation with the artists Kjell Nupen and Ørnulf Opdahl the Queen has transformed photos from a journey to Svalbard in 2006 into graphic prints and a series of 24 of them, titled “Tre reiser, tre landskap” (“Three journeys, three landscapes”), will be shown at the exhibition in Helsingborg.
The proceeds of the sale of fifty portfolios containing eight prints by the Queen, eight by Nupen and eight by Opdahl will in its entirety be used to fund “Her Majesty Queen Sonja’s Scholarship for Artists”, which every second year will award a scholarship to a young graphic artist from one of the Nordic countries and will surely be among the art-loving Queen’s most important legacies.
The Queen’s works may all be viewed at the royal website (external link) and in an article on Dagbladet’s website (external link). They will also be exhibited at Henie Onstad Art Centre in Bærum next summer.
The Queen will be present for the vernissage in Helsingborg today, which will also be attended by the King, the Crown Prince and the Queen of Sweden.

Monday, 7 November 2011

My latest article: The death of Queen Maud

“Queen Maud’s mysterious death” was the headline Dagbladet chose to splash all over their front page on the day the fifth volume of Tor Bomann-Larsen’s biography of her and King Haakon was published. The so-called mystery was supposedly that Queen Maud might have been sent on her way through euthanasia, something which seems subsequently to have become a “truth” in the pages of that newspaper.
However, in today’s Dagbladet I point out that this is utter nonsense. No such claim is made in the book, though it mentions that the British royal physician Lord Dawson of Penn used euthanasia to ensure that King George V of Britain, Queen Maud’s brother, died in time to catch The Times’s deadline (pun unintended), something which has been publicly known since George V’s biographer Kenneth Rose revealed it in 1983.
As Queen Maud died in London, Lord Dawson of Penn was among the doctors who signed the bulletin announcing her death, but he was not around when she died in a private hospital in the middle of the night in the presence of only a nurse. A few days earlier she had undergone surgery for cancer, which had revealed that it was incurable, and had been in a weak condition for some days when she died suddenly from acute heart failure.
Following her death King Haakon (and others) wrote that this had spared her further suffering, which is the thing one typically says when someone dies in the early stages of an incurable and painful illness.
To claim that this indicates that her death was caused by euthanasia is surely to add 2 and 2 and get 7.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to set up permanent home at Kensington Palace in 2013

Several British newspapers report today that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William of Britain and his wife Catherine) will set up their permanent residence in a wing of Kensington Palace from 2013, although it is worth noting that this has apparently not been officially confirmed by the royal court.
The wing in question is Apartment 1A, which was most recently inhabitated by Princess Margaret until her death in 2002. Following her death the apartment was turned over to Historic Royal Palaces, which opened it up for exhibitions in 2004 and uses other parts of it for offices and storage. It is reported that Queen Elizabeth II has agreed to reimburse HRP for their expenses.
Apparently an exhibition planned for 2012 will go ahead and the apartment will therefore only be returned to the Royal Household in September 2012. Following extensive renovation work the Duke and Duchess will probably be able to move in in mid-2013, at which time Prince William will complete his military service in Wales.
Following their wedding in April 2011 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have used the small Nottingham Cottage, which is adjacent to Kensington Palace, as their London home, but this has only been a temporary solution. According to media reports Prince Harry will take over the cottage in 2013. The office of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will move from St James’s Palace to Kensington Palace in the middle of next year.
Kensington Palace has evolved from a property called Nottingham House, which was purchased by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1689. Extended several times through history it now consists of various wings and buildings which together form the complex structure that is Kensington Palace. The state apartments are open to the public, while other parts serve as homes to royal employees as well as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael.
Prince William himself grew up at Kensington Palace, but not in the apartment which will be his future home. Following the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1992 the former moved out, while Diana, Princess of Wales continued to live at Kensington Palace until her death in 1997. Her former apartment has subsequently been turned into offices.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

At the road’s end: Sivert A. Farstad (1931-2011), former Lord Chamberlain

Among the death announcements in Aftenposten today is that of former Lord Chamberlain Sivert A. Farstad, who died at the hospital Diakonhjemmet in Oslo on 28 October, aged 80.
Sivert Andreas Farstad was born on 4 July 1931 and made a career in the Navy, where he reached the rank of Rear Admiral.
He was appointed Lord Chamberlain in 1993 in succession to Kaare Langlete. This was a rather challenging time for the royal court, which was in the middle of the complicated (and eventually controversial) restoration of the Royal Palace.
Farstad took his leave in the autumn of 1996 at a crucial phase of the restoration process, citing age as his reason. He was succeeded by Lars Petter Forberg, who became the (so far) last Lord Chamberlain from the armed forces (following Forberg’s resignation one has chosen diplomats instead).
Unlike most other Lord Chamberlains, Farstad was not given the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav when he left royal service.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, two daughters and five grandchildren. His funeral will take place in Ullern Church in Oslo on 8 November.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

My latest article: Royal appeasers

On Friday I attended the release of the fifth volume of Tor Bomann-Larsen’s biography of King Haakon and Queen Maud, Æresordet (published by Cappelen Damm). The media has made a big deal out of the fact that the author quotes a letter the then Crown Prince Olav wrote to his cousin the Prince of Wales in December 1935, advocating rapproachment between Britain and Germany. While this has been presented as a huge revelation it is in fact not a revelation at all, given that Philip Ziegler writes about it in his official biography of Edward VIII, which was published in 1990, and that I quoted from the letter in my biography of King Olav and Crown Princess Märtha (Dronningen vi ikke fikk - En biografi om kronprinsesse Märtha og kong Olav) eight years ago.
What I have been missing in the media is the context in which this should be seen, which is not, as Professor Trond Nordby claimed in a radio debate we took part in on Friday, that Crown Princess Märtha’s family were Nazi sympathisers (they were most certainly not), but that Crown Prince Olav’s closest family was his mother’s British family and that the British royal family were all warm supporters of appeasement until the bitter end. About this I have written a short article (external link) which is published in Aftenposten, Norway’s biggest newspaper, today.

Monday, 31 October 2011

On this date: Carl Johan Bernadotte turns 95

The Bernadottes are famous for living to ripe old age and today yet another of them turns 95. Today’s birthday boy is Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg, by birth Prince of Sweden and uncle of the King of Sweden as well as of the Queen of Denmark.
Born on 31 October 1916 he is the youngest of the five children of King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden and his first wife, Crown Princess Margareta, née Princess of Britain. Sadly his mother died when Prince Carl Johan was only 3 ½ years old and he regrets that he has no memories of her.
Prince Carl Johan lost his succession rights and was stripped of his royal titles when he married a commoner, the divorced journalist Kerstin Wijkmark, in 1946. As plain Mr Carl Johan Bernadotte he made a career for himself as a businessman. In 1951 his distant cousin Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg created him, his brother Sigvard and their cousin Lennart counts of Wisborg.
Widowed in 1987, Carl Johan Bernadotte married an old friend, Gunnila Bussler, née Countess Gunnila Wachtmeister of Johannishus, the following year. The couple, who are thus approaching their silver wedding, live in a villa in the hills above the popular summer resort Båstad on the coast of Scania.
Except the oldest, Prince Gustaf Adolf, who was killed in a plane crash at the age of forty in 1947, all the children of Gustaf VI Adolf have, like him, reached a great age. The former Prince Sigvard died in 2002 at the age of 94, while Queen Ingrid of Denmark was ninety when she passed away in 2000 and Prince Bertil nearing his 85th birthday at the time of his death in 1997.
For those who like to keep track of such things it is also noteworthy that Carl Johan Bernadotte is the only surviving great-grandchild of Queen Victoria of Britain. Except for a critical attack of illness some years ago, which was dealt with successfully in hospital, he continues to enjoy rude health for his age.
With the passing of his siblings Carl Johan Bernadotte has come to fill the role as the grand old man of the family and was consequently given a prominent position at the wedding last year of his great-niece Crown Princess Victoria, with whom he shares a fond relationship. In his old age it has also become increasingly clear to many what an asset this warm, generous gentleman would have been to the Swedish monarchy if one had not kicked him out of the royal house 65 years ago.
His plans for the birthday are not known, but on 14 October King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia hosted a private dinner party for him at Drottningholm Palace outside Stockholm. Among the guests were two of the King’s sisters, Princess Christina and Princess Margaretha (the latter herself turns 77 today).

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Elizabeth II’s prime ministers agree to change succession laws

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the prime ministers of the sixteen nations of which Elizabeth II is queen have agreed to the changes to the succession to the throne which were recently proposed. These changes will mean that the succession to the throne will henceforward be gender-neutral and that people marrying Catholics will no longer be excluded from the line of succession.
The prime ministers of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis agreed about the reform at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which is currently taking place in Perth in Australia.
As Head of the Commonwealth Elizabeth II is present at the CHOGM, but did obviously not attend the deliberations about this issue. However, her Private Secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, is reported to have been present.
The changes, which it has earlier been reported will only apply to the descendants of Prince Charles, require changes to a wide range of laws in the realms of Elizabeth II and it has frequently been speculated that the complicated process would not be ignited because of the constitutional complications it would involve. However, it now seems that the sixteen countries which are in personal union under Elizabeth II have been able to reach an agreement fairly smoothly, although the parliamentary processes do of course remain to be carried through with.

Saudi king appoints new crown prince

Following the death last weekend of the 85-year-old Crown Prince Sultan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has appointed the 78-year-old Prince Nayef as the country’s new crown prince.
The ultraconservative Prince Nayef, who has been Interior Minister for decades, is thus set to succeed to the throne on the death of the 87-year-old King Abdullah, whose reign has been marked by some willingness to reforms.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

At the road’s end: Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia (1926?-2011)

Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia has died, the Saudi court has confirmed. The Crown Prince, who was probably 85 years old, is believed to have died from colon cancer in a hospital in New York. He was the half-brother and heir to King Abdullah, who is around 87 years old and currently in hospital in Riyadh following back surgery earlier this week. Crown Prince Sultan held a number of government posts throughout his life and was at the time of his death Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Aviation.
Born sometime between 1925 and 1931, but most likely in 1926, Sultan was one of the many sons of the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul-Aziz (Ibn Saud). The succession has so far passed from one brother to another, meaning for instance that King Fahd on his death in 2005 was succeeded by his brother Abdullah, who appointed Sultan his heir. Following the death of Sultan the most likely candidate for crown prince is considered to be his 78-year-old brother, Prince Nayef, who is currently Interior Minister and Second Deputy Prime Minister, but it is also possible that the choice of heir will be left to the Allegiance Council, a body of princes which was set up a few years ago.
The funeral will be held in the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh on Tuesday. Crown Prince Sultan is survived by 32 children by eleven wives, including Prince Bandar, who is best known for having been the Saudi ambassador to the United States for several years.

Friday, 21 October 2011

New books: A princess of consequence

If Princess Sophia Albertina of Sweden and of Norway (1753-1829) is remembered today it is probably as little more than the lady who built the Hereditary Prince’s Mansion in Stockholm and whose name is inscribed on its façade. Unmarried, childless princesses tend to be considered as little more than that, but as the historian Carin Bergström, head of the Swedish Royal Collections, shows in her new book Självständig prinsessa – Sophia Albertina, 1753-1829, published by Atlantis this month, there was much of interest about the life story of the sister of Gustaf III and Carl XIII.
The book’s title translates as “Independent Princess” and Bergström takes the bold choice of starting not with the Princess’s birth, but with the death of her dominant mother, Queen Lovisa Ulrika, in 1782. The disadvantage of this approach is that we are left in the dark about the Princess’s formative years and perhaps in particular about the extent of her mother’s complex personality upon her.
The advantage is that it sharpens the book’s focus on how Sophia Albertina carved out a life of her own. Bergström briefly discusses the reasons why Sophia Albertina, who certainly had to be considered quite a match on the royal marriage market, never married. But the fact that a grand mansion was built for her, starting in 1783, must surely have meant that one had by then realised that she would not marry.
The mansion is in itself significant, the author argues. Gustaf III’s brother, Carl and Fredrik Adolf, were given apartments at the Royal Palace instead of mansions of their own. This underlines Sophia Albertina’s independence, but might also be a result of the fact that she as a woman could not challenge the monarch’s position in the way that the royal brothers might do.
Sophia Albertina was to live to be nearly 76, a great age in her days. She saw the coups carried out by Gustaf III in 1772 and 1789 respectively, the wars against Russia and the Napoleonic wars, the assassination of Gustaf III in 1792, the deposal of Gustaf IV Adolf and the elevation of her brother Carl XIII in 1809, the election of a new crown prince and his sudden death shortly thereafter, the election of a French marshal to crown prince in 1810, the formation of the union with Norway in 1814 and the accession of the Bernadotte dynasty in 1818. In 1826 it was she who brought Carl XIV Johan the news of the birth of his grandson (Carl XV), which secured the Bernadotte succession in the third generation. By the time of her death in 1829 she was the last surviving member of the House of Holstein-Gottorp in Sweden and in an age of growing nationalism she was, not entirely correctly, hailed as “the Vasa Princess”.
Sophia Albertina could be considered a survivor, but she was also an important link between past and future. Throughout the upheavals of the Gustavian and post-Gustavian era Sophia Albertina and her sister-in-law Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta were unchangingly dignified in carrying out the royal duties and upholding the presence and visibility which were often neglected by other members of the royal house. (Indeed, following Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta’s death in 1818, Sophia Albertina was the actual first lady until Queen Desideria could be bothered to move to Sweden five years later). For the upstarts Bernadottes she was obviously of great value in their legitimisation process.
Yet one of the great strengths of this biography is how it stresses that Sophia Albertina was more than simply a Swedish princess. In 1787 she became Abbess of the Protestant diocese Quedlinburg, a small city-state in what is now Saxe-Anhalt. This position has often been treated as little more than a piece of curiosa by Swedish writers, but Bergström stresses how it meant actual sovereignty over this small state and that this was something Sophia Albertina was serious about.
Unlike her predecessor as abbess Sophia Albertina came to spend considerable time in Quedlinburg (which also caused her to miss out on some important developments in Sweden, such as much of the Reuterholm regime). This meant that she had greater impact on her small realm than her predecessor, but also that she came in close proximity to her maternal relations in Germany, whose cultural interests may have had a certain influence on her.
By paying thorough attention to Sophia Albertina’s reign in Quedlinburg and her life in Germany (as well as her journey to Italy) Carin Bergström succeeds in putting her subject squarely into the international context in which she belongs and showing how her life was shaped by events outside Sweden.
In 1802 Quedlinburg was ceded by the Habsburg Emperor to the King of Prussia and subsequently secularised, but the latter allowed his first cousin Sophia Albertina to retain her residence and her income. However, five years later Quedlinburg was lost to France. Sophia Albertina daringly declared her intention to negotiate with Napoléon, but Quedlinburg was incorporated into his brother Jérôme’s Kingdom of Westphalia and the reign of Sophia Albertina came to an end.
One of the events of Sophia Albertina’s life which has caused most comment, both in her days and later, is her campaign to have her chambermaid Lolotte Forsberg recognised as the illegitimate daughter of King Adolf Fredrik, i.e. as her own half-sister. This severely strained her relationship with her brothers and was in the end unsuccessful, but Bergström launches the theory that the way the Princess allowed herself to be led to believe that Forsberg was indeed her sister might be seen as a result of Sophia Albertina’s longing for a family of her own.
Having married noble courtier, Countess Lolotte Stenbock (as she then became) was eventually appointed Sophia Albertina’s Mistress of the Robes and the Stenbock family came to fill the role as Sophia Albertina’s immediate family until her death, when most of her estate was left to them.
This was one of the books I had been looking most forward to this year and I was not disappointed in my expectations. Occasionally Bergström gets a year wrong, she misspells the name Désirée throughout and repeats the tenacious myth that Napoléon I proclaimed himself emperor, but she is mostly on safe ground and appears to have full command of her subject. The book is also well-written and insightful and adds greatly to our knowledge of its subject. Following the publication of this biography there can be no doubt that Sophia Albertina was much more than an insignificant appendage to the Gustavian court.

Monday, 17 October 2011

French Socialists elect François Hollande presidential candidate

In the second round of the first primary elections to be hold in France the Socialist Party yesterday chose its former leader François Hollande to be its candidate for president in 2012. Hollande defeated the current party leader, Martine Aubry, with some 56 % to 44 % of the estimated 2.7 millions votes cast.
The first round of the presidential election is to be held on 22 April, with a second round on 6 May unless one candidate wins more than 50 % of the votes in the first round. Opinion polls have indicated that whichever candidate the Socialists chose would defeat the deeply unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy and that Hollande might defeat him with 60 % to 40 % of the votes, but obviously it is in the nature of politics that much may change in six months (Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a living testimony to that).
However, it seems safe to say that Hollande currently stands the best chance of being President of France by next summer, which would make him the country’s first Socialist president since the presidency of François Mitterrand in 1981-1995.
There are no major political differences between Hollande and Aubry, but the latter is considered to be slightly more to the left of the party. Thus Hollande may perhaps stand a better chance than Aubry of attracting voters from and across the political centre, while voters further to the left may on the other hand rather vote for other parties in the first round.
Hollande is 57 years old and has been an MP from 1988 to 1993 and since 1997. However, he has never held a government post, which may turn out to be one of his weaker points in the election. Since 2008 he is President of the General Council of the region of Corrèze. He has four children with Segolène Royal, who was the Socialist Party’s candidate in the 2007 presidential election, but their relationship ended at about that time.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

At the road’s end: Count Conradin of Castell-Rüdenhausen (1933-2011), cousin of King Carl Gustaf

Yesterday the funeral of Count Conradin of Castell-Rüdenhausen, a first cousin of the King of Sweden, was held in Ingå Church in Finland. The Count died on 1 October, some days before his 78th birthday.
Born in Berlin on 10 October 1933, His Illustrious Highness Count Conradin Friedrich of Castell-Rüdenhausen was the second of three children born to Princess Caroline-Mathilde (Calma) of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in her first marriage to Count Friedrich-Wolfgang of Castell-Rüdenhausen. The parents divorced in 1938 and the father was killed when taking part in German air attacks on Britain in June 1940. Conradin was thus a nephew of Princess Sibylla of Sweden.
He moved to Finland to study horticulture and there he met Märta Lönegren, whom he married on 6 July 1961. The couple, who were thus able to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary earlier this year, were the parents of a daughter, Anne-Charlotte, and a son, named Carl-Eduard for his paternal great-grandfather, who lives in Denmark.
The late Count stayed in touch with his cousin King Carl Gustaf, but lead a private life at Ingå, where the family ran a plant nursery.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

David Cameron takes initiative to change British succession

The Daily Telegraph reports today (external link) that British Prime Minister David Cameron has written a letter to the prime ministers of the fifteen (the article erroneously says sixteen) other countries of which Queen Elizabeth II is head of state proposing certain changes to the succession to the throne.
Cameron wants to introduce gender-neutral succession (like in all other European kingdoms except Spain), to end the ban on those who have married Catholics from succeeding to the throne and to limit the need to ask the monarch’s permission for marrying to the first six people in line to the throne. The issue will also be discussed at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in Australia later this month.
While there is widespread support for these changes the complicating fact is that all the countries of which Elizabeth II is queen must make the same changes to their acts of succession to avoid a scenario whereby the various thrones are inherited by different heirs based on different rules.
This is obviously not in danger of happening as these changes would not affect the positions of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge as first and second in line to the throne, but were Prince William to have a daughter as his first child, this might become an issue.
Thus this is probably the best time to make these changes, although some have feared that raising the issue of the succession to the throne in the overseas realms may be like opening a can of worm in relating to the various countries’ links to the British monarchy.
Were Prince William to have a firstborn daughter before the changes are made the changes will be retroactive, the BBC adds. It could also be added that the changes will only apply to the descendants of Prince Charles, meaning that his brothers and their descendants will still be ahead of Princess Anne in the order of succession.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

New Danish government wants to remove monarch from Constitution

Berlingske today reports that the new Danish government, made up of the Social Democrats, the Danish Social Liberal Party and the Socialist People’s Party, has decided to set up a commission to consider a revision of the Constitution, which will aim at removing the monarch from it and including the human rights.
The current Constitution, which received the royal assent on 5 June 1953 (pictured above), has not been altered since and to do so will require a referendum in which at least 40 % of the entire electorate (not only those actually voting) will have to vote in favour of the amendments.
I suppose “removing the monarch from the Constitution” means that one desires literally to change those articles which say “the King” where one actually means the government. However, as the referendum about changing the Act of Succession two years ago showed, this might easily be like opening a can of worms and lead to a more extensive debate on the monarchy.
As recently as last year an opinion poll showed a majority in favour of scrapping the monarch’s right to appoint the government and sign bills into law, thus reducing the Danish monarchy to a merely symbolic institution like its Swedish counterpart (an arrangement Queen Margrethe has earlier said she would find difficult).
The European Convention of Human Rights has the status of an ordinary law and it has long been the wish of several parties to include it in the Constitution itself, which would also mean that it could not simply be scrapped by a parliamentary vote.
It appears from Berlingske’s report that the Danish Social Liberal Party is the driving force behind these revisions, but that the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party are in full agreement with their coalition partner. However, the two parties which were just ejected from the government offices, the Liberal Party and the Conservatives, see no reason for amending the Constitution, while a spokesman for the right-wing extremist Danish People’s Party, which has earlier described human rights as left-wing values, says they will not “under no circumstances” contribute to such changes.

Monday, 10 October 2011

New books: A millennium of English royal weddings

Ahead of the wedding of Prince William of Britain and Catherine Middleton the historians Alison Weir, Kate Williams and Tracy Borman and the journalist Sarah Gristwood teamed up to write the book The Ring and the Crowns, which sets out to chart the history of British (i.e. English) royal weddings since 1066.
The book is divided into four parts, each written by one of the authors. Alison Weir is responsible for the first chapter, which takes the story from 1066 to 1714. Hers is by far the longest period of time, but this is a challenge she takes in her stride. Obviously she can impossibly recount every single English royal wedding over 650 years in forty pages, but her choices about what to include and what to exclude seem wise. Weir also manages to paint a wider picture and draw some longer lines, something which cannot be said about all the authors of this book.
The second part, covering the years 1714-1918, is written by Kate Williams and has been give the odd title “Pomp and Circumstance”. The choice of title is peculiar as this was the era in which royal weddings, as Williams acknowledges, generally took place rather privately and without the pomp and circumstance which only in the twentieth century came to be associated with them.
Williams’s contribution is the weakest part of this book. The chapter is well-written enough and she is on sure ground when writing about the marriages of Princess Charlotte of Wales and Queen Victoria, which is familiar ground for the author of the book Becoming Victoria (2008), but otherwise she makes a number of grave errors throughout.
The wife of Prince Frederick, Duke of York is said to be the “only daughter of King Frederick II of Prussia”, although it ought to be fairly well-known that “Frederick the Great” had no children. She forgets the future James II and Anne Hyde when she claims that no royal had married a subject between 1515 and 1871, she claims that the marriage of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia in St Petersburg in 1874 was conducted by the Duke of Westminster (!), she lets the future Edward VII be accompanied by three sons rather than two to the wedding of one of his sisters, the painter Laurits Tuxen becomes “Tucman” and the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz becomes the maternal grandmother of Queen Mary rather than her aunt.
When she reaches the royal wedding of 1896, she claims that Princess Maud married Prince Christian of Denmark, although she did in fact marry his brother Prince Carl. She goes on to relate how “Prince Christian” “in late 1906 [...] was chosen by a committee of the Norwegian government to become King Haakon VII of Norway”. This took place in 1905 and Prince Carl was in fact elected by Parliament unanimously after winning 79 % of the votes in a referendum. A plethora of such mistakes indicates either carelessness or lack of knowledge.
Sarah Gristwood picks up the story in 1919, when Princess Patricia’s wedding in Westminster Abbey was the first grand public affair of the sort we have become used to, and takes it through to the wedding of Princess Margaret in 1960. This was the age when the royal wedding became “the embodiment of the national fairy story”, Gristwood observes. What one might wish for in this chapter are some reflections on why this was the case, perhaps particularly which role the media played in it, and the crucial developments which meant that the nature of royal marriages changed fundamentally at this time (i.e. that World War I had made it clear that dynastic marriages was of little significance for international diplomacy and that marriages to non-royals consequently become more common). What Gristwood provides the reader instead is mostly a description of each individual wedding.
The final part, by Tracy Borman, covers the weddings from 1961 to 2005, with only that of the then Prince Richard of Gloucester passed over for some unexplained reason. I am somewhat puzzled by the authors’ (or editor’s?) choice to let Gristwood’s chapter end in 1960 and Borman’s begin in 1961, as it appears more natural to consider the wedding of Princess Margaret in 1960 together with the other royal weddings of the 1960s. The line dividing the two chapters would probably have been better drawn in 1947, after which there were no further royal weddings for thirteen years.
Borman reflects how the 1980s “had witnessed an apotheosis of royal weddings”, but centring around ill-fatted marriages. In reaction to these grand weddings ending in disaster, “[a] quieter, more understated tone was called for, and this was exactly what the following two occasions achieved”. However, these two occasions were the weddings of Princess Margaret’s children, whose low profiles are probably better explained by the simple fact that these were not royal weddings, but the weddings of private citizens whose mother happened to be a princess.
The book is richly illustrated throughout, but one might occasionally wish for more information about some of the illustrations. The artist’s name is not always given, nor is one always informed about whether the illustration is contemporary or not. The book offers its readers an accessible but not always entirely reliable survey of how English royal weddings have been conducted through the centuries, but regrettably little on the external circumstances which shaped them.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Nobel Prize in Literature for Tomas Tranströmer

The Swedish Academy today awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to the 80-year-old Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, with the citation that “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.
Tranströmer is the seventh Swede to be awarded the Literature Prize, following Selma Lagerlöf in 1909, Verner von Heidenstam in 1916, Erik Axel Karlfeldt in 1931, Pär Lagerkvist in 1951, and Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson jointly in 1974 (eighth if Nelly Sachs (1966) is counted as Swedish).
Thus Sweden may be said to be well represented among the laureates, but it is noteworthy that it is now 37 years since the last time a Swede received the Prize. The award of the 1974 prize to Johnson and Martinson caused controversy as both of them were members of the Swedish Academy and truth to be said they are not really outstanding figures in the history of literature.
But of the Swedish laureates through history Tranströmer is in fact only the second not to be a member of the Swedish Academy at the time of receiving the Prize, the only previous laureate being Selma Lagerlöf, who later became the first female member of the Academy.
This year’s recipient of the most prestigious of all the Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize, will be announced in Oslo at 1 p.m. tomorrow. A record number of candidates have been nominated and speculation has centred on the Arab spring, but from the various hints dropped by the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s leader, Thorbjørn Jagland, I will not be surprised if the Peace Prize is awarded to the EU.

Monday, 3 October 2011

King opens 156th Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament, which takes place on the second weekday of October (except in election years), is a certain sign of autumn and today the 156th Parliament was opened by the King, accompanied, as is usual, by the Queen and the Crown Prince.
Nowadays Norway is one of only three European monarchies, the other being Britain and the Netherlands, to let Parliament be opened with all the traditional pomp and circumstance. Except for minor changes, such as where the Queen sits, the ceremony in the Parliament Chamber has been the exact same since independence in 1814.
As usual the monarch, standing in front of the throne, read the King’s Speech, which is written by the government and sets out the policy of the government in the coming year. Thereafter the most junior minister reads a speech on the state of the nation, i.e. what has been done in the year that passed, and finally the Speaker of Parliament gives a short speech. The King’s Speech may be read in its entirety here (external link).
The State Opening of Parliament is the only time the King is allowed to be present in the Parliament Building, as the Constitution says that no parliamentary debates can take place in the presence of the monarch. This year has seen an unusual exception from this in that the King and the Crown Prince were present at the commemoration held in the Parliament Chamber following the terrorist attacks on 22 July.
(If someone wonders why this is only the 156th Parliament, considering that Norway has been independent for 197 years, the explanation is that until 1871 Parliament was only held every third year and that there were obviously no Parliament during the German occupation).