Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My latest article: Oscarshall Palace as royal residence

Today I have an article in Aften (the evening issue of Aftenposten) in which I reveal that, contrary to what has generally been thought, Oscarshall Palace has in fact been a royal residence.
When I worked as a guide at Oscarshall Palace we were told that legend says that Oscar I spent only one night at the Palace he and his wife Queen Josephina had built between 1847 and 1852. The same legend is referred to in Gunnar Hjelde’s book Oscarshall – Lystslottet på Bygdøy (1978), while Nina Høye, an art historian employed by the Royal Court, dismissed it as “most likely not correct” in her recent book Oscarshall (2009). It is not clear what Høye based her dismissal on.
As Oscar I came to Norway only twice after Oscarshall was completed – in 1852 and 1855 – these were the only chances he had to use his new palace. My friend Monica Mørch, who is in charge of the Norwegian Folk Museum’s project about the history of Bygdøy Royal Manor, has found a document which shows that the King intended to stay at Oscarshall in 1852. That year the royal visit was however cut short by the death of the King’s son, Prince Gustaf, upon their arrival in Christiania (now Oslo).
But in the summer of 1855 the King returned to Christiania with two of his surviving sons, Crown Prince Carl and Prince Oscar, and his daughter-in-law Crown Princess Lovisa. On 14 August 1855 the newspaper Morgenbladet informs us: “The King resides at Oscarshall”.
Later the royals went to Horten, and when they returned the same newspaper says that the Crown Prince and Crown Princess moved into the Royal Palace. Some days later the students, carrying torches, paraded past Oscarshall in boats in honour of the King, who was obviously again in residence there.
The King also received important visitors at Oscarshall, among them the French minister to Norway and Sweden. During the ongoing Crimean War King Oscar I was busy distancing himself from his father’s pro-Russian politics and wished for a rapprochement with France and Britain, something which resulted in the so-called “November Treaty” later that year.
Another visitor to the King at Oscarshall was the Governor General, Severin Løvenskiold. Supposedly the King and the Governor General discussed Løvenskiold’s retirement, a wish the King granted when he appointed Crown Prince Carl Viceroy of Norway the next year.
Løvenskiold himself wrote in his autobiographical notes that the King stayed at Oscarshall from 29 July to 1 September 1855. This is however not correct and those dates were the dates for the King’s entire stay in Norway that year. He left on 1 September 1855, never to return to Norway before succumbing to a brain tumour in July 1859.
After the article was completed I have found some further information and is thus able to add that King Oscar I and Prince Oscar moved into Oscarshall Palace on 31 July 1855.

The article may be read here:
http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/debatt/article3442408.ece

Greek royal engagement

Ex-King Konstantinos and ex-Queen Anne-Marie of the Hellenes yesterday announced the engagement of their second son, Prince Nikolaós, and Tatiana Blatnik. Little is known about the future Princess of Greece, except that she works for Diane von Fürstenberg. She is probably in her early thirties; her father was supposedly Slovenian while her mother is apparently German. The Prince, her boyfriend of six years, works for his father.
The engagement was announced from Greece, where the ex-royal family is holidaying. During the years they were banned from entering Greece the ex-King and ex-Queen constantly made grand statements such as “Greece is my home” and “I want to die in Greece”, but after it become possible for them to settle there, they have been in no haste to do so and seem content to go there for shorter stays.
No date has been announced for the wedding. Prince Nikolaós’s elder siblings both married in London, but it is now possible that his wedding may be held in Greece.

Monday, 28 December 2009

New books: The Swedish Crown Regalia

The Swedish Royal Collection has recently published a new book on the Crown Regalia, titled Skattkammaren – Kungliga slottet with text in Swedish, English, French, German and Russian.
The author, Ann-Christine Jernberg, works in the Royal Court’s information department and, as the five languages indicate, this book is mostly directed at tourists. The twelve crowns and the other items kept in the Treasury are briefly described, but the text offers no deeper perspectives and there are some very unnecessary mistakes.
This book’s greatest value lies in the large, clear photos of the items, most of them by the Royal Collection’s photographer Alexis Daflos. Some of them are however cropped in a rather unfortunate way. Among the illustrations are also some historical photos and reproductions of paintings.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

New books: The landowners

Jorden de ärvde (“The Land They Inherited”) has been one of the most talked-about non-fiction books in Sweden this autumn. In it, the journalist Björn af Kleen looks at the large estates still in the possession of the nobility and tries to explain how they have managed to hang on to them.
At the centre is the entail system, known as “fideikommiss” in Swedish, whereby the estate with all its land, buildings and collections is inherited undivided by the eldest son of each generation. Most countries abolished this system a rather long time ago, while Sweden only took steps to do so in the second half of the 20th century. Fifty years ago there were 111 entailed estates in Sweden and in 1964 it was decided by law that they would be dissolved upon the death of the incumbent.
There was, however, an article saying that an entail might be prolonged if the estate was of significant cultural value. This article was meant specifically for Skokloster Castle, but the author explores how several other landowners have won government approval for the prolongation of the entail connected to their estates.
This is not unproblematic, as it has deprived younger siblings, daughters in particular, of their inheritance. Occasionally entails have been prolonged in direct contravention of a late landowner’s will, thereby creating some rather bitter family feuds. The author provides several examples of this, such as Johan af Petersens’s falling out with his siblings and demanding the eviction of his 90-year-old mother from the manor, describing “Mummy’s occupation of the Big House at Erstavik” as “a criminal act”.
There are several quite detailed descriptions of such family feuds, and as a reader one may sometimes feel that the author goes a bit too far in washing other people’s dirty linen in public. One of the landowners portrayed in the book, Baron Carl Gripenstedt, has already taken legal action, but later withdrew the case.
In the second part of the book, Björn af Kleen investigates in what other ways the nobility and the landowners (not all of whom are noble) have tried to maintain their privileges and way of life. Several landowners are interviewed in the book and they implicitly provide a quite fascinating insight into their mentality and how they see the world.

Monday, 21 December 2009

New books: Carl XIV Johan’s favourite architect

Fredrik Blom (1781-1853) was an officer-turned-architect who became a leading protagonist of Swedish neoclassicism and the favourite architect of King Carl XIV Johan. Among his best-known works are Rosendal Palace, the former Carl Johan’s Church (popularly known as Skeppsholmskyrkan) and his transportable houses, but he also put his mark on Stockholm through several other monumental buildings. Blom valued functionality and his works are mostly quite simplistic – in my view sometimes too simple to be called elegant.
The art historian Carine Lundberg never finished her planned book on Fredrik Blom, meaning that until now no major study of him has been available. The military historian Thomas Roth tries to rectify this with his new book Fredrik Blom – Karl Johans arkitekt, published by Bokförlaget Signum in October, but does not quite succeed.
The author takes a mostly chronological approach to the life and work of Fredrik Blom, interspersed with some more thematic chapters. He identifies Blom’s buildings and gives quite detailed descriptions of what they look like. Roth is mostly concerned with the exteriors, and we learn little about Blom’s interiors. Rosendal Palace, arguably Blom’s most important work, is not dealt with as thoroughly as would seem natural – the author is content to note that the small palace has been the subject of another book some years ago.
The greatest problems about this book are that it seems the author does not really understand architecture and that he sees Blom in a much too isolated way. His buildings are seen in relation neither to each other nor to the works of other architects of the time. The author’s knowledge of architecture seems to stop at headings such as “neoclassicism”, “empire style” and “neo-Gothic”, but of course these styles are diverse and complex. Roth several times refers to “Blom’s style”, but does not say much about what was characteristic of his style and what set him apart from other architects’ works.
Without further ado, Roth includes Krontorp Manor among Fredrik Blom’s works, proclaiming that he is convinced by the art historian Hans-Olof Boström’s theory that Blom is a more likely architect than Hans D. F. Linstow, to whom Krontorp has traditionally been ascribed. He does not enter into Boström’s arguments (which are debatable), but only says that “the style and the similarities with Elghammar” indicates that Blom was the architect. There are other possible explanations for the similarities between Krontorp and Elghammar, and in fact Krontorp is very untypical of Blom’s style, in fact of Swedish neoclassicism in general. It is also difficult to understand how Roth is thinking when he writes that Norrnäs Manor is reminiscent of Rosendal Palace.
Only in the penultimate paragraph of this book does the author try to put Blom into context. Then he says that Blom’s style was most strongly inspired by Desprez, Quarenghi and Palladio, but that the architect most closely related to Blom’s style was Carl Ludvig Engel. It is beyond me how Thomas Roth has reached such a conclusion – in fact Engel’s elegant, richly ornamented buildings must be considered almost the opposite of the simplicity characteristic of Fredrik Blom’s works.
The author is obviously very knowledgeable about Fredrik Blom and has apparently put much work into this book. But this isolated knowledge is not enough and the absence of a context coupled with Roth’s limited understanding of architecture in general makes it a less valuable book that in might otherwise have been. As it is, it demonstrates that knowledge and understanding may in fact not be as closely related as is generally assumed.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

New books: Royal Haga

Many were disappointed when the great book series on the Swedish royal palaces, after three years and five volumes, was cancelled in 2005 because the publisher Byggförlaget closed down its business. As earlier mentioned the Royal Court and the Swedish Property Board this year reached an agreement with Gullers Förlag to resume the series, but after another change of publisher the series ended up with Votum Förlag in Karlstad. In November Votum published the first volume of the resurrected series: Haga – Ett kungligt kulturarv, edited by Ingrid Sjöström.
In contrast to the other royal palaces, Haga is actually more of a domain than a palace, as the huge Haga Palace was never completed. The small Haga Palace, the future home of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling, and Gustaf III’s Pavilion may however be found on the estate in addition to numerous other buildings.
This English landscape park sits by Brunnsviken in Solna, just outside the border to the city of Stockholm. It may be reached on foot from the capital and is a green lung much loved by the inhabitants of Stockholm. With Ulriksdal and Djurgården, Haga since 1994 makes up the National City Park, the only of its kind in the world.
Two volumes on Haga in this series had originally been planned, but with the changed circumstances it has all been comprised into one. Probably as a consequence of this, the type is somewhat smaller than in the previous books, but otherwise the design and layout is the same as in the volumes on the palaces Rosendal, Rosersberg, Drottningholm, China and Strömsholm. It is profusely and beautifully illustrated with maps, paintings, architectural drawings, sketches and photos. The prominent Danish architectural photographer Jens Lindhe has taken the new photos for this book, and among the authors are Sweden’s leading experts on the relevant topics.
The historian Jonas Nordin opens the book with a chapter on Gustaf III’s Haga. It was Gustaf III who “discovered” Haga, acquired it as his private property and developed it. The King enjoyed withdrawing to the peace and simplicity of Haga, which also played a significant part in the staging of his public persona.
Gustaf III had great plans for Haga and the art historian Magnus Olausson devotes an extensive chapter to the pleasure park and some of its follies and other buildings. The greatest plan of all was for the erection of a huge palace on a hill in the Haga Park. Only the foundation walls of this grandiose project had been built by the time the King was assassinated and it was left unfinished. If the unfinished palace was meant to be the Swedish Versailles, the smaller Gustaf III’s Pavilion, which was completed about the time of the King’s death, is the northern Petit Trianon. Both the large palace and the smaller pavilion are dealt with in an interesting chapter by Göran Alm, head of the Bernadotte Library.
Stina Olinder Haubo looks at the interiors of Gustaf III’s Pavilion and Thérèse von Lampe interprets its allegorical decorations. Tomas Lidman, Sweden’s national archivist, writes about the pavilion’s library, how it left Sweden with Gustaf IV Adolf and was repatriated much later.
Anita Ankarcrona takes a look at the poet Carl Michael Bellman’s relation to Haga. It is a rather short chapter and Haga in poetry and literature is a topic which I think could have been dealt with more extensively in this book.
The historian Mikael Alm writes about Gustaf IV Adolf and Haga, while the art historian Ursula Sjöberg devotes a chapter to the small Haga Palace, which was built during his reign to house the royal children. Ingrid Sjöström takes a look at Haga during the 19th century before Ursula Sjöberg returns to give us the story of Haga Palace as the home of Prince August and his widow Princess Teresia, who lived there until her death in 1914.
A small weakness of this kind of book is that the thematic approach means that some minor issues fall between chairs and therefore go unmentioned. We read that Haga Palace was a royal residence until 1918, but not a word is said about who stayed there after Princess Teresia’s death (the answer is Prince Erik).
Catharina Nolin deals with the Haga Park in the 19th and early 20th century and Paul Wilund writes about the restoration work at Haga during the 20th century. Gustaf III’s Pavilion is today often considered the very essence of Swedish 18th century still, but Wilund points out that the restorations are not wholly truthful.
The so far last royal residents at Haga were Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla, who came to live there after their wedding in 1932. The Princess remained there for three years after her husband was killed in 1947. Göran Alm writes about the interiors of Haga Palace in their days, while Ingrid Sjöström tells the story of their five children – the present King and his four sisters, who were collectively known as “the Haga Princesses” in what amounted to a cult in the 1940s.
Sjöström also writes about the other buildings in the park in the 20th century and about the use of Haga Palace as a government guest house from the 1960s until this year, when the right of disposal was returned to the King in order to make Haga the Crown Princess couple’s home. Christian Laine finishes the book with short chapters on the Royal National City Park and the pleasure parks around Brunnsviken – and the challenges they are faced by.
This book is not entirely flawless, but all in all it is a great book and a treasure throve of information about this royal estate held in great affection by the people of Stockholm. Its high standard in all respects promises well for the continuation of the book series. The second volume on Drottningholm is expected in the spring, to be followed by books on Tullgarn, Ulriksdal, Gripsholm and three volumes on the Royal Palace itself.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

On this date: A president resigns – and dies

Many presidential resignations have come as a result of great personal or political drama, but few have ended in such drama as Kyösti Kallio’s. Kallio had become President of Finland in 1937 and was still in office when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939. As the leader of a small country which had been attacked by a great power, Kallio received much sympathy when he travelled abroad to plead his country’s case and when he, in a radio speech, appealed to the world to support Finland.
By then the President’s health was causing grave concerns. Kallio had suffered a major heart attack in 1939, and in November 1940 he announced that he would be resigning out of health reasons. Because of the turbulent world situation a regular presidential election was not held, but the electoral college of the previous presidential election (1937) was reassembled. On 19 December 1940 it elected Prime Minister Risto Ryti President.
Shortly thereafter, Kallio, no longer President of Finland, left the Presidential Palace and drove to Helsinki’s railway station, where a train was waiting to take him back home to Nivala. And there, on the platform, right in front of the guard of honour, the band playing a march, Kyösti Kallio collapsed and died. The photo (now in the public domain) was taken by Hugo Sundström just seconds before.

Friday, 18 December 2009

What to see: Stockholm at Christmas time












While Oslo puts up the same hideous decorations from the 1980s every year, Stockholm, like Paris, is one of those cities which really puts an effort into its Christmas decorations. These photos are from 2008 and 2009.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Royal jewels: The Norwegian emerald parure



The emerald parure is the grandest set of jewellery in the hands of the Norwegian royal family and is as such always worn by the Queen for the most important state occasions – the wedding of the Crown Prince and the Emperor of Japan’s state visit being two examples. It has also been worn for three British coronations.
An oft-repeated legend says that the jewels originally belonged to Empress Joséphine of the French – some even maintain that the tiara was worn by her to her and Napoléon’s coronation in Notre-Dame in December 1804. However, this seems likely to be a legend invented by the Swedish writer Sigyn Reimers in the 1950s.
In fact there is no parure in any of the relevant inventories of the Empress’s jewels whose description matches the Norwegian parure. According to an oral tradition in the royal family the emeralds themselves are from a Russian mine which is now extinct. As far as I know, emeralds were not found in Russia until the 1830s, while the Empress died in 1814.
But the emerald parure did certainly belong to Joséphine’s daughter-in-law, Duchess Auguste Amalie of Leuchtenberg. In her will she left it to her daughter, ex-Empress Amélie of Brazil, while her eldest daughter, Queen Josephina of Norway and Sweden, inherited a sapphire parure which to this day is frequently worn by Queen Silvia.
As the Brazilian Empress’s only child predeceased her, she left her jewels to her sister Josephina upon her death in 1873. The Swedish courtier Countess Mina Bonde apparently owned a portrait of Queen Josephina in old age wearing the emerald parure, but the current whereabouts of this painting are unknown.
After Josephina’s death in 1873, the emeralds passed to her daughter-in-law Queen Sophia. Upon her death in 1913, Sophia left them in her will to her youngest daughter-in-law, Princess Ingeborg. Ingeborg frequently wore the parure, but also made some rather unfortunate changes to it. She removed the drop-shaped emeralds on either side of the centre stone of the tiara and made earrings out of them and she also removed most of the seven pendants from the necklace and distributed them between her children.
It has often been said that Princess Ingeborg gave the emerald parure to her middle daughter, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, when she gave birth to a son, the present King of Norway, in 1937. This is however incorrect. Princess Ingeborg gave the parure to her daughter, wrapped in a scarf, at the Central Station in Stockholm in August 1940 when the Crown Princess embarked for the USA. With Norway occupied by Nazi Germany, Ingeborg was not sure if she would ever see her daughter again or if Märtha would ever be able to return to Norway. The emeralds were supposed to be her “life insurance” – the intention was to sell the emeralds one by one if they got in a desperate financial situation.
Luckily this was never necessary and Crown Princess Märtha was able to return to Norway in 1945. She died already in 1954 and her mother, who outlived her by four years, expressed the wish that the emeralds should be inherited by Märtha’s son and be part of the Norwegian “crown jewels”.
Märtha’s daughter, Princess Astrid, borrowed them on some occasions when she was first lady of Norway, but since 1968 they have been worn by her sister-in-law, Queen Sonja. (The portrait of the Queen is by Cathrine Wessel/the Royal Court).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Book news: Swedish royal weddings

I have been spending some days in Stockholm and while there I learnt about an upcoming book which seems interesting. Lena Rangström, who works at the Royal Armoury, has written En brud för kung och fosterland - Kungliga svenska bröllop från Gustav Vasa till Carl XVI Gustaf, which will be published by Atlantis in early March and run to 448 pages. The book deals with Swedish royal weddings since the 16th century and will look at both the political significance, the negotiations behind the marriages and the ceremonies in connection with the weddings.
The cover shows a detail of Per Krafft the Younger’s painting of the wedding of Crown Prince Oscar and Princess Joséphine of Leuchtenberg on 19 June 1823.
The book will be closely related to a major exhibiton at the Royal Armoury titled “Bröllop för kung och fosterland” (“Weddings for king and country”), which will include the museum’s unique collection of royal wedding dresses from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibition will be opened on 19 May, a month before the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling, and close on 3 October.

What to see: The Royal Burial Ground, Haga






While all Swedish monarchs who died between 1632 and 1950, with one exception, rest in the Riddarholmen Church, most of the country’s 20th century royals are buried in the Royal Burial Ground in the Haga Park in Solna, just outside Stockholm.
The idea to create a royal cemetery came from Prince Carl around 1910. This coincided with new ideas about burials in general but also with the fact that there was little space left in the Bernadotte mausoleum in the Riddarholmen Church and the erection of another mausoleum to that historic church was not considered desirable.
Princess Ingeborg supported her husband’s wish to be buried outdoors and they were joined by Crown Princess Margareta, who, after witnessing Dowager Queen Sophia’s solemn funeral in January 1914, wrote that she did not want to be buried in the Riddarholmen Church, but “out in the nature at some place where also my family may get their last resting place”.
Prince Carl had suggested that an area of the Drottningholm Park might be set aside for a royal burial ground, but when there was procrastination, he threatened to acquire a burial spot for himself and his family at the public Northern Cemetery – like his brother, Prince Oscar Bernadotte, was to do.
In the end one settled for a small island in the Haga Park. Prince Carl took a lease on it in 1915 and had the buildings on it demolished. He also presented some drawings for a mausoleum which were probably made by the architect Ferdinand Boberg, a friend of the family. One did however settle for a more “natural” solutions, with crypts built into the landscape and covered with large stone slabs. Boberg did however design a granite cross which was erected at the highest point of the Royal Burial Ground and probably also the bridge and the gate seen in the first photo.
The Royal Burial Ground was ready in 1922 and the body of Crown Princess Margareta, who had died suddenly two years before, was brought there from its temporary resting place in the Cathedral of Stockholm. Her grave is seen in the second photo. She has later been joined by her husband, King Gustaf VI Adolf, who died in 1973, and his second wife, Queen Louise, who passed away in 1965 – probably the latter’s stillborn daughter is also buried there.
In front of the granite cross is the grave of the parents of the present King of Sweden – Prince Gustaf Adolf, who was killed in a plane accident in 1947, and Princess Sibylla, who died from cancer in 1972 (third photo).
Next to the grave of Gustaf VI Adolf and his wives is the tomb of his third son, the much-loved Prince Bertil, who died in 1997 (fourth picture). Thereafter comes the grave of Prince Carl (died 1951) and Princess Ingeborg (photo 5) – the latter’s date of death is, interestingly, given as 11 March 1958, although she was found dead in the morning of the 12th. Their son, Prince Carl Bernadotte, in 2003 became the so far last person to be laid to rest in the Royal Burial Ground.
Finally there is the grave of Gustaf VI Adolf’s second son, Sigvard, who died at 94 in 2002 (sixth picture). Several years passed before the tombstone was ready and I am told that this was because of the dispute over his title. Prince Sigvard had been stripped of his royal titles when he married a commoner in 1934 and was later accorded the title “Count Sigvard Bernadotte af Wisborg”. But in 1983 he assumed the title “Prince Sigvard Bernadotte”, which the King refused to acknowledge and at the time of Sigvard’s death, the issue had been sent to Strasbourg. In the end one settled for the text “Sigvard Bernadotte, born Prince of Sweden”, which everyone could agree was the case. The name and date of birth of his third wife, Marianne, has already been added to the gravestone with only the date of death left blank, which seems quite morbid to me as she is still alive and kicking.
The Royal Burial Ground is open to the public one day a week between May and August.

Friday, 11 December 2009

New books: Herman Lindqvist on Crown Princess Victoria

Two months after his very bad biography of Carl XIV Johan was published, the prolific Swedish journalist Herman Lindqvist is now out with his 51st book – this time Crown Princess Victoria is his victim.
Lindqvist, who is known to hold inflated ideas about his own importance, boasts in the preface that he “for some years” has had “the privilege to talk history with Victoria. Together we have gone through Sweden’s entire history with focus on our regents, their lives and work, both their private lives and their lifework, their merits and their faults”. It must be said that this does not auger well for the future head of state’s knowledge and understanding of history.
“Herman Lindqvist might be called court historian [...]. But he is as much the Swedish people’s historian [...]”, we read on the cover. However, Lindqvist is as little a historian as I am a brain surgeon. He has written a number of bestselling books on history which certainly have helped raise the Swedish people’s interest in history. But his books are not based on original research, he finds it hard to decide what is relevant and what is unimportant, they often have a very simplistic view of historical events and processes and are mostly packed with factual mistakes.
Victoria – Drottning med tiden (published by Bonnier Fakta in November) is a hagiography of the good old sort. No-one is as unique as Crown Princess Victoria and no-one is such a wonderful person. If so, it would have to be her brave and remarkable fiancé Daniel Westling.
Lindqvist puts a lot of creativity into informing us about what is so very unique about these two people and in doing so chooses so narrow criteria that only they can fit into them. “Never has an ordinary Swedish man received a ducal title”, Lindqvist writes. As ducal titles are linked to succession rights and Victoria is the first princess with succession rights to marry, this is true, but a rather obvious fact. It becomes quite tiresome when he gets on and on like this and it reminds me a little of a magazine which recently proclaimed that Barack Obama was “the first Afro-American world leader to receive the Nobel Peace Prize”. (Well, he is the first black US President so I guess he might as well be described as the first Afro-American world leader to tie his shoestrings).
Some of these statements are even debatable. “Never has a Swedish heir to the throne become engaged to a non-royal, even non-noble – and yet kept the position as heir”, Lindqvist enthuses. That might seem true, as Victoria’s father was already king when he married a commoner. However, Prince Bertil was first in line to the throne when he married a commoner in 1976 and remained heir presumptive even after the wedding and until the birth of Crown Prince Carl Philip in 1979.
This book is written in a pompous, yet rather naïve manner. Occasionally what the Crown Princess said in a couple of interviews with Lindqvist in June is quoted, but it seems she had little of particular interest to say to him. The only thing I found of some interest is that she says that she and Prince Carl Philip have never discussed the events of 1979-1980 whereby he ceased being Crown Prince and she bypassed him in the succession.
The text runs to less than 50 pages, with the remaining 2/3 of the book being made up of photos – some of them quite good. Yet in these 40-something pages Lindqvist manages to make a whole list of factual mistakes – to name a few examples he refers to Princess Christina, Mrs Magnuson as plain “Christina Magnusson” (with the surname spelt wrongly), makes no less than three mistakes when he writes that the Crown Prince of Norway in 2001 married “Mette Marit Tjessim Höjby” (who, incidentally, Lindqvist told us already two years ago that would soon tire of her royal role, file for divorce and leave), describes Queen Josephina as “a king’s daughter from Bavaria” (the King of Bavaria was in fact her maternal grandfather; her father was Viceroy of Italy and later Duke of Leuchtenberg) and says that Victoria’s goddaughter Eléonore, rather than her elder sister Elisabeth, is “Hereditary Princess of Belgium”.
The parents of Queen Louise are described as “wholly German” although her father was a British subject. According to Herman Lindqvist the birth of the future Gustaf V in 1858 was the last royal birth to take place with official witnesses in an adjacent room, but this tradition did in fact continue for another five decades. We also learn that several Swedish princes have attended universities and colleges, “but they never completed their studies with exams”. Except for the fact that Prince Sigvard did.
Crown Princess Victoria tells us that Carl XIV Johan is her “favourite king in the history of Sweden”, an opinion, I could add, she seems to share with all other Bernadottes. Having made the monumental discovery, while writing his previous book, that the future Carl XIV Johan actually received only the name Jean Bernadotte at the time of his birth – a fact which has only been known to other biographers and readers at least since the publication of Fredrik Ulrik Wrangel’s book Från Jean Bernadottes ungdom as recently as 120 years ago – Lindqvist now ludicrously insists on referring to him as “Jean (Baptiste) Bernadotte”.
I was also quite startled to read that Crown Princess Victoria “shares her interest in military affairs with her namesake and great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, married to Gustaf V”. For the sake of Sweden I sincerely hope that this is only a sign that Lindqvist is ignorant of how far the late Queen’s military interests went and not that Crown Princess Victoria intends to follow in her ancestress’s war-mongering footsteps.
Lindqvist ends this book, as he did his last one, by stating: “Today there is no dynasty in any country in Europe, indeed not in the whole world, where the same branch of the same family has sat on the throne as long [as the Bernadottes] without interruption, where the regent has never been chased into exile for reasons of internal or foreign politics and has never been forced to see his country at war, but where the dynasty has been able to continue reigning over a free and peaceful people in an independent state”. No matter how many times Lindqvist repeats this it remains untrue.
The current British dynasty has been on the throne since 1714, 104 years longer than the Bernadottes, and although Britain has been at war several times during those nearly three centuries the dynasty’s rule has not been interrupted by those wars. One may correctly point out that it is not the same branch of the British dynasty, as the throne passed from George IV to his brother, from William IV to his niece and from Edward VIII to his brother. But, even though Herman Lindqvist chooses to ignore it, the same happened for the Bernadottes when Carl XV was succeeded by his brother Oscar II.
One may wonder if Lindqvist tries to cover this up when he refers to Carl XV and Queen Lovisa as ancestors of Crown Princess Victoria – in fact she is not descended from them at all, but from Carl XV’s brother.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

War and peace as Obama accepts Nobel Prize

Today President Barack Obama is here in Oslo, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize in a ceremony at the City Hall at 1 p.m. Tonight approximately 10,000 people came to see and cheer him, or to protest, when he and Michelle Obama made a brief appearance on the balcony of Grand Hotel before the Nobel banquet.
In his Nobel speech, Obama spoke almost as much about war as about peace. He quoted Martin Luther King, who received the Peace Prize in 1964: “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones”.
“As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence”, Obama said, but added: “But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their [King’s and Gandhi’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. [...] To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason”.
He did however mark a clear difference from the regime of his predecessor George W. Bush: “Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. [...] We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor - we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard”.
The whole speech may be read here:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-acceptance-nobel-peace-prize

Barack Obama was by the way not the only person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize today. Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 laureate, today got back the medal and the diploma which Iranian authorities stole from her bank safety box recently. It was the first time a Nobel Peace Prize had been confiscated by a political regime.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

New books: Bernadottes and Romanovs

A book on the Bernadottes and the Romanovs in itself sounds like a good idea. It was the then Crown Prince Carl Johan’s alliance with Emperor Aleksandr I in 1812 which ultimately brought about the union with Norway and which greatly helped secure his position as an upstart monarch. Russia remained a key ally throughout most of Carl XIV Johan’s reign, until his son, Oscar I, broke with his father’s pro-Russian policy by concluding the November Treaty with Britain and France in 1855.
But as the subtitle indicates, the scope of Gunna Wendt’s new book Die Bernadottes und die Romanoffs. Europäische Dynastien auf der Mainau (published by Verlag Huber in Frauenfeld), is narrower than so.
At the centre of her story stands a marital rather than a martial alliance – in fact the only such alliance concluded between the Bernadottes and the Romanovs. In 1908 Prince Wilhelm of Sweden, the second son of King Gustaf V and Queen Victoria, was married off to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia, a granddaughter of Emperor Aleksandr II. It was arguably the grandest match the Bernadottes ever made as well as the most disastrous. Princess Maria ran away after five years and divorce followed in 1914. Maria wrote about the marriage with great bitterness in her memoirs, while Wilhelm passed the whole thing over in his.
The fruit of the marriage was an only son, Prince Lennart, who, having lost his royal title by marrying a commoner in 1932, became known as the multi-talented Lennart Bernadotte and lived to a great age – he died on Mainau five years ago this month, aged 95.
This book has been written in connection with the exhibition “100 Jahre Lennart Bernadotte – Zurück zu den Wurzeln”, which was held at Mainau this year to celebrate his centenary. The author, who has earlier written a biography of Lennart Bernadotte’s second wife, Sonja, cooperated with her, Lennart’s cousin Prince Michel Romanoff and the French author Jacques Ferrand, in preparing the exhibition, but sadly all of them, except Wendt, died before its opening.
The book begins with a chapter on Carl XIV Johan. It is obviously based mostly on Fritz Corsing’s 1946 biography, but it is well written and Wendt offers some interesting perspectives on the founder of the Bernadotte dynasty.
After this we hear quite little about the Bernadottes and comparatively more about the Romanovs, as the author charts the life story of Lennart Bernadotte and some of his Russian relatives – his great-grandfather Aleksandr II, his maternal grandfather Grand Duke Pavel Aleksandrovich, his mother Maria Pavlovna and his uncle Grand Duke Dimitry Pavlovich, as well as Grand Duke Pavel’s three children from his second, morganatic marriage. One of them, Princess Irina Paley, was the mother of Prince Michel Romanoff, a first cousin who came to be a close friend of Lennart Bernadotte.
What many of those persons had in common was that their lives turned out quite differently from what they had expected. Grand Duke Pavel was banished from Russia because of his morganatic marriage, but was allowed to return at the outbreak of World War I, only to be executed by the Bolsheviks because of “the sins of his family” in 1919. Grand Duke Dimitry escaped this fate by having been banished from St Petersburg because of his involvement in the murder of Rasputin.
Lennart Bernadotte himself was thrown out of the royal family and had to make his own living by the use of his many talents. And his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, refused to live in a loveless marriage with Prince Wilhelm and became one of the Russian royals who best succeeded in creating a new existence for herself following the revolution. It must however be said that Gunna Wendt puts somewhat too much faith in Maria Pavlovna’s memoirs, particularly when it comes to her version of her marriage and divorce.
The Bernadottes have produced more interesting and talented characters than most royal dynasties, yet they remain in the shadow of Lennart Bernadotte’s closest Russian relatives throughout this book. The relations between the two dynasties would also be worth a study, but is mostly bypassed by Wendt.
All in all this is an easily read and mostly correct book, but some significant voids make it less interesting than it might have been.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

New Swedish royal monogramme published

The Swedish Royal Court today made public the monogramme which will be used by Crown Princess Victoria and her future husband Daniel Westling. The monogramme has been designed by Vladimir A. Sagerlund at the Swedish National Archives.

Press release (in Swedish):
http://www.kungahuset.se/ovrigt/pressrum/pressmeddelanden/aretsarkiv/kronprinsessparetsmonogram.5.62402a8b12475b47cdb80003423.html

My latest article: Obituary of Princess Grete Sturdza

Following the aforementioned death of the Norwegian-born Princess Grete Sturdza on 29 November I have gathered some information about her and compiled a short obituary which is published in Aftenposten today.
The basic biographical facts are that she was born in Oslo on 27 April 1915 as the daughter of a Norwegian father and a Russian mother. She won a Norwegian junior championship in tennis and studied British literature and philosophy at Magdalen College in Oxford. There she met the law student Prince Gheorghe (Georges) M. Sturdza, who belonged to a Romanian princely family which included two sovereign princes of Moldavia and one Romanian prime minister.
Having known each other for 1 ½ year they married in St Nikolaus’s Orthodox Church in Oslo on 12 April 1937 and settled in Iasi in Romania. They had three sons. In the years after World War II, when Romania was hit by famine and draughts, Princess Grete Sturdza and her mother-in-law were involved in relief work and were able to draw upon Princess Grete’s acquaintanceship with Folke Bernadotte.
The Sturdzas had to flee Romania when the monarchy fell in December 1947. With the help of the Swedish minister the Princess and her children managed to flee to Prague, while her husband walked on his feet from Iasi to Vienna.
The family first came to Norway, but later moved to Varangeville-sur-Mer near Dieppe in Normandy. There the Princess in 1957 opened the private botanical garden Vasterival, where she collected 10,000 different species. She was honorary President of the International Dendrological Society and received a number of other honours.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Late royals: Princess Margaretha of Denmark (1899-1977)

Princess Margaretha was one of only three women in modern history to have been a princess of all the three Scandinavian countries – the others were her mother and her grandmother.
Princess Margaretha Sofia Lovisa Ingeborg of Sweden and Norway was the eldest child of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg. She was born at her parents’ summer house Parkudden in Stockholm on 25 June 1899. She eventually got two younger sisters, Märtha and Astrid, and a baby brother, Carl Jr. The siblings had a happy childhood with Fridhem, their new summer house, as their preferred home.
When she was six years old, the personal union between Norway and Sweden was dissolved and the Norwegian Parliament offered its country’s crown to Margaretha’s father. As he did not yet have a son, the Norwegians were willing to amend the Constitution to make Margaretha his heir. However, the Norwegian throne eventually went to Margaretha’s maternal uncle, who became King Haakon VII.
Swedish society columnists rejoiced when Princess Margaretha was confirmed – it was a very long time since there had been eligible young princesses in the male-dominated Bernadotte dynasty. Queen Mary of Britain also took note of the young princess and wrote to Princess Ingeborg suggesting that Margaretha might be a suitable consort for the Prince of Wales. However, Margaretha had to turn down the British crown as she was already secretly engaged to the talented Prince Axel of Denmark, a first cousin of her mother eleven years her senior.
The wedding took place in the Cathedral of Stockholm on 22 May 1919. It was the first royal wedding in Stockholm since Margaretha’s maternal grandmother Lovisa had married the future King Frederik VIII of Denmark in 1869. The wedding came only a few months after Sweden in November 1918 had stood at the brink of revolution – a large celebration was just what the monarchy needed to revive its popularity.
Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha settled in a villa called Bernstorffshøj, located near Bernstorff Palace in Gentofte outside Copenhagen. Margaretha gave birth to Prince Georg in 1920 and to Prince Flemming (pictured above) in 1922. Prince Axel made a career in the navy and in the East Asiatic Company, whose director he became, and also held several other positions such as member of the IOC and chairman of the board of Scandinavian Airlines.
Margaretha dedicated herself to family and charity, but also accompanied her husband on some of his official journeys. In 1930 they made a long journey to Asia together with Crown Prince Frederik and Prince Knud, and in 1953 Prince Axel and Princess Margaretha represented Denmark at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London.
Princess Margaretha’s life was not without sorrows and difficulties. Her marriage was not always happy as Prince Axel had a roving eye. In 1922 the family lost most of their money when the Danish bank Landmandsbanken collapsed. And in 1936 their home burnt down to the ground.
In 1935 her youngest sister, Queen Astrid of the Belgians, was killed in a car accident at the age of 29. Margaretha remained in Brussels for several months after the funeral to look after the motherless children. In 1954 her other sister, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, died after a long illness. “Aunt Tha” again stepped in to comfort her nephews and nieces and try to take on the role as a maternal figure in their lives.
Princess Margaretha was a tireless letter writer – letters in her characteristic, challenging hand were regularly sent off to her relatives in many different countries and were expected to be answered promptly.
After her husband’s death in 1964 she became a keen traveller. She always went to her native Stockholm in early December, saying she would die if she did not hear Handel’s “Messiah” in the Cathedral on the first Sunday of Advent. Christmas war mostly spent with her family in Norway.
Princess Margaretha was considered the most regal of the three sisters and was anxious for etiquette and royal dignity to be maintained. But she was also a bit shy and these factors combined occasionally caused outsiders to find her arrogant and aloof. Those who knew her thought nothing could be further from the truth.
Princess Margaretha suffered a stroke during Christmas of 1974 and was dependent on a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She died from another stroke during a New Year visit to her second son at Tranemosegaard on 4 January 1977, aged 77. She was buried in the park of Bernstorff Palace.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

At the road’s end: Lizanne Kelly LeVine (1933-2009), sister of Princess Grace

This piece of news from last week had passed me by: Elizabeth Anne “Lizanne” Kelly LeVine, the last surviving sibling of Princess Grace of Monaco, died from cancer at the retirement home Quadrangle in Haverford on Tuesday 24 November, aged 76.
She was born on 25 June 1933, as the youngest of the four children of John B. and Margaret Kelly, and held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Philadelphia. She was married to Donald C. LeVine, who died in 2000, a year after their daughter Grace had died from cancer at 43. She is survived by her son Chris.
Her funeral was held at St. Bridget’s Church last Friday and was attended by her nephew, Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Philadelphia Daily News has an obituary:
http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20091127_Lizanne_LeVine__a_Philadelphia_Kelly.html

Friday, 4 December 2009

Funeral of Prince Alexandre of Belgium

The funeral of Prince Alexandre of Belgium, who died suddenly last Sunday, was held at the Church of Our Lady in Laeken today. Among the mourners were his widow Léa with her children Renaud Bichara and Laetitia Spetchinsky, the latter’s husband Didier Nagant de Deuxchaisnes, King Albert II and Queen Paola, a frail Queen Fabiola, Princess Esmeralda with her husband Salvador Moncada and children Alexandra and Leopoldo, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde (whose tenth wedding anniversary falls on this date), Prince Laurent and Princess Claire, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, Archduchess Marie-Astrid and Archduke Christian of Austria-Hungary, Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein and Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy. Prince Alexandre’s sister, Princess Marie Christine, was absent, as from the funerals of her parents. The Prince was laid to rest in the vault of the church, which has been the burial place of the Belgian royals since the days of Léopold I.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

At the road’s end: Princess Grete Sturdza (1915-2009)

Several years ago I read an old newspaper article (I believe it was from the summer of 1937) about a young Norwegian woman, Grete Kvaal, marrying a Romanian prince in Oslo. In Aftenposten today her sister Vera Blom announces the passing of Princess Grete Sturdza in Varangeville on 29 November, aged 94.

Flashback to the 1930s

A few days ago a substantial majority of the Swiss people, against the wishes of their government and parliament, voted to forbid the building of minarets. This attack on the freedom of belief has naturally been endorsed by far-right wing parties across Europe. Here in Norway MP Per-Willy Amundsen (Progress Party) has said he finds the Swiss decision “interesting” and in VG yesterday there was a letter to the editor signed “Per, Bergen”, which read in full: “Now there must be a referendum on mosques also in our dear Norway”. Try substituting the word “mosques” with “synagogues” and it becomes obvious why this sounds eeriely familiar.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A neoclassical Christmas





With the coming of December and Advent, the Christmas trees have come up at the Royal Palace and the University Square here in Oslo.

Monday, 30 November 2009

New books: The memoirs of Frederik VII’s great-granddaughter

As mentioned earlier an elderly Danish lady named Ellen Margrethe “Gete” Bondo Oldenborg Maaløe this autumn published her memoirs, Getes erindinger – Slægshistorie, erindringer og beretning om et “jævnt og (for det meste) muntert, (altid) virksomt liv”, in which she documents that she is the illegitimate great-granddaughter of King Frederik VII – the last monarch of the Oldenburg dynasty, who has been generally considered unable to have children.
One of my friends in Denmark has now sent me the relevant chapter of this book, which provides some details about the descendants of Frederik VII by Else Maria Guldberg Poulsen (later Larsen). The affair resulted in a son, Frederik Carl Christian Poulsen, who was raised by a Commander Tuxen.
The book generally mentions few dates and no year is given for his birth, but it is said that his father was Crown Prince at the time and that the child on his birthday every year used to be taken to the palace, where his grandfather, Christian VIII, gave him presents and candy – this means that he must have been born in the 1840s.
The meetings with Christian VIII are also quite interesting as it means that the King must have known that his son was in fact capable of producing children. The author quotes four letters in her possession, in which Frederik VII clearly acknowledges the child as his. The King’s morganatic widow, Countess Danner, stayed in touch with him after the King’s death in 1863 and also left him an annual sum in her will.
Frederik Carl Christian Poulsen married Hansigne Åkerberg. They lived to celebrate their golden wedding, but died within three months of each other. They had a son, Poul, and a daughter, Ellen. The latter died unmarried and childless, while Poul Frederik Oldenborg Poulsen, who became a priest and amateur musician, married a woman called Nelly Bondo. They were the parents of the author and another daughter.
Gete Bondo Oldenborg Maaløe is herself childless after two marriages – to Valdemar Urban Maaløe and his second cousin Carl Adolph Saabye Maaløe – while her sister married four times and had two sons. Both these nephews are childless, meaning that the line of Frederik VII seems likely to come to an end in a not too distant future.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

At the road’s end: Prince Alexandre of Belgium (1942-2009)

The Belgian Royal Court this evening announced the sudden death of Prince Alexandre, King Albert II’s half-brother, from an acute pulmonary embolism.
His Royal Highness Prince Alexandre Emmanuel Henri Albert Marie Léopold of Belgium was born on 18 July 1942 as the eldest child of the controversial union between King Léopold III and Lilian Baels. King Léopold, who had been widowed in 1935 when the adored Queen Astrid was killed in a car crash, married Lilian Baels in 1941 while held captive by the Germans after he had refused to follow his government into exile. These actions eventually led to the King’s abdication in 1951.
Prince Alexandre, a businessman who was not in line to the Belgian throne, married Léa Wolman in 1991, but the marriage was kept secret until 1998. The couple had no children, although the Princess has two children and a grandson from her previous marriages.

New books: A Norwegian perspective on Elizabeth II

Norwegian publishers rarely bring out books on foreign royals, believing that this is not something which will sell in this country. The occasional exception is the British royal family and this month NRK Aktivum has published Englands dronning – dronningens England – Streiftog gjennom Elizabeth IIs liv by Kari-Grete Alstad, a former correspondent in London for Norwegian state television NRK.
The author says in the preface that this is not a biography of Elizabeth II, but rather a “tale of how I, as a journalist and former London correspondent, have seen Elizabeth II from my position as a bystander. This is also a book about England, the English people and its history”. She acknowledges that the book’s title is strictly speaking wrong and that Elizabeth II is not actually Queen of England, but, the confused author adds, of “the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Wales and Scotland”!
The book begins with Elizabeth II’s state visit to Norway in 1955 – her first such visit outside the Commonwealth following her accession three years previously. This provides a glimpse of another age, when a state visit could be a cause for public rejoicing and draw huge crowds, yet be taken quite lightly by the authorities – the author quotes the head of Oslo’s police saying less than two weeks before the British Queen’s arrival that he had not made any detailed plans for how to deal with the visit and was not yet sure from where he would get the extra personnel needed. In contrast we know that when Barack Obama comes to town in less than two weeks 2,600 police will be on duty and that the police will get at least 92 million NOK extra to cover their expenses.
Alstad was herself a fourteen-year-old girl who got a glimpse of Elizabeth II during the state visit in 1955 and this chapter I found the best part of the book, although the author insists on interviewing the actor Toralv Maurstad because he had a role in a play attended by Queen Elizabeth II during the state visit. As Maurstad does not remember much of that performance 54 years ago, the author lapses into a digression about what he is doing these days.
In the next chapter she starts with the Norwegian royals’ official visit to London fifty years later and the fact that Norway, unlike Britain, still has a royal yacht makes her mention that HMY Britannia’s last great journey was to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. This causes a seven-page digression about the history of Hong Kong, Sino-British trade relations and the opium wars before she returns to London in 2005.
What then follows is a long narrative of Elizabeth II’s childhood, mostly based on the very sugary account given by her former governess Marion Crawford in her bestselling book The Little Princesses. By the time Princess Elizabeth marries Prince Philip, we are already on page 113 with less than half the book left for the next 62 years of her life. The author then travels to Kenya to visit Treetops, where the Princess spent the night when her father died and she became queen. The author’s fourteen-year-old granddaughter accompanies her and Alstad cannot resist drawing comparisons between this child and the nearly 26-year-old Princess. Most of this chapter is however based on Jim Corbett’s book Tree Tops, which she makes a point of stressing that she “managed to track down through an antiquarian bookseller in London” (183 copies are easily available on BookFinder.com).
Then Alstad breaks off and jumps to 2005 when she attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace, which gives her a cause to write about the Queen’s clothes, handbags and corgis, followed by an account of the Swan Upping ceremony. Then follows a chapter titled “The Queen and her people”, which opens with a “scene from the documentary [sic!] The Queen”. This chapter deals mostly with Princess Diana and her death before the author tells the life story of a man of Iraqi origins who basically says he admires Elizabeth II. In the final chapter the author writes about Prince Charles, his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles and her own visit to his Highgrove Shop in Tetbury, which she really cannot make up her mind if is spelled Highgrove or Higrove.
This is quite symptomatic of a book where the author often contradicts herself, particularly when it comes to dates. The abdication takes place in both 1936 and 1937, Princess Elizabeth was confirmed both at the age of 13 and 16, George III died in both 1820 and 1829, Queen Victoria in both 1901 and 1902 and the latter also succeeded to the throne when she was both 18 and 19.
The language is often quite naïve and filled with clichés, and the book is littered with typos and mistranslations. “Prince Regent” is for example translated as “arveprins” (hereditary prince) rather than “prinsregent” and Prince Edward’s wife is called “Duchess of Wessex”, while Prince Philip’s grandmother is made “Margravine of Milford Haven”. Both English words (like “Ascott” and “State Appartments”) and Norwegian ones (“tunell” and “tunnell”, but never the correct “tunnel”) are misspelled. Family relations also seem to be too difficult for Kari-Grete Alstad to get right: George IV was not the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Elizabeth II (in fact she is not descended from him at all), Edward VII was not Prince Charles’s great-great-great-grandfather, nor was Alice Keppel the Duchess of Cornwall’s great-great-grandmother. And none of Prince Philip’s aunts married Germans (but rather Russians, Greeks and Swedes).
The book is quite unreflective and some of the statements made in it are also rather naïve in themselves. Alstad tells us that Tony Blair’s handling of Princess Diana’s death “has later been called the most important political episode in his entire political career in the same way as the Falklands War was for Margaret Thatcher”. “Later” turns out to be Independent on Sunday the day following the Princess’s funeral. Some of us would consider that a little early to decide on the most important event of Blair’s entire political career and some of us would perhaps dear to suggest that the Iraq War was a more important “political episode”. I also very much doubt the Vatican “demonstratively” chose the Prince of Wales’s intended wedding day for the Pope’s funeral.
This book on the Queen of Britain begins well, but ends up as a badly written and rather insignificant book which almost entirely avoids Elizabeth II’s 57-year-reign. And the quality of the illustrations is horrendous.

Friday, 27 November 2009

What to see: Arco della Pace, Milan



When Emperor Napoléon I became King of Italy he ordered the construction of a rod linking his capitals Milan and Paris via Lake Maggiore, Switzerland and the Simplon Pass. The beginning of that road, the tree-lined Corso Sempione, was modelled on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. At the top of Corso Sempione, serving as an entrance to the Sempione Park and its medieval Castello Sforzesco, stands the Arco della Pace, the triumphal arch commemorating Napoléon’s victories, which he commissioned the architect Luigi Cagnola to build.
The building of the Arch of Victories, as it was then called, was not completed at the time of Napoléon’s downfall, when Milan reverted to the Habsburgs. Work was only resumed in 1826 on the orders of Emperor Franz I, who changed the subjects of the reliefs to commemorate the peace of 1815 rather than his son-in-law’s victories, thereby also giving the arch its new name. It was inaugurated in connection with Emperor Ferdinand I’s coronation as King of Lombardy in September 1838.
The arch is made of Crevola marble and on top is a bronze quadriga – the Chariot of Peace by Abbondio Sangiorgio, each horse cast in one piece. The quadriga originally faced the Corso Sempione – and thereby France – but the Habsburgs had it turned around so that it now faces the Castello and the centre of Milan beyond it.
The arch is flanked by two identical, now disused guards’ pavilions (second photo). As the arch is currently under renovation (third photo), the first photo is borrowed from Wikipedia.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

New books: Peder Anker, landowner and Prime Minister

When it comes to the union between Norway and Sweden, chroniclers of Norwegian history have tended to focus on the beginning (1814) and the end (1905). It was only in 2005 that a history of the union itself (by a Swedish historian) was published. The important, formative early years of the union have been particularly overlooked and the historian Bård Frydenlund’s biography of Norway’s first Prime Minister Peder Anker, Stormannen Peder Anker – En biografi, published by Aschehoug in mid-November, is therefore a welcome addition.
Peder Anker, who, with his brothers and cousins, was ennobled in 1778, belonged to a family of tradesmen which played an important role in Christiania (as Oslo was then called). He did however remain in the shadow of his elder brother Bernt until the latter’s death in 1805. Peder Anker bought Bogstad Manor outside the city from relatives and this became not only his patrician seat, but the centre of his vast estates – an “empire” which came to cover large parts of Southern Norway. The production and export of timber and iron was the foundation of Peder Anker’s great wealth.
Peder Anker was first and foremost a businessman and landowner for the most of his life – his entry into politics came only in the last decades of his life. But Anker also came to play a role as an official under the Danish Crown before the secession in 1814. He came to the notice of Crown Prince Frederik, who reigned in the name of his insane father, when he took part in the military campaign in Sweden in 1788 and was afterwards put in charge of road construction in the eastern half of Southern Norway.
As a businessman Anker was clearly quite efficient and innovative as well as successful, but in my opinion these are not the most interesting aspects of Peder Anker’s life and I could have done with less than half the book devoted to this. 3 ½ pages on a dispute over the construction of a bridge linking Strømsø and Bragernes (later united as Drammen) came close to causing me to lose interest.
More interesting to me is Anker’s role in the schemes laid by him and other fellow aristocrats and landowners, led by his son-in-law, Count Herman of Wedel-Jarlsberg, to bring about a union between Norway and Sweden. The policy of King Frederik VI (as he now had become) during the Napoleonic Wars made Anker and his friends increasingly sceptical both of him and the union with Denmark. Frydenlund argues that this was mostly because of the effect the events on the world stage had on Anker’s business interest rather than for ideological or political reasons.
Their contacts with certain Swedes who also encouraged a union between the two countries were possibly treacherous, but the union was not brought about in the way they had imagined. Anker was critical of Prince Christian Frederik, who was proclaimed regent when Frederik VI ceded Norway by the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814 and who called a Constitutional Assembly to meet at Eidsvold Værk, a manor belonging to Anker’s cousin Carsten, in April.
Peder Anker was elected a member of the Assembly and also became its first Speaker, yet he did not play a leading role. Count Wedel became the leader of the minority “unionist party”, while Anker remained in the background. As we know, the unionists were not victorious at the Constitutional Assembly, but after a brief war in July/August, Norway and Sweden agreed to form a personal union with further details to be settled by an extraordinary Parliament.
Anker failed to be elected to this extraordinary Parliament, which approved the union with Sweden and passed a revised Constitution on 4 November. Two weeks later Anker was appointed Prime Minister, allegedly quite unwillingly, but talked into it by Crown Prince Carl Johan. He thereafter had to leave his business interests in the hands of others and move to Stockholm – as the King of Norway would mostly be resident in Sweden, it had been decided that the Prime Minister and two ministers should also reside there, with the rest of the government “holding the fort” in Christiania.
This constitutional construction was unique, but when Frydenlund explains it, he does not do so by quoting the November Constitution. Instead he quotes the relevant article from a secondary source, but in a version which says that “one of the Prime Ministers” should reside in Sweden – i.e. the version from after 1873, more than fifty years after Anker’s resignation. One of Anker’s first and most important duties was to take part in the negotiations over the Act of the Union, which was approved in 1815. But Frydenlund says not a word about what was Anker’s contribution to this or if his views were taken note of. When it comes to the Act of the Union itself, Frydenlund briefly describes it and a footnote points us to “Steen 1952, p. 26-28” as his source. There is in fact no Steen 1952 in the bibliography, but a Steen 1953 and a Steen 1954. More importantly this shows that, incredibly, Anker’s biographer has not bothered to consult either the November Constitution or the Act of the Union, the constitutional texts upon which both the union itself and Anker’s job were based. The texts of both are easily available, but the author apparently only knows them from two secondary sources, one of which is not relevant for Anker’s time.
It is quite funny to see that when Frydenlund describes the Prime Minister’s official residence in Stockholm, he sounds surprised when he notes that there was a “tambur” and writes that it is not known how often the drummer was on duty. “Tambur” does indeed mean a military drummer in Norwegian, but in Swedish it means a small entrance hall or vestibule.
It is generally acknowledged that Anker was neither a great politician nor a strong leader and that the real power in government lay with his son-in-law, who was Minister of Finance in Christiania and often found himself at odds with King Carl Johan. Anker is however considered to have played a rather important role as a go-between and mediator between these two strong-willed men, but Frydenlund says little about this and even less about the interaction between Anker and Wedel. One may also wonder what if any role was played by Anker’s daughter and Wedel’s wife, Countess Karen of Wedel-Jarlsberg, who served as Mistress of the Robes for three decades, but she is hardly mentioned.
Anker’s own relationship with Carl XIV Johan soon deteriorated and Frydenlund writes that the Prime Minister tendered his resignation after the King had slapped his face during a stormy State Council meeting. Yet Anker changed his mind and remained in office until 1822, when he returned to Bogstad, dying two years later.
It seems to me that the author finds Anker the businessman, landowner, private man and genial host most interesting and deals quite left-handedly with his political career. To me the book would have been more interesting if it were the other way around. As it is, the part of the biography dealing with Anker as Prime Minister left me with more questions than answers and the chapters dealing with 1814 and the schemes leading up to those momentous events are probably the book’s most interesting parts.