A portrait of Norway’s King Olav V / Columns / The Foreigner

A portrait of Norway’s King Olav V. As Norway’s Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja celebrate 25 years on the throne this weekend, The Foreigner takes a look at King Harald’s father, called ‘The People’s King’. Carl-Erik Grimstad, associate professor at Kristiania University College, and at one time deputy private secretary to King Harald V, explains the origins of this title in an interview. “I think the image as ‘People’s King’ mainly has to do with the fact that he became a symbol of Norwegian resistance in WWII. He was a refugee, living in London and the States, and even acting head of defence between 1944 and 1945.”

queenmaud, kingolav, kingharaldv, queensonja, jubilee, celebrations, oslo, paywall



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A portrait of Norway’s King Olav V

Published on Saturday, 16th January, 2016 at 01:48 under the columns category, by Michael Sandelson and Sarah Bostock   .
Last Updated on 22nd January 2016 at 21:14.

As Norway’s Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja celebrate 25 years on the throne this weekend, The Foreigner takes a look at King Harald’s father, called ‘The People’s King’.

The Norwegian Royal Family
Queen Maud (L), Crown Prince Olav (C), and King Haakon (R).The Norwegian Royal Family
Photo: National Archives of Norway


Carl-Erik Grimstad, associate professor at Kristiania University College, and at one time deputy private secretary to King Harald V, explains the origins of this title in an interview.

“I think the image as ‘People’s King’ mainly has to do with the fact that he became a symbol of Norwegian resistance in WWII. He was a refugee, living in London and the States, and even acting head of defence between 1944 and 1945.”

Olav was an experienced politician in many ways from his work in London in exile with very close ties to Norwegian political system, according to Mr Grimstad, a political scientist and multi-year royal researcher.

“But at the same time, he kept a distance. He also became a symbol of rebuilding the country in the 25-year-period following the Second World War. He travelled all over Norway, especially to the North, where the Nazis practiced their scorched earth policy. Olav became very popular.”

“The Norwegian monarchy had sort of reinvented itself during WWII. It wasn’t very popular during the 1920s and ‘30s, and the discussion regarding Norwegian governmental organisation didn’t exist following WWII. Moreover, discussing the former government then became a taboo. And people were not forthcoming in discussing republicanism before 1990. Up to 1990, 90% of the Norwegian population were in favour of a monarchy. King Olav V had the support from political Parties and intellectuals – which is very rare, as intellectuals do not traditionally support one,” Mr Grimstad says.

A scepticism to modernity

TM King Harald V and Queen Sonja
TM King Harald V and Queen Sonja
Sølve Sundsbø/The Royal Palace
“Then support for the Norwegian monarchy fell during the 1990s, which was quite a contradiction, really, as Olav was quite authoritarian. He was part of old school; brought up in European dynasties. He celebrated royal birthdays at Sandringham, and had close ties to the British and Danish monarchy. He was a very likeable person but very strict.”

“Of course, like all of us, he had his challenges. His son, Harald, and daughters Princess Astrid and Princess Ragnhild married commoners,” explains Mr Grimstad. “He was very sceptical to his daughter-in-law, the present Queen Sonja. They didn’t get on very well at first. The old king was a widower, and not used to having a modern woman in his house. Olav had spent the greater part of his life unmarried.”

It is also well-known that the old king had a terrible temper.

“He got very angry when things didn’t go his way – which wasn’t very often,” Mr Grimstad continues. “It’s common knowledge that his family had to suffer from his temper.”

“That said, in many ways, his son, Harald, is more the People’s king than Olav. The present king is more likeable, closer to his people than his father was, has a greater sense of empathy, and on the whole is a man who is everybody’s friend.”

The challenge of close ties

Queen Maud and Crown Prince Olav 1906
Queen Maud and Crown Prince Olav 1906
National Archives of Norway
Olav was born in Appleton House, Norfolk, in 1903 to Haakon VII of Norway (Prince Carl of Denmark until 1905, taking the name Haakon when he was elected King of Norway) and Princess Maud of Wales (Edward VII’s daughter).

He later became an athlete, ski jumping from Oslo’s Holmenkollen ski jump and participating in many regattas. An active sailor until well into older life, he had won Gold in the six-metre class at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. He married his first cousin, Princess Märtha of Sweden, in 1929. Märtha died of cancer in October 1954 at Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet. She was buried at the Royal Mausoleum at Akershus Castle

“He [Olav] ran the Royal Palace in Norway like a male bastion. More or less all is staff was made up of military, with only one female staff member,” remarks Carl-Erik Grimstad.

“At the same time, his advantage as king was his sense of adaptability. He was initially opposed to gender equality, but had to adapt to it. Things changed from 1990, when the present king took over. The palace has had several strong women in leadership there for the last 20 years.”

What can you say about then Crown Prince Olav in Britain during WWII?

“I wish to stress fact that he was baptised at the church in Sandringham in 1903, the year he was born. He had very close ties to his relatives. Moreover, the British form of government has always been very different to that of the Norwegian one. This presented him with a challenge as to how to adopt this form in Norway but at the same time keep his standing with the establishment.”

Princess Märtha and King Olav (1929)
Princess Märtha and King Olav (1929)
Mittet & Co A/S/National Archives Norway
“Olav was also very closely connected with Queen Elisabeth the Queen Mother and they were very good friends. Olav went to London every autumn following WWII, staying for 3 to 4 weeks at a time at his residence at the Norwegian Embassy in Palace Green. He spoke excellent English too.”

A hitherto unparalleled national mourning

Olav V passed away on 17th January 1991, the first night of Operation Desert Storm.

What can you say about his death and the military campaign?

“Olav had suffered a stroke the year before and wasn’t really acting as king during 1990. His son, Harald, says that the two incidents are connected and ultimately, he is the best witness to what happened.”

“Olav was watching TV at the time, and the event made very strong impression on him. He had experienced wartime life in London, and I think he had a much greater experience with war than most Norwegians have. He had tried his very best to encourage the peace process after WWII,” Mr Grimstad says.

Child's painting expressing condolences
Child's painting expressing condolences
The Royal Palace/Nat. Archives Norway
“I was at the Norwegian Embassy in Madrid the night he died when the telephone rang with the news. I was there planning a visit to Spain by then Crown Prince and Princess in March or April that year.”

His passing gave rise to what was described as ‘national mourning on a scale that Norway had never experienced before’. Why was this, do you think?

“I wasn’t in Norway the first couple of days after his death, but the mourning process was very Catholic. My office window faces the Palace grounds, and there were just 2-3 candles placed in a pile of snow in the Palace Square in front at the beginning.”

“Then suddenly, things exploded. There were thousands of candles, papers, and drawings. Children came to visit the mourning symbol in their hundreds, and visiting the pile of snow became a national icon,” comments Mr Grimstad.

“Moreover, using candles in this way was not very common in Norway in the 1990s. Graveyards in the ‘70s and ‘80s didn’t really have many candles placed there; there’s was quite a Protestant way of looking at things. People were also quite hesitant to grieve in public.”

“I also think that the grieving had something to do with the Gulf War, which dominated the news. People were insecure, quite anxious for the future,” Mr Grimstad concludes.




Published on Saturday, 16th January, 2016 at 01:48 under the columns category, by Michael Sandelson and Sarah Bostock   .
Last updated on 22nd January 2016 at 21:14.

This post has the following tags: queenmaud, kingolav, kingharaldv, queensonja, jubilee, celebrations, oslo, paywall.





  
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