Norway’s royal family was well known to me as a young boy. A large picture of King Haakon and Queen Maud, together with the ministers of state and the Domkirken, the national cathedral in Trondheim, dominated our living room wall. Only later did I learn about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The picture now hangs in my home as a reminder to our family of their heritage.
The new king and his family arrived in Oslo from England on Nov. 25, 1905. He reigned for 52 years. Just a week before, the Storting (parliament) had elected Denmark’s Prince Karl to be the first king of an independent Norway in 525 years. The previous 91 years of rule by Swedish kings ended in a political impasse. King Oscar II gave up his claim as Norway’s king in frustration when the people voted overwhelmingly to be independent.
It was not a foregone conclusion that the newly formed Norwegian government would be a monarchy. Many leaders had “republican” sympathies and wanted a president.
Two reasons prevailed to elect a king. First, it was a tradition in Norway to have royalty. Second, most of Norway’s neighbors had kings and this would make for peaceful borders.
Prince Karl took the name of Haakon VII. Haakon VI (reigned from 1350-1380) had been Norway’s last “Norwegian” king. When he died, his Danish born queen, Margaret I controlled the government until her death in 1412.
The new king brought the world’s oldest royal family line to Norway. King Haakon had descended from Denmark’s King Gorm (died about 940). He was also descended from Norway’s King Harald I.
The earlier Norse kings had descended from the Swedish Yngling family. They appear to have been driven out of Sweden and moved to Norway in search of a land to rule.
The new queen, Maud, was the daughter of England’s King Edward VII. He did some political arm-twisting to influence Norway’s decision. Their son, Alexander, was renamed “Olav.” Since he was just two years old, he would be reared as a genuine Norwegian.
This remembrance of Norway’s saint-king was a good sign for their future. The royal motto is “Alt for Norge” (“Everything for Norway).
The new king was dearly loved and many Norwegians-Americans began to name their sons “Haakon,” just as they had previously named them “Oscar,” which was my father’s name. During World War II, King Haakon worked courageously in London for Norway’s freedom.
Crown Prince Olav and his Swedish wife, Crown Princess Martha, were very popular both in Norway and America. She was the great, great-granddaughter of King Karl Johan of the French Bernadotte family who had come to Sweden to be Crown Prince in 1810. Karl Johan’s statue stands in front of the palace in Oslo.
In their 1939 tour of America, Olav and Martha were greeted by large crowds of admirers whose respect and enthusiasm was worthy of envy by any president or governor. On this visit to America, Concordia College in Moorhead, honored the Crown Prince with a doctor’s degree.
When Olaf became king in 1958, there could have been a question whether he should be called Olav V or Olav VI. Prof. Karen Larson of St. Olaf College published A History of Norway in 1948 in which she had already listed five Olafs as kings of Norway. When the announcement was made, however, it was as Olav V.
The Olaf listed by Prof. Larson (who reigned from 1103-1116) has lost his place in history. The reader should know that the letters “f” and “v” are interchangeable in phonetic spelling. Modern Norwegian prefers “v” to “f” on proper names. His royal name was “Olaf” in ancient times, but is “Olav” today.
Olav and Martha had three children: Princess Ragnhild, born in 1930; Princess Astrid, born in 1932; and Crown Prince Harald, born in 1937, the reigning king since 1991.
During World War II, Crown Princess Martha and her children were in America, spending a great deal of time with the Roosevelts at their home in Hyde Park, New York. When she died in 1954, Eleanore Roosevelt wrote to the place in Oslo. “We in this country will not forget Princess Martha. She will always mean to us the finest qualities that a woman can have — courage, patience, kindness and generosity.”
Harold V, who became king in 1991, was an able understudy to his father, Olav V, preparing for the day when he would become the head of state. Like Olav V, he is also an avid sports enthusiast.
Queen Sonja has become very popular in the United States as well as Norway. Midwestern United States was favored with a visit by Princes Astrid (Mrs. Johan Martin Ferner) at the Norsk Høstfest in Minot, N.D., in Oct. 21-23, 1983. Her visit was to honor the children of Norwegian immigrants for the land of their heritage.
I watched as the Princess was presented to the audience. There was hushed silence and emotions ran high. I saw many tears of excitement stream down faces in that crowd of thousands.
Princess Astrid is the mother of five children and lives in Oslo. After her mother died, she often accompanied King Olav V on visits throughout Norway. She came to the Høstfest as his personal representative. She returned again in 2009. Long live the King, his royal family and their motto: “Alt for Norge.”
Next time: “John Hanson, America’s First President”