The idea of a crown prince and a king
Constitutional monarchy in Europe has a long history; the one in Norway is comparatively young. While the Norwegian royal family is very different from other European royal families, it is at the same time strongly linked to those of Great Britain, Sweden and Denmark, both historically and genetically.
By Camilla Jensen
The Norwegian royal house is strongly linked to the royal houses of Great Britain, Sweden and Denmark, both historically and genetically. How did this connection come about? Until 1905 the kingdoms of Norwegian and Sweden were united in a personal union. Both countries were joined by a common head of state: the Swedish king Oscar II. When he refused demands of the Norwegian parliament for more autonomy, the Norwegian government resigned. Shortly thereafter, the citizens of Norway voted for independence from Sweden and for a monarchical form of government. In the absence of a nobility and a monarchy, the first king of the country had to be imported.
The crown was given to Carl XV. Prince Carl was the son of King Frederick VIII of Denmark and the Swedish princess Lovisa. He was married to his British cousin Maud. Carl XV took the old Norwegian name of “Haakon” to symbolize his belonging and loyalty to his new homeland. The new ruler was looked upon as in touch with the people and popular. This contributed to the support that his family and the monarchical form of government in general found in the population.
Norway thus joined the ranks of Europe’s constitutional monarchies, a system of government that was founded in the eighteenth century with the emergence of the parliament in England. A precursor of this system had already been established in the sixteenth century in the Polish-Lithuanian union. In France, it was the French Revolution that led to the end of absolute rule. Norway’s first constitution, adopted in 1814, was strongly influenced by the new French constitution which had resulted from the revolution and which was based on the principles of constitutional monarchy: the nobility was abolished and the king’s legislative power was limited to the right of veto. This exercised a great influence on the further development of democracy in Europe. Norway’s first basic constitutional law, adopted in 1814 at Eidsvoll, was also strongly inspired by the upheavals in France at the end of the eighteenth century.
The Hall of the State Council in the Oslo Royal Palace is a central symbol of the constitutional monarchy in Norway. Here the king meets every week with the ministerial officers of the country. The head of state has no real power, but has a representative function. He fulfils his role as a model for the citizens of Norway solely through his daily work.
The castle contains the private apartments of the royal family. The building belongs to the state, which makes it available to the ruler. Unlike other European countries, Norway has never had a nobility, and therefore no persons or families with privileged access to the royal family.
The palace is located at the end of a boulevard and is surrounded by an extensive park. Only a few barriers separate the ruler’s residence from the life of the citizens. This openness symbolizes the closeness of the royal family to the people. For the population of Oslo, access to the palace is as natural as clean drinking water or the right to vote.
The royal family wants the citizens of Oslo to use the palace park. In a speech given by the king to the people during a garden party, he emphasized the importance of a diverse and socially integrated society. He expressly acknowledged that Norwegians come from all over the world and believe in Christ and Allah, in everything and nothing. His greatest hope, he averred, was that we should always be there for each other.
In the park, much is being done to further the multiplication of fauna, including the keeping of honey bees. Today, apart from the cultivated flower beds, more than 180 species of plants flourish in the park, and on a small island in a pond are enthroned the beehives of the queen bee. Ducks have their huts on the same island.
In the gigantic mushroom there, created out of wicker by the British artist Tom Hare, are “hotel rooms” for moths and other insects. The over-sized chanterelle was a gift of the city of Oslo and ensures that insects have a place where they can lay their eggs.
Crown Princess Mette Marit wanted to share her passion for literature with other people while emphasizing the social importance of libraries. It thus came about that visitors to the palace can now borrow books, primarily poetry, from a summer house for reading in the park.
When King Haakon VII died, after more than fifty years on the throne, the people paid their final respects to him in the Palace Chapel. Since then, the door to the chapel remains open after services at the palace, fulfilling a wish of the king. Every Sunday the university community of the Oslo Metropolitan University invites visitors to Mass, communion and coffee in the chapel.
It is as impossible to imagine the palace without visitors as to imagine a kingdom without its people. This park in the heart of Oslo is Norway in miniature. Monarchy may be an outmoded institution, but if the royal family continues to open its doors, this cultural heritage will survive for coming generations. The park lives on. It belongs to us!
Model for the peopleEven in fairy tales, however, kings never enjoyed absolute power. They were often subject to all sorts of magical and natural forces or gods. In today’s monarchy, politics frequently proves to be a similarly factor. In a constitutional monarchy, the ruler has no real power. He lives up to the idea of a king solely through his actions, and is thus a model for his people, with a representative function. And as in folk tales, it is above all creative and quick-witted heroes who succeed in spreading harmony and relaxing established conventions.
From this perspective, the development of the Norwegian royal family may be a reason that the country still cleaves to monarchy as its form of government. The stories about Norway’s current royal family could easily be told in the form of the traditional folk tale, in which what a royal family can be turns on the break with convention and orthodox decisions. The daughter of King Harald V, Märtha Louise, relinquished the title of Crown Princess so as to pursue her spiritual calling and marry the notorious dandy Ari Behn. Her brother, Haakon Magnus, stirred up controversy when he married Mette Marit, a commoner and single mother with a colourful past and alcoholic father.
Break with aristocratic normsPrecisely its way of meeting these challenges expresses the strength of the royal family and creates the conditions for its place in a modern state. For many Norwegians, whether royalist or republican, the members of the royal family are highly respected role models who are looked upon as committed fellow human beings. The king and queen are patrons of various organizations in the arts, culture, nature conservation and science. The crown prince and crown princess also administer trusts whose goal is to support humanitarian and social policies that oppose discrimination.
Despite the Norwegian royal family’s close ties to other European royal houses, it looks as if the former differs from the latter in breaking with certain aristocratic norms and taking instead positions in touch with the people.