Monday, October 24, 2005

Royal Profile: King Olav V of Norway

You may be wondering why I'm writing a profile on a Norwegian monarch. In fact, there are strong ties between the British and Norwegian royal families; British by birth, King Olav V and the Queen were cousins. In anticipation of the King and Queen of Norway's visit to the United Kingdom I thought it appropriate to focus on him.

Prince Alexander Edward Christian Frederik was born at Appleton House on the Sandringham Estate on July 2, 1903. He was the only child of Prince Carl of Denmark (later King Haakon VII of Norway) and Princess Maud (later Queen Maud of Norway), the third daughter of King Edward VII.

In 1905 when his father was elected King of Norway, the two year old Alexander was given the more Norwegian sounding name Olav. As an only child, he was brought up in a loving environment and he was especially close to his mother, who nicknamed him "my little Hamlet". At first he was privately educated, but later went to a secondary school in Oslo: the first prince to attend an ordinary state school. He attended the Norwegian Military Academy and in 1924 enrolled in Oxford University, where he read law and economics. Like his mother, he excelled in sports; becoming a champion ski-jumper and winning a gold medal at the 1928 Summer Olympics where he represented his country in yachting.

On March 21, 1929 he married his cousin, Princess Martha of Sweden and they had three children: Princess Ragnhild, born in 1930, Princess Astrid, born in 1932 and Prince Harald (the present King Harald V) in 1937. When his wife died in 1954, he never remarried.

After the German occupation of Norway in 1940, the King and Prince Olav found refuge in Britain. For the duration of the war the Crown Princess and her children were exiled to Washington D.C. Prince Olav was highly respected for his knowledge and leadership skills and in 1944 he was appointed Norwegian Chief of Defence. In this position he led the Norwegian disarmament of German occupying forces. Olav returned to Norway in 1945.

In 1955, he was appointed Regent when his father became incapacitated and on September 21,1957 he succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father. By a 1908 amendment in the Norwegian constitution, it was no longer a requirement for the sovereign to be crowned. Instead, King Olav was blessed in Nidaros Cathedral on June 22, 1958. He was extremely popular amongst his subjects; driving his own cars, and paying for his tickets when he used public transportation. He was nicknamed "Folkekonge" (The people's king).

King Olav, who had been Europe's oldest reigning monarch, died on January 17, 1991 at Kongsseteren, the Royal Lodge. He is buried in the Chapel of Akershus Castle in Oslo.

© Marilyn Braun

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