Haakon VII of Norway
Haakon VII of Norway, born as Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel or Prince Carl of Denmark (August 3, 1872 – September 21, 1957), was the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of the personal union with Sweden. As one of the few elected monarchs, Haakon quickly won the respect and affection of his people and played a pivotal role in uniting the Norwegian nation in its resistance of the attack and five-year-long Nazi occupation during World War II.
Haakon is regarded as one of the greatest Norwegians of the twentieth century and is particularly revered for his courage during the German invasion and his leadership and preservation of Norwegian unity during the Nazi occupation. At the time of his death at age 85 in 1957, Haakon had led Norway for 52 years.
Early years as a Danish prince
Known in his youth as Prince Carl of Denmark (namesake of his maternal grandfather the King of Norway etc), he was the second son of the future King Frederick VIII of Denmark, a younger brother of the future King Christian X of Denmark (he personally became a king before his father and his brother), a paternal grandson of King Christian IX of Denmark (during whose reign he was prince of Denmark) and a maternal grandson of King Charles IV of Norway (who was also King of Sweden).
Prince Carl was born in Charlottenlund. He belonged to the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg branch of the House of Oldenburg. The House of Oldenburg had been the Danish royal family since 1448, and between 1536-1814, also ruled Norway when it was part of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway. The house was originally from northern Germany, where also the Glucksburg (Lyksborg) branch held their small fief. The family had permanent links with Norway already beginning from late Middle Ages, and also several of his paternal ancestors had been kings of independent Norway (Haakon V of Norway, Christian I of Norway, Frederick I, Christian III, Frederick II, Christian IV, as well as Frederick III of Norway who united Norway into the Danish kingdom, after which it was not independent at least until 1814). Christian Frederick, who was King of Norway briefly in 1814, the first king of Norwegian 1814 constitution and struggle for independence, was his great-granduncle.
In 1896, Prince Carl married his first cousin Princess Maud of Wales, youngest daughter of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark and Princess Louise of Hesse-Cassel. Their son, Prince Alexander, the future Crown Prince Olav and finally king Olav V of Norway, was born on July 2, 1903.
Accession to the Norwegian throne
After the Union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved in 1905, a committee of the Norwegian government identified several members of European royalty as candidates for Norway's first king of its own in several centuries. Gradually, Prince Carl became the leading candidate. He had a son (and hence an heir to the throne) and Princess Maud's ties to the British royal family were viewed as advantageous to the newly-independent Norwegian nation.
The democratically-minded Carl, aware that Norway was still debating whether to retain its monarchy or to switch to a republic system of government, was flattered by the Norwegian government's overtures, but declined to accept the offer without a referendum to show whether monarchy was truly the choice of the Norwegian people.
After the referendum overwhelmingly confirmed by 79 percent majority that Norwegians desired to retain a monarchy, Prince Carl was formally offered the throne of Norway by the Storting (parliament) on November 18, 1905. When Carl accepted the offer the same evening, after his grandfather Christian IX of Denmark approved, Carl became Haakon VII. In so doing, he succeeded his great-uncle, Oscar II of Norway, who had abdicated the Norwegian throne in October following the agreement between Sweden and Norway on the terms of the separation of the union. Haakon's coronation took place in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on June 22, 1906.
He arranged for his heir, Crown Prince Olav, to marry a first cousin, Haakon's sister's daughter, Märtha of Sweden.
In 1914 Haakon County in South Dakota was named in his honor.
Resistance in World War II
Norway was invaded by the naval and air forces of Nazi Germany during the midnight hours on April 9, 1940. The German naval detachment sent to capture Oslo was challenged at Oskarsborg fortress. The fortress fired on the invaders, causing damage to the battleship Lützow and the sinking of the cruiser Blücher, with a heavy German loss that included many of the armed forces, Gestapo agents, and administrative personnel who were to have occupied the Norwegian capital. These events led to withdrawal of the rest of the German flotilla, precluding the invaders from occupying Oslo at dawn as had been intended in the order of battle. The German occupation forces' delay in arrival in Oslo in turn created the opportunity for the Norwegian royal family, the cabinet, and most of the 200 members of the Storting (parliament) to make a hasty departure from the capital by special train.
The Storting first convened at Hamar the same afternoon, but with the rapid advance of German troops, the group moved on to Elverum. The assembled parliament unanimously enacted a resolution, the so-called Elverumsfullmakten (Elverum Authorization), granting the Cabinet full powers to protect the country until such time as the Storting could meet again.
The next day, German minister Curt Bräuer demanded a meeting with Haakon. The German diplomat called on the Norwegians to cease their resistance and stated Hitler's demand that the king appoint Nazi sympathizer Vidkun Quisling as prime minister of what would be a German puppet government. Bräuer suggested that Haakon follow the example of the Danish government, which had surrendered almost immediately after the previous day's invasion, and threatened Norway with harsh conditions if it didn't surrender.
In an emotional meeting with the Cabinet in Nybergsund, the king reported the German ultimatum to his cabinet and stated that
- I am deeply affected by the responsibility laid on me if the German demand is rejected. The responsibility for the calamities that will befall people and country is indeed so grave that I dread to take it. It rests with the government to decide, but my position is clear.
- For my part I can not accept the German demands. It would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago.
Haakon went on to say that he knew the Norwegian people and Storting had no confidence in Quisling and, in the event the Cabinet felt otherwise, the king said he would abdicate so as not to stand in the way of the government's decision.
The government unanimously agreed with their king and announced its refusal to accept the German terms to the German emissary by telephone. In a radio broadcast that evening, the government and king's refusal to the German ultimatum were announced to the Norwegian people. The government indicated that they would resist the German attack as long as possible, and expressed their confidence that Norwegians would lend their support to the cause.
The following morning, April 11, 1940, bomber aircraft of the Luftwaffe attacked Nybergsund, destroying the small town where the Norwegian government was staying in an attempt to wipe out Norway's unyielding king and government. The king and his ministers took refuge in the snow-covered woods and escaped harm, continuing farther north through the rugged Norwegian mountains toward Åndalsnes on Norway's northwestern coast. As the British forces in the area lost ground under Luftwaffe bombardment, the king and his party were taken aboard the British cruiser HMS Glasgow and conveyed by sea to Tromsø where a provisional capital was established on May 1. Haakon and Crown Prince Olav took up residence in a forest cabin in Målselvdalen valley in the interior of Troms county where they would stay until the evacuation to the United Kingdom. While residing in Troms the two were protected by local rifle association members armed with the ubiquitous Krag-Jørgensen rifle.
The Allies had a fairly secure hold over northern Norway until late May, but as the Allies' position in the Battle of France rapidly deteriorated, the British forces in northern Norway were badly needed elsewhere and were withdrawn. The beleaguered and demoralized Norwegian government were evacuated from Tromsø on June 7 aboard the HMS Devonshire and upon arrival in London, Haakon and his cabinet set up a Norwegian government in exile in the British capital. Taking up residence at Rotherhithe in London, Haakon was an important national symbol in the Norwegian resistance.
Meanwhile, Hitler had appointed Josef Terboven as Reich commissar for Norway. On Hitler's orders, Terboven attempted to coerce the Storting to depose the king; parliament declined, citing constitutional principles. A subsequent ultimatum was made by the Germans under threat of interning all Norwegians of military age in German concentration camps. With this threat looming, the Norwegian parliament's representatives in Oslo wrote their monarch on June 27, asking him to abdicate. The king, politely replying that the Storting had acted under duress, declined the request. After one further German attempt in September to force the Storting to depose Haakon failed, Terboven finally decreed that the royal family had "forfeited their right to return" and dissolved the democratic political parties.
During Norway's five years under German control, many Norwegians surreptitiously wore clothing or jewelry made from coins bearing Haakon's "H7" monogram as symbols of resistance to the German occupation and of solidarity with their exiled king and government.
King Haakon VII fell in his bathroom at the estate at Bygdøy in July 1955. This fall, which occurred just a month before his eighty-third birthday, broke the king's thighbone and, though there were few other complications resulting from the fall, the king was left confined to a wheelchair. The once-active king was said to be depressed by his resulting helplessness and began to lose his customary involvement and interest in current events. With Haakon's loss of mobility and, as the king's health deteriorated further in the summer of 1957, Crown Prince Olav was appearing on behalf of his father in ceremonial occasions and taking a more active role in state affairs. At Haakon's death in 1957 the crown prince succeeded as Olav V.
Today, King Haakon is by many regarded as one of the greatest Norwegian leaders of the pre-war period, managing to hold his young and fragile country together in unstable political conditions. In 1927 he said "I am also the Communists' King." His loyalty to the democracy proved to be crucial for Norway's political situation during and after World War II.
- ^ The account and quotation were recorded by one of the cabinet members and were recounted in William L. Shirer's The Challenge of Scandinavia.
- Shirer, William L. (1956). The Challenge of Scandinavia. London: Robert Hale.
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