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Haakon VII

King of Norway, 1905-1957

King Haakon VII

Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel (or Prince Carl as he was popularly known), was born in Charlottenlund, Denmark, on August 3, 1872. He was the second son of Crown Prince Frederik (later King Frederik VIII) of Denmark and Princess Lovisa of Sweden, and the younger brother of the future King Christian X of Denmark. He was raised in the royal household, educated at the Danish Naval Academy (from which he graduated near the bottom of his class), and served briefly as an officer in the Danish Navy.

On July 22, 1896, Prince Carl married his first cousin, Princess Maud, youngest daughter of King Edward VII of England, at Buckingham Palace. Their only child, Prince Alexander, was born on July 2, 1903.

King of Norway

In 1905, the union of Norway and Sweden was dissolved and a committee from the Norwegian government set about finding the best person to become Norway's first king in centuries. That committee eventually chose Prince Carl because he was descended from a long line of independent Norwegian kings, had a son as an heir, and his wife's ties to the British royal family were seen as advantageous to Norway. The Prince, however, declined to accept the crown unless a referendum proved that he was the true choice of the Norwegian people. Such a referendum was held, and the choice of Prince Carl was approved by a 79% majority (259,563 votes to 69,264).

Prince Carl was formally elected by the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) on November 18, 1905, and was crowned in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on June 22, 1906. He took the name Haakon VII because Haakon had been the name of six Norwegian kings during the Middle Ages.

the coronation of King Haakon
the coronation of King Haakon

During the first years of Haakon's reign, Norway experienced an economic boom, thanks to development of the nation's hydroelectric potential. Although Norway remained neutral during World War I, its merchant fleet carried much cargo for the Allies, adding to the country's economic development. That economic boom came at a cost, however, as about half of Norway's merchant ships were sunk by German submarines and mines. After the war, with most of Europe devastated and Norway's merchant fleet seriously depleted, the country's economic boom came to an end. Like most of the world, Norway suffered during the Great Depression of the 1930's, with almost half the population out of work at one time.

In the early years of World War II, Norway found itself threatened by Nazi Germany, which invaded in the early morning hours of April 9, 1940. Once a beachhead had been established, a naval detachment was sent to capture Oslo. But, as the detachment sailed along the coast, it was fired upon by Oscarsborg Fortress. The fortress managed to damage a battleship and sink a heavy cruiser, as well as inflict heavy losses on German troops, Gestapo agents, and administrative personnel charged with taking over the government. The rest of the German fleet was forced to withdraw, temporarily delaying the planned occupation of the capital. That delay allowed the royal family, the Cabinet, and most members of the Storting to escape Oslo by way of a special train.

The Storting was able to reconvene at Hamar that same afternoon, but was again forced to flee in advance of the rapidly approaching Germans. Reconvening at Elverum, the Storting unanimously adopted the Elverumsfullmakten (Elverum Authorization), which granted the Cabinet full authority to protect the country until such time as the Storting could meet freely again.

On April 9, the Germans demanded a meeting with Haakon, at which they called on the Norwegian people to cease their resistance and demanded the appointment of a Nazi sympathizer to lead the government. The German "diplomat" meeting with Haakon reminded the king that his brother, Christian X of Denmark, had been smart enough to surrender to Germany, and threatened that Norway would be treated harshly if Germany was forced to take the country. Haakon responded by saying that he did not have the authority to make such decisions but would let Germany know what Norway's decision was once the Cabinet had had a chance to meet. Although Haakon personally rejected Germany's demands, he informed his Cabinet that he would be willing to abdicate the throne should it decide that surrender was Norway's best option. The Cabinet refused Germany's terms, and unanimously rallied behind King Haakon VII.

Germany was outraged at Norway's refusal to surrender, and even more outraged that King Haakon had chosen to telephone the news rather than convey it in person. On April 11, 1940, the German Luftwafte bombed the small town of Nybergsund, where the Cabinet had been meeting. King Haakon and his ministers were able to take refuge in a snow-covered forest and escape harm, but the town was destroyed.

Although Norway and the Allied powers did their best to stave off the Germans, the Norwegian government was finally forced to board the British ship HMS Devonshire and take refuge in London, on June 7. There, King Haakon and his Cabinet established a government-in-exile, which formed air force, navy, and some army units to fight against Germany. Although their country was now in the hands of the Nazis, the Norwegian people refused to completely surrender. Throughout the war many citizens wore clothing or jewelry made from coins bearing Haakon's "H7" monogram as a symbol of their resistance to occupation and solidarity with their exiled king. When King Haakon, his family, and his government returned to Oslo aboard HMS Norfolk on June 7, 1945, he was greeted with great enthusiasm and pride by his subjects.

the royal family triumphantly returns to Oslo
the royal family triumphantly returns to Oslo on June 7, 1945

In 1945, Norway became a charter member of the United Nations. The following year, Trygve Lie of Norway became the first Secretary-General of that body. In 1949, Norway signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization charter, but refused to allow NATO bases or nuclear weapons in its territory for fear of angering Russia.

In July 1955, King Haakon VII fell in the bathroom of his estate, breaking a thighbone. Although there were few other complications from the fall, the accident left him confined to a wheelchair. As his health began to decline, his son began appearing in public on his behalf. The king died at the Royal Palace on September 21, 1957; he was succeeded by his son, who took the throne as King Olav V.

SEE ALSO
Denmark
Sweden
King Christian X
King Edward VII
World War I
World War II
Oslo
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
King Olav V

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Northern Europe >> Norway >> 20th Century

This page was last updated on November 17, 2017.