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Olav V

King of Norway, 1957-1991

King Olav V

Early Life

Alexander Edward Christian Frederik was born at Appleton House in Sandringham, Norfolk, England, on July 2, 1903, the only child of Prince Carl of Denmark and Princess Maud of Wales. He was given the name Olav when his father became King Haakon VII in 1905.

The first heir to the Norwegian throne to grow up in Norway since the Middle Ages, the Crown Prince received private tutoring at the Palace, and later attended local schools. He completed his upper secondary education at Halling school in Oslo, with a focus on mathematics and physics, and received his school-leaving certificate in 1921. The Crown Prince graduated from the Norwegian Military Academy three years later, and then attended Balliol College, Oxford University, studying political science, history and economics.

An accomplished athlete, Prince Olav was a keen cross-country skier, and as a young man even participated in the ski-jumping contest at Holmenkollen. He was also an avid sailor, and reached the high point of his sailing career at the 1928 Olympic Summer Games in Amsterdam, where he won a gold medal in the 5.5-meter-class sailboats.

In 1929, Prince Olav married his cousin, Princess Märtha of Sweden, the daughter of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, and the granddaughter of King Oscar II, who had renounced his claim to the Norwegian throne after the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. Three children were born to the union -- Princess Ragnhild (1930), Princess Astrid (1932), and Prince Harald, the future King Harald V (1937). The family resided at the country estate of Skaugum, near Oslo, which was given to the Crown Prince and Crown Princess as a wedding gift. Crown Princess Märtha died on April 5, 1954, and Olav never remarried.

World War II

When German troops invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, the King and Crown Prince accompanied the Norwegian troops as they withdrew northwards, and remained with them for the two months they held out against nightly air raids and advancing German troops. As the leaders prepared to retreat to England, Olav offered to stay behind to help lead a resistance, but he was overruled by the others, who opposed the offer as too hazardous.

In the wartime Government-in-Exile in England, Olav served as the top envoy to the United States, helped build a fighting force of free Norwegians, often attended his exiled Government's Cabinet meetings, and made radio broadcasts to his countrymen. On June 30, 1944 the Government-in-Exile appointed Crown Prince Olav Chief of the Defence, in which capacity he took leadership of the Norwegian armed forces and cooperated with the Allied Powers during the final offensives against Germany. On May 13, 1945 Crown Prince Olav and five government ministers returned to a liberated Norway. Cheering crowds lined the route of the procession as it wound its way from the harbour. The Crown Prince acted as Regent until King Haakon’s return on June 7.


After the war Crown Prince Olav assumed an increasing number of official tasks. He acted as Regent after King Haakon fell ill in 1905, and ascended to the throne upon King Haakon's death on September 21, 1957.

On June 22, 1958, King Olav V and Crown Prince Harald leave Nidaros Cathedral at Trondheim after a benediction ceremony, equivalent to a coronation.
King Olav V after his benediction

Extremely popular throughout his reign, King Olav V was often referred to as a "People's King." He liked to drive his own cars and often drove in the public lanes, though as a monarch he was allowed to drive in private transport lanes. During the 1973 energy crisis, when the general public was banned from driving on certain weekends, he would take public transport to his favorite ski resort, without bodyguards.

Although at times his personal views could be detected in the many questions he posed in the Council of State, King Olav unfailingly respected democratically reached decisions, and he never showed a preference for any political party. While he was careful to remain outside the political arena, he increasingly focused on social values in his speeches, and his open criticism of discrimination against immigrants in his annual New Year’s Eve speech in 1982 was the topic of widespread public debate.

King Olav V passed away at the Royal Lodge in Oslo on January 17, 1991. He and his wife are buried in the Royal Mausoleum at Akershus Castle in Oslo.


The Royal House of Norway

See Also

King Haakon VII
World War II

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The Robinson Library >> Norway >> 20th Century

This page was last updated on September 12, 2018.