Two weeks ago Swedes lined the streets of Stockholm to wish their heir to the throne, Crown Princess Victoria, a happy fortieth birthday. As Alexander Brett explains, Scandinavia’s monarchies are currently enjoying mass support.
While republicans are quick to point out the apparent juxtaposition of such egalitarian nations retaining still fairly lavish monarchies (Finland and Iceland are both republics), Scandinavia’s royals currently enjoy mass approval as national icons: polls from Norway, Sweden and Denmark all place support for their royal families above 70 per cent. While they don’t come close to the 80 per cent support for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the Nordic royals certainly appear to have no cause for concern.
But, unlike Britain’s monarchy, international knowledge of the other European royals (in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Monaco, Luxembourg, Andorra and Liechtenstein as well as Scandinavia) is sparse. As Amy Odell, fashion editor at New York Magazine says: “In America we heard about this wedding in Sweden once. That was kind of nice. For one day. Then we forgot the next morning.”
So, for those of you who can’t tell your Haralds from your Henriks or your Margarethes from your Mette Marits, here’s a crash course in Scandinavian royalty; scandals and all.
From left to right: Chris O’Neill and Princess Madeleine with their daughter Leonore; Crown Prince Daniel and Crown Princess Victoria with their daughter Estelle; Prince Carl Philip and his wife Sofia; King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Sylvia
While Victoria’s popularity has been unwavering in recent years, increasing significantly in 2010 when she married her down-to-earth personal trainer, Daniel Westling, a poll this January found that almost 40 per cent of Swedes want to see her father, current king Carl XVI Gustaf, abdicate.
Revelations about Carl’s much-speculated private life were confirmed in a book published in 2010, just as his daughter married her gym coach, entitled Carl XVI Gustaf: Den motvillige monarken (Carl XVI Gustaf: The Reluctant Monarch). The book catalogued his past predilection for wild, alcohol-fuelled orgies and naked, Dominique Strauss-Kahn- style jacuzzi parties with models, on top of a long term affair with Swedish-Nigerian pop star, Camilla Henemark.
After consulting his German wife, Sylvia (whom he met during the Münich Olympics in 1972, and who continues to face questions about her father’s Nazi past, including allegations that her family made millions from a diamond factory seized from its Jewish owners), the couple decided to turn a new page.
Which worked, until their son, Prince Carl Philip, ruined it all by sparking controversy in 2015 when he married model Sofia Hellqvist.
Sofia had previously been pictured in Slitz magazine wearing a bikini with a boa constrictor round her neck, and even the famously sexually-liberal Swedes admitted this was perhaps not all that fitting for a member of the royal house. But, after a quick telling-off, they seem to have moved on, and the monarchy’s popularity, perhaps spurred by the promise of Victoria to come, currently stands at just under 70 per cent.
As Michael Booth, in his book The Almost Nearly Perfect People points out, Sweden’s monarchy is descended not from noble Viking blood, but from “some random French bloke.” When Sweden lost Finland to Russia in 1809, the then king, Gustaf IV Adolf, mad as a hamburger, fled to exile. To fill the void, and as a sop to Napoleon, whose help Sweden had hoped for in reclaiming Finland, the Swedes shipped in a French marshal by the name of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the husband of Napoleon’s beloved “Desirée” (the fact that he had actually fought against Sweden in wars in Germany seemed to be quickly forgotten and his name was changed to Charles XIV John).
The king attempted to speak Swedish to his subjects just once, but was met with such deafening laughter that he never tried again. He was also claimed to have said of his adopted country: “The wine is terrible, the people without temperament, and even the sun is without warmth.”
While the current king can at least speak Swedish, and hasn’t yet complained about the wine, his popularity shows no signs of rising. But, as Victoria’s popularity rockets in contrast, those hoping for a Dutch-style handover of power may be disappointed; the incumbent announced in an interview with Aftonbladet last month that he has no plans to step aside for his daughter and would “let God decide when he is to die.” Aged seventy one and in good health, that might be a while yet.
From left to right: Crown Princess Mette Marit; Crown Prince Haakon; Marius Borg Høiby (Mette Marit’s son from her previous marriage); King Harald V; Princess Märtha Louise and (bottom row) Prince Sverre Magnus with his sister Princess Ingrid Alexandra; Queen Sonja and Märtha Louise’s children Emma Talullah, Leah Isadora and Maud Angelica Behn
Watch out Will and Kate, the popularity of Norway’s royal family may come close to trumping even Britain’s. One poll that asked Norwegians whether they thought their king had done a “good job” came back with an astonishing one per cent disagreeing.
But, while Norway’s king was never a party-animal like his Swedish neighbour, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride for his family.
The late 90s saw a significant dip in support for the royal family after a scandal made international headlines: the current crown princess, Mette Marit, who married Crown Prince Haakon in 2001, was widely criticised for entering the royal house as a divorcee and (shock horror)… single mother of one.
But, like the Brits and the Swedes, the Norwegians forgive and forget, and support for Harald and his family seems to have bounced back with ease: the most recent poll conducted in 2014 found that around 82 per cent of Norwegians are in favour of keeping their monarchy, with fondness for King Harald’s heir (as well as his cheeky eleven-year-old grandson) only increasing support.
With all the flag waving on 7th May it may seem that Norwegians have a bit of a bad memory, as, like Sweden’s royal family (and, truth be told Britain’s, having descended mostly from Germany), Norway’s monarchy is in fact not Norwegian, but Danish.
Having shared Denmark’s king during the Kalmar Union from 1397 to 1814, and Sweden’s to independence in 1905, Norwegians had lost track of its Viking royal lines and, with no support for a republic, were forced to search for a new monarch elsewhere.
Prince Carl of Denmark, married to the British Queen Maud of Wales, was shipped over and promptly crowned as the more Norwegian sounding “Haakon VII” in Trondheim, the ancient seat of the monarchy and where the current king had his coronation in 1991 (making him only Norway’s third monarch).
Like Denmark’s, the Norwegian monarchy, unlike their traitor prime minister Vidkun Quisling, became national icons during World War Two, and Harald’s support perhaps stems from this.
From left to right: Crown Prince Fredrik; Crown Princess Mary; Queen Margarethe II; Prince Joachim and his wife Princess Marie with Princes Nikolai, Christian, Vincent and Hendrik and Princesses Isabella, Josephine and Athena; and (by Mary and Fredrik) Prince Felix
Fluent in four languages and a translator in her spare time, Denmark’s Queen Margarethe (the world’s only queen other than Britain’s) currently holds a 77 per cent approval rating. But, like their neighbours, the Danish heirs to the throne, Crown Prince Fredrik and his glamorous Australian wife, Mary, steal much of this popularity.
Unlike the other their neighbours, however, Denmark’s royals can claim to be actually Danish (although the arrival of Mary from Tasmania, as well as the queen’s husband, Henrik, and their younger son’s wife, Marie, from France may have diluted this).
An absolute monarchy until as late as 1849, the Danish royals continue many old traditions that may appear out of place in such a liberal nation (politicians regularly moan about having to back out facing the queen after an official audience for example), but Margarethe’s common touch (as a chain smoker and keen shopper) has done much to dispel them.
And Danish liberalism, together with a well-known understanding in Margarethe’s marriage, has meant that her husband, former French diplomat Henri de Monpezat (renamed “Henrik” to fit in) has avoided outrage for his well-documented homosexual affairs in France, where the couple run a wine chateau, Cayx, in Provence.
Michael Booth explains that the Danish royals are often confused with the so-called “bicycling monarchs” of the Netherlands, but “you won’t find Margarethe down the bottle bank, or dishing out soup at a food bank.” Reportedly the Danish crown prince and princess, like Britain’s royals enthusiastic riders, dedicate only around six hours of their time to official duties, and Mary is said to delight in £20,000 complimentary handbags.
This speculation however seems to do little in denting the monarchy’s mass support, and although most Danes are keen modernise their royal house- seeing less of the backing out backwards and more of the chain smoking- the square around Amalienborg is regularly packed for official events and around 80 per cent of Danes are said to have seen their queen, compared to under 50 per cent of Brits.