Most people reading this blog live in democracies, some may take the form of Commonwealths, others Federations and still other Republics. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact up until this current era, in this age of Republics, the majority of the world used to live in monarchies which for a number of factors have dwindled to 25
There are not many monarchies left in this world, 25 (or 26 depending on how you count) royal families and two elected monarchies among 195 countries in the world. How did monarchies gradually dissolve? These two videos do quite a good job of answering the question. Essentially, the age of monarchs gave way to the age of republics because the enlightenment, world war I and colonialism (decolonialism). I’ll let the videos explain,.
What is interesting to note is that the still remaining monarchies in Europe all mostly constitutional monarchies with the monarchs in Liechtenstein and Monaco having slightly more powers than that. And while some countries (like Scotland) have an issue with the monarchy, others like Norway do not. In fact support for the king, the queen, the crown prince and the institution of the monarchy in Norway is at a staggering 93% with only 1% of respondents in a survey disagreeing. It is perhaps an example of monarchy at its finest.
And to think this royal family was not even Norwegian to begin with. The Norwegian royal family, like most European royal families, are not ethnically of the people they reign over. They are fully a representation of their nations that’s for sure the point I’m making is that the roots of their royal households tend not to be in the same place where they rule. The House of Windsor in the United Kingdom is of German origin, the House of Bernadotte in Sweden is of French origin, the Royal Family of the Netherlands an trace their family history to German-French roots, likewise the House of Glücksburg is of Danish origin.
The royal family of Norway was not established through force but elected by the people. After the union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved in 1905, the nation needed a new king and a committee was set up to ponder a new king. Prince Carl of Denmark was the favourite because he could trace ancestry to Norwegian kings of the past, was married with a son (hence the continuation was assured) and was married and allied to a British princess. Before assuming the position, Carl explained that he would only assume the throne if the people had voted in the referendum to remain a kingdom instead of being a republic. The day he accepted the throne, he changed his name from Carl to a old Norse version – Haakon. The royals took to skiing, a very very Norwegian sport and remained above the political fray, inviting Labour politicians who were considered radical (they might have held ambitions of turning the Kingdom into a Republic) because the party had won the elections.
When World War II came to Norway, an ultimatum was given to Norway to appoint a puppet politician Vidkun Quisling as Prime Minister. Knowing that Quisling did not hold the support of the parliament and the people, Haakon went to the cabinet for their decision. Making clear his political defiance of Nazi Germany and in doing so inspiring the Norwegians to resist. As the war turned for the worse and the Germans determined to wiped out a symol of resistance, Haakon was evacuated to Britain. Pressure was put of the Storting to depose Haakon through abdication, which Haakon replied that he would refuse because parliament was being made to act under duress. His continued resistrance from abroad was a rallying point for Norwegians who his H7 monogram as a symbol of their resistance to Nazi rule.
Haakon VII was succeeded by his son Olav V. Like his father, Olav V was also part of the governemnt in exile. While his father ruled as a moral authority, Olav was a military leader a General and Admiral of repute who knew his forces inside out. He was prevented from being part of the resistance in Norway because his position as Crown Prince was deemed too important to risk. Upon taking over as king, Olav was known to be the People’s King and was extremely charismatic, when the world faced a oil crisis in 1973 and the government banned private car driving on weekends, the king boarded public transport without bodyguards to go skiing.
After two outstanding kings, following on was not going to be easy, but the present king Harald V has perhaps performed his role with aplomb. The support for the King of Norway Harald V has less to do with his overall background and more also his leadership in crisis’. The current king was born and lived in exile during World War 2, he was educated in top universities in Oslo and Oxford as well as the Norwegian Military Academy. The avid sportsman represented Norway thrice in the Olympics (64′, 68′ and 72′). His accession to the throne was the beginning of the modernisation of the Norwegian throne. After himself marrying a commoner, his son the crown prince Haakon and his daugther Princess Martha Louise both married commoners.
The royal family was made more accessible by opening the Royal Palace to locals and tourists for example and being involved in the 17th May Norwegian National Day celebrations from the Royal Palace.
The personal popularity of the monarchy was certainly called upon during national events and tragedies such as the 1992 New Year’s Day Storm and the 2011 mass shootings. In the latter case, he made a powerful moving speech to the nation and was heavily involved in comforting the grieving. His presence ensuring solidarity in a time when the political extremes of the nation were threatening to fracture the nation*.
It helps that the Royal Palace is centrally located and easy to get to.
The Royal Palace in Norway lies at the end of the main street in town – the Karl Johans Gate, an elegant structure built in 1849 under the Bernadotte dynasty. This is perhaps the most symbolic way to described the royal family in Norway and why there are few (practically no) Republicans in this Kingdom.
More importantly though, at a nations moment of need these emotionally accessible leaders led and gave their people confidence and moral strength. A strength that no politician can fill due to their partisan nature.
ON THE MAP
*This is a highly important point that has been replayed over and over again. Another outstanding incident in recent memory was that of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who intervened a few times (most recently in 2013) as Thailand was gripped by fractious political battles between the red shirts and yellow shirts that threatened to tear the country asunder.
Presidents have never been able to play such roles unfortunately because they are not seen as symbols of the country as much as mere figureheads.
This in my view is a strength of monarchy, and the few monarchies in the world today will be ill-advised to ignore this important fact when considering the future of royal families in their own countries.