Constitutional Monarchs: The Royal Families of Scandinavia

The Scandinavian countries are all constitutional monarchies with a king or queen whose role as head of state is mostly symbolic. In addition to serving in ceremonial capacities at home, the monarch – along with other members of the royal family – represents the country internationally, while actual political decisionmaking is in the hands of an elected legislature (which in all three Scandinavian countries is unicameral) and a government headed by a prime minister.

Alongside their roles as representatives of their respective countries, members of the Scandinavian royal families have also taken an active interest in various social and global issues, establishing charities and serving as spokespeople for different causes. Although discussions about abolishing the monarchies continue to arise, for now the Scandinavian royals all appear to be sitting quite securely on their thrones.

Norway

Norway’s current monarch is King Harald V (born 1937), who came to the throne in 1991 upon the death of his father, King Olav V. King Harald and Queen Sonja (née Haraldsen) have two children, Princess Märtha Louise (born 1971) and Crown Prince Haakon Magnus (born 1973). Although Crown Prince Haakon is the younger child of King Harald, he takes precedence over his sister because of the order of succession in place at the time of his birth. This law was amended in 1990 to allow the eldest child to inherit the throne regardless of sex, but the change was not made retroactive.

In 2001, Crown Prince Haakon caused a stir by marrying Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby, a single mother with a controversial past. However, their marriage has been a great success, and as Crown Princess Mette-Marit has managed to win the hearts of much of the Norwegian population. The couple have two children, Princess Ingrid Alexandra (born 2004), who is second in line to the throne after her father, and Prince Sverre Magnus (born 2005). Crown Princess Mette-Marit’s son from a previous relationship, Marius Borg Høiby, is part of the royal family but does not have a title.

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King Harald V, Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon, and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Photo: Sølve Sundsbø / The Royal Court, Norway.

The Norwegian monarchy has roots as far back as the year 890, when Harald Hårfagre established the Kingdom of Norway. During much of its history Norway was in a union first with Denmark (1380-1814) and then with Sweden (1814-1905). When the union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905, Norwegians chose as their own king Prince Carl of Denmark, a member of the Glücksburg family. The grandfather of the current king, he took the name Haakon VII and reigned for nearly 52 years, becoming particularly admired for his strong stance against the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II.

Sweden

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. Photo copyright: Bruno Ehrs / The Royal Court, Sweden
King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. Photo copyright: Bruno Ehrs / The Royal Court, Sweden.

The present monarch of Sweden is Carl XVI Gustaf, who came to the throne in 1973 at the age of 27. He succeeded his grandfather, King Gustaf VI Adolf, since his own father, Prince Gustaf Adolf, had died in a plane crash in 1947, when Carl Gustaf was less than a year old. In 1976 King Carl Gustaf married the German-Brazilian Silvia Sommerlath, whom he met at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Although there was some initial resistance to the idea of a commoner queen, the Swedish press and public quickly warmed to Silvia, even going so far as to credit her with reviving the popularity of the monarchy.

King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia have three children, Crown Princess Victoria (born 1977), Prince Carl Philip (born 1979), and Princess Madeleine (born 1981). At the time of his birth, Prince Carl Philip was first in line to the throne, but he retained his place as Crown Prince for only seven months. In 1980, a law was passed establishing absolute primogeniture and making this change retroactive, giving Victoria, as the eldest child, the position of Crown Princess.

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Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel with their daughter, Princess Estelle. Photo copyright: Kate Gabor / The Royal Court, Sweden.

Over the years, Crown Princess Victoria has triumphed over difficulties such as dyslexia (a challenge her father and siblings have also faced) and anorexia, emerging as a confident heir-apparent and – according to recent polls – the most popular member of the royal family. In 2010, she married her longtime boyfriend, gym owner Daniel Westling, who has assumed his new role as Prince Daniel with grace. Their first child, Princess Estelle, was born in 2012 and is second in line to the throne after Victoria.

Although the Swedish monarchy has a long history, dating back many centuries, the current royal family of Sweden descends from Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, a Marshal of France in Napoleon’s army, who was elected Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810. The Swedish king at the time, Karl XIII, was childless, and with Napoleon controlling much of Europe, the Swedes decided to adopt an heir acceptable to the emperor. After acting as regent for eight years, Bernadotte inherited the throne in 1818 and took the name Karl XIV Johan. He reigned until 1844 and was succeeded by his son, Oscar I.

Because Sweden and Norway were in a union at the time of Karl XIV Johan’s accession, he also became King of Norway, where he was known as Karl III Johan. The House of Bernadotte reigned in both countries until the dissolution of the union in 1905, when the Norwegians chose Haakon VII to be their king. Although a member of the Glücksburg dynasty, Haakon VII was also a Bernadotte through his mother, Queen Lovisa (Louise), a great-granddaughter of Karl XIV Johan. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and King Harald V of Norway are also second cousins once removed through King Harald’s mother, Crown Princess Märtha, born a princess of Sweden.

Denmark

Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II is the country’s first female monarch since her namesake, Margrethe I, who united the three Scandinavian countries in the Kalmar Union, died in 1412. Born in 1940, Margrethe is the eldest daughter of King Frederik IX and his wife, Queen Ingrid of Sweden. Through her mother, Margrethe is a first cousin of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf; she is also a second cousin of Norway’s King Harald V, whose grandfather was a prince of Denmark.

At the time of Margrethe’s birth, only males were allowed to inherit the throne of Denmark; however, after it became apparent that King Frederik was unlikely to have any sons, a constitutional amendment was passed allowing women to inherit. Margrethe thus became Crown Princess in 1953, a few weeks before her 13th birthday. She ascended the throne in January 1972.

Crown Princess Mary, Crown Prince Frederik, Queen Margrethe II, Prince Henrik, and Prince Joachim with the next generation, on the Queen's 70th birthday in 2010. Photo by Bill Ebbesen, used under a Wikimedia Creative Commons license.
Crown Princess Mary, Crown Prince Frederik, Queen Margrethe II, Prince Henrik, and Prince Joachim with the next generation, on the Queen’s 70th birthday in 2010. Photo by Bill Ebbesen, used under a Wikimedia Creative Commons license.

Queen Margrethe and her French husband, Prince Henrik (born Henri de Laborde de Montepezat) have two sons, Crown Prince Frederik (born 1968) and Prince Joachim (born 1969). In 2004, Crown Prince Frederik married an Australian, Mary Elizabeth Donaldson (now Crown Princess Mary); the couple have four children, Prince Christian (born 2005), Princess Isabella (born 2007), and twins Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine (born 2011).

The Danish monarchy is among the oldest in the world, having been in continuous existence for over 1,100 years. The current royal house, the House of Glücksburg, has reigned since 1863, when Christian IX came to the throne. He reigned for 43 years and was known as the “Father-in-Law of Europe” due to his children’s marriages to foreign princes and princesses. The Danish royal family is thus closely related not only to the other Scandinavian monarchies but also to many other European royal houses.

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