Absentee princess finally ‘home’ again

Norway’s Princess Ragnhild has been described by some Norwegian commentators in the weeks since her death on September 16 as “the princess we didn’t know,” because she moved to Brazil right after her marriage and lived there for the rest of her life. She chose Norway in death though, and was being laid to rest on Friday in a relatively modest funeral back “home” in Oslo.

Princess Ragnhild’s funeral procession leaving the Royal Palace in Oslo on Friday afternoon, bound for Asker Church west of Oslo. Police were prepared to close parts of the busy E18 highway as the procession passed through the community of Bærum. Flags mounted around the palace grounds were lowered to half-mast. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Her body arrived in Norway last weekend and was formally received by her younger brother, King Harald V, and her younger sister, Princess Astrid. Her funeral was held at noon in the chapel at Norway’s Royal Palace, where she was baptized 82 years ago and confirmed in 1947. The funeral was to be followed by a reception for family and close friends at the palace, with burial to take place at Asker Church, just west of Oslo.

Historian and author Trond Norén Isaksen noted in a commentary in newspaper Aftenposten on Friday that Princess Ragnhild likely would have become Norway’s queen if her younger brother Harald hadn’t been born. She was, on June 9, 1930, the first princess to be born on Norwegian soil for 629 years and the oldest child in the first new generation of the country’s restored monarchy. Her father, the late King Olav V, had been born in England where his own mother, Princess Maud of the British royal family, seemed most comfortable, and he’d spent his earliest years in Denmark as son of Maud and the Danish Prince Carl, who became Norway’s first modern monarch, King Haakon VII. Ragnhild’s mother was a Swedish princess who, in marrying Olav, became Norway’s crown princess but didn’t live long enough to become queen.

Norway’s Princess Ragnhild, 1930-2012. PHOTO: Sven Gjeruldsen/Det kongelige hoff

Ragnhild, a name with ties back to King Harald Hårfagre’s queen and mother, was born when women couldn’t inherit the throne but many believe Norway’s constitution probably would have been changed to allow her succession if her parents didn’t produce a son. They did, and Ragnhild ended up living only 18 of her 82 years in Norway: When she was 10, her family fled Norway when the country was invaded by Nazi Germany. She spent the war years in the US, returning home as a teenager.

Unconventional marriage
Then followed eight more years back home in Norway, when the strong-willed Ragnhild and her sister Astrid demanded and won the right to attend public school like they had in the US, foregoing the private tutoring still common among royals. And she ultimately fell in love with Erling Lorentzen, the son of a shipowner and a resistance hero from the war.

As Isaksen noted, it may have seemed like a fairy-tale romance, with the princess returning from exile to marry a war hero, but both King Haakon and Ragnhild’s own mother resisted the match with a commoner. Isaksen corrected many media reports that her marriage was the first between a princess and a commoner, but acknowledged that it was far from usual. Her father, with whom she had a close relationship, finally allowed it and the couple thus broke new ground within Scandinavian royalty, but the solution to how the royal family would deal with a non-royal son-in-law involved a move overseas, according to Isaksen.

Annemor Møst, a longtime journalist and author who covered the royal family for Norwegian newspaper VG for 40 years, wrote in a column after Ragnhild’s death that Ragnhild herself admitted years later that she was “banished” from the country because it would have been impractical to have a princess married to a commoner in Norway. Ragnhild and her new husband moved to Rio de Janeiro. started their own family there and initially intended to only be gone a few years. Lorentzen, according to Møst, had bought property in Asker on which they intended to build a house. They ended up staying in Rio, and the property was later sold.

Withdrew from public life
Princess Ragnhild thus withdrew from public life in Norway and also lived a relatively quiet life in Rio, although Møst, who has interviewed the princess at her home in Rio, reported that the family remained “absolutely Norwegian” and maintained Norwegian traditions. Ragnhild’s royal duties, though, amounted to little more than opening an annual Christmas market at the local Norwegian Seamens Church, wrote Isaksen, and serving as a patron of the national society for the deaf in Norway.

She maintained strong personal ties to Norway, and made the long journey home often, as many expatriates and emigrants do. She often stayed with her father in his royal residences, although she eventually bought her own flat in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district. She maintained contact with friends from her schooldays in Oslo and Isaksen noted she made her last trip home this past summer, when she spent a few weeks at a family summer home on the Oslo Fjord even though she was ill with cancer. She’d also been home for Princess Astrid’s 80th birthday in February, when the last official photos of all three royal siblings were taken.

Now she’ll be laid to rest outside the church where she and Lorentzen married 59 years ago, which also is close to her childhood home, the royal residence at Skaugum where Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit now live with their children. Outside the church gate is a stature of Ragnhild’s mother, the late Crown Princess Märtha, carrying a child in her arms. It’s where Ragnhild herself wanted to be in the end.

(Editor’s note of disclosure: One of the sources cited in this article, Annemor Møst, is the mother-in-law of the undersigned.)

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1798528473 Anastasia Hobbet

    t’s a touching story, and I’m glad to know it. I’d sort of assumed, from earlier reports in the Norwegian press (which I can’t read with any subtlety) that she merely chose to live so far from home. But that’s not precisely the case. I appreciate the deep background.