War hero and royal spouse dies at 98

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Erling Lorentzen came from a wealthy family, fought in the Norwegian Resistance during World War II, launched a shipping and industrial career in Brazil and married King Harald’s older sister, Princess Ragnhild. His family informed the Royal Palace this week that Lorentzen died at his home in Oslo on Tuesday, after a long and adventurous life.

This was the photo that accompanied the Royal Family’s official announcement of the death of King Harald’s brother-in-law, Erling Lorentzen. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

“It’s with great sorrow that we have received the sad message that Erling Sven Lorentzen has passed away,” his brother-in-law King Harald stated on behalf of the entire royal family. “Our thoughts go to his closest family, who have lost a good father, father-in-law, grandfather and great-grandfather.”

King Harald was just a little boy when Nazi Germany invaded Norway in 1940 and Lorentzen, then 17 years old, reported for service with the resistance forces that sprang up immediately. He joined the military resistance organization Milorg, escaped to Sweden after running into trouble with the Gestapo, and eventually headed for Scotland, where he trained with the legendary Kompani Linge and worked with Norway’s most highly decorated war hero, the late Gunnar Sønsteby. Lorentzen was sent back to Norway to carry out various sabotage operations behind enemy lines.

When the war ended and the royal family could return from exile in Washington DC and London, on June 7, 1945, Lorentzen served as a royal guard and met Princess Ragnhild. She was still a teenager herself, and it took several years before her grandfather, King Haakon, and her parents, the late Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha, would agree to let her marry a commoner. They finally won out and married on May 15, 1953, just a few days after her little brother then-Prince Harald’s confirmation.

Erling Lorentzen married Norway’s Princess Ragnhild at Asker Church, west of Oslo and next door to the princess’ childhood home in Asker, in 1953. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

The couple immediately moved to Brazil, where Erling Lorentzen planned to work for just a few years in the shipping and gas business. They ended up staying there for most of the rest of their lives, with fairly frequent visits home to Norway over the years. They had three children: Haakon, born in 1954 and daughters Ingeborg and Ragnhild, born in 1957 and 1968 respectively.

Lorentzen later became an industrial pioneer in Brazil, launching several businesses within shipping and Brazilian timber. He also ran into controversy with his cellulose operation Aracruz. It raised environmental concerns and became a symbol of irony in some circles, since Norway was funding preservation of Brazil’s rain forest after the princess’ family business had profited from the forestry business for years, albeit eucalyptus. Lorentzen firmly denied accusations he’d taken land from indigenous people and contributed to damaging the rain forest. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the Lorentzen family sold out of Aracruz in 2008, and collected several billion kroner in financial gains. Norway’s King Harald, meanwhile, defended the rain forest as a patron of WWF and finally visited the Amazon with no royal pomp in 2013.

Princess Ragnhild died in 2018. Erling Lorentzen spent his own final years mostly in Norway but remained active and joined the public debate last fall over the NRK TV series Atlantic Crossing. It depicted Crown Princess Martha’s war years in exile in the US with her children including Ragnhild. Lorentzen bashed the series as being historically inaccurate, while its producers defended the “artistic liberties” they’d taken with actual history.

Brazil’s ambassador to Norway was among those paying tribute to Lorentzen this week, claiming that Lorentzen had strengthened the bilateral cooperation between Brazil and Norway. “He was a Norwegian who loved and understood Brazil,” stated Ambassador George Monteiro Trata to news service NTB. “Together with Princess Ragnhild, he also worked to improve the situation for many poor Brazilians.”

Lorentzen will be buried in the graveyard at Asker Church west of Oslo where the couple was married. It’s also just across the road from the royal estate called Skaugum, which has long been used as the residence of Norway’s crown prince and where Princess Ragnhild grew up in the 1930s before the war broke out.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund