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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Royals set new rules for princess and her fiancé

After years of controversy, King Harald V has decided that his daughter can keep her royal title but neither she nor her fiancé can use it in connection with their business and other private “activities.” Princess Martha Louise is also dropping her roles as a patron for various organizations and won’t be representing the royal family or carrying out other official duties “at the present time.”

King Harald and Queen Sonja met with reporters after the palace announced new rules agreed upon by the royal family for their daughter, Princess Martha Louise, and her fiancé Durek Verrett. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The announcement comes after what King Harald recently called “a process” that picked up speed during the latest wave of public criticism over his daughter’s controversial commercial ventures and her recent engagement to an American shaman, Durek Verrett. The criticism ended up threatening the credibility of the royal family, led to a decline in public support and, according to the family’s own statement, “raised problems that are complex and that involve many different views we are trying to accommodate.”

The family further noted that it was “crucial to maintain our relationship of trust with the Norwegian people while at the same time safeguarding the well-being of our family to the best of our ability.” The royals pointed to “the constraints on what we may say or do,” and noted how they had been “questioned and challenged.” It all made it necessary for King Harald and his heir to the throne, Crown Prince Haakon, “to further clarify roles and the use of the Princess title.”

The criticism aimed at Martha Louise began more than a decade ago, when the princess, educated as a physical therapist, became more heavily involved in alternative treatments and started a school aimed at helping people “get in touch with their angels.” She consistently used her princess title in connection with her work, arguing that it was simply part of her identity, while critics noted how it attracted instant attention to her ventures and gave her a competitive advantage.

The criticism grew over the years as her commercial ventures became more unconventional. It all but exploded after the princess, whose first marriage to the late author Ari Behn ended in divorce, became romantically involved with a self-proclaimed American shaman who has publicly questioned professional health care and advocated alternative treatments that she was viewed as endorsing.

The royal family also felt obliged to address that in their statement on Tuesday, stressing that they “have great confidence in the Norwegian health service and the Norwegian health authorities.” They noted how Norway has “one of the world’s best health-care systems” and claimed that both the princess and Verrett also “have confidence in, and avail themselves of, the conventional medical establishment and the Norwegian health service.” The princess herself elaborated in a statement published on the royals’ official website (external link), claiming she was “impressed” by the health care system in Norway but also believes “alternative methods can be an important supplement to help from the conventional medical establishment.”

Her engagement to her shaman partner late last spring, however, set off new concerns, also from historians and authors who have chronicled Norway’s monarchy, which was reestablished in 1905. With Verrett poised to become a new member of the royal family, concerns grew about how the couple’s personal views could conflict with those expected of the royal family. Verrett had earlier tied much of the controversy to alleged ignorance or a lack of tolerance for alternative views, and then apologized for making generalizations about Norwegians. King Harald himself pointed to a “culture clash” between Verrett, as an American, and Norwegians.

Princess Martha Louise and her fiancé Durek Verrett, arriving for the 18th birthday dinner for her niece, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, at the Royal Palace in Oslo last June. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Verrett has also blamed racism, prompting the royal family to stress on Tuesday that “we are committed to the ideal of all people living together in harmony despite their differences.” The family seemed to confirm acts of racism against Verrett, stressing that they “deplore the racist attitudes that Durek Verrett has had to contend with, especially on social media. We consider it a strength that the Royal House reflects Norway’s ethnic diversity.”

The family went on to note how those “who have never experienced such discrimination” can find it “hard to imagine how racism – whether direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious – is perceived by those it strikes. Unfortunately there are many people in Norway today who are subjected to discrimination and racism. We must work together as a society to put an end to intolerance.”

The princess continued to lose public support, though, and her alternative views on medicine prompted the Norwegian epilepsy foundation to opt against renewing her patronage. By the end of 2019 she’d already agreed to stop using her title in connection with her commercial ventures and those with Verrett.

That’s been reinforced in the announcement issued by the royal palace on Tuesday. The princess will give up her patronage role, create a “clearer dividing line” between her business activities and her role as a member of the royal family and neither Martha Louise nor Verrett will “employ the title of Princess or refer to members of the Royal House in their social media channels, in media productions or in connection with other commercial activities.” She’ll keep her Instagram account though, which uses her title.

The palace further noted that when the princess and Verrett marry, he will become a member of the royal family (as did the spouses of King Harald’s older sisters and the princess’ first husband) “but in accordance with tradition, he will not have a title or represent the Royal House of Norway.” The couple will attend family-related gatherings, though, and “certain major sporting events” that the family traditionally attends together. She will also continue to lead the board of a charitable fund in her name.

The overall goal, according to the palace, “is to prevent misunderstandings regarding the Royal House” and to allow the couple “greater freedom in their business activities and other parts of their lives.” In a statement added to the “clarification” of Martha Louise’s and Verrett’s roles, the family claimed they “are very pleased by the engagement of the Princess to Derek Verrett and we want Mr Verrett to feel welcome in our family.”

Both King Harald and Queen Sonja repeated that at a brief meeting with reporters Tuesday afternoon, at which the monarch said he enjoyed Verrett’s sense of humour and being with him. In other areas, King Harald said the couple and the family had “agreed to disagree” but claimed the “process” they’d been through over the past few months had brought the family closer together. King Harald said he just doesn’t think American understand what a monarchy and royal family entails: “He thought he could do whatever he wants without it affecting us.”

The princess herself used her own social media channel on Tuesday to claim that she would stop representing the royal family “to restore calm” around it. She said she had been through “a good process” with her parents, “the king and queen,” and closest family members, during which “everyone listened to one another.”

Martha Louise also noted in her own short video that “every time” a member of the royal family has become engaged to be married, it has attracted “lots of attention and negative comments, also this time.” She indicated that she now sees the need to more clearly separate her roles as “daughter of Norway’s head of state (King Harald)” and as a business woman and private person. King Harald, meanwhile, noted that “she is our daughter and will remain so, Princess Martha Louise.”

Reaction to the extraordinary statements from the Royal Palace in Oslo was swift. Historian Trond Noren Isaksen, who’s been among the most vocal critics of the princess and her commercial ventures, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the royal family was merely postponing more problems.

“As long as she’s still a princess, everything Princess Martha Louise does will reflect on the royal family,” Isaksen said. He agreed that the new rules for the couple will help distinguish between their various roles, but he’s not sure they’re enough.

“This is quite a small step,” Isaksen told NRK, noting that the princess hasn’t had many royal duties in recent years and therefore isn’t relinquishing much. “New controversies can still come, so they’re just putting them off now.” He also noted that by stressing how she won’t represent the family “at the present time,” the door is left open that she may resume royal duties later.

“They’re not closing the door entirely, but holding it open so that she perhaps can begin to represent the family again later, since there are very few working members of the family,” Isaksen said. King Harald and Queen Sonja are both 85 years old and the king’s older and only surviving sister Princess Astrid is 90.

The head of Norway’s national federation for rheumatism, Bo Gleditsch, welcomed the clarification. The princess has been a patron of Revmatikerforbundet but her alternative views on medicine created what Gleditsch called “a challenge” for the federation. “I think this is very wise and neatly done,” he told NRK. “It’s a fine solution for all involved. She won’t have any official ties to us and we won’t be caught in a professional health care dilemma like we were.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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