The King who stood up to the Nazis: Haakon VII of Norway

At the start April 1940, the Kingdom of Norway was a neutral country as Europe descended into the Second World War. War had been declared in September 1939 by the United Kingdom and France against Germany after the latter invaded Poland and refused to withdraw. War had broken out in the east but not so much in the west. This was the so-called ‘phony war.’ The British had decided to start placing mines in Norwegian waters to halt potential Nazi expansion. In April 1940, Nazi Germany sent military forces into both Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrendered without a fight. Norway was an altogether different story. Though Norway was (and still is) a parliamentary democracy, the Norwegian monarchy has always had symbolic power. This was, perhaps, never more true that in the mid-twentieth century.

The figurehead king who became a symbol of Norwegian liberty was not someone born to the role. He was born to the Danish royal family and originally known as Prince Carl of Denmark. Son of King Frederick VII of Denmark (r.1906–1912), he was the younger brother of the crown prince. Norway, at this time, was an autonomous kingdom in a personal union with the Kingdom of Sweden (known as Sweden-Norway). The king of Sweden was also the king of Norway. This arrangement ended in 1905 with a referendum in which the Norwegian people voted overwhelmingly for dissolving the political union with Sweden. That same year, the Norwegian people voted overwhelmingly for a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic. Prince Carl was invited to become king of Norway. He did so, taking the name Haakon VII.

Norway kept its 1814 constitution intact and King Haakon VII became king in November 1905. Haakon VII was formally crowned in an elaborate coronation ceremony the following year. This was the last such ceremony for any Norwegian monarch as the requirement for a formal coronation with the monarch in regalia was abolished a couple years later. After Haakon VII, monarch have had simpler ceremonies to celebrate their accession.

King Haakon VII reigned from 1905 to 1957, the first independent king of Norway in centuries. All of this makes King Haakon VII notable for Norwegians, a strong national symbol. Events in the latter part of his reign would test his character and reveal what a leader he was. Though his power was almost entirely symbolic, the life and reign of King Haakon VII shows what an ideal leaders does in a time of national emergency. In short, King Haakon VII was the ideal constitutional monarch and ideal head of state.

Back to April 1940 — Norway, being a country rich in iron, was a key target for the Nazis. The Nazi Government leaders hoped to faced no real resistance, extract resources, and install favorable governments. On 9 April 1940, the Germans sent military forces into both Norway and Denmark. The German invasion of Denmark lasted less than six hours. The Danish government capitulated in exchange for retaining independence and not having the Luftwaffe bomb Copenhagen. In contrast to Denmark, the Norwegians did not capitulate. It was Hitler’s desire to have a Nazi-friendly government in Norway under Vidkun Quisling, something the Norwegian people were not in favor of.

In the Battle of Drøbak Sound (depicted in the movie The King’s Choice), the Norwegians temporarily halted a German advance into Norway. Though this campaign did not stop the German advance (the Germans increased their military presence as they sought to gain control of the country), it did buy enough time for King Haakon VII and the Norwegian government to get out of Oslo. Later on, King Haakon VII met with a German diplomat who tried to pressure the king to accept Quisling as prime minister. This failed. King Haakon VII, arguing that Quisling was deeply unpopular and not the choice of a free people, threatened to abdicate rather than recognize a Quisling-led government. The Germans retaliated with bombing campaigns. King Haakon VII ultimately evacuated the country with government leaders, forming a Norwegian government in exile. During this time King Haakon VII made speeches to his people through the BBC radio service.

The Nazi-installed government in Oslo declared Haakon VII deposed, after the king refused their request that he abdicate. From 1940–1944, wearing images of the king’s monogram became a form of resistance against the fascist government. King Haakon VII in June 1945, greeted by cheering crowds. The Nazi threat was over and the country free once again. King Haakon VII would reign for another twelve years. He reigned over his people from the time of dissolution with Norway in 1905 through the dark years of the Second World War and proved to be one of the best national leaders of the first half of the twentieth century.

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