On February 12, 1932, a little Norwegian princess was born in villa Solbakken, at Skøyen in Oslo to Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha. The newborn was named Astrid Maud Ingeborg, after her two grandmothers. Astrid is a traditional Norwegian name, but also the name of one of her aunts, Astrid of Belgium.
When Astrid was six months old, the family moved back into a rebuilt Skaugum. There, she and her sister, Ragnhild, grew up in relative peace, unaccustomed to any pomp associated with a Princess title. The only thing that separated them from the other Norwegian girls of the same age was their appearance on the Palace balcony every May 17th.
The Easter holidays were spent in the mountains of Norway and the summer holidays were spent in Sweden, at Fridheim with their Danish and Belgian cousins.
The worst thing Astrid knew was the yearly photograph session. It meant that she was forced to get dressed up and stand absolutely still.
The best thing Astrid knew were animals which was a good thing since she was living on a farm in the country. Princess Astrid was, and is, very fond of dogs.
In 1937, when Astrid was five years old, the new heir to the throne arrived. The princesses had been well informed of what would happen, and when they came in from playing in the snow, they asked if he could come out and play with them. The two big sisters helped to take care of their younger brother, and still think of him as their little brother...
1937 was also the year that the two princesses got their very own life-size doll house at Skaugum, similar to the doll house Crown Princess Märtha and her sisters played with during their youth at Fridheim.
Astrid started school earlier than was the custom, as Crown Princess Märtha set up a “Princess School” at Skaugum when Ragnhild reached school age. It was reasoned that the 20 months separating the princesses were few enough to allow Astrid to start at the same time.
But all that changed when the German invasion came in 1940. Princess Astrid remembers that they were told to pack a small suitcase, with the toys they wanted to bring along. The thing that hurt most about leaving home, was leaving the dogs behind.
They left Norway with King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav to escape the Germans. They stayed for a while with their maternal grandparents in Sweden, but after a long trans-Atlantic crossing, they arrived in the United States where they remained for the duration of the war. They lived just outside of Washington, D.C..
Astrid and her sister went to a private school in Bethesda, Maryland. It was at this school that Astrid was diagnosed with dyslexia. One of the teachers who had some experience in this field helped to figure out why Astrid couldn’t spell properly like the other children.
One important point during their stay in America was that Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald shouldn’t forget their roots. In the house they rented, Pook’s Hill, Crown Princess Märtha instituted a “Talk Norwegian” rule for the children. They also had Norwegian schooling twice a week.
The children skated, they learned to ride, they joined the scouting movement, and they joined a dancing school. The dancing lessons were intended to prepare the Norwegian princesses for the life ahead of them: “Mum was always considering the things we needed to know when we got back to Norway. Never if we got back, always when,” Princess Astrid told Brita Rosenberg in the book “Astrid, Prinsesse av Norge”.
In 1945, the five years in exile were over, as was the relative freedom of the Royal children. The pictures of the return to Norway on June 7th, 1945, show the three children who look a bit lost from all the attention they’re getting.
But one thing changed, the Princesses did not want to go back to the home-schooling they had before the war. They started at Nissen School for Girls, with the other Norwegian girls. Astrid’s biggest problem in the beginning was the language subject German. Everybody else in the class, who had remained in Norway during the war, knew it. She didn’t, and therefore had to start from scratch.
It was also during the years at Nissen School that Astrid and her friends started the group called Nieren (The Nine), which exists to this very day.
In 1947, the Princesses got their first sailboat, named ASTRA, and a new era began. Their first sailing instructor was Erling Lorentzen, and one of the later ones was Johan Martin Ferner.
During the last year of school, Norwegian youths have a special time that is called Russetid. Astrid had hers, and someone came up with the brilliant idea of calling her by one of her other names, Ingeborg, to provide a bit more anonymity for her during this period.
After completing the basic years of her education, Princess Astrid began her studies at Oxford. Her father decided that she would study Political History, Philosophy and Economy for two years. She started in 1950 when the rationing was still going on. Unfortunately, Princess Astrid had a diplomatic passport, which didn’t qualify her for ration stamps. As Princess Astrid tried to point out: even princesses need to eat. She got them eventually.
When she returned from Oxford, she took up working with clay and making ceramics. But the big shadow in the years to follow was Crown Princess Märtha’s disease. Astrid accompanied her mother on trips to the United States, and she also got a chance to visit her sister and her brother-in-law in their new home in Brazil. After the visit to Brazil, she had to draw a picture of the apartment, and how the furniture was standing, for her mother, who was too weak to make such a long journey.
Crown Princess Märtha died in 1954, and Norway suddenly had a 22-year-old princess as their first lady. The woman in question was not very experienced performing in the public spotlight, nor was she experienced in playing hostess to foreign dignitaries. Regardless, the role would be hers until her brother married in 1968.
Princess Astrid shaped the role in her image, as she realized, and was told by others, that it would be impossible to fill her mother’s shoes. She continued making ceramics on the side, to have a creative outlet. But she also took on a lot of work for the organizations that Crown Princess Märtha had been patron of, as well as official representation.
Her first big assignment was a representation tour of the United States, in 1958, after King Haakon’s death. The occasion was the 100th year anniversary of the state of Minnesota. After her return, on May 16th, she fulfilled her duties on May 17th, and on May 18th, she travelled to Belgium to represent Norway during the World Exhibition. There, she stayed with her cousin, King Baudouin.
Another big assignment that year was the tour of Norway that came with her father’s enthronement. It was during that trip that she was first diagnosed with rheumatic fever, something that unfortunately would recur from time to time.
As the years went on, people began to feel a bit sorry for Princess Astrid. Finding a suitable prince in Europe was getting more and more difficult, as everybody else was getting married. She had been on the famed single Royals Cruise in the Mediterranean, without getting anything more than a tan and friendships. But what people didn’t know, because the press wasn’t writing about the Princess’ personal life to the degree they would now, was that there were someone on the horizon.
During the years since she first had gotten to know him platonically as her sailing companion, Astrid spent a lot of time with Johan Martin Ferner. When they first were introduced he was married, and she didn’t think about him in a romantic light at all. After he got divorced, they began to spend more time together, mostly around other people in the sailing circuit, or with her family.
In the spring of 1960, Astrid told King Olav that she wanted to marry Johan Martin Ferner. Her father knew the man and appreciated him. He had no problems with the marriage except for the fact that she was a Princess and he was a divorced man. He pitched the notion to the Prime Minister and asked that he discuss it with the President of Stortinget and the Cabinet.
Astrid got the necessary permissions mainly because she was the only available female in the Royal family to perform duties until Harald got married, and it wouldn’t do to deport the first lady. However, as some might have a problem with the princess marrying a divorced man, the wedding date was set as close as possible to the official engagement date to create as little noise about it as possible.
The two got married on January 12, 1961 in Asker Church. After the wedding Princess Astrid’s official name became Princess Astrid, Mrs. Ferner.
For the first months after the wedding, they lived in Johan Martin’s apartment. Then they spent the summer at various cabins, as the the house that King Olav had given them as a wedding present was being renovated. When the house still wasn’t ready, they moved into the Palace.
When their house was finally done, King Olav brought along a hammer and various other tools, to help his daughter and son-in-law move their belongings. After all, he had the experience of moving into Skaugum and from Skaugum to the Palace.
The children came quickly, Catherine (b. 1962), Benedikte (b. 1963) and Alexander (b. 1965) were all toddlers together, effectively preventing many hours of sleep. The first years Astrid had a nanny to help her with the children, and a maid, but as Elisabeth (b. 1969) and Carl-Christian (b. 1972) joined the family it became more difficult to find someone willing to take care of five children.
In the early years, Astrid still did a fair share of representing. Since she was a princess, stately day-care for her children was difficult to get. She had to bring them along while working, or leave them with the chauffeurs at the Palace.
It was while Astrid was pregnant with her daughter Elisabeth that Harald and Sonja married. It did ease her representation duties, but there was still plenty of work to be done.
As the older children began school, she called some of the institutions for which she was a protector, to see if she could get day-care for her youngest, Carl-Christian. She got in touch with a social worker, who couldn’t quite grasp the concept of a princess needing day-care for her children. After Princess Astrid told him that Carl-Christian had to either wait in the car while she was performing her official duties or be attended by the chauffeurs helping them wash the cars, Carl-Christian got a place in a kindergarten until he started school.
Something Princess Astrid was very firm with her children about was their education: “Our children have always known that we would help them get an education, so that they could get a job to survive. It goes both for our daughters and our sons. None of them have been raised to believe that they can sit down and use the fact that they’re the grandchildren of a king. If they ever have entertained such thoughts, the notions were picked away quite early.”
Princess Astrid also suffered from a bad foot for many years. This is why she uses a crutch on occasions. But it looks to have improved in the later years. In addition to the rheumatic fever, which has been a torment on and off for many years, she is also very allergic to fish.
On her 70th birthday, Princess Astrid was honoured by the State, for her long service to Norway, with an honorary pension. But she isn’t inactive. She still has certain duties to perform and she helps out when asked, most recently during her brother’s surgery and period of recuperation.
Her hobbies include painting on porcelain, flowers and literature; and she always has time for her grandchildren.
Anne Grosvold: Norges Førstedamer
Annemor Møst: Kongefamilien gjennom 100 år.
Brita Rosenberg: Astrid, Prinsesse av Norge.
1. 1934 with mother
2. 1934 skiing
4. 1936, Dad gives a push on the swing
5. 1936, Summer at Fridheim
7. 1945, Christening a ship in USA.
8. 1945, coming home.
9. 1946, with Dad
10. 1936, at Fridheim with Baudouin of Belgium.
1. Confirmation, 1948
2. With Ragnhild, 1946
3. Confirmation, 1948
4. 1952, student at Oxford.
5. 1954, with dog.
6. 1955, giving a speech to her grandfather, King Haakon, via the radio.
7. 1956, with ceramic fishes she made herself.
8. 1957, her father's ascension to the throne.
10. 1960, in the cups in Disneyland, with Princess Margaretha of Sweden and Princess Margrethe of Denmark.
1. 1960 - Three Scandinavian Princesses with Mickey and Minnie Mouse
2. 1960 - Elvis at her feet.
3. 1960 - Touring USA with Princess Margaretha of Sweden and Princess Margrethe of Denmark.
4. 1961 - Being led into church by her father.
5. 1961 - Coming out of Asker Church with her new husband.
6. Her daughter Catherine's baptism.
7. With three oldest children.
8. Silver wedding
9. 1986, on an oil rig in the North Sea
Thanks norwegianne for a most interesting biography of Princess Astrid who turned out to be one of the hardest working royals after all. It is truly amazing what she has accomplished in spite of her health problems.
Here is a picture of Princess Astrid during Russetid at Nissen School May 17, 1950.
Norwegianne mentions in the biography that when Astrid and Johan first met, he was married, and they didn't fall in love until he had been divorced for awhile. However, the article from Time magazine in November 1960 that mentions their engagement (HP-Time.com - TIME) states that they met before Johan's first marriage and that he was interested in Astrid at the time but King Olav wouldn't allow the match. According to the article, Johan eventually gave up and married a model but later got divorced and he and Astrid started dating again. Can anyone, Norwegianne herself or anyone else familiar with the Norwegian royal family, give me more information on either story? Thanks.
what happen she didnt receive any proposed to no prince or some german noble i can accept ragnhild marry a shipowner but astrid seem to good to consort herself with a divorcee am sure she was alive when her grandfather haakon was disgusted and shock at princess margarethe involvement with peter townsend and she must have heard how divorcee shake the british monarchy in 1936 when she was four and i hear her father king olav was not so sure how the public would react and i hear some church leader even deny them the right to officiate at their wedding it seems that those norwegian royals always involve themselves into controversial marriage.
Yes, it's true that Olav was quite hesitant about the wedding, and the Bishop of Oslo as well as the local parish priest refused to perform the wedding. Bishop Fjellbu of Nidaros agreed to do it instead.
I think there were some attempts (or at least hopes) to match Astrid with someone royal or noble but nothing ever came of it. It was very important to her to marry someone she loved. She mentioned in an interview a few years ago how clear it was to her and her siblings as children that their parents loved each other very much, and, growing up, "that's what we all thought marriage was." She said in an interview in the 1980s that if she had married a prince, she would first and foremost have to have been in love with one, and she wasn't.
It's true that marriage to a divorced person was unthinkable for royals in 1960, and I'm sure Astrid knew this. And I don't think there was any disregard for her duty on her part, given how dutifully and selflessly she had served her country as First Lady since her mother's death when Astrid was 22. Given how much she seemed to care about duty as a young woman, I think she must have been very much in love with Johan Ferner to have gone ahead and married him.
And whatever one says about the respective backgrounds of Johan Ferner and Erling Lorentzen before their marriages, Johan ended up being faithful to Astrid, which wasn't the case for Erling and Ragnhild.