A 21-gun salute was fired in both Sweden and Norway on the evening of March 28th, 1901. A princess of Sweden and Norway was born. She was the second daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Västergötland, Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden and Norway. Princess Margaretha, who was two years old, now had a sister. An hour after the new princess’ birth, her father met with her grandfather, King Oscar II, and put forth five names for the royal seal of approval: Sofia after her paternal grandmother, Queen Sofia of Sweden; Lovisa after her Danish grandmother; Crown Princess Louise of Denmark; Dagmar and Thyra after her mother’s sisters; and Märtha. The last name was chosen by her father because he thought it was beautiful, and that is the name by which she was known throughout her life.
In 1905, Märtha had a younger sister, Princess Astrid, and when she was ten years old, the family was complete with the birth of her younger brother, Prince Carl. The children of the Duke and Duchess of Västergötland lived quiet lives. Their parents wanted them to have normal lives and so, they started early in helping with household chores, but were allowed plenty of time to play. The girls had a small cottage at their holiday home, Fridheim, where they played house. Märtha was especially concerned with keeping her surroundings tidy and cozy. The children each had a small plot of land, where they could grow whatever they wanted. As a four-year-old Märtha told someone that she was going to grow herring and potatoes, because that was something her father certainly would buy.
She was educated at home, with her sisters, and a few friends of the family. After her confirmation, the home-schooling was expanded to include classes in childcare and cooking. She also took a formal education in childcare, as well as sewing classes.
As time went on, the Swedish princesses were married off by the media to every available prince on the continent. When Princess Margaretha got married, it became evident to the press that there were two other Swedish princesses of marriageable age. In April 1925, The Minneapolis Tribune had an “absolutely true source” citing that an engagement between the Swedish Princess Märtha and the Prince of Wales would happen soon. The same year, during the summer, several French newspapers were “absolutely certain” that Princess Märtha would soon be Crown Princess of the Belgians. In September a newspaper in Norway came forth with the news that Princess Astrid of Sweden was secretly engaged to Crown Prince Olav of Norway. Astrid and Leopold of Belgium were already secretly engaged and were married in 1926.
But, back to Märtha and Olav. They first met in 1904 at their mutual grandparents when Märtha was three and Olav was one. They met many more times over the years, but as King Olav said in an interview in 1990: “I think it was at my grandmother’s 70th birthday, at Charlottenlund, that I first realized that I could fall in love with Princess Märtha.” The pair got to know each other better at Queen Louise’s yearly birthday gatherings.
In 1928, when Crown Prince Olav was in Amsterdam to participate in the Olympic Summer games, he took a quick tour into Belgium, and “popped the question.” He got the right answer, though the engagement didn’t become public until January the following year. There were concerns regarding public reactions to Olav marrying a Swedish Princess, and Märtha marrying a Norwegian Prince, less than 25 years after the dissolution of the Union. But it was resolved, and the couple was married in Oslo, March 21, 1929. Queen Maud had pushed forward and gotten her wish: the wedding was held in Oslo, and not in Stockholm. It was the first Royal wedding in Oslo since King James I of England, and VI of Scotland, had married a Danish princess there in 1589, and the citizens of Oslo were out in full force to celebrate with the Royals. After the wedding, they honeymooned in the south of Europe, and later traveled to England so that Märtha could see Appleton House where Olav was born.
Unfortunately, honeymoons have their ending. And the question that remained, where would the newlyweds live since Norway did not have an official palace for the Crown Prince? Olav had lived with his parents prior to his wedding. Several suggestions were put forth before the wedding such as Oscarshall, a leisure palace, as possible residences for the crown prince couple. A better solution came from Baron Wedel-Jarlsberg who owned a property called Skaugum that he wished to give to the couple as a wedding present. Olav and Märtha moved into Skaugum in the beginning of 1930. They spent their free time decorating their home amid the official engagements they had during the jubilee year. Unfortunately Skaugum burnt to the ground, in three hours, in May the same year, just as they had finished the redecorating. Olav and some of the workers managed to save some priceless belongings, and a few things for the baby that was expected any day. Märtha and Olav moved to the Palace in Oslo, and it was there, on June 9th, 1930, that their first child saw the light of day.
After a few weeks at the Palace, they moved to Villa Victoria on Bygdøy, and from there they moved to a white wooden villa, Solbakken, in another part of Oslo. There, Crown Princess Märtha gave birth to another daughter, in February 1932, and the family of three had become a family of four: Märtha, Olav, Ragnhild and Astrid. Six months later, on King Haakon’s 60th birthday, Skaugum had been rebuilt, and was complete enough for the family to move back in.
Shortly after her wedding, Crown Princess Märtha took Norwegian language lessons. And while she was still unsure about her pronunciation, she talked to her children in Swedish, because she wanted her children to learn only proper Norwegian language.
Crown Princess Märtha played with her daughters. She enjoyed working in the kitchen and she enjoyed the garden. She accompanied Crown Prince Olav on the many representation duties that had to be performed. During the depression the Crown Prince couple traveled throughout Norway to find out how people were managing through the hard times. In 1934 they visited the northernmost parts of Norway.
Tragedy struck Crown Princess Märtha in 1935. Her younger sister, Queen Astrid of Belgium was killed in a car crash. The two sisters had been very close, and King Olav later said that it took his wife more than ten years to come to term with it. But he didn’t think that she ever really got over her sister’s death. It had been so unexpected for the entire family.
Two years later Märtha was in a car accident of her own. It could have ended badly, as she was nearly at the due date with her third child, and she was accompanied by her two daughters but everything ended well. On February 21, 1937, Märtha fulfilled one of her duties as Crown Princess, she gave birth to an heir. He was named Harald and, with his birth, the family at Skaugum was complete.
The parents were engaged in their children’s upbringing, played with them when they had the time, and participated in their birthday parties. Queen Maud used to host Princess Ragnhild’s birthday parties at Bygdøy Kongsgård, and she invited Ragnhild’s friends, the grandchildren of her own friends, the children of Olav and Märtha’s friends, and the children of the staff. As a result the princesses were invited to quite a few birthday parties in return. Princess Astrid remembers that their mother accompanied them to any birthday party they were invited to before the war.
When Queen Maud died in 1938, Crown Princess Märtha became the new first lady of the Norwegian Royal family which meant taking on additional duties. Märtha was patron of many Norwegian organizations, among them the Norwegian Female Scout association.
1) Märtha with her sister Margaretha and their grandmother, Queen Sofia in 1902
2) Märtha, 1908
3) Märtha and her sister Margaretha
4) Princess Ingeborg of Sweden and her three daughters, Margaretha, Märtha and Astrid.
1) 1930, with Olav.
2) 1930, with Ragnhild
3) 1931, playing with Ragnhild
4) 1931, with Ragnhild and Queen Maud
5) 1931, with Ragnhild and Olav
6) 1931, with Olav
7) 1931, with Ragnhild in the snow.
8) 1931, skiing with her sister, Astrid.
2) 1932, family picture of the four in the family
3) 1932, with Ragnhild and Astrid.
4) 1933, with Olav, going to watch a sporting event.
5) 1934, working as a volunteer.
6) 1934, Astrid and Mum
7) 1934, trip to Finnmark
8) 1934, official photo
9) 1934, family sledding
1) 1935, in Princess Ingeborg and Prince Carl's home. The last time all four of their children were together. From left: (Front) Princess Margaretha of Denmark, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, Prince Carl, Princess Ingeborg. (Back) Prince Carl jr. and Queen Astrid of the Belgians.
2) 1936, playing with her daughters
3) 1936, the family going on a trip?
4) 1937, the baptism of Prince Harald
5) 1937, with her daughters and her newborn son.
6) 1938, official family portrait
7) 1938, from the balcony on the Palace on May 17th.
8) 1939, official portrait
9) 1939, picture from the trip to USA.
1) World War II have struck Norway, and the Royal Family is escaping, along with the Cabinet and the Storting. Photographed April 9th, 1940. (Harald is the little boy)
2) Making a rest stop somewhere in Finland on the way up to Petsamo in August 1940.
3) Arriving in USA, August 28, 1940.
4) First winter in exile, 1941.
6) 1942, "Look to Norway"
7) Märtha, Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald at "Little Norway" petting a bear cub.
8) Taken during a meeting in the years 1940-45
9) Olav has come over for a brief visit, and they're followed into the elevator by a photographer.
10) Exchanging useful information about socks, with one of the soldiers at "Little Norway"
1) Writing Christmas Cards, 1943
2) Last meeting in the Norwegian embassy in Washington before Märtha leaves for Great Britain, May 9th, 1945
3) 1945, on board the Norfolk
4) Returning to Norway, 1945
5) Returning to Norway, 1945
6) Official picture taken on visit to USA in 1947
9) Harald's confirmation
10) Mother and Son outside Skaugum
In 1939, Olav and Märtha undertook a lengthy trip through the United States. They were met by large crowds everywhere they went. They visited President Roosevelt at his home in Hyde Park. Märtha also attended a luncheon in her honour at a hotel in Chicago that was filled to capacity. The media followed them everywhere and asked countless questions. The Crown Prince and Princess were favourable interview and picture subjects and were always glad to grant the requests. Märtha told someone at a lunch late on the trip, with a twinkle in her eye: “The next time someone asks me what I like the most about this country, I’m going to say my husband.” In the United States, they were accepted into the Black Foot Tribe. Crown Prince Olav received the name “Three Stars”; Crown Princess Märtha became “The Medicine Pipe.” While they were in the United States, their children were spending the summer with their grandfather, King Haakon. He took the opportunity to give Prince Harald a haircut, effectively ridding the boy of his long blonde curls. Crown Princess Märtha was not pleased when she returned, but she had to satisfy herself with the thought that it would grow out again.
After her return from the United States, Crown Princess Märtha started attending first aid training, and played an active part in starting a new Norwegian organization for women, which all the major female organizations joined. She was elected president of the new organization, that got the name “The Women’s Work Help.” They were interested in preparing for the worst-case scenario, as the situation out in Europe grew steadily worse after September 1939.
On April 9th, 1940, Germany invaded Norway. The Royal family managed to escape from Oslo. It was decided that Crown Princess Märtha would go to Sweden with the children, for safety reasons. First they stayed in Sälen, just on the other side of the border where Princess Ingeborg met them to bring them back to Stockholm with her. However, staying in Sweden permanently was not safe. Visits to Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg’s apartment, which was straight across the street from the German embassy, were not safe. There was also concern regarding the loyalties of the rest of the Swedish family. It was felt that the Germans could use Prince Harald as a lever to depose King Haakon and to install his grandson on the throne to calm the Norwegians. Fortunately, President Roosevelt offered them passage and asylum in the United States, which they accepted. Crown Princess Märtha and her three children, Ragnhild (10), Astrid (8) and Harald (3), boarded the “American Legion,” an American transport, in Petsamo. The ship would take them across the Atlantic to safety.
When they first arrived in the United States, they lived at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Later, they moved close to Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Maryland, where they settled into their everyday routine. During the years in America, Crown Princess Märtha worked tirelessly for the cause of a free Norway. She helped Norwegians who had escaped and she tried her best to promote Norway. The Norwegian royal family members were regulars at the White House, and at the Norwegian training camp, that had the fitting name, Little Norway. Crown Princess Märtha was also involved in the Norwegian Red Cross movement in the United States.
In 1942, Crown Princess Märtha was present at King Haakon’s 70th birthday celebration in London. She had flown across the Atlantic, just to be with him on his special day. During her visit, Märtha and King Haakon were also guests at the baptism of Prince Michael of Kent. When she returned from the visit to Great Britain, she was present at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Look to Norway” speech, where she accepted a military present from the American government to her father in law, or rather the Norwegian resistance. The president had specifically asked for her presence, instead of the Norwegian military minister.
On May 8th, 1945, the German forces in Norway capitulated, and it was time to think of returning home. Crown Princess Märtha flew across the Atlantic to Great Britain on May 9th. The children followed in two separate planes, the two princesses in one, and the prince in the other, on May 20th. In London, they joined King Haakon, and together, they sailed to Norway on the British ship, Norfolk. King Haakon and Crown Princess Märtha didn’t care about the weather so the two of them stood out in the fog on June 6th, to catch the first glimpse of Norway.
Norway was worn down by the war, and Crown Princess Märtha had anticipated that everything would be scarce after the war. She stocked up on goods during her years in exile. Now, she could use the material she bought to restore Skaugum. Before long, the royal family was back in their routine., Due to King Haakon’s advanced age, Crown Princess Märtha and Crown Prince Olav found themselves taking over more of his duties and responsibilities. But Märtha still found the time to enjoy some of her favourite pastimes such as, cooking and embroidery. In addition, she also privately played the piano for her family. She had a keen interest in arts, the theatre, and literature among other things.
Unfortunately, during the eight year span from 1946 to her death in 1954, Crown Princess Märtha suffered from various illnesses, such as, sciatica and jaundice. During this period, she was frequently hospitalized, and spent some recuperative time in Florida. She had remissions, but never fully recovered. After another attack in early March 1954, she was again hospitalized. On March 21st, 1954, the family celebrated the crown prince couple’s silver wedding anniversary at the hospital bedside. She died quietly on April 5th, surrounded by her husband, her father-in-law, her children, her sister, Princess Margaretha, and her brother-in-law, Prince Axel. Her brother, Prince Carl Bernadotte was delayed by the weather.
For the funeral, they followed the instructions that Märtha left when she prepared Queen Maud’s funeral. It was the only precedent for such an occasion in Norway. Count Flemming of Rosenborg, her nephew, voiced this statement about the funeral:
“The day of the funeral was a day of sorrow. Everything was without meaning. Aunt Märtha was in the middle of life, she had so many incomplete things left to do, and she was such a sweet and lovable human being that she would certainly have meant a lot to many people in the years that could have followed. I remember feeling sorry for Crown Prince Olav, who suddenly was alone only 51 years old. And also, my grandmother in Sweden, who now was following her second child to the final resting place, only two years after she lost her husband.
But I felt the most for the children, and firstly Harald. It was touching to see a frail 17 year old, in black hat and coat, following his mother’s coffin through the streets of Oslo.”
Crown Princess Märtha was first lady of Norway from 1938 to 1954, but she never gained the title Queen, rather she gained the honorary title: The Queen the Norwegians never got.
1. Princess Martha as a baby with her parents Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg, and older sister Margaretha.
2. Princess Martha (seated with the magazine) with her parents and sisters Margaretha and Astrid.
3. Princess Martha (standing) with her sisters Margaretha and Astrid.
4. Princess Martha (standing behind) with her sisters Margaretha (right) and Astrid (left) and brother Carl (on the horse).
5. Princess Martha (left) with her sisters Margaretha (right), Astrid (mother's lap) and mother Princess Ingeborg.
6.(L-R) Princess Martha, Princess Astrid, Princess Ingeborg with Prince Carl and Princess Margaretha.
7. Princess Martha (bending), Princess Margaretha (seated) and Princess Astrid.
8. Princess Martha (Right) with Princess Margaretha.
9. Princess Martha (Right) with Princess Margaretha.
10. (L-R) Princess Martha, Princess Margaretha and Princess Astrid.
1. Princess Martha and Prince Olav on their wedding day.
2-3. The couple engaged
4. Princess Martha and Princess Olav
5. Princess Martha and Princess Ragnhild
6. Princess Martha, 1929
7. Princess Martha and Princess Ragnhild, 1930
8. Princess Martha, 1936
9. Princess Martha, Prince Olav with Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid, 1937
10. Princess Martha, with Princess Ragnhild, Princess Astrid and Prince Harald, 1937
1. Princess Martha with baby Prince Harald, 1937
2. Princess Martha with her children, 1939
3. Princess Martha and Prince Olav with their children, 1946
4. Newly wed Princess Martha, 1930
5. Princess Martha with Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid, 1936.
6. Astrid's christening, 1932.