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King Oscar II (1829-1907)

Oscar II succeeded his brother Carl IV as King of Norway and Sweden in 1872. He married Sophia of Nassau and their eldest son, Gustav, became King of Sweden. Oscar II was to be the last king of the Norwegian–Swedish union. He adopted the motto "Broderfolkenes vel", meaning “The welfare of the sister peoples”.

Oscar II and Queen Sophia were crowned in Nidaros Cathedral on 18 July 1873.

Oscar II spent more time in Norway than any of the other Bernadottes, and he spoke and wrote Norwegian fluently. He was very well read and was called “Europe’s most enlightened monarch” during his lifetime. He published a number of monographs and books under the name of Oscar Frederik, and after his death his memoirs were also published.

The union begins to unravel

The Norwegians were becoming increasingly discontented with their position as the subordinate party in the union. The demands for independence grew stronger and were increasingly directed towards the King, who was regarded as the representative of Swedish interests.

King Oscar’s reign began auspiciously when he sanctioned the Storting’s decision to abolish the office of vice-regent. The Norwegians regarded the vice-regent as a symbol of Swedish domination, and had been trying to have it abolished for many years.

Later, however, conflicts repeatedly arose between the King and the Storting. The most important of these concerned the position of ministers, the King’s right of veto, and the dispute over the Norwegian consular service.

Parliamentarianism

The Storting sought greater influence over the Council of State, whose members were appointed by the King. To achieve this it decided to introduce the principle of parliamentarianism: that no government should be able to govern without the support of the national assembly. The Storting passed the necessary amendments to the Constitution three times, in 1872, 1879 and 1880, and every time the King vetoed the decision. Finally the Storting decided that the amendment should be made law regardless of the King’s veto.

This raised another important question: should the king have an absolute right of veto in matters concerning the Constitution? Was it necessary to have the King’s as well as the Storting’s support for constitutional amendments? The Liberal Party, which held a majority in the Storting, considered that the answer to both questions should be No, and in 1883 the government and its leader, prime minister Selmer, was impeached. The charge included the Government’s support for the King’s right of veto. The prime minister and many of the government ministers were dismissed from office, and the King accepted the court’s judgement. However, in spite of the fact that the Liberal Party was in the majority, he then appointed a conservative government. This government did not cooperate with the Storting either, and on 23 June 1884 the Liberal Party leader, Johan Sverdrup, was asked to form a government. This marked the introduction of parliamentarianism in Norway.

Norwegian consulate service

The dispute over the Norwegian consular service was the issue that finally ended the union. Within the union, Norway and Sweden had a common foreign policy, and the Swedes insisted that the foreign minister should be Swedish. Norway wished to strengthen its independence and demanded the establishment of a Norwegian consular service.

In 1905 the Storting passed a law establishing a separate consular service, and when King Oscar refused to sanction the decision, the Government, led by Christian Michelsen, resigned. The King was unable to appoint a new government, and as the Storting interpreted it, this meant that he no longer functioned as King of Norway.

On 7 June 1905 the Storting adopted a resolution that unilaterally dissolved the union with Sweden.

Sweden was not willing to accept this decision unconditionally, and demanded a referendum on the question of whether Norway should secede from the union. The referendum was held in August 1905; it resulted in 368,392 votes in favour of dissolution, and 184 against.

Negotiations were held in Karlstad, Sweden, in August-September the same year, and resulted in the peaceful dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden.

King Oscar II died two years later, on 8 December 1907.

08.01.2011