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King Olav V (1903-1991)

King Olav V was born at Appleton House in Norfolk, England, on 2 July 1903. He was the son and only child of King Haakon VII (1872-1957) and Queen Maud (1869-1938), then Prince Carl of Denmark and Princess Maud of Wales.

Christened Alexander Edward Christian Frederik, he was given the name Olav when his father was elected King of Norway in 1905.

Early life and education

Crown Prince Olav was the first heir to the Norwegian throne to grow up in Norway since the Middle Ages. He received private tutoring at the Palace and later attended local schools. He completed his upper secondary education at Halling school in Oslo, with a focus on mathematics and physics, and received his school-leaving certificate in 1921. The Crown Prince graduated from the Norwegian Military Academy three years later. He then went to Oxford for further study. He attended Balliol College, studying political science, history and economics.

King Olav took great pleasure in sports throughout his life. He was a keen cross-country skier, and as a young man he even participated in the ski-jumping contest at Holmenkollen. For over 70 years, the King distinguished himself in national and international sailing competitions. He reached the high point of his sailing career at the 1928 Olympic Summer Games in Amsterdam, where he won a gold medal in the 6 m mixed event with his vessel, the Norna.

King Olav was also interested in art and culture, particularly literature.


In 1929 Crown Prince Olav married his cousin, Princess Märtha of Sweden (1901-1954). She was the daughter of Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, and the granddaughter of King Oscar II, who had renounced his claim to the Norwegian throne after the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. It was considered an excellent match, also by the Swedes, who took it as a sign that any residual tension between the two countries had dissipated.

The Crown Prince and Crown Princess had three children: Princess Ragnhild, born in 1930, Princess Astrid, born in 1932, and Prince Harald (the future King Harald V), born in 1937. The family resided at the country estate of Skaugum, near Oslo, which was given to the Crown Prince and Crown Princess as a wedding gift.

The death of Crown Princess Märtha on 5 April 1954 was a tremendous loss for the Royal Family as well as for Norway.

Support for King Haakon

Crown Prince Olav and his father, King Haakon, were very close, and the Crown Prince was an important source of support for and trusted advisor to the King, particularly during WWII.

In the 1930s the King and Crown Prince were concerned about the state of the Norwegian defence capacity. They had sought support for a strengthening of military forces, but to no avail. When German troops invaded Norway on 9 April 1940, the King and Crown Prince accompanied the Norwegian troops as they withdrew northwards, and later to London during the time in exile.

World War II

Crown Prince Olav travelled together with the King and the Government to London. It was difficult for the Crown Prince to leave his country, and he offered to remain in Norway. Most of all, he wanted to fight on the front lines, but the Government strongly advised against it. While in exile the Crown Prince was able to make major contributions to Norway’s defence both militarily and diplomatically.

In 1939 the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had conducted a comprehensive tour of the USA. During that journey they had made the acquaintance of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, thus laying the foundation for a long-lasting friendship. This friendship proved to be of great importance to Norway during WWII, as it facilitated direct contact with the US president. In 1942 the Crown Prince conducted another lengthy tour of the USA, lecturing on the Norwegian fight for liberation.

On 30 June 1944 the Government in exile in London appointed Crown Prince Olav Chief of the Defence. He overtook leadership of the Norwegian armed forces and cooperated with the Allied Powers.

As the war drew to a close, the Crown Prince worked tirelessly to secure Allied guarantees to provide rapid and adequate support to Norway should the country become a final battleground once the war on the Continent had been won. Fortunately, the need for such support never materialised.

On 13 May 1945 Crown Prince Olav and five government ministers returned to a liberated Norway. Cheering crowds lined the route of the procession as it wound its way from the harbour. The Crown Prince acted as Regent until King Haakon’s return on 7 June.

King of Norway

After the war Crown Prince Olav assumed an increasing number of official tasks. When King Haakon fell ill in 1955, the Crown Prince acted as Regent. Crown Prince Olav acceded to the Throne on 21 September 1957, when King Haakon passed away at the Royal Palace in Oslo.

King Olav V swore an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and adopted his father’s motto “Alt for Norge” - “We give our all for Norway”. The King was consecrated for the performance of his royal duties in Nidaros Cathedral on 22 June 1958, 52 years to the day after the coronation of his parents.

A widower, the new King undertook official engagements without a queen by his side. However, during the early years of his reign his youngest daughter, Princess Astrid, frequently acted as First Lady. The King also enjoyed the support of Crown Prince Harald.

Like his father, King Olav was dedicated to upholding the Constitution and fulfilling his role as constitutional monarch. Although at times his views could be detected in the many questions he posed in the Council of State, the King unfailingly respected democratically reached decisions, and he never showed a preference for any political party. While he was careful to remain outside the political arena, the King increasingly focused on social values in his speeches. His open criticism of discrimination against immigrants in his annual New Year’s Eve speech in 1982 was the topic of widespread public debate.

The King had a tremendous capacity for work and a very busy schedule filled with official visits, travels and official audiences. He frequently travelled abroad to represent Norway, and addressed the UN General Assembly on several occasions.

Throughout his 33-year reign, King Olav was cherished and respected as a monarch. He knew exactly how to maintain the appropriate closeness to and distance from his subjects. He had a great ability to talk to people, and it was this and his genuine warmth that led him to become known as the “People’s King”.


King Olav V passed away at the Royal Lodge in Oslo on 17 January 1991. Within a few hours after his death was announced, the Palace Square was transformed into a sea of candles. For days, mourners continued to come to the Square to light candles and leave flowers in tribute to the King.

King Olav was buried in the Royal Mausoleum at Akershus Castle in Oslo.


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