Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Norwegian Queen of Hearts. Princess Märtha of Norway

Märtha with her husband and daughter Ragnhild

Tears came to Princess Märtha's eyes as she stood on the deck of the American Legion watching Norwegian sailors on nearby boats recognised her and started to sing the Norwegian anthem "Yes We Love". She held the little Prince Harald (now King Harald V) high for them. She didn't know or even if when she would see her beloved country, now invaded by the Nazis, again.

The American Ambassador to Norway Florence Harriman had helped arrange Princess Märtha's escape from Norway through Sweden (where the King was pro-Nazi and not keen to provide accommodation) to America. She often watched as the young princess played with her two young daughters and her son in all kinds of weather, apparently never feeling seasick. The princess couldn't give in to her feelings in front of the children but she may have sometimes cried at night over Norway's fate in a dark, Nazi-dominated Europe.

The princess and her husband Crown Prince Olav first met President Franklin Roosevelt when they went to the U.S. to dedicate the Norwegian exhibit in 1939, and they became friendly. They probably held several conversations about the looming crisis in Europe with the President at Hyde Park and the White House. During their extensive ten-week tour they visited many states, including Virginia and Milwaukee. 

King Haakon refused to surrender to the Germans, and he and Prince Olav helped to support the Norwegian government in exile in the UK, but it was decided that Princess Märtha separate from them, because of fears that her children could be kidnapped. Quisling, whose name is synonymous with treason, named himself Prime Minister after the Norwegian government fled to the U.K. along with the King and his son, to help their country. President Roosevelt offered her asylum, and she and the children stayed at the White House while looking for a suitable residence. The President enjoyed driving around the countryside with the princess looking at houses, and playing with the children, but his attentions to her apparently made Missy, his secretary and perhaps his girlfriend, annoyed, according to many accounts. 

Finally, it was decided that the family could stay at Pook's Hill in Maryland, an attractive Tudor residence not far from the White House. The house was owned by Merle Thorpe, who named it after a collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling. He didn't like the New Deal policies, and was quite frosty about the situation! The Norwegian government bought the house in 1941. 

Princess Märtha and the President often met for dinners, and outings, and there are even rumours about a possible romance. Roosevelt's son James said that his father may have had a romance with her. The President was certainly very attached to her beautiful looks, and warm personality. He thought that she looked 'exactly as a princess should', but she was very much in love with her husband. They may have been flirtatious, but it is hard to believe that there was an actual romance. Prince Olav visited the Princess  from the UK occasionally during the war years, spending Christmas with her on one stay.

The President was extremely impressed by her extensive work to promote Norway's interests. She worked for the Red Cross, gave speeches and lectures, and helped refugees, even though she hated public speaking! The Crown Princess  Märtha thanked the President in a speech supporting the Norwegians when he presented the exiled Norwegian forces with the submarine chaser HNoMS King Haakon VII in 1942.

Princess Märtha died when she was only 54, without becoming Queen. However, the brave princess was much loved by the Norwegian people. The Bishop of Oslo said that: 'In our hearts, she has long been our Queen, and she will be so forever'.

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