The Kingdom of Norway as a unified realm was initiated by King Harald Fairhair in 9th century. His efforts in unifying the petty kingdoms of Norway, resulted in the first known Norwegian central government. The country however fragmented soon, and was collected into one entity in the first half of 11th century. Norway has been a monarchy since then, passing through several eras.
Thus was born the medieval (or, as is sometimes said, the first independent) kingdom of Norway, the realm of the Fairhair dynasty.
According to traditional view, Norway was the hereditary kingdom of this dynasty, agnatic descendants of the first unifier-king. The throne was inherited by all of Harald's male descendants. In the 13th century, the kingdom was officially declared hereditary by law, contrary to the other Scandinavian monarchies which were elective kingdoms in the Middle Ages.
Harald Fairhair was the first king of Norway, as opposed to "in Norway". The traditional date of the first formation of a unified Norwegian kingdom is set to 872 when he defeated the last petty kings who resisted him at the Battle of Hafrsfjord, however the consolidation of his power took many years. The boundaries of Fairhair's kingdom were not identical to those of present day Norway and upon his death the kingship was shared among his sons. Harald Fairhair unified Norway, at least the coastal areas north to Trøndelag. After his death, the fragmentation back into petty kingdoms happened almost instantly. However, most of them were now in hands of Harald's putative sons, descendants or allies. Although there were districts in hands of other dynasties (such as Ladejarls), the concept of a central power on an hereditary basis had come into existence. It remains uncertain whether Norway can be defined as an hereditary kingdom even after succession of Eric I of Norway and Haakon I of Norway, sons of Fairhair himself. Some historians put emphasis on the actual monarchical control over the country and assert that St. Olav, who reigned from 1015, was the first king to have control over the entire country. Olav is traditionally held to be the driving force behind Norway's final conversion to Christianity. He was later also revered as Rex Perpetuum Norvegiæ (Latin: the eternal king of Norway). Only when the "half-brothers" Olav II and Harald III ascend to power, is there any weight given to the claim that the successor was predestined by some rules of inheritance and not simply through force.
The Fairhair dynasty can, however, be seen as an artificial construct. It has been proposed (most vociferously by Claus Krag) that the genealogical lines between Harald Fairhair and the generation of Olav the Saint and Harald Hardråde is a construct in a later attempt to legitimize the then monarchs, and also provide a claim to the region of Viken (the area around the present-day Oslo), a claim challenged by the Danish. Adherents of this proposal consider Harald Hardråde to be the actual dynastic founder. This claim has won wide, but not universal, acceptance among historians. It is a disputed question whether Harald Hardråde himself actually claimed inheritance from Harald Fairhair, or whether this claim was constructed later by his descendants.
From our sources, it seems reasonable to assume that Olav II and Harald Hardråde were half-brothers, with a common mother but two different fathers. Descent from the same mother was not in Germanic understanding a proper dynastic tie, and Harald Hardråde's supporters did not base his rights and claims on that. Instead, Harald Hardråde's father was supposedly a descendent, in unbroken male line, from a younger (and somewhat obscure) son of Harald Fairhair. The same has been claimed regarding Olav II's line. To researchers, one or perhaps both of these somewhat obscure male-line descents may be legendary.
The idea of three separate genealogical male-line descents of Harald Fairhair to Olav I of Norway, Olav II of Norway and Harald Hardråde, is based on saga material compiled a few centuries later, out of the material preserved or created by supporters of these monarchs. Research has generally shown a tendency to create a more prestigious past to the country, and to strengthen the claims and legitimacy of its rulers.
There could have been other lines of descent from King Harald I than the three embellished by Heimskringla. On the other hand, there is no evidence that even these three are factual.
Until the 13th century there were no clearly defined succession laws. Instead the succession was based on customs with origins in old Germanic traditions: The situation followed loosely agnatic seniority and agnatic succession with some elements of elective monarchy. All patrilineal male descendants of Harald Hardrada were entitled to share the kingship. This included sons born outside marriage and many kings had semi-official concubines. To formally become king the candidate had to be hailed at the thing – though he would naturally make sure to have the assembly’s support before launching his candidacy. The sources do not record any instance of a candidate being turned down by a thing after demanding to be hailed. As kingship gradually took shape as an institution a few things, particularly Øreting in Trøndelag, received a special status as the places the new king was hailed.
The result of these customs was that brothers and half-brothers would inherit the throne to rule jointly, but such arrangements rarely lasted. As a result, succession was generally a matter of conflict, intrigue, and at times minor civil war. From 1130s, strifes escalated to a more or less continuous civil war until 1240.
However, during the reign of the Hardrada branch of the dynasty, it was generally agreed that only patrilineal male descendants of King Harald III, were entitled to the kingship.
Many of the claims by later royal pretenders to belong to the Fairhair dynasty are obvious falsehoods (most notably that of Sverre Sigurdsson).
1163, Magnus V of Norway, the son of a daughter of a previous ruler, ascended to the throne. He was supported by the church, and despite initial success, and the first example of a codified law of succession (allowing his own cognatic heirship), he was overthrown by putative male-line members of the old royal dynasty.
In the 13th century, the kingdom was officially declared hereditary by king Haakon Haakonsson, through a succession system that was based on primogeniture. It was also under Haakon Haakonsson, himself the illegitimate son of king Haakon Sverresson, that legitimacy of birth became a factor in the line of succession. Haakon's eldest son, Sigurd, was accordingly bypassed by Haakon's legitimate sons, Haakon and Magnus.
In the tradition of the Germanic monarchy the king had to be elected by a representative assembly of noblemen. Men eligible for election had to be of royal blood; the eldest son of the previous king was not automatically chosen. During the civil war era the unclear succession laws and the practice of power-sharing between several kings simultaneously gave personal conflicts the potential to become full-blown wars. Over the centuries kings consolidated their power and eventually a strict succession law made Norway a principally hereditary kingdom. As a result of the unions with Denmark and Sweden, the heredity principles were several times flaunted in the succession to the throne, until they were explicitly abolished in 1450.
The Black Death of 1349–51 was a contributing factor to the decline of the Norwegian monarchy as the noble families and population in general were gravely affected. But the most devastating factor for the nobility and the monarchy in Norway was the steep decline in income from their holdings. Many farms were deserted and rents and taxes suffered. This left the Norwegian monarchy weakened in terms of manpower, noble support, defence ability and economic power.
After the death of Haakon VI of Norway in 1380, his son Olav IV of Norway succeeded to both the thrones of Norway and Denmark and also claimed the Kingdom of Sweden (holding its westernmost provinces already). Only after his death at the age of 17 his mother Margrethe managed to oust their rival, king Albrekt, from Sweden, and thus united the three Scandinavian kingdoms in personal union under one crown, in the Kalmar Union. Olav's death extinguished yet one Norwegian male royal line; he was also the last Norwegian king to be born on Norwegian soil for the next 567 years.
After the death of Olav IV of Norway in 1387, the closest in line to the succession was the Swedish king Albrecht of Mecklenburg. However, his succession was politically unacceptable to the Norwegians and Danes. Next in line were the descendants of the Sudreim lineage, legitimate descendants of Haakon V of Norway's illegitimate, but recognized daughter Agnes Haakonardottir, Dame of Borgarsyssel. However, the candidate from this lineage renounced his claim to the throne in favour of Eric of Pomerania, queen Margrethe's favoured candidate. The succession right of this lineage resurfaced in 1448 after the death of king Christopher of Bavaria, but the potential candidate, Sigurd Jonsson, again renounced his candidature - see Sudreim claim. Eric's succession was one in a line of successions which did not precisely follow the laws of inheritance, but excluded one or a few undesirable heirs, leading to Norway formally becoming an elective kingdom in 1450 .
Starting with Margrethe, the throne of Norway was held by a series of non-Norwegian kings (usually perceived as Danish) who variously held the throne to more than one Scandinavian countries, or of all of them.
In 1440, the Norwegian privy council reluctantly deposed king Eric of Pomerania (1383-1459), after Denmark and Sweden had done the same. The nearest heir to throne was Eric's cousin, Bugislav, but the succession-laws were overlooked because of the necessity to choose the same king as Denmark and Sweden. Christopher of Bavaria was therefore chosen as Norwegian king.
In 1448 when Christopher died without close heirs, the union between Sweden and Denmark dissolved, as the two countries chose different kings. Sweden chose Charles Knutsson Bonde, while Denmark chose Christiern Didriksson of Oldenburg (Christian I of Denmark). Norway was thus left with a dilemma. Once again, hereditary rights seem to have had little influence over the decisions made (according to feudal inheritance, the Duke of Mecklenburg would have been closest in rights, and duke Adolf of Slesvig-Holstein as head of next branch, who however had supported his nephew Christian's election). Sigurd Jonsson, of the Sudreim-line, a descendant of Haakon V of Norway, seems to have been mentioned as a candidate, but turned the offer down. The Norwegian nobility then split between supporters of king Charles of Sweden and king Christian of Denmark. Charles succeeded in being crowned king of Norway in Trondheim in 1449, but in 1450 agreed to renounce the Norwegian throne to king Christian of Denmark in a separate peace deal with Denmark. The Norwegians were not a party to this decision, but were left with Christian as their only candidate. He was crowned in Trondheim the same year. Thus, the House of Oldenburg was first introduced to the Norwegian monarchy. In a union treaty, drawn up by the privy councils of Norway and Denmark in Bergen in 1450, it was specified that Norway was to be an elected kingdom, and have the same king as Denmark in perpetuity. On the death of the king, the Norwegian and Danish privy councils would meet and elect the new king among the previous king's legitimate sons. If no such son existed, the choice was free, but the councils should not part until they had agreed on a common king.
In the following centuries the Norwegian monarchy was characterised by a king mostly residing abroad. This weakened the monarchical governing structures of Norway; the Riksråd, for example, was gradually undermined as the Norwegian nobles were not able to enjoy the King's confidence to the same extent as their Danish counterparts. The King was also less able to govern according to Norwegian needs as the distance meant he and his advisors had less knowledge of the conditions in Norway.
Norway was one of few countries where the archdiocese was coterminous with the national territory. The church was therefore an important factor in trying to maintain the separate Norwegian monarchy. In the 16th century the power struggle between the Norwegian nobles and the king culminated at the same time as the reformation. This prompted an unfortunate set of events in which the struggle against the Danish dominance in Norway was coupled with the struggle against the reformation. When both failed the effects were harsh. The Norwegian Catholic bishops were replaced with Danes and the Norwegian church was subdued and made wholly Danish. The Norwegian Riksråd was abolished in 1536 and more and more foreign men were appointed to important positions in Norway.
In 1661 Frederick III introduced absolute monarchy in Denmark and Norway and introduced a new law, the Lex Regis in both countries to that effect. In this law the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were proclaimed to be hereditary.
During the Napoleonic Wars the King aligned Denmark-Norway with France. When Napoleon lost the war Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden under the Treaty of Kiel in 1814. It was initially proposed that the Norwegian dependencies of Greenland, Iceland and the Faroes would remain with Norway, but that point was dropped during the negotiations so they became Danish.
On hearing news of the treaty, Prince Christian Frederik of Denmark and Norway, the resident viceroy in Norway, participated in founding a Norwegian independence movement. The independence movement was successful, partly due to clandestine support from the Danish Crown, but also because of the strong desire for independence in Norway. On April 10, a national assembly met at Eidsvoll to decide on a constitution. Norway eventually declared independence on May 17 1814, electing Christian Frederik as King. A short war with Sweden later that year ended with the Convention of Moss. This led to the ousting of Christian Frederik, and the Norwegian Storting electing Carl XIII of Sweden as King of Norway, creating the union between Sweden and Norway. In turn the king recognised the Norwegian constitution which was only changed to facilitate the union.
The end result was that the Norwegian monarchy became a constitutional monarchy. In this new union the King was much more a King of Norway than under the previous Danish system. Norway was not to be treated as a Swedish conquest but rather as an equal party in a union of two independent states. Both the principle and substance of the Norwegian Constitution were accepted, and Norway retained its own parliament and separate institutions, except for the common king and foreign service. The only area of policy not in the hands of the Norwegians was foreign policy.
Norway had been brought along into the new developments of the world as they arrived in Denmark. However with the break the Norwegians were able to forge a more progressive political development than was the case in Denmark. Denmark introduced a constitutional monarchy 35 years after Norway. Parliamentarism was introduced in 1884 in Norway, 17 years before Denmark and 33 years before Sweden. The union with Denmark also had its adverse effects on the monarchy, among other things it resulted in the crown of Norway experiencing a loss of territory which today amounts to 2 322 755 km². Very few royal undertakings had been located to Norway and the country is thus lacking the monumental palaces of the period as can be seen in Copenhagen and other parts of Denmark.
The Norwegian Storting would propose laws based in Norway and the King would even on occasion enact laws unfavourable to Sweden. As the Norwegian movement towards full independence gained momentum the King approved the building of forts and naval vessels intended to defend Norway against a Swedish invasion.
The union was nevertheless marked by the Norwegians' constant and growing discontent with being in a union of any kind. The Storting would propose laws to reduce the king's power or to assert Norwegian independence. This would most often be vetoed by the king, but as he only had the right to veto the same law twice it would eventually be passed. Already in 1814 the Norwegians instituted a separate flag, this would remain an issue until the union mark was discarded from the Norwegian flag in 1898. In 1837 local self-government in certain areas of policy was introduced in rural areas as well as towns. Parliamentarism was introduced in 1884.
Quite often, crown princes of the dynasty served some time in the position of Viceroy of Norway at Oslo, as sort of training for their future reign.
Charles II, as he was officially known in Norway, was succeeded in both kingdoms by his adopted son Charles III John of Norway, the first Bernadotte. He had no known genealogical roots in Norway, but he had his son and heir, the future Oscar I of Norway marry Josephine of Leuchtenberg, a descendant of the earlier kings Christian II and Frederick II, and thus descending from all their ancestors too. Her sons, Charles IV and Oscar II, were thus issue of the so-called Fairhair dynasty.
It also has to be said that the Royal House tried harder to be a Norwegian Royal House as well. The Royal Palace in Oslo was built during this period. There were separate coronations in Trondheim as stipulated in the Constitution. The royal princes even had a hunting lodge built in Norway in order to spend more private time there. King Oscar II himself is said to have been fluent in Norwegian.
The future Haakon VII of Norway belonged to the house of Oldenburg, which 1448-1814 was the Royal House of union of Denmark and Norway, to its branch Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.
His family had permanent links with Norway already beginning from late Middle Ages, and also several of his father's ancestors had been kings of independent Norway (such as Haakon V of Norway, Christian I of Norway, Frederick I, Christian III, Frederick II, Christian IV, as well as Frederick III of Norway. Christian Frederick, who was King of Norway briefly in 1814, the first king of Norwegian 1814 constitution and struggle for independence, was his great-granduncle.
In 1905, Carl, taking the name Haakon, ascended the throne of independent Norway to succeed his deposed great-uncle Oscar II.
In 1905 a series of disputes between parliament and the King culminated with the matter of separate Norwegian consuls to foreign countries. Norway had grown into one of the world's leading shipping nations while Sweden retained control of both the diplomatic and consulate corps. The Swedes had little insight in the matters Norwegian ships and businessmen needed assistance with abroad and consulates were not even established in several important shipping cities. The demand for separate Norwegian consuls was seen as very important by the Norwegian parliament and society. The Storting proposed a law establishing a separate Norwegian consulate corps. King Oscar II refused to ratify the law and subsequently the Norwegian cabinet resigned. The king was not able to form any other government that had the support of parliament and as such it was deemed on 7 June that he had failed to function as King of Norway.
The Norwegian people gave their consent in a plebiscite held on 13 August which resulted in an overwhelming 368,208 votes (99.95%) in favor of dissolution of the Union, against 184 (0.05%) opposed, with 85 percent of Norwegian men voting. No women voted, as universal suffrage was not granted until 1913, however Norwegian feminists collected more than 200,000 signatures in favor of dissolution.
On November 12 and November 13, in the second constitutional plebiscite in three months, Norwegian voters decided by a nearly 79 percent majority (259,563 to 69,264) to keep the monarchy instead of establishing a republic.
During the summer a Norwegian delegation had already approached the 33-year-old Prince Carl of Denmark, the second son of the Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark. The Norwegian parliament had considered other candidates but ultimately chose Prince Carl, partly because he already had a son to continue the line of succession, but more significantly because Carl was married to Maud of Wales, the daughter of King Edward VII. By bringing in a king with British royal ties, it was hoped that Norway could court Britain's support.
Prince Carl impressed the delegation in many ways, not the least because of his sensitivity to the liberal and democratic movements that had led to Norway's independence. Though the Norwegian constitution stipulated that the Storting could choose a new king if the throne were vacant, Carl was aware that many Norwegians — including leading politicians and high-ranking military officers — favored a republican form of government. Attempts to persuade the prince to accept the throne on the basis of election at Parliament failed; Carl insisted that he would accept the crown only if the Norwegian people expressed their will for monarchy by referendum and if the parliament then elected him king.
Following the November plebiscite affirming Norwegians' desire for a monarchy, the parliament by an overwhelming majority offered Carl a clear mandate to the Norwegian throne on November 18. The prince accepted the same evening, choosing the name Haakon, a traditional name used by Norwegian kings. The last king with that name was Haakon VI, who died in the year 1380.
The new king therefore became Haakon VII, King of Norway. His two-year-old son Alexander, the heir apparent, was renamed Olav and became Crown Prince Olav. The new royal family arrived in the capital Kristiania (later Oslo) on November 25. Haakon VII was sworn in as king of Norway on November 27.
The early years of the new Norwegian monarchy were marked by a shortage of funds. The Norwegian state was poor and funds were needed elsewhere than in the upkeep of a large court. In that sense it was a stroke of good fortune that Prince Carl had set as a condition for accepting the throne that he would not be forced to keep a large court. However the royal travels and the upkeep of the royal residences, after the initial refurbishment in 1905, were to some extent neglected. One example of the negative financial situation is that Prince Carl had been promised a Royal Yacht when he accepted the throne, but this was not fulfilled until 1947.
One important incident in the early years of the new monarchy was in 1928 when the King appointed the first Labour government. The Norwegian Labour Party was at that time quite radical and even had the abolition of monarchy as part of their programme. It was the custom for the King to rely on the advice of previous Prime Minister in deciding who to give the assignment as new Prime Minister. In this case the previous conservative Prime Minister was opposed to giving power to the radicals and advised the appointment of someone else. But the King adhered to the established practice of parliamentarism and decided to appoint Christopher Hornsrud the first Labour Prime Minister. The Labour party later dropped the abolition of monarchy from their programme.
During the German occupation of World War II the King was an important symbol of national unity and resistance. His steadfast opposition to the German demands of surrender was important for the fighting spirit of the Norwegian population. The constitutional powers granted to the King in the Norwegian monarchical system made his position very important and enabled the government in exile to continue its work with the utmost legitimacy.
After the war the Norwegian royal house succeeded in maintaining a balance between regality and approachability. King Olav V was deemed the people's king and the spontaneous show of mourning from the population upon his death in 1991 demonstrated the high standing he had among the Norwegian people. Even republicans were among the masses lighting candles in front of the Palace.
In later years the marriages of the then Crown Prince Harald in 1968 and of Crown Prince Haakon in 2001 sparked considerable controversy, but the lasting effect on the popularity of the monarchy has been minimal. Although decreased from its level of above 90 percent after the war, support for the monarchy seems to remain stable around and mostly above the 70 percent mark.
From 15th century, at least up to 1660, the heir apparent of the King of Denmark and Norway was generally titled "Prince of Norway", in recognition to his hereditary right to succeed to the Norwegian throne upon the death of the king, as opposed to the need to pass an election in order to succeed to the Danish throne. Other members of House of Oldenburg, including any younger siblings of the Prince of Norway, were not called princes or princesses of Norway, but the title "Heir of Norway" was sooner or later accorded to them.
Next, the heads of the line descending from Haakon V of Norway's illegitimate, but succession-entitlement-recognized daughter Agnes Haakonardottir, started also to use the same title "Heir of Norway". They got support from monarchs of the so-called "Swedish Empire" to their pretension, being interested in challenging the Danish grip to Norway. Their forefathers (or predecessors in claim line) had in 14th and 15th century launched their ambitions towards Norwegian throne even as revolts - see Sudreim claim.