Despite being isolated from mainland Europe, North-Norway has managed to attract a surprisingly large amount of kings, princes and other emperors. So why exactly do royals keep on visiting the Norwegian Arctic? Depends, some come for war, others for love, and a good deal for…vacation!
Way before the dawn of the Viking Age, Scandinavia was divided between numerous chieftains and some most certainly styled themselves kings of some kind, but of these ancient kings we know virtually nothing today. The Sagas, on the other hand, mention quite a few kingly incursions in the Northern part of the country. The most famous of those was probably the voyage of king Eric (later known as blood-axe) to Finnmark where he met his future wife, the beautiful yet maleficent Gunnhild.(1)
In more modern times, Norway joined a union with Denmark and both countries shared one king. Most of those kings did not really care about Norway though and few ever visited the country. However, one much beloved king, the noble Christian IV who reigned in the early XVIIth century not only visited Norway but even personally led an expedition into the Arctic, sailing through the North-Norwegian coastline and reaching as far as the Russian White Sea. The reason for his voyage? Sweden was then trying to encroach on the county of Finnmark which was formerly a dependancy of Denmark-Norway but not actually administered by the southern crown. By his voyage, the king definitely secured the Northern tip of Scandinavia for the Norwegian kingdom and he is fondly remembered there to this very day. (2)
In the second half of the XIXth century, the German Empire was one of the most powerful countries on Earth and the German nobility took an ever-growing interest in the ancient history of their ancestors. Recognizing the numerous similarities between German and Scandinavian cultures and histories, many of them started to become quite found of the Nordic countries, Norway in particular. Among them was the Emperor himself, the all-mighty Wilhelm the second who became the first Arctic tourist ever when he started to regularly sail his mighty ship, the Hohenzollern, all the way to the North-Cape, thus cementing the enduring place of Arctic Norway in the German psyche. (4)
In 1905, after centuries of Danish and Swedish domination, Norway became independent again and elected the Danish prince Christian (coincidence?) to the throne. The newly anointed king, who took the much more Norwegian name Haakon, spent most of his reign traveling through his extensive kingdom. Even though it took some time for him and his queen, the much beloved Maud, to reach the Arctic reaches of Norway, he enjoyed it so much that he and his family kept on coming back over the next decades right to the present day (4). The current king, His Majesty king Harald has very much been keeping this beloved tradition alive and his wife, Her majesty Queen Sonja is especially found of the North-Norwegian mountains where she can regularly be found hiking in some of the most beautiful landscape of the Nordic countries. It looks like the mighty appeal of the Far North has never been limited to explorers, merchants and Vikings but has been felt, and embraced by even the noblest individuals of the whole continent.
- (1) Storm, Gustav (Trans.). (1930). Snorre Sturlasson Kongesagaer. Oslo: J.M. Sternersens Forlag. (78 – 79)
- (2) Article by the researcher Rune Blix Hagen.
- (3) Arntzen, Jon Gunnar (2010). Alt for Norge – Kongehuset Gjennom 100 år. Oslo: Vega Forlag. (36)
- (4) Ibid. (35)
- (I) Postcard from 1906 representing the German Imperial ship Hohenzollern.
- (II) Engraving of the Danish king Christian IV by Simeon Ruytinck. Taken from the Dutch History book Historie der Neder-land-scher ende haerder na-buren oorlogen ende geschiedenissen, tot den iare M.DC.XII. by Emanuel van Meteren, published in 1614.
- (III) The Hohenzollern ship in Tromsø in 1907. Picture from Perspektivet Museum.
- (IV) King Haakon arrives in Honningsvåg by the North cape in 1922. Picture from the Digital Museum.