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Harald and Sonja - Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway

Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway was born on the 4th July 1937, daughter of Mr. Karl and Mrs. Dagny Haraldsen. She received her elementary education and went on to learn dressmaking and tailoring at a vocational school, since her family was the owner of a clothing store in Oslo. Miss Haraldsen later earned a diploma from the École Professionnelle de Jeunes Filles in Lausanne, Switzerland. She also received a bachelor’s degree in French, English and Art History at Oslo University. Mr. Karl Haraldsen suddenly died in March 1959, few months before his daughter came to know her future husband, HRH Crown Prince Harald of Norway. The couple met at a party hosted by a mutual friend, Johan H. Stenersen, in June 1959, the first Miss Haraldsen attended after the death of her father. When the Crown Prince graduated from the Military Academy two months later, he invited Miss Haraldsen as his date for the graduation ball, and two photographs of them together were taken.

From then on, Miss Haraldsen became a theme of discussion in Norway, among politicians, the media and the people, who deeply cared for their King and the Monarchy and believed then that the Crown Prince should marry a Princess and not a Norwegian commoner. The debate went on for several years, as did the relationship. That step that the Crown Prince was willing to take could find different precedents in various royal families, some ending with the loss of rights of those marrying commoners and some with the acceptance of the marriages: for instance, in the Monegasque Princely Family, Prince Rainier III had married actress Grace Kelly and in the British Royal Family, where Princess Margaret had married Mr. Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, breaking conventions and leaving most of European royalty away of Westminster Abbey. But there was another British example that was to be feared in Norway, the one of King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. The fear of an renunciation of Crown Prince Harald certainly went though many minds, especially because it would leave King Olav without a successor, since Princesses Astrid and Ragnhild were both excluded from the line of succession from birth.

The relationship of the Crown Prince and Miss Haraldsen continued for nine years and it is said to have ended several times, acknowledging the great pressure that had been put on the couple. In August 1964, the Palace was forced to deny that it was the Crown Prince’s intention to marry a commoner. In 1968, when it was felt the mood of the Norwegian people had changed, King Olav planned to announce the couple's engagement on the 21st March. However, on the 15th, the newspaper VG anticipated that the engagement was to be announced and it was announced on the 19th. The couple posed for the press on the day of the engagement and Crown Prince Harald declared: “When my father, after consultation with the Government, the President of the Storting and the parliamentary leaders, has given his consent to the engagement, the question of monarchy or no monarchy is no longer my problem. I am at disposal if one wants me.”

The couple was given a very warm reception and the Norwegians clearly accepted and welcomed Miss Haraldsen as their new Crown Princess. They married on the 29th August 1968 and celebrated the births of their children, Princess Märtha Louise on the 22nd September 1971 and the male heir Prince Haakon Magnus, whose baptism was a true state occasion, on the 20th July 1973. Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja travelled extensively through Norway and the World, representing the King and Norway from Africa to India, from the USA to Latin America. The Crown Princess instituted the HRH Princess Märtha Louise's Fund for disabled children in Norway. She was also the Vice-President of the Norwegian Red Cross from 1987 to 1990.

When King Olav died on the 17th January 1991, Crown Princess Sonja became Norway's first Queen in more than 52 years, since Queen Maud’s death in November 1938 – Crown Princess Märtha died in 1954, before her husband’s ascension to the throne. She stood side by side with King Harald as he swore allegiance to the constitution and declared that his motto would be “All For Norway”, on the 21st January 1991, in the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament. In June 1991, HM Queen Sonja was consecrated with her husband at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim: kneeled beside King Harald, facing the High Altar, in front of the Bishop of Trondheim, Finn Wagle, the Queen was blessed in a ceremony that was perhaps the closest to a coronation that it was possible to get in these modern times.

It was then up to Queen Sonja to somehow reinvent the role of Queen, something that Her Majesty has done remarkably well. The Queen has accompanied the King in numerous State visits throughout the world and has performed thousands of official engagements in Norway. She is patron and president of numerous organizations and participates in many conferences. Queen Sonja is a great admirer of outdoor sports (especially skiing) and is keen on the arts, especially modern paintings. The Queen has a very large collection, recently shown in the exhibition “Impulser”, visited by members of European Royal Families on the morning of Crown Prince Haakon’s wedding.

A rehabilitation of the Royal Palace of Oslo took place between 1991 and 2001 and caused debate as the King, and particularly the Queen, were accused of spending taxpayers' money on luxury, while the main reason why the rehabilitation cost more than estimated, was that it turned out that the Palace was in a very bad state (almost nothing had been done since the early years of King Haakon's reign). The Queen, with her sense of art and culture, was particularly closely involved in the rehabilitation project, and deserves respect for having contributed much to saving a unique historical building. It should be said that even if the Queen is not a hugely popular member of the Royal Family and is often seen as too reserved, Her Majesty is very much respected for her hard work and duty-consciousness.

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