A golden wedding anniversary for a golden royal couple – King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway mark fifty years of marriage on 29 August 2018. Ever popular, the couple will celebrate surrounded by their family and with the good wishes of many of their fellow Norwegians as they look back on a royal life together that began on a sunny day in Oslo in 1968.
The royal wedding of the then Crown Prince Harald of Norway and Sonja Haraldsen was a major event in the regal calendar. The couple, who had been together for nine years, said their vows in front of a congregation that included royalty from across Europe. But it was the popular response to their wedding that really set the tone for the successful marriage that was to follow.
The huge wave of support shown for the newlyweds came after a long courtship brought about by opposition in some parts to this royal love match. Harald was the only son and heir of King Olav V of Norway who had inherited a throne which was barred to women. That meant his two daughters were excluded from the succession leading to increasing pressure, in some quarters, for his only son to marry a fellow royal.
When Harald made it clear he would stay single if he couldn’t marry Sonja, the union was given the go ahead, and the couple announced their engagement on 19 March 1968. The groom presented his bride with a ruby and diamond ring that had once belonged to his late mother, Crown Princess Märtha.
Within weeks, royal families across Europe received invitations to the wedding which was set for August 29th at Oslo Cathedral. Among those arriving in the Norwegian capital in the days before the marriage were King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark along with the country’s then Crown Princess, Margrethe, and her new husband, Prince Henrik, and King Baudouin of the Belgians. The Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg, Jean and Josephine-Charlotte, were also present along with Prince Claus of the Netherlands.
The royal celebrations were due to start with a ball two days before the wedding, but just hours before it started, news arrived that Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, a close friend of King Olav, had died after a short illness. The Queen Mother had to cancel her trip to Oslo for the wedding, and the grand dance was scaled back to a smaller dinner. On the day before the marriage, the royal guests visited an art gallery with Harald and Sonja.
In the late afternoon of August 29th, Oslo Cathedral began to fill with the hundreds of people invited to the marriage of Norway’s future king and queen. Just after 5 pm, the ceremony began with the moving sight of the bride arriving on the arm of King Olav. Sonja’s father had died in 1959 and so to show his fondness for his new daughter-in-law, as well as make another public statement of support for the royal marriage that had raised some eyebrows, Olav walked the bride down the aisle.
The couple said their vows in front of the original altar of the 17th-century cathedral, beneath vibrant ceiling murals which had been added to the church during restoration works two decades earlier. Fridtjov Birkeli, then Bishop of Oslo, officiated at the ceremony, and after the couple had exchanged rings, they walked out into the sunshine and the cheers of large crowds who had come to celebrate with them.
Sonja, now Crown Princess of Norway, was already known for her sense of style, and she’d chosen a simple, and very Sixties, wedding gown. Made by Molstad, an Oslo clothing store, it featured a fitted bodice with three quarter length sleeves and a slightly flared skirt. There were discreet embellishments of white pearls as well as a long train which was attached at her shoulders. The royal bride chose not to wear a tiara, instead anchoring her long tulle veil in place with an arrangement of artificial flowers. Her bouquet included freesias and orchids.
The bridal party was understated, too, by royal standards. Sonja had a maid of honour and four bridesmaids while Prince Harald stood at the altar supported by his best man. But there was nothing low key about the response to the wedding, and by the time the newlyweds arrived back at the Royal Palace in Oslo for their reception, large crowds were waiting for them. When they appeared on the balcony to show their thanks for the support they’d been given, they were greeted with cheers.
Their popularity has continued in the fifty years since. Harald and Sonja, who became King and Queen of Norway in 1991, showed a quiet determination to build a life together and now celebrate the five decades of marriage that have followed their very modern royal wedding.