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European RoyalsNorway

King Harald V of Norway: The Reformer King


Photo: Oskar Aanmoen

Harald became King of Norway in January 1991 upon the death of his father and was consecrated alongside his wife, Queen Sonja, (who became the first Norwegian queen to be born a commoner) later that year.

As mentioned in another article, Harald’s reign has been marked by maintaining the status quo set by his grandfather and father, focusing on social issues and allowing the government to govern. Lately, his focus has been on children and their welfare.

His reign has also seen a much more open and visible Royal Family and court and has ushered in social changes including two commoner in-laws in Crown Princess Mette-Marit and the late Ari Behn (who had been married to Princess Märtha Louise), and a much more open approach to media coverage. He has also opened up royal residences to the public, making these venues accessible to the public for the first time in many cases.

Harald, the first Norwegian king to be born in the country since the Middle Ages, set a precedent with his 1968 marriage to commoner Sonja Haraldsen. After a nine-year courtship, Harald gave his father Olav an ultimatum: either he married Sonja, or he would never marry, ending the line of succession. Olav agreed, and the couple were married (later having two children: Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Märtha Louise).

In 2001, Harald’s son married a controversial commoner bride, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby: a single mother with a party-girl past. The couple weathered the storm of negative press coverage together, with the blessing of Harald and Sonja, and this year will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.

Princess Märtha Louise also married a commoner, the late Ari Behn, who fathered her three children, following in her parents’ footsteps.

King Harald has ruled over a modern Norwegian Royal Court, opening up access to the family like never before. The Norwegian royals are more open publicly now than they ever were, and the royal residences are mostly open to visitors and tourists who want to see the way they live.

King Harald and Queen Sonja have been attempting to open a royal museum in Oslo, though so far this project remains unfulfilled.

Popularity for the Norwegian monarchy has never dipped to levels that would worry the Royal Family. In 2012, 93% of Norwegians felt the Royal Family were doing a positive job for the country. As Harald’s reign continues into its fourth decade, he can be assured that he has done a great job for his country.

About author

Jess is the Senior Royal Reporter and Editorial Assistant at Royal Central. Her interest in royalty started in her teenage years, coinciding with The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 and grew from there. She specializes in the British Royal Family (with emphasis on the Cambridges) and the Danish Royal Family, and has provided royal commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia.