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The special friendship between two unexpected kings hidden in a royal wedding photo

Wedding of Olav and Martha, 1929

On a cool day in early spring 1929, a king in waiting made his way to one of his country’s most famous churches for his wedding. At his side was a childhood friend. The bond between the men was strong enough for the groom to ask his royal relation to act as best man on this very special day. They were decked in military uniform and the royal honours of their respective countries while the guests around them repreJusented the ruling houses of Europe. Two men, the very image of royalty. Both would end up wearing their countries’ crowns. And yet neither had been expected to rule at birth. The wedding of Olav of Norway provided the world with a public glimpse of the special bond he shared with his best man, the future King George VI.

On March 21st 1929, the idea that the best man might one day rule Britain was still a far fetched possibility. He arrived at Oslo Cathedral as Albert, Duke of York, second son of King George V. The dutiful duke was second in line to the succession, behind his glamourous brother, Edward, who was expected to star in an even bigger royal wedding at any moment before starting an equally glamourous royal family of his own. From the moment of his birth, on December 14th 1895, Bertie had been very much the spare.

The friend whom he was supporting that day had arrived with even less prospect of a throne. Crown Prince Olav of Norway had begun life as Prince Alexander of Denmark. He was born on July 2nd 1903 at Appleton House, Sandringham where his parents had set up home following their wedding in 1896. His mother was Princess Maud, sister of King George V, while his father was Prince Carl of Denmark who was the second son of the Danish Crown Prince. It was a rather jolly royal union that won the approval of family members far and wide but it was very much a marriage of minor royals.

However, in 1905, Carl was asked to become monarch of Norway after its union with Sweden was dissolved. He agreed, as long as that choice was ratified by a popular vote. Once that was complete, he and his family arrived in Oslo. Alexander’s name was changed to Olav and his future of royal obscurity was converted into a direct path to a throne.

His mother loved spending time in England and also met up with her royal relations on holiday. During that time, Olav and Bertie struck up a friendship that increased as they got older. When Olav fell in love with Princess Martha of Sweden and a royal wedding beckoned, he asked Bertie to be best man.

The wedding photo shows the two men side by side. The bride takes centre stage, seated amongst her bridesmaids, while Olav and Bertie stand behind her.

The best man would become a king before the groom. In December 1936, Bertie’s older brother, Edward VIII, abdicated, less than a year into his reign, to marry Wallis Simpson. The shy Duke of York became George VI.

He never got to see his good friend reign. Olav took Norway’s throne in 1957 on the death of his father, King Haakon VII. George VI had died in 1952 while the bride at the wedding where he was best man was also gone – Princess Martha passed away in 1954. It makes the wedding portrait that united these two unexpected kings even more poignant.

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About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.