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After Norway fell under control of the Axis powers during World War II, Crown Prince Olaf, from his exile in London, rallied Norway's underground resistance movement.
'Atlantic Crossing': Exploring the Real-Life History Behind the Masterpiece SeriesMärtha (Sofia Helin) and President Roosevelt (Kyle MacLachlan). Courtesy of MASTERPIECE
What ‘inspired by true events’ really means is some of this actually happened, some of it could likely have happened, and the rest of it is made up.
Alexander Eik, creator of 'Atlantic Crossing'
The series Atlantic Crossing has come in for a fair amount of criticism in Europe for its alleged mishandling of history. It was bound to happen, just as viewers of Netflix’s The Crown, couldn’t always separate fact from fiction. Neither The Crown nor Atlantic Crossing ever claimed to be anything but dramatizations of historical events in which facts have to serve a credible storyline, while keeping the viewers engaged. This is when audiences get vocal about modern values being imposed on history, and the closer the period is to our own, the more heated the arguments tend to become.
One advantage creator Alexander Eik and his colleagues had were that the story of Norweigian Crown Princess Märtha and her influence on American president Franklin D. Roosevelt was pretty much forgotten. In Britain, at any rate, the official version is that Winston Churchill was responsible for persuading the U.S. to enter the World War II. Why did not Norway celebrate her achievements? Was it because the country wanted to keep myths and rumors about Märtha’s possible affair with Roosevelt under wraps? Or did nobody really care? Did rebuilding and recovering from the German invasion and occupation take up everyone’s time and energy? Olav and Märtha remained well-loved after their return home and, as far as I can tell, Norway today has a healthy, low-key affection for its unpretentious royals.
NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company, published a series of commentaries on each episode of Atlantic Crossing, noting details that were wrong or embellished. WGBH translated and published this analysis of Episode 2. But let’s take a look at what the series gets right, as far as we can tell, and the main and troubling part it gets wrong.
Norway’s royalty was more approachable and less stuffily royal, than say, the inhabitants of Buckingham Palace. Olav and Märtha were popular and good-looking, the modern face of royalty. They had known each other since childhood, because—brace yourselves—they were cousins. Almost all of the royal heads of Europe were descended from Queen Victoria’s children in the early-to-mid 20th-century, and in those days royalty did not marry commoners. It was a love match, and they became engaged at the Olympics in 1928, where Olav and his crew won a gold medal for sailing.
On their trip to the U.S. in 1939, they won the admiration of the American public, particularly when they visited Mount Rainier Park and skied (I’m pretty sure this was cross-country skiing). Olav, who had skied since he was a tiny child, was presented with a pair of skis representing the latest American technology and won an impromptu race. The tour also included visits to Norwegian communities.
At this point almost one million Norwegians (the equivalent of half of the population of Norway), mostly farmers, had emigrated to the U.S., taking advantage of the Homestead Act. The majority had settled in MN and WI. And lest we forget they were royals, between them, Olav and Märtha had 90 pieces of luggage.Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park, May 24, 1939 Courtesy Tacoma Public Library, Richards Studio Collection (D8365-4).
But in the interests of good story and strong conflict, Eik decided to downplay Olav’s role in the negotiations with Roosevelt. The Crown Prince made several visits to the U.S. arguing the case of Britain and Norway, so we do, in fact, have a power trifecta of the Norwegian Crown, Churchill, and Roosevelt. But Märtha’s journey to empowerment and her bravery in overcoming her fear of public speaking is such a potent and moving story.
Sadly, it’s not altogether true. Märtha was an accomplished speaker, unusual for female royalty at the time, and involved in many causes in pre-war Norway. She was able to transfer her talents to campaigning for relief aid during her time in the U.S. Did she pressure Roosevelt? How? How much? Or did she leave that to Olav and Churchill?Olav and Märtha with their children at Pooks Hill on one of his diplomatic visits to the US, c. 1942. National Archives of Norway, Creative Commons, 1942.
The first public hints that the relationship with Roosevelt may not have been squeaky clean came in the 1950s and almost certainly were bandied about at the time. Writer Jonathan Daniels opened a can of worms in 1954 with a tell-all account of Roosevelt’s 1916–1920 affair with his secretary Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd, who “was best known for her affair with future U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt.” Thanks, Wikipedia, for that outstanding sexist epigram.
Interestingly, Daniels’ tell-all enhanced Roosevelt’s reputation. Less than a decade after the war, many still considered Roosevelt’s peacetime policies dangerous and were embarrassed by his physical frailty at the Malta Conference. But now, Roosevelt was officially an all-American stud!
The Wikipedia article continues with an astonishing comment, plus snap medical diagnosis, from Joseph E. Persico’s 2008 work Franklin & Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life:
[Persico] speculates that these letters [between Roosevelt and Rutherfurd] may have been the cause of the 1927 nervous breakdown of Franklin's long-time unmarried first secretary Marguerite ‘Missy' LeHand, (1898–1944), as LeHand was also reputedly in love with Roosevelt and no medical cause for her breakdown was found.
And that’s why we take Wikipedia with a big, big grain of salt, folks. Back to reality: Yes, Roosevelt was a womanizer and a flirt, with charm to spare, and a gift for witty banter. The darker side of these characteristics is that now we can see clearly the entitlement of a man in power. Likely we’ll never know what his relationship with Märtha was. One thing that is clear to me in the series is that Märtha is a woman of honor. She loves her country, her husband, and her children. She has a deep, emotional bond with Roosevelt, that of two lonely people who each have crushing responsibilities. But romance? Seduction? Unlikely.
So is Atlantic Crossing really about “a princess [who] steals the heart of the president of the United States?” No. Is it about female empowerment? Of course, but at the expense of history. Eleanor Roosevelt, who almost certainly was frequently enraged by her husband (she offered to divorce him after the Rutherfurd affair) is portrayed as a drudge and killjoy in the series. And Missy, the third member of that unhappy triangle, is terrifyingly unpleasant. As for Märtha, an accomplished public speaker and independent woman, she didn't need to be coaxed into taking any sort of public role. But it makes for a good story, and as much as I'm enjoying this series and love her transformation, I'm saddened by this rewrite.
Here’s a newsreel excerpt showing both Roosevelt and Märtha speaking at the official transfer of an American naval vessel to Norway in 1942. You can read a transcript of the "Look to Norway" speech here. Excellent hat, Märtha. Well played.
The 1939 Mount Rainier Visit
Official site of Norway's Royal Family
Presidential History Blog article on Princess Märtha
Architectural Digest reviews the locations used in the series, in case you were wondering why the long-gone Pook's Hill in Bethesda, MD looks so very eastern European.
What do you think of the history presented in Atlantic Crossing? Had you ever heard of Crown Princess Märtha before the series? And what intrigues you about its historical setting?
Were Norwegian Crown Princess Märtha and President Roosevelt secretly in love? The novelty series reveals the couple’s exceptional relationship
The true-to-life drama starring Kyle MacLachlan and Sofia Helin is going through the worst years of war. Crown Princess Märtha, fleeing to the United States, begins a close relationship with President Roosevelt.
The Norwegian drama series Atlantic Crossing, based on true events, takes place in World War II and, above all, in a story that has not been told before.
The main part of the eight-part series is Norwegian Crown Princess Märtha, played by the Swedish actress Sofia Helin, who is familiar from the Silta series.
The story leads viewers to witness how the Crown Princess once influenced U.S. involvement in the war.
Sofia Helin in the Märthana Atlantic Crossing series. Photo: Julie Vrabelova / Yle Photo service
Norwegian director Alexander Eik wanted to tell this part of military history because it is not familiar to many even in his home country.
- This is primarily the story of Crown Princess Märtha, who has to flee the Nazis first to Sweden and then to the United States with her children.
Eventually, he builds a very close human relationship with the President of the United States, the director says in an interview with Drama Quarterly.
The true story emerged from a small newspaper article that Eik came across.
The article speculated whether the Norwegian Crown Princess and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had once had a romantic relationship.
- I did background work for up to seven years.
Very little has been written about Märtha, and there was always a lottery win when I found new information.
It was quite a treasure hunt.
Sofia Helin was deeply impressed by the story.
- When Alexander told me this true story, I was immediately very interested and impressed by the fate of the Crown Princess.
It’s fascinating how she had to transform herself from a princess to a politically active person, Helin says.
Sofia Helin was fascinated by the story of the series based on true events. Photo: Stella Pictures
The series follows Märtha’s life for five years of war.
This is a large drama production by the Norwegian channel NRK, which has been carried out in collaboration with SVT and DR, and the investment is also visible: the royal costumes, castles and armies create a very credible atmosphere.
The opening period is marked by April 1940, when World War II shook Europe and Germany finally occupied Norway, to everyone's surprise.
Norwegian Crown Princess Märtha and Crown Prince Olav (Tobias Santelmann) realize the attack is coming, but the country’s government will not realize the danger until it is too late.
So the whole royal family and government go into exile with their children in the snowy and freezing winter with the Nazis on their heels.
Märtha escapes with her children to Sweden and Olav remains to defend his homeland.
Märtha and Olav (Tobias Santelmann) .Photo: Julie Vrabelová / Yle
- His situation was really desperate, because he didn't even know if he had a homeland anymore, a place to return to or a man who would be alive, Helin describes the story of his character.
In later episodes, Crown Princess Norwegian Crown Prince Olav escapes with King Haakon VII from Norway to London, and Märthan must get the children to safety from Sweden to the United States.
The great sadness is the knowledge that Märtha and Olav may never meet again.
Märtha is rescued by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (American actress Kyle MacLachlan), whom he meets already in the opening period when the Crown Prince pair visited Roosevelt and his Eleanor wife (Harriet Sansom Harris) before the war broke out.
As in the series, in real life, Crown Princess Märtha (second right) visited President Franklin D. Roosevelt even before the war.
Also pictured in 1939 are Eleanor Roosevelt (left), Crown Prince Olav, and Presidential Mother Sara Delano Roosevelt (center) Photo: CSU Archives / Everett Collection / MVPhotos
In a time of need, President Roosevelt offers Crown Princess Märtha and her children asylum as political refugees, and these settle in the White House.
The friendship between Märtha and the president soon turns into affection and eventually chaos as Märtha publicly expresses his views on Nazi activities and opposes Nazi tyranny.
- Above all, I think the story is about people and how people deal with wartime, MacLachlan ponders.
One of the most dramatic moments of the opening period is the arrival of the Nazis in Norway, and MacLachlan thinks it is Märtha’s escape to freedom that is one of the most touching and best moments in the script.
- Märtha, for example, is seen as she changes when she suddenly has to cope completely with her children.
For him, the well-being of the homeland is always number one, MacLachlan says.
The Crown Princess convinces the President of the United States that the country must support Norway.Photo: Julie Vrabelova / Yle Photo Service
Indeed, Märtha's presence in Washington began to influence the US president's perceptions of overseas war and, more generally, his view of what was happening in Europe - and, ultimately, US policy.
"President Roosevelt was in a really awkward situation at the time because he wanted to increase his popularity among Americans, but at the same time he realized that the United States must take action against Hitler," MacLachlan reflects.
- It is very interesting to get to play such a moment in history, which is extremely critical and important.
In the end, President Roosevelt handled the situation really well.
Kyle MacLachla as President Roosevelt. Photo: Julie Vrabelova / Yle Photo Service
Märtha, for her part, also risks her marriage as she fights for her country and manages to acquire a lot of enemies, some of whom are inside the White House.
- Märtha has to weigh how much she can use the feelings of others in her actions, how she can save her own country and how she can live without her husband for five years, Helin sums up the story.
Lord Mayor Arrives At King Albert's Birthday Fest
Lord Mayor of London Sir W Dunn arriving in coach to attend King Albert's birthday.
Salonika Is Impregnable - Arrival Of Troops At The Gibraltar Of The Balkans
French troops arrive at Salonika, Greece, in 1915.
Bomb The Hun Meeting At Opera House
London representatives arriving at Opera House
America's Millions Arrive - To Reinforce Her Fighting Units
American troops arriving in England.
Cinema Trades Lunch
Cinema trade officials arrive for luncheon at Criterion Grill Room.
Chamberlain Arrives At Croydon
Austen (?) Chamberlain arrives by plane at Croydon airport and is met by his mother.
The Norwegian Emerald Parure
One of the most delightful things about royal jewelry is the extensive history witnessed by the glittering gems. Today, we’re discussing a parure that has seen a whole lot over the past two centuries: the grand emerald set now owned by the Norwegian royal family.
|Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images|
There’s no single accepted theory about the provenance of these fantastic royal emeralds, partly because the creation date of the tiara and the other pieces of the coordinating parure has never been firmly established. The jewels significant stylistic similarities to two diamond and emerald sets created in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century: the emerald and diamond tiara made in 1810 for Napoleon’s second wife, Empress Marie-Louise, by Nitot (and now set with turquoises, not emeralds), and the diamond and emerald tiara made around 1820 by Bapst for the Duchess of Angoulême. Given the similarities to each of these pieces, it’s possible the Norwegian parure was made during the same time frame. But, to complicate things even further, there’s a family story that contradicts a construction date of 1810-20. Historian Trond Norén Isaksen notes that family tradition says that the emeralds in this tiara were mined in Russia emeralds weren’t discovered in Russia until 1830, so if that’s correct, it was actually made in the 1830s, a least a full decade later than the previous examples.
|Princess Augusta, Duchess of Leuchtenberg (Wikimedia Commons)|
There’s also no clear agreement about the set’s original owner. Some have posited that the parure was originally made for Empress Joséphine, Napoleon’s first wife, who died in 1814. If the jewels were made around 1810, that’s certainly possible. But if the post-1830 creation date is correct, the first owner is more likely to have been Joséphine’s daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Leuchtenberg, who was born Princess Augusta of Bavaria. We know for sure that Augusta acquired the tiara at some point — we just don’t know how or from whom.
|Amelie, Dowager Empress of Brazil, ca. 1860s (Wikimedia Commons)|
In 1851, Augusta died in Munich. Her jewels were divided among her three surviving daughters: Amélie (the Empress of Brazil), Joséphine (the Queen of Sweden and Norway), and Théodolinde (the Duchess of Urach). Amélie, the widow of Emperor Pedro I of Brazil, lived in Lisbon, and the parure found a new home with her at the Palácio de Alvor-Pombal, which today is home to Portugal’s National Museum of Ancient Art.
|Queen Sofia of Sweden wears the emerald tiara in a court portrait|
Amélie kept the emerald parure in her personal collection until she died in Lisbon at the age of sixty. Her only child, Princess Maria Amélia, had died two decades before, and at that point, Amélie had only one living sister: Queen Joséphine, the widow of King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway. Joséphine was already sixty-five, but she became her sister’s sole heir, inheriting her jewelry, including the emerald parure (as well as the grand Braganza parure). She didn’t have long to enjoy the jewels, however: three years after inheriting the emeralds from her sister, Queen Joséphine died in Stockholm at the age of sixty-nine. She left the emeralds to her thirty-nine-year-old daughter-in-law, Queen Sofia, the wife of King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway. The tiara doesn’t seem to have been one of Sofia’s favorites — that title probably belongs to her diamond tiara — but she did wear it for a court portrait.
|Crown Princess Margareta of Sweden (pictured with the entire Connaught family) wears the emeralds for the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom, 1911|
Queen Sofia also generously loaned the tiara to other family members. In 1911, when King George V and Queen Mary were crowned in the United Kingdom, Sofia’s grandson and granddaughter-in-law, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Crown Princess Margareta, were among those attending the coronation. Margareta, who was born Princess Margaret of Connaught, was King George’s first cousin their fathers were both sons of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. For the coronation, Sofia loaned the emerald parure to Margareta. The crown prince and princess were photographed with the entire Connaught family at the coronation, and the emeralds are on display in the portrait.
|Princess Ingeborg of Sweden (Wikimedia Commons)|
In 1913, Queen Sofia died in the palace in Stockholm. Rather than designating the emeralds for the use of the country’s current queen, Victoria of Baden, Sofia left them to her daughter-in-law, Princess Ingeborg. Ingeborg was the thirty-five-year-old wife of Sofia’s third son, Prince Carl. Sofia and Victoria had a tense relationship, and Ingeborg was much closer to her mother-in-law. Moreover, though she was the wife of a younger son, Princess Ingeborg had served as Sweden’s de facto first lady during the last years of Oscar II’s reign, and it seems likely that she borrowed her mother-in-law’s emeralds on occasion during that period.
|Princess Ingebo rg of Sweden (center) wears the emeralds for the wedding of her daughter, Princess Astrid, to the future King Leopold III of Belgium, 1926 (Chronicle/Alamy)|
Princess Ingeborg made good use of the emeralds during her time as their owner. She wore the emerald parure during the wedding of her daughter, Princess Astrid of Sweden, and the Duke of Brabant (later King Leopold III of the Belgians). She also posed for a portrait wearing the emerald set the same year. At some point afterward, she decided to make alterations to the set. She had the large drop-shaped emeralds atop the tiara removed and remade into a pair of earrings in their place, a jeweler installed additional diamond palmette elements. She also removed most of the pendants from the necklace and distributed them to various family members. Three of these pendants were given to the late Queen Astrid of the Belgians the emeralds from those pendants are now a part of the emerald peacock tiara owned by the grand ducal family of Luxembourg.
|Crown Princess Martha wears the earrings and necklace from the parure for the christening of her son, Prince Harald, in 1937 (Chronicle/Alamy)|
The new earrings and altered necklace made a prominent appearance on Princess Ingeborg’s daughter, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, in 1937. She borrowed the necklace and earrings from the parure from her mother for the christening of her son, Prince Harald, that March. (Harald would later become King Harald V of Norway.)
|Crown Prince O lav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway at Westminster Abbey during the 1937 coronation (Photo 12/Alamy)|
A few months later, in May 1937, Ingeborg loaned the emeralds to Crown Princess Märtha again, this time for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. She wore the emeralds in Westminster Abbey for the coronation ceremony — the second time the emeralds witnessed a British coronation. Märtha quickly returned the emeralds to her mother six days after the British coronation, Princess Ingeborg wore the set during the Silver Jubilee celebrations for her cousin, King Christian X of Denmark, in Copenhagen.
|The Norwegian royal family returns to Oslo after the end of World War II (Wikimedia Commons)|
Soon after, World War II broke out in Europe, and the emeralds gained new importance to Ingeborg and her family. In 1940, Crown Princess Märtha and her three children — Princess Ragnhild, Princess Astrid, and Prince Harald — fled Norway for the distant safety of America, stopping briefly at her parents’ home in Sweden on the way. Princess Ingeborg accompanied her daughter and grandchildren to the train station in Stockholm. On the platform, she handed her a package. Inside was the emerald parure. The gems were meant to be an insurance policy: Ingeborg instructed her daughter to sell the valuable heirloom jewels if her family faced a financial crisis in the midst of war. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. When the war ended in 1945, Märtha and her children returned to Norway. The emerald set came with her, and the parure became one of the grandest and most important jewelry sets in the Norwegian royal vaults.
|Crown Princess Ma rtha and Crown Prince Olav of Norway attend a gala at Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam during the inauguration of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, 1948 (Anefo/Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons)|
Crown Princess Märtha made several important glittering appearances in the emeralds. In September 1948, she wore the parure for an event at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam during the inauguration of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
|Crown Princess Martha wears the emeralds at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom note the use of another emerald brooch as a pendant on the necklace (Chronicle/Alamy)|
Five years later, she wore the emeralds for yet another British coronation, witnessing the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in Westminster Abbey. The emeralds have the distinction, therefore, of attending all three of the most recent coronations in Britain. A month later, Märtha also wore the emeralds at the celebrations for the fiftieth birthday of her husband, Crown Prince Olav.
|Crown Princess Marth a wears the emerald set for a formal portrait (Keystone Press/Alamy)|
Sadly, however, that birthday gala would be one of the last times Crown Princess Märtha wore the emerald set. In 1954, she died of cancer in Oslo at the age of fifty-three. Princess Ingeborg sadly outlived her daughter. According to Trond Norén Isaksen, Ingeborg expressed the wish that the emeralds be inherited by her grandson, Harald, for the use of his future spouse. In the meantime, though, the emeralds were worn by another member of the Norwegian royal family. After the death of her mother, Princess Astrid of Norway served as the nation’s first lady for a number of years. In that capacity, she wore several of her mother’s tiaras and jewels, including the emeralds, at official events like state banquets.
|Queen Sonja wears the emeralds during a state banquet in Belgium, May 2003 ( Mark Renders/Getty Images)|
In 1968, Crown Prince Harald married Sonja Haraldsen, who subsequently began wearing the emerald parure. Since her marriage, Sonja has been the only member of the family to wear the tiara in public, cementing its place as a jewel reserved for the highest-ranking lady in the country. During her husband’s reign, Queen Sonja has chosen the emeralds for a number of important royal occasions, including state visits, royal weddings, anniversary celebrations, and birthday galas.
|Anthony Harvey/Getty Images, Ian Waldie/Getty Images, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images|
Notably, Sonja has chosen to wear the emeralds for the weddings of all three of the current Scandinavian heirs: the wedding of her son, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, in 2001 the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in 2004 and the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in 2010.
Olav V, Norway's King 33 Years And Resistance Hero, Dies at 87
King Olav V of Norway, who as Crown Prince was a national symbol of resistance to Nazi Germany's occupation of his country in World War II, died yesterday after a heart attack, the Palace announced. He was 87 years old.
Olav, the oldest monarch in Europe, was widely revered by his subjects in a reign that began in 1957. A constitutional sovereign with a sense of history and humor, he mingled freely and informally with his subjects. They in turn loved him as a father figure and fondly termed him a "folke konge" (a king for all the people). His royal motto was "My All for Norway," first chosen by his father, King Haakon VII.
He is to be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Harald.
King Olav traveled throughout much of the world and made more than a dozen trips to the United States, including several secret wartime visits. He was an ardent and adept sportsman into old age, and won many ski jumping and yachting competitions, including a 1928 Olympic gold medal for 5.5-meter-class sailboats.
Olav's egalitarian geniality was epitomized in a popular photograph of him in the early 1970's, carrying skis aboard a local train on the way from the royal palace in Oslo to a nearby slope. At the time, his subjects were being exhorted to use public transit to conserve oil, nearly a decade before North Sea explorations made Norway an important oil and gas producer. Offered to Lead Resistance
In 1940, when Hitler's troops swept over southern Norway, Crown Prince Olav, the King and leaders of the parliamentary Government held out for two months in the north woods against nightly air raids and advancing German troops. As the leaders prepared to retreat to England, Olav offered to stay behind to help lead a resistance, but he was overruled by the others, who opposed the offer as too hazardous.
In the wartime Government in exile in England, Olav became the top envoy to the United States, helped build a fighting force of free Norwegians, often attended his exiled Government's Cabinet meetings, made radio broadcasts to his countrymen and, as the general commanding the armed forces, received a triumphant homecoming after aiding the 1945 allied liberation of Norway.
In 1957, when Olav became King at his father's death, Trygve Lie, who was Norway's wartime Foreign Minister in exile and then the first Secretary General of the United Nations, offered this tribute: "King Olav is very knowledgeable in many fields, and his excellent memory has impressed experts in many areas. His wide knowledge of American history, industry, agriculture and economy was greater than that of any other Norwegian I met during the war."
Norway's modern independent monarchy dates only to 1905, when Olav's father, Haakon VII, who was originally Prince Carl of Denmark, was crowned after a plebiscite. Before then, Norway had been united with Denmark from 1381 to 1814, and then with Sweden from 1814 to 1905.
The son, christened Alexander Edward Christian Frederick, had been born on July 2, 1903, at the British royal estate in Sandringham, England, to Princess Maud, a daughter of Britain's King Edward VII. Haakon soon renamed his son Olav, a heroic name of Viking rulers.
At 25, Olav married Princess Martha of Sweden. The couple traveled widely, including an extensive 1939 journey in the United States. They established a friendship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who arranged for wartime sanctuary near Washington for Crown Princess Martha and their three children. She died in 1954 and King Olav did not remarry.
The couple's son and two daughters all married commoners, leading a King of Danish and British ancestry to remark that the marriages only proved that his family had become thoroughly Norwegian.
Olav's children are Crown Prince Harald, who married Sonja Haraldsen, daughter of a merchant Princess Ragnhild, who married Erling Lorentzen, a shipowner, and Princess Astrid, who married Johan Ferner, a merchant. Olav also leaves 10 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
Norway's Crown Prince Olav (1903-1991), later King Olav V, and his wife Princess Martha (1901-1954) excited the Northwest's Norwegian community and local skiers when they went skiing at Mount Rainier on May 24, 1939, during a West Coast tour on the eve of World War II. This People's History, written by John W. Lundin, a Seattle attorney and local historian, as part of his work to help open the Washington State Ski & Snowboard History Museum on Snoqualmie Pass, is based on The Seattle Times Historical Archives, HistoryLink essays, and other materials.
Prince Olav, born in 1903 at the British royal estate in Sandringham, England, was the son of Prince Carl of Denmark and Princess Maud, daughter of England's King Edward VII. Two years after Olav's birth, his father became King Haakon VII of Norway following that country's separation from Sweden. In 1929 Prince Olav married Princess Martha of Sweden.
A decade later, in the spring of 1939, Prince Olav and Princess Martha went on a grand tour of the United States, to strengthen ties between Norway and the U.S. on the eve of World War II. The royal couple visited Los Angeles, where they met fellow countrywoman Sonja Henie (1912-1969), a figure skater who won gold medals in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics. Henie had become a famous movie star, earning $2 million a year during her heyday, and later appeared as a skier in Sun Valley Serenade, produced in 1941. The prince and princess visited San Diego and San Francisco before traveling by train to the Northwest. They were celebrated by Norwegian communities and local dignitaries at all their stops.
Prince Olav was a well-known sportsman who won many ski-jumping and sailing contests, including a gold medal in sailing at the 1928 Olympic Games in the 5.5 meter class. His stop in Portland included a mountain trip where The Seattle Times reported that he and Princess Martha "frolicked in the snow at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood." The couple's three-day visit to the Seattle area included a festival of Norwegian choral and orchestral music sponsored by local Norwegian societies, an address to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, meetings with local elected officials and businessmen, and a Puget Sound yacht cruise. They also visited Fort Lewis, Tacoma, and Everett, and attended the dedication of the Toftezen (or Taftezon) Memorial in Stanwood, a memorial for a Norwegian pioneer who settled on Whidbey Island in 1849. Since Prince Olav had grown up skiing, his party traveled on May 24, 1939, to Paradise on Mount Rainier, where he demonstrated his athletic prowess.
Mount Rainier had been a center of Northwest skiing since the 1910s. The Mountaineers (founded in 1906) began skiing at Paradise in 1913-1914, during the annual Winter Outings which were held in Mount Rainier National Park for many years. In April 1934, the first Silver Skis race was run on Mount Rainier it became one of the classic races in the Northwest. The race began at Camp Muir at 10,000 feet with a mass start, and the winner was the first racer down to the finish line at Paradise Inn at 5,400 feet. Seattle skier Don Fraser (a member of the1936 U.S. Olympic ski team) won the first race in a time of 10 minutes and 49 seconds, finishing just inches ahead of Carleton Wiegel, with 64 racers starting and 43 finishing. The race, which was held from 1934 to 1942, and again from 1946 to 1948, attracted competitors from all over the country.
On April 13 and 14, 1935, the U.S. National Championships and Olympic tryouts in downhill and slalom were held at Paradise, a major event in Northwest skiing history. In 1937, Otto Lang started the first official Hannes Schneider Ski School in the country on Mount Rainier, bringing the latest ski techniques from Europe to the Northwest. In 1937, Ski Lifts, Inc. built rope tows at Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Snoqualmie Pass. In the late 1930s, skiers lobbied to build a funicular at Mount Rainier, and in 1941 there were plans to build a J-bar ski lift there. After World War II, Park Service policies changed and organized skiing at Mount Rainier was phased out.
Royals at Rainier
The Seattle Times of May 25, 1939, had extensive coverage of the royal couple's visit to Mount Rainier the previous day, including several pictures showing them on the snow. They were accompanied by a group of their Norwegian American hosts, officials, and local skiers. The party included Gretchen Kunigk, a local ski star from Tacoma who later won gold and silver medals in skiing at the 1948 Olympic Games in Switzerland, and Orville Borgersen, a Seattle skier and ski photographer.
According to the Times, the Prince and Princess "lost little time in trying the skiing facilities at Mount Rainier." Immediately after a formal lunch at Paradise Inn, they started the hike up toward Alta Vista. The prince, wearing "an old, gray pair of knickers, a cap that had seen better days, and a slightly battered jacket," was given "a pair of shiny, new, steel-edged skis" waxed for him by Orville Borgersen. The Times said there was a "certain horrible fascination about the idea of a Crown Prince landing on his neck in a snowbank at any speed over fifteen miles an hour," and there was collective concern when the prince put on skis "to take his chances with gravity." But Olav had skied since he was 2 years old:
"The prince started off with the mile-eating Norwegian langlauf stride. The princess and the group accompanying her did not climb so fast, and pretty soon the prince and his group were a quarter mile ahead.
"Nobody talked at first. But the prince stopped on the first rise, peeled off his jacket, and mopped his brow, and said it felt pretty good to get some exercise again. In five minutes he and everybody with him were puffing and talking like youngsters playing hookey from school.
"By the time he was smoking a cigarette on the summit of Alta Vista . the people beside him were beginning to realize that the prince had a sense of humor and liked to use it.
"When someone asked him when he thought a war would begin in Europe, he answered, dryly: 'They needn't start it for me'" (The Seattle Times, May 25, 1939, "Olav's Democracy Wins Him American Title: Swell Guy").
When the party returned to the lodge, the prince and princess "were enthused over the mountain, the surrounding scenery and the skiing. Prince Olav said it was all much different from Norway, but just as good." A banquet was given at the lodge, where they were served crab cocktail, steak, asparagus, potatoes, hot rolls and fresh strawberry pie, with each guest getting one glass of beer. The couple left the next day for Seattle with the ninety pieces of luggage they brought with them. Princess Martha said she bought two additional trunks in Tacoma, made necessary by her shopping tour there. After a festival at the Seattle Civic Auditorium, the couple left for Vancouver, B.C. The Great Northern Railroad offered a special fare of $3 for the "Royal Visit Trip," for those wanting to accompany them to our neighbor to the north.
National Symbol, Egalitarian Monarch
World War II broke out shortly after the couple returned to Norway. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Olav became "a national symbol of resistance to Nazi Germany's occupation of his country" (Flint). When Hitler's army invaded Norway in 1941, Prince Olav, his father the king, and other government leaders "held out for two months in the north woods against nightly air raids and advancing German troops" (Flint). When the leaders evacuated to England, Olav offered to stay in Norway to organize resistance but the offer was refused as too dangerous. Olav "became the top envoy to the United States" for Norway's government in exile (Flint), making a number of secret trips to America, where he became friends with President Franklin Roosevelt. Princess Martha and their children spent the war in Washington, D.C.
The Crown Prince became King Olav V in 1957, and ruled as a constitutional monarch until his death in 1991. He lived a simple, frugal life and was much loved as a father figure. According to his obituary, "Olav's egalitarian geniality was epitomized in a popular photograph of him in the early 1970s, carrying skis aboard a local train in the way from the royal palace in Oslo to a nearby slope" (Flint).
Olav visited the Seattle area several times after 1939. During a 1942 trip, he described Norway's position as an occupied country. In 1968, among other stops, he visited the Norse Home and the Norway Center, attended a ceremony at the Leif Erickson statue, and made a return trip to the Cascades, visiting the Crystal Mountain ski area and riding a chair lift up to views of nearby Mount Rainier where he had skied 29 years earlier. In 1975, he visited Poulsbo, known as "Little Norway," to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Norwegian immigration to America. When King Olav V died in 1991, he was the oldest monarch in Europe.
This essay is part of HistoryLink's People's History collection. People's Histories include personal memoirs and reminiscences, letters and other historical documents, interviews and oral histories, reprints from historical and current publications, original essays, commentary and interpretation, and expressions of personal opinion, many of which have been submitted by our visitors. They have not been verified by HistoryLink.org and do not necessarily represent its views.
Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park, May 24, 1939
Courtesy Tacoma Public Library, Richards Studio Collection (D8365-4)
Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha of Norway, Tacoma Armory, May 23, 1939
Courtesy Tacoma Public Library, Richards Studio Collection Series (D8365-53)
Crown Prince Olav of Norway laying a wreath at the monument for the first Norwegians in Washington Territory, Stanwood, May 27, 1939
Courtesy Stanwood Area Historical Society (SAHS 88.06.283.07)
Crowd awaiting arrival of Norway's King Olav V, October 1975
Courtesy Tacoma Public Library, General Photograph Collection (G67.1-172)
How the Cast of Atlantic Crossing Compares to Their Real-Life Counterparts
Masterpiece PBS's latest period drama was inspired by real life, but not everything seen on screen is true to fact. Here's how the stars of the series stack up against the historical people they play.
Masterpiece PBS's new series Atlantic Crossing may be a World War II story, but it's unlike most programs about the conflict. The period drama tells the story of Crown Princess Martha of Norway, her relationship with American President FDR, and how she used her friendship to help her country in crisis. But while the series is based on a true story, it's far from a documentary.
"It was really hard for us to find information on Martha and what she was up to during her period in America, which lasted for the whole length of the war," Alexander Eik, the writer and creator of the series said in an interview with the Television Critics Association.
"We found lots of information on the Norwegian king and Martha's husband, the crown prince, but to really find enough material on her, we really had to search high and low. And that's one of the reasons why it took us so long to piece this story together. It was kind of a detective work, I would say."
He's very clear to say that the show is "inspired by true events," but that it's a fictional dramatization.
"That's how we labeled this show, 'inspired by true events.' But the overall story of Atlantic Crossing is true: That Crown Princess Martha had more access to President Roosevelt than any other person, say for his advisers, up until his death, and that she made a significant effort to help Norway during the war."
With all that in mind, here's how the cast compares to the historical people they play on screen.
Sofia Helin, a Swedish actress known for her role in the crime drama The Bridge, stars in Atlantic Crossing as Crown Princess Märtha of Norway. Prior to taking on this role, she didn't know much about the real-life woman she's playing. "I had never heard of her," Helin revealed during this year's virtual TCA Press Tour. "When [creator Alexander Eik] pitched this to me, I knew instantly that I needed to tell this story about this woman. You know, heroes who don't take on any credit for what they do, it's the most interesting heroes. So, the character just instantly came to me and I wanted to do it."
Perhaps the most recognizable member of the cast (at least to American audiences) thanks to his roles in Twin Peaks and Sex and the City, Kyle Maclachlan used deep historical research to transform into the wartime American president on screen.
"The research, for me, was really one of the greatest joys, I've got to say. And I relied heavily on the Ken Burns documentary, and also on the Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about the Roosevelts," he told journalists at this year's TCA press tour.
"I think the challenge of course is to get inside the person and figure out the psychology and the 'Why?' you know. And that was for me really illuminated by both of those sources really well. Even as simple as just having footage of Roosevelt moving through space, you know, not walking, of course, but just how he carried himself in front of a crowd and in the situations that he was filmed told me a lot about who he was as a person."
Tobias Santelmann, who plays Norwegian heir to the throne Crown Prince Olav in the series, has been in numerous European films and TV projects, but he's a relative unknown in the States (though The Last Kingdom fans will recognize him as Ragnar.)
Eleanor Roosevelt has been portrayed on screen many times since she left the White House, but in Atlantic Crossing, Tony Award-winner Harriet Sansom Harris ( she won in 2002 for her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie) takes on the role of the iconic First Lady.
Oscar-nominated Danish actor Søren Pilmark gives a commanding performance in Atlantic Crossing as King Haakon, a royal forced to flee his beloved country as the Nazis invaded.
Town & Country readers may recognize actress Lucy Russell from recent roles in Judy, Rebecca, and The Irregulars, but in Atlantic Crossing, she plays Marguerite Alice "Missy" LeHand, private secretary to President Roosevelt. But LeHand did more than manage FDR's schedule. According to her biographer Kathryn Smith, "In everything but name she was FDR's chief of staff&mdashfor the job title was not used by a president until Dwight Eisenhower adopted it to suit his sense of military structure. FDR himself identified an even more significant role for her in his administration and life, saying often, 'Missy is my conscience.'"
The real life Prince Harald, who was featured in the series as a youngster,played by Justýna Brozková, is now all grown up and the current monarch of Norway, King Harald V.
Leonora and Amathea Eik, who play Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid on-screen are sisters in real life, too. The young actresses are the daughters of Atlantic Crossing creator, director, writer and executive producer, Alexander Eik.
While Princess Ragnhild passed away in 2012, Princess Astrid is still alive, and continues to represent her brother the King and the royal family several times a year.
King Haakon VII
Søren Pilmark as King Haakon VII. Image: Masterpiece
Haakon VII was the first independent Norwegian monarch in centuries, being chosen for the throne by the parliament in 1905, when Norway split off from Sweden. Born a Danish prince, he married his first cousin Maud of Wales. Like his son Olav, he stayed as long as possible in Norway during the German invasion of 1940 before retreating to England. The attack on neutral Norway and Denmark led to the resignation of English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, known for his appeasement of Germany, and the accession of Winston Churchill.
After the liberation of Norway in 1945, he returned to his country with Märtha and her children five years to the day after he had fled it. At the time of his death in 1957 at age 85, he was the world&rsquos oldest reigning monarch.
Beyond Atlantic Crossing
Photo: public domain
Crown Princess Märtha had a regal appearance, through and through.
The Norwegian American
Like many Norwegian Americans, I watched the PBS miniseries Atlantic Crossing as it aired this spring. With the understanding that it is a fictionalized account of Crown Princess Märtha’s stay in Washington, D.C., during the Second World War, I really enjoyed the show. An avid fan of period dramas and a trained historian in early 20th-century Europe, I loved watching a PBS Masterpiece special that approached an oft-told era of history from a new angle for American viewers.
That said, I, like many viewers, had a lot of questions while I watched the series, mostly about the crown princess. Here was a story of a strong, committed, and fiercely loving woman, yet all I know about her comes from this six-year period of history, from 1939 to 1945. I wanted to know how such an incredible woman like this was forged. What was her life like before she fled to the United States with her children and before she became crown princess of Norway? So, I set out to discover what her life was like before the events of Atlantic Crossing take place.
Photo: public domain
A young Princess Märtha led an idyllic childhood.
Disappointingly, there is relatively little information available in English about Märtha’s life before her escape to America during World War II, and even less about her life before she married Crown Prince Olav. Much of what is available to non-Norwegian and non-Swedish readers on her life is dedicated to her wartime experiences, especially now after the media boom inspired by Atlantic Crossing. Nevertheless, we can still glean a bit about what her pre-World War II life was like.
The crown princess was born Princess Märtha of Sweden and Norway in Stockholm on March 28, 1901, the second child of Prince Carl of Sweden and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark. Prince Carl was the third son of the King Oscar II, then the king of Sweden-Norway. Märtha was 4 years old when the union between Norway and Sweden was dissolved, and her maternal uncle was elected king of Norway as Haakon VII. After the dissolution, she, like the rest of the Swedish royal family, was restyled as Märtha, princess of Sweden.
Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
Jenny Åkerström’s Princessornas kokbok was inspired by Princess Märtha and her two sisters.
Märtha grew up with her two sisters, Princess Margaretha and Princess Astrid, and younger brother, Prince Carl, in Stockholm. Along with her sisters, Märtha was educated primarily at home in aspects of homemaking, childrearing, and first aid. One of the princesses’ teachers was Jenny Åkerström, author of the famous Prinsessornas kokbok (The Princesses’ Cookbook). Of all Åkerström’s recipes in the cookbook, her “green cake” is said to have been the favorite of Märtha and her sisters. The cake is now more popularly known as prinsesstårta (princess cake) and remains a popular Swedish dessert.
As was expected for royal families at the time, Märtha and her sisters made strong dynastic marriages. Margaretha married Prince Axel of Denmark, while Astrid married the future king of the Belgians, Leopold III. Märtha remained close to her sisters throughout her adulthood, and after Astrid’s sudden death in a car accident in 1935, Märtha and Margaretha helped support Astrid’s three young children. Olav reportedly said that it took Märtha nearly a decade to recover from her sister’s death.
For Märtha’s marriage, she looked to Norway. Olav and Märtha had met many times during their childhood at their shared grandparents’ home in Denmark. Olav, an eligible bachelor in royal circles, was the center of much media attention regarding who he would marry. After many false rumors were published, it was announced that Olav had proposed to Märtha during the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, where Olav was competing. It turned out to be a spectacularly successful Olympics for Olav: he won a gold medal for sailing, and Märtha had said yes to his proposal!
Märtha and Olav’s engagement came just over 20 years after the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden. After decades of tension and pushes for Norwegian independence from Sweden in the 19th century, it must have certainly been significant that the first Norwegian heir to the throne raised on Norwegian soil chose a Swedish princess to be his wife. The official website of the Norwegian Royal House writes about the match: “It was taken as a sign that there was no longer any tension following the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden.” While this feeling was presumably not held by every Norwegian at the time, Märtha did become a beloved and well-respected crown princess of Norway.
Photo: Ernest Rude / Oslo Museum Wikimedia Commons
In 1929, Crown Prince Olav of Norway married his cousin Princess Märtha of Sweden in Oslo.
The royal couple married on March 21, 1929, in Vår Frelsers church (now Oslo Cathedral). They had three children: Princess Ragnhild, born in 1930 Princess Astrid, born in 1932 and Prince Harald, born in 1937. Prince Harald, who would eventually become King Harald V, was the first heir to the Norwegian throne born in Norway in 567 years.
My favorite story about Märtha and Olav I discovered in my research occurred just two months after their marriage. A New York Times article from July 13, 1929, reports on a successful rescue by the crown prince and princess of two drowning sailors in the Oslofjord. While on vacation at their summer villa in the hills above the fjord, Märtha and Olav saw a small fishing boat in distress. They jumped into their own small boat, rowed to the struggling boat, and Märtha threw the sailors a rope to pull them to safety. Apparently, the two sailors didn’t realize until later that their saviors had been the crown prince and princess—what a surprise that would be!
In the years following her stay in America during World War II, Märtha’s health declined. After several years of battling cancer, Märtha died on April 5, 1954, just a few days after her 53rd birthday. Olav was crowned king just three years later in 1957, after the death of his father, King Haakon VII. Märtha is buried at Akershus Castle, and her legacy continues to live on nearly 70 years after her death. A statue of her stands at the entrance of the Norwegian Embassy in Washington D.C., with two replicas standing in her two countries: one in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in Oslo and one outside of the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Stockholm.
- by Scott Larsen, The Norwegian American, March 26, 2015 by Christine Foster Meloni, The Norwegian American, June 15, 2018. by M. Michael Brady, The Norwegian American, Dec. 25, 2020. by Scott Larsen, The Norwegian American, March 12, 2021. by Lori Ann Reinhall, The Norwegian American, May 5, 2021.
This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.