Princess Ragnhild of Norway was born on 9 June 1930 at the Royal Palace in Oslo, where her parents, Crown Prince Olav and his Swedish-born wife, Crown Princess Märtha had decamped some three weeks before, as a fire had almost destroyed their family home at Skaugum, in the village of Asker, west of Oslo. Ragnhild was the first Norwegian Princess born on Norwegian soil in over six hundred years. In her autobiography (published in 1995), Princess Ragnhild relates how her Swedish mother was anxious that her first-born child should come into the world on the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden (7 June 1930), so that target was missed by two days! However, despite being the eldest child of the Crown Prince, Ragnhild was not destined to become queen, as at that time there was no right of succession to the throne of Norway for females. Had she been born under the constitutional rules of today, the Princess would eventually have succeeded her father Olav as Queen of Norway.
When a mere two and a half weeks old, Ragnhild was baptized by Bishop Johan Lunde in the Royal Palace Chapel in Oslo. The infant was carried throughout much of the ceremony in the arms of her paternal grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway (a daughter of Britain’s King Edward VII). To commemorate the occasion, 1,400 Norwegians bearing the name of Ragnhild collected sufficient money to provide a baptismal gift of a cross which was embellished with five natural pearls from different geographical areas of Norway.
The Princess was raised at Skaugum until the age of ten, receiving a private education at home. Joining her in the nursery, in February 1932, was a younger sister, Astrid. In February 1937, Crown Princess Märtha gave birth to a son, Harald. Being a male, he was second-in-line to the throne of Norway from the moment of his birth and the succession was secured for the future. Like all children, the royal trio enjoyed visits from their paternal grandfather, the recently-widowed King Haakon, who liked nothing better than to motor out to Skaugum to play with his grandchildren or watch them bicycling (or in Harald’s case tricycling) through the grounds. Haakon also enjoyed lunching with the family and was invariably full of jokes. Interestingly, Ragnhild was also old enough to remember attending the circus with her English-born paternal grandmother Queen Maud, who died in November 1938 in her native England. The children’s maternal grandparents, Danish-born Princess Ingeborg of Sweden and her husband Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland, also relished entertaining their Norwegian grandchildren at their whitewashed Swedish summer home Fridhem, near Norrkoping. Fridhem was a children’s paradise, with a wonderful parkland to play in and a brick-built Wendy House filled with sturdy furniture and cooking utensils where the children could play ‘house.’ It was also at Fridhem that young Raghild spent time with her cousins who included the children of her mother’s younger sister Queen Astrid of the Belgians, Joséphine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert. Also often present were the much older Danish cousins, Georg and Flemming (the offspring of Crown Princess Märtha’s elder sister, Princess Margaretha, and her husband Prince Axel of Denmark).
Ragnhild and her siblings formed a close bond at Skaugum, which was fortunate as the Norwegian Royal family was soon to undergo a period of major change: A month after Nazi Germany flexed its muscles by occupying Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Crown Prince Olav and his wife commenced a ten-week, 15000-mile goodwill tour through thirty-four states of the United States, visiting many places with large Norwegian populations, particularly in the mid-west. They were invariably greeted by members of the fraternal Sons of Norway (Sønner av Norge) organisation. The royal duo returned in July with many gifts for their three children including native Indian outfits for the girls and a cowboy outfit for little Harald. However, as far as the future was concerned, the most important ‘gift’ was mentioned, at the beginning of the visit, during a stay with President Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor at their private home, Springwood, close by the town of Hyde Park on the Hudson River. During a one-to-one meeting with the Crown Prince, the President made it clear to Olav that he would offer sanctuary to his three children in the event of any war in Europe reaching Norway. It would not be long before the Crown Prince would ask the President to make good on his promise for, on April 9, 1940, German forces invaded Norway. At Skaugum, the Crown Prince received news of the invasion in the early hours of the morning with deep concern. Almost immediately, the children were awakened from their slumbers, provided with a quick breakfast, and then bundled into a car alongside their parents, with Crown Prince Olav himself taking the wheel and driving at top speed to the Royal Palace in central Oslo.
In order to avoid capture by the occupying power, it was now decided that all the Royal Family, the Government and the Storting (Parliament) should leave Oslo immediately by a special train from Østbanen Station. Fru Ragni Østgaard, the Crown Princess’s Lady-in-Waiting, kept a diary and observed that it was only when the train arrived at Lillestrøm station, just as the nearby Kjeller aerodrome was being bombed, that the seriousness of the situation became apparent to the royal family, particularly where the children were concerned for they were growing anxious as wave after wave of enemy aircraft flew overhead. Although Astrid cried and appeared somewhat distraught, Ragnhild seemed to be a little less affected, asking Fru Østgaard if this was just a rehearsal.
By early evening, the royal group had reached Hamar, with accommodation and dinner hastily arranged at a manor house at the Sælid Estate. However, with the Germans still in hot pursuit, it was decided to travel eastwards to Elverum. At this juncture, the heart-breaking decision was made that while King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav should remain in Norway, the Crown Princess and her children should attempt to cross the border into Sweden, Märtha’s country of birth. Although the royal party had no passports, they managed to enter Sweden at a crossing near Trysil, just prior to 1am on the morning of 10 April. Later, the group found accommodation at the nearby Sälen Høyfjellshotell, a well-known hotel for winter sports enthusiasts. As it was a bright, sunny day, the children borrowed skis from the hotel and spent most of the day outdoors, doubtless recovering from the traumas of the previous day. A few days later, they were delighted to be joined, from Stockholm, by their grandmother, Princess Ingeborg. As the Swedish officials were keen for the Norwegian royals to relocate, as soon as possible, for fear of a German raid over the border to kidnap them, Princess Ingeborg arranged for them to stay with the Swedish King’s grandson, Count Carl Bernadotte of Wisborg, at his home at Rasbo, near Uppsala. The children thought it was exciting to sneak out of the hotel in the dead of night on yet another adventure. Indeed, so quick was the departure of the royal entourage that there had been insufficient time to pack food for the journey, so the royal party had to make do with pastries purchased en route.
A few weeks later Ragnhild and her siblings found themselves on the road again, when King Gustav of Sweden offered his niece the use of Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm. However, neither King Haakon nor Crown Prince Olav were keen on Märtha and the children remaining there as neither particularly trusted King Gustav, who was thought to have pro-German leanings. Furthermore, this mistrust had been exacerbated by the Swedish King’s recent actions: When, on 11 April, King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav had been in dire danger from occupying forces and requested to cross into Sweden at the Lillo customs crossing, the Swedish Foreign Minister, given the uniqueness of the situation, had contacted King Gustav for his input. Back came the reply, which was imparted to his brother sovereign, ‘Cross the border and you will be detained.’ Olav now become so concerned for the safety of his children and wife that he wrote to President Roosevelt from his then hiding place at Trangen, Langvatnet, on 10 May, reminding him of his offer made at Springwood a year before.
While Ragnhild and her siblings enjoyed themselves swimming and playing in the grounds of Ulriksdal, Crown Princess Märtha was being subjected to considerable political pressure from the Administrative Council in Oslo, who indicated that they wanted her to return (with Prince Harald) and assume the role of Regent until her son reached his majority. This, it was argued, would save the monarchy. However, it would also require King Haakon’s abdication. In a telegram to Hitler, on June 16, the Swedish King openly encouraged the Germans to adopt this ‘Norwegian Regency’ model. The Crown Princess was clearly aware of King Gustav’s ploy and sent a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law that her Swedish family (i.e., King Gustav) and Hitler were conspiring to remove King Haakon and set up a regency.
Since there was now a very real danger that the Crown Princess and Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo, on 22 June Crown Prince Olav wrote again to President Roosevelt (this time from Buckingham Palace in London, as he and King Haakon were required to leave Norway on 7 June to set up a government-in-exile and carry on the fight against the Nazi regime from England) asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary to his children, but this time he also included a request on behalf of his wife. On 12 July, the US Secretary of State sent a message to the US Minister in Stockholm saying that President Roosevelt was arranging for a naval transport vessel to be sent to Finland to evacuate the Crown Princess and her family along with a group of ‘stranded’ US citizens.
On 18 July, Crown Princess Märtha received a telephone call from the Norwegian Minister in Washington, Wilhelm Thorleif von Munthe af Morgenstierne, to inform her that an American warship, the USS American Legion was being sent to Finland to transport her and her children to the United States. On 12 August, Ragnhild and her siblings were once again on the move when, along with their mother and a royal entourage, they travelled by rail to the Finnish port of Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) where, on 15 August, they embarked the American Legion which transported them across the Atlantic to New York. Märtha appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Others in the party included the Crown Princess’ Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, her Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard, the latter’s son Einar and the royal children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen.
The Norwegian royal entourage arrived in New York on 28 August, after a stormy journey. They were taken to the Waldorf Astoria hotel where an eight-room apartment on the 32nd floor was put at their disposal. Ragnhild was photographed with a posy of flowers at the hotel entrance. Inside, she found a room full of dolls and toys awaiting her in the family’s luxurious suite. The children later joined their mother in the sitting room where the Crown Princess held a press conference. Märtha emphasised that her family’s presence in America was temporary which must have given some reassurance to Ragnhild.
The families next stop was to the private home of their host, President Roosevelt, at his country home at Hyde Park, which had a wonderful informal retreat, Top Cottage, where Ragnhild and her siblings played happily in the swimming pool; while Märtha took the chance to have a long chat with the President about her current situation. The duo also discussed where she might live. Within days, the Crown Princess and her children were heading to the White House in Washington D.C., from where the President took the Crown Princess for a drive in his official car to view a large twenty-four roomed property, set in 105 acres, at Pook’s Hill, Maryland. This was subsequently leased by the Norwegian government-in-exile for the royal family’s use.
America was a whole new way of life, both for the children and their mother. Although Crown Princess Märtha was already proficient in English (albeit with a strong Scandinavian accent) the three children were soon completely fluent in English. Nevertheless, their mother insisted that only Norwegian was spoken at home. The Crown Princess remained focused on providing her children with a secure upbringing and, in this respect, the US President proved a good friend: Roosevelt would often drive out to Pook’s Hill to take tea with the Norwegian royals; in turn they were often asked for lunch, tea, dinner or for a swim in the heated pool at the White House. Sometimes they joined the President and his family on a sailing trip on board the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac, perhaps on a short trip down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon, the home of the Founding Father of the United States, George Washington. President Roosevelt also helped Märtha to find schools for the children. The Norwegian royals also invariably celebrated Christmas with the Roosevelt family. Otherwise, the children lived a peaceful and normal life, with only occasional glimpses of the war from newsreels and the like.
In September 1941, King Haakon broadcast to the people of the United States thanking them for their unwavering support. Ragnhild and her siblings joined their mother to listen to their grandfather’s words over the radio at Pooks Hill. Yet many Americans remained determined isolationists and did not want to be drawn into any conflict. However, when the Japanese bombed the US naval facility at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 1941, the United States entered the war on the Allied side. This change would prove to be fortuitous for Norway.
During the summer of 1942, Ragnhild bid farewell to her mother as she flew to London for King Haakon’s 70th birthday on 3 August. The latter awarded his daughter-in-law with the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav for her role in promoting the Norwegian cause in the United States. Then, in September, the Crown Princess was present at Washington’s Navy Yard, when President Roosevelt handed over the gift of a submarine chaser to the Norwegian Navy. This was named the HNoMS King Haakon VII. Indeed, Ragnhild’s mother would now be regarded as a key figure in the Norwegian war effort, particularly in the USA, as she patriotically toured hospitals, churches, and schools with links to Norway. Nor was she averse to enrolling Ragnhild and her younger children to further the cause, as is exampled by the royal family’s regular visits to “Little Norway” the Norwegian Air Force training camp at Muskoka Aerodrome in Ontario. The propaganda value of such a patriotic royal visit was immeasurable, even more so if these pictures somehow found their way into the hands of Norwegians in their occupied homeland. The Crown Princess also invited the press into the family’s Maryland home for charming photographic opportunities, featuring Ragnhild and her sister and brother riding their bicycles or posing with their mother in the drawing room. Furthermore, on Norway’s National Day, 17 May, the royal siblings were photographed parading along with other children, their Norwegian flags held proudly aloft. These images were widely circulated to the US and international press. On other occasions, snaps were taken of the children with President Roosevelt whom they now called ‘Godfather,’ although he was probably more of a grandfather figure to these youngsters. They were on particularly good terms with the President’s photogenic Scottish Terrier, Fala. It all made for good publicity, as did Ragnhild’s mother’s radio broadcasts at Christmas to the people of Norway, in which she stated with emotion, ‘We think of you with sadness in our heart but also with unspeakable pride.’ For Christmas 1942, it was the turn of Ragnhild and her siblings to gather around the radio microphone to send Christmas greetings over the airways to those at ‘home.’
While in the States, the Crown Princess and her children enjoyed visits from Crown Prince Olav. However, they were never quite sure as to when he would arrive, although there was always a warm welcome when he did. Olav tried to spend several months of the year in the US and if it could be arranged to coincide with Christmas, all the better. During one of his visits, in May 1944, he accompanied Ragnhild to Chester in Pennsylvania where she christened a 10,000-ton tanker ship, assigned to the Norwegian Merchant Navy, the Karsten Wang.
Following the capitulation of Nazi forces on 8 May 1945, Ragnhild returned to Oslo on 7 June aboard the British ship HMS Norfolk, having set sail from Rosyth in Scotland, on 5 June, in the company of King Haakon, Crown Princess Märtha and her siblings Astrid and Harald. Wearing ill-fitting duffle coats, the teenage Princess’ and their brother were up on deck as the vessel sailed up the Oslofjord, escorted by happy Norwegians who took to the waters in all manner of flag-bedecked sailing craft, from fishing boats to tugs, to welcome their beloved Sovereign home. Ragnhild’s father, Crown Prince Olav, had returned to Norway on 13 May and he joined his family aboard HMS Norfolk at Moss for what must have been a very emotional reunion. In Oslo, the greeting from the hundreds of thousands of Norwegians who lined the streets by the Honnørbrygga was overwhelming and described by Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway.’ On one street alone, a large sign the breadth of the road read ‘Velkommen Hjem.’ King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, Crown Princess Märtha and the three royal children later all appeared together on the balcony of the Royal Palace which was bedecked for the occasion with a large flag of Norway.
Yet, this must have been a difficult period of adjustment for Princess Ragnhild who had become used to the American way of life and education, not to mention the freedom which five years of relative anonymity (and a group of American friends) had brought. Nevertheless, following the family’s return to Skaugum in November (the royal residence had been occupied by the Nazi Reichskommissar Josef Terboven during the war and it had taken time to make it habitable again) she commenced her studies at the Nissen Girls’ School, obtaining her school leaving certificate in 1948. She later spent four semesters, between 1948 and 1949, studying at a finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland. During this immediate post-war period, she met, and over time was to fall in love with, Erling Lorentzen, the son of a wealthy shipping owner and former member of the Norwegian resistance. He was seven years her senior. Post-war he joined King Haakon’s bodyguard with responsibility for his three grandchildren and he later taught Princess Ragnhild and her sister to sail aboard their sailing vessel Ukabrand. When Erling was attending Harvard Business School in the United States, around the same time Ragnhild was in Switzerland, the two continued to maintain a long-distance correspondence. In the meantime, a new batch of photographs was released to celebrate Ragnhild’s 18th birthday in June 1948. The Princess also began to undertake official engagements including a reception for US servicemen at the United States Embassy in Oslo in September 1949; while in May 1952 she attended events in connection with the visit of NATO supremo, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again, in October, she and Astrid jointly opened an exhibition of items from the recently independent nation of India.
Ragnhild also travelled abroad to undertake duties on behalf of her homeland. In June 1951 she travelled to Paris to open the House of Norway. While in the French capital, she also attended the wedding of Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma to Yolande De Broglie. She was seen off at Fornebu Airport by her father, Crown Prince Olav. Also present was Erling Lorentzen which perhaps might indicate a measure of recognition of the situation that was developing on the part of Ragnhild’s father. There was no sign, however, of Crown Princess Märtha. Crown Prince Olav was also at his eldest child’s side when Ragnhild and Erling attended a cross-country ski event (known as the 50km Holmenkollen) in March 1952, only two weeks after the completion of the VI Winter Olympics in Oslo.
On August 3 1952, Ragnhild was part of large party (including her maternal grandmother Princess Ingeborg of Sweden) who gathered in the Bird Room of the Royal Palace for a group photograph to celebrate King Haakon’s 80th birthday. There was also a balcony appearance at an event at the City Hall. She had earlier been photographed (cigarette in hand) alongside her smiling grandfather in the more relaxed environment at Skaugum. However, behind the smiles both King Haakon and Crown Princess Märtha resisted the prospect of Ragnhild’s marriage with a commoner, a situation they knew might prove controversial with members of the public. At one stage the couple were not allowed to meet for a whole year, presumably as some sort of test as to their commitment to each other (or perhaps in the hope that Princess Ragnhild might change her mind and look for a more ‘suitable’ royal suitor.) Ragnhild was taken aback by her family’s attitude writing to Erling that, ‘If I do say so myself, they have been more than terrible to me in this difficult time of ours.’ In desperation, Crown Princess Märtha now tried to engage the services of the war hero and resistance fighter Gunnar “Kjakan” Sønsteby as an intermediary. He was a close friend of Erling Lorentzen, and the Crown Princess wanted Sønsteby to make use of his influence and persuade Erling to break up with Ragnhild. But Sønsteby refused. It is no wonder that Ragnhild would write that, ‘It is almost the worst thing for me, that they [also] say and act like that towards the one I am so incredibly fond of’. Lorentzen would later recall that, ‘It was undoubtedly a difficult decision for King Haakon… and it was certainly a difficult position for all parties.’ Indeed, after years of angst and little progress on the matter, Erling finally decided to speak to King Haakon directly. He recalled ‘We had an open conversation. He did not give me any blessing. I later understood that he had raised the matter with the Prime Minister and the President of the Storting.’ This was the case and, in January 1953, Crown Prince Olav wrote to his daughter to say that ‘Now Grandfather has received an answer from Torp [The Norwegian Prime Minister] regarding you and Erling, and I am happy to be able to tell you that Grandfather will give his permission for you to get married.’ Olav seemed keen to unburden himself further adding, ‘I know it has been a difficult time for you… but I hope you still understand that this has not been done out of ill will, but because …..above all, that we, your parents, could be completely sure that you fully understood what you were doing..’
The couple’s engagement was announced on 14 February 1953 with a press conference being held at the bride-to-be’s home at Skaugum. They married at Asker Church, on 15 May, in the presence of her parents, her grandparents King Haakon and Princess Ingeborg of Sweden, with the King and Queen of Denmark and Britain’s Princess Margaret (sister of Queen Elizabeth II) being among the better known foreign royal guests. Following her marriage, the bride became known as Her Highness Princess Ragnhild, Mrs Lorentzen. She was no longer entitled to be addressed as Her Royal Highness following her marriage to a non-royal personage. Furthermore, her birthday was removed as an official flag day in Norway.
Ragnhild and her husband now moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where Erling planned to work for a couple of years in the shipping and gas sectors. These interests would later be extended into wood pulp production and cellulose. But that did not mean that Ragnhild was cut-off from her Norwegian family. She returned to Norway to visit her ailing mother, Crown Princess Märtha, who died of liver failure on 5 April 1954. Sadly, she had become infected with the hepatitis virus during an operation undertaken shortly after the Second World War. The period following this surgical procedure was difficult for the family as the Crown Princess’s health continued to deteriorate, her family having eventually been made all too aware that ‘there was only one way’ this could end. For Ragnhild the anxiety must have been acute, for she was pregnant with her first child throughout the final months of her mother’s life. On 23 August, Ragnhild gave birth to a son, Haakon, at Oslo’s Rikshospitalet. The child was christened at Asker Church the following month in the presence of his great-grandfather, King Haakon, maternal great-grandmother Princess Ingeborg and grandfather Crown Prince Olav. (Ragnhild would also return to Oslo for the birth of her second child, Ingeborg, on 27 February 1957.)
Following Crown Princess Märtha’s death, Princess Astrid took on the role of First Lady of Norway, helping her father and grandfather to entertain foreign dignitaries and accompany them on official duties. However, this did not prevent Ragnhild from also being present in Oslo for official events, such as State Visits. Such was the case when her kinswoman, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II paid a State Visit in June 1955 (the first of four visits by Elizabeth to Norway for the family bonds were close.) A wonderful memento of the visit was when Ragnhild and Astrid posed with ‘cousin’ Elizabeth in summery dresses. Over the years the Princess would also be present, inter alia, during State Visits by President Nyerere of Tanzania (1976), Queen Margrethe of Denmark (1992) and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (2010).
Only a few weeks following Queen Elizabeth’s visit, while Ragnhild was still on a family vacation in Norway, King Haakon suffered a bad fall in his bathroom at Bygdøy, breaking a thigh bone. Ragnhild and her husband paid him a visit at Oslo’s Rikshospitalet in August. The King would now be confined to a wheel chair and Crown Prince Olav appeared in public on his father’s behalf. When, on 21 September 1957 King Haakon died at the grand old age of 85. Princess Ragnhild travelled from Brazil for the funeral which was held on 1 October. She was also present at her father, King Olav V’s Consecration at Trondheim on 22 June 1958, a date which was particularly historic as this was the 52nd anniversary of the Coronation of King Haakon and Queen Maud on 1906. Ragnhild was prominently seated at the front of the cathedral and had a clear view of her father as he knelt before the high altar, while Trondheim’s Bishop Arne Fjellbu recited the consecration prayer in which he asked for God’s blessing on the King and his royal office. The Princess later appeared on the balcony of the Royal residence in Trondheim, Stiftsgården, alongside her father and her siblings.
On a cold, snow-covered day at Asker, in January 1961, Ragnhild, wrapped up against the cold in a long fur coat, attended the wedding of her beloved sister, Astrid, to Mr Johan Martin Ferner. Mr Ferner, an Olympic Silver medal winner in sailing, was not only a commoner (the son of a prosperous Oslo department store owner) but he was also divorced. The latter fact fanned the flames of controversy and even although Astrid had waited patiently for many years for permission to marry Mr Ferner, when King Olav finally gave his consent (following the inevitable consultations with the Prime Minister and President of the Storting) there was an outcry from many members of the clergy. Since Ragnhild had already been through the matrimonial mill, she was ideally placed to offer an empathetic ear to her younger sister during this difficult period. Having married a commoner, Astrid -like Ragnhild-was no longer entitled to be called Her Royal Highness. Henceforth, she would be addressed as Her Highness, Princess Astrid, Mrs Ferner.
Princess Ragnhild, meanwhile, lived a relatively quiet life in a large apartment in Rio de Janeiro, taking care of her children. She rarely gave interviews but when the veteran journalist Annemor Møst met the Princess in her adopted homeland, he found that the Ragnhild remained ‘absolutely Norwegian’ and continued to maintain Norwegian traditions, particularly at Christmas when she loved to light many candles in Brazilian heat (as it was the height of summer, temperatures there often reached over 40 degrees Celsius). Furthermore, her apartment near the beach at Leblon, became a gathering place for Norwegians to visit, and the Princess’s concern for them, as well as her care for the disadvantaged in Rio, won her many friends. Among other things, she established Princess Ragnhild’s Fund for Children in Brazil and in 1961 the Princess laid the foundation stone for the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Santos, and was, according to one clergyman, a ‘driving force’ in raising funds over many years. She also opened the church’s annual Christmas bazaar. Ragnhild’s friends found her to be caring, faithful and loyal, with an infectious sense of humour. However, in large gatherings, she could appear to be shy and reserved. Jens Stoltenberg, who visited her in Rio, would later describe her as ‘our best ambassador to Brazil.’
In September 1967, Ragnhild was briefly in the limelight in her adopted homeland when King Olav paid a State Visit to Brazil. The Princess accompanied her father to his meeting with President Artur da Cost e Silva at the latter’s office in Rio (Ragnhild, as was the custom, subsequently met with the President’s wife). She and King Olav later attended Brazil’s Independence Day celebrations in Rio, on 7 September, where they joined the President and his wife on the review stand throughout the military parade (which included a fly-past by aircraft of the Brazilian air force). Ragnhild and her father then flew to the nation’s capital, Brasilia, on 8 July, to attend a formal state reception at the Itamaraty Palace. The following day, Ragnhild acted as hostess for the King at a return reception given by the Norwegian delegation at the Hotel Nacional. She then joined King Olav for a two-day visit to São Paulo.
On 8 May 1968 the Princess gave birth to a second daughter, Ragnhild Alexandra, at the Amparo Feminino Hospital in Rio. Although not born in Norway, the infant was baptized at Asker Church the following September. In the meantime, the Princess attended the wedding, on 29 August, in Oslo Cathedral, of her brother Harald to Sonja Haraldsen, a commoner. As with the marriages of his sisters, Harald (who had first met Sonja at a party in the summer of 1959) had been forced to wait (in his case for nine long years) before being permitted to wed. It is said that Harald grew so frustrated with the situation that he informed his father and the Norwegian Prime Minister, Per Borton, that if he could not marry Sonja he would remain unmarried for the rest of his life, thus threatening the future of the monarchy. Finally, the necessary consents were granted and the couple’s engagement was announced by the Royal Palace on 19 March 1968. Over 850 guests attended the wedding, including the King of Sweden and the King and Queen of Denmark. The Princess would later record that her ‘first impression’ of her new sister-in-law ‘was very good. I thought that the couple would probably get along well, because Sonja seemed both sweet and sensible.’ Ragnhild and her brother continued to remain close and, in September 1973, she made sure to be in Oslo for the christening of his son Haakon, the second-in-line to the throne of Norway. She was also present at Harald’s 40th birthday celebrations in February 1977.
In April 1982 Ragnhild attended the wedding of her son Haakon to Martha Carvalho de Freitas. This was followed two months later by the nuptials of her elder daughter Ingeborg to Paulo Ribeiro Filho. Harald’s daughter Princess Märtha Louise was a bridesmaid and Crown Princess Sonja also attended the celebrations. In September, Ragnhild and her husband were in Oslo for the events to celebrate King Olav’s 25 years on the throne.
On 17 January, 1991 King Olav died of a heart attack, aged eighty-seven, at his winter residence Kongsseteren. Ragnhild was present at his bedside, as were her brother and sister. Indeed, since her father had suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1990, the Princess had spent much of her time in Norway, full of daughterly attentions. King Olav’s death must have been a major blow for the Princess for the two were close. Furthermore, where she had previously stayed with her father in his royal residences, following his passing, Ragnhild decided to buy a flat in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district as a base during her visits to Norway. It was here, now that her family in Brazil was grown up, that she would escape from the summer heat of Rio during the months of January through to March. Her life in Oslo (as in Rio) was mostly spent quietly: solo official engagements were few, although she still served as a Patron of the National Society for the Deaf in Norway. The Lorentzen’s also often vacationed at their cabin, which they named Arnfinnstølen, in the Votndalsåsen area, where Erling enjoyed meeting up with friends from his time in the Norwegian resistance. Back in Brazil, Ragnhild was also glad to make use of a new country house, at Pedra Azul, in the Serrana Region of Espírito Santo, where the temperature was considerably cooler than in Rio de Janeiro. The couple raised horses here, and there was sufficient accommodation for up to six guests with a cook to take the strain from entertaining.
The Princess attended the consecration of her brother King Harald in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral in June 1991. A few years later, the Ragnhild and her sister Astrid inaugurated an exhibition of their grandmother, Queen Maud of Norway’s wardrobe at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. As she was over eight years old at the time of her paternal grandmother’s death, Ragnhild retained happy memories of the elegant Queen Maud gardening at Skaugum (where the two were often photographed together.)
Although a private person, in 1995 Ragnhild decided to write her autobiography (this was penned with the help of author Lars O. Gulbrandsen) published under the title, “Mitt liv som kongsdatter” [My Life as a King’s Daughter]. She wrote lovingly of her brother Harald noting that ‘The big age difference between Harald and me (6.5 years) made us never argue like most siblings. I thought my little brother was sweet, kind, and cheerful-yes, just as he is today.’ Ragnhild also admitted to being glad she was not the monarch noting that, ‘It must be a terrible struggle and responsibility to be a monarch, but Harald is doing a fantastic job.’ She added that,’ I see a lot of my father’s traits in Harald who, with each passing year, becomes more and more like him.’ In 1999, she also talked of her relationship with her homeland, in an interview with VG magazine, ‘We feel at home in both places. Our roots are both here [Brazil] and in Norway’ but she added ‘Now I couldn’t imagine staying 365 days in Norway.’
As the new millennium dawned, Ragnhild celebrated her 70th birthday. This caused some interest and Norwegian journalist, Tante P, conducted a television interview with the Princess during which she mentioned that she and her father had kept a up a regular(weekly) correspondence throughout her years in Brazil. She also indicated that these letters were currently in a safety deposit box and she had left instructions that they should be burned following her death, given that they were private correspondence of ‘no historical significance.’ However, when it emerged, in August 2001, that she had subsequently burned the correspondence (estimated in the press to be between 1500 and 2000 letters), historians were aghast. Author Knut Olav Åmås of the Norwegian Biographical Society stated bluntly that the Princess was hardly qualified to assess the historical value of this primary source stating, ‘It’s extremely sad to hear. A very important source of the history of the Norwegian monarchy has been lost. It’s shocking. It is a particularly unwise act by Princess Ragnhild…’ Yet, apparently, she was greatly influenced by the wishes of her late father. Indeed, King Olav described the letters as “his little chat with his daughter once a week” and according to his wishes, the letters were not registered in the Royal Court archives, nor did he want the letters to be made available to the public at any time, according to a Royal Palace press release.
Controversy or no controversy, in January 2001, Ragnhild attended her maternal uncle, Prince Carl Bernadotte’s 90th birthday party at the Grand Hotel in Oslo. This gave her an ideal chance to catch up with her royal cousins, her late Aunt Astrid’s daughter Josephine-Charlotte (then Grand Duchess of Luxembourg) as well as her son, Albert (at that time the King of the Belgians). Also present was Count Flemming of Rosenberg, the son of Crown Princess Märtha’s eldest sister, Princess Margaretha of Denmark. In early 2003, Ragnhild helped host an 80th birthday party for her husband Erling at the Grand Hotel. King Harald, Queen Sonja and Queen Silvia of Sweden (who had close family links with Brazil) were among the guests. Then, in July, Princess Ragnhild and her husband attended a football match between Norway and Brazil at Ullevåll Stadium. The result was a rather diplomatic draw. In November, there was the joyous occasion of the wedding of her youngest child, Ragnhild Alexandra to an American, Aaron Matthew Long. Princess Astrid and her husband were guests at the nuptials in Sao Pedro de Alcantara Church. However, the King and Queen did not attend which was not surprising given that they had recently concluded a State Visit to Brazil.
Princess Ragnhild was also known for having strong opinions, or rather what the former Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg referred to as her ‘fresh remarks.’ The Princess let it be known, in an interview with Anne Fredrikstad of Norway’s TV2 channel for their documentary “Princess in Exile”, which was shown in early 2004 (but recorded at her home in Rio in the autumn of 2003) that she did not approve of her brother’s children’s choice of spouses (Crown Prince Haakon wed, in August 2001, Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby, a single mother; while his sister, Princess Martha Louise married author Ari Behn in May 2002). Ragnhild observed that the royal family in Oslo must have had ‘bad advisers,’ adding that King Olav would never have approved of these matches. However, several Norwegian politicians, including Kjell Engebretsen, opined that the Princess should keep quiet about her private perceptions of the royal children, adding ‘I think that she should worry more about the President of Brazil.’ Ouch! Certainly, these remarks must have seemed surprising from the woman who, some fifty years earlier, had cleared the way for a member of the Norwegian royal family to marry a commoner for love. And after all, King Harald and Princess Astrid had both gone down a similar route. Furthermore, Ragnhild had been quite content to attend the nuptials of the couples whom she was now criticising. Meanwhile, Ragnhild and Erling celebrated their Golden Wedding with a trip aboard the car ferry MS Prinsesse Ragnhild which travelled the Oslo to Keil route.
Some commentators have indicated that Ragnhild’s remarks may have been prompted by her annoyance at her treatment by the Norwegian King and Queen during their recent State Visit to Brazil. Whereas in 1967, King Olav had chosen to place Ragnhild at his side throughout his State Visit, during the October 2003 visit King Harald’s sister received no official invitation to participate in any aspect of the visit. Indeed, when Ragnhild attended events, it was as the wife of her businessman husband, not in her role as a Norwegian Princess or the sister of the King. For this reason, she was unable to travel on the royal party’s chartered plane during a visit to Brasilia, the Norwegian Ambassador Jon Gerhard Lassen emphasising that this was because ‘Princess Ragnhild is not part of the official delegation;’ while the press spokesman for the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Karsten Klepsvik, stated somewhat disingenuously that, ‘She would probably have been invited to some events during the state visit if she were not married to a member of the business delegation.’ The only private contact King Harald and Queen Sonja had with the Lorentzen family during their stay in Brazil was a lunch in Búzios on the day they flew into Brazil, but prior to the State Visit officially commencing on 7 October. The King and Queen also saw fit to cancel-at short notice-a family lunch at the end of the tour with Ragnhild and Erling at their Rio de Janeiro home. Nevertheless, in his official speech at a dinner given by the Governor of Rio at the Palace of Laranjeirast, the King did go out of his way to mention his sister and brother-in-law, stating ‘We also feel a special connection to the city since my sister, Princess Ragnhild, and Erling Lorentzen have been living here with their family for fifty years.’ And really this was the point. Indeed, Norwegian commentator Stig Tore Laugen expressed his surprise that Ragnhild (and her husband) should have been treated in this way given that ‘the Lorentzen couple “are” the symbol of Norway in Brazil.’
All seemed to be forgiven and/or forgotten, when in September 2005, Ragnhild joined her siblings and sister-in-law, Sonja, in Washington for the unveiling of a statue at the Norwegian Embassy (their wartime home at Pook’s Hill had long been demolished and the site redeveloped as a housing complex). The statue was a gift presented to the citizens of Norway from the Norwegian American Foundation on behalf of the Norwegian-American community in the United States to mark Norway’s centennial, as well as the Nordic nations one-hundred years of diplomatic relations with the United States. Ragnhild had clearly not forgotten the words of the “Stars and Stripes” and could be seen singing along to the US national anthem. In 2007, on King Harald’s 80th birthday, a replica of the statue was erected on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo, a gift from the Storting, Norway’s Parliament.
On 9 June 2010 the King hosted an 80th birthday dinner for Ragnhild. Among those on the guest list are several long-time girlfriends from her post-war schooldays in Oslo, many of whom she had kept up with over the years. In an interview with the weekly publication Allers, the Princess admitted that even at this age, she did not find it easy to open-up to strangers. She also indicated that she spent a lot of time alone and thrived in her own company. As far as gifts were concerned, Ragnhild indicated that she would prefer it if contributions could be made to her charitable fund for the aid of street children in Brazil. She and Erling had previously attended a Norwegian National Day event in Rio de Janiero on 17 May which was attended by several hundred Norwegians.
In December 2011, Se og Hør interviewed the Princess and Erling in Brazil. Ragnhild indicated that after 59 years in Rio, ‘We will probably not move to Norway again.’ This was consistent with what she had stated to VG in 1999. But behind the scenes she and Erling’s commitment to their homeland remained strong and it was revealed that, in 2011 alone, they had donated one million kroner to help children with cancer. These funds enabled individual grants of 50,000 kroner to be made to a family with a child affected by the disease in order that they could go on holiday or realize a dream together. This donation followed hard on the heels of a larger donation (five million kroner) made three years previously to help with the building and maintenance of a holiday cabin, overseen by the Support Association for Children with Cancer. Ragnhild expressed the hope ‘that the researchers will one day manage to crack the cancer riddle.’
In the same interview, the Princess mentioned that she had now passed over the torch to the younger generation where the hosting of the annual family Christmas celebrations was concerned (before this, up to twenty family and friends had been royally entertained at Ragnhild and Erling’s Rio home.) The reason was simple, ‘It is a lot of work…’ Certainly the years were rolling on and the pace of life had to be adjusted accordingly. In February, 2012 the Princess was photographed with her two siblings at a dinner party given at the Royal Palace to celebrate the 80th birthday of Princess Astrid. The image was later released by the Royal House. Ragnhild looked frail and much thinner than in past times, but appeared tanned and beautifully turned out in a tasteful couture silk outfit. However, she was not present at the joint 75th birthdays celebrations for the King and Queen which were held in May as, at Easter, the Princess had fallen and fractured her hip. However, on further investigation, it was discovered that Ragnhild, who had never been one for bothering doctors, was suffering from lung cancer. Erling was told that his wife would have only six months to live. Initially, he did not share this news with the Princess for several months and she managed to make what would be her final visit to Norway in the summer. Thereafter, Ragnhild returned home to Rio de Janeiro where, as her health faded due to the cancer, she was constantly surrounded by her devoted family. She died in her own bed, in her own house at 9.45am local time on Sunday, 16th September.
Following her death, flags were flown at half-mast in Norway, including at the Royal Palace. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the government had offered to pay for Princess Ragnhild’s funeral, but her family had gracefully declined the offer. The mortal remains of Princess Ragnhild arrived in Oslo on 24 September. Both the King and Princess Astrid were at the airport to receive them along with a bearer party of the Royal Guard. Ragnhild’s funeral was held at noon on 28 September in the chapel at the Royal Palace, where she had been baptized in 1930 and confirmed in 1947. This was followed by a reception for family and close friends at the palace. In the afternoon, Princess Ragnhild was laid to rest, as she herself had requested, in the cemetery at Asker Church where, touchingly, she and Erling had married nearly 60 years earlier. The committal was attended by close family only, just as the rather ‘private’ Princess would have wished.
How was Ragnhild remembered? The then Prime Minister Jens Soltenberg described her as ‘a warm-hearted representative of Norway.’ Kjell Arne Totland, former court reporter with Se og Hør, defined Ragnhild as, ‘a royal of the old school.’ He added, ‘She did not seek the limelight and so probably had a lot in common with her grandmother, Queen Maud. Therefore, I think she was happy that she could live a quiet and relatively quiet life in Rio all these years.’ Odd Nelvik, a former editor with the same publication also recalled that she was renowned for her direct speaking but noted too that, ‘She always had a twinkle in her eye.’
Perhaps the last words should go the Princess herself. In 2010, during an interview with Allers magazine, she stated, ‘My motto in life is to keep the wheels turning as long as possible! And when I think back on life, I am filled with gratitude for all the good times I have had. I have always focused on the positive.’
Robert Prentice is the author of the biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times (link below for e-book) Hard Copy also available from Amazon.