How much do you know about Norway’s Queen Sonja? From her love of hiking to her interest in art, find out more about the wife of King Harald and the mother of Norway’s next King.
Since the late 1950s, she has been in the orbit of the man who would later become king of Norway. Sonja Haraldsen would end up marrying the love of her life in 1968, after a tumultuous courtship of nine years.
From then on, she would be known as Crown Princess Sonja, and then later on as Queen Sonja.
Her dedication to her royal duties, her support for music and the arts and her fundraising efforts for various charitable causes have made her a well-loved figure.
Learn more about Queen Sonja of Norway by checking out our list of five lesser-known facts about her.
Queen Sonja has a passion for art
Queen Sonja has always had a passion for art, particularly the visual arts. In 2017, on the day of her 80th birthday, she opened the Queen Sonja Art Stable, located in the former Royal Stables.
These buildings, which had previously been inaccessible to the public, now host changing exhibitions which can be seen for a ticket price of 125 NOK. The Stables are located at the western end of the palace grounds, with the entrance on Parkveien.
The Queen also created the Queen Sonja Print Award, which is presented every other year with an aim to generate interest in and promote the development of graphic art. What started as a Nordic art award, accessible only to artists emanating from the five Nordic countries, evolved into an international one.
Read more: An Introduction to Norwegian Art
The award consists of a cash prize of 400 000 NOK and a one-week educational stay at the art studio Atelje Larsen in Helsingborg, Sweden.
Over the years, the Queen assembled an extensive private art collection, some of which has been on public display before. The collection features works by such artists as Jakob Weidemann, Kjell Nupen, Anna-Eva Bergman, Anne Katrine Dolven, Kjell Torriset and Andy Warhol.
The Queen also produces art of her own, She started creating her own prints in the 2000s, when she was in her late sixties, and has since then exhibited her works on multiple occasions.
Her art has been described by some critics as that of a “skilled amateur”.
Her relationship with the king was controversial at first
When the courtship between Sonja Haraldsen and the man who would become the king started getting serious, the relationship raised many eyebrows.
The reason for the controversy was the fact that Sonja was a commoner. For King Olav, the then Crown Prince’s father, this meant she was off-bounds.
Royals are (or were at the time) expected to marry other royals, or at the very least someone from the nobility. But Harald was in love, and reputedly told his father that if he was not allowed to marry Sonja, he would never marry at all.
This of course would have meant the end of the royal line, since Harald was the sole heir to the throne (succession rules at the time meant his sisters were not eligible). Luckily for the couple, Olav relented and they were allowed to marry.
Seeing how the pair stuck together over the decades and clearly still care very much about each other to this day, it’s difficult to imagine the story having taken any other turn.
Sonja is the Queen of the outdoors
Queen Sonja has been seen many times donning hiking gear and exploring one of the country’s many trails.
In fact, a large number of trails and landmarks are named after her – one of the most notorious being HM Queen Sonja’s Panoramic Hiking Trail, in the Hardanger area.
Crown Prince Haakon has been reported as saying that on many occasions, he went on a hike and entered a DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association) cabin only to be told by the people working there that “your mother was here last month”.
The Queen being seen in her hiking gear doing an activity that is such an important part of the country’s ethos goes a long way in making her appear as a grounded, down to earth figure despite her royal status.
In 2017, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, the Trekking Association gifted her a statue of herself which can now be seen in the Palace grounds. The bronze case by Kirsten Kokkin depicts Queen Sonja in her hiking clothes, taking a break with her rucksack by her side.
The statue rests on a piece of granite from Hedalen in the Valdres region. It is likely to cement her image as friluftlivets dronning, the Queen of the Outdoors.
The King and Queen have a playful relationship
King Harald is known for his dry sense of humour, and he has been known to target his wife with playful jibes. This happened on Norwegian TV a few years back, when the pair gave an interview.
The meme-transcription of the exchange first appeared in English on image-sharing website Imgur, before becoming viral on Reddit.
Sonja has a tiara with connections to Napoleon and Brazil
One of Queen Sonja’s tiaras, part of a set called the “Norwegian Emerald Parure”, has connections to both Napoleon and Brazil. The parure (a French word that means “adornment”) consists of a tiara, a necklace, earrings, and a brooch.
By some accounts, its first owner was Empress Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. When Josephine died, she willed the parure to her son by a previous marriage, Eugene de Beauharnais.
De Beauharnais gave it to his wife, Princess Augusta Amelia of Bavaria. She in turn gave it to her daughter Amelia of Leuchenternberg who married Emperor Pedro I of Brazil.
Amelia of Leuchenternberg bequeathed all her jewellery to her sister Josephine, the Queen of Norway and Sweden. The parure has remained in the Norwegian royal family ever since.
During the Second World War, when the current King was just a boy, he fled the country with his mother, Princess Märtha, and his two older sisters – as recounted in the TV series Atlantic Crossing. In their luggage was the Norwegian Emerald Parure, which was meant to be an insurance policy of sorts in case of financial distress.