Norway’s Queen Sonja is celebrating her 85th birthday today. From a commoner to a Queen consort, let’s take a look at the life of the Queen of Norway.
Sonja Haraldsen was born on 4 July 1937 to Karl and Dagny Haraldsen in Oslo. She grew up with an older brother and an older sister, Haakon and Gry, in the Vinderen neighbourhood in Oslo. Another brother, Karl, died in a boating accident the year before she was born.
She had a typical Norwegian upbringing and graduated from lower secondary school in 1954 before going on to the Oslo Vocational School to learn dressmaking and tailoring. From there, she went to Switzerland to attend the finishing school, École Professionelle des Jeunes Filles, where she studied social science, accounting and fashion design. Sonja then returned to Norway to enrol at the University of Oslo, where she earned a degree in French, English and Art History.
In June 1959, Sonja attended a house party hosted by Johan H. Stenersen. There she met Crown Prince Harald, and the pair began quietly dating. The relationship remained a secret due to Sonja being a commoner, but Harald knew she was the only one for him and wanted to make it public. He told his father, King Olav, that if he could not marry Sonja, he would not marry anyone – thus ending the family’s rule over Norway after Harald’s death.
Harald and Sonja’s engagement was announced in March 1968, and the Norwegian people quickly accepted commoner Sonja as their future consort. Any concerns King Olav, and the royals had were gone with the quick acceptance of Sonja by the people.
The pair married at Oslo Cathedral on 29 August 1968, with Sonja becoming the Crown Princess of Norway. The couple has two children: Princess Märtha Louise (b. 22 September 1971) and Crown Prince Haakon (b. 20 July 1973).
Although Märtha Louise is the elder child, she was not born the heir to the throne as she was not entitled to inherit the throne under Norwegian law until 1991. The laws were changed that year to absolute primogeniture, but unlike in neighbouring Sweden, the elder daughter did not replace the younger brother as heir.
King Harald and Queen Sonja now have six grandchildren: Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Prince Sverre Magnus (children of the Crown Prince Couple) and Marius Borg Høiby (the son of Crown Princess Mette-Marit from a previous relationship) and Maud Angelica, Leah Isadora, and Emma Talulah Behn (daughters of Princess Märtha Louise and her ex-husband, Ari Behn). Even though Marius Borg Høiby is Crown Princess Mette-Marit’s child from a previous relationship, the King and Queen have always treated him equal to their other grandchildren and consider him as their grandson.
Sonja threw herself into her work as Crown Princess of Norway and became extremely popular with the people. During her time in this role, she served as Vice President of the Norwegian Red Cross and created the Princess Märtha Louise’s Fund to aid disabled children in Norway. The former resulted in her being awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She also created the Queen Sonja International Music Competition a couple of years before her husband became monarch.
King Olav died on 17 January 1991, and Harald immediately succeeded as King. Sonja then became Norway’s first Queen consort in 52 years. The King swore an oath to the constitution on 21 January with Sonja by his side, marking the first time in 69 years a Queen had been present in parliament (the Storting).
Following Their Majesties’ wishes, their consecration took place on 23 June 1991 in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. They then undertook a ten-day tour of southern Norway, and the following year the Royal Family spent 22 days touring the four northernmost counties of the country.
Her duties as Queen of Norway include accompanying the King for the opening of parliament and on trips abroad; she is also the host for incoming visits to Norway. The King and Queen also travel around Norway each year to visit the people and are considered very in tune with their people and beloved by all.
The Queen is known to enjoy art, and the Queen Sonja Art Stable was opened at the Royal Palace as a place to host art exhibits in 2017. She’s also known to be an avid photographer and loves hiking. In addition, she’s passionate about education and has patronages that focus on the betterment of education and helping refugees.