How Did Crown Princess Märtha of Norway Die?

The Scandinavian royal families represent some of the oldest monarchies that still exist. [1] But despite their longevity, they are little known outside their home countries.

And figures such as Crown Princess Märtha, much loved in her lifetime, have remarkably little recall among the broader global public. 

Crown Princess Märtha of Norway died of cancer on 5 April 1954; she was only 53 years old when she passed away. Her premature death meant that she was never declared Queen.

The public admired her for advancing Norway’s interests under challenging circumstances during World War Two. 

This article will describe the circumstances surrounding Märtha’s death, provide background information that explains her popularity among the Norwegian masses, and place her in the context of the Norwegian monarchy.

Also, see Who Was the First King of Norway? to learn more.

The Circumstances Surrounding Crown Princess Märtha’s Death

On 8 May 1945, the war in Europe officially ended. In exile at the time, the Norwegian royal family returned to Norway to a rapturous reception. [2]

And Märtha and her husband, Crown Prince Olav, took on responsibility for royal engagements owing to the ill health of her father-in-law, King Haakon. [3] 

Later, Märtha suffered a prolonged illness leading up to her death on 5 April 1954.

Her funeral, held in Oslo Cathedral on 21 April 1954, was attended by representatives from the royal families of Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium, all of whom had close ties to the Norwegian royals. [4] 

Märtha was beloved in Norway for furthering Norwegian interests during the war. In the words of the Bishop of Oslo: “For a long time, she has been the queen of our hearts, and this position she will never lose.” [5]

After her death, Crown Prince Olav did not marry again and remained single until his death in January 1991. His and Märtha’s son, Harald, succeeded his father and remains the king of Norway today.  

Crown Princess Märtha’s Role in World War Two

Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha had met and befriended American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor during a goodwill tour of the United States of America in 1939.

The close relationship between the Norwegian royals and the Roosevelts would later prove invaluable, and the public rumored that Franklin Roosevelt was more than a little enamored of Märtha. 

When Nazi Germany invaded Norway on 4 April 1940, the Norwegian royal family went into exile.

While King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav remained in England to oversee Norwegian affairs, Crown Princess Märtha and Märtha and Olav’s children, Princesses Ragnhild, 10, and Astrid, 8, and Prince Harald, 3, traveled to America at Roosevelt’s invitation. [6]

President Roosevelt hosted Märtha and her children at the White House until the Norwegian government could arrange suitable accommodation.

Later, the royals moved to a Tudor mansion in Bethesda, Maryland, close to Washington. 

With the American President’s support, Märtha vigorously advanced Norwegian interests from her American base during the war.

The Crown Princess attended events, gave speeches, and raised money for Norwegian war mobilization and relief efforts.

Her efforts played a crucial role in securing American military equipment for the Norwegian armed forces.

And she was later invited on board the USS Potomac for a meeting that drew up Allied plans for post-war Europe. [7] 

Märtha’s father-in-law, King Haakon, awarded her the country’s highest civilian honor, the Order of St. Olav, for her war efforts and services as an exemplary ambassador of Norway.

She also earned the enduring affection of the Norwegian people. 

Märtha, Olav, and the Norwegian Royal Family

The marriage of Crown Princess Märtha and Crown Prince Olav in 1929 brought together many strands of European royalty. 

Märtha’s father was Prince Carl of Sweden, and her mother was Princess Ingeborg of Denmark.

Olav was the son of King Haakon, previously Prince Carl of Denmark, and Queen Maud, formerly Princess of Wales. Märtha and Olav were also cousins.

Märtha remained Crown Princess until her death, and Olav became King after the demise of his father Haakon in 1957

A Thousand-Year-Old Legacy

The Norwegian monarchy arose when Harald Fairhair united the scattered petty kingdoms of Norway into a unified whole sometime around 885 CE.

At least, this is the story laid out by Snorre Sturlason, the 13th-century Icelandic author of the Heimskringla. [8]

The unification proceeded in stages, and in the 10th and 11th centuries, kings Olav Tryggvason and Harald Sigurdsson may have made significant contributions.

The development of a fleet of vessels to defend Norway’s coastline, the longest in Europe, and the adoption of Christianity also helped provide a unifying governing structure.

More than ten centuries after Harald Fairhair, King Haakon, the father of Crown Prince Olav and the father-in-law of Crown Princess Märtha, became the first Norwegian King of the House of Glücksburg. 

King Haakon was also the first king of the independent modern state of Norway after it broke away from Sweden. [9] And before 1814, Norway had been under Danish sovereignty for over 500 years 

Today, the descendants of Märtha and Olav remain monarchs of Norway.

The Norwegian Royal Family Today

As the crown could legally only pass onto male heirs, Märtha and Olav’s son Harald became King Harald V on 17 January 1991, succeeding his father to the Norwegian throne, even though he was the youngest of their three children. [10]

Unusually by royal standards, Harald’s wife, Queen Sonja, previously Sonja Haraldsen, is a commoner.

King Harald and Queen Sonja have two children, Crown Prince Haakon, the royal heir, and Crown Princess Märtha

Crown Prince Haakon and his wife, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, have two children. After a change in law allowing women to succeed, their elder daughter, Princess Ingrid, is now second-in-line to the throne.

Her younger brother, Prince Sverre, is next in line. Mette-Marit also has another son, Marius Borg Høiby, from a previous marriage.

King Harald’s eldest aunt, Princess Ragnhild, married the Brazilian-Norwegian shipping magnate Erling Lorentzen and moved to Brazil.

The couple had three children, Haakon, Ingeborg, and Ragnhild. Princess Ragnhild passed away in 2012. 

Princess Ragnhild’s younger sister, Princess Astrid, married and divorced another commoner, Johan Martin Ferner, now deceased. The couple has five children:

  • Cathrine
  • Benedikte
  • Alexander
  • Elisabeth
  • Carl-Christian

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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