Oscar I succeeded his father as King of Norway and Sweden in 1844, and took as his motto “Justice and truth”. He was married to Josephine of Leuchtenberg, and they had five children, two of whom became kings of Norway-Sweden.
Portrait of King Oscar I, painted by Friedrich Dürck in 1849 (Photo: Kjartan Hauglid, The Royal Court)
No coronation in Norway
Oscar I was crowned in Sweden in 1844 and a coronation in Norway was planned for summer 1847. However, the date was first changed to 1848, and then put off repeatedly. The reason for this was that the Bishop of Nidaros, Hans Riddervold, refused to crown a Catholic queen. After a number of delays the matter was quietly shelved, and King Oscar I and Queen Josephine were never crowned in Norway.
Norway’s position in the union
Oscar I showed great interest in Norway from early on, and spoke Norwegian as well as Swedish. He was appointed Viceroy of Norway in 1824, and spent six months in the country at that time. He presided over the meetings of the government and made a good impression on the Norwegians.
King Oscar often took Norway’s side in matters involving equality between the two countries within the union. One of his first actions after acceding to the throne was to recognise the Norwegian flag, an independent flag with the emblem of the union in one corner.
Carl Johan had always been referred to as “King of Sweden and Norway”, but from the outset Oscar I chose to be referred to as “King of Norway and Sweden” in matters relating to Norway.
Oscar I also instituted other reforms and institutions ensuring greater equality between Norway and Sweden, which made him very popular among the Norwegians. One of these was the founding, in 1847, of the Order of St Olav.
Oscar I read widely and was well educated. He was much more liberal than his father; social and political reforms introduced during his reign included a more humane penal code, equal right of inheritance for men and women and a new poverty act. He also wrote a book in support of a more benign prison service.
In the realm of foreign policy Carl Johan had cultivated friendly relations with Russia. His son, however, chose to focus greater attention on relations with the western powers.
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace was almost completed when Oscar I ascended to the throne, and the new king and queen took an active part in the plans for the interior being drawn up by the architect and the palace building committee. The palace was finally completed in 1849, and officially opened by King Oscar on 26 July.
Both King Oscar and Queen Josephine took a great interest in art, and laid the foundation for the fine collection of older Norwegian art at the Palace.
The most significant monument to the royal couple’s artistic interests was the pleasure palace of Oscarshall, which was built in the period 1847-1852. This charming Neo-Gothic palace was designed by Johan Henrik Nebelong and intended by the King and Queen to support Norwegian artists and provide “a worthy home for Norwegian art and handicrafts”.
St. Olav’s Cathedral
As a Catholic, Queen Josephine engaged herself both personally and financially in the building of St Olav’s Cathedral in Oslo. The cathedral was designed by Heinrich Ernst Schirmer and consecrated in 1856. It was the first Catholic church to be built in Norway since the Reformation.
The Queen also acquired the relic of St Olav for the cathedral. The relic was the property of the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen, but the Queen personally requested the Danish King Frederik VII to present her with the relic as a gift. The king duly complied, and in August 1862 the relic was ceremoniously placed in the cathedral beneath the altar to the Virgin Mary.
Portrait of Queen Joséphine (1807-76), painted by Friedrich Dürck in 1849 (Photo: Kjartan Hauglid, The Royal Court)
Queen Josephine took a great interest in social welfare, and was involved in a number of charities. She also left large sums in her will to humanitarian foundations in Norway and Sweden, thereby laying the foundation for the interest in charity work that Norwegian queens have shown ever since.