With a relatively young history in such things, Norway currently has only two Orders of Chivalry – The Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav (Den Kongelige Norske St. Olavs Orden) and The Royal Norwegian Order of Merit (Den Kongelige Norske Fortjensteorden). Whilst the King’s right to bestow Orders is laid down in the Constitution, recommendations are effectively made by a commission established by the Norwegian Government.
One short-lived Order is worthy of note, if only for the interesting short life that it had.
The Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav
The Order of Saint Olav was instituted by King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway on 21st August 1847, more or less replacing the peerage which had been abolished by the Norwegian Parliament in 1821. It is named after King Olav II, who was canonised at Nidaros (Trondheim) by Bishop Grimkell, one year after his death in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29th July 1030. Olaf was called Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae or Norway's Eternal King and swiftly became Norway's patron saint. The cult of Olaf unified the country and consolidated the Christianisation of Norway. having said that, he was succeeded by his illegitimate son by the concubine Alvhild, Magnus the Good, who eventually also assumed power in Denmark.
(The Oscar I above was the first king of that name within the Union of Sweden and Norway. There had been an Oscar I of Norway alone in the 10th Century. The last King of a united Sweden and Norway was another, different Oscar II.)
The present Norwegian name for the Order is Den Kongelige Norske Sankt Olavs Orden or The Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. Sanct Olafs Orden is the old Norwegian name.
The insignia of the Order include the Norwegian Coat of Arms - the crowned golden Lion holding St Olav's symbol of the Axe - the Axe itself, accompanied by St Olav's Cross (the combination of which forms the Coat of Arms of the Church of Norway) and the Monogram 'O'. The crowned 'O' could stand for either St Olav himself or the Order's founder, King Oscar I. This is not explained on the website of the Norwegian Royal House. What is clear is that the reverse of the Medallion hanging from the Chain bears the motto of King Oscar I “Ret og Sanhed”, which means “Justice and Truth”.
The Riband is in the colours of the Norwegian National Flag - predominantly red but with white-blue-white stripes at the edges. The Riband is worn as a Sash with the Badge hanging from it by holders of the Grand Cross, but it may not be worn at the same time as the Collar if that has also been awarded. The degree of Grand Cross with Chain was instituted as a separate award in 1906 and replaced the Order of the Norwegian Lion which had been set above the Order of St Olav. Only four women, other than members of the Norwegian Royal Family have been awarded the Collar:
- Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1955)
- Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (1958)
- Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, formerly Queen (1964)
- Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, formerly President of Iceland (1982)
The Royal Norwegian Order of Merit
The Royal Norwegian Order of Merit (Norwegian: Den Kongelige Norske Fortjenstorden (Bokmål) or Den Kongelege Norske Fortenesteordenen (Nynorsk)) was founded by King Olav V on 14th June 1985 and instituted on 19th June the following year. It is awarded to foreigners, Norwegian citizens living abroad, Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats, foreign civil servants in Norway, and Norway's honorary consuls for "outstanding service in the interests of Norway".
King Olav was displeased at the large number of St Olav awards which were not being returned to the Order's Chancery after the death of a knight. Norwegians are strict at complying with the rules regarding awards and were concerned that the precious insignia were being offered at auctions. The Order is characterized therefore by a simple design with King Olav V's Monogram and, unlike the Order of St. Olav, the insignia remain the property of the recipient. Holders of both Orders, such as The King and the Crown Prince, either wear the Riband of St. Olav across the body and Merit on a Riband around the neck or the Sash of Merit with the Collar of St. Olav.
Order of the Norwegian Lion
Following criticism that knights of the Norwegian Order of St. Olav ranked below the knights of the Swedish Order of the Seraphim in the shared Swedish-Norwegian royal court, King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway established the “supreme” Order of the Norwegian Lion on his 75th Birthday, 21st January 1904. The Order of the Seraphim ceased to be a common supreme order for the countries in the Union.
However the expansion of the Norwegian honours system received mixed reactions amongst Norwegian politicians. The reason for the founding of the Order - "In memory of the glorious events associated with Norway’s venerable Coat of Arms" – may not have helped. A proposal put forth in the Storting called for the National Assembly to state its disapproval of the expansion of the Norwegian honours system, but the proposal was rejected by a vote of 62 to 54.
The Union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved in 1905 before any Norwegian knights had been appointed. In a revision of the Order of Preference at the Royal Norwegian Court on 29th January 1906, the Knights of the Norwegian Lion were ranked in the same class as holders of the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav. King Haakon VII chose not to continue the Order of the Norwegian Lion and he never wore it, even though he formally remained the Grand Master.
King Haakon repealed the Order in a Court resolution on 11th March 1952. However, the Decree was never published and so only the absence of the statutes in subsequent editions of the Norwegian Government Yearbook was the only indication that the Order had ceased to exist. The last surviving knight was King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden who died in 1973. He had been awarded the Order of the Norwegian Lion in 1904 (as with everyone else) but had already held the Grand Cross of St. Olav with Collar since 1882!
The photograph shown here of King Oscar II wearing the Chain of the Order of the Norwegian Lion is consequently very rare.