The consecration of the King in the Nidaros Cathedral in our time has roots which may be claimed to go back a thousand years in our history. This is a brief presentation of these roots from the 10th century up to the present. The historical foundation for today's consecration in the Nidaros Cathedral is twofold. One element is the tradition of the hailing of the Norwegian high kings at the Øyrating assembly in Trondheim, which may have been practised as early as the 900's. The other element is the coronations of the Norwegian kings in Bergen which began in 1163.
The hailing of a new king, konungstekja, meaning king-taking in Old Norse, is an ancient Germanic custom going back to the times of the petty kings in Norway. It was an expression by the people of their acceptance of a man as their king and a declaration of their loyalty to him. The kingship was a sort of hereditary electoral monarchy in which all the male heirs of the king had a legal claim to the throne. When the pretenders had been evaluated, as the sagas tell, the chosen one was proclaimed king by one of the chieftains, while the assembly of yeomanry, or freehold farmers, beat their shields in acclamation of the new king. In the process of the unification of Norway into a single kingdom, which took place during the period from 900 to 1030, the many royal pretenders of the Fairhair line soon felt the need for a national assembly to hail the high king of the realm. Snorre Sturlasson, the medieval Icelandic historian, mentions in the Heimskringla Saga that Harald Fairhair was hailed as king of all Norway at an assembly, or ting, in Trøndelag. This is so improbable, however, that no professional historian has ever considered it seriously, but then Snorre mentions it only in passing. Snorre's statement that Håkon the Good was the first Norwegian king to be hailed in this way seems more likely. This took place at an assembly in Trøndelag at which Håkon, still according to Snorre, was hailed as king of all Norway in 935. Håkon received substantial support from Earl Sigurd, who at that time wielded a great deal of power in the regions of Norway north of the Dovre mountains. Concerning the site of this hailing of the high king in 935, Prof. Anders Daae writes in 1906, "Although it is not said in the saga, we have every reason to believe that this assembly was held on the sand banks, or Øyra in Old Norse, near Nidaros."
However, more recent research seems clearly to indicate that the Frostating assembly predates the Øyrating assembly, which was a secondary assembly established by the king. This makes it most likely that this hailing, if Snorre is right, occurred at Frosta. P.A. Munch maintained that the first Øyrating at Nidaros was called together when Olav Tryggvasson was hailed king of all Norway in 995. Of this konungs-tekja Snorre writes, "Olav Tryggvasson was hailed king of all Norway at a general assembly ÆallmannatingÅ in Trondheim, just as Harald Fairhair had been. At this time all the common people rose up and would hear of nothing other than that Olav Tryggvasson should be king." As we see, the Øyrating is not named in this saga passage either, nor in the saga which tells of the hailing of Olav Haraldsson in Trondheim.
The first hailing of a Norwegian high king which saga texts directly link to the Øyrating is the hailing of Magnus the Good in 1035. Snorre writes, "Magnus Olavsson went with his army out to the trading town and was well received. He had the Øyrating called together, and when the yeomanry came to the assembly, they took Magnus to be king there over the entire realm, just as King Olav, his father, had counselled." In citing this source, however, we must point out that Snorre Sturlasson wrote down this saga sometime between 1220 and 1235, or approximately 200 years after the event was supposed to have taken place. This makes it difficult to give Snorre's text too much weight as an account of events occurring in the 11th century.
Nonetheless, there are indications that Snorre is drawing conclusions on a historical reality. As Professor Gustav Storm stated in the 1890s, it is most likely that the Øyrating was established by none other than Olav Tryggvasson as a national assembly for hailing the sovereign of the national kingdom of Norway. This probably happened at the same time that the town of Nidaros/Trondheim was established as the seat of the king and the church, what we would today call the capital, but which the saga calls "Norway's head."
What is important in a historical perspective, though, is to establish the fact that Trøndelag (the districts surrounding Trondheim), through the Øyrating, achieved precedence over other parts of the country in electing and hailing the king over the entire realm. From an early date, recognition by the Øyrating carried more weight than recognition by other assemblies in Norway. Yet it was not necessary for the king first to be accepted by the Øyrating. A pretender to the throne could be hailed king at a regional assembly, later to fight for recognition at the Øyrating. This was what happened with Olav Haraldsson, who was hailed king of the entire realm according to the law prevailing in the Oppland region, and who later had his sovereignty confirmed in Trøndelag.
The Law of Royal Succession from 1163 established the Øyrating as the national assembly for hailing the king of Norway. To be sure, this law never achieved the force of law in Norway, but the laws of royal succession enacted in the 13th century reiterated the designation of the Øyrating as the national assembly for hailing the king of the realm.
What is interesting to note in this context though, is that many of the Norwegian kings of old journeyed around to the individual regional assemblies throughout the country after being hailed in Trondheim. Thus, the tradition of a coronation and hailing journey may in a sense be accorded a place in a thousand-year tradition. The custom in Norway of making these journeys to receive the homage of the people is reminiscent of the Eriksgatan in Sweden, which always took place between the hailing of a king and his coronation in Uppsala.
King Sverre Sigurdsson was hailed according to tradition at the Øyrating in 1177. At that time, the new practice of holding an ecclesiastical coronation had already been introduced to Norway. This occurred in 1163 with the coronation and anointing of Magnus Erlingsson in Bergen. This inaugurated the practice of a custom in Norway which was alien to the Germanic peoples.
Crowning was a practice started by the emperors of the Eastern and Western Roman empires, and became an ecclesiastical ceremony when Christianity became the state religion. Anointing, which was part of the coronation ceremonies of Christian Europe, was originally an oriental custom. The Old Testament tells of the anointing of such persons as David, Saul, etc. The Franks began crowning and anointing their kings in the middle of the 5th century.
Magnus Erlingsson was not of royal descent on the paternal side. This clashed so seriously with established legal conventions that his legitimacy had to be reinforced through an alliance between church and king. In a meticulously formulated ecclesiastical ceremony, which was common to all countries throughout Catholic Europe, Magnus Erlingsson was now anointed and crowned, i.e. he was consecrated to his office as God's highest temporal representative on earth. At the first Norwegian coronation, Magnus had to swear an oath which included a pledge of obedience to the Pope. A letter of privilege was also bestowed upon the king which, among other things, made him a vassal of St. Olav. Moreover, the crown of the king and his descendants was to be given as an offering to the Christ Church in Nidaros, to the eternal glory of God and St. Olav.
The next coronation of a Norwegian king occurred in 1194, at which time King Sverre Sigurdsson was crowned in Bergen under dramatic circumstances. The archbishop had fled the country and the bishop of Oslo was compelled to anoint and crown the king. These coronations gave the Norwegian church greater influence at the hailing of a new king than it had previously enjoyed. In terms of law, it was the hailing that formed the legal basis of the king's power. During the Middle Ages, a king's reign was reckoned from the day of his being hailed. Thus, the office and authority of the king were not conferred by coronation, though this ceremony brought prestige to the king and came to give the church influence at the hailing.
After King Sverre Sigurdsson's death, a new procedure was introduced into the hailing. The main duty of the assembled yeomanry was now to hail the king, but not to select the new king from among several pretenders. In reality, election of the king was arranged in a series of meetings between the most prominent leaders of church and state. This meant that the hailing of the king at the Øyrating to an increasing degree took on the character of an ecclesiastical proceeding.
Starting with the election of the king in 1204, the Bagler Saga relates that the Shrine of St. Olav was carried from the high altar in the Nidaros Cathedral to the Øyrating. Archbishop Eirik and the chapter priests went in procession from the cathedral to the Øyrating and from the Øyrating back to the cathedral. This, too, signifies that the temporal ceremony at the Øyrating had been combined with an ecclesiastical blessing and swearing of the oath. In 1217, there was a dispute between the ecclesiastic and the temporal noblemen concerning the choice of king. The contemporary saga of Håkon Håkonsson relates the following: "On the day the Øyrating was to be held, a throng of yeomen from the countryside came into the town, as they were wont to do when a king was to be chosen. The people were assembled out on the sand banks together with the trumpeters, as was the custom. Then they sent men in to the chapter priests to bring out the Shrine of St. Olav. But when the men came to Christ Church, it was locked, and the clerks said that the priests would excommunicate any man who broke into the church and took out the shrine. When this was reported to the assembly, they took counsel and proclaimed Håkon king according to lawful practice, and the man who did this was named Skjerbald, and was from the Gauldalen valley. Håkon was then accorded land and free subjects, and all the men of Trøndelag pledged him fealty and service as fully as if he had sworn his oaths to them and they to him. So ended the assembly." It is quite plain from this passage that oath and fealty were to be sworn on the Shrine of St. Olav which they had to do without on this occasion. After this ceremony at the Øyrating in 1217, Håkon set out on his journey to be hailed at the Gulating and at several assemblies in Eastern Norway.
In 1239, the Øyrating was again the scene of a political conflict. At that time, Duke Skule Bårdsson called an assembly, summoning yeomen, merchants and all the common people of the town to the Øyrating. The duke had finally determined to take up the struggle against Håkon and take the name of king. The archbishop was away, however, and the priests would not deliver the Shrine of St. Olav for the ceremony. The duke then ordered his men, under his son's command, to take the shrine to the assembly. They also took the large silver cross from the Nidaros Cathedral as well as St. Olav's axe and spear. At the Øyrating, the newly elected king Skule placed his hands on the Shrine of St. Olav and swore to his subjects that he would abide by the law of St. Olav. A short time after the ceremony of hailing, however, the new king was killed by King Håkon's men. The importance by now of being hailed at the Øyrating is apparent from the fact that Håkon Håkonsson, as early as 1240, had his son Håkon the Young hailed with great pomp at the Øyrating. The archbishop and all the nobles were present, and the king swore his oath on the sacred shrine.
The Law of Royal Succession of 1260 followed the practice of hailing which was already established by the Law of Royal Succession of 1163. The pretender to the throne was required to call together to assembly at the Øyrating. A book of regulations for the bodyguard of the king dated between 1273 and 1277 established a certain hailing ceremony indicating the pomp which must have surrounded the hailing of the king for a long time. This book of regulations provides only general rules for the ceremony without linking the event specifically to the Øyrating. The Laws of Royal Succession (1260 and 1273) do establish this, however. What is of interest here in a historical perspective is that the blessing of the Church was bestowed on the pretender in connection with the ceremony of the hailing of the king. It is written here, "Then the pretender to the throne shall command a mass to be sung for him. After the mass, the pretender shall go to the altar and entreat God's mercy with a whole heart, with the prayers of Saint Mary and Saint Olav, after which he shall kneel and receive the blessing of the bishop." Aside from the Roman Catholic mass, today's consecration ceremony may be linked directly to the text in Magnus Lawmender's Book of Regulations for the King's Bodyguard from the 13th century. As pointed out, however, the tradition is undoubtedly older even than this. The need must have been felt at quite an early date for the hailed king to receive the blessing of the Church in connection with his being hailed as king. What is certain, though, is that the blessing of the Church must have been part of the tradition after the Shrine of St. Olav had acquired a central place in the hailing of the kings at the Øyrating (supported by sources from 1204).
The Laws of Royal Succession of 1260 and 1273 attached the succession to the oldest legitimate son of the king, and therefore, it was no longer a matter of choice between several pretenders to the throne. Nonetheless, the hailing of the Norwegian king at the Øyrating was retained as an essential legal element in the process of succession. Within a month of the king's death, the heir apparent was required by law to journey to the northern part of the country to his forebear, St. Olav. The Øyrating was to be summoned and the pretender was to be taken as king, swearing to rule his subjects according to law and justice.
The last king to be hailed at the Øyrating according to the old custom and provision of law was Håkon V Magnusson. In the autumn of 1299, the Øyrating was summoned to hail the new king. Following the ceremony at the assembly, the clerics and the nobles proceeded to the service in the Nidaros Cathedral. According to the law, this must have been a service of consecration in keeping with the tradition taken up again by King Olav V in 1958 and continued by King Harald V in 1991. In the 14th century, the hailing ceremony was moved from the Øyratinget to the courtyard of the cathedral, where a hailing seat was set up. We know that a hailing seat was used by Olav IV in 1381 and by Eirik III in 1389. On both occasions, it was Queen Margrete of the Scandinavian Union who had sent her own heirs, still minors, in order to secure the legal basis of her monarchy. Documents from 1381 and 1389 indicate that the ceremony contained in the Bodyguard Regulations was followed on both occasions. In 1389, Margrete compelled the powerful chancellor Håkon Jonsson to accept Eirik III as king, even though the chancellor's claim to the throne was just as valid as that of Margrete's pretender.
All five Norwegian coronations prior to 1299 took place in Bergen. There were many reasons why Bergen was preferred to Trondheim for coronations, including civil war and rivalry between king and Church. Another major reason was that Bergen became the seat of monarchy and government in the 13th century.
After 1319, Norway was drawn into a personal union with Sweden and Denmark. With this, the distinctively Norwegian traditions associated with royal succession and hailing more or less disappeared. Christopher of Bavaria treated himself to a Norwegian coronation in 1442, and Christian II did the same in 1514. Both of these coronations took place in Oslo.
During the political conflicts of the 15th century, Trondheim once again was made the place at which the king was hailed, with coronation included this time. This was due first of all to the fact that the archbishop, who had his seat in Nidaros was head of the Norwegian Council of the Realm. It was also important for the pretenders to the throne to establish their legitimacy by linking their title to the throne to the venerable hailing traditions associated with the conferring of the blessing of the church in Trondheim. In 1449, Karl I Knutsson Bonde was hailed and crowned king of Norway in Trondheim. Both coronation and hailing were performed by Archbishop Aslak Bolt. He led the Norwegian opposition against Christian I of Oldenborg, chosen by the Danish Council of the Realm at about the same time. After Archbishop Aslak Bolt was dead, Christian I made the long journey north to Nidaros to be hailed and crowned in Trondheim on the 2nd of August 1450. On the 20th of July 1483, Christian's son, Hans, made the same trip north to be hailed and crowned at Norway's old national hailing site. This was to be the last hailing and coronation to take place in the city of St. Olav until 1818.
In 1536, we entered what is called the period of dependency. The kings of Denmark-Norway were crowned in Copenhagen, though the Oldenborgs maintained a tradition of sorts of being hailed in Norway, mostly because it harmonized well with Danish traditions of electoral monarchy. The last of these hailing ceremonies took place in Oslo in 1661.
With the Constitution of 1814, Norway became a constitutional monarchy. The National Assembly at Eidsvoll determined, at the motion of Nicolai Wergeland, that "the Coronation and Anointing of the King should take place in the Cathedral in Trondheim, upon his reaching the Age of Majority, at the Time and with such Ceremonies as he may ordain."
With this enactment, the National Assembly, as Prof. Sverre Steen puts it, desired to "establish ties with the past, with the period of glory in the middle ages, and by this solemn means make manifest Norway's restoration as a free realm."
When it came to designating a church for the coronation in 1814, Gerhard Schøning's elegant book on the Cathedral in Trondheim undoubtedly had made a great impact. To be sure, our only medieval cathedral was in a state of great disrepair at the time. However, the coronation article in our constitution led to the resurrection of Norway's national cathedral like a phoenix from the ashes, to become one of Europe's purest and most beautiful gothic cathedrals. Thus, one could say that the Nidaros Cathedral was, is and will always be a sacred monument to our nation.
The thought behind the coronation in 1814 also had ties to the medieval elements of hailing as well as blessing. Trondheim's traditional status as the location of the national assembly for hailing the king was undoubtedly alive in 1814. There are indications that Carsten Anker and Bishop Peter Olivarius Bugge both recommended to Christian Frederik that he go to Trondheim to be hailed in the power of his right to succession. According to plans, this was to have taken place on occaation of the prince's visit to the city in February 1814.
This coronation never took place, however. Instead, the contents of an address were made known to Christian Frederik, urging him to call together a constitutional assembly for the purpose of giving the country a new constitution. The prince encountered identical sentiments in the south-eastern part of Norway which caused him to change his purpose and call together such an assembly.
In a constitutional monarchy, has no constitutional significance. This means that the king may legally act as king without ever being crowned. For various reasons which we will not go into here, neither Carl II (1814-1818) nor Oscar I (1844-1859) were ever crowned.
Hailing, in its real sense, was never even considered in the Constitution. After 1814, the oath of office which was part of the hailing in the middle ages was moved to a solemn ceremony conducted in the Storting. This oath of office has obvious constitutional significance. In a historical perspective, one may say that the swearing of the oath was transferred from the courtyard of the Nidaros Cathedral to the chamber of the Storting in Oslo. The element of consecration in the medieval hailing ceremony could not be transferred to the Storting, however, so the consecration would now be performed when the bishop blessed the regalia during the coronation. The oath of office was also repeated during the coronation ceremony, though this oath had no legal function.
Coronation, consecration and anointing in our national cathedral, according to the Constitution, were to be performed in a ceremony such as the king "himself should ordain." This involved a special church service, which was a constitutional as well as an ecclesiastical act. The consecration of the king was a central element, as the king, ever since the reformation, was also the head of the Church of Norway.
As the king, according to the Constitution, was to determine the content of the coronation ceremony, it was natural that Carl III Johan (Carl XIV Johan in Sweden) used the Swedish ceremonies when he was crowned in 1818. The ceremonies in use in Sweden at the time went back to the coronation of Gustav III in 1772. Trygve Lysaker described the 1818 coronation ceremony as follows in Coronations and Regalia from 1988:
"At the door of the church, the king was received by Bishop F. J. Bech of Kristiania, Bishop Bugge of the local diocese, and a number of the other clergy of the diocese. The king was escorted to a raised coronation seat at the upper end of the chancel, and the royal robe and the regalia were placed on the high altar.
Following the coronation service which included the consecration sermon by Bishop Bugge, the actual coronation ceremony took place. Cabinet Minister Fasting and Bishop Bech took the royal robe from the altar and placed it on the king's shoulders. The royal oath was read by Prime Minister Peder Anker, and the king repeated it with his open hand raised. The king knelt, bared his breast, and was anointed on his forehead, breast, temples and wrists by Bishop Bech. After resuming his seat, the crown was placed on his head by the prime minister and the bishop. The other regalia were presented to the king by the cabinet ministers who had carried them in the procession, each accompanied by the bishop, who at every step of the ceremony, recited a prayer. The royal herald then stepped forward and proclaimed, 'Now is Carl XIV Johan crowned King of the Kingdom of Norway, he and none other!' A 224-round salute from the battlements of the city and the battleships at harbour proclaimed simultaneously to all the people that the king had been crowned."
This coronation ceremony, with the exception of the cabinet ministers' Gustavian oaths of office to the king, omitted from the above passage, was followed when Carl IV (Carl XV in Sweden) and Queen Louise were crowned in 1860 and Oscar II and Queen Sophie in 1873.
The present royal residence in Trondheim, the Stiftsgården (originally a governor's residence) served as the royal residence at all the coronations of the 19th century. The three kings involved each had a prolonged stay in the city, and the coronation processions from the Stiftsgården to the cathedral grew in pomp for each coronation. This tells us that the economic development of the city of Trondheim and the Norwegian state through the 1800s both were good. The country could afford to spend more money on something which was regarded as a major national event. In spite of the national differences existing within the union between Norway and Sweden throughout the 1800s, we find little evidence of any opposition to these stately festivities. The royal coronations seem to have been national celebrations to hail a king who was both Norwegian and Swedish.
The last coronation in Norway took place in the summer of 1906. The founding father of our new royal family, Haakon VII, was crowned together with Queen Maud. The period of union with Sweden was at an end, and Norway was once again a free and independent realm, with no obligations of union. It was natural that this should be reflected in the coronation, which by and large, followed the same procedures as before. The coronation procession from the Stiftsgården was eliminated, however, and the regalia were placed on the high alter before the king entered the cathedral. For the first time since 1531, the entire length of the Nidaros Cathedral was in use. The work of restoration which had begun in 1869 had progressed so far by now that the West Nave could serve as a provisional cathedral hall. 2300 guests were present at the solemn coronation ceremony.
In 1908, Article 10 of the Constitution, which dealt with the coronation, was repealed, with only two opposing votes. The Storting's Constitutional Committee had submitted a unanimous recommendation to do away with the coronation provision held in the Constitution. The committee's recommendation observed, among other things, the following: "In our neighbouring countries, coronation may now be said to have disappeared." Denmark had seen its last coronation in 1840, and Sweden's last coronation would prove to be the coronation of Oscar II in 1873. Of European monarchs today, only the British monarch is still crowned.
When King Haakon VII died in 1957, there was no basis in law for a coronation in the Nidaros Cathedral. Of course, this did not mean that there was any prohibition against holding a service of consecration in the Nidaros Cathedral, if the new king saw fit.
King Olav V possessed remarkable historical insight and a strong sense of the value of tradition. Therefore, he expressed a personal desire to be consecrated in the Nidaros Cathedral. Through this ceremony, the king wanted to receive God's blessing upon his royal office. He also felt an ecclesiastical blessing was appropriate as the king was also the head of the Church of Norway. In his desire to be consecrated, King Olav V received substantial support from the Bishop of Nidaros, Arne Fjellbu.
In his decision to be consecrated, King Olav V laid the foundation for continuing a tradition with roots going back to the hailing by the Øyrating and to the coronations of the Norwegian kings from 1163 to 1906.
On the 23rd of June 1991, King Harald V and Queen Sonja will follow the tradition which our beloved King Olav V revived, and which generations of Norwegian kings have followed through nearly 1000 years of our history. The regalia are now kept in the Nidaros Cathedral. In keeping with the provision from 1163 of the offering of the crown, as well as Carl Johan's wish in 1818 that the regalia should be kept in the Nidaros Cathedral. The crowns bearing the Christian cross will also be involved in the consecration ceremony, which by and large will follow the procedures from King Olav's consecration in 1958.