The Princess and the President
New Westminster, B.C.
There was once a woman in a U.S. president’s life. But not just any woman: a Norwegian princess.
The princess was Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, and the president was President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
She and her husband, Crown Prince Olav, first met Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt when they visited the United States in 1939.
However, it was during the war years (1942–1945) that the friendship between the crown princess and the president grew. We know this because of a diary kept by a distant Roosevelt cousin.
After Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Crown Princess Märtha and her three children escaped, along with her husband, Crown Prince Olav and King Haakon VII.
The king and crown prince went to London with the Norwegian government-in-exile. Crown Princess Märtha and her three children first went to Sweden.
Even though she was a former Swedish princess, some in Sweden believed her and her children compromised the country’s neutrality by being in Sweden. The four royals and three staff members then traveled to Finland.
At some point President Roosevelt invited Märtha and her children to stay at the White House. The United States was also neutral at the time.
“Let them look to Norway”
In 1942, a submarine chaser, re-christened the HNoMS King Haakon VII, was presented to the Norwegian navy by President Roosevelt. It was at this presentation that the president gave his “Look to Norway” remarks, followed by remarks by the crown princess.
“If there is anyone who still wonders why this war is being fought, let him look to Norway,” said President Roosevelt. “If there is anyone who has any delusions that this war could have been averted, let him look to Norway; and if there is anyone who doubts the democratic will to win, again I say, let him look to Norway.”
Crown Princess Märtha also had a few words to say:
“The beautiful and generous words just expressed by you, Mr. President, will ultimately find their way to every Norwegian home. Yes, to everywhere on this globe where Norwegian men and women are praying and working and fighting to regard the free and happy Norway. All our deepest thanks.”
“Märtha becomes more attractive as one sees more of her,” wrote Roosevelt cousin and close friend of FDR, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, in her long-hidden diary. “She is gentle and sympathetic, has a sense of humor and is very responsive,” she wrote in 1943.
In another diary entry Daisy described the Crown Princess as “attractive. Much charm—tall, slender and a good figure…”
One of the reasons these two historic figures got along so well was their attitude around humor: they loved to kid one another.
Once, when FDR was home in his beloved Hudson Valley in New York, a fellow valley resident wrote about Märtha kidding the president: “An aroma of ripening apples, Concord grapes, hay and barnyards drifted through the windows,” wrote Robert Eltinger Lasher, about riding in the presidential car in September 1943. In that same car was the president and the crown princess among others.
It prompted “the president to ask the princess if the air was too much for her. Would she like the windows raised?” he asked.
“‘No, thank you, sir,’ the princess responded and, with a mischievous glance, ‘Surely, Mr. President, with all your influence, could you not control the winds?’ which brought yet another presidential chuckle.”
Unfortunately this is the only example of humor found between Martha and FDR. But cousin Daisy did tease her famous cousin about Martha.
FDR “had spent a restful Sunday at Shangri-La (now called Camp David)…” Daisy wrote in 1942.
“I asked if he hadn’t anyone else” visiting besides a N.Y. politician and his wife, wrote Suckley. “He laughed and said no, knowing I meant the Crown Princess: It amuses him to be teased about her.”
The following year, Daisy again writes about teasing the president about Märtha.
FDR was going to go out for a drive in the Arlington, Va., area and “I suggested he might go the other direction, meaning to the Norwegians at Bethesda, Md. He laughed—He rather likes being teased about Märtha,” whom he called his “Godchild.”
Some among the presidential official White House family, as well as the First Lady, referred to Martha, her three children, and the three servants as “The Norwegians.”
The Fourth Inaugural
Another time when FDR enjoyed the company of the Norwegians was after the president’s fourth inaugural in January 1945.
When the war-weary president could have had anyone for a private lunch in the Red Room of the White House—hundreds of others ate elsewhere—FDR chose to have his cousin Daisy and the Norwegians, including Crown Prince Olav, “sitting around him.”
“It was a nice party,” Suckley wrote, “with other special people coming in now and then to greet the president and congratulate him.”
On the next day, the president and the royals met in the same Red Room, where “a dozen toasts were made, all sweet, full of feeling,” writes Suckley. “The president made a double one, to the Norwegians: That they should be at all his birthday parties”—FDR was celebrating his Jan. 30th birthday early because he would be traveling to Yalta—“and also, that they should be home again at this time next year.”
It would be the last time the Norwegians, especially the president and the crown princess, would see each other. Roosevelt died four months later. But the toast came true. The Norwegian royals would be back home later that year.
To see and hear Crown Princess Märtha’s remarks at the acceptance of the submarine chaser on youtube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfnnK76nVt0
Scott Larsen is a Roosevelt historian. He will be delivering talks about FDR and Crown Princess Martha in the Pacific Northwest. If your group is interested in having Scott speak, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the March 27, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.