The Norwegian royal family had a narrow escape in April 1940, fleeing Oslo and the German occupational forces. But what happened to the coffin of the recently departed Queen Maud of Norway? Was it safe during those five long years of war? Maud was Norway's queen consort between 1905 - 1938.

Sixteen months prior to the 1940 occupation, Norway had lost its first own queen consort in modern times. Her Majesty Queen Maud of Norway died unexpectedly on 20 November 1938 - in London - at the age of 68.

Left behind - to mourn a beloved family member - was her husband King Haakon, her son Crown Prince Olav, her daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha - and the queen’s three young grandchildren - princesses Ragnhild and Astrid - and Prince Harald, Norway's current king.

It was an unexpected passing
That the queen’s passing was unexpected is quite clear, simply based on the fact that the kingdom of Norway had not yet determined the location for - or created - a final resting place for the members of its royal family. It would still take more than ten years before the queen could be laid to rest in the current royal mausoleum at Akershus castle in Oslo.

During the intervening decade, the royal coffin had a rather unexpected journey.

Taken ill on a visit to London - the queen dies
During one of her many visits to her beloved homeland, Britain, Queen Maud was taken unexpectedly ill. As soon as he got the news, King Haakon travelled from Oslo via rail and sea transport all the way to London.

Initially, the Norwegian newspapers printed uplifting bulletins. In its evening edition on Saturday 19 November 1938, Aftenposten reported that the Queen’s condition was improving. 'Pulse and temperature normal'. The newspaper goes on to report that the queen had slept through a quiet night. During the latest twenty-four hours, the pain had subsided considerably and Her Majesty was in good spirits. The Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Lillian von Hanno, was with her at the clinic. King Haakon had now arrived in London and had been visiting during the day.

However, in the early hours of the morning on Sunday 20 November 1938, the queen dies suddenly in her sleep - and King Haakon has lost his partner and companion of 42 years.

As referenced in Aftenposten on Monday 21 November 1938, the King issued a statement later that same day: 'When our Lord now has taken The Queen away from me that is a heavy blow. But I understand that there is a higher reason and that a wise and loving force has made this happen, so as to spare The Queen any more suffering and a future weakened health.'

On Sunday 20 November, the news of the queen's death went like fire through the capital Oslo and the rest of the country. This was long before television and the internet, but radio bulletins (see external links for audio clip) and the news being passed from person to person were also effective means of communication.

The homecoming and the funeral
A few days later, on Saturday 26 November, the British battleship HMS Royal Oak - accompanied by two additional British destroyers - brought the queen’s coffin back to Norway.

At Færder, the ships were met by three Norwegian naval vessels, accompanying Her Majesty up the Oslofjord to the capital. It must have been a mighty procession - making a big impression on all those who followed it along the coast as the daylight started to break.

The coffin was finally brought ashore at Honnørbryggen and was then taken to the Akershus castle chapel where it was to be held until the funeral - which took place on Thursday 8 December 1938.

The Queen’s coffin temporarily placed in one of the great halls at Akershus castle
After the funeral, the royal coffin was brought to The Margrethe Hall - in the north wing of Akershus castle - pending the completion of a royal tomb. Opinions on where such a burial chamber should be located were many, and the Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim was one location favoured by many.

However, it was eventually decided that the Norwegian kings and queens should find their final rest in the capital - in a mausoleum built in the solid midst of Akershus castle. Thus, His Majesty The King could visit his wife's grave without having to travel half-way through the Norwegian territory.

Dramatic days of German occupation in April 1940
The royal coffin was still placed in The Margrethe Hall when Norway was occupied by the military force of Hitler Germany - on 9 April 1940 - an apparently completely unexpected event. The king, the rest of the royal family and the country's political leadership hastily fled north from the capital, leaving the queen's coffin alone and unprotected at Akershus castle. This was sixteen months after the queen's passing.

In the early days of the occupation, bombs were dropped near Akershus - and some damages were made to the castle. The Germans had not yet entered The Margrethe Hall. A senior member of the royal household, hoffmarskalk Marshal Peter Frederik Broch, and the bishop of Oslo, Eivind Berggrav, decided in secret to move the coffin to a safer place.

On 19 April 1940, the queen’s coffin was secretely taken through the streets of the city and on Saturday 17 December 1949 - nearly ten years later - Aftenposten describes what happened on that day.

'Should a new bombardment occur, the situation might become intolerable. Secondly, one would expect that the Germans, who at this stage had occupied the entire fortress grounds, at any time could enter the queen’s temporary resting place and find the coffin.

A move was initiated in secrecy. The bishop was given the keys to the hall by Akershus’ Norwegian commanding officer, and only Norwegians were present and assisted in this undertaking.'

From Akershus castle, the journey went to the Gamle Aker church - the oldest standing building in the current Oslo.

'The coffin was taken through the city streets without attracting any attention. In the crypt of the Gamle Aker church an altar was built and on top of the coffin was the royal flag and the family wreath. Thereafter the crypt was sealed off.

Through the head of the royal household, hoffsjef Wedel Jarlsberg - who at that time was in Stockholm - the King was informed that Her Majesty The Queen’s coffin had been moved.'

In the queen's dark and hidden tomb she was left to rest alone - while there were the most uncertain times ahead for her family. At that time, in 1940, no one could know if the Norwegian royal family would ever return to its country and its people.

It would take many years before the queen was reunited with her family
On 16 December 1949 – more than eleven years after her death - Queen Maud's remains were finally laid to rest in an almost complete mausoleum at Akershus castle.

On that day, the new royal burial chamber was consecrated by Bishop Berggrav in the presence of the royal family – all having returned to Norway safe and sound in 1945.

We find a small memorial inscription in the Gamle Aker church – in one of the floor tiles - recalling that the church was Queen Maud’s resting place between 1940 and 1948 (see picture). Whether the year 1948 is an error - or whether the coffin was brought back to Akershus Castle as early as in 1948 - awaiting a final completion of the mausoleum - is not clear from the newspaper reports.

Today, Queen Maud rests with her husband King Haakon, her son King Olav and her daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha in the beautiful but simple royal tomb at Akershus castle (see main picture).

Every year, the burial chamber is visited by hundreds of visitors - most completely unaware of the queen's long journey from her deathbed in London - to this place of eternal rest.

Sources: Aftenposten historical archive,

Akershus castle is open to the public and you can find more information by clicking on the external link below. Akershus castle must not be mistaken for the Royal palace in Oslo which is the residence of the Norwegian royal household (see link).

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