Fridtjof Nansen


Fridtjof Nansen : biography

10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930

By 1901 Nansen’s family had expanded considerably. A daughter, Liv, had been born just before Fram set out; a son, Kåre was born in 1897 followed by a daughter, Irmelin, in 1900 and a second son Odd in 1901.Huntford, pp. 200, 452, 467, 477 The family home, which Nansen had built in 1891 from the profits of his Greenland expedition book,Huntford, pp. 177–178 was now too small. Nansen acquired a plot of land in the Lysaker district and built, substantially to his own design, a large and imposing house which combined some of the characteristics of an English manor house with features from the Italian renaissance. The house was ready for occupation by April 1902; Nansen called it Polhøgda (in English "polar heights"), and it remained his home for the rest of his life. A fifth and final child, son Asmund, was born at Polhøgda in 1903.Huntford, pp. 477–478

Politician and diplomat

The union between Norway and Sweden, imposed by the Great Powers in 1814, had been under considerable strain through the 1890s, the chief issue in question being Norway’s rights to its own consular service. Nansen, although not by inclination a politician, had spoken out on the issue on several occasions in defence of Norway’s interests.Huntford, pp. 481–484 It seemed, early in the 20th century that agreement between the two countries might be possible, but hopes were dashed when negotiations broke down in February 1905. The Norwegian government fell, and was replaced by one led by Christian Michelsen, whose programme was one of separation from Sweden.

In February and March Nansen published a series of newspaper articles which placed him firmly in the separatist camp. The new prime minister wanted Nansen in the cabinet, but Nansen had no political ambitions.Huntford, pp. 489–490 However, at Michelsen’s request he went to Berlin and then to London where, in a letter to The Times, he presented Norway’s legal case for a separate consular service to the English-speaking world. On 17 May 1905, Norway’s Constitution Day, Nansen addressed a large crowd in Christiania, saying:

Now have all ways of retreat been closed. Now remains only one path, the way forward, perhaps through difficulties and hardships, but forward for our country, to a free Norway.Scott, p. 285Reynolds, p. 147 He also wrote a book, Norway and the Union with Sweden, specifically to promote Norway’s case abroad.

On 23 May the Storting passed the Consulate Act establishing a separate consular service. King Oscar, refused his assent; on 27 May the Norwegian cabinet resigned, but the king would not recognise this step. On 7 June the Storting unilaterally announced that the union with Sweden was dissolved. In a tense situation the Swedish government agreed to Norway’s request that the dissolution should be put to a referendum of the Norwegian people. This was held on 13 August 1905 and resulted in an overwhelming vote for separation, at which point King Oscar relinquished the crown of Norway while retaining the Swedish throne. A second referendum, held in November, determined that the new independent state should be a monarchy rather than a republic. In anticipation of this, Michelsen’s government had been considering the suitability of various princes as candidates for the Norwegian throne. Faced with King Oscar’s refusal to allow anyone from his own House of Bernadotte to accept the crown, the favoured choice was Prince Charles of Denmark. In July 1905 Michelsen sent Nansen to Copenhagen on a secret mission to persuade Charles to accept the Norwegian throne. Nansen was successful; shortly after the second referendum Charles was proclaimed king, taking the name Haakon VII. He and his wife, the British princess Maud, were crowned in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim on 22 June 1906.

In April 1906 Nansen was appointed Norway’s Ambassador in London.Scott, pp. 202–205 His main task was to work with representatives of the major European powers on an Integrity Treaty which would guarantee Norway’s position. Nansen was popular in England, and got on well with King Edward, though he found court functions and diplomatic duties disagreeable; "frivolous and boring" was his description. However, he was able to pursue his geographical and scientific interests through contacts with the Royal Geographical Society and other learned bodies. The Treaty was signed on 2 November 1907, and Nansen considered his task complete. Resisting the pleas of, among others, King Edward that he should remain in London, on 15 November Nansen resigned his post.Huntford, p. 551 A few weeks later, still in England as the king’s guest at Sandringham, Nansen received word that Eva was seriously ill with pneumonia. On 8 December he set out for home, but before he reached Polhøgda he learned, from a telegram, that Eva had died.Huntford, pp. 552–554