During World War II, Norway’s Crown Princess Märtha and her three children fled the Nazis and lived in exile in Bethesda, Maryland. The location was convenient to Washington and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The crown princess, 39 years old at that time, travelled to USA at the invitation of the American president. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has made a television drama, “Atlantic Crossing”, which has created a massive public debate around artistic liberties, and indignant historians have branded it “fake news”. Read more about the Norwegian royal drama from World War II.
The Crown Princess and the Crown Prince had become close friends with the US President and his wife during a comprehensive tour to the USA in the summer of 1939. The Crown Princess worked assiduously hard to promote Norwegian interests, and their friendship opened doors. Crown Princess Märtha was involved in a wide range of activities, from sending relief aid and participating in relief operations for refugees to paying official visits and giving lectures and speeches.
Related: Scandinavian Royal Line
The US President was happy to welcome his Royal visitors
In 1939, the Norwegian Storting (the parliament) had deep concerns for Norway’s safety and security against Germans on the march. Crown Prince Olav, a naval officer, became a secret emissary to the US, making several trips to meet with President Roosevelt.
King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav and members of the Norwegian government never surrendered to Hitler. They won asylum in Great Britain and ran the country’s resistance from London, while Crown Princess Märtha and her three children were invited by the US President.
FDR was happy to welcome his Royal visitors, and offer the hospitality of the White House, which became their “second home” in the US. Shortly after their arrival, the Norwegian government leased a suitable house (on 140 acres) at Pook Hills, in Bethesda, MD and purchased it outright in 1941. The house was built by Merle Thorpe, the founder and publisher of Nation’s Business magazine.
Those behind the NRK’s seriesstaunchly defend their production, interpretation of events and artistic license
The show suggests that the exact nature of the relationship between the Crown Princess and the US President is shown to be faintly romantic. Due to this relationship Märtha was single-handedly able to convince the president into entering the Second World War, freeing up food, arms and most importantly, soldiers, to join the Allied effort. In one scene, Märtha is seen guiding Roosevelt to declare war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, something else that historians have cast heavy doubt on.
Related: The Norwegian Royal Park in Oslo
“NRK gives viewers a fundamentally untrue story,” wrote history professor Tom Kristensen and royal biographer Tore Rem. The newspaper Aftenposten published a merciless headline, “Atlantic Crossing puts NRK’s credibility in play”.
The Pooks Hill that viewers see in “Atlantic Crossing” is certainly impressive: cream-colored stone, a domed copper roof flanked by reclining figures. However, the actual Tudor design house at Pooks Hill is nothing like the neoclassic 1911 Chateau Kotera in the Czech Republic in which the Pork Hill segments were shot.
Those behind the NRK’s series, which has been sold to scores of countries and due to be shown on PBS Masterpiece in the US next spring, staunchly defend their production, interpretation of events and artistic license. They claim that while Norwegians know how Crown Princess Märtha made a major contribution to the war effort, and kept spirits up from abroad, she seldom won widespread recognition for her efforts. The text that is shown at the beginning of each episode states that the ‘Atlantic Crossing’ is “Inspired by true events,” not “This is a documentary.” Märtha was just stateside, remending Americans of the war that was raging across the ocean.
A romantic relationship between the President and the Crown Princess has never been proven
Franklin Roosevelt always enjoyed feminine company and companions. If they were young and attractive, so much the better. If they were intelligent – another plus. And if they were gentle tempered, non-demanding and content to bask in the President’s limelight, it was the epitome. Märtha not only embodied all the above, but one additional plus: like FDR (who was twenty years her senior), she had a marvelous sense of humor, according to those who knew her.
Märtha was the President’s guest at his home at Hyde Park, and also at Shangra-La, the presidential retreat in Maryland (now called Camp David.) He, in turn, was invited to visit her Bethesda home – particularly on those occasions when Crown Prince Olav had slipped quietly into the country for a brief visit.
Whether or not there was a romantic relationship between the two has never been proven, but witnesses at the time have concluded that Roosevelt did have feelings for the royal, even if not returned. Roosevelt’s son James once stated, ‘There was no question that Märtha was an important figure in father’s life during the war… there is a real possibility that a true romantic relationship developed between the president and the princess.’ Roald Dahl, who was an RAF pilot in Washington at the time wrote, ‘The President has it in his mind that he would like to sleep with her.’
An important time period in our history
In the series, Crown Princess Märtha is played by Swedish actress Sofia Helin and the US President Franklin D Roosevelt is played by American actor Kyle MacLachlan. “It is wonderful to see such an important time period in our history on American television screens every week,” Anniken Krutnes, Norway’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in an email to Answer Man. “I notice a lot of engagement both locally and from people around the country! For me, it enforces what we know to be true, that our two countries were always close and that the experiences during World War II brought us even closer.”
After the war, Märtha and her children (who include current monarch, King Harald) returned to their home, but Märtha sadly passed away from cancer in 1954 before her husband succeeded to the throne.
A Norwegian Royal Drama From World War II, written by Tor Kjolberg
All images © NRK – Drama, except when otherwise stated.
Feature image (on top): US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1944) and Crown Princess Märtha (1943). Leon Perskie/Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and David Burns/De kongelige samlinger