In the Spring of 1940, the Norwegian Royal Family were forced to leave their homeland when Hitler’s forces brutally invaded Norway. FDR had met and befriended the Crown Prince and Princess a year earlier during their widely publicized American tour, and the President now offered the family a safe haven in Washington, DC.
After a long trek across the Atlantic and initial stays at the Roosevelt home in Hyde Park and at the White House, Crown Princess Martha and her three children, Princess Ragnihild, Princess Astrid, and Prince Harald (today His Majesty King Harald V of Norway) moved into an estate called Pook’s Hill in Bethesda, MD. There they lived for the duration of the war, later triumphantly returning to Norway in June of 1945. Norwegian King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav moved from Norway to Great Britain where they established a government-in-exile. Crown Prince Olav visited his family in the U.S. as often as conditions allowed but remained based in London.
Frequent guests and close friends of FDR throughout the war, the exiled Royal Family enjoyed a welcoming and supportive relationship with the President and First Lady. Princess Martha and FDR jokingly referred to one another as Godfather and Godchild, and often shared meals, scenic drives, boating, and local entertainments together. Observers noted their common sense of humor and happy informality. Princess Martha encouraged the creation of the first Presidential Library and sat with Eleanor Roosevelt at its opening ceremonies. Later, in 1950, she and Prince Olav travelled back to Hyde Park to visit Eleanor and to view the vast archival and museum collections, where many of their own letters, gifts, and diplomatic documentation would be preserved.
The Royal Family were honored guests at the President’s 4th Inaugural ceremonies as well. The Royal children, including future King Harald V, stood with the Roosevelt family on the White House steps to hear FDR’s address on that solemn January day.
Princess Martha’s exile began in 1940, before the United States entered World War II. By the Fall of 1942, with American forces deeply engaged in both the Pacific and European Theaters, and after a misleading TIME article suggested Norwegians were complacent under German occupation, FDR became concerned about waning international morale. As a gesture of both strength and support, on September 16th, 1942 the U.S. Navy gave a newly-built warship – named the HNoMS King Haakon VII – to the Norwegian Royal Navy. Ceremoniously delivered to Crown Princess Martha at the Washington Navy Yard, Roosevelt capped off the fanfare by offering a moving and historic speech. The now-famous “Look to Norway” speech asserted the strength and legitimacy of the exiled Norwegian government, the importance of a US diplomatic alliance with Norway, and the heroic spirit of the citizens of that nation. It inspired Americans, Norwegians, and Europeans alike to take heart in the fierce, stoic, and necessary resistance movement.
Correspondence exchanged between the Roosevelts and the Norwegian Royal Family can now be found across the archives of the FDR Presidential Library. For a sample of digitized letters see the Diplomatic Correspondence Series of the President’s Secretary’s File: Box 45.