Christian Michelsen

Last updated
Christian Michelsen
Christian Michelsen portrait.jpg
1st Prime Minister of Norway
In office
11 March 1905 23 October 1907
Monarch Haakon VII
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Jørgen Løvland
Personal details
Born15 March 1857
Bergen, Norway
Died29 June 1925(1925-06-29) (aged 68)
Fana, Hordaland, Norway
Political party Liberal Party (1884–1903)
Coalition Party (1903–09)
Free-minded Liberal Party (1909–25)
Other political
Fatherland League (1925)

Peter Christian Hersleb Kjerschow Michelsen (15 March 1857 – 29 June 1925) was a Norwegian shipping magnate and statesman. He was the first Prime Minister of independent Norway from 1905 to 1907. Michelsen is most known for his central role in the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905, and was one of Norway's most influential politicians of his time. [1]

Norway constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northwestern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

Prime Minister of Norway

The Prime Minister of Norway is the head of government of Norway and the most powerful person in Norwegian politics. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the monarch, to the Storting, to their political party, and ultimately the electorate. In practice, since it is nearly impossible for a government to stay in office against the will of the Storting, the prime minister is primarily answerable to the Storting. He or she is almost always the leader of the majority party in the Storting, or the leader of the senior partner in the governing coalition.


Memorial to Christian Michelsen. Bergen, Norway Christian Michelsen in Bergen.jpg
Memorial to Christian Michelsen. Bergen, Norway


Born in Bergen, he was named after his grandfather, bishop Peder Christian Hersleb Kjerschow. He was the eldest of five siblings born into a merchant family. Michelsen attended the Bergen Cathedral School. He studied law at The Royal Frederick University and went on to become a lawyer. He later established the shipping company, Chr. Michelsen & Co., which became one of the largest in Norway. [2] [3]

Peder Christian Hersleb Kjerschow was a Norwegian clergyman.

Bergen Cathedral School

Bergen Cathedral School is an upper secondary school in Bergen, Norway. Located in the city centre, next to Bergen Cathedral, the school has about 850 students, 95 full-time teachers, and 5 administration personnel, including the headmaster, Lise Hårklau Holsen.

University of Oslo Norwegian public research university

The University of Oslo, until 1939 named the Royal Frederick University, is the oldest university in Norway, located in the Norwegian capital of Oslo. Until 1 January 2016 it was the largest Norwegian institution of higher education in terms of size, now surpassed only by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The Academic Ranking of World Universities has ranked it the 58th best university in the world and the third best in the Nordic countries. In 2015, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranked it the 135th best university in the world and the seventh best in the Nordics. While in its 2016, Top 200 Rankings of European universities, the Times Higher Education listed the University of Oslo at 63rd, making it the highest ranked Norwegian university.

Political career

He became a member of the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) in 1891, representing the Liberal Party of Norway. He considered himself mostly above petty party strifes, and one of his major aims was to create a coalition of parties reaching from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party, which he called the Coalition Party. He served as Finance Minister in the second cabinet Hagerup, and was one of the strongest proponents of a more firm policy towards the union between Sweden and Norway. In March 1905, Michelsen replaced Francis Hagerup as Prime Minister, and immediately became the leader of the movement towards dissolution of the union (Unionsoppløsningen i 1905). [4]

Storting supreme legislature of Norway

The Storting is the supreme legislature of Norway, established in 1814 by the Constitution of Norway. It is located in Oslo. The unicameral parliament has 169 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation in nineteen plurinominal constituencies. A member of the Storting is known in Norwegian as a stortingsrepresentant, literally "Storting representative".

The Coalition Party was a Norwegian political coalition drawn from the Conservative Party, the Moderate Liberal Party and independent Liberals. Its main issues were opposition to the Liberal Party's political union radicalism, as well as to the rising growth of social democracy. Originally formed to pursue a more careful negotiating line towards Sweden, the party turned around and took part in Michelsen's Cabinet, which carried through the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905. The coalition's leading members included Christian Michelsen himself, Wollert Konow (SB) and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

Union between Sweden and Norway personal union between Sweden and Norway 1814–1905

Sweden and Norway or Sweden–Norway, officially the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, or as the United Kingdoms, was a personal union of the separate kingdoms of Sweden and Norway under a common monarch and common foreign policy that lasted from 1814 until its amicable and peaceful dissolution in 1905.

The formal basis for the dissolution was King Oscar II's refusal to accept the Norwegian consular laws (Konsulatsaken). The Swedish government had for several years insisted that laws governing foreign affairs had to be a part of the union agreement, and as such, consular laws could not be passed by the Norwegian Storting without consent of the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag). The Swedes were willing to accept the Norwegian urge for separate consular affairs, but they demanded that Norway accept the precedent under which the union had operated for 90 years, namely that the Foreign Minister be Swedish. This, the Norwegians felt, acknowledged Sweden as having the upper hand in the Union. While this supremacy existed in reality, Norwegians were unwilling to accept the unequal relationship on a formal, legal basis. [5]

Oscar II of Sweden King of Sweden and Norway

Oscar II was King of Sweden from 1872 until his death, and the last Bernadotte King of Norway from 1872 until his dethronement in 1905.

On 27 May 1905 King Oscar refused to sign the bill, and in response the Norwegian cabinet ministers resigned collectively. The king took no further action, probably aware that a dissolution of the Union was imminent, and the Swedish politicians did nothing, probably believing that this was another Norwegian political retreat. On 7 June, the Norwegian Storting declared that because the King had been unable to form a new government in Norway after Michelsen's resignation, he had lost the capacity to rule and hence ceased to be king of Norway. This strategic move gave the dissolution a somewhat legal basis, and was primarily the work of Christian Michelsen. He knew that the Norwegian people, after months of well-directed information in a unanimous press, was united in a way that is extremely rare in a democracy. In the referendum that proved the Norwegian will to dissolve the union, retention of the union garnered a mere 184 votes nationwide, which represented only one vote out of every 2000 cast. [6]

Michelsen greets King Haakon and prince Olav as they arrive in Norway for the first time in 1905 Michelsen Haakon 1905.jpg
Michelsen greets King Haakon and prince Olav as they arrive in Norway for the first time in 1905

Michelsen, though a believer in a democratic republic in Norway, accepted that a democratic monarchy would have the greatest chances to be accepted abroad and among a majority of Norwegians. Prince Carl of Denmark became King Haakon VII of Norway after a new referendum had given the monarchy proponents approximately 79% of the votes cast. [7]

Haakon VII of Norway King of Norway

Haakon VII, known as Prince Carl of Denmark until 1905, was a Danish prince who became the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of the union with Sweden. He reigned from November 1905 until his death in September 1957.

In 1906 Michelsen won the election on an "above-the-parties" ticket, which quickly alienated the leading Liberals from him. In 1907 he resigned, having tired of petty squabbles among the political leaders, and accepting that his political views had been defeated. Jørgen Løvland carried on Michelsen's work, but lacked the will to force the coalition to stand united, and in 1908 the coalition broke down. In social policy, Michelsen's time as prime minister saw the passage of the 1906 Law on Central and Local Government Contributions to Unemployment Funds, which introduced voluntary insurance. [8] [9]

In 1925, he, along with the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen and the industrialist Joakim Lehmkuhl, founded the Fatherland League. [10]

Gamlehaugen, Michelsen's estate outside of Bergen Gamlehaugen1.jpg
Gamlehaugen, Michelsen's estate outside of Bergen

Personal life

He was married in 1881 to Johanne Benedicte Wallendahl (1861–1910). In 1905, he was awarded the Grand Cross of The Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav and in 1907 he received the Collar as well. [11]


In the year 1899, Michelsen began the construction of the Gamlehaugen mansion, which was completed in 1900. The estate today functions as a residence of the Norwegian Royal Family and is open to the public.

The Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen Chr. Michelsen Institute.jpg
The Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen

Chr. Michelsen Institute

Michelsen bequeathed most of his estate to a fund which made possible the establishment and operation of Chr. Michelsen Institute for Science and Intellectual freedom. In recent times, the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) was established as an independent centre for research on international development and policy. Founded in Bergen in 1930, CMI conducts both applied and theoretical research, and has a multidisciplinary profile anchored in four thematic research groups, namely human rights, democracy and development, peace, conflict and the state, poverty reduction and public sector reform. [12]

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  1. Magnus A. Mardal. "Christian Michelsen". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  2. Terje Bratberg. "Kjerschow". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  3. «Nu gjælder det at holde kjæft», by Øyvind Ask, Bergens Tidende.
  4. Francis Sejersted. "Unionsoppløsningen i 1905". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  5. Magnus A. Mardal. "Konsulatsaken". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  6. Atle Thowsen. "Chr. Michelsen, Politiker, Skipsreder, Donator". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  7. Haakon Holmboe. "Haakon 7". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  8. Magnus A. Mardal. "Jørgen Gunnarson Løvland". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  9. Growth to limits: the Western European welfare states since World War 2: Volume 4 by Peter Flora
  10. "Fedrelandslaget". Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  11. "The Order of St. Olav". Den Norske Kongehuset. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  12. "Chr. Michelsen institute – Who We Are". Chr. Michelsen institute. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
Political offices
Preceded by
Francis Hagerup (in Christiania) and Jørgen Løvland (in Stockholm)
Prime Minister of Norway
Succeeded by
Jørgen Løvland