Halvdan Koht (7 July 1873 – 12 December 1965) was a Norwegian
historian and politician representing the Labour Party.
Born in the north of
Norway to a fairly distinguished family, he soon
became interested in politics and history. Starting his political
career in the Liberal Party, he switched to the Labour Party around
the turn of the 20th century. He represented that party in the Bærum
municipal council for parts of the interwar period. He was never
elected a member of Parliament, but served nonetheless as Norwegian
Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1935 to 1941. In the latter capacity
he sought to preserve Norway's neutrality in the Second World War, an
action that garnered him political infamy. Growing discontentment with
Koht's political decisions ultimately led to his exit from the
cabinet. After the war, however, he returned to an academic career
track and wrote major works in the 1950s and 1960s.
As an academic he was a professor of history at the Royal Frederick
University (now the University of Oslo) from 1910 to 1935, having
become a research fellow in 1900 and docent in 1908. Among many
honors, he held an honorary degree at the University of Oxford. He was
a prolific writer, and touched on numerous subjects during his long
academic career. He wrote several biographies; his works on Johan
Henrik Ibsen spanned several volumes each. He became
known for syntheses on Norwegian history, and emphasised the roles of
peasants and wage labourers as historical agents who found their place
in an expanding notion of the Norwegian nation. He was also interested
United States and its history, and was a pioneer in
Koht's views on the
Norwegian language also garnered him nationwide
academic recognition. He championed the
Samnorsk language reform, the
declared aim of which was to consolidate the two standards of written
Norwegian. A reform pushing the formal written language in this
direction was indeed implemented in 1938, but historical events led to
the failure of this policy. A pertinacious and unyielding advocate of
international peace, Koht was a founding member of the Norwegian Peace
Association and an ordinary member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
As an activist and politician he was described as a strong-willed and
individualistic, and nurturing a strong belief in taking an academic
and legal perspective on political problems.
3 Academic career
3.1 Appointments and doctorate
3.2 Fields of research
3.3 Honorary positions
4 Political career
4.1 Early involvement and local politics
4.2 Foreign affairs politician
4.3 Second World War
4.3.1 Pre-war phase
4.3.2 German invasion and war
4.3.3 In exile
4.4 Political legacy
5 Language views
6 Peace activism
7 Post-political life
8 References and notes
Halvdan Koht was born on 7 August 1873 in Tromsø, one of the larger
cities in Northern Norway. He was the second of four children born to
Paul Steenstrup Koht
Paul Steenstrup Koht (1844–1892), an educator and politician, and
Betty Giæver (1845–1936), a part-time teacher with a penchant for
singing, languages and drawing. Betty's antecedents were mixed: she
was maternally descended from Northern Germany, yet on her father's
side she was of Norwegian origin—a distinguished forebear on that
side was her great-grandfather, the civil servant Jens Holmboe from
Tromsø. Through the offspring of his maternal grand-uncle, Halvdan
Koht was a third cousin of the parliamentarian Ola Krogseng
Giæver. In Paul Koht's lineage,
Kjeld Stub was a distant ancestor.
The name Koht stems from German immigrants to
Norway in the 17th
He was intended to have the name Joachim, but this was stopped on
request from Joachim G. Giæver who voiced his dislike for the name.
He was then christened Halfdan, changed to Halvdan some years
later. The family lived in Tromsø, where
Paul Steenstrup Koht
Paul Steenstrup Koht was
a headmaster and mayor. The family moved to Skien when Halvdan was
twelve years old, where his father again immersed himself in politics:
he served as mayor as well as parliamentarian for the Liberal Party.
Koht finished school here, taking his examen artium in 1890. His
father was among his teachers for a while in Norwegian and Greek.
In 1893, one year after the death of Koht's father, the family moved
to Bekkelaget, a borough in Aker. Koht studied at the Royal Frederick
University (now the University of Oslo).
In September 1898 in Kristiania, Koht married Karen Elisabeth Grude
(1871–1960), an essay writer and women's rights activist one and a
half years his senior; she bore him three children. One child died in
infancy, but the remaining two had distinguished careers: Åse Gruda
Skard (née Koht) became a child psychologist and
Paul Koht an
ambassador. Through Åsa,
Halvdan Koht was a father-in-law of literary
Sigmund Skard and a grandfather of politician and academic
Torild Skard, psychologist and ombud Målfrid Grude Flekkøy and
politician and organisational leader Halvdan Skard. In the late
1920s, Karen's declining health and Halvdan's preoccupation with his
work placed a strain on their relationship. Disenchanted with the
loveless union, Koht entered several extramarital friendships in the
following decade, often pen friends. During the Second World War,
there were rumors about a romantic relationship with his secretary
Unni Diesen. After 1945 the relationship to Karen regrew in
Koht graduated with a cand.philol. degree from the Royal Frederick
University in 1896. He studied history with geography as a minor
subject until 1895; his main history teacher was Gustav Storm.
The next examination was in different languages, both classical and
modern. Koht had the choice between
Ancient Greek and Classical Latin
or Norwegian and German (including Norse); he chose the Norwegian and
German. In 1895, after finishing his history studies, he spent
three months in the Mediterranean, travelling with three ships, the
Norway to Venice, the second from
Venice to Constantinople,
the third back to Norway. He studied German literature during this
travels. In December 1896 Koht was finally examined by Sophus
Bugge and earned his degree. He was one of just three students to
be examined in Norwegian and German in late 1896, and had been the
only candidate in history the previous year.
A break from the studies came in the second half of 1892. After his
father's death, he could not afford to attend university that
semester. He worked briefly as a private tutor in the Skien district,
and was paid to write in the newspaper Varden. On returning to his
studies he worked as a Kristiania correspondent for the newspaper;
eventually he also worked for Päivälehti. In 1901 he took over
Erik Vullum as obituarist and anniversary writer in Verdens
Gang. In the next years he would contribute extensively to
publications such as Den 17de Mai, Nationalbladet,
Nordmanns-Forbundets tidsskrift, Syn og Segn, Samtiden, Unglyden,
Dagbladet, Verdens Gang and Tidens Tegn; these were mostly Liberal or
Norwegian nationalist publications.
For some months after graduating Koht worked as an unpaid volunteer at
the University Library of Oslo, while also continuing to attend
university lectures. He was then given a scholarship, the "Gustav
Bruun Endowment" of 1800 kr. The University doublled Koht's award to
NOK 3600. From 1897 to 1899 he studied abroad with this
fellowship. He studied at the University of Copenhagen, the University
of Leipzig and in Paris (École des hautes études, École des
Chartes). He was especially influenced by
Karl Lamprecht in
From 1899 to 1901 Koht worked as a substitute at the University
Library of Oslo, and part-time as a school teacher. He was also
Gustav Storm to help him with publishing the source text
Regesta Norvegica. In 1908, after eight years of work, Koht
completed the two last volumes of Norsk Forfatter-lexikon, a
biographical dictionary of Norwegian writers. However, it was a
posthumous work, the principal author—Jens Braage Halvorsen—having
died in 1900.
Appointments and doctorate
In 1901 he was appointed as a research fellow at the Royal Frederick
University. He rarely had responsibility for any teaching of the
students, and since he was often busy with Norsk Forfatter-lexikon he
remained a research fellow until 1907. In 1908 he took his dr.philos.
degree on the thesis Die Stellung Norwegens und Schwedens im
Deutsch-Dänischen Konflikt 1863–1864. Opponents at the
Ebbe Hertzberg and Yngvar Nielsen.
Koht was then hired as a docent at the University in 1908. Because
Koht had internal opponents at the university, the docenture was
designated to cover "cultural history" instead of "history". A while
later the university changed it to "history". The cabinet changed it
back to "cultural history", before the Parliament finally decided on
"history". Koht was going to start his tenure as a docent, but
argued with Waldemar Christofer Brøgger that he deserved to travel
abroad first. From 1908 to 1909 Koht travelled around in the
United States, England and Sweden, visiting the peace conferences in
Chicago (1909) and Stockholm (1910). During these
years, his wife, daughter and her nanny lived in Eidsvoll. Koht
then returned to
Norway and the university, and remained docent until
being promoted to professor in 1910. He remained professor until 1935,
and also served as the dean of his Faculty from 1912 to 1917.
Fields of research
Koht faced considerable skepticism among academics when announcing his
intentions to study social history from the farmers' perspective.
Gustav Storm claimed that farmers in
Norway had "done no effort of
Ludvig Ludvigsen Daae
Ludvig Ludvigsen Daae exclaimed that a person whom
Koht wanted to study, the farmer-politician John G. Neergaard, was a
"crook ... oh well, trahit sua quemque voluptas". Koht was
given 100 kr to do research in
Nordmøre on Neergaard. In 1896
Cathrinus Bang replied to Koht's wish to study social
history: "Yes, do not go out and become a socialist!"
In 1910, Koht completed the dissertation Bonde mot borgar i nynorsk
historie, in which he further developed his theories on the role of
the farmers in history. Published in the journal Historisk
Tidsskrift in 1912, it featured an elaboration on Koht's theory about
class and the nation. According to Koht, the community of the nation
was expanded in a democratic way when the agrarian movement, then the
labour movement, both rose from political passivity to demand a place
in the political and national sphere. He wrote about this in the
1910 article Norsk folkesamling as well. The book Norsk
bondereisning, published in 1926 as a compilation of Koht's presented
material in his university lectures, represented the culmination of
Koht's work on the topic of class conflict between the agrarian and
the urban population. Koht argued that the peasant movement had
abandoned the cause of class interest in favour of universal rights
and social reforms. The same perspective had to be applied to the
struggle of the labour movement, Koht maintained. An economic
background for the farmers' rising was presented in 1912, in Priser og
politikk i norsk historie, originally a lecture for the second
Norwegian conference of historians. This lecture was also where
his historical materialism came to fruition. In 1951 he stated that
he "has never thought that the theories could be foundational for a
political or social uprising".
Koht's stay in the
United States affected his historical views and
adaptation of historical materialism, and he also tried to
encourage the study of American history in Norway. American
culture did not have a particularly high standing in
Norway at the
time. In school, Koht did not learn proper English. Before he
embarked to the US, some historian colleagues insinuated that the
country "barely had any history" and was not worth visiting.
Koht's first writing on the subject came in 1910 with the lecture
Genesis of American Independence. He followed with Pengemakt og arbeid
i Amerika ("Monetary Power and Labor in America", 1910), which was
based on "People's Academy" lectures, then Amerikansk kultur
("American Culture", 1912) and Den amerikanske nasjonen ("The American
Nation", 1920). He would return briefly to American academia during
his career, for instance in the autumn of 1930 to hold a course at
Wishing to unite materialism and idealism, Koht became interested in
psychology and the role of individuals in history. The latter focus
led to his becoming, in the words of his biographer Åsmund Svendsen,
"one of the greatest biographers of the 20th century". Inspired by
the work with Norsk Forfatter-lexikon, he wrote a life of the author
Henrik Wergeland in 1908. Later he published biographies both of
Norwegians and foreigners:
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck (1911), Ivar Aasen
Johan Sverdrup in three volumes between 1916 and 1925, Marcus
Thrane in 1917,
Henrik Ibsen in two volumes in 1928 and 1929, and
Haakon VII of
Norway in 1943. He also wrote about 400 pieces in the
first edition of Norsk biografisk leksikon, a biographical dictionary
which would become a preeminent source on important figures in
Norwegian history. Between 1909 and 1932 he published letters and
original writings of Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Aasmund
Olavsson Vinje and Henrik Wergeland. He chaired Kjeldeskriftfondet
from 1918 to 1927 and Norsk historisk kjeldeskriftråd from 1923 to
1928, two institutions that dealt with publishing of source texts.
He also chaired the
Norwegian Historical Association from 1912 to 1927
and 1932 to 1936, the
Norwegian Genealogical Society from 1928 to
1940 and the Comité International des Sciences Historiques from 1926
Koht became a fellow of the learned society Norwegian Academy of
Science and Letters in 1908. Between 1923 and 1939 he was both praeses
and vice praeses. He held honorary degrees from the University of
Oxford, the University of
Chicago and the University of Warsaw. He was
decorated by France as a Knight of the Legion of Honour, and in 1952
he received the
Gunnerus Medal from the Royal Norwegian Society of
Sciences and Letters. He was also a member of the International
Society for the History of Medicine.
Early involvement and local politics
Koht's father introduced his son to politics, taking him to the
Liberal Party national convention in 1891, where he was allowed to
enter since he studied at the university. Koht's first political arena
was the Norwegian Students' Society, where he vehemently argued that
the flag of
Norway should not contain the union badge (the "flag
case"). In 1893 he left this forum, co-founded a new students'
association called Den Frisinnede Studenterforening, and, as the
students' association collectively entered the Liberal Party, became a
board member of the local party branch in Kristiania. He continued
his fight against the union badge, and the union as a whole. In 1905,
when the union was dissolved altogether, he agitated for the
establishment of a republic, but a plebiscite decided to keep the
Though he never adhered to Christianity in his adolescent or adult
life, Koht valued the faith in the perfectability of human beings,
as prompted "the greatest religions", and he started to feel
solidarity with the labour movement and the working classes, leading
to the radicalisation of his views: from 1900 he voted for the
Norwegian Labour Party, and had four years prior to that began to
consider himself a socialist. While living in the United States,
he developed a form of historical materialism, which led to a fusion
of history scholarship and political views. He viewed the Liberal
Party as an important agent in Norwegian history, since it pronounced
the rights of the farmers, but he now viewed the working class as the
next class to be included in the political life, and specifically
through the Labor Party. In Koht's Liberal Party period, he
cooperated with some of their more radical members, among them Carl
Jeppesen, who later would join the Labour Party. He joined the
Labour Party when he returned from the
United States and moved to
Bærum in 1909. He lived with his family in Stabekk, but
commissioned a house in
Lysaker in 1910. The house, designed by
architect Arnstein Arneberg, was dubbed "Karistua". The university
offered him no office, so he had to conduct his research at home.
Koht served as a member of
Bærum municipal council in the terms
1916–1919, 1928–1931 and 1931–1934. In 1952 he wrote the
50-year history of
Bærum Labour Party.
Foreign affairs politician
Koht (left) with Cordell Hull, 1937.
Internationally, Koht tried to prop up the institutions that
maintained public international law. In 1923 he participated in the
Norway about the disposition of
Eastern Greenland. Sovereignty was claimed by Denmark. Koht teamed
up with the conservative politician C. J. Hambro, who had edited
Nordmanns-Forbundets tidsskrift to which Koht had contributed. The
negotiations led to an agreement on Norwegian trade rights in the
area, but a question of sovereignty over Eastern
unsolved. In 1931, forces in and outside of the then-Agrarian
government annexed "Erik the Red's Land".
In the 1930s Koht became the foremost international politician of the
Labour Party. He positioned himself in the Labour Party as the
prospective Minister of Foreign Affairs should the party form a
government. He did so because fellow historian and Minister of Foreign
Affairs in 1928, Edvard Bull, Sr., had died, making Koht the "Foreign
Minister-designate". The Labour Party also polled well in the
Norwegian parliamentary election, 1933, leading them to prepare for
office. The Labour government was formed on 20 March 1935. Koht
became Minister of Foreign Affairs in Johan Nygaardsvold's
Cabinet. Among Koht's first actions as minister was to persuade
the Labour Party not to pull
Norway out of the League of Nations,
something the party had declared that it would do as recently as
1934. In foreign policy matters Koht and Nygaardsvold usually made
decisions without consulting the other ministers, merely informing the
rest of the cabinet of the decisions that had been made.
Nygaardsvold's Cabinet. Koht is the third from left, standing between
Fredrik Monsen and Johan Nygaardsvold.
League of Nations
League of Nations failed as an effective international body,
Koht again favoured the strict neutrality policy to which
adhered before the
League of Nations
League of Nations membership. For many years, he
was reluctant to an expansion of a Norwegian military defense
capacity. He did not vehemently and principally oppose such an
expansion, and had been quite friendly to the principle of a national
defense in the past. His neutrality policy nonetheless put him on the
"defense-skeptical" side together with
Johan Nygaardsvold and most of
his cabinet. Among the more "defense-friendly" in and around the
cabinet, not the least from 1936, were Trygve Bratteli, Haakon Lie,
Finn Moe, Trygve Lie, Oscar Torp,
Martin Tranmæl and Minister of
Defense Fredrik Monsen. In 1936 Koht expressed great concern for
the consequences of the arms race taking place in Europe, which he
felt could easily lead to war.
Following the 1936 outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Nygaardsvold
Cabinet followed a policy of non-intervention in the conflict between
the Spanish government and rebels led by General Franco. Koht's view
of the matter was that
Norway should not be involved in the conflict
in any way; this became the policy of the government for the duration
of the civil war. The government soon banned the sale or transfer
of Norwegian arms, aircraft and ships to Spain. Koht himself promoted
a ban on the use of Norwegian ships to transport arms, ammunition and
aircraft to foreign countries in general, to ensure that there could
be no Norwegian connection to any such items that were delivered to
Spain. The strict non-intervention policy promoted by Koht and Prime
Minister Nygaardsvold was heavily criticised by forces within the
Labour Party. Martin Tranmæl, a central figure in the apparatus of
the Labour Party and the editor of the party newspaper Arbeiderbladet,
led the critics of the policy towards the conflict in Spain. Tranmæl
and other critics saw the non-intervention policy of the government as
giving equal standing to both the elected government of Spain and the
rebels. Koht went to great lengths to avoid any direct Norwegian
involvement in the conflict, especially trying to block Norwegians
from travelling to Spain to join the International Brigades. On 19
September 1936, Koht attempted to have the
League of Nations
League of Nations impose a
ceasefire in Spain, to be followed by a popular referendum on the
country's constitution. Koht's proposal received little support and
For Koht personally the civil war in Spain came close to ending his
cabinet career on several occasions. On 9 April 1937, following a
series of incidents where Francoist warships intercepted Norwegian
vessels sailing on Spanish ports and confiscated both cargoes and
ships, and Norwegian protests failing to gain results, Koht made a
formal proposal to dispatch the Norwegian minelayer Olav Tryggvason to
Spain to protect Norwegian shipping. After the proposal met opposition
in parliament and was set to fail, Koht offered to resign. Prime
Minister Nygaardsvold refused to accept Koht's resignation, stating
that he "would rather be shot than lose Koht". The case came close to
causing the whole cabinet's fall in parliament, before it was agreed
that it would be dropped. When Koht in 1938 attempted to establish
a trade agreement with Franco, he was blocked by his own party and the
Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions. Again requesting to be
allowed to resign, Koht stayed after months of debating ended with the
party giving the cabinet free rein to do what it saw as best with
regards to trade with Franco. By October 1938 Koht had negotiated a
trade agreement with Franco. The formal Norwegian recognition of the
Franco government as the representative of Spain followed on 31 March
1939, three days after the fall of Madrid to the nationalist
Second World War
With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the
Norwegian government declared the country neutral in the conflict.
Both warring sides subsequently stated that they would respect
Norway's neutrality, provided that she protect her neutrality against
trespasses by the other side. Koht was clear from early on that Norway
should remain neutral, but also that in the event of her being forced
to enter the war it was critical that it was on the side of the
Over the first months of the Second World War Norwegian neutrality was
violated repeatedly in the air and at sea by both warring parties,
most dramatically with the 16 February
Altmark Incident in
Jøssingfjorden. This, along with other incidents, and the lack of a
firm Norwegian response, led the warring parties to the impression
Norway could or would not effectively protect her neutrality.
Initially the German view of Norwegian neutrality had been one of it
being positive for the German war effort, allowing German merchant
ships to transport cargo via Norwegian territorial waters without
interference from the British.
On 5 April the Allies sent notes to both
Norway and Sweden warning
that they would take any action necessary if the Germans were allowed
to use the neutral countries' territory to their advantage. Koht
responded with a speech in which he said that the Allies had nothing
to gain by interfering with Norwegian shipping lanes—the British had
a more significant trade with
Norway than the Germans. The next day
the Allies decided to launch a mining operation on the Norwegian
coast, and to land troops at Narvik in case the Germans responded to
the mining by landing in Norway. Shortly before the mining was carried
out, Koht warned the British that no further neutrality violations
would be tolerated, and that in the future the Norwegians would
respond with force. The Germans too repeatedly violated Norwegian
neutrality, and, following a visit from the Norwegian fascist leader
Vidkun Quisling to Hitler in December 1939, began serious planning for
a possible occupation of Norway. Following the Altmark Incident,
Hitler ordered the invasion of Norway. In response to the British
mining operation on 8 April 1940, the Norwegian government lodged
formal protests with the British and French governments, while
secretly remaining set on avoiding war with the Allies at all cost.
Koht told the Norwegian parliament that he believed that the Allies
were trying to bring
Norway into the war. The Allied mining of the
Norwegian coast coincidentally distracted the Norwegian government
from realising that large German forces had been on their way to
Norway for several days prior.
German invasion and war
At the advent of the Nazi German Operation Weserübung, the invasion
Norway of 9 April 1940, Germany sent the envoy
Curt Bräuer to
present demands of capitulation. Koht personally met with Bräuer, and
rejected his demands and threats of war, stating that "war had already
started". Koht and the cabinet fled Norway's capital in the morning of
9 April. Even though Koht rejected Bräuer's initial contact, he did
convince the cabinet to listen to further German proposals for
negotiations later the same day. All Norwegian negotiations with the
Germans ended after a failed attempt to capture the Norwegian king and
government in Midtskogen early on 10 April. Koht was willing to
take up the fight against the invaders. He wrote several key speeches,
some of which were delivered by King Haakon VII, to convey staunch
resistance to the German demands.
Vital to the Norwegian effort to try to halt the German advance was
assistance from the Allies, which Koht requested in the early hours of
9 April, although skeptical of the potential of Allied aid. When
the rest of the government fled from
Molde to Tromsø, landing on 1
May, Koht and Ljungberg (Minister of Defense) continued from there
with the cruiser HMS Glasgow to London. Here, from 5 May they
negotiated with British government representatives (Lord Halifax,
Chamberlain and Admiral Philips) on British aid to Norway. Koht also
made a radio speech from London on the BBC, broadcasting to Norway,
and a speech on American radio. On 8 and 9 May he met Reynaud, Gamelin
Daladier in Paris. The Norwegian Ministers departed from London on
11 May, arriving back in
Norway on 17 May. The talks with the
Allies resulted in concrete promises and plans for large French
reinforcements for the Norwegian front. These plans were however
abandoned by the Allies on 24 May 1940, following the worsening
situation for the Allies in France, and an evacuation decided.
Koht was informed by British Minister to
Cecil Dormer on 1
June that the Allied Forces had decided to retreat from Norway, owing
to the difficult situation at the Western Front.
In response to the Allied decision to evacuate, the cabinet sent Koht
Luleå in Sweden to try to reinvigorate a previously rejected plan
to create a demarcation line between the Germans and Norwegian in
Northern Norway. Swedish troops were planned to occupy Narvik. The
plan was named the Mowinckel plan, after its initiator, the former
prime minister Johan Ludwig Mowinckel. During a meeting with the
Swedish minister of foreign affairs, Christian Günther, who was to
act as a middle man with Germans in relation to the plan, Koht
revealed that the Allies were about to evacuate Norway. Although
Günther never revealed the evacuation plans to the Germans, Koht was
heavily criticised for doing so by his colleagues upon his return to
The cabinet eventually fled the country on 7 June. Koht landed in
London on 19 June 1940, now heading the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in
Norway was now a close ally of the United Kingdom, but Koht
was seen as clinging somewhat to his neutrality policy, and not
embracing the alliance with the United Kingdom enough. From the
autumn of 1940,
Trygve Lie championed a change in policy which meant
seeking lasting allies in the western world. Koht viewed this as
"distrust". A schism between him and the rest of the cabinet grew as
it also became known that Koht's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had
received reports of a possible forthcoming assault on Norway, without
Koht having informed the cabinet thoroughly. Furthermore, there was
discontent over Koht's decision to establish the headquarters of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in exile in Bracknell, several miles west
of the cabinet headquarters.
Koht was granted leave of absence on 19 November 1940, and ultimately
left the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs on 20 February 1941,
being succeeded by Trygve Lie. Koht decided to travel to Canada and
then the United States. He lived with his daughter Åsa and her family
in Washington, DC, returning to
Norway after the end of the Second
Professor Kohts vei (lit. "Professor Koht's street") in
Halvdan Koht in 1967.
Trygve Lie, who after the war had become the first Secretary-General
of the United Nations, characterised Koht in his memoirs as an expert
on foreign affairs, but introverted. He had relatively little contact
with other politicians, kept to himself to study in peace, and spent
much time on his extensive writing. Koht reportedly preferred to solve
a problem by himself instead of involving co-workers and employees,
even the experts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His way of
thinking was logical and rational, but he allegedly nurtured an
"exaggerated belief in paragraphs" and a "dogmatic belief in
international law", and wrongly thought that other countries would
obey formal regulations at most times. Koht had few or no
alternatives to his neutrality policy, and in many ways he based his
entire career in foreign affairs on that policy.
Trygve Lie claimed
that before the Second World War, the neutrality policy had "become a
religion" for Koht.
Koht's role in the weak and unorganised defense against Operation
Weserübung was debated during and after the occupation. After the
World War, a commission named Undersøkelseskommisjonen av 1945
("Scrutiny Commission of 1945") was set to scrutinise the actions of
the Norwegian government in 1940. It concluded with a partial
criticism of Koht's dispositions. After receiving
Undersøkelseskommisjonen's analysis, Koht volunteered to undergo an
Impeachment trial. The Parliament of
Norway did not find it necessary,
and no such trial took place.
Since Koht lived in Lysaker,
Bærum Municipality wanted to honor him
by naming a street after him. When the street was named in 1967, Koht
was still controversial. The street was therefore named Professor
Kohts vei ("Professor Koht's Road") to emphasise his academic, rather
than his political career.
Hailing from Tromsø, Koht spoke a Northern Norwegian dialect in his
early life. In Skien his dialect provoked negative reactions from his
peers. He was inspired by the dialects of Skien's surroundings
(Telemark); from 1891 he wrote the "rural" language form Landsmål
with strong tinges of Bø dialect. Before this he had attempted
to write both "Knudsen Riksmål" and "Aasen Landsmål", but neither
stuck. Early publications on the
Norwegian language controversy
were Det norske målstrævs historie (1898) and Det vitskapelege
grunnlage for målstræve (1900). He became a board member of the
Landsmål-based publishing house Det Norske Samlaget, and edited the
Syn og Segn from 1901 to 1908, until 1905
together with Rasmus Flo. He chaired Noregs Mållag, an
association the propagation of Landsmål, from 1921 to 1925. In
Landsmål was renamed Nynorsk.
Koht spoke of language in a social context in general and of the class
struggle in particular. He eventually used the Labour Party as a
vehicle for his language activism, especially after being asked by the
party to write Arbeidarreising og målspørsmål in 1921. In it, he
synthesised the class struggle and language struggle in Norway, and
because he was an integrationist he wanted a popular gathering around
one written language. Koht became a member of Rettskrivingsnemnda
in 1934, and in 1936 the Labour Party agreed that a language reform
should be carried out, moving the two language forms
Nynorsk closer to one another. The language reforms took place in 1938
and promoted the
Samnorsk ideal. The reforms were reversed in 1941
under Nazi rule; the original changes were reinstated after the end of
the occupation of
Norway by Nazi Germany. According to historian
Kåre Lunden, Koht was much hated by many because of his language
reforms, which were routinely perceived as attacks and degradations on
their preferred language. His ideals were dubbed "det kohtske knot",
i.e. "the Kohtian mishmash". For his own part, Koht often used
spellings that contrasted with both
Nynorsk and Bokmål. The definite
article, which is formally the suffix "-et", was substituted with the
suffix "-e", such as in the titles of his publications Det
vitskapelege grunnlage for målstræve and Sosialdemokratie.
Koht's first travel abroad was in 1890, when he accompanied his father
as well as
Hans Jacob Horst and
John Theodor Lund
John Theodor Lund to an
interparliamentary peace conference in London. In 1895 he was a
founding member and board member of the Norwegian Peace Association,
serving as chairman from 1900 to 1902. From 1901 to 1902 he edited
his own monthly periodical named Fredstidende ("Peace Times").
The Peace Association was dominated by Liberal Party
politicians—from a Marxist perspective, "bourgeois" people.
Nils Ivar Agøy had noted that the socialists who were
active in the bourgeois peace movement—the most prominent being
Adam Egede-Nissen and Carl Bonnevie—were "radicalised sons of
the bourgeoisie". This meant that they were "capable of asserting
themselves among the ship-owners and county governors in the board" of
the Norwegian Peace Association. Koht also followed his own goals
during his first period as chairman. He wanted to tie the "apolitical"
peace movement closer to the labour movement, to create "economic
justice" and to employ the use of arbitration in labour conflicts.
These goals were not embraced by all of the members, particularly not
those who wanted to keep the Peace Association politically neutral. A
larger problem, however, was that Koht rated Norwegian nationalism
higher than pacifism. He had thus carried out his compulsory military
service "with fervor", notes Agøy. Koht demanded that the Peace
Association did not resist to an armed defense of the "fatherland".
The national convention in 1902 refused to acknowledge this principle,
and Koht therefore resigned his membership. He was followed by
others, as a result of a schism in the Peace Association between the
pacifists and the more pragmatic peace activists. Koht has also been
assessed as an ineffective organisational leader. The defense
question more or less solved itself when the Swedish-Norwegian union
was peacefully dissolved in 1905. Koht later returned to the Peace
Association to serve as a board member from 1910 to 1912.
He became a member of Institut International de la Paix in 1913.
He was a consultant for the
Norwegian Nobel Institute
Norwegian Nobel Institute from 1904 to
1913, with the task of examining proposed candidates for the Nobel
Peace Prize. From 1918 to 1942 he served on the Norwegian Nobel
Committee. In 1931, he gave the Award Ceremony Speech for the
Jane Addams and Nicholas Murray Butler, but was absent
in the decisive meeting in 1936 that awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize to
Carl von Ossietzky. He was also absent while serving as Minister of
Foreign Affairs, not wishing to combine the two roles. He returned
briefly afterwards, before leaving again in 1942. Another reason for
his inactivity was that he had not lived in
Norway since 1940, but
either way the Prize was not awarded in any of the years from 1939 to
Koht's academic writing also encompassed the peace issue. His books on
the subject include Histoire du mouvement de la paix en Norvège
("History of the Peace Movement in Norway", 1900) and Fredstanken i
Noregs-sogo ("The Notion of Peace in the History of Norway", 1906).
Having stepped down from the exiled cabinet in 1941, Koht lived in the
United States for the remainder of the war. There he continued his
literary production; however, the books
Norway Neutral and Invaded
(1941) and The Voice of
Norway (1944) were both released in London.
The first book dealt directly with the advent of war in Norway, and
was released in Swedish in the same year. The second book, written
together with his son-in-law Sigmund Skard, dealt more with older
history and the literature of Norway. It was released in Swedish in
1944 and Norwegian in 1948. Koht returned to
Norway at the end of
Upon returning to Norway, Koht published three books on the war-time
events in Norway: For fred og fridom i krigstid 1939–1940, Frå
skanse til skanse. Minne frå krigsmånadene i Noreg 1940 and Norsk
utanrikspolitikk fram til 9. april 1940. Synspunkt frå hendingstida,
all of which were released in 1947. These memoir-like books have been
analysed as putting a self-apologetic message forth. His political
career was effectively ended, but some of his ideas had prevailed. For
instance, his analysis of the class situation in
Norway became a part
of the general social-democratic ideology of the post-war years.
Despite not holding the professor chair any longer, Koht continued his
academic writing; his principal work from the post-war epoch was the
six-volume Kriseår i norsk historie. The six volumes each describe a
decisive moment in Norwegian history. The first volume, released in
1950, centers on "
Vincens Lunge contra Henrik Krummedige". The second
volume (1951) describes
Olav Engelbriktsson and Norway's descent into
Denmark in 1537. The third and fourth volumes, released
in 1952 and 1955, are about medieval kings: Sverre I and Harald I. The
fifth volume (1956) focuses on "Queen Margaret and the Kalmar Union".
The sixth and final volume (1960) chronicles the years from 1657 to
Denmark (and thus Norway) transitioned into an absolute
Koht died on 12 December 1965 in Bærum. He was buried at Nordre
gravlund in Oslo. Two works by Koht have been released
posthumously: the memoirs Minne frå unge år in 1968 and the diary
Rikspolitisk dagbok 1933–1940 in 1985. His son-in-law Sigmund
Skard wrote a biography of him, Mennesket
Halvdan Koht ("Halvdan Koht
the Man") in 1982.
References and notes
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae
af ag ah ai aj ak al Svendsen, Åsmund (2002). "Halvdan Koht". In
Norsk biografisk leksikon
Norsk biografisk leksikon (in Norwegian). 5 (2nd ed.).
Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
^ Genealogical entries for Hanna Birgitte Holmboe and Joachim Gotsche
^ Genealogical entries for Jens Holmboe Giæver (vestraat.net) and NSD
data for Ola Krogseng Giæver
^ Koht, 1951: p. 11.
^ Koht, 1951: pp. 7–8.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 20.
^ "Halvdan Skard".
Store norske leksikon
Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo:
Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
^ a b c d Eriksen, Knut Einar (1995). "Koht, Halvdan". In Dahl, Hans
Norsk krigsleksikon 1940-45 (in Norwegian). Oslo: Cappelen.
Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Halvdan Koht" (in Norwegian). Norwegian
Social Science Data Services (NSD). Retrieved 3 October 2010.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 30.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 41.
^ Koht, 1951: pp. 60–61.
^ a b c Koht, 1951: p. 43.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 73.
^ a b c Koht, 1951: pp. 65–66.
^ Koht, 1951: pp. 67, 70.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 110.
^ Koht, 1951.
^ Koht, 1951: pp. 73–75.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 88.
^ a b Koht, 1951: p. 35.
^ Torp, Olaf Chr. "Jens Braage Halvorsen". In Helle, Knut. Norsk
biografisk leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved
26 August 2011.
^ a b c d Kjærheim, 1985: p. 7.
^ a b Koht, 1951: pp. 119–122.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 124.
^ Skard, 1974: p. 123.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 34.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 104.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 106.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 152.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 153.
^ a b Koht, 1951: pp. 154–155.
^ a b Koht, 1951: pp. 150–151.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 58.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 123.
^ Koht, 1951: p. 165.
^ "Historikk" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Historical Association.
Retrieved 28 April 2011.
^ 2001, Franz-Andre Sondervorst, Chronique de SIHM.
^ Koht, 1951: pp. 63–64.
^ a b c Koht, 1951: pp. 58–59.
^ See a lecture showing his attitude toward religion:"The Nobel Peace
Prize 1931 - Presentation Speech", by Halvdan Koht. Nobelprize.org.
Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 5 Jan 2015. He states: "...human
perfectability, the capacity to become more and more perfect. It is a
faith which has provided the foundation for some of our greatest
religions and one which has inspired much of the best work for
progress. It was proclaimed by Jesus Christ; it inspired the work of
men like Emerson and Wergeland."
^ Koht, 1951: p. 159.
^ Skard, 1974: p. 125.
^ Koht, 1952.
^ Thyness, Paul (2001). "C J Hambro". In Helle, Knut. Norsk biografisk
leksikon (in Norwegian). 4 (2nd ed.). Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget.
Retrieved 29 April 2011.
^ Ørvik, 1960.
^ a b "Johan Nygaardsvold's Government". Government.no. Retrieved 3
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 37.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 207.
^ Pryser, 1988: pp. 219–220.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 38.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: pp. 28–29.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: pp. 39–41.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: pp. 92–94.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: p. 164.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: pp. 170–81.
^ Moen and Sæther, 2009: pp. 199–208, 260, 271.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 2, 4.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 26–32.
^ Lunde, 2009: p. 49.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 37–39.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 54–66.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 97, 222.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 226–229.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 223, 227.
^ Parliament of
Norway 1947. pp. 298–299.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 514–515.
^ Parliament of
Norway 1947. pp. 300–301.
^ Lunde, 2009: pp. 518–519.
^ a b c d e "Halvdan Koht".
Store norske leksikon
Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian).
Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
^ Lie, 1955: pp. 68–69.
^ Lie, 1955: pp. 266–267.
^ Bakken, Tor Chr., ed. (2008). "Professor Kohts vei.". Budstikkas
store Asker og Bærum-leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo:
Kunnskapsforlaget. ISBN 978-82-573-1534-4. Archived from the
original on 22 March 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
Store norske leksikon
Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Retrieved 1 July
^ Sørensen, Øystein (1995). "rettskrivningsreformen av 1941". In
Dahl, Hans Fredrik.
Norsk krigsleksikon 1940-45 (in Norwegian). Oslo:
Cappelen. Archived from the original on 31 December 2009. Retrieved 16
^ Hustad, Jon (15 January 2005). "Det kohtske knot".
Norwegian). access-date= requires url= (help)
^ Agøy, 2000: pp. 86–87.
^ Rønning and Ringsby, 2010: p. 52.
^ "Bio - Halvdan Koht". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 9 October
Norwegian Nobel Committee
Norwegian Nobel Committee Since 1901". Nobelprize.org.
Retrieved 9 October 2010.
Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize 1931 - Presentation Speech". Nobelprize.org.
Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 5 Jan 2015.
^ Norwegian Nobel Committee. Aarsberetninger fra Det Norske Stortings
Nobelkomité 1931–1945 (in Norwegian). Parliament of Norway.
Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 9
^ "Cemeteries in Norway". DIS-Norge. Retrieved 4 May 2011.
^ Kjærheim, 1985: p. 12.
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Rolf Sæther (2009). Tusen dager – Norge og den
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Halvdan Koht.
Riste, Olav (1973). London-regjeringa: Norge i krigsalliansen
1940–1945 (in Norwegian). 1. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget.
Riste, Olav (1979). London-regjeringa: Norge i krigsalliansen
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stormaktene 1935–1939. Mellom nedrustning og territoriell ekspansjon
(in Norwegian). Oslo:
University of Oslo
University of Oslo (master's thesis).
Johan Ludwig Mowinckel
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ingolf Elster Christensen
Chairman of Noregs Mållag
Chairman of the Norwegian Historical Association
Edvard Bull, Sr.
Edvard Bull, Sr.
Chairman of the Norwegian Historical Association
S. H. Finne-Grønn
Chairman of the Norwegian Genealogical Society
Sigurd Segelcke Meidell
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway)
Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
Jørgen Løvland (1901–21)
Fredrik Stang (1922–40)
Gunnar Jahn (1941–66)
Bernt Ingvaldsen (1967)
Aase Lionæs (1968–78)
John Sanness (1979–81)
Egil Aarvik (1982–89)
Gidske Anderson (1990)
Francis Sejersted (1991–99)
Gunnar Berge (2000–02)
Ole Danbolt Mjøs
Ole Danbolt Mjøs (2002–08)
Thorbjørn Jagland (2009–15)
Kaci Kullmann Five
Kaci Kullmann Five (2015–2017)
Berit Reiss-Andersen (2017–)
Carl Berner (1905–18)
Christian Lous Lange
Christian Lous Lange (1901–09)
Ragnvald Moe (1910–45)
August Schou (1946–73)
Tim Greve (1974–77)
Jakob Sverdrup (1978–89)
Geir Lundestad (1990–2015)
Olav Njølstad (2015–)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1022 8402
BNF: cb127705563 (data)