Quisling was the son of a Church of Norway pastor and genealogist Jon Lauritz Qvisling from Fyresdal, and both of his parents belonged to some of the oldest and most distinguished families of Telemark.
His early life was mixed and successful; he became the country's best ever war academy cadet upon graduation in 1911, and achieved the rank of major in the Norwegian army. He worked with Fridtjof Nansen in the Soviet Union during the famine of the 1920s. For his services in looking after British interests after diplomatic relations were broken with the Bolshevik government, Great Britain awarded him the C.B.E. He later served as defense minister in the Agrarian governments 1931-1933.
The Nasjonal Samling party
On May 17, 1933, Norwegian Constitution Day, Quisling and lawyer Johan Bernhard Hjort formed Nasjonal Samling ("National Unity"), a Norwegian nationalist political party. Nasjonal Samling had an anti-democratic, leadership-based political structure, and Quisling was to be the party's Fører (Norwegian: "leader", equivalent of the German "Führer"). He was sometimes referred to as "the Hitler of Norway". The party went on to have modest successes; in the election of 1933, four months after the party was formed, it garnered 27,850 votes (approximately 2%), following support from the Norwegian Farmers' Aid Association, with which Quisling had connections from his time as a member of the Agrarian government. However, as the party line changed from a religiously rooted one to a more pro-National Socialist and anti-Semitic policy from 1935 onward. Party membership fell to an estimated 2,000 members before the German invasion, but under the German occupation by 1945 some 45,000 Norwegians were members of the party.
German invasion of Norway
On the 9th April 1940, one day before the planned British invasion, Germany invaded Norway, Operation Weserübung by air and sea. The German plan was to capture King Haakon VII and the Nygaardsvold government, after which Quisling would be recognized as Prime Minister. On April 9, however, without waiting for recognition, Quisling announced in a radio broadcast that he had become the new Premier. Word came that King Haakon refused to recognize Quisling as leader of the government.
Later that same month he tried again to organize a government under Josef Terboven, who had been installed as Reichskommissar, reporting directly to Hitler. The relationship between Quisling and Terboven was tense, however, and Quisling was unable to find any prominent Norwegians who were willing to serve as ministers in his Cabinet. Terboven, presumably seeing an advantage in having a Norwegian in an apparent position of power, declared the monarchy to be abolished and named Quisling to the post of Minister President in 1942, a position the self-appointed Fører assumed on February 1.
Arrest and trial
Quisling stayed in power until he was arrested on May 9, 1945. He lived in a mansion on Bygdøy in Oslo that he called "Gimle", after the place in Norse mythology where survivors of Ragnarok were to live.
In the course of the victor's trials following the war, Quisling, along with two other Nasjonal Samling leaders, Albert Viljam Hagelin and Ragnar Skancke, was convicted of high treason and executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress. The charges were based on his support of the German invasion in April 1940, his revocation of the mobilisation order, his encouragement of Norwegians to serve in the Norwegian SS division, and his assistance in the deportation of Jews.
Subsequently, these sentences have been controversial, as capital punishment was reintroduced by the government in exile at the end of the war, specifically in anticipation of the post-war trials.
Maria Vasilijevna, Quisling's Russian widow, lived in Oslo until her death in 1980. They had no children.