"No one has followed a path such as mine" wrote King Karl XIV Johan before he died. And a spectacular path it certainly was. In a period of twenty years, with ample help from the French Revolution, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte rose from a lowly military career to Crown Prince of Sweden.
The lawyers' son from Pau in the southwest of France had hoped to go even further. His ultimate dream was to seize power from his arch-rival Napoleon.
Jean Baptiste always felt a bit uneasy in Sweden. He never learnt the language and was consequently quite suspicious of Swedes, especially with the memory of the assassination of Gustav III fresh in his mind. Jean Baptiste's descendants, however, are probably quite happy that he remained in Sweden and started what has become a stable and popular dynasty that has survived various demands for a republic. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Crown Prince of Sweden almost by coincidence. Sweden was in a quarry. After the coup d'etat of 1809, when Gustav IV Adolf was deposed, his uncle, Duke Karl was made King with the title Karl XIII. As Karl XIII was old and childless, a successor to the throne had to be found. First, the Danish prince, Karl August of Augustenborg, was chosen, but he fell of a horse and broke his neck shortly after arrival in Sweden. His older brother became a candidate for the throne, as did Gustav IV's 11-year old son, King Frederik VI of Denmark, his cousin, Prince Kristian Frederik, three Oldenburg princes, the Norwegian Wedel-Jarlsberg and many more.
A Swedish lieutenant Carl Otto Mörner felt, however, that the French marshal was the best choice and travelled to Paris to offer him the Swedish throne, without really being authorized to do so. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte seized this opportunity and was elected Crown Prince of Sweden, later to become King Carl XIV Johan.
He was succeeded upon his death in 1844 by his only son, King Oscar I, married to Queen Josefina, daughter of Eugene de Heauharnais, the stepson of Napoleon. Oscar I died in 1859 at the age of 60 and his eldest son became King Carl XV. His brother Oscar II succeeded him on his death in 1872 and reigned until 1907, when he died. Gustav V, his son, had been king for 43 years when he at his death in 1950 was succeeded by King Carl XVI Gustaf's grandfather King Gustaf VI Adolf.
The choice of Jean Baptiste as Crown Prince may in part have been influenced by a French merchant claiming that Bernadotte would put 8 million francs at the disposal of the Swedish state. Sweden also wished for an alliance with France and Napoleon in the hope of gaining the latter's support for winning back Finland.
After his arrival in Sweden, Crown Prince Karl Johan became in reality Regent of the Realm. In 1812, he initiated quite a different policy, joined the coalition against Napoleon and in the Kiel peace treaty won Norway from Denmark and after a short campaign forced Norway to enter into a union with Sweden in 1814.
For someone who had the French Revolution to thank for everything, Karl Johan was not amused by the restrictions placed upon his power by the Swedish constitution. Even when he was Crown Prince, he was at cross-purposes with the more independent members of the Council When he became King after the death of Karl XIII in 1818, Karl XIV Johan increasingly chose his ministers from among loyal bureaucrats, who carried out his orders without demur. As time passed, he became more and more autocratic. The former revolutionary turned into somewhat of an old-style absolute monarch.
Without his grandson's grandson, the democratic Gustav VI Adolf, Sweden would probably not be a monarchy today. Gustav VI Adolf purposely avoided ceremony and pomp during his long reign (1950-1973) and with his informal and natural approach, he succeeded in creating a new role for himself in a a democratic monarchy.
King Gustaf VI Adolf had wide-ranging interests outside his own "vocation" and ws a respected archaeologist and collector of East Asian porcelain. The present king's early interest in fast cars and boats have matured into a wide interest in technology that has been of great importance when he has led "royal technology missions" all over the world. The King's presence on these missions has opened many doors for Swedish scientists and the many businessmen accompanying them. The King has visited Gentech in Silicon Valley, for instance, that has a policy of never admitting visitors. His other great interest has always been the environment and he has, contrary to the policy of his grandfather, even been publicly outspoken about Norwegian seal hunts.
The Bernadotte family has played a prominent part in art and culture in Sweden. Several of the members of the Royal Family have been accomplished amateur painters (as was evident in the recent Royal Artists of Sweden exhibition at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia). Prince Eugene was one of the great artists of his generation and his Waldemarsudde, today open to the public, is full of art by him and his contemporaries. Prince Wilhelm wrote several books (under a pseudonym) and produced motion pictures. Prince Sigvard Bernadotte is an accomplished international designer.
The present King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf was born on April 30 1946, the youngest child and only son of the hereditary Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla of Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha. The Prince and Princess already had four daughters, three of whom were to marry commoners. As Prince Gustaf Adolf was killed in an air crash in 1947, his son was already Crown Prince when his grandfather Gustaf VI Adolf acceded to the throne in 1950. His mother, Princess Sibylla died in 1972.
The Bernadottes are said to mature slowly, so the 'King will likely become more and more of a "landsfader" father figure for Sweden as time goes by. He has a great help from Queen Silvia who has been instrumental in "softening him and opening him up". She and the children are without doubt the King's and the monarchy's greatest assets.
The Royal couple has three children, Crown Princess Victoria, 17, Prince Carl Philip, 15 and Princess Madeleine 12.
The King has hinted that he would have preferred to see his son on the throne. The succession was changed from an all male line to one that will give Sweden the first queen since Queen Kristina abdicated in 1654 (to convert to Catholicism).
The Bernadotte dynasty will soon be more in the limelight as SF plans a film about Jean Baptiste Bernadotte based on a new book by Kenne Fant. A television series is also being discussed to focus on the French marshal who became the founder of a dynamic Swedish royal dynasty.© and all rights reserved from Swedish Press February 1990