King Karl XIV Johan

No, they are the only European country that hasn’t been in a war since 1818.

It all goes back to February 1808, when Russia occupied Finland. The Swedish King, Gustav III, refused to block British trade in the Baltic, leading to a coup, which forced King Gustav to abdicate for his uncle, King Karl XIII. Not a good idea. Karl was chronically ill, childless, with no descendants! So, they named a Danish prince, Christian August of Augustenborg, as his heir. It wasn’t a good choice, he quickly died! Now Sweden needed an heir!

This led a member of the Swedish Parliament to propose Jean Bernadotte. Who, you ask? So did they!

He was a French Catholic, who after joining up at 17, had climbed the ranks to eventually be appointed a Marshall of France by Napoleon. He married Napoleon’s former fiancée, Désirée Clary, whose sister was married to Napoleon’s brother, Joseph. He couldn’t have been closer to Napoleon.

Initially the Swedish Parliament thought the idea mad, while Napoleon thought it bizarre. However, Marshal Bernadotte was well known and popular in Sweden, due to his time as governor of both the Hanseatic cities and Hanover, where he had shown extreme kindness to Swedish prisoners. Eventually, in 1810 the Swedish Parliament decided to accept him, hoping he would protect them from France’s ambitions. Consequently, the King adopted him as a son. Bernadotte took the name Karl Johan and, due to the King’s ill health, he basically ran the country.

Conversely, he believed Napoleon’s days were numbered, so he allied Sweden with Russia and Great Britain. Napoleon was not impressed and responded by occupying Swedish territory in northern Germany and Poland. This meant that Bernadotte, now Karl Johan, had to lead Swedish troops against the French army, and in October 1813 he won, several times!

Now he turned to Norway, who were in a union with Denmark, and by 1814 he had persuaded Denmark to concede Norway to Sweden. The Norwegians didn’t think that was a good idea so declared themselves independent. Karl Johan started to negotiate. He was good. The result was, two kingdoms with one king, him!

In 1818 the old king finally died; Bernadotte now became King Karl XIV Johan. Once King, he announced Sweden’s policy of neutrality, it worked and has kept Sweden out of wars ever since. My feeling is that it took a soldier, having seen the horrors of war, to come up with such a policy.

What an amazing man? A Catholic Frenchman, without noble blood, who become the king of not one but two Protestant countries, Sweden and Norway!

Isn’t History Interesting?