, , , , , , , , , , ,


Prince Charles XIII  by Carl Frederic von Breda (Photo credit: Wiki2.org)


Prince Charles, in 1758 by Ulrica Pasch (Photo credit: Wiki2.org)

A Childless King

This post does not describe la Terreur, the Reign of Terror, which should be its subject matter. I have chosen instead to write a little story about Sweden’s Royal House of Bernadotte. The birth of the Swedish House of Bernadotte is associated with both the French Revolution, the demise of absolutism, and the Napoleonic wars. King Charles III was childless. His successor would be Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a general under Napoleon.

In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte had named Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (26  January 1763 – 8 March 1844) a marshall of France (un maréchal de France) and, on 5 June 1806, the Prince of Pontecorvo, a title Bernadotte surrendered in 1810. King Charles XIII named his adopted heir Generalissimus of the Swedish Armed Forces of the King.

I am postponing a very short discussion of the Reign of Terror in order to locate the French Revolution in its European context. European monarchs did oppose the French uprising of 1789, beginning with King Gustav III of Sweden, Charles XIII’s older brother.

Following the uprising against the French monarchy in 1789, Gustav pursued an alliance of princes aimed at crushing the insurrection and reinstating his French counterpart, King Louis XVI, offering Swedish military assistance as well as his leadership.

(See King Gustav III of Sweden, Wiki2.org.)


King Gustav III of Sweden and his Brothers; Gustav III (left) and his two brothers, Prince Frederick Adolf and Prince Charles, later Charles XIII of Sweden. Painting by Alexander Roslin(Photo credit: Wiki2.org.)

Three Brothers

King Gustav III of Sweden, King Charles XIII and Prince Frederick Adolf were brothers and nephews of Frederick the Great of Prussia. They were the three sons of Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden and Queen Louise Ulrika. She was a sister of King Frederick the Great of Prussia and a first cousin of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia “by reason of their common descent from Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin, and his wife Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach.” (See King Gustav III of Sweden, Wiki2.org.)

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were also related to the House of Habsbpurg-Lorraine. Marie-Antoine was the sister of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (See Declaration of Pillnizt, Wiki2.org.) whose relatives were other European monarchs. (See House of Habsburg-Lorraine, Wiki2.org.). As for Louis XVI, his mother was Maria Leszczyńska.

Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI did appeal to their families during the French Revolution. It was normal. Swedish Count Axel von Fersen the Younger, Marie-Antoinette’s rumoured lover, helped the French Royal family organize the flight to Varennes. Moreover, King Louis XVI was very tall (185cm/6ft 1in) for a man of his era and a Frenchman.


The French Revolution sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Some royals chose rigid absolutism, others, a more democratic constitutional monarchy. Gustav III of Sweden was a beloved despot. Yet, he was shot in the lower back and died 13 days later. Prince Carl and Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm were appointed regents until Gustav IV of Sweden reached adulthood, in 1796.[1]

Gustav III’s unpopular and autocratic son Gustav IV was overthrown and exiled in a coup d’état. Sweden had lost Finland to Russia. (See Finnish War, Wiki2.org.) The authority of Sweden’s Royals was vastly diminished by the Constitution of 1809 or Instrument of Government (1809). The powers of government were divided between the monarch and the Riksdag of the Estates.

Gustav III and Charles XIII would be kings of Sweden. Their brother Prince Frederick Adolf (18 July 1750 – 12 December 1803) never reigned. He died in Montpellier, France. King Charles XIII was childless and sickly, so an heir to the throne of Sweden and Norway had to be selected.

Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte

Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte would be the new and elected King of Sweden (as Charles XIV) from 1809 and King of Norway (as Charles III John) from 1814 until his death, in 1844.

“His candidacy was advocated by Baron Carl Otto Mörner, a Swedish courtier and obscure member of the Riksdag of the Estates.” (See Charles XIV John of Sweden, Wiki2.org.)

Carl Otto Mörner so wished for Bernadotte to be elected Crown Prince that he discussed the matter with Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte himself, the dutiful Marshall of France. Bernadotte answered that if he were elected Crown Prince, he would accept his new role. As one may expect, Mörner was arrested when he returned to Sweden. He had gone too far. However, Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte proved the best candidate. Weighing in his favour, were his superior military skills.


Charles XIV John, detail of an oil painting by Fredric Westin, 1824; in Gripsholm Castle, Sweden.
Courtesy of the Svenska Portrattarkivet, Stockholm (Photo credit: Britannica)

Queen_desideria_by_locati-2 (1)

Desideria Clary, queen of Sweden by Fredric Westin (Photo credit: Wiki2.org.)

There is a Baron in the Bernadotte family, but Jean-Baptiste is a commoner. He was born in Pau, Béarn, France, to Jean-Henri Bernadotte, a prosecutor. His mother was Jeanne de Saint-Jean. Jean-Baptiste planned to study law, but…

In 1798, he married Désirée Clary, whose sister was married to Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte. Désirée would be Queen Consort of Sweden as Desideria. However, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte is not a Bonaparte. Jean-Baptiste and Désirée’s son would reign as Oscar I, King of Sweden and King of Norway.

In 1813, after Napoleon’s unrealistic and disastrous Russian campaign, Karl XIV Johan entered an anti-Napoleon alliance that probably strengthened the Sixth coalition. When Norway was awarded to Sweden by the Treaty of Kiel, King Carl XIV Johan proposed a “personal union” between Norway and Sweden. Both countries would have the same king, but Norway would be an independent kingdom. Bernadotte reigned as Charles XIV John of Sweden and Charles III John of Norway from 5 February 1818 until his death on 8 March 1844.



The House of Bernadotte is doing well. Prince Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland, is married to Princess Sofia, Duchess of Värmland, a commoner and a former glamour model. The couple has two children. Prince Carl Philip’s sister is Crown Princess Victoria, Duchess of Västergötland who is married to Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland. They have two children. A second sister, Princess Madeleine, Duchess of Hälsingland and Gästrikland is married to British-American financier Christopher O’Neill. They have three children. The King of Sweden is Carl XVI Gustaf who is married to German-Brazilian Queen Sylvia.

P. S. Herodote (please click to read) published articles on the history of Sweden recently. I have read these articles, but I have not inserted quotations or content from Herodote in my post.
[1] King Charles XIII may have played a role in the assassination of Gustav III (See Charles XIII, Wiki2.org.)

Love to everyone  

Johan Helmich Roman Violin Concerto in D minor, BeRi 49


Prince Carl Philip

© Micheline Walker
27 September 2018
updated 28 September 2018