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House of Bernadotte (from 1818)

As Charles XIII was old and childless, Christian Augustus, Prince of Augustenburg, was chosen as successor (1809), but died suddenly on the 28th of May, 1810. Many were of the opinion that in order to restore Sweden's power it was necessary to choose one of Napoleon's marshals. A young Swedish officer, who met the Prince of Pontecorvo, Marshal Bernadotte, in Paris, offered him the crown on his own responsibility, and contrived to use his influence in Sweden, so that the marshal was designated heir to the crown on the 21st of August at a Eiksdag at Írebro. Bernadotte, who called himself Crown Prince Charles John, went with his son Oskar to Sweden in October, and at once became actual ruler.

The Swedes had chosen him on the supposition that he was on friendly terms with Napoleon, and hoped that he would regain Finland for them with the help of the emperor. Charles John, however, had never been Napoleon's friend and did not wish to be his vassal ; he therefore abandoned the idea of reconquering Finland, which in his opinion Sweden could never defend. He would have liked to obtain possession of Norway, which by reason of its situation seemed to belong more to Sweden. Accordingly he approached Alexander I of Eussia, and on the 5th of April, 1812, concluded a treaty with the Czar and joined the league against Napoleon.

In return for this Russia and England promised their assistance in the conquest of Norway. He was victorious at Grossbeeren and Dennewitz, and fought in the battle of Leipsic. After this great battle he advanced against Denmark with part of the northern army, and by the peace of Kiel, January 14,1841, compelled King Frederic VI to relinquish the kingdom of Norway. The Norwegians, who did not wish to submit to the Swedish king, had drawn up a free constitution and chosen the Danish prince Christian Frederic as their king. Charles John, who was shrewd enough to acknowledge the Norwegian constitution, succeeded in removing Christian Frederic and in bringing about the union between Sweden and Norway in a peaceful way. By his ability as a warrior and a politician Charles John had raised his new country from the lethargy into which it had been plunged by the foolish policy of Gustavus IV to its former rank as a kingdom ; he had ruled with energy and discretion and had furthered the welfare of the land. He was, therefore, admired and beloved by the people, and foreigner though he was, he ascended the throne of Sweden as Charles XIV at the death of Charles XIII (February 5, 1818), without opposition.

Under his son Oskar I (1844-1859), who was just as popular in Sweden as in Norway, opposition became weaker. The king attached himself to the Liberals, surrounded himself with ministers of broad views, sanctioned an extension of the freedom of the press, and triennial assemblies of the Riksdag. However, his popular proposition regarding the reconstruction of the Riksdag was rejected (1850), and after the Revolution of February, when a reaction was sweeping over Europe, Oskar also grew more conservative and let the question of the Riksdag drop. During his reign the management of the State was successfully carried on. Oskar altered the foreign policy of Sweden by withdrawing from the Russian alliance

Oskar's son, Charles XV (1859-1872), was also a personal friend of Frederic VII of Denmark. But the negotiations which had been opened with Denmark on account of the political situation of Europe after Frederic's death (November 15, 1863), were discontinued, so that the king was compelled, come what might, to give up the cause of Denmark (1864).

The question of the Riksdag was finally solved in the reign of Charles XV, as at the Riksdag of 1865 all the four Estates assented to a reorganisation. The Riksdag now meets every year and consists of two chambers ; the king has the right of dismissing the Riksdag and issuing the writs for a new election. This reorganisation, by which the nobles were deprived of their last prerogatives, also effected a change of parties. The " Intellectuals " were supported by the cultured classes, while the "Landt-manna party " aimed chiefly at economy in the administration, particularly in the army, and a more equal division of the burden of taxation.

The economic condition of Sweden was at the accession of Oscar II to the throne, on the 18th of September, 1872, fairly satisfactory. When Oscar II, surrounded by his late brother's advisers, began his reign, one of his first cares was to increase the strength of his navy; but in consequence of the continued antagonism of the political parties, he was unable to effect much. In the first riksdag, however, the so-called "compromise," which afterwards played so important a part in Swedish political life, came into existence. It originated in the small Skane" party in the upper house, and was devised to establish a modus vivendi between the conflicting parties, i.e., the champions of national defence, and those who demanded a lightening of the burdens of taxation.

The king's popularity was not sufficient to prevent a great misfortune. Throughout his reign the relations between the two states which composed his dominions had frequently been precarious. One of the chief causes of dissension was the desire of Norway for full equality with Sweden in the management of foreign affairs. In 1899 the Norwegian storthing for the third time passed a bill for a national or "pure" flag, and King Oscar eventually sanctioned it. After a time the Norwegian radicals began to press their demands for a separate consular system and a ministry of foreign affairs more vigorously than ever. The Swedish government and king at length agreed to allow separate consuls for Norway, provided these should be subordinate to the minister of foreign affairs in the Swedish cabinet.

This was unsatisfactory to Norway, and on May 18th, 1905, the Norwegian storthing passed a bill for the establishment of a separate consular service to be placed under the direction of a Norwegian government department. When the king vetoed this measure, the storthing empowered the Norwegian ministry to exercise the powers hitherto vested in the king, and pronounced the dissolution of the union, but at the same time issued an address to the king disclaiming animosity to the royal house and asking that a prince of that house might be allowed to accept the Norwegian throne. A plebiscite taken on the question of the dissolution resulted in a vote of 368,200 for, and only 184 against it. For some time an armed conflict between the two countries appeared possible. More peaceful councils, however, prevailed, and on August 31st, delegates from both countries met at Karlstadt, where on the 23d of September a complete agreement for a separation was reached. The agreement was ratified by the legislatures of both countries, and Sweden passed an act dissolving the union and recognising Norwegian independence.

The question of what form of government Norway should adopt was an open one. King Oscar refused to allow one of his family to accept the Norwegian throne, and in Norway many persons favoured setting up a republic. Ultimately a monarchy was established and the kingship was offered to Prince Charles of Denmark, a grandson of King Christian IX, and a son-in-law of King Edward VII of England. The prince accepted the offer, and took the title of Haakon VII.

King Oscar, who had been ill for some months, died on the 8th of December, 1907, surrounded by his family and sincerely mourned by all his subjects. He was succeeded by the crown prince, who took the title of Gustaf V.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:05:52 ZULU